Monthly Archives: June 2014

Push the button Max!

KeyboardsPhil: Tuesday’s post was written on a tablet computer. It’s a very nice tablet computer (Asus Memo Pad since you ask) but if this is the future of writing, I’m going to buy some new cartridges for my fountain pen.

Back in the “good old days”, the pen was the writers connection to their reader. That process of taking ideas from one brain and sending them to another involved making marks on a piece of paper so the nib was part of the interface. People became pen snobs. Only the best would do and of course some believed that their writing would somehow become better.

To be fair, this happens with all manual crafts involving tools with beginners believing that better tools rather than practise and effort make all the difference. A recent piece on the radio talked to knife makers who admitted that the most expensive kitchen knives costing thousands of pounds all went to people who just showed them off in the kitchen. Professional cooks used the mid-range models.

Anyway, once we stopped scribbling and started banging keys, typewriter envy became the thing. I’ve used a typewriter but fortunately by the time I was doing any serious writing, we had early word processors with their oh so important delete key to handle typos. If you want to get nerdy over the tools of the trader, head over here for a list of writers and their machines.

Which brings us up to date. Now, a tablet computer is a wonderful thing. When Apple introduced the first iPad, most people fell into two camps – the “what’s the point?” crowd mainly consisted of techies who couldn’t understand that for most people the web is something they consume rather than create on. Others declared the death of the conventional computer. As it happens, they aren’t so far off – computer sales have dipped as people realise that if all you do is post on Facebook and watch YouTube, you don’t need an office, you can do it on the sofa in front of the telly.

I’m somewhere in the middle. I got the tablet thing even though I am a bit techie. For me a computer is a tool for a job, not an end in itself and sometimes a simple web access is all you need. My tablet is invaluable to me as it removes the need to be at the PC for e-mail checking and allows me to be where I’m working.

I can type on it – the choice of machine came down to the best keyboard option (it has numbers as well as letter unlike an iPad where you have to switch between the two) but prodding an unresponsive bit of glass is slow and uncomfortable. In years to come, I suspect fingers will become shorter and knuckle joins impacted in those who prod the screen a lot. I’m pretty certain it’s not possible to write anything longer than a short story on one

Even my phone (HTC Desire Z, tech nerds) has a flip out keyboard. This makes it heavier than most and it’s showing its age but it won’t be replaced until it dies as you can’t find anything similar with a sensible screen and keys for fat fingers.

No, I need a keyboard. A proper rattly one. Not a soft touch or something that looks cool but has only tiny amounts of key movement. A proper workaday model that can stand up to my heavy keystrokes and the occasional thump when the words aren’t flowing. Something that has to have crud cleaned out from between the keys occasionally. Until we can beam our words directly from brain to page or even brain to reader brain, it will have to do.

(In case anyone is wondering, or just thinking I’ve gone mad, the title of this post comes from a running gag in the film The Great Race)

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You have chosen your holiday reading – unwisely

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Phil: As I sit in my Doncaster hotel room, I’m wishing I’d brought something to read. I’m comfortable enough and I could watch TV but it’s far too early for that and anyway, it’s all football at the moment. What I want is a book.

Trouble is, my book on the go at the moment is One Summer by Bill Bryson.

Great book, but in hardback form, it weighs the same as a small child. Great workout for the reader, but too heavy to lug on the train.

I suppose this is where e-books score. I could have downloaded it on to the tablet computer I use to write this, but then I’d need to bring a charger. Anyway, it’s a signed copy and good as Bryson is, I don’t want him scribbling on my Asus.

So, today’s reader advice is, embrace the pulp paperback. It’s portable and handy for a few minutes distraction. In the meantime, I’ve nicely used up a few minutes, so it must be time for breakfast…

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I don’t know how you find the time…

vintage Mauthe alarm clockPhil: This time last week, we were both away from our desks in either on a Margate industrial estate or field near Cambridge. Not on holidays you understand, for both of us it was work all the way.

When I talk to anyone about writing a book, some people say, “I’d love to do that but I just don’t have the time.”

The thing that separates writers from non-writers is that the first group get on with the dull job of typing out a story. There’s a world of difference between wanting to write and doing it. The trouble is that you have to devote a load of time to the doing bit. It’s great when you are in the flow but getting going is a bit like starting a 1970s British Leyland car in the winter – hard work.

Which is where it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped for us at the moment. Even sitting down for a lunchtime chat is hard as we are both busy people. If we didn’t have the thing written already, I’m not sure we’d ever get around to it.

That spell at the quango where we were able to devise the basic story and go away to get it down on the page was a lucky break.

Maybe fate had literary greatness in store for us. Let’s hope so.

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Wrestling with a gnarly problem

 

Candice: I’ve been trying to write a strategy document at work for weeks now – but have been struggling to find the right flow in it to get across what I want to get across and explain the thought process behind it.

I was trying to knuckle down to it at work this afternoon but was still struggling with the why.  So I went for a dip in the pool.  60 lengths later I’ve solved my problem and worked out what the structure should be.

Why is this?  Well I find I can switch off in the pool.  I’ve always loved swimming, and I find it bizarre when people say they find it boring.  Yes the going up and down can be repetitive, but after a while it can clear your brain and help you to sort out the things going round in your head.  In fact, I was so focused on that I actually lost count of the number of lengths I had done.

It seems I am not alone in using swimming to improve the mind.  A small study has been done in Australia to see the impact on immersing you in water on your blood flow. It seems that this can help cognitive function, ie what I have seen for years, swimming can help you think.

So next time you come up against a writing problem, take a break.  Go for a walk, take a jog or go for a dip in the pool and see if that can help you sort out your writers block.

