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Taking literacy to a whole new level

It’s not often a project comes along that captures my imagination quite so much as the one I’m about to describe. I’ve recently had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Steve Monosson, Creative Director at Borne Digital, based in New York. Now, Steve’s a nice guy, very talented, makes me laugh and then I asked about the project he’d mentioned in another context.

Stylus screeches across the vinyl, my eyes grow wide and I think “whoah”.

This is not some little creative venture. This is ground breaking stuff taking literacy education to a whole new level. Borne Digital produce books for reading on a tablet. eBooks. But these eBooks are created with multiple layers of content and the level of difficulty adapts to individual learning ability. Kind of like a level-up when you reach a certain stage in the game.

Read MSNBC’s article about this and vote for Borne to get a very important chance to be heard.

We all know how kids thrive in an interactive environment. We all know they’d rather be on the iPad than reading a dowdy old paperback. And quite importantly it is now known that many people with dyslexia are better able to read from eBooks. What Borne have done, are doing, combines all of these factors and more.

Imagine if, when you were learning to read, your books had adapted to meet your ability. Imagine how much less pressured that would have made reading aloud to the teacher. Imagine how rewarding it would have been to see how far you had come in the space of just one book.

Now put yourself in the place of the teacher who, with Borne’s technology, is able to focus more on what matters and less on how to make reading fun and engaging no matter what level individual children are at. Have you breathed a sympathetic sigh of relief yet?

Key quotes from founder Daniel Fountenberry carried in the MSNBC article:

“We want to use technology in ways that empower teachers and that allow all children to reach their full potential.”

“Reading is fundamental to learning, and learning is fundamental to human development. Reading is the basis of all learning, and we all know the impact of not being able to read–what it does to a person’s self-esteem.”

I urge you to read the article if you haven’t already and see what this is all about. And check out the Borne website too.

There are so many benefits to Borne’s work. Most importantly, it changes reading from something children feel they ought to do into something they love to do. That has lifelong positive repercussions. And as if that wasn’t enough, Borne Digital seek to bring reading to the most impoverished areas where it can be of most benefit.

But there are so many potential applications beyond the classroom too, which I’ve no doubt Borne have already anticipated. This is brilliant, potentially world-changing stuff. I can’t help but be 100% behind it and so much hope it finds its way to the UK.

Please vote for Borne to have that all important opportunity and spread the word. Share this blog, share the article, do what you can to make this project the enormous success it deserves to be. If you are, or have contacts that could be, of influence in education, in literacy organisations, in government, in big business that might like to support the project, please let me know and I will pass details on immediately. This is huge. Let’s make it huger!

Why, I oughta…

…tell you all about a new writer who’s book deserves reading.

Imagine the scene. I review  every book Iread because I read a  lot of indie authors and the review process is important. For fairness I also review books from large publishing houses. So then imagine my surprise when an email landed in my inbox from someone hitherto unknown to me in reference to my review of The Kite Runner. I was out all that day and busy the next two so didn’t read it until yesterday. It wasn’t really about my review per se. It was from a chap named Adam Sharp, telling me he liked my review of one of his favourite books and would I be so kind as to read and review his book as well. He would send it to me for free in my chosen format.

Well, first of all I laughed. The nerve of the guy! Then I thought actually, I really admire that and wish I had the balls to do the same. So I replied and told him that not only would I read and review the book but I’d buy my copy just for his having the guts to email a complete stranger out of the blue and ask. I’m sure I’m not the only one he’s emailed, but doesn’t that take even more nerve?

So I paid my £1.99, downloaded the book and set to reading there and then. I finished it this morning and posted a genuine 5 star review which I’m reposting here together with links to the book:

Memory is a funny thing. I remember my third birthday with clarity. I remember when we sold our house that same year, the couple who bought it were the Radcliffes and he asked what colour the carpet was then explained apologetically that he was colour blind. It was a nice house. I hope they enjoyed living there. I remember digging over the garden myself, in as much as a toddler could dig, before the turf was laid. I also remember why the house was sold and the turmoil that followed.

It took me a long time to resolve my feelings too and Daddy Was A Punk Rocker makes me realise a lot about why, even though I was old beyond my years, it took me a long time to grow up.

From the beginning, I was reminded of Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse. I can’t quote it here because it uses ‘naughty words’. Look it up!

