• Working Tools – 2. Software

    Working Tools – 2. Software

    I wrote last in this series about the digital hardware that I use. It makes sense to now cover what software I am in most often.

    I prefer, whenever possible, to use apps that work consistently on all my platforms.

    Shopify. Nero’s Notes runs on Shopify. It’s a strong platform that eases many of the difficulties and challenges of running an online shopping site.

    Xero. Accounts for the businesses are produced here. I cannot recommend these guys highly enough. I can reconcile sales to the bank account on the couch.

    Bank Apps. I’m migrating from ‘big banks’ to challenger banks, both for business and personal. Banking should be easy, so a good app is an absolute must for me now.

    Microsoft Office. Given the choice, I would not have any of these apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) on any of my devices. They are huge, endlessly updating, monsters. Thing is, everyone else uses them, particularly corporate clients. iWork is compatible with Office, but it’s clunky.

    Mail. I use Apple’s stock app. It’s not brilliant, but it’s ok. Using the stock app means it syncs well, and links with other apps and share sheets.

    Fantastical. The best calendar app. Natural language input is such a winner. I have multiple calendars shared with different people.

    Creating

    Ulysses. My writing tool of choice. I love the simplicity of the interface, and the focus that it brings. I will publish this article directly to the website from Ulysses.

    Ulysses Logo

    A Flutter-bye!

    Audacity. I record my end of the podcast on Audacity, and then send it to TJ. He works the magic in the edit.

    iMovie. On the rare occasion I upload to YouTube, I try to tidy things up on iMovie first. A lot still to learn.

    Consuming

    Unread / Feedly. Unread is where I read blog posts. It’s a reader, and needs a feed. I use Feedly to subscribe to blogs, but I never read in it. I just prefer Unread.

    Overcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I would rather use Apple’s own podcast app, for the same reason that I use Mail, but Overcast is just that much better. It’s a great app.

    Netflix and Apple Music. I subscribe to both. So, particularly when travelling, this is where downtime happens.

    Communicating

    Slack. I belong to several Slack groups and administer one or two. I barely understand it, and I’m sure I don’t use a tenth of its capability, but in a world of tense, tetchy open forums, it is nice to inhabit some safe spaces.

    ‘The Socials.’ Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. Not places that I love. However, I run an online business. I need to utilise these channels. I’ll promote this post through them. Whenever I can, I use Buffer to schedule posts. This is more efficient, and means that I don’t get sucked into endless scrolling.

    Messaging. iMessage. What’s App, Messenger, SMS. Different contacts seem to use different formats.

    The Message Bubbles

    iMessage by Apple

    Talking.

    Cellular, Skype, FaceTime, What’s App, Messenger – again there is no consistency across my range of contacts, so I have lots.

    My favoured apps are constantly evolving. In creakingly, I look for ones that I find simple and not distracting. Huge monster apps with masses of functionality that I don’t need distract me. They become an end of themselves.

    Next, in #workingtools –  OSX v IOS.

  • A word from King Barry

    Stuart is away this week.

    I, King Barry, Snow White’s father, will provide you with an update.

    Stuart is, thus far, doing OK on all goals for 2017:

    1. Talks continue with a few potential business acquisitions.
    2. The fitbit indicates that he is keeping his nose ahead of his friends group. (Just. That Ger woman is pushing hard.)
    3. A whole kilogram has been lost, no seriously, a whole kilo.
    4. Every day has been a writing day.

    Naturally, the highlight of the winter for Stuart has been the opportunity to play me, King Barry, in the Abbotts Ann village pantomime. The production was a roaring success, playing four sold-out performances in early-December. The show was put on by the Abbotts Ann players, a group with sufficient talent to produce a good show, even when hampered by novices like the big boy.

    A friend attended the opening night, and did not go to the pub until AFTER the show had ended. His comment was telling;

    “I think that it’s great you live in a village that still does things like this. It’s brilliant.”

    It’s unusual for any acquaintance of Stuart to utter anything halfway sensible, but I suppose the exception proves the rule.  People are quick to rue the loss of their local pub, or corner shop, and they moan about how the street, estate, neighbourhood, ‘never does anything’ any more. Yet, it is this very same people that drove past their village shop to get to the supermarket. The same people who don’t attend the fireworks night, because they are busy. The same people who don’t use the pub, don’t attend community meetings etc…

    I, King Barry of the Kingdom of Elate (on the nice side of the A38), leave you with this, my regal thought. YOU are your community. YOU can make it thrive. Stuart tells me that it’s also, really good fun.