What I need to work out next is how to swim regularly and have nails that don’t break all the time and hair that isn’t dry.  A small price to pay for some good ideas…?

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Its all about family

 

Candice: In the last week I have celebrated a number of birthday events.  My niece’s first, mine and my Dad’s 80th.  Erin is also five months old (oh how that has flown).  It made me think about the impact of all these people and how we must pass things down befween family and all these individuals to make sure they aren’t forgotten.

Two years ago my Aunt died.  She and my Dad hadn’t got on for years but they did make up just before she passed away.  However, due to this there were lots of stories about his childhood that they didn’t have chance to reminisce on so he could write them down.  He grew in pubs around Birmingham but couldn’t remember them all, now we will never know those stories.

Erin is growing every day and I have been writing her story each week so we can remember how she has changed.  She’s now got a personality and reacts to us, much more than that crying blob she was a few months ago.  But, there is so much going on we will look back and think, ‘when did she do this, when did she do that’.  I’m sure she’ll go ‘oh parents you are so boring!’

As part of her arrival Richard and I have been looking at getting a Will, and had to write down everything of value we have, both financial and sentimental.  The book is one of the things down on this list as its very important to me and I think it’s Erin’s legacy, whether or not it makes any money.

I’m determined that both these real and fictitious stories that exist in my life have a life after I am going, and that things are recorded so that they can be remembered.  I’m not a hoarder but I do like to look back and remember when things happened, and think where I was and what I was doing at that point in time. I don’t do it by keeping objects but by writing a diary,  or even the book as there are factual parts in the fiction.

What do you do to keep your memories alive?

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A frying pan in the face is always funny

RikPhil: Yesterday, when I looked at Facebook or Twitter, my feed was full of people mourning the death of Rik Mayall. Presumably because many of the people I know are a similar age to me, the common factor seems to be his appearance in “The Young Ones” back in 1982.

Rik played, Rick, a self-proclaimed anarchist studying sociology and was exactly the sort of drippy, bad poetry writing, weird student we saw back in those days. Often found behind a table in the local shopping centre flogging Socialist Worker and wearing a donkey jacket to show solidarity with what they imagined to be the working class. You don’t see them since the student grant was scrapped as they all aspire to be capitalist managers.

Anyway, I remember The Young Ones being the sort of programme you watched and then talked about in school the next day. It was edgy and rebellious. Well for a middle class 12-year-old and his friends anyway. If I’m honest, we didn’t get the social commentary but loved the slapstick humour. It was just like watching a cartoon. Vivian could hit Neil or Rick with a frying pan and they bounced back just like Tom and Jerry. Nigel Planner is probably still nailed to the table where he was trying to fix those plates down to stop them being stolen

Mayall had form as one half of “The Dangerous Brothers” fondly remembered from Friday or Saturday Night live on Channel 4 with Rik playing “Richard Dangerous”. No real attempt at “serious” comedy, just slapstick. This contimued with “Bottom” which was basically Rick and Vyvyan in suits and with different hair.

Even his later work on Blackadder was played over-the-top with a verbal slapstick from Flashheart. Rowan Atkinson might have had all the clever lines but Mayall stole the screen when he appeared.

Basically, what I’m saying is that Mayall knew theat fundamentally, slapstick makes everyone laugh and so did those who wrote for him. Clever comedy is all very well but how many Ben Elton routines from the end of “Saturday Night Live” would stand the test of time? I’d still watch “The Young Ones” again though.

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Does it matter if it’s not a new plotline?

Star Trek 9Phil: Needing something to read on the train a few days ago, I picked up a second-hand book for a couple of quid. Star Trek 9 contains adaptions of 6 episodes from the famous sci-fi TV series. Ideal reading for a modest journey and cheaper and easier to manage than a newspaper.

Story 5 is called “The Return of the Archons” and involves the Enterprise crew searching for the remains of a missing spacecraft. Arriving on a planet, they discover the population appear to be preparing for a “festival” that begins shortly after they arrive at the “Red Hour”. This turns out to be a bacchanalian display of anarchy and violence.

It transpires that the world is being controlled by a computer which keeps the population under control to remove all violence. Realising that this means there won’t be any of the population control usually provided by war, it invented the “Festival” as a way of reducing the overall numbers with an overnight period when all forms of control were shut off , every moral law abrogated and every person sees every other as their enemy.

Now, I’m reading this and find myself reminded of a film from last year I read about: The Purge.

To quote the description in Wikipedia, “Crime and unemployment rates are at an all-time low due to the government having instituted an annual 12-hour period called “the Purge” during which all criminal activity (including murder) becomes legal”

Sound familiar?

It is said that at any time of the day or night, somewhere in the world, there is an episode of Star Trek appearing on television. It’s not too far-fetched to suggest that the writer of The Purge saw The Return of the Archons and somewhere part of the plot lodged in the back of his mind. On the other hand, the concept of a special law-free period for population control isn’t a big leap. Similar concepts have been used in the films Death Race 2000 and Rollerball, although in these dystopian futures, the focus was on a “sport”.

Are there any new ideas out there?

Does it matter?

Perhaps people like to see ideas given a new spin. Both Archons and Purge take a similar concept but use it in very different settings. Possibly, the newer film has the advantage that it is possible to set this in a reasonably contemporary setting whereas years ago, you’d needed it to be on an alien planet for the audience to accept it. Like all good sci-fi, both are really talking about human nature but using a slightly fantasy setting to do it.

All this has got me wondering what hidden influences our book has. Ideas lurking in the back of our minds that have subliminally influenced our writing.

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