Tuesday, 23 August 2011

In pursuit of English

From time to time my dog sits at my feet, head on one side, top lip caught on one of his fangs. This lopsided goofy look has one simple translation, it’s the look I call ‘cheese face’. He’s dry mouth, so excited he dare not lick his lips, positively quivering in anticipation that the piece of cheese in my hand is going to be shared with him.

He’s a dog. Strictly non-verbal. He whines, growls, does something that sounds like a cross between whale song and howl but in a distinctly basso-profundo key, and sometimes he barks incessantly. My mother complains and I point out that he’s a dog, that’s what dogs do, and she would be very startled if he burst into an aria from Rigoletto.

The point being that I can interpret what he ‘says’ and he’s from another species; but sometimes when faced with something written by my fellow man, I am at a total loss.

In the last five years or so, people have started writing in initials. Strings of initials, floating meaninglessly in cyberspace, whether in facebook status, comments on status, in blogs or other places. Sometimes I receive text messages that might as well be written in Ancient Babylonian for all the good they do to me.

The point of text messages is that they are fast and supposed to convey instant information. If I have to spend half an hour interpreting what is being said or required of me then surely the point is utterly lost.

English is a rich language, expressive, some of the greatest works of literature the world has ever seen have been written in English. Yet we continue to reduce it every day. This reduction is not an improvement.

I have neither the patience nor any particular interest in learning the precise meaning of endless strings of initials. Illiteracy irritates me, I find it vexing amongst the young, but since they have almost universally been deprived of a decent education by a generation of overly liberal, lax policies of governments who like to tinker while Rome burns, their inability to express themselves clearly and concisely can be understood; but amongst those who should know better, sorry, it makes me gnash my teeth in rage.

When even university professors think that being unable to write clear, concise, legible, sensible English is not a problem, we really have hit rock bottom.

LOL… really?? You are sitting alone at your laptop baying like a hyena on speed over nothing very much? Please forgive me if I edge ever so slightly and unobtrusively in the general direction of away.

I made most of my career as a PA (that’s personal assistant, universally accepted acronym), Secretary and Administrator, mostly as a temp, but I did have two long term permanent roles.

I spent seven years as PA to the Buying Director of Puma UK.

One of the most important lessons I learnt about the art of communication was the lesson of clarity.

When you are communicating with factories in the Far East, with people whose first language is not English, if you do not state exactly what you want in clear, concise terms, well frankly you will not get what you want. If your communication isn’t up to scratch you can scarcely blame the factory for getting it wrong.

A lot has been said and written in the last couple of weeks about ‘gangsta’ culture and how our young people are turning into mini-gangstas, speaking an incoherent and ultimately faked patois that they hope will gain them acceptance in the ‘society’ which exists all around them.

There has been a positively Gadarene charge by politicians of all parties to blame the riots and breakdown of law and order on deprivation. I think in that they actually have it quite right, only the causes are not the cuts, but the systematic deprivation of a decent education, of aspiration, of judgement and leadership and a thousand other qualities which have been slowly weeded out of education over the last forty odd years.

The useful idiots of education re-engineering, with their endless social experimentation have done nothing to improve the lives of the dispossessed. They pride themselves on being non-judgemental. But without judgement, how can you possibly expect a child to know right from wrong? How can child ever aspire to anything if a child cannot judge between joining a gang and choosing a different path?

Communication is the key to the door. If you cannot communicate, how can you possibly hope to succeed in anything? So yes, it does matter. Writing gibberish filled with strings of initials that can be misconstrued or simply not understood and discarded gets you nowhere.

Communication in speech also matters. It may be fashionable to look down on the traditions of British pronunciation, quaintly known as RP (received pronunciation); or as my father used to term it, purest BBC!

The usual view of the secretary is that she (and most of them are female) is the office eye-candy, looks hot, lacks brains, makes a nice cup of tea. But the most important thing is what she sounds like. I have gained employment at interview with lesser qualifications than some of my rivals, simply because I can speak purest BBC. Very Alexandra Pellis! I have made a career out of looking rather plain but enunciating the Queen’s English in a style last heard on British radio sometime in the fifties.

