Thursday, 29 September 2016

Z is for Zafon

As this series has focussed on writing, and the tools of a writer's life, I can hardly close without a word about reading. Reading is as essential to a writer as breathing. From time to time one may see someone claiming that this is not so, generally in a writers' group on Facebook. Then, one immediately knows that person is not a writer. Even if he is a hack who has published something, he is not a real writer. And I'm happy to defend my statement against any and all attacks.

This being the case, it's time for me to review my own reading habits. From time to time I make myself a reading list. Although some of my less literary friends think I've read everything there is, actually I don't consider myself particularly well-read, and there are a number of quite important books I've somehow never got around to reading. So, today I am going to make a list to remedy that.

I take as a starting point that BBC list that floats about from time to time. You know, you must have seen it - the one that's headed 'BBC believes you've only read six of these books'. It turns up perenially on Facebook and we all vie to have read the most. I usually win, but at 65 out of 100 that isn't anything to shout about.

There are thirty-four books on the list I make; I refuse to count the complete works of Shakespeare. I hate reading plays, and never do it. The proper way to experience plays is by going to the theatre.

It would, of course, be a nonsense to attempt to tackle the whole list, so in accordance with our daily theme I choose The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Zafon and Germinal by Emile Zola. And as luck would have it, I already have a copy of The Shadow of the Wind.

I load the book onto my Kindle, but as I'm already reading eight books, reason tells me I need to finish something before starting yet another. I nearly always have a number of books on the go, because different days and different moods call for different reading, but there has to be a limit - if I have too many in progress, it gets confusing, particularly if several are in the same genre, as is the case at present. Here's the lineup:

 With all this lot, it's hard to decide just which one to finish. I run over the field and decide to finish Connelly's The Scarecrow before I start on the new book. 

I start reading, but on this sunny, windy day it just isn't what I'm in the mood for, I want something more light-hearted, so I decide instead to finish Bubbles Unbound. Those Bubbles books are so much fun.

First, though, a walk in the park. Emily has to have exercise, especially on such a beautiful day.

Is she not the most divine being you've ever seen? Even after swimming in the duck pond.

After that, I settle in our favourite reading spot, equipped with coffee, Bubbles and Emily. I finish Bubbles Unbound and read some more of The Scarecrow, then switch to Death du Jour. Not for the first time, I wonder about the prevalence of murders, especially perverted serial killings, in detective fiction. My own crime fiction, in my two published novellas and the novel I am still writing, deals with more innocuous crimes; it's difficult to be funny about a mangled corpse, so I stay away from the gruesome deeds. Why are we so fascinated with these disgusting, extreme crimes? I wonder if it is a symptom of some deep sickness in our society.

Be that as it may, I know that I won't get to starting The Shadow Of The Wind today. But it is next on my list.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Y is for Yes - Tabitha goes Compliant

Y is for Yes, and today's the day I will be attempting to accede to any and all requests that anyone makes of me. It's a dangerous thing to say, I know; still, it is only one day, and I make the statement with reservations about anything that goes to morality or the law.

Even as I start this entry, I have a message from writer friend, Susan Day. Susan has finished a new book in the Astro's Adventures series.

This will be a pure pleasure, and I quickly download the book and write back to tell her so. If you haven't read any of the Astro books, you should: they are screamingly funny, the more so if you personally know any of the characters, who are all real dogs. In fact, my own Emily was a guest star in the last one, Astro's Indian Odyssey, and Susan captured her personality to a 'T'. You can find that one HERE, and the new one I've just received HERE.

As usual when I have several things to accomplish in a day, I start by making a list.

1. Read and review The Lucky Leprechaun
2. Do the next day in the Bad Redhead Marketing Challenge (I'd already been asked for this review).

I check my email, but there is no one else asking me to do anything. Tant mieux. Today is going to be a fun day. I start Susan's book right away; they are not long books, so I can probably do both things today, and anyway, she's a personal friend. I have no worries about a conflict of interest with the review; Susan can write, and in fact I was an admirer of her work before I knew her.

I load the book onto my Kindle, as my old Kobo is now on its last legs and very clunky to use and difficult to recharge. I'm phasing it out, as it is near death. The next several hours pass very pleasantly. I take my time reading the book, as I really enjoy this series, and in between chapters I get some housework done and take Emily for a long walk on this beautiful day.

A wonderful time chasing her ball in the park
It doesn't take me long to write my review - you can see it HERE - and I'm on to the second task of the day - the marketing challenge. Oh, help! It's about social media management. A dark and perilous estate where I have never dared to tread. But, the day's content is not so scary. Rachel gives us a rundown on the various tools, and the assignment is just to choose ONE of them and create an account. I can do this!