    And remember…

    “You are my first, my last, my everything…”  Barry White, the Walrus of Love. 1974.

  • Samuel. Fraudster.

    Fraud

    First – a writing update.

    I finally plucked up the courage to let someone read a draft. My writing buddy, Amanda Fleet, published author, soon appearing at Bloody Scotland has looked at Act I of my novel.

    She was, of course, blinded by its brilliance. There may have been one or two tiny constructive criticisms.

    Oh alright, there were lots of criticisms and her eyesight remains fine – but they were all really helpful and she didn’t tell me to give up; so I’m calling it a win. 😉

    Today though, I’m going to share with you a brief email exchange that I had with a Samuel Barton. Please take this as a cautionary tale, although it did give me a laugh too. His proof-reading is worse than mine.

    Samuel is a terribly nice chap, who placed the winning bid on my old laptop, which I was selling on eBay. Concurrent with this email exchange, a fake Paypal email address was sending me entirely fictitious confirmations of payment.

    Hello Seller,
    It is my pleasure to inform you that I have carried out the payment via PayPal to your PayPal id. kindly check your PayPal email address (inbox,spam or junk mail) for the confirmation email of my Payment from PayPal.I also have the email receipt of the payment from PayPal with me.I want the item sent to my Nephew’s address who is living and working in West Africa.I would have asked you to post it to my eBay address in UK but I am presently going to Spain for a business trip. I sincerely hope you could assist me in shipping the item over there so it would be convenient for him to pick it up when it gets there.i also want to use the item as a surprise birthday Gift for his Cousin who is having his birthday next week.Here is the delivering address of my Nephew confirmed with pay pal.

    ADDRESS;
    JERRY DAMMY
    109, Adefemi Street,
    Abesan Ipaja,
    Lagos,23401
    Nigeria.

    I want you to ship the item tomorrow via Royal Mail Airmail International 1st Class Delivery, so that the item will get there ASAP. I’ve added you £130 which should cover for the postage cost. Please get back to me with the shipment details (shipping Bar code) after shipping to the address above.

    NOTE: Please wrap the item carefully, write GIFT on the paper. Please don’t use any other postage service except Royal Mail.

    Am sorry for the inconvenience,please bear with me
    Regards

    Hi Samuel,
    My apologies, but I will only send the item, as advertised, to a UK address.
    Best Regards

    Thanks for your swift response lennon,Am sorry about the address,like have said in my first email that am on a business trip which was an emergency for,I wasn’t xpeceting the item go be posted off the UK and I don’t have any body to receive it for me in the UK,pls for God sake,assist me post it to the address which is also confirmed by paypal,have added £130 also which will cover for the postage cost to the address,I will forever great full if you and leave you a positive feedback if you grant my wish..thanks

    Hi Samuel
    I am sorry to hear of your emergency. It sounds terrible.
    I regret that I will only send the item to the UK address.
    I’ll see if I can live with feedback.
    Perhaps you should withdraw your bid.
    Good luck with your business trip.

    Best Regards

    Lennon you not getting me right..I have nobody to receive it for me in the UK,don’t worry about the item going international as it will get to its destination un damage,pls give this issue a very good consideration…also I can no longer remove my bid again.

    NEW MAIL

    Pls.

    Hi Samuel
    I will not send the item outside of the UK.
    You can retract the bid very simply, click on the following link
    http://offer.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?RetractBidShow
    Best Regards

    cannot do that as i no longer have acess to my money again,and paypal said they cannot refund me as its already in your account,waiting for a proof of postage from you to complete it,pls lennon just do this for me for God’s sake.

    Hi Samuel
    How very unusual. Paypal won’t refund your money? Just go to their Buyer Protection section. They will help you out.
    Best Regards

    I can wait for 21days mate…you not even given me a second think…

    Hi Samuel
    I’m sure you’ll manage OK.
    Best Regards

    Am disappointed in you lennon..thought u said u a writer??a writer doesn’t seem to be this rigid..I read little of your writes and you seem very loyal and cool but you’ve just proof me wrong..its bad ..I though the word says “customer are always right”??,am really unhappy with this and you’ve just embarrassed me in front of my nephew as have told him his package is on the way which he will so anxious to receive soonest,now you’ve got my paypal empty to the extent that I can’t even purchase another as I don’t have enough funds left..its very bad lenno.