Very simply put, I may not have a Barbie Doll face and figure, but my speaking voice lends cachet to those bosses who care about how their image is perceived at first contact and beyond. It really does matter what you sound like, and how you write.

Reducing English to strings of meaningless initials lowers the language itself. For those of us who know better, we should be leading by example.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Musings on Social Media

Article first published as Liking Facebook on Technorati.

When Facebook changed the 'Fan' button to the 'Like' button, I for one was not pleased. 'Like' always seemed far too tepid a word. Inadequate to express one's feelings about the film, book, play, actor or activity that the Facebook page represented.

Now we have a different situation. Social Media Marketing has exploded. Advertising revenue in the traditional places, TV, news media, radio has declined year on year as viewers, readers and listeners get wise to the ways to avoid it. Peer review is deemed more trustworthy. After all if you cannot trust your friends, who can you trust?

Suddenly it seems as though everyone has a page to promote and you feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of things to 'like'. Having dutifully clicked the like button you add that to your growing list of things you 'like'.

So what happens next? In reality, how many of those 'like' pages do you ever visit again?

Being a fan of something implies that you enjoy doing, watching or reading this something over and over again. "Like" infers a more tenuous attraction. Now we have so many pages to 'like' isn't it time that Facebook finds some way to differentiate between the things you have a passing fancy for and those things that are your favourites?

As social media grows, it would be helpful if you could refine your interests, likes and dislikes, especially for marketing. Finding like minded people is an inexact science at best, but it need not be. The current situation provides the opportunity for the truly energetic to carpet bomb the internet in their quest for sales and self-promotion; whilst the less forward and those with less time at their disposal disappear in the incoming tide.

So you turn your facebook on in the morning and what do you find? Usually at least one request from a friend to 'Like' something, so you dutifully click the like button and so it goes on. Or does it? Are we now all suffering from a degree of 'like' fatigue? I know that in the last couple of months I have been faced with many pages to like. I also know that whereas I would have liked every page sent my way six months ago, now I have become more selective. Not because I don't like things, but because I don't like them enough to add them to a list and dilute my interest in other things.

If there were options to like or be a fan of something, there would be a lot of things in my like list which I would dip into occasionally, perhaps once a week; but there would be very few things in my 'fan' list which I would check almost daily.

On the other side of the fence, I would be able to detect levels of interest in the things I have created a page for. There is an argument that the ground level point of sustainability for any artist, film-maker, author is one thousand true fans. One thousand true fans are the people who are going to buy your newest work because they like your 'brand', they are going to drive two hundred miles to go to your next concert, signing, viewing or screening, they will interact with you and they will tell the world how good your work is. They are your ambassadors.

To achieve that level of engagement with your fans, the way forward is clearly social media. In the modern idiom of 'celebrity', accessibility is key, and communicating directly with the people who enjoy your work is the most effective way to gather in your magic number.

To keep social media fresh and exciting, giving the people more control over what they like or are a fan of, makes a great deal of sense to me.



Saturday, 28 May 2011

Welcome to the Blog-hop


Greetings, I am Sj. I am a blogger, writer and general marketing 'puke' living my writing dream just south of London, England.

Together with my US-based writing partners, Jason and Mel, my life is very busy. I am a partner in Throwaway Lines, a new blog website which is the showcase for fast, fun, light fiction and reviews (coming soon). I partner with Mel on My Ink Project, which is a blog about the ink in our lives and in our souls.

I am passionate about all things independent. Creative arts should be free to explore, not hemmed in by the needs of advertising and the whims of the money men. I assist with the promotion of an independent film, Pig, and administrate their blog.

In a move that could be described as foolhardy, I prefer to think of it as adventurous, I have also signed up as an Apple Developer. I will be using my own blog to chart my progress. Having already selected my victim… er, guinea pig, from time to time my vic.. guinea pig and my long suffering partners will join me in blogging about my progress as I wade my way through code, while trying to up my exercise intake and learn how to be a yoga teacher at the same time.