I create a Hootsuite account and construct a rather basic advertisement for Dance of Chaos - I suck at this, but I do my best:

I send this, with some text and an Amazon link - at least, I hope this is what I've done - to Twitter. And would you believe it - when I log into Twitter, there it is!

And with that, I think I can let myself off for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

X is for Planet X - worldbuilding and the great database disaster

I was dreading coming up with a topic for today, but as I have not yet named my planet, I'm still calling it Planet X, which comes in handy now.

Image used under creative commons licence
Today I plan to spend the whole day, or substantially at least, working on my worldbuild. I've been reading and making notes - lots of notes - and a few more hours should finish me with the wolves. Then it will be on to our own Koori people - I hope to take some social features from their incredibly old, successful society. As my Planet X people are hunter/gatherers concerned with land management, I think the Kooris have a lot to contribute.

So I settle onto our bed, which is my preferred reading spot because, well, cats. And Emily.

The team is assembled!
It's heavy going reading this book, and most of the relevant gear was in the first few chapters. It's many chapters now since I've used the pencil. Still I slog on with it, because you never know what gems may be buried in there. It's also heavy going because these scientific types aren't very good writers, in terms of grabbing one's interest and keeping the pages turning. They rely solely on the content, which, of course, they are entitled to do. But when the content is irrelevant, that makes it hard to stick with the read. At eleven I decide I need a break, and my breakout activity is going to be the next day's activity in the Bad Redhead Challenge.

We're still on Twitter, which is unfortunate, because I'm already bored with Twitter. But must press on - I have committed myself to do this thing. Onwards and upwards!

Today's lesson is about what content to post on Twitter. I note with surprise, relief and delight that the author of this book is of my own mind about constant 'buy my book' postings, which can amount to spam. 

The assignment for today is to set up Google Alerts on three topics of interest. This is to bring in content that can be tweeted about, so as to engage with one's audience. I can do this. I choose the following keywords: writing, dogs and values. Dogs because I am in the dog world myself and I have connected with many fellow hound people around the world, and so I'm naturally interested myself in news about dogs. I chose the word 'values' because I'm hoping it will net items about morality, politics, environmental issues and so on, with a wide focus.

Next I am to create a free Flipboard or account, whatever these things are. They are free, so what the hell, Archie! Toujours gai, Archie, and always a lady.

I start with Flipboard. What a fantastic site! I generate my personal magazine, I'm in love with this site, but I mustn't stop to read all the articles now. I'm on a mission. Flipboard was so great I decide to go ahead and do as well. But it demands management access to my Facebook or Twitter account. I don't think so. Tant pis. I've more than done the tasks required, for I have done two of the four optional things. It's only taken half an hour, a good length for a break, and I'm quite refreshed. On with the wolf book!

Another hour and I'm ready for another break. Emily wants a walk, but it's just started raining, so instead we will watch a little television. Our programming of the moment is Remington Steele, which is appropriately mindless for the purpose. It's almost stopped raining when that finishes, so out we go for walkies. Then I finish the wolf book and it's back to Amazon where I buy a copy of The Biggest Estate on Earth, by Bill Gammage. It's about our own First Peoples and their land management.

Mr Goyal saved the day!
The awful thing happens right after I download it; I discover my Calibre database has become corrupted, and the restore doesn't work. Not to worry though - I receive prompt and definitive assistance from Kovid Goyal himself! Now I must confess to a little fangirl moment.

By the time I get my database fixed I am feeling so overwrought that I believe it is time to stop work for the day. We artistic, creative types are sensitive, you know.

Tomorrow will be brought to you by the letter 'Y'. I will be having another excellent adventure, attempting to accede to every request that anyone makes of me that day.

Monday, 26 September 2016

W is for Working in Bed

I'm coming down with something, and I hope a day in bed may stave it off. Sometimes this can work.

I'm not really sick, though- not in that legitimate, call-a-doctor way, so I do feel a bit guilty about it. So today, I've decided to investigate the possibility of working in bed.

Of course I have a laptop, and with the wireless internet it could be just like working at my desk - except for one thing. Whenever I switch to my laptop, I have to copy over all my files. It seems like a lot of work just for a lazy day, and I find myself wondering how necessary it really is. After all, there is Onedrive, if I had ever  got around to setting it up. But there, I haven't, and it seems too hard for today. It definitely goes on the list for the future, though.

There is certainly work I can do without transferring files. Right now I am writing this blog on my ipad. It's rather tedious and annoying using the virtual keyboard and poking stick, but the predictive text helps. A short article is manageable, although I wouldn't want to be working on a novel.

So, let's look at work that can be done using the ipad. It seems to me that the higher the read/write ratio, the more suitable for the ipad, with its very limited typing facilities. A further consideration is how many things need to be open concurrently, because the ipad isn't nearly as kind or as flexible in this regard.

So we want things with not much typing, that can be done on one site or screen at a time.

