Novel Challenge? Bring it on.

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I am taking on the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge to produce a 50,000 word first draft in November.

As a warm up, I am completing a draft for Novel number 1 in October.

If all goes to plan then at the end of November, I will have two novels in draft form.

At the time of writing, the word count on Novel number 1 stands at 40,701.

As you may gather, I am feeling ever so slightly pleased with myself.

All right, I am feeling very smug and unbearably cocky.

This, of course, is a harbinger of impending doom.

But I am ready for whatever challenge is coming my way.

It turns out, that writing lots of words can actually be quite easy.

The trick is to banish one’s internal editor to the naughty step. He is not allowed back in my head until the two drafts are completed.

It is incredibly liberating to just let the words flow with scant regard for quality.

In effect, I am probably writing drivel.

I daresay that the editing will be quite a challenge when the time comes, but I have a secret weapon.

My own personal “Editing Jedi” who is teaching me the ways of The Force.

It’s more of the ‘Red Pen’ than The Force, but it’s equally powerful and well worth a look if you are learning to write effectively.

 

Did I mention I was writing a novel?

NaNoWriMoOn the 22nd February 2015, I started this blog.

I hoped to use it to record a journey from “I would like to write a book” to “I have written a book.”

I might also post the odd observation about the world in general.

This is post fifty-four.

So, fifty three posts in 7 months or so. Just under two a week.

Hardly prolific, but not bad, I reckon.

I have dribbled on about politics, IT struggles and even blogged from A to Z in a month.

This will be the twentieth post that has the category ‘Writing’ attached to it.

The novel got started at around the same time as the blog. By the ninth of March, thirteen thousand five hundred words were in the bag. I had set myself a minimum of five hundred words per working day and was going at almost twice that pace. Easy this novel writing.

I thought I might take a day or two off.

By the twelfth of July, I still had 13,500 words in the bag. Four months gone. Disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Time to get the shoulder to the wheel again. On the seventeenth of July, the word count stood at 18,782.

What had I learned?

Firstly, time flies when you are avoiding novel writing.

Secondly, one thousand words per working day was not exactly a stretch. If I could write ten words, I seemingly had no problem writing a thousand.

On the twenty eighth of September, the word count STILL stood at 18,782.

Somehow, I had mislaid another two and a bit months.

Seven months after becoming a self-proclaimed writer, I had actually produced 18,782 words or an average of 125 words per working day.

The really striking thing was that actual days spent on the novel was eighteen, at an average of 1043 per day.

If I am going to actually produce any novels, then I need to focus on those first ten words of each day.

This led me to NaNoWriMo, which is possibly the worst acronym type thing in history.

That such a cumbersome lump of letters was produced by cooperative of writers is a beautiful irony.

It stands for National Novel Writing Month.

Without going all technical on you, a bunch of lunatic writers commit to producing a 50,000 word draft entirely in the month of November.

It’s not strictly policed, there is no prize and you don’t actually have to pay anything.

There is a large internet forum and more localised writing groups.

Here the lunatics can whine, laugh, cry, rant or even have constructive conversations and offer each other support.

That’s about it.

“The very thing for me!”

I immediately signed myself up as a NaNoWriMo lunatic.

The thing is, I can’t really use my current draft. It really needs to be a new one.

In actual fact, there is nothing at all to stop me from doing what I like, but it seems silly to sign up and then not follow the rules.

Fear not – I came up with a solution.

“I’ll finish the draft for the first novel in October, then do the second novel as my NaNoWriMo draft. Perfect!”

This stroke of genius hit me on the 28th of September.

Allow me to summarise.

Each November writers the world over get involved in trying to produce 50,000 word drafts of their novel. Many succeed. Many fail. Many go slightly mad trying.

In order to ‘do it properly’, I have decided to, in effect, do it twice.

Once in October to finish the draft of my first novel and then again in November to finish a draft of my second.

I really need to have a good look at my reasoning process. Something is seriously wrong there.

And yet…

The word count on Novel 1 now stands at 31,037

So, if you’ll excuse me I have to dash.

I’m writing two novels you see.

Cyprus – English Fatigue?

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I spend a fair amount of time in Cyprus.

My parents retired here and I lived here for a while.

I have a holiday home not far from Limassol.

It’s beautiful. It’s hot and sunny.

Cyprus, island of Aphrodite, sits in the eastern Mediterranean, not far from the coast of Lebanon. As islands go, it has seen more than its fair share of turbulence and invasion.