I have a short attention span, and I am insatiably and incurably curious. I always need to know how things work… I hope you enjoy what is here, and join me in my journey going forward!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Eccentricities

My life revolves around writing, my friends, my pets, and the running repairs occasioned by my pets' multiple eccentricities. My mother also likes to add her political commentary to the mess, she watches the hour long news at 6, switches channels at seven to watch another hour long news session. She is also inordinately fond of Newsnight and Question Time. On bad nights, I have died and am floating in some kind of political hell as my mother prods me with the pitchfork of "the country is going to hell in a handcart!" It is times like these that I really do wish I was a Medieval Court Poisoner in the pay of both Channel 4 and the BBC!

Last night I went to bed at three am. Okay, it wasn't last night, it was this morning. And yes… I know (for those of you who are about to pounce on my lack of mattress time!) it was late… I have an excuse… two late phone calls, both of which made me smile… and a sudden flash of inspiration on the fourth life.

Seven am and reality bites. Or squelches. Between my toes. Stepping on cold yoghurt on a carpet before you have even broached the first coffee of the day… words fail me (actually, they don't… but I am sure you really do not want to experience my command of the vernacular).

I ignored the squelchy feeling and pressed on, which is when I noticed the green arched streak on the white paint of the bannisters. From its curiously blotchy appearance, I deduced spinach. (It also helps that spinach was in last night's dinner). Amongst Dan's many charming little foibles he likes to take dinner bowls and cutlery, despite being somewhat long and low slung, he can jump to an astonishing height.

The slimy green trajectory suggested that the knife which I found at the foot of the stairs had fallen over the bannister as he snagged the leftovers off the tray on the table on the landing. And wiping dried spinach off painted woodwork is a nightmare…

Having scraped the spinach off the bannisters I headed downstairs. First stop is always the kittens. Quite why I am still calling them kittens, when they are two extremely substantial cats is beyond me. I know we have a problem the instant I open the study door and I can hear the relentless whine of the water fountain pump motor. They had wedged something in front of the filter, creating a dam, and causing the water to get pumped out of the bowl… Five minutes to unwedge the object (one of their toys), and refill the bowl.

My days always begin with running repairs. Irritatingly, my day has continued with them. Something of the hunter non-gatherer variety has been playing in the garden, as testified by the very nasty pile of feathers. I deduced that the culprit was fox, first by the mess, and secondly by the green substance of a nauseating viscosity which my darling Daniel chose to lie down and have a really good roll in. EEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! My cup truly runneth over.

My sitting room which also fulfills the role of office, yoga space, rowing machine space… my rowing machine is a vast rosewood thing of beauty, overflow wardrobe space, miscellaneous collection of junk space and I could go on, but that would be a little tedious… my sitting room is now so cluttered that I cannot find anything. I have been searching for the power cable for my netbook for almost three months.

Through the midst of this disorganised chaos I shamble. Complaining occasionally at my complete inability to find anything. Crowing with delight when something rises to the surface which I had believed had gone forever. My life may have all the outward appearance of offcuts of the script to the film Avanti, but if I am being honest, I like it like that.

Now I have to go and retrieve the catnip mouse, before Solitaire proves he is scarcely a gentleman and pins Tizzy to the ground and takes it off her.

Monday, 9 May 2011

To Self Publish

Self publishing. The publishing world has changed out of all recognition in the last few years. With the rise of eReaders, and print companies like Lulu, Lightning Source, and Create Space providing everything an author needs to get their work out to the paying public there is little to stop anyone publishing anything.

However, a note of caution. Self publishing may give you 70% or more of your costs back, but you are going to have to work extremely hard to get there.

The traditional route is still agent, publisher, possible small advance (although this is likely to be a lot smaller than you might imagine, and is supposed to be spent on preparing the author for all the marketing you will have to do!) and into print. Your return is likely to be approximately 12% after publisher's and agent's cuts. You will have to work hard, but everything will be set up for you.

