Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Music Review - Bernie Manning 6

It's always a pleasure to receive a new offering from this talented poet and songwriter, and fans of Manning's unique style will not be disappointed in this latest record. From the happy, upbeat 60's sound of The Girl From Londonderry (my personal favourite) to the heartbreaking pathos of You're Just Away, to the beautiful words of Soulful Eyes, we are treated to a range of emotional effects that pretty well spans the possibilities of human response.

One of the things at which this artist really excels is in the evocation of visual imagery and the beauty of nature, and this is particularly evident in the opening track,  Colours, and in Magic in the Moonlight and Winter Blues. 

Afficionadoes of Manning's oevre in general will be surprised and perhaps a little sad at the absence of Jeff Burstin's gravelly street-cred voice, and I must confess to a little sadness myself that there were no Men's Secret Business tracks in this compilation; I adore Manning's witty stories, and cherish a hope that we will see them return in future disks.

The protest motif that distinguished eariler CDs has been very much softened, with only Waiting Room and the very subtle Manly Ferry taking this line. 

Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits, Volumes One, Two and Three, are available from  Bernie's own website, however I could not find any links to the later volumes in the series. The site does have a contact form, however, and the records are also available at Readings bookstore.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Z is for Zombies

Z is for zombies. What else?

Generally speaking, I do not advise writing about zombies. Yes, they do seem to be popular, but is there anything more boring than yet another zombie apocalypse? They are as trite as an ancient evil stirring beneath a mountain. It is possible to do zombies and be original - for example, my friend Joseph Picard has done so, and done it well - but it's not easy. 

I myself once swore I wouldn't touch zombies with a ten foot pole. And yet, I too have jumped on the bandwagon. My short story, Danse Macabre, deals with them. I pride myself on being the only writer who's ever had a dancing zombie cockroach. If you want to read it, it's in the anthology 13 Bites Volume III, which you can get HERE

As today is Z day, the final day of my alphabet challenge, I want to do something to do with this story. The six months first publication rights have expired, so it is mine to do with as I will. What I think I will do with it is to put it in my second collection. My first collection of short fiction, Once Upon A Dragon, has received very good reviews and generally been a success. You can get it HERE.

So, today I sit at my desk and I look at what I've got to put in a new collection.  There is Danse Macabre, Authorised Staff Only and Sophie and the Frog, all of which have been published in anthologies and have now reverted to me. There are also two novellas, Operation Tomcat and No Such Thing, both of which are available as standalone e-books. I'm not sure about including them, especially Operation Tomcat, which is to be the beginning of a series. I may include No Such Thing. I haven't decided yet, but whether I do or no, I need at least another six stories. Once Upon A Dragon has twelve stories, and I think that's a good number. So, even if I include both novellas, I need another seven stories for my collection.

I look at what I have in progress. I was messing about with this last December, so I have a list of candidates. There are three stories with outlines done, one in the planning stage, and another one which I think will need to be a full-length novel. There is one drafted and in rotdown and two partly written. There are, of course, various other stories for which I've made notes. And then there is my new story, which I started work on yesterday. It seems sensible to continue with that pro tem, because it's already in my mind, and then when it's drafted I can go on with other stories in the list.

So, here we go on Cinderella. The first thing is to create an outline. I always outline with short fiction. Pantsing is all very well in the wide open spaces of a novel, but short fiction, I find, benefits from a more disciplined approach; the shorter the story, the more rigour is needed.

I pound away and come up with an outline. It's a little rough in spots but it's enough to get me started; as the story develops I think these rough bits will iron themselves out.

So that's it - the A-Z Alphabet work challenge. Completed!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Y is for Young Adult

Y is for Young Adult - or children's fiction, for those of us who are more traditionally-minded. Today is also time for me to go back to work. 

Although I have several unfinished projects, I've decided to start something new. I'm going to try my hand at a fairy-tale retelling. I have selected Cinderella for this maiden attempt, purely on the basis of its widespread and enduring popularity. Something about this story speaks to nearly everyone; I think because it combines so many tropes that are central to the human condition. We have coming-of-age, we have newly awakened love, we have an heroic quest, we have the Turning of the Worm. 

I am not sure what length of story Cinders is going to give me. I'm pretty sure it won't be a full-length novel; I envisage it as a short story, but if there's too much story to fit into that length, then it can be a long story or even a novella. We'll see.

The first thing I always do when starting a new project is to clean up my desk. Today, this is going to be a big job, because it is a right old pig's breakfast.

This is the before picture. A nasty sight.
It takes me half an hour to get it decent. It's an unpleasant half hour, and once again I remind myself that if I would just keep things neat on a daily basis I wouldn't be faced with this every few months.