I consider the work I have on at the moment.
  • The Bad Redhead marketing challenge, for eventual review.
  • The worldbuild for my new book.
  • Writing new material for Grammar Without Tears.
The first two things seem well enough suited - the worldbuild is still at the reading and making notes with a pencil stage, while the marketing challenge activity for today is to do following on Twitter, to acquire an appropriate target audience. GWT, not so much; I really want a keyboard for that.

Let's start with the marketing. That's for someone else, and with the step-by-step format of the book, I think it will be the easiest of the three.

The mission for today is to find a lot of people on Twitter who might like my books and follow them. I sign up for a free account at ManageFlitter, as Rachel recommends. It's an online service, so there's no messing about downloading stuff. With only a little angst I manage to find a lot of book bloggers and follow them. I can only use the service to follow 50 people every 24 hours, so after following 50, I check out Rachel's second suggestion, Twitter's own Advanced Search. Now I see the value of ManageFlitter; this is a terribly clunky way of doing it. I plough through a search on book reviewers. I have now got up to following 96 people and I have a raging headache. I'll call that a wrap for day 3 of the marketing challenge.

On to the worldbuild. This day is not being at all restful. My own thought is that it would have been far better just to get up and have my day as normal. Still, I have embarked on this experiment now and will see it through to the bitter end.

As I read, I find my mind returning to the original premise - to the fact I am staying in bed because I'm sick, and I start to question the value of the whole experiment. When your whole body is full of pain, when it is a physical effort just to hold the kindle and read, what will be the value of any creative or analytical work that you do in this state? Not much, I suspect, and with that I give over trying to work today. These observations may be of use to someone who's in bed with an injury, rather than systemic illness.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

V is for Venom, and Verbing

V is for Venom, which means Venom Ponds, so my first task of the morning is to make the final payment of the money I owe the builder for my house. That is easily done.

My house. From here, you cannot see anything is wrong.
Now, to work! Today we are going to do some MARKETING. I know that sounds both scary and repulsive. But I've received a review copy of a book - the Bad Redhead Media 30 Day Book Marketing Challenge. It seemed to me the ideal way - perhaps the only fair way - to review a practical text like this is by taking the challenge, so that's what I am doing. It will take 30 days of course, so I won't have my final review up by the release date, sorry Rachel, but I think you will get a better review this way, with concrete and measurable results. The metrics I've chosen are book sales and followers on Twitter and Facebook; those things are easy to measure.

I started this challenge yesterday. Today's task is to do something called 'verbing the bio'. I can feel my hackles go up at what I feel is an unwarranted mangling of our language, but I firmly remind myself that marketing people are different.

I log into Twitter. My bio as it now stands is as follows:

I live to make you laugh.   

I set this up yesterday, in Day One of the challenge, and clearly it hasn't worked all that well for me, as the number of my followers has dropped from 38 to 37. I 'verb' it. Now it goes:

My books will make you laugh, even on a bad day.   

The other task is to pin a tweet to my profile, and I accomplish that with ease, even going so far as to make a new tweet for the purpose. This is necessary because deep down I don't see the point of twitter, and almost never go there or tweet anything. But I am doing the challenge and I will do it properly, to give Rachel the best possible chance at being right.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

U is for Unpaid, and Unavailable

U is for Unpaid, and to me that means unpaid bills, so I start this beautiful Saturday morning by making another payment to the gentleman who is fixing up my old house. I have a daily limit imposed on my account, God knows why, so I must nibble away his bill two thousand at a time. 

I had had a go at painting inside this house myself, but despite having a hard plasterer to fix the plaster, it all peeled off after the big rains. Thank God I had only done one room. Turns out the house has NO DAMP COURSE. Now Mr Nichol and his merry band have been putting one in, preparatory to mending all the damaged bricks and plaster, etc. It is a long term job.

As it's always a bit of a thing finding tradies who are any good, I feel I should give Gary a bit of a plug here. If you are in the Goldfields area and want plastering or any kind of associated thing done, he is your man. Partly because he's one of the old style tradesmen with a deep love of his craft, partly because he's a wonderfully good-humoured, easy-going chap, but most of all because as I've got to know him, I have discovered a foundation of rock-solid integrity. The business is called GE Property Maintenance, and they're based in Clunes.

This weekend is the Tango Festival, and Robert and I have booked ourselves into a lot of workshops, so there will be not much work done today or tomorrow. So U will also be for Unavailable.

Friday, 23 September 2016

T is for That, and also for Trailer

Time for another word on grammar, and today's target is the very common misuse of 'that' instead of 'who'. I use Black Beauty, Ginger and Merrylegs for this one. I had started a dialogue using Katy and Clover from What Katy Did, but I have decided to abandon it - the characters are so impossibly bland that I don't think even I can make them funny.