Self Publishing you have to do it all yourself. All the marketing, from scratch. Socialising your book, virtual book tours, maybe even a book trailer. All these things are time intensive and costly.

So, if you are going to spend time and money in all this effort you need to start from a position of strength.

Get your work into the best possible shape to sell. If you cannot afford a professional editor, cast around amongst your friends and acquaintances for someone (or several someones) who are prepared to beta and be real friends (pouncing ruthlessly on any and all errors).

If you are going into print, the cover is important. The cover has one job, other than holding the book together; that is to sell the contents to the buying public. The very best cover you can get for the money is a key factor to success. Cover art is something of a minefield. It is possible to purchase stock images from a supplier like Shutterstock or iStockPhoto and create a cover yourself for next to nothing. My advice - bench test. Make several different options and ask friends and family for their comments. Obviously if you can afford a professional this is the best option.

The composition of the cover should entice. Look to the elements you will need. Title, Author, back cover blurb, isbn and barcode (if you are planning to go that route), slugs. Eh? Slugs… those little bits of text like taglines for movie posters, offering a little intriguing nudge to purchase. Head into your nearest bookshop. Go straight to the shelf which contains books of a similar genre to yours. Examine them, what works for you, what doesn't work… Think about it. If you have a good product you do not want to let it down with bad packaging.

As a self-published author you will have to do all the work to get your book in front of reviewers and purchasers. A word to the wise here. The internet is not a private place where you can behave badly and no one will notice. People are entitled to their opinions. Their opinions are not always in sync with yours. Should you receive a poor review you will need to handle it with dignity. As a self-published author you are not alone, it is one enormous family. How we all behave reflects on our fellow self-published colleagues as well as ourselves.

Self-publishing is hard work. It is not for the faint-hearted and those unable to accept criticism. However, potentially it is a very exciting and rewarding endeavour if you have passion, enthusiasm and commitment.

To read more about self-publishing and why you can: http://pavarti.com/2011/05/9-reasons-why-im-choosing-to-self-indie.html

Monday, 11 April 2011

Blogs I Love

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the things I like to read. How the mainstream has become less and less satisfying.

How independent writing has made me laugh, made me cry and made me think.

This is a blog post mostly about blogs, I hope you enjoy it and go out and discover the brave new world outside of what you buy in the mainstream.

First up is a writer I have admired since I first encountered his work from my time on Authonomy.

Dan Holloway is an incredible author and an amazing and highly creative individual who believes passionately in art being accessible to all.
http://agnieszkasshoes.blogspot.com/ Agnieszka’s Shoes started life as the first novel written on Facebook, and has gone on to represent the best of Indie Culture 2.0. “The View From the Shoe” offers a truly independent take on culture for the 21st Century.

Lucy Brown is a PhD student and author who writes from the heart. In her ‘not so spare time’ she is writing a novel, but somehow she manages to squeeze a little extra time out of the standard 24 to write http://secludedcharm.blogspot.com/

Another lady who writes from the heart is Mel, my incredible writing partner on http://myinkproject.com. I know, a bit rich putting my own writing partner in here, but I look forward to Mel’s posts, they are always passionate, heart-felt and intriguing.

I fell in love with Richard Pierce’s writing the day I joined the dreaded Authonomy. I think his novel Bee Bones was the very first one I voted on. Richard writes beautiful, soul drenching, amazing prose that just gets you every time. http://tettig.blogspot.com/. His talent is just awesome, and he’s a lovely guy too.

Just when one might think that things cannot get any better or more creative, Dan Holloway comes back at you with another great blog, this time for his crime thriller series, Tommy West. In his own words: The Tommy West novels  are dark psychological mysteries very much in the vein of P D James and Val McDermid,with a small pinch of Thomas Harris’ modern gothic. http://thecompanyoffellows.wordpress.com/.

http://thepigpicture.wordpress.com is a new blog in support of the independent sci fi movie Pig. Writer/director Henry Barrial opened with a piece on identity. This is a blog to watch for the future as we chart Pig’s progress through film festivals to, we hope, general release. As Sci-Fi London Film Festival says “this is smart, indie sci-fi at its best, with a strong story and great performances that make the scenarios engaging and believable. One not to miss.