You don’t have to come from a broken or even dysfunctional family to benefit from Daddy Was A Punk Rocker. You maybe don’t even need to be human provided at some point you were born. Through a careful recounting and analysis of Adam’s life, we receive numerous powerful messages, primarily this: Parents don’t often realise how much they define us and we don’t in turn realise how much guilt parents carry for what they do that does define us. We blame our parents for messing us up, but you know what? We mess them up too.

His parents’ drug abuse and subsequent alcohol abuse are, by my reading, not really the crux of Adam’s issues. Abandonment, having the rug pulled out from under his feet time and again and the mistaken, learned belief that you can escape somehow from yourself form the basis of his struggles. It’s clear that in retrospect, used needles on the floor and his baby clothes used as blood rags are traumatic. However to baby Adam, these were normal and inconsequential. What mattered was the attention, the relationship he craved.

His daddy was a punk rocker, yes. That isn’t synonymous with heroin addiction of course. That happens to people no matter what their musical predilections might be. It is synonymous with a belief held onto by Adam that music was the only way for him to reconnect with his father; that if they could share a passion it would give them a basis beyond blood for a relationship.

Most poignant to me and very much key to resolving all those issues is the image of child Adam, clutching his teddy bear, waiting for the father who never shows up. There begins a cycle of pushing away anyone that might let him down, anyone that might cause him to remember so much hurt.

Daddy Was A Punk Rocker is so well written, so illustrative, at times you forget this is not a novel. At times very funny, at times painful, it was an important read for me. Well done, Adam, for putting it down on paper.

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Daddy Was a Punk Rocker is available now from Amazon UK and US.

The Northman is free!!

For a limited time only. Today and tomorrow in fact (10th & 11th April 2013).

The brilliant J.D. Hughes has organised a free download extravaganza on his fantastic novel Northman.

To quote from my own review, Northman is a “tense supernatural thriller steeped in history with some interesting perspectives on life, existence and the meaning of it all.” Even time itself has no power over the Northman. “Hughes writes with intelligence, knowledge and skill to weave a tale that fills many shoes. Decide for yourself whether I mean fits many profiles or makes you that afraid.”

But don’t just take my word for it. Some bites (bytes?) of what others are saying about it:

“The ending is stunning, something I hadn’t predicted at all – isn’t it great when that happens?”

“A delightful work, and I could gladly read it again.”

“The prose reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, John Masters and other writers of the first half of the 20th century, while the explorations of life’s meanings brought to mind Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.”

“A scarily good thriller that deserves a place on your Kindle.”

“If you want to read a good thriller then this is for you! Loved it.”

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Read J.D.’s blog about the giveaway or head on over to Amazon UK / US and get your copy. How else will you know how to watch out for and survive the Northman when he comes?!

Thank you William Walker!

Yes, he’s a fictional character and one of my own creation, so technically a figment of my imagination, but think he’s my new best friend.

I knew where I was taking things. I knew who would do what. I just didn’t know where the key point would fall. Now, William is a favourite of mine and I was reviewing his thread because I thought there needed to be more of him, and wouldn’t you know but he told me what to do.

Whatever I’ve done in my life, whichever field I was in at the time, I’ve always written. Only recently have I started to share what I write, but I think I’ve explored all of that in past posts. Never, in all the years I’ve spent scribbling away at one thing or another has a character ‘spoken’ to me like William Walker.

Maybe I’ve just never been quite so close to insane before. Maybe it took being broken right down in myself to come back with more clarity. Maybe it’s just time. Whatever the cause, I’m very glad of the effect.

Now, I can almost hear people saying I’m in reality thanking myself, because Walker only exists in my head. But I’m not so sure. When I’m writing, especially writing Walker, I’m quite apart from myself. I don’t know what’s coming next. I certainly don’t know what anyone will say next. I’m nothing but a conduit for the story and if I didn’t know better, I’d say William had tapped me on the shoulder and said “Look, here, this is where you hide the key.”

I’ve heard that other writers have these experiences sometimes and that makes me feel somewhat less inclined to call the doctor. In fact I’ll probably not mention it to him at all. I don’t want the phenomenon to go away. Walker is a good influence, quite clearly, and I’m oh so thankful because now I see the way clearly and nothing can stop me finally finishing this piece.

Inkredible was initially a Max Markham novel, but I think it just became a William Walker novel. And he’s an older guy. There’s room for a thousand prequels in his life and a couple of sequels before he retires. I’m so happy he gave me the answer!

Bricks are hard

When you’re bashing your head off a number of them consituting a wall, they seem even harder I find. I picked up Inkredible and tried to make progress but kept taking myself round in circles. So I went and made food instead and while I was eating thought start again. Not with the food of course. That would be impossible without some pretty digusting shenanighans. With Inkredible. Not the entire thing from Chapter One. With the part I’ve been working and reworking for far too long.