There isn't very much to say about 'that' and 'who', but I manage a dialogue that I think is entertaining and in character.

Now to a more interesting task. T is also for Trailer, and I have today received an email from my friend Sue, the one who is so kindly making a book trailer for King's Ransom. She has a draft copy of it for me to look at. And it's lovely! I email back.

See, this is what I was talking about the other day. Writers are not rivals. It isn't like two dressmakers who compete for a limited amount of client-spend. We are each other's cheer squad, we help one another, review one another's books, and when necessary we call each other on our bullshit. I am very lucky to have a writer friend right in my (very small) home town. 

While that awaits a response, I'll continue working. I have my client's book back, so that's the job for today, but first I check to see if there are any more lessons in the writing course. World-building, which is the reason I'm doing this course, was briefly touched on in one lesson this week, but there was not a lot of detail. I am hoping this means we will soon get to the part of the course that deals with world building in detail.

There is nothing, though, and I didn't really expect anything, as we have had our lot for this week. So, to work! Client has made a couple of minor changes, but it is just a few words and phrases, so I accept all the changes and settle in for a final read through before I send it off to Paradox for formatting and production.

A word about Paradox, since it's come up. This business provides formatting and cover design, and I get all my own covers done by them. Patti Roberts, the proprietor, is one of the easiest people I know to work with. She's endlessly flexible, talented, and FAST! And the cost is very reasonable. Presentation can make all the difference to your finished book, so unless you're gifted at it, it's very unwise to do your own covers. You can find Paradox Book Covers HERE.

I finish the client's work about three, and spend the rest of the day taking Emily for a walk and watching a little mindless television. And then, my trailer comes! Here it is: 

Thank you, Susan Day! And yes, I almost forgot. You can find Susan's wonderful children's series, Astro's Adventures, HERE. Not only children will enjoy these wonderful books. Anyone with a sense of humour is bound to love them. They're funny and lovely. Of particular note is Astro's Indian Odyssey. This book features my own Emily as a guest character. Yes, they're all real dogs, all the characters. It's beautifully done, and she's captured Emily's character to a T. 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

S is for Show

Today is the Royal Melbourne. I'm up at 04:20, having woken at 03:30 and not really slept again. It's a pity not to get as much sleep as possible before this exhausting day, but on the other hand, it does make getting up so early far less painful.

While I'm having that first, all-important coffee, I read a blog article by my friend Wendell. I am struck, powerfully, by something he says. He is describing a royal cockup when trying to replace a car part, and then he says, "I could not stop long enough to assess my situation." To me, this just sums up and epitomises my previous failures and eventual success at creating the dustjacket, which I wrote about in yesterday's blog. As a thought, this is well worth considering, and as a principle of life, well worth adopting. You can read the article HERE.

While I am gettting dressed, I encounter my first snag. Those wonderful blue shoes are new and very, very stiff. They are the old-fashioned kind of shoes, that require to be broken in over a long period. If I wear them all day I will be crippled, so I put them in my bag and wear my old sneakers instead. I'll change into the blue shoes to go in the ring. Then I notice that my skirt is creased. It must be time to cull my wardrobe again, if things are getting creased up . I get out the ironing board and quickly press it. Should have checked that last night.

Last minute additions to the packing are a dog bed and a lunch for Emily. She's not a morning person, so there will be Buckley's of getting her to eat any breakfast. I add my fully charged mobile and a paperback novel, something light. I choose Death Du Jour by Kathy Reichs. I've only just started it, so it should last me the day. One never gets as much time to read at these things as one expects. And then, in a moment of inspiration, I add lipstick and a comb. For once, I will not be reduced to the expedient of fixing my hair with the dog brush before I go in the ring. Like taking a drink from your dog's water bucket, it's humiliating if anyone sees you doing it.

We find our way to the showground via the scenic route. Setting up is not a problem. It might be Emily's first time but I have done this twice before. Our breed is not on till after lunch, but I enjoy spending the morning catching up with friends from the deerhound club.

Emily doesn't do all that stunningly in the ring; hardly surprising when we are competing against the three best handlers in the Deerhound Club. She takes Third Place in the Open Bitch. I'm happy enough - we're going home with a ribbon, that's all I care about. She already has her championship so she doesn't have to prove anything. I watch, marvelling, as my friend Aisha totally scoops the pool with her dog and two bitches, winning Open Dog, Australian Bred Bitch and Open Bitch, both challenges, Best of Breed and Runner Up. I am pleased, because seeing your friend win is almost as good as winning yourself. Also, Aisha has been enormously kind to us, giving me and Emily hours and hours of training. We wouldn't have got Emily's championship before she was two, with big wins as we did, without Aisha's help. So it is great to see her sweep all before her in triumph.