    New Mail

    Better still can you dispatch it to my wife in USA???

    Another New Mail

    Pls lennon

    Ah Samuel, the only reason I’m still talking to you is because I’m a writer.
    Your ineffective attempts to defraud me are, in their own way, fascinating.
    Stealing is not a way of life Samuel. You are a fraud. You are not even very good at it.
    So – no I can’t dispatch it to your wife in the USA. Not even if you say pretty please.
    Go get a life Samuel.
    Best Regards

    I have not had a response to this last one yet, nor has Samuel signed up to receive my monthly newsletter. C’mon Sam. You know you want to.

     

  • Writing

    writing image

    Most of you have forgotten, but I am writing a book.

    I’ve forgotten from time to time.

    Fortunately, I somehow snared a writing buddy (Amanda Fleet), who reminds me.

    Amanda and I have been discussing a character in my novel. We’ll call her Natalya. As her name is Natalya that seems the simplest thing to call her.

    She is quite a looker and smarter than the average bear. Amanda wanted to know what made this woman tick. Had I worked out where she was from? Did I know her backstory?

    I began typing an answer to the question. I stopped for a cup of tea. Then I typed some more. And more. Yes, I did know where she was from, what made her tick. To my own great surprise, I know a hell of a lot about her.

    This taught me two things, which I now share with you for free. (Don’t forget to buy the book when I publish it)

    1. When I’m not sure about a character, or a plot, I’m going to write down the question, and then start writing the answer out. It’s amazing what’s in the head, waiting to come out.
    2. You do not need a writing buddy to write a book. But having one makes it a hell of a lot easier.

    Amanda has not mucked about as much as me – you can buy her book here.

    When not toiling away at the book, I have been preparing for my wee walk which is a scant six weeks away now. Stu and I are, in turns, terrified and excited. How bad could it be?

    Right. Off to polish Natalya. (Ahem…)

     

  • Winner!

    The Wrong Kind of Clouds cover

    We have a Winner, Ladies and Gentlemen.

    In my post here, where I interviewed debut novelist Amanda Fleet, I promised that one subscriber would win a copy of ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’, which is available here or at your local Amazon store.

    It is a great read and now available both on paper and your favourite e-reader. I urge you to go and check it out. I am lobbying hard for some more adventures for the lead characters, but Amanda is being stubborn. (Yorkshire-born, you know.)

    Read it!

    While I am being bossy, once you have read it, review it. Ultimately, us poor new writers have you guys as our marketing team. The more you review it and recommend it, then the more people get to hear about it and hopefully, buy it. Go on, give a new writer a hand.

    The draw was made yesterday and the first name out of the hat was Jack Dowd. Jack blogs, writes, self-publishes and tweets. Track him down here on his blogJack – you are a winner!

    Right – I have to get back to writing, working and all sorts of other w’s (No dirty comments please!)

     

     

     

  • Amanda Fleet – an interview

    Amanda Fleet

    Regular readers will be aware that I have a writing buddy. Amanda Fleet recently published her debut novel ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’. I reviewed it here. If you would like the chance to win a free copy, then scroll to the bottom of the page and sign up for my newsletter. (Offer open until midnight on July 30th 2016. You will automatically be signed up for Amanda’s newsletter too.)

    All current subscribers will be entered into the draw too. Both Amanda’s newsletter and mine have unsubscribe buttons.

    Paperback copies are available for purchase direct from the publisher. E books are available in all the usual places – here is the Amazon UK link.

    The following questions were batted to and fro over the last few weeks, when Amanda was in the midst of launching the novel, both virtually, and in person at Waterstones St Andrews.

    Congratulations! You have published your debut novel, ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’ and very good it is too. How long was it in the making?

    A number of people have asked me this. I had a look in my notebook to see when I started writing it and naturally, I haven’t written the date in there at the start, but chasing through the notebook, it would seem that the first draft took about a year from first notes to first full draft. I then left it alone for a while but had finished the first edit by six months later. It went off to beta readers towards the end of 2011 and I did some more editing, based on their feedback. I then left it alone while I wrote two more books! I was only meaning to write one more, but then the inspiration struck and I didn’t want to lose it!

    It went to Dea Parkin, my editor, in spring 2015. More editing after that. Although I technically started writing it just over 5 years ago, I think the total time spent writing and editing it would be about 20 months. I’ve written a number of other things since, which are hopefully going to come out in within the next year or so.