For many years it was a part of the Ottoman empire and laterly was a Crown colony of the United Kingdom. In 1960 it became an independent republic.

Recent history is complicated – Greek Cypriots in the 1950s were fighting for ‘Enosis’ –  union with Greece.

Instead, they got an independent republic, where ethnic Turkish Cypriots had protected rights.

The Republic never really worked and in 1974, the Greek Cypriots staged a military coup (egged on by the Junta in control of Greece) with an eye to achieving Enosis.

Turkey resisted this with an old fashioned, but effective counter.

Paratroopers.

The island was partitioned and remains so to this day.

The above is a gross over-simplification, I am no historian.

There is a fascinating book called the Cyprus Conspiracy by Brendan O’Malley that does a good job of shedding some light on a dark corner of geo-politics. Well worth a read.

The United Kingdom, throughout all of this upheaval, has largely managed to maintain a strong relationship with the part of the island that was not occupied by Turkey.

The Royal Air Force has an airfield here and there are several other UK military installations on the island.

Cyprus is reliant on tourism and the lion’s share of visitors have always been British.

Certainly, one would never struggle to find an English Breakfast on the coast.

While I would not necessarily see the ubiquitous availability of an English breakfast as a positive, there can be no denying that the universal use of English and affinity with the British does make Cyprus ‘easy’ to work for the Brits.

This affinity, together with the tourist industry and turnover of military personnel means that thousands of UK citizens make Cyprus their home in retirement.

Greek is a tough language, and the British are notoriously bad at learning languages anyway.

In Cyprus, this never mattered. Cypriots speak excellent English and many have attended university in the UK or the USA.

Over the last couple of years though, I have noticed a trend.

A sort of militant “Greek only” trend.

In equipping the holiday home, I have visited that famous Swedish furniture giant – Ikea. As Cyprus is a small island, rather than invest directly, multinational firms tend to grant franchises. Ikea is no exception.

Everything in Ikea – from the labels on the goods, to the leaflets, to the signs on the door is in Greek and only Greek.

I have never seen that in Cyprus before.

Adjoining the Ikea store is a shopping mall. The mall has a food court where can be found the usual fast food suspects.

There is also a fast food version of more traditional Cypriot food.

Again – all of the signage was in Greek only.

A reasonable percentage of consumers in Cyprus will speak little or no Greek. Tourists generally don’t, and many expats don’t either.

Therefore this policy has a cost to the business.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it – but there seems a sort of militance to it – an intentional statement.

I am not sure why it should be happening and whether it might have a broader connotation.

 

Immigration. Stop it. Now

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Stop spouting uninformed nonsense about immigration and immigrants.

I posted about this before.

I am prompted to do so again by the horrific images currently all over the media.

A school of thought is emerging that we have an obligation towards refugees but that economic migrants are a major problem.

I don’t want to pontificate, so I will limit myself to a story or two.

I married the daughter of two immigrants. Economic migrants in fact. In post-war Sicily, there simply was no work.

My father-in-law packed a bag and worked in Germany, Switzerland and Glasgow before settling in London and becoming a postman. Hardly the Cosa Nostra is it?

Once he had saved enough money to buy a house, he brought his wife and three daughters over. His wife and ultimately daughters got work in the local hospital.

My wife came along in London as a little surprise. Testament to the poor quality of British television in the sixties perhaps.

Margaret got a university degree and has never been without work.

Britain has done well out of these particular economic migrants.

I even got a wife out of the deal, which I’m very pleased about.

This year, my wife’s cousin has made the move from Sicily. In post-crisis Sicily, there is simply no work.

My cousin-in-law packed his bag, come to London and become a bus driver. He is hoping to soon have enough money to bring his wife and child over.

The parallels are obvious.

On the phone the other day, my cousin asked my wife why no English people drove buses in London.

All of his colleagues are immigrants. All of them.

I daresay that some would say that all the bus driver jobs are taken by immigrants.

For this to be true, I would need to believe that the major bus companies are intentionally filtering out indigenous English people at interview stage.

I really can’t see why this would be.

We might speculate why immigrants are that much more successful in becoming bus drivers than the indigenous population.

We might wish to look at motivations of employers and applicants.

Anecdotally, an employer might tell you that an immigrant is more likely to be flexible, and to find a way to work.

There are good people of all colours, creeds and nationalities. There are bad ones too.

That a man (or woman) wants to build a good life for his family is to be admired, not feared.

We must stop demonising immigration and immigrants.

