Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Wormton Lamb abroad

Both The Horsepower Whisperer and The Wormton Lamb enjoyed a small burst of popularity over the summer and I recently received these photos from Mr Graham Poyntz who chose The Wormton Lamb as his holiday read. Here it is on a balcony overlooking the Amalfi coast. Having been to Amalfi myself, I know what competition there is for one's attention from the scenery so I'm very pleased that Graham managed to drag his eyes away from the view to look at what I've written.

Now that the evenings are drawing in, I feel more inclined to write again, although before I do that I have to do an awful lot of planning. And I know that I haven't publicised my existing books as much as I would like. Regular readers of the old Anarchadia blog will knmow what an uphill struggle this is, especially if you do the obvious things. It seems everyone is doing those and it's easy to get lost in the noise. So I'm thinking about the less obvious ways to do this, ones that I feel more comfortable about than cold calling uninterested editors of local papers. If I'm actively enjoying what I'm doing I can sweep people along. This hasn't really happened yet with my self-publicising efforts.

The way I see it, anything I do next should be fun. That's something I can share.

In the meantime here's another shot of the high life from the Amalfi coast.

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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Very favourable review for The Wormton Lamb

I've just been advised of this extremely positive review on BookPleasures for The Wormton Lamb.

I am particularly pleased because I wasn't entirely sure if the Anarchadian Engine Punk thang would translate for American readers but it seems that in this country we've been led to expect the worst. Obviously, this particular reviewer is a highly intelligent woman of considerable taste. And before anyone asks, no i don't know her.

In the UK we hear so many stories of British TV programmes being re-written and re-acted to suit the American sense of homour - hell the folks in the parish beyond the Scillies even spell it differently - but they are people like you and me. Some jokes they get and some they don't just like Europeans, Africans, Indians, Chinese, Japanese and Australians.

So I am re-assured that it my stuff will appeal to the American market and could even go global.

It's quite easy being a megalomaniac, y'know.

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Thursday, 29 January 2009

Vintage Thing No.38 - Honda S-MX

I'd never seen one of these before. I saw it on the industrial estate at Doublebois just up from Adrian Booth's workshop and didn't know what it was, so just had to find out. And after a deal of scrabbling about, I managed to identify it as a Honda S-MX. If you wanted a cube on wheels with an automatic box and fold down futon-style beds inside then this is the car for you. It's a good example of the kind of speciality cars the Japanese do so well. Any other car producing nation would never even try something like this. "Oh no they would say, there'd never be any call for something like that." So despite the slush box, I start to like it because of the odd niche that it's aimed at. There's a kind of "can-do" approach that the designers have followed and I like that.

I was dropping an A series cylinder head off at Adrian's to be reconditioned and he said there was a whole set of camping gear available as standard from the factory with this wagon. To start off with, neither of us reckoned much to it but I was looking at it from the wrong side - the kerb side. The otehr side has a single door and looks much better. I have to admit that it grew on me the more I looked around it, despite the slushbox.

I've never had a good experience with autos. They change gear all by themselves! Most disconcerting. Driving one, reminds me of riding a horse - I only tried it once - because autos feel like they have a mind of there own and - just like a horse - it's not a very big mind.

With a slushbox and the aerodynamics of a small bungalow, fuel consumption is reputedly 25mpg.

But if I stood in the road and admired the offside, it looked so much sleeker simply because it didn't have the vertical lines that extra sets of doors inflict on a car. It's a sliding door, too, on the passenger side only. That's fine in Japan, the Antipodes and the UK (and Anarchadia too incidentally) but no good on the Continent or in the US.

Which side do you prefer? With the tinted windows it looks like a smart little black van from the offside. And this side has much more impact than the nearside and I am perplexed but pleasantly surprised at what a difference the absence of the side doors makes. In fact, to quote David Brown our design lecturer on my Industrial Design/Transport course at Coventry Polytechnic, "I find myself liking it."

Somebody somewhere liked this S-MX sufficiently to personally import it from Japan. It's based on the Honda CR-V and was built from 1996-2006. The engine is a 1973cc (88 x 89) dohc four VTEC B20B unit that pumps out 140bhp and the 4 speed slushbox is stirred with an American style column lever that's like an over grown indicator stalk. There's also air-conditioning and ABS braking. Some even came with a 4x4 option.

The trouble with these MPVs like the S-MX, though, is that their interiors are too smart. They are not really workhorses like I need and not sports cars that I like. They are posh little minibuses and some - like this one - are too posh for even toting dogs and sticky-fingered kids. My old van (a future Vintage Thing methinks) doesn't look as smart as this bit is ssssso much more versatile, even without the designer camping gear (although I admit that this sounds rather fun).

This S-MX had bright yellow seats. My old van just has some off cuts of carpet and when they get oily - and they will - I simply throw them away and get some more. Honda had a reputation for the greyest of grey interiors when the S-MX was introduced and I reckon they were trying to compensate. The inside is the most striking aspect of the S-MX but wouldn't last if I used it as a van for picking up the spare parts I habitually cart around.

