Devolution

So the Scottish referendum is over, and Scotland remains part of the UK. It might have been interesting to watch it become an independent country, but it wasn’t to be.

I haven’t commented on it earlier since it seemed crass when non-Scots commented on the subject, even though the rest of the country would’ve been affected. Now that its done, and the repercussions appear to affect all parts of the country, it’s fair game.

 

Referendum

I don’t know how much detail was available to the Scottish, but from what I gathered on the news there didn’t appear to be much of an actual plan outlined for what’d happen if they gained independence. Most of the news seemed to be getting opinions from Scots on the street, to the point where it became repetitive.

From those opinions it looks like there wasn’t much more information available to them, or it wasn’t being communicated. The Yes campaign seemed based around telling London where to go, while the No campaign focussed on everything that could go wrong. There was little in the way of detail, which it was on the Yes campaign to provide, to show they could govern a country.

Here in Wales we’ll never have a referendum like this. We don’t have the natural resources Scotland does to make it a viable option (most of ours having been seized when we were driven out of the lands now known as England). I don’t even know what Wales’ largest export is. Dr. Who?

 

Further Devolution

In the wake of the results, partly due to the last minute bribes the party leaders offered Scotland to stay, there’s talk of further devolution for more than just Scotland. The details are understandably sketchy, since it’ll still need discussion and agreement, but I have to admit I really don’t see the point. Devolving decisions on tax and spending on suchlike allows London to shift the blame for unpopular taxes they may have necessitated onto the regional bodies, so I can see what they’d get out of it, but does it really give much useful control to regions?

It doesn’t appear popular with international markets. The pound had dropped due to concerns over the referendum, began rising as soon as it was over, and faltered again as soon as regional taxation control was mentioned. Will instituting it cause further weakness to the pound?

And wouldn’t it all just mean more bureaucracy, and more needing to be spent to oversee the regions? When the economy is still in recovery it seems like a wasteful expenditure. By all means, do it in Scotland as promised, but wait to see how that works out before spreading it to the rest of the country.

 

Democratic Devolution

If it seems like I’m against devolution, it’s probably because broadly speaking I am. Not that I don’t think the public should have more of a say in things, but that devolution is being implemented within the framework of a representative democracy. Which just gives us more politicians, but not enough that any of them have a hope of knowing all the people they represent.

This is my main problem with representative democracies: once they reach a certain size it’s impossible for a representative to be sure they really know how the majority of his constituents would want them to vote (assuming they actually care).

The whole thing is reduced to a popularity contest, and we’re unlikely to get a politician with any actual skills useful for running a country.

A larger state is good in many ways – and I’m pro-EU to a certain degree – in that pooling resources allows for larger projects which in the long term allow the collective to do more, and cheaper, than could be achieved by smaller entities. At certain sizes they also develop bureaucracies that can slow the rate of efficiency, but they’re an unavoidable requirement to run such an entity, albeit one that needs monitoring.

The governance of the larger state is where I take issue, and I’d sooner we transitioned to a direct democracy, doing away with politicians. It wouldn’t necessarily be perfect (see Expressions of Freedom), and it’d require more involvement of the public, but it’d be more representative than representatives.

I doubt I’ll ever see a proper, large-scale, direct democracy. Too many interests would prefer the current system where it’s easier to influence power in a limited number of hands. And those are the hands which would need raising to see something like this implemented.

And I definitely don’t want to see a referendum for Welsh independence, but should it ever come to pass we’re definitely calling dibs on Dr. Who.

Doctor Who: Listen

I didn’t comment on the new series of Doctor Who in last weeks TV review as it’s still new, but this weeks episode (so possible vague SPOILERS) was just beautiful.

I liked the casual pace of the story, the lack of a real threat to give it momentum. It’s a refreshing change of pace, and it felt similar to some earlier Moffat episodes in its lack of a proper antagonist.