Inbox Zero

I suggested in another post that you go away to a desert island for a week and come back to face the barbarian horde that is your weekly email delivery.

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Add this horde to the mass of missives that you already have kept, and soon your inbox is so big that it is actually slowing your computer down.

The instinctive answer to this is to delete all the mail on the basis that any important ones will probably get sent again.

I do believe that this approach has its merits, but some of the downsides can be severe – all of my bosses would have taken a dim view of it for a start.

The accepted measure to demonstrate one’s brilliance and mastery of email is “inbox zero”.

Inbox zero is what it sounds like, it is the state of having an empty inbox.

When you assess the inbox is up to you, but the aim is to have a time each day where you reach the point that your inbox is completely empty.

A point where every piece of correspondence that has been sent to you has been ‘actioned’.

_40916095_allen_cigarette203bbcThis approach is often credited to David Allen.

I admit to being amazed the Irish TV wit who sat on a stool, cigarette in hand making people laugh in the 70s and 80s had time to write books on productivity.

Turns out to be a different Dave Allen.

This one designed the Get Things Done (GTD) approach to productivity.

The theory is that I look at my Inbox and act on every mail.

I reply, delegate, delete or schedule. Each choice moves the message out of the inbox.

GTD is alarmingly trendy.

But that notwithstanding, there is something to it. If you feel that you are working for email rather than the other way around, have a look at “Get Things Done”.

I am now pretty much perpetually at Inbox zero.

How?

1. I use Gmail. In my experience, Google have been the most competent provider at keeping spam out of my inbox.

2. I use Gmail. When in doubt, don’t delete – archive. That way, you can always find the mail with a google search of your ‘All Mail’ folder.

It works. It makes the decision making process faster. Knowing that if I ditch a mail too hastily, I can recover it simply and easily.

3. Once at my desk, I take a few minutes to unsubscribe from email lists.

4. I manage mail from all my devices. I can therefore triage my inbox from anywhere.

Waiting for a meeting/bus/coffee? Whip the phone out, and go through the inbox…delete, archive, delete, snooze, reply, add to list and so on. I use a client called Mailbox that gives me these options.

I might not get through the whole inbox in one go – but through the day, I will have dealt with most unimportant email during spare minutes.

5. Turn notifications off. I look at email when I want to. I am not at its command. We all have enough to do without responding to beeps and whistles.

Are you the boss of your Inbox?

Edinburgh

 

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Last week, I spent a couple of days in the magnificent city of Edinburgh.

The picture above of Edinburgh castle was taken from the breakfast room of the hotel that we stayed in.

I may be a little biased in that my Dad comes from that neck of the woods, but Edinburgh is a fantastic place to visit.

Every August the city and its environs host the Edinburgh International Festival and its unruly, less high brow, younger brother, the Fringe.

The Fringe has comedy, pop art, kids shows – pretty much anything goes.

Every theatre, gallery, library, book shop, pub, cafe and broom cupboard becomes a venue.

The Fringe is now the biggest festival of its kind in the world.

Also during August, Edinburgh is host to the Military Tattoo, which is what I go to see.

I will post about the tattoo separately, but it is an event that should be on every bucket list, in my opinion. Simply awesome.

The city itself positively throbs with visitors from near and far.

Bars, restaurants and cafes are full to overflowing from mid morning until long after dark.

For my trip, the sun was out, the winds were down and Edinburgh could have been a southern European city.  The party spilled out from the hostelries onto outdoor terraces and decks. It was gorgeous.

With one exception, the businesses of Edinburgh welcomed us with open arms.

August is, I’m sure a bonanza for the hospitality industry.

Everybody is excited, having fun and looking to have a good time. We ate, we drank and most of all we laughed.

Stuart LennonI was travelling with my wife, her cousin and her husband. (We are in the picture right) We met up with my cousin and her man. (That’s them below on their trusty steed)

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We laughed until our sides ached.

Where is your favourite city?

Email. Friend or Foe?

MailboxLogo+Wordmark_Vertical_BLUEEmail. It’s all about making things easier and more efficient.

Isn’t it?

Incidentally, I am talking with some smart people. They will redesign this blog to separate the various flavours of nonsense that I write.

More on that another time, but if you have no interest in productivity or IT, stop reading now.

I have posted, well, whinged about Email clients in a couple of other posts. Here and here.

The essence is this: I want to have an email client that sits on my Mac, my iPad and my iPhone and that plays nice with my Gmail and syncs perfectly.

Why?

Over the last 10 years, far from making me more efficient, email has become the biggest single drag on my time and productivity.