I reckon black is the best colour for the S-MX. You can get body kits for them but these are very much a question of personal taste. The S-MX reminds me of a Tonka toy and the more I think about it the more child-like the styling becomes - a car made out of building blocks. Look at it from its best side, though, and it looks like it was drawn by a child who had a highly developed aesthetic sense. Later versions had more circular headlamps that I think improved the looks slightly.

If only the SM-X had a manual box. Then I might be more kindly disposed towards it. The S-MX seems to have been designed as a town car, hence the slushbox, but why make the seats fold down into a bed? Are the traffic jams really that bad in Japan?

I have some Japanese Car Styling magazines for although semi-retired from active participation in industrial design I still take an interest. In one of the old issues is a piece on the S-MX, which was introduced by Honda as a series of new "Creative Movers". Don't you just love the language these firms come up with?

Apparently the S-MX is intended as a car for singles or couples. It was deliberately styled to look "bad", that's "bad" as in Michael Jackson bad. So are we expecting this black S-MX to turn pale and all it's plastic bits drop off? No. Honda build quality is too good for that.

The longer wheelbase F-MX (still based on the CR-V underpinnings shared with the S-MX) is for families with young children. So the S-MX is a kind of starter car and when you get married and settle down with kids you trade up to an F-MX. Yuck!

The S in S-MX stands for Street and the M for Move - Street Move Cross. That's probably a clue as to its intended habitat. But the Honda CR-V - another lifestyle 4x4 like an early Freelander - had a manual box and a similar engine with 7 extra brakes. I dunno how you'd keep the column gear shift. I've nothing against that - just the slushbox on the end of it. Raid the corporate parts bin and you'd have a little van I could be tempted by.

Especially in black.

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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Pictures on this blog

Just in case you didn't know already, to see a larger image of any illustrations on either this blog or my Anarchadia book blog that grab your interest or look like they might fascinate, all you have to do is click on it.

And anything written in purple or blue - like Anarchadia above - is a link to something amazing.

I just thought I'd mention it. Wouldn't want any of you to miss out.

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Thursday, 13 November 2008

Dragon NaturallySpeaking

A few weeks ago, I had a comment on this very blog that mentioned voice-activated dictation software. It described Dragon NaturallySpeaking as a secret weapon when it came to formatting text documents in readiness for publishing. I've had a lot of problems with using Word and PDF generators but had got around it by using Open Office Writer. I was interested to hear about this Dragon product as another alternative to using Word.

It was as I researched Dragon NaturallySpeaking that I realised that this might be an alternative to learning to touch type. I had already embarked upon a touch typing course (E-typing) but it soon became apparent that I would never be as quick as I fought or spoke. I am a reasonably fast two fingered typist but very often my ideas come spilling out of my brain and my fingers trip themselves up. In fact, I seem to be getting less accurate as I get older.

I decided to try Dragon NaturallySpeaking and ordered the Preferred version, complete with a Philips Digital Voice Tracer. It was very simple to set up. All I had to do was read some prescribed text at the software got to know my speech characteristics. Within half an hour I was dictating text to my machine.

During the second session, I began to wonder if the software was going to make much difference when it came to writing my next book, because I seem to be correcting things such a lot. However, with just a little more practice, speed and accuracy increased significantly. I have a lot of made up names in my work Dragon NaturallySpeaking didn't really have a chance in getting these right first time. I had to spend some time to teach it to recognise words like Anarchadia or Euphobia. A little effort spent at this stage seems to pay dividends later on.

For instance, I am dictating this text directly into Blogger. Occasionally the software doesn't recognise one of my mumbles but I'm already much faster than I would have been typing all this in with my two fingers. I find myself pausing frequently to think about what I'm about to say and write but this is probably not a bad thing. I've had it for about a week now and still have the feeling that I'm just scratching the surface of what it can do.

I described my experiences with some of my fellow rail travellers during the week a common response was, "Oh, I tried speech recognition software back in 1999 and it was rubbish." It seems that things have moved on quite a bit in the last 10 years.

The headset became a standard works alright but is incredibly uncomfortable to wear. I would say that it's more designed fret head the size of a child's. I have taken to wearing it around my neck like a kind of colour. It still works okay.

Philips Digital Voice Tracer allows me to record my thoughts anywhere. Just like the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software, I just speak normally into it. If I speak slowly or exaggerate my words the system doesn't recognise it. Uploading it onto my PC is easy and it's fascinating to see on the screen what you can hear as playback on a digital recorder.

So, although it's still only early days, I think this is the start of a wonderful new relationship with my PC. I can see this system increasing my productivity dramatically. Making blogs have suddenly become a whole lot easier. And I am more likely to avoid any problems in the future with carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injuries in my hands and wrists. If I can get a Bluetooth connection, I can lounge around anywhere in my house and just speak my stories out loud that they will appear on the screen ready for me to edit and save them.

Over the years, I've got into the habit of taking notebooks around with me. These often take the form of old diaries and my stories often start out as references to a series of dates that allow me to string together a sequence of ideas and eventually form a narrative. With Dragon NaturallySpeaking I can read out my notes in his diaries -- provided I can read what are written on the train -- and build my books up that way. What I used to have to do, was laboriously bash the text in with my two fingers. This way, my third book is already coming together much more quickly. Even though I was still learning to use the software, I still managed to ride over 7000 words this weekend. A lot of this was cribbed from my notebooks but I would never have been able to reach that kind of word count if I'd been pushing the keys instead of speaking the words. The text still needs editing but that all important initial draft will take dramatically less time to complete.