Over all, though, Emily doesn't seem to enjoy the show as much as I had expected. She just wants to sleep and have cuddles on the bench. I get her up to meet the public and she's polite but not enthusiastic as she normally is; her mood is very subdued. Several people in the Deerhound Club think it's because she has just finished her season.

As soon as we get home, Emily inhales her dinner and crashes on the bed. She sleeps almost without moving until late next morning. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

R is for Ransom - Prioritising for Productivity, and Dustjacket Design

R is for Ransom, more particularly, King's Ransom, my recently released historical novel. It's out in ebooks and paperback, but I'm working on a hardcover edition. I have the printed proof of the interior, and there is the dustjacket yet to be designed, a task I dread. I've been hoping that I can figure it out by logic, by the exercise of my mighty brain, but I'm scared of finding out that I can't.

There is a second thing I need to do for King's Ransom; I have to finish putting together the information for my book trailer, which is being kindly made for me by my friend Sue. Sue is an awesome friend, and you can see her website, where she does all kinds of promotional things, HERE.

And thirdly, R is for the Royal Melbourne Show, where I will be exhibiting Emily tomorrow. Today, I must finish off the prep for that, get our kit packed up and in the car, and sort out an outfit to wear.

A further complication is that I have client work on, and I did not touch it yesterday, being all taken up with getting Emily ready for the show. I'd better get on with that first, as it's only fair, so I decide to finish the first pass of edits before tackling the KR proofreading.

Make a List

When I have a number of things I need to achieve in a day, I find it helpful to prioritise them. This helps me to avoid wasting time dithering about, or finishing something that could have waited and leaving undone something that was really important. Therefore, my first action is to make a list.
  1. The client's work goes first on the list, because he is paying me and has a right to expect his work to be done in a timely manner.
  2. The trailer is next, because once I've got it all together, I can hand it off to Sue and forget about it.
  3. Next is the proofreading, because again, once that is done I can either make corrections, send it for printing and forget it for today, or else tick it off entirely.
  4. Fourth is the dustjacket design. It is low on the list because it will take intense concentration, and I need not to have other things buzzing about in my mind, so it will get worked on only when the higher items on the list have been dealt with.
  5. The final show prep goes last, even though it is vital and must be done today. However, after dinner, if it is not done it will jump to the head of the list. I probably don't need more than half an hour for this, having done the bulk of the work yesterday, so I can afford to put it out of my mind during the working day.
Start at the top of the list

I start on the client's work, and go through till three, with a short break to take Emily out for lunch. She has to have some kind of outing, and offlead in the park is definitely out of the question. I finish the edit and get it off to the client at 1445. I finish getting together the information for the book trailer and get it off to Sue. 

It's now 1630, so there isn't much of the day left, and I doubt if I'm going to get much done, if anything, on the dustjacket, but I think I can squeeze in the proofreading before Robert gets home and I have to produce another one of my culinary marvels. I quickly finish assembling Emily's show kit and make sure our tickets are in my bag, because these things are so important and it takes only a couple of minutes. My outfit can wait until after dinner. This leaves me probably three hours to work on the proofreading and maybe, just maybe, get a start on the dustjacket.

The interior file is finally just as I want it, so with mixed feelings I gird my loins to do battle with the dustjacket. I am truly dreading it.

I have a copy of the paperback cover that is the right height, so that is my starting point. Information from Lulu tells me my spine width will be 305 pixels, and will start 2888 pixels from the beginning of the complete thing. The flaps are 975 pixels wide. Therefore, the whole thing will be (2888*2)+305 = 6081 pixels.

I start by opening the base file; the paperback cover. It is 3844 pixels wide.
The outside part of the dustjacket (not including the flaps) needs to be 4131 pixels. This leaves 287 pixels unaccounted for, in two lots of 144 pixels. Therefore, let's first create an image that is the same height as the cover, and 144 pixels wide. This will be the 'buffer zone'; it will go between the main cover and the flaps. Because white space down the edges of the outer cover will look horrible, I plan to choose a colour that is as neutral as possible with the main cover.

The height of the cover is 2775 pixels, so I need to create an image that is 2775 vertically and 144 horizontally. For a start, let's try making it solid black. Now, I open the main file and extend its width by 144, having carefully unchecked 'maintain aspect ratio'. Then I fill in the extra area with solid black. Now to do the same at the other end. This will only need to be 143 pixels.

I save another version and do 'flip vertical'. Nothing happens. It is possible that there isn't enough storage; it's a very large file. So many PC products don't release storage, so I reboot before trying again. Realise I needed to flip horizontal, not vertical, but still it doesn't work - at this size, Paint doesn't seem to allow the aspect ratio to be turned off. 

I create a blank file of the desired size and cut and past the black bits into each end, and then cut and paste the paperback cover into the middle. This seems to work okay. What a relief! Now I need only to add the flaps. This is far more than I hoped to get done today. It's amazing how a little number crunching makes it all understandable.