The After picture. What a relief!
Encouraged, I take a further half hour to do the Wednesday cleaning. Because it's Wednesday - ha! Take that, Flylady! And now I come to the part of a new project that I really love - setting up. You can take the writer out of I.T., but you can't take the I.T. out of the writer. I set up for a writing project the same way I used to set up for an I.T. project, more or less. Here's how I do it:

First of all I clear my desk. Today, I've already taken care of that step.

Then, I create a folder for it in my computer. With this story, I already set up the folder yesterday, because I had a couple of files of the Grimm version and the Perrault version. Of course my story hasn't yet got a title, so I called the folder 'Cinderella Retelling'. It can be renamed once I have a title.

Now, within that folder, I set up an Excel spreadsheet to track my progress. Different pages on the spreadsheet can also be used for other purposes, depending on what I'm doing and how complex it is. The main sheet tracks my daily wordcount and projects the finished length and completion date. Another sheet will be used to keep track of people to whom I've sent a beta copy or ARC.

Then, just because I'm a nerd, I add it into MS Project. Each stage of the work is detailed and a time value assigned. I'm very pessimistic when I do this, and Project tells me that the story will be ready to submit on 11 July. Most of this time is taken up by the six weeks' rotdown, where I leave the completed draft to fester and work on other stuff. I consider this indispensible, and the six weeks is a bare minimum. I also take a few minutes to update the other things in my project plan - the unfinished novel, the book that's with the beta reader, the hardcover edition that still has to have the dustjacket design fixed and the novella I finished last month. Finally, for each stage of the project, I create a task in Outlook. This may seem like a duplication of what I did in Project, but I find that it's easiest to work from Outlook because I will be adding notes to a task as I work. For example, sometimes as I'm drafting I will make notes about things I need to check or fix when I come to do First Revisions.

Now I am all set up and ready to start work on the outline. But first, a break to take Emily for her park walk. That turns out to be the thin end of the wedge - it's a perfect day and walkies stretch on for a long time, so that we're tired when we get home and lie down for a nap together, and then I fall asleep and don't wake up until five o'clock. So much for my productivity. Still, I have an hour before I need to get ready to go out, so I can get started on the new story.

With this being a fairy-tale retelling, I realise there needs to be an extra step in the process. Before I start my outline, I need to be clear on exactly what I'm retelling. The way in which I plan to attack this is to analyse the two versions of the story to get the basic, common elements and reduce it to a sort of skeleton, which will then become the framework of my own story's outline. I have no idea whether this will work, or whether it's the best way to approach it, because it's the first time I've ever attempted any kind of retelling of anything. 

Because of this, I realise that I was hasty in leaving out the physical aspects of setup. I think best with a pencil in my hand, so I will need printouts of the two story versions, and a spiral notebook. That's not a problem; I keep a vast stock of manilla folders and spiral notebooks. Like many writers, I'm obsessed with stationery and have to be physically restrained in Officeworks. 

Here's my physical setup. Can you say 'procrastination'?
After reading carefully through both the Grimm and the Perrault I find that it is the Perrault version on which all the popular versions of the story are based, and I decide to stick with it rather than attempt to synthesize the two as I'd originally planned. The next step is to clothe these bare bones in rags of my own devising. This will take some thought, as it has to be essentially a story of my own; it can't just be a rehash of tired old material. I decide to knock off for the day and let it stew about in my subconscious.

Tomorrow, the last day of my alphabet work challenge, will be brought to you by the letter Z.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

X is for Xena

Ha! I bet you thought I was going to have trouble coming up with an activity today. But no! I have the whole Xena Box, and I haven't watched any of it since year before last. Now I am justified in taking some time for it. It's the last day of my little holiday that I granted myself for finishing Operation Camilla, so I'm looking forward to a fun, relaxing day.

For any benighted souls who do not know who Xena is, this is Xena:

It's an awesome show, a kind of cross between Buffy and Homer. Xena fights with the speed of Hermes and the strength of Ares, and she also has an amazing superpower - when she takes off her armour and fights in her shift, her underpants automatically change colour from black to white. So much more impressive than my own superpower of giving pills to cats - although I comfort myself that mine is really more useful.

I don't expect Louis to like it, because of Xena's war yell, as he was so upset by the Valkyries, but as soon as the television starts he leaves his armchair and moves onto my lap, and he watches the show with apparent enjoyment, even when Emily drops a stuffed raccoon on his head.

Prince Louis Catorze
Stuffed raccoon? No problem. Delivered right to your head.
It's a beautiful sunny day, and I'd like to take Emily out, but it's blowing such a gale that I can't stand it. I take a few minutes to chase up the plasterer and organise a quote for my renovations, then it's back to Xena. I'd forgotten how much I love this show.

I've made it a rule when I'm binge-watching anything that in between each episode I must get up and do something useful. So after another episode, I message my friend who's expert in folklore. I want to get hold of the original Cinderella story. You probably know that I love to experiment with different styles and genres in short fiction, and I've decided to try my hand at a fairy tale retelling. They always seem to be popular with readers, and I love reading them myself. If I do well with Cinderella that will be another tool in my kit, and I may do more. I've chosen Cinderella rather than my personal favourite, the Frog Prince, because it seems to be the generally most loved of them all.