It wasn’t entirely satisfactory: Was the conclusion meant to imply there was no race of perfect hiders, that it was simply fear? Most incidents in the episode could be viewed in this way, apart from the thing on the bed (which could admittedly have been someone intending to play a trick on Rupert).

I don’t mind an ambiguous ending if I know it’s meant to be ambiguous, but this feels like it may be more due to Moffat’s occasionally flaky plotting. While I generally like his writing, especially when he plays around with the time travelling as he does here, his usually strong story logic does occasionally show possible plot holes that spoil my overall enjoyment – they may not be holes in the plot so much as my understanding of it, in which case it’s possibly the exposition that’s deficient (or my comprehension).

This doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the episode though (unlike the possible plot hole in the Christmas Carol episode).

It’s a beautiful piece that goes at its own pace and feels different enough from regular episodes while remaining consistent. I wouldn’t mind more episodes like this.

More TV Reviews

Some more TV reviews – because it’s something to do – following on from the last one, so some are no longer that recent.

 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I liked the end of this, although I’m still not sure if I found it lacking something. I prefer ongoing stories to episodic stuff, though I can understand why many series start off episodic (as much because executive types seem to believe viewers need that stability as because the series is finding its feet). Still, the tail end of the season worked better for me, and I’m glad the main story was tied up in the season without any hard cliffhanger (some strands still dangling, but the main plot was tidied up).

Maybe rewatching it in one block will make it seem more cohesive (or tell me what’s wrong with it).

 

The Boss

Season two was unfortunately the last. And while it did kind of have a resolution, it didn’t feel like a proper one. While not happy, and with few laughs, the show was mesmerisingly dark, and I kept watching to see exactly how bad the mayor could actually go. While I’m in no rush for a box set, I’m disappointed something this interesting was canned.

 

Orphan Black

Season two kept up the quality of the first, with some interesting and surprising avenues. I’m not sure how well it would work with a different lead actress though, as Tatiana Maslany is the reason the show’s so good. I often find myself so engrossed by the performances that even with two of her clones on screen it can be easy to forget it’s the same actress. She helps the special effects do what they should do: disappear.

Will season three have more focus on the male clones? Hopefully not too much, since I didn’t find the actor as watchable as Maslany. Maybe he’ll be more interesting in different roles, but she should remain the star of the show. I just wish she was in more scenes.

 

The Honourable Woman

After the fact, some parts seem slow, but watching it was always engrossing. Despite a few plot strands feeling like danglers (unless I missed something, which is possible) it was generally satisfactory, with strong performances (particularly Stephen Rea and Maggie Gyllenhal [but since I'm currently rewatching The Fixer , I was longing to see Andrew Buchan shoot or beat someone]).

While I’m glad I watched it, the memory of how slow some parts feel in retrospect means I probably wouldn’t want to rewatch it again anytime soon.

 

Continuum

Just finished watching season two on dvd (so many US series we can only get on dvd). It builds on the promise of the first season, and while the episodic, procedural nature can sometimes feel a bit vanilla, I can understand why it’s (possibly wrongly) seen as a useful tool for getting some audiences to stick with a science fiction show.

Not that it’s that heavily science fiction, those element of the show taking a back seat to the characters and intrigue, and the shifting allegiances among everyone, good and bad, are interesting. The main thing that keeps me engrossed is the question of whether the protagonist is hero or villain, protecting the peace or enforcing the laws of totalitarian corporate rule, although admittedly that’s probably the wrong question. She’s both. They’re unafraid to have her skirt the line, and she’s constantly fighting to balance her desire to uphold the law against her desire to get home to her family.

There’s still a sense that it could be better, maybe if it dropped the procedural stuff (and from how the second season ended that may happen), but it’s still enjoyable enough to keep me buying the dvds (when they reach an appropriate price point).