    An extensive process. Which are your favourite elements?

    Oh, by far the initial planning and sketching out of the plot and writing character notes. It’s a period of discovery and imagination and the ideas come thick and fast – so fast I get scared  I won’t manage to trap them all and they’ll evaporate. Once the planning is done, I think writing the first draft is my next favourite part – there’s still that buzz of creativity going on.

    And the least favourite?

    Editing. I know of some writers who love editing – checking every word and fine-tuning it all until it’s humming – and I admire them for it. That’s not how I find editing!

    Part of the novel is set in Malawi. Why there?

    I went out to Malawi with work (University of St Andrews) many times, working on a project with the College of Medicine in Blantyre, Malawi. While I was in Malawi, I met Mac Nkhutabasa – a man working with homeless children, helping them to return to education and get off the streets. A significant strand of the book developed from working with him to set up a charity – Chimwemwe Children’s Centre – to help the kids. The charity in the book – Samala – is loosely based on Chimwemwe, though Chimwemwe is 100% above board!

    I love Malawi. It is a beautiful country that steals your heart but can also break it. It’s a country that few people seem to know about or visit and I wanted to let people see a bit of it.

    Are you still involved with the Children’s Centre? What does it do?

    I am still involved. Chimwemwe works with homeless and disadvantaged children in Blantyre, Malawi, helping them to remain in education or to return to it. For many families, it is a financial struggle to send their children to school – the cost of uniforms and stationery and textbooks can be more than they can afford – and so the children get pulled out of school to work or beg. Chimwemwe helps the families by buying the uniforms and stationery for the children and paying the school fees for those in secondary education (which is not free in Malawi). For those children who have been orphaned, we help them into foster care and support the foster families as well as the kids (buying food for them so that taking the children on doesn’t mean that the foster family is pushed towards poverty). We’ve also just finished building a centre where the kids can go to do homework and get life-skills lessons. For those older kids who are about to leave school, we help them to get apprenticeships or training so that they can build their own businesses and also give them a start-up grant to help them to find their feet.

    You are Dr Amanda Fleet. You held a permanent post at the University of St Andrews lecturing on Physiology, a post which you have given up to become a full-time writer. Not a small decision. Why did you make it?

    Well… I’d been writing and working full-time for a few years, spending evenings and weekends scribbling away. That wasn’t sustainable! Or compatible with staying healthy, and so I moved to part-time work at the university – three days a week – and wrote at weekends and on the days I wasn’t working. Then, finally, a serious heart condition made me reassess my priorities in life and I decided to have a career change. Writing made me happier than working at the university did and trying to fit too much into too little time was having a significant and detrimental effect on my health. I miss some aspects of working at the university (not least the pay cheques!) but it was the right move and I haven’t regretted it so far.

    What was it like getting from an idea in your head to a printed, published book?

    Surreal. It genuinely feels like it’s happening to someone else! Everyone says I must be really proud of my achievements and delighted to see the book in print… I am delighted, but it feels as if I’m delighted for a friend rather than for myself. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet or maybe I live too much of my life in a fantasy world in my head, but it doesn’t feel mine to be honest.

    You explained that there are two more books already written. Do the characters from “The Wrong Kind of Clouds” feature in them?

    No. Actually, there are more than two written, because The Wrong Kind of Clouds wasn’t the first book I’d written, it was the first to get published. I have a bit of a back-log building up! People keep asking me whether there’s another book with Summer and LB going to happen and I have ¾ of one written with them in it. I think I’ll need to get that one sorted out soon since everyone seems to want more of them.

    When can we expect the publication of number two?

    Hopefully within the year. I’m editing at the moment and that book will go off to my editor at the end of June, for her to make it better.

    What advice would you give to anyone considering writing a book?

    Be sure that you have the time. You’re not writing the book yet, but you fill every minute of your day with something. What gets replaced in order to write the book? Do you stop watching TV? Stop playing sport? Stop seeing friends? You need to think what you’re going to have to give up in order to have the time to write, because there are 24 hours in the day and no more. Just because you decide to spend 2 hours a day writing, doesn’t mean the day is now 26 hours long! You need to know where you’ll get the time from. To have a head full of ideas and no opportunity to scribble them down before they vanish, is hell. Believe me, I know.