My friend is awesome, and before I can even finish telling in here about my query she has sent me a link to the earliest written version of the story. Thank you Ashley Hunt! You're a legend! Watch out, people, for Ashley's own folktale retelling, Scarlett's Moon, which will release later this year. I've read an advance copy and I can tell you it's a good read.

Another magical episode and I need to do something else useful. It must be my day for interacting with colleagues, for this morning I received a review copy of Cathy Jackson's new book, Five Days. This is a Christian Fiction book, in the same series as Five Coffees, which was an excellent read; see my review HERE.

Get it at AMAZON
 So I load Five Days onto my Kindle, ready to start reading. I'm so looking forward to it!

There isn't time for another episode before Emily and I will need to leave to meet my friend for coffee, so I have a little reading time. I'd like to finish what I'm currently reading before starting on Five Days, because I've been wading through Jordan's The Fires of Heaven for what seems like months, although it's really only a couple of weeks. I don't normally take so long even for a big book, but there's something about the Wheel of Time series that makes my mind go numb and long for sleep.

After having coffee with my friend I watch another episode and it's time to do something else productive. My friend has given me a review copy of his new CD - it really is my day for this stuff - so the next task on my agenda is to rip that so I can listen on my headphones. The Switch software wants me to pay again, and I demur - I've already had to pay for new copies of the software five times, and enough is enough. It's just a scam. I go on the hunt for a free ripper. I find FreeRip, which I've used before, but this also seems to be a bait and switch job - the free version is non-functional and only brings up the website where you can buy a paid version - ironic considering the name. I find this essentially dishonest, so I look for another one.

While that is downloading, let me tell you a little about my friend Bernie. He's a songwriter, but doesn't perform many of his own compositions. I have reviewed several of his albums on this blog, and you can find my reviews of Bernie Manning's Greatest Hits VOL IIVOL III, VOL IV, VOL V with these links. The new one that I have is VOL VI, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what this talented team has produced this time.

The dvdvideosoft product is utter crap, and I resort to ripping the disk with Windows Media Player. This causes me no trouble at all and I regret the hour I've just wasted on ripoff merchants. There is not time for another episode of Xena now, as I am expected at another friend's house to see his litter of Italian Greyhound puppies. I may be sure at least that this friend is not going to give me anything to bring home and review!

How lovely it is to visit the home of a fellow dog person! So comfortable and normal. The puppies are adorable and I have a great time. I'm not sure whether there's time for another episode of Xena before my husband gets home and expects dinner, but I decide to give it a go - several glasses of wine at my friend's house have rendered me too lazy to do anything else useful. And with that I will close my account of this most restful and enjoyable day, ready to resume work on the morrow, energised and encouraged.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter Y.

Monday, 2 May 2016

W is for Way

W is for Way - On The Way, to be precise. Our church newsletter. Over the last few days I've got it finished and the master copy is now occupying pride of place on the front passenger seat of my car. Now to get the copies printed.

In normal time, this is not my job - I produce the master copy and deliver it to the minister, who will make the copies for our congregation. However, we are not in normal time just now; we are between ministers, so we must all muck in and do it ourselves. The parish photocopy machine has been moved into the minister's office behind the sanctuary, in what would be the vestry in a high church parish. I must co-ordinate with the lady who has the church keys and knows how to work our very high-tech colour photocopier. She is to call me this morning to arrange when we can do this, so all I have to do at present is await her call.

This is our church, where we will be making up the copies of the newsletter.

I wait at home all morning, despite a number of errands I want to run, but the call doesn't come. At quarter past twelve I leave to run my errands. There are no messages, though, when I return home. I have lunch and take Emily out to the park. Still nothing. Suddenly the last couple of weeks catch up with me, and I sleep all afternoon in a big furpile with Emily and Ferret.

At 1745 I give up. W is for Wasted Day.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter X.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

V is for Venom Ponds

Today is the first day of May, and it's time to get in touch with the man who will come and give me a quote for renovation of the crumbling old part of my house. 

The house shown above doesn't look too bad from the outside, but inside is a mass of crumbling plaster. A couple of rooms aren't even really safe to be in - the cornices are disintegrating and chunks of rock occasionally fall from on high. Last month I contacted a tradesman with a view to getting all the interior plastering fixed and basic painting done. I've been waiting until this month to get him to come out for a quote, because I haven't been there, but I'm planning to be there for the last week of the month so now is the time to get things organised.

I find the tradie's details and send him an email requesting him to make an appointment to quote on the renovation between 30 May and 3 June. Done and dusted!

Tomorrow's blog will be brought to you by the letter W.