Email has become a barbarian horde. Honestly. It has.

Go away to a desert island for a week.

Come back and turn your computer on; instantly there are hundreds, thousands even, of emails waiting for your attention.

How I am trying to manage this, I am going to put into a separate post, as this one is getting longer and longer.

I have tried a lot of different clients and come across some brilliant apps. There are literally thousands of email clients. Many of them however are designed for specific devices.

Handle for example is a cracking wee app for the iPhone. However, it doesn’t have a big brother for the Mac and it wants to be in charge of the calendar, which is a whole new kettle of fish.

Inbox by Google is great on iPhone and iPad. Again, there is no version for the Mac.

I thought that I had found the answer with Mail Pilot, but alas the apps were not syncing; so mails kept reappearing. The exact opposite of what I am trying to achieve.

I wrote here before that Mail Pilot had not responded to my anguished request for help. I was hasty. I received this;

Hi Stuart,

Sorry for the delayed reply. Sometimes after initially installing, the apps can take some time to synchronize. Has this issue resolved?
Thanks!
-Josh

Co-founder + COO

I have gone back explaining that it got resolved after three days by my not using it anymore – but as yet, no further reply.

I have now settled on a mail client that I had used for a while a year ago. Mailbox

The app on the iPad and iPhone is simply brilliant.

The one for the Mac is strictly speaking still a ‘Beta’ which is a version in testing. It is pretty good too, if a little prone to the occasional ‘moment’ or crash, as I believe a ‘moment’ should properly be called.

Firstly, I should point out that if you want to manage email from work; that probably comes off an Exchange server and Mailbox is not for you (at the moment). Exchange is not supported.

Mailbox allows me to defer mails, so that they disappear from my inbox and return at appointed times. It allows me to archive or delete instantly, or to add a mail to a ‘list’.

The app syncs across my devices seamlessly. It is a joy to use, on touch screens in particular. Swipe here, swipe there – all done.

It is a really intuitive piece of kit, that for now at least, lives on all of my machines.

The company behind Mailbox was snapped up by DropBox before the app was on the market.

Online support is thus far excellent and I have had no crash problems.

As this post sat in my drafts folder awaiting my approval, the developers issued new releases of the Mac client. Three in quick succession.

Crashes left, right and centre.

However, it is encouraging to see the app improving and becoming more stable.

I am hopeful that it will soon be a full blown version. Check it out here.

No Dickheads

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I posted last week about a Golf Day that I attended – BattleBack versus Rugby’s Golf Club.

Once the golf had finished, we repaired to Tedworth House, a Help 4 Heroes Recovery Centre, for a spot of dinner and a charity auction.

I bought the print above. The original (complete with signatures of many famous sports and media folk) was presented to Welsh Rugby legend Cliff Morgan on the occasion of his retirement.

One hundred prints were countersigned by the man himself to be used for charitable purposes.

Now I have one in my house. This makes me feel inordinately pleased with myself. My wife is, for the moment, reserving judgement.

Rugby’s Golf Club relates to the game of Rugby, not the place. It binds people with interests in Rugby, Golf and doing good. Jason Leonard is the club President.

After dinner – one of our number stood up and spoke about The Rugby Business Network. His name was Colm Hannon.

Colm, like me, played prop. Unlike me, he was good at it.

Colm played professional rugby in Ireland, England and South Africa. I daresay that he made a pretty decent living.

Post Rugby – he identified a need for something like The Rugby Business Network and went out and set it up. Good on him.

He presented to us what it is and what it is for.

I may get a word or two wrong, but I’m sure that he will forgive me;

“Essentially there is one criterion for membership. Officially we say that at any RBN event you must say “How can I help you?” – but unofficially, it is much simpler.”

“No Dickheads.”

If you played Rugby, then I suspect that you understand the nuance.

Certainly many in the room nodded their understanding, although of course, this may have just been people nodding off as the wine took effect.

I have a feeling that Jason Leonard knows exactly what it means and I am sure that Cliff Morgan would have too.

No Dickheads means team first.

Your teammates come before all else. No ego. No bullshit – not on the field, not off the field.

If there is anything that anyone takes away from the game of rugby – then it is this. (And a lot of very imaginative and graphic song lyrics)

In many ways, it is a good maxim to live by – in business, in sport, in everything.

 

Perspective

Battleback

“More Golf?”

Now, now, dear reader. Relax.

You sound like the wife.

This post is only tangentially about golf.