It’s part seven, so it’s quite a way in and falls at that point just before the pivot. Just before that point where the pennies begin to drop. I changed tack a little to sew things up and this part seven was suddenly nonsense. Beyond part seven it makes sense again. And I always thought seven was meant to be a lucky number.

So it’s about to be trashed and restarted, hopefully flowing seamlessly between six and eight.

In the meantime, something else I’ve redone is the Short Stories page here. Again. There’s now the option of downloading from that page or reading the tasters on the title pages and downloading from there. One day I might do something and be happy with it straight away. Whether that will be before or after Engand win the World Cup again, I couldn’t say.

Having moved the bricks out of the way, ideally the next post that mentions Inkredible will be one that also mentions good progress on the same. Commencing operation No Bricks now…

Underway…

The second half of Inkredible is well underway with some 15,000 words or more down. However, there are also adjustments to be made for the sake of correctness and some following this blog who will know that I address them here, know how I do like things to be correct 🙂

There is no correct way to kill someone unless you want to be facetious (which I would never be, cough) and say that making them dead is generally the correct way of going about it. I’m pretty good at making people dead. On paper anyway; never tried it in actuality although there’s time yet. Where I need to adjust things to keep them right is in the police and forensics department.

Creative licence is one thing. Getting it plain wrong is quite another. Now, we’re all used to TV shows that hugely over dramatise and often completely imagine some of this stuff and please don’t think for a minute I’m going to sacrifice gore and horror in the name of technical accuracy. Lord knows there’s a time and a place for accuracy and fiction is fiction. Thing is, I know there are people out there who are just as pernickety if not more so than me. I know there are people out there who would love an opportunity to tell me I’m wrong about something too. You know who you are 🙂 So this is a sort of defensive manoeuvre and as we hear so often, the best offence is a good defence.

So Dr Peter Phelps needs some TLC and the detectives need bringing into line. There’s nothing hugely wrong and it would mostly go unnoticed, but that’s not the point. I wouldn’t knit a garment and leave it with missed stitches or incorrect twists in the cable, and I won’t treat Inkredible any differently.

This is all supported by copious amounts of reading and tying together of ‘oh’ moments when I realise I’ve written something just to get it written and not perhaps given quite enough attention to reality. I’m not starting from the beginning again at this point. No, that would be counterproductive. I’m continuing as I mean to go on and will revisit earlier chapters later on to bring them in line with the later ones. By then I should have an idea of what I want to cut altogether as well, so I’ll incorporate it all into one big sweeping of the decks.

But it is moving forward and with even clearer vision. The dreams were right: it has taken longer than ideally it should have and things did get very much in the way, but it was never forgotten, never abandoned and demands to be written. I feel good about things moving forward and will soon have an actual finished book to blog about. Watch this space 🙂

It lives…

Sort of. It sleeps a hell of a lot though. Inkredible will still happen. It haunts me every day and must be told in order to lay the ghost. Am in negotiations with my muse and hope to reach an agreement soon. More on that in a moment. I want to tell you all about some finished work by others that I think the world should see (click any of the images to link straight to a place to buy):

Winged Warriors – The Cold War from the Cockpit
by Paul McDonald


A memoir that reads like a novel charting the remarkable Royal Air Force career of Paul McDonald from young cadet to present day and his OBE awarded by Her Majesty the Queen for his service. From North East England to the Middle East. From steel town to steel nerves. This is a story of real people, real lives and real action told with a flair for writing and sense of humour uniquely Paul, uniquely British, uniquely RAF. In that order. Winged Warriors is a memoir for those that don’t usually read memoirs and fans of the genre alike. Inspiring on so many levels, all familial bias aside, I cannot recommend this enough. Read extracts and find out more on the website.

Northman by J D Hughes

A tense supernatural thriller steeped in history with some interesting perspectives on life, existence and the meaning of it all. This is a whole lot more than your average 21st Century supernatural novel; it has far more meat to its bones, no pun intended. Some very unexpected events and twists will leave you wondering just what is really happening and how in the hell it will all end up. Or perhaps whereabouts in hell. You’ll get attached to the characters and follow them into the madness hoping they’ll survive. A very good read and worth picking up by the fireside on these cold winter evenings. If you dare with so little daylight to chase away the Northman when he comes for you.