Next up is a book. Thought this was supposed to be about blogs? It is... but it’s my rules, so book it is.

Raven Dane is a lady of infinite resource who writes a wickedly funny story, chock full of amazing and memorable characters, some of whom have wound up on my right leg. The Unwise Woman of Fuggis Mire is a deliciously irreverent and funny fantasy in which every fantasy cliché is gleefully flipped over and taken once round the dance floor. That this book is up for Best Novel at the 2011 British Fantasy Society Awards comes as absolutely no surprise. Forget the doom and gloom of modern life, indulge yourself... you won’t be disappointed.

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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Stripes with Paisley

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Stripes with Paisley??... I can hear the fashion Nazis screaming for miles. Guess what! Their angst is not my problem!

I freely admit that I break all the rules of dress sense every single day. But hey, I’m already breaking a substantial number of rules of female life anyway. One might as well go the whole hog whilst one is at it.

I am a size 22 in a size 0 world, and... there really is nothing left to fear. I am me, even if I starved myself and rowed for hours instead of minutes I am never going to be thin. It just isn’t going to happen. You just have accept that and move on.

Making the most of what you have got, and not sweating the stuff you cannot change is something I like to live by.

The laws of dress sense dictate that if you are larger than the average bear (in my case, grizzly) one should dress in dark tent-like garments and try to camouflage oneself so as not to be noticeable by the rest of the population.

Sorry, not a chance. My inner exhibitionist wants out... If it is bright, loud, outrageously patterned and likely to get me noticed, I’m gonna wear it. I am particularly fond of madras check in bright oranges, pinks and greens...

I was born brunette, which was not to my liking. Nature kinda dealt with that one though. I found my first grey hair at 11 or 12, by eighteen I was substantially grey and certainly by the time I hit forty, I was mostly white under all the hair dye. One of the problems of dyeing white hair back brown is that after a couple of washes, it looks like a ginger cat has upped and died on your head. The imp of mischief is strong in me. My hairdresser bleached my hair out white then added the blue fringe and the rest is not exactly history, but adds to the entire lack of mystique.

Lack of mystique?? Surely every woman wants to be an intriguing mystery??

Well, no... not really. I’m all for the uncomplicated life. Sure, I like to raise a little Cain from time to time, most of that comes from what I look like anyway, but with me wysiwyg works better. I am not especially patient... I like everything to happen yesterday. Besides, if you say what you mean and mean what you say, it saves time and distress later. If everyone knows where they stand that is one less thing to worry about.

I am loud, open, friendly, I will talk to anyone about anything, I do not have a nervous bone in my body, and like George Bernard Shaw’s arms dealer, I am unashamed.

I firmly believe that there is a lot more to worry about in this world than getting into a lather about what others might think, and if, by being me, I can show one other large person who is struggling with their confidence that there really isn’t as much to fear as one has been led to believe, then I might have done a halfway decent job as a human being.

So the hair, the inch-long quite-clearly-acrylic-fake nails and the tattoos are all very much part of the show. These things are representative of who I am. I make no attempt to hide any of them. Why would I? I am proud of all of them.

My tattoos are awesomely funny conversation starters... I went into a shop to buy a Mars Bar, Vlad (the Impala) gave me the munchies, so I just had to go out and grab a Mars Bar so that I could sit still for Stevie to finish him off. The quite elderly Indian lady behind the counter is staring at my right forearm, at first, I’m thinking... disapproval... then she bursts into giggles, and asks me if I know what it means. As a matter of fact, I do, I didn’t just pick dhoom machale out of a tattoo book, so I say yes, and we have a nice little conversation about it. I love all my tattoos, but dhoom machale holds a very special place in my heart, not just my right forearm. It’s a daily reminder that life is there for the living, because there’s only one to a customer.

Let’s party!!

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