Yesterday I took part in a golf day at my home club Tidworth Garrison Golf Club.

It was a match between BattleBack Golf and Rugby’s Golf Club. I slipped in with a few other club members to even out the numbers.

Please do check out the links above, a great golf club and two superb sports initiatives. All the links will open in separate pages.

Back with me? Good.

I was playing with the two people in the picture. They were playing for the BattleBack team.  – That makes them injured service people.

On the left we have Fiona, who was injured while training and has had and continues to have multiple operations on her shoulder and knee. On the right is Jimmy who managed to get himself shot five times in the leg on Operations.

Both people that might have some justification in feeling a bit hard done by as well as not a little bit sore.

Not a bit of it. They were both bundles of energy, out to have fun. Out to get recovered.

It’s all a matter of perspective apparently.

Jimmy has not yet got a handicap, and was predictably a bit erratic. When he got it going the right way, you can take my word for it, that ball stayed hit. As his leg recovery continues, and he continues to play (he has just started) he will comfortably pass me in golfing prowess.

Fiona is an accomplished golfer. To demonstrate the point, she knocked in a hole in one on the thirteenth. (That is the green that you can see on the left of this page.) A beautiful shot and her first hole in one.

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The purists will of course need to know that Yes, poor Fiona was hit for a very large round of drinks!

Quite apart from sharing in the delight of that rare thing, the hole in one, the whole day was brilliant.

Dinner was hosted at Tedworth House.

Here food was eaten, some jokes were told, some wine was drunk and there was even a little auction action.

A gentleman called Mark was asked to say a few words about Help 4 Heroes and what it had meant and continues to mean for him.

I cannot recreate what he said or how he said it. I am not sure that I can adequately express how much sincerity weighed down each and every one of his words.

I can write that BattleBack and Help 4 Heroes are important. Like life and death important.

Days like this are about perspective, and understanding what things really matter in life.

My perspective? How lucky am I to have the chance to write what I want, do what I want – because brave Men and Women go out and serve.

 

WAKE UP! Appeasement doesn’t work.

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The picture above is of Neville Chamberlain, a very nice chap, who is perhaps unfairly remembered almost entirely for his utterance “Peace in our time”.

He had met up with a little chap called Hitler and they had agreed that young Adolf was not going to do anything that might upset the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

So that’s all right then.

Chamberlain was far from alone in recommending that we avoid war at all costs. The vast majority of the USA was of the same mind, for example. Frankly, the young Nazi chap was clearing Europe up a bit. A little close to the line perhaps, particularly if you were Czech for example – but ultimately, better to let him get on with it, than risk war.

Appeasement they called it.

As a policy, it didn’t go terribly well.

Recently, a key issue in the parliamentary election in the UK has been Immigration.

Even more recently, we have been gripped in the new soap opera called ‘Grexit’.

There has been an enormous amount of focus on the harrowing and difficult conflict in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, there have been some other bits and pieces of news. It is these bits and pieces that I wish to bring to your attention.

The UK military has been known to refer to the island of Cyprus as ‘our permanent aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean’.

More recently, the European Union made an example of Cyprus – forcing it to impose a levy on all bank accounts or drop out of the euro. In plain talk, savers in some Cyprus banks made an involuntary donation to the public purse. That showed them.

Completely coincidentally, Russian investment in Cyprus increased. While the rest of the world was running for cover, Russia was investing in Cyprus. In March of 2014, they even sent an aircraft carrier to pop in.

The Cypriot government has granted Russia access to a deepwater port and airfield you see. How very neighbourly.

Then there was a little fracas in the Crimea. All a bit difficult to follow for us Western folk – but it’s okay, that nice chap in Moscow sorted it out.

Something about a deep water port down there too. Still you have to admire the consistency.

I know that it is difficult to believe, but this Vladimir chap has also found the time to help out in Ukraine. Apparently there are a whole load of people in the Ukraine who really want to be best friends with Russia.

In fact, rather than move to Russia, these people have decided that they must take up arms to defend themselves from their own government. Thankfully Vlad has it all under control.

Meanwhile – The European Union is taking no prisoners in Greece. Time to make an example of them. Quietly, Vlad has offered to help out his comrades in Athens if they can’t make up with their European buddies. How nice of him.

What is amazing, is that this caring, community chap used to be a cold war warrior. He spent his life in learning subversion techniques – Hearts and Minds, I think that we call it.

After Mr Chamberlain waved his bit of paper and declared “Peace in Our Time”, well..

There wasn’t.