I can see this technology really making a difference to a lot of my friends who have an even greater difficulty in typing accurately than I have. I have already provoked some rather thoughtful expressions by demonstrating Dragon NaturallySpeaking to my friends and neighbours and it has occurred to me that I ought really to be getting commission on the numbers of future sales that I have probably already generated. But what I am really looking forward to is stringing together all the ideas that I have recorded in my notebooks and seeing my third book, The Grey Ones, come together in record-breaking time.

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Thursday, 25 September 2008

Not the end of blogging - the end of the beginning of blogging

It seems I was a little premature in writing off blogging as a novelty. Blogworld Expo in the states examined, among other things, how blogging can be made more profitable. One way of doing it is to have affiliate links so that any on-line purchases resulting in a sale from following a link from your site will earn you money. It’s blogging’s ability to share that’s being exploited and delegates were keen to emphasise the value of making lots of small connections that add up world wide.

I am not sure this would be appropriate for my blogs. I think it would compromise my freedom to express myself freely if I had to get in a brief word from my sponsor. I have affiliate links with Amazon already on my website but only for my own books. This makes sense for the Anarchadia blog and I could expand it to include books I’ve enjoyed or artists that have inspired me. And the Engine Punk blog could offer links to sites selling examples of the tasteful music I enthuse about. But the whole point about Engine Punk is that it’s marginal. It’s not about consuming more. It’s about doing stuff for ourselves. And it celebrates Vintage Things, not stuff that’s trendy.

As ever, there’s a flip side to all this.

My editor’s son tells me that my website looks a bit home grown. But that’s okay. There’s a reaction from some quarters against slick corporate PR so my homely and occasionally half-cocked efforts can be appealing.

And any recommendations that I may make as a result of my enthusiastic amateurishness carry weight.

For what is an amateur if he is not someone who does things out of love?

So if I genuinely like something and say so and help others find it, why shouldn’t I claim a commission through an affiliate programme, especially when everyone else is doing it, too?

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Thursday, 28 August 2008

Real life follows fiction - again!

It's happening again. First there was the giant lamb born to one of Caroline's ewe. In fact, they're Jacob's sheep but belong to Caroline. This means that as sheep they are usually quite modestly sized.

Then there's been all the soul-destroying influences we've been subjected to. We can't do anything fun because it damages the environment. We have to think about everything before we do it, audit our actions and ensure they stand up to scrutiny. Whose scrutiny? Why the Conformorians of course! Did you ever doubt they didn't really exist?

And now here's Monika-Sandra, a third instance of real life following my fiction (although I suspect the Conformorians have been around for years before I ever wrote about them). You know the character called Heidi in The Horsepower Whisperer had a pet bat? A friend of mine called Heidi has rescued this little person. Unfortunately Monika-Sandra the Pipestrelle bat had a broken wing and died a few days after these pictures were taken. Julian was found off the coast of Anarchadia waterlogged and close to drowning but is still with his fictional keeper.

I'm a bit spooked. What else will happen in real life that has
already happened in my books? I'm going to have to really careful what I write from now on.

From now on, the weather in my stories will be brilliantly good. All I have to do is get cracking with The Grey Ones - as soon as I've finished doing my book covers.

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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Disappointed with browsing

I reckoned I made the best of the dreadful weather at the weekend by re-vamping the Anarchadia website. I was pleased with the result until I looked on at my site at lunchtime using the web browser employed where I work.

I added playlists to the pages for The Horsepower Whisperer and The Wormton Lamb and did quite a bit of tidying up. I've had a lot of problems getting things in the right places but last weekend I made startling progress in getting page components where I wanted them. I thought I was getting better at it.

Well, when I opened up my website at lunch it looked worse than ever! My two most prized pages are all jumbled up.

I've known for some time that smaller screens can jumble my web pages up and that Mozilla Firefox is the best browser in which to view them. Firefox was in the news this week as being a more secure browser than Internet Explorer thanks to regular downloaded updates. Or uploaded downlates.

So I was half waiting for everyone to buy bigger screens. Then they would see what I can see on my wide screen with Firefox. But it seems there's more to it than that.

Internet Explorer is the default web browser and it looks at things in different ways. I can't see what it looks like becasue I have Firefox and I think I've used certain positioning commands in Firefox that IE doesn't recognise.

Apparently, some websites can detect what browser is being used to view them and they can change the mark up to suit. Obviously, this means two sets of code when I've just about managed to get one looking the way I want it to.

I need to do something to my website but I'm not sure what. I've said on the home page that Firefox is the best browser to use but most people won't bother to change on my account.

I am wondering about Dreamweaver now but it's very expensive at over £300. I believe the learning curve is pretty steep, too. But it seems a waste of time to carry on as I have been. At least half of the visitors to my website can't see what they are supposed to see and probably move on quickly to another site they can view properly.

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