 

Update and Unoriginal Thoughts

The first draft of the next novel is finished. I’m considering The Old War as the working title, just for something to call it. Leaving that aside for a month or three I need to do further preparatory work on the remaining Tales of the Thief-City stories so I can try and do them during NaNoWriMo this year, and another short piece is nagging at me for attention.

To try and keep some content appearing here – in word count if not substance – here’s some meandering thoughts on the recent Amazon-Hachette trouble.

 

The Amazon-Hachette Slap-Fight

I’m sure most people have by now heard of Amazon’s fumbled attempt to gain public support in their conflict with Hachette (a public move they felt forced into after authors called them out on their somewhat childish blockade of Hachette authors’ works as part of a negotiation).

As a KDP author I received their email call to arms against the bullying publishers (I assume all KDP authors received it, since I’d hate to feel I was special). After wading through their rambling plea, I did indeed feel a swelling of anger. Just not at Hachette.

Ignoring the fact that high prices on traditionally published books gives self-published authors an advantage, in the long term it does me no good for Amazon to gain control of the large publishers, which appears to be their goal. Why should I therefore support them in bringing public pressure where their bullyboy tactics have failed?

Not that I particularly support the publishers. They’ve made mistakes in pricing ebooks so high which must have cost their authors, and their slowness to get to grips with ebooks and the changes to the market have allowed Amazon to gain so much control.

Particularly irritating is when Amazon (or any big publisher) claims to be working for the betterment of books, readers, or writers. While I certainly appreciate what Amazon have helped achieve in the growth of ebooks, and the services they provide, it’d be wrong to view the company as purely benevolent (and their attempts to monopolise the market with KDP Select readily dispel such illusions).

Individuals working for Amazon may well see that as a goal, but Amazon and the publishers are themselves corporate entities. They survive by making money, and they became so successful by making more money than everyone else. Any ideal they work towards is one where the majority of money from book sales reaches them.

There’s nothing inherently wrong, or evil, with this. It’s what they are. The only problem comes when people want to see them as something else. Publishers publish what they think will sell, because otherwise they’d go out of business. Amazon sells at low prices to maintain a cashflow and to push competitors out of business so they can then raise their prices (from a pragmatically cynical point of view), because this is how they survive.

It’s not personal – because corporate entities aren’t people – it’s business.

Of course for a company fixated on global domination, their amateurish attempts to manipulate events don’t bode well for when they do take control.

Not Dead

The silence over the last weeks has been as much due to back problems leaving me in too much pain to get anything written as it has been lack of inspiration. I wrote one piece out last week, only to decide on rereading that it was even more garbage than some of the stuff I’ve posted. Since I’m close to needing to start writing the first draft of my next project, it could be a while before you get much coherent here.

The Looming Wall of Words Unwritten

I’ve reached the point in the current story (untitled as yet – not even a working title I’m happy with) where the looming Wall of words yet unwritten is bearing down on me.

I’ve been working through the outline, breaking the chapters down to get an idea of what happens in each, and about half way through the story finally starts to click into place, more and more ideas forming and fitting together. It’s started the momentum towards the point when I have to start writing, which means that The Wall, previously ignorable as being a way away, is now distracting me from preparation to write.

Which is unfortunate as there’s still a bit of work to do on the outline. I need to work through the individual characters and make sure their necessary character arc beats are noted in the chapter breakdowns, now I have a better idea of who they are and how they’ll work in the story.

(Breaking it down also allows you to focus on smaller chunks of the wall, which when the writing starts can make it seem more manageable – provided you can ignore the mass sat behind the individual scenes.)

Then I need to work through the chapter outlines again to make sure these beats fit in, and that everything I wanted (such as the numerous scribbled lines of dialogue on various pages) will be included rather than having to be shoehorned in during revisions.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get at least another pass at it done before the impulse to start writing become uncontrollable. Otherwise it just means more work in revisions. Which may be okay for small inserts, but major things needing changing can be far more daunting. By that point The Wall is more solid.