Here it is! So far so good!
The flaps are 975 pixels wide, as I mentioned before. Let's see if I can make the space for them. The width with the space for the front flap will be 5106. And no, I can't - it doesn't allow me to leave the aspect ratio untouched. Zounds, farathoom and other expressions of opprobrium and disapprobation.

Very well, I'll do the same thing again, but first to create the flaps. I make a blank flap, 2775 by 975, and I make a version of the blank full-sized file coloured red. This will let me see if I've lined things up correctly. Now all I have to do is paste in the three bits.

And yes, this works, although there is a thin line of red that I need to white out. You'll have to take my word for this; I tried to upload it, but the white flaps are invisible, so there's no point.

All I need to do now is to fill in the content on the front and back flaps. And here it is!

While it's uploading, I mix myself a vodka martini. By Jove, I'm proud of what I've achieved today!

It's not over, though, because now I must upload it to Lulu. As it uploads, I sip my martini, wrapped in a golden glow of happiness. This is something I've tried, and tried, and tried to do and always failed before. Now, I see vistas opening up of hardcover editions of everything! It is now 1835, so I have only been working for just over two hours to achieve this, and it was the first time! So often when one finally bites the bullet, one is surprised by how much easier the task was than expected.

When I have uploaded the dustjacket, I realise that I have forgotten to include the barcode on the back of it. Yet another service that Createspace take care of for one and bloody Lulu doesn't. Back to the drawing board.

Another long, tedious wait as it uploads to Lulu
It finally loads up to Lulu and now I make the print-ready pdf. Another long wait for them to display it so I can review it. It's all fine, and I finalise the book and order my proof copy. I feel as though I've been through a car wash on foot, yet it has only been less than three hours since I started.

Now that is almost the end of my list. So often when I've felt overwhelmed at work, I've created a list and worked through it and finished it all with time to spare. What seemed impossible at the beginning is often quietly achieved when we work down a list. The last remaining thing is to get my outfit ready for the show tomorrow.

I have my show suit cleaned and ready and I choose a blue shirt to go with it, because I have my wonderful new blue shoes. There's something about coloured shoes, isn't there!

This was the final task of the day! 

And with a glow, partly of vodka but mostly of virtue and pride, I close my account of this day. Everything on the list completed, and it's not dinner time yet.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Q is for Quintessence - getting ready for the Royal Melbourne Show.

Q is for Quintessence. In fact, Champion Bhealaich Quintessence, known to her friends as Emily.
This is Emily. Isn't she beautiful?
Apart from being my dog, Emily is also a show dog, and the day after tomorrow she will be exhibiting in the Royal Melbourne Show. It will be her first time as an exhibit; she was entered last year, but we had to scratch when she broke her tail a few days before the event. She's been to the show before though; she went two years ago for the Rare Breeds Showcase, so I'm confident she's going to enjoy it. The Showcase is pretty much the same deal, benched all day in the dog pavilion. It differs only from the exhibiting day in that there's no going in the ring. I'm starting to get ready for it today, because that leaves a whole clear day to fix anything that may be lacking. It's quite a big deal exhibiting at the Royal, it being the largest dog show, I'm told, in the Southern Hemisphere. People come from all over Australia for it.

This is Emily at 17 days.
The first thing is to make sure I have all the paperwork I need. Apart from the usual, we need tickets to get in. I have the tickets printed off and I put them carefully to one side. Reading the covering letter, I find we must drop off Emily at Gate 7 between 0600 and 0800. I don't remember it being quite so early in the past, but no doubt memory has faded; the last time I exhibited at the Royal Melbourne was probably five years ago or more.

As well as getting in, there's other paperwork I should have; the all-important number must be somewhere. I don't seem to have it in the stuff I printed off, though, so the next thing (don't panic - this is why I'm starting early) is to trawl back through my email to find everything the RAS have sent me. This is my first snag. I do find some more information, and I print it off, but no numbers. However, reading through the material, I find there is an 'information pack' that must be collected on the day, so perhaps it is in that. All the same, I'd better ring them and make sure. I don't need extra worries on the day, it will be stressful and exhausting enough. For me that is; Emily will sail through it having the time of her life. That's how she rolls. I make a note to call them as soon as possible, but it's only 0658, so it will have to wait for several hours.

The next thing is to assemble her kit. Emily has a show kit, of course. This isn't a big job, because I keep it loaded and in the back of the car. However, it needs to be checked and for this important show, perhaps cleaned out and refurbished.