     

  • Reflections on the A to Z Challenge

    A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

    Reflections

    The A to Z challenge is difficult. I tried to find a perfect post length, long enough to make a point, but brief enough that people find it easy to finish.

    This year, I had completed all of my posts in advance, which made the experience less stressful. However, one of my reflections is that I felt more detached from the challenge this year, undoubtedly because I was not writing a post each day.

    That said – I am not sure that I have enough to say to post every day. I am reasonably certain that few people have time to come by and read every day. I am absolutely certain that I do not have time to write something every day.

    There is an inherent danger that a focus on quantity adversely impacts quality, and for that reason, I am not sure that the challenge is for me any more.

    Does that mean that the challenge is no good? No, it doesn’t.

    The challenge is an excellent way to practise discipline and to generate some traffic to the blog. My reflections on the exercise have also made me think about how to publicise my blog posts.

    Many people that read my posts, do it from another platform – Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin. Tempting though it is to release multiple messages on each of these platforms directing readers to the blog – it quickly becomes wearing on those people who are connected to me on those platforms.

    I greatly enjoyed the challenge this year, but I suspect that I will not do it next year. My focus will be to post regularly – but advertise selectively. I am grateful to have learned that.

     

     

  • Z is for Zenith

    Matterhorn

    If the A to Z is a Challenge, then today is the zenith, the highest point.

    This post was drafted in early April. It represents the clearing of the decks – leaving me free to concentrate on the redrafting of the best debut novel ever written by me. So, by the time you read this, the first draft will be no more, replaced by a pacier, tighter draft. You, the reader will be propelled through Central Europe in the last decade of the twentieth century, where ambition could make you rich and get you killed.

    To get to that point, a zenith of sorts, I have meandered through a variety of writing approaches and spent a kings ransom on stationery and fountain pens. I have driven my wife to distraction and even the poor dog is sick of listening to tales of Sean and Natalya.

    Congratulations to everyone who completed the A to Z Challenge. Give yourselves a big pat on the back.

    Thank you to all of you lovely people who came by, commented or signed up to the blog.

    I entreat you all. Sign up for updates from any blog that you enjoy. It is a massive boon to the writer. Read more. It’s the zenith of learning and civilisation.

    And of course, buy books.

    Read new authors.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

  • Y is for Years

    SnakeOil

    ‘Last month, I wrote a book, one hundred and twenty four blog posts and made six hundred and eighteen thousand dollars.’

    Well done! It is always nice to see a fellow writer do well.

    There are a few claims like the above out there. Gurus who have cracked the secrets of making gazillions from writing ‘by following these few simple steps’.

    One of the few simple steps is, of course, to wire some money to the guru.

    I am an open-minded sort of guy and have read a few of these ‘written-in-a-month’ books. My overriding feeling on finishing is always ‘what did you do with the other twenty nine days?’

    I’m sure that there are writers out there who write fast, edit quickly and publish in a heartbeat. I’m sure that they have produced brilliance. I just haven’t found any yet.

    I can tell you from experience that there are definitely writers out there who write fast, edit quickly and publish in a heartbeat. They produce crap.

    Books that have moved me contain years of work. Years of thought, years of experience, years of work. The drafting might not take years, but the process as a whole does. At least that is my perception.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge

  • X is for Xenophobia

    sabre-tooth-tiger-_1117360c

    (Image taken from The Daily Telegraph.)

    Xenophobia. ‘Fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.’ Wikipedia.

    More recently Xenophobia is understood to mean specifically a fear of foreigners.

    In the best debut novel ever written by me, the hero Sean finds himself in a new country, facing new people and challenges.

    He is Xenophobic. Of course he is. We all are. We would be stupid not to be. I am no evolutionary scientist, but I suspect that fear of the foreign or strange was essential. It is what made our ancestors look at a sabre-tooth tiger and think ‘Hmmm… Not sure that I’m going to go give that thing a hug’

    When I hear or read the word xenophobia now, people are using it to lament that prejudice remains. Prejudice about gender, race, disability and sexuality. I believe that it is in our nature to fear that which is strange or foreign. We overcome these fears through learning and education. At the root of learning is reading.

    Read more.

    book_guide_hero_books

    To eradicate prejudice, we need to read more, to learn more, to become familiar with more and more different people and situations. This will help us overcome Xenophobia.

    In short, sign up for my e-mail newsletter and I’ll let you know when the best debut novel ever written by me is available – and you can join the fight.

    By buying it.

    Blogging from A to Z Challenge