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale

Smashwords have their Summer/Winter Sale this month (snuck up on me, I thought it was later), and most of my books are enrolled in it.

Most of my novels are half price (using coupon code SSW50), except Grey Enigmas, which is free (using coupon code SW100). I’ve also got the priced stories of the Tales of the Thief-City series free, and may reduce the prices of others through the month.

Omissions

While a story needs the sequence of events clearly expressed (as a whole; keeping things hidden from the reader is fine if they’re to be revealed at some point), it can sometimes be tricky working out what you can leave out or skimp over.

There’s a difference in large stories like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – where entire important battles happen off screen, but where there’s a lot happening and including everything could pose a health hazard to anyone carrying one of the hardbacks around – and a short story where a scene accounts for far more of the story.

(Or maybe it’s more a matter of how the scene relates to the overall story, or character arcs. Maybe moving away from the viewpoint of those caught up in the scene allows it to be only heard about.)

It’s a challenge when faced with scenes that just don’t work whether or not to omit it. Ideally you find either what it is about the scene that requires its inclusion, or what makes you want to write it, and focus on that, or you find what isn’t working and determine why not.

 

Necessary Scenes

In Games of Shadow, part 5 of Shadows of the Heavens, the dinner party at the end was almost painful to write, and the first draft was far more sparse, with blocks left to fill in later. I could have ended the main strands of the story differently, but it wouldn’t then have introduced characters who’d play greater roles in the rest of the series. And it said more about the main characters, and the setting. So the scene served multiple purposes, some of which would be lost without it.

It was therefore necessary to keep it, so on the later draft I went back to it and outlined that scene in more detail than I had. I didn’t rewrite it until happy with the way it worked, and interested in it.

 

Unnecessary Scenes

In the recently released Dreams of the Dead there’s an omitted chase scene that I’m worried readers might find slightly jarring. The story skips from trouble about to happen, to the characters having evaded their pursuers, without giving the chase scene.

This was never written. It was in the rough outline, but many action scenes I never break down that much, preferring to maintain spontaneity and energy when writing them. I couldn’t find any interesting thing to do with the chase scene, and it wasn’t doing anything else (no character work or world-building for which it could be utilised). It had only a single purpose, and held little interest for me, so I left it out. Its omission doesn’t feel like it affects the overall story. Possibly the increased pace of the action could have been useful, and the brief build-up without the payoff may trip readers, but the series overall tends to have sharp, brief action scenes, so the scene could have felt incongruous as part of the overall narrative movement.

Possibly (okay probably) I’m overly neurotic, and readers won’t particularly care about the omission. It’s a danger when writing that you study the structure in more detail than you might otherwise. (I find when reading I notice ‘said’ far more than I’m sure I used to, when it’s supposed to become invisible to readers.)

Ultimately I can only write what feels right. If a scene feels like it’ll be a slog to write then maybe my unconscious is telling me there’s something wrong with it. And if the scene can be dropped without affecting the story in any way, maybe it should be.

Dreams of the Dead

I’ve just released the fifth story in the Tales of the Thief-City series, Dreams of the Dead.

Dreams of the Dead small When a friend goes missing, Rax Darkthorn must disturb the ghosts of his past in search of an answer. The trail leads to the second-to-last place he’d want to revisit, forcing him to deal with the dead, the undying, the neverborn, and the never should have been born.

Fifth in the Tales of the Thief-City series. A 20000 word fantasy novella.

 

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Smashwords

It’ll be free until the end of July (apart from on Amazon – unless price matching is working again).

 

Unlike the previous parts it’s a novella. It was an attempt to do a longer story based in the setting, since a few reviews had said they’d like that.

Unfortunately the style of the series doesn’t seem to lend itself to that, and what was initially hoped to be a novel ended up a short novella.