This is Emily's show kit. The black bag on the right contains, in theory, everything she needs for a show. The white container is really more of a travelling feeding station - it is meant to contain food and has a removable food and water tray in the top.
Here, I have removed everything from the show kit. As you can see, it badly needed cleaning out. The next step is to go through all this and select only what is actually needed. Number thing, letter from the vet about her tail, wet ones, treats, poo bags, show lead, grooming gear and the chain. Her water bucket is separate, and I've left it in the car.

 Here, I have refurbished and pruned the kit. The grooming tools have been replaced with better, newer ones, the treats box cleaned out and refilled, and all the rubbish taken away. The kit tends to silt up with dead old numbers.

One thing remains to be added - the new collar and its matching show armband. These were custom made by Red Hot Pet, whom you can find on Facebook. They do such beautiful work and are a pleasure to deal with. Of course Emily cannot wear the fancy collar in the ring, but she can wear it all day and we will match. Thank you, Red Hot Pet, for a beautiful job and for your kindness in giving me the beautiful matching armband. Emily is going to look so much better than the other hounds.

By the time I get everything packed up again and my morning routine of housework done, it is 10:30, so I can ring up the RASV about my show number. It is easily sorted - the number and catalogue are in the Exhibitors Pack, which must be collected from the office on the day. 

The next thing to be done is grooming. Emily must have a bath; I don't believe in over-washing hounds, so she hasn't had one for months. Their skin is far too delicate to admit of frequent washing with soap, so I actually only ever wash her when she is going to a show, when of course it is a matter of etiquette to present the judge with a clean dog. Some dogs might smell after months without a wash, but this is one of the peculiar traits of the deerhound - they do not, ever, have that 'dog' smell. Even when very filthy, they smell rather like dry grass. Emily's personal scent is slightly sweet, as if there had been some flowers in the grass when it was cut. 

Before the bath, she must have a nice walk in the park. Once she is bathed, there will be no more offlead until after the show, lest she destroy my work by swimming in the stinking duck pond, or lying down in a mud puddle.

Emily justifies my suspicions by going into the stinking duck pond right up to her ears, drenching her beautiful new brocade collar.

Soaking wet and smelly!

But look how happy she is.

Once she is dry, she must be thoroughly brushed before we go for her bath. It won't take long; deerhound fur is not very dense and dries quickly. A quick lunch, a short reading break and I can brush out her fur. Did I say deerhounds never get smelly? I should have said, unless they swim in the stinky duck pond. Now, off to Petstock to cleanse the Princess and try to replace her orange ball, which she somehow managed to lose in the park.

Emily isn't keen to have a bath, but she knows the score, and if there's one thing she can do it is produce the behaviour appropriate to the situation. She steps into the hydrobath without even being asked. This is the result of situational, as opposed to command-based, training.

She does do some pointed shivering before I turn the water on, but I make it nice and hot for her (not too hot, of course!) and she bears it all calmly. Soon the scent of the stinky duck pond is replaced with that of lavender, from her special lavender shampoo from Serendipity Lavender Farm.

Pretty soon we're clean, more or less dry - I don't see the point of inflicting the blow dryer on her when she dries so quickly anyway - and on our way. 

And with that, I think we're ready for the Royal! 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

P is for Proofreading - the hell that is formatting for Lulu

What a deadly dull topic for a blog post. I wonder if I will be able to say anything at all remotely interesting.

My historical novel, King's Ransom, is out in paperback and in all ebook formats. However, I still want a hardcover. I know a lot of people don't think it's worth bothering with hardcovers, and indeed I know perfectly well that no one will buy it. Nevertheless, I always feel that a book only available in paperback is just a little bit like a movie that goes straight to DVD.

Accordingly, I've set my book up in Lulu, and have formatted the interior, and I think it's alright. Now comes the first acid test - the proofreading. I am conflicted about this, for once I'm happy with the interior, I must address the dustjacket, and that is a horrible, horrible, horrible task. Lulu do not make it in any way easy to design a dustjacket, and I sometimes wonder if they aren't doing their best to make it impossible. Of course, if you're happy to accept a plain black spine with plain text, then it is much easier, but I have this beautiful wraparound cover for the paperback and I so want to maintain the same design for both editions. So the longer I spend on the interior, the more I can put off confronting this appalling task.

This is the paperback cover. You can see why I don't want to change it.
Of course the book has been thoroughly edited and proofread, many times. However, every new edition requires the same care, because of the formatting. Sadly, the Lulu proof copy doesn't print against a black background as the Createspace one does, and this annoys me very much, as after all the trouble I went to to increase the margins, I now cannot see where the edges of the pages are, and don't know how well it has worked. I can tell from the words per line that it's an improvement, at least I'm pretty sure, but when all is said and done, if you cannot measure it, you are just guessing. This is infuriating when the cost of getting a proof copy printed from Lulu is so great, both in money and in the unconscionably long time it takes them to print it, let alone send it. I really wish Createspace, who know what they're doing, would add hardcover books to their repertoire. I would ditch Lulu in a heartbeat.