The Gatekeeper by Paul Watts

This is Paul’s debut and is a fast paced suspense novel with a bit of the supernatural, a bit of espionage, a bit of humour. Paul writes vivid characters and vibrant scenes so you feel like you’re there with Caxton delving in to the mystery threatening to consume his life. What would you do if you’d inherited more than just a private fortune? What would you think if you started hearing voices and seeing people that no-one else could see? How would it all change you? The Gatekeeper explores more than happenings.

Inkredible by oh, me!

Well my muse and I have been discussing the cover in quite some detail and have agreed that I shall print off the most bloody and colourful death scene and take it along to a tattoo studio I know, hand over the document, say read this and make me a part way version of this. Once surface healed, hand my camera to a friend and get pictures of the inking. Bit of Photoshop work by a very talented professional aka my lovely sister, titles, DPI, all the necessary tweaks and crops to make a book cover and that will be the Inkredible artwork. No-one can ever say I won’t suffer for my art! It will be done and the sequel is already queueing up in my mind. I’ll run out of skin before ideas!!

Reviews, critiques and objectivity

Was just reading a blog about the Amazon review process and its make or break influence.  It’s unfortunately true that a bad review in the early stages can do great harm to the success of a book.  Whilst it would be nice to think everyone might consider this when posting a review, we haven’t yet reached Utopia and everyone is not going to rate more highly than they’re first inclined out of sympathy.

What rattles me about Amazon reviews is the helpful and unhelpful rating scheme attached.  Now, from my perspective a review is helpful if it presents the reading experience of the reviewer.  However, many people will rate a review as unhelpful simply because they also have read the book and don’t agree with what you felt about it.  A die-hard fan will rate you unhelpful if you rate 4 stars and say it lacked a certain spark but was otherwise great.  Where is the room for objectivity in writing a review in that case?

A review needs to be objective.  It needs to describe your experience of a book and nothing more.  A review is neither a synopsis or a critique.  Synopsis is for the author and/or publisher; critique is for the literary circle meeting or the classroom, maybe some broadsheet literary pages.  In a review, by all means say whether the language was brilliantly poetic and maybe give one example, but do not write an essay about it.

But how do you retain objectivity when you’re conscious of helpful and unhelpful ratings on your opinion?  Well the simple way to look at it is this.  If it would stick in your throat to say it to the face of the author, don’t write it.  If 4 stars makes you swallow your pride, don’t rate it.  As much as I might be hurting my own future ratings by encouraging honesty, I see no point in dishonesty.

Amazon have huge power over the self-publishing world.  But who has power over the quality of what we Indie authors put out there?  The reader.  It’s now up to the readers to ensure the good books thrive and the bad ones wilt.  The reader must enable the cream to rise to the top.

Now, am I that confident about my own writing?  Of course not.  No-one is.  It’s a simple fact for me though that if I write something and publish it, the reviews should tell me whether I’ve hit the mark or not.  I should read reviews and see what readers like and dislike about my work, take it all onboard whether positive or negative and use it to my advantage for future work.  If you walked into a door and everyone laughed but it didn’t hurt, you’d keep on walking into doors for the comedic value without realising you were slowly destroying yourself.  Feedback in any respect is a gift that we can’t afford to dissuade anyone from giving.  It might hurt sometimes, but how can we avoid the same mistake in future if it doesn’t?

So write your reviews, give your star ratings and if you’ve been completely honest, you’ve done it right.  If you choose to bear in mind the harm a three stars or below rating might do to an author, then you have an altruistic heart and you’re very kind, but have you been honest?  A little white lie can do as much harm as a hurtful truth because you’re withholding the means for someone to become better.

Be objective.  No two people read the same book, so they say.  Your experience will of course be subjective in that respect.  But your review should have no agenda other than to share your experience and that is wholly objective.  That then, is my objective take on the subject!

Winged Warriors

So proud to announce on this blog, my heroic cousin’s memoirs of an astounding air force career, Winged Warriors: The Cold War from the Cockpit is now available to pre-order.

Paul McDonald’s 34 year RAF career has taken him far and wide to see and do things most of us only dream of. This is the stuff novels try to encapsulate, only here it’s all true.

Read extracts, a short biography, synopsis and view photographs at wingedwarriors.co.uk

I’m so proud of Paul. Not only did he do all of the things in this book, he also chose to share his experiences and tell it like it really was. From cadet to OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 1995, his are memoirs worth reading.

Visit the website for more information, or click the image above to go straight to the Amazon page (here for my friends in the US).