The series was conceived as pulpy short stories that maintain a fast pace and have a fairly compressed story. I find first person narratives tend to work out shorter than third persons for me anyway. (The sequel series, assuming I finish this one, would probably be third person since the viewpoint character is different, and probably wouldn’t work as well in first person – or would be far more work for me, and probably still work better in third person).

Dreams of the Dead wasn’t going to be part of the series. It was more of a stand alone that looked at the character’s history. It’s still not tied strongly into the overall narrative of the series (which is a single long story), but some of the information will come into play later in the series so it’s easier to include than reintroduce them from scratch elsewhere. And given events to come it has a definite position in the series, so it might as well be numbered as such.

For those wishing for a longer story, I can only hope they stay till the end of the series (currently planned to be around twelve stories) and find the whole things satisfies as the longer piece they’re looking for.

Guest Post by Nikolas Baron of Grammarly

**Please welcome our guest poster for today, Nikolas Baron of Grammarly.**

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer

Glasses on, he was Superman. Glasses off, he was an ordinary journalist. As part of my job at Grammarly, I research what people write and which tools they use. I rub shoulders with a lot of freelance writers … a lot of freelance writers who wear glasses. What is a day in their lives like? How do they accomplish the heroic articles that I read every day? After all, we walk past these people all the time on the street. We laugh at the jokes that they print. We cry when they bring some sad account to our porch by means of the daily journal. However, we rarely look into the process that brought the writing to life. Let us take that moment today.

The Morning Routine

Almost every writer has a set of habitual behaviors that he performs at the start of each day. I do not think that I will surprise you by saying that, for the majority, it involves a caffeinated beverage. Besides that, here are the top three activities to get authors on their way!

• The Important Stuff

For the worrywarts, it is better to first run errands to get them out of the way. They clear the slate, physically and mentally to focus on writing. Slow cookers are hidden secrets of the trade. As one of my author friends cooks breakfast, she throws in a roast and some veggies into the crockpot. No concerns will distract her from writing, except the delicious smells of dinner being ready.

• Meditation

Another colleague assured me that, by meditation, he does not mean thinking about the famous handclapping question. Instead, he takes a little “me” time. He sits out on the deck to watch the squirrels and birds bustling about in their affairs. He may read a chapter of the Bible or a few pages of a self-improvement book. He chooses a positive thought and meditates on how he can introduce it into his own life. He forcibly removes any thoughts of writing or what he has to do for the day. It is his time of peace.

• Brainstorm session

In one interview, the author of Drop Dead Healthy encourages writers to “generate dozens of ideas”. This exercise has to be free of fear. Expert authors do not waste one second fretting over quality brainstormed ideas. Most will be garbage, destined for nothing. Nonetheless, the great ones are grand! Like artists with a sketchbook, some writers keep a notebook of ideas to use when they need inspiration.

The Grind

Stay-at-home professionals often schedule working hours. This ensures productivity. As writing is a creative profession, one may plan fewer hours than those typically allotted for manual labor. Breaks are also an important part of the process. Failure to do so can cause writer’s block, the dreaded nemesis of any wordsmith. The following section will discuss what some smart writing professionals do during downtime.

The Procrastination Destination

There are the obvious break activities- eating, bathroom breaks, and a quick nap. However, a number of authors do not like to feel as if they are wasting time. They chose productive ways to procrastinate! While waiting for writer’s block to subside, they proofread for grammar and clarity. They cut and paste their documents into online proofreading websites. By the time the revisions are made, they are ready to start creating again. What a guilt-free mental break that is!

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”

By the day’s end, an author sighs… with relief if the day has been productive or with grief if the output disappoints. By the bed, quite a few writers keep a pad of paper. These authors also assure me that the notepad is essential. They never regret anything as much as the great idea that got away.

The next time you devour an article in five minutes, take a few moments to consider the author. He may have taken days to write that article. He may have sat in front of his computer screen for hours, praying for a flash of insight. Smile at those bespectacled faces in the street. You may be smiling at a superhero.

By Nikolas Baron


Bio:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.