I don't get started till 1300, because the whole morning is taken up with church and sleeping in late. Almost as soon as I start, I find several errors, all in the footers. Some pages which ought to be completely blank have a footer, and one page which should have a footer unaccountably lacks one. I say some colourful words, but really I'm just glad I didn't pay through the nose and wait six weeks for a printed proof copy to find this out.

I finish examining the ms - luckily I don't have to proofread the actual text, for this has already been done to the nth degree. If anyone discovers a typo in the published work, I will give that person a free copy of any and all of my published work. E-copies only, mind, because I'm a Struggling Writer.

Anyway, I correct the five footer errors I have found. It takes me only a few minutes to do this, because God knows I've had enough practice. The headers and footers are the thing that will screw up your manuscript format every time. Trust me on this. They seem to develop errors spontaneously. The one skill a self-published writer needs above all (after actually being able to write, that is) is a really sound knowledge of MS Word headers and footers.

Now a pdf must be produced for uploading to Lulu. This is fraught with danger too, but again, I've had so much practice with this doing my five Createspace books that it doesn't really pose me much of a challenge.

The pdf generated, it's time to review it on the screen. Almost at once I spot a header error which I completely failed to notice on the printed proof. Zounds, farathoom, and similar expressions. I fix the pox-infested thing and regen the pdf. Another footer error has miraculously spawned. I fix it. Now the document has become read-only. The only way I know of to fix this is to reboot.

That takes up the first hour of my work today. You see why formatting and proofiing for these print editions is an absolute nightmare. A whole hour gone, and I still haven't fixed the new footer error because I wasn't able to save it.

That seems to be the last one, though, and now it is time to wrestle with the Lulu website. My eyes already feel as though they have been sandblasted, from staring at the white screen, and my nerves are twitching with irritation. The combination of tedium and intense focus is an uniquely painful one for me. Of all the jobs that must be done to publish a book, I think this is the one I loathe the most. That is, until I remember about the dustjacket.

I am determined this time to get the dustjacket right first time. If I can get my head around all the numbers, it ought to be possible. The thing tells me how many pixels everything is, so I ought to be able to do this. Pray for me, people.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

O is for Other - on the value of friendship to the writer

Sometimes, life throws a little bonus in our way. Someone does something nice for you. This week, out of the blue a friend offered to make me a free book trailer. 

This is just one example of how we benefit from being contributing members of our communities. What goes around comes around. I am not saying that you join groups and network in order to reap a benefit. Not by any means; in fact what I am getting at is quite the opposite of that. Sure, sometimes you'll be able to return a favour from a fellow author - an example of this is beta reading. More often, however, you'll find yourself helping people who are not in a position to do anything for you. Because, you know, life.
But what does get fostered in these communities, both online and in the real world, is friendships. Friendship is a vast and essential thing. It is what will keep us going when we are ready to throw in the towel. It is what will comfort us and get us over our shock and hurt when we receive that first bad review - and believe me, if you've never had a bad review, then you have it coming. Someone, sometime, is going to hate your book and write about it. It will happen sooner or later, and it doesn't matter how good you are; it will happen one day. It is your friends in the writing community who will give you the tough love when you're making excuses, and help you to get over thinking you have 'writers' block'. And they are the ones who will still be there after you've been kicked out of FWG, or wherever.

My best friend, Emily
But friendship doesn't grow in a vacuum. Nor do we achieve it by hitting the like button. Friendship grows out of conversations, out of authentic communication where we see the other and recognise him. You have to give something of yourself when you are making a friend. There has to be an interchange. 

So, it's not going to do a lot for you if you just join a lot of writers' groups, if you don't fully engage in conversations. But if you do engage, maybe one time in a hundred, you will make a new friend. And one day, your friends may make the difference between giving up and finding the strength to go on.

This friend who has offered to make me a book trailer is someone I met in a Facebook group. I admired her book, and as I got to know her I discovered she is actually a close (as these things are measured in the country) neighbour. Now, we often have lunch when I am home. 

You can't be like a cat 
How to make friends? You've got me there. There is no 'how to'. The very concept of authentic communication means there can be no script. But I can tell you what your attitude should be like. Open. Open to people being different. Open to new experiences. Open to different opinions, different viewpoints. Open mind to listen. Open hands to help. Critique that paragraph that everyone is ignoring in the group because it's cringeworthy. Take a minute to find a kind way to criticise what needs to be criticised, without destroying that new writer's confidence. Put your hand up for a review copy when someone is desperately trying to get reviews. Then read the book in a timely manner and post your review everywhere you can. Be as kind as you can consistent with honesty. And sooner or later, you will find that you have made some friends in the community, and they are precious.

The attitude of a good dog is more what you want.