Tag Archive | books

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!

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Bitten

A little flash fiction for your Friday frivols 🙂

I woke up yesterday morning with a bite mark on my neck. Not a tiny mosquito bite, not a flea bite. No, this is a full human-sized bite with a whole lot of teeth. I suppose it could have been the cat, but she has very sharp teeth and would not only have drawn blood but woken me up.

All day I spent trying to figure it out. I mean, the window was open all night but locked in position and no-one could get through without making a hell of a racket. It’s a mystery.

I can’t find anything online about blood disorders or infections, even of the nasty fungal sort that would cause this pattern of bruising. Imagine you’ve bitten an apple and rather than leave puncture marks, you’ve left little bruises. That’s my neck.

So I went to bed deciding not to worry about it, window open just a crack, and drifted off quite happily. I’d probably been asleep about an hour when I woke up with a start. Something was biting my neck! I shrieked and twisted away.

My attacker jumped back looking rather embarrassed. He stood there, in his black cloak with its standing collar and red lining, white frilly shirt, one hand clamped over his mouth. He pointed at something on the bed and I thought he might burst into tears. A set of dentures had dropped to the coverlet as I pulled away.

“They’re jutht temporary until the cuthtom thet ith ready,” he wailed.

JAM May 2013

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.

Automatic Writing

One minute I was tired but couldn’t sleep, the next I’d written several thousand words and by some subliminal means become convinced I needed an X5 steam cleaner, an X-Hose and an Octaspring mattress. I switched the background TV off when Victoria Principal started trying to sell me something to put on my face. She does look pretty amazing for 63 so maybe I’ll regret that later. In thirty years or so.

I don’t clearly remember what I wrote. It was another one of those sessions of switch off conscious thought and let the story write itself.  Of course it still has to use my fingers to tap out the words but when I come out of it, I feel as rested as if I’d been in a deep sleep. That makes me wonder if it is a sub-conscious thing altogether and while it goes on my conscious mind is indeed asleep. I know I killed people. I should probably hope I was here writing the whole time and not in fact in the throes of some psychotic break brought on by stress and an accidental overdose of pills. I’ll keep an eye on the local news just in case.

There was an entire sub-plot that I didn’t like which I think I completely deleted and replaced with something totally different. So I killed three minor characters there too. Well, they served no real purpose. I can remember writing their pitiful part in proceedings and remembering is never a good thing. Remembering means I had to try too hard to write it. Not remembering has its own inherent problems of course. I have a lot of reading back to do before I go on or I won’t know what’s going on in my own story. Might be pleasantly surprised or might be horrified. Although if it’s supposed to be horrific and it is, that’s a good thing, right?

The more I think about it, it has to be a sub-conscious thing. I didn’t so much as move except to type in all that time. I’m someone who always has to have a drink to hand, usually a cup of tea, and not only did I not take a sip but there was more than half a cup of stone cold lapsang souchong beside me when I stopped. Wasn’t aware of any aches and pains but it turns out my back is killing me and I didn’t notice. I was in effect not really here.

I’ve read about automatic writing as a means to contact the hereafter. To do it you must enter an altered state of consciousness. How different then is it from this? And if it isn’t any different, which of these is true: that people for hundreds of years have scribbled from their own sub-conscious believing it to be a spirit, or that I am not in fact writing this novel but am channeling the spirit of a writer?

Now I must make breakfast before my state of consciousness becomes easily defined as ‘un’.

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…

Good night’s work!

And a very geeky one too. Spent the time building a website and uploading a few short stories. Having done that, I added some more pages to this site and linked the respective pages to the download files. So imagine you’re on an aeroplane and some dolly bird is giving you the safety talk: To your right is a list of pages. Each page gives a taster of a short story. If you like the taster, to read more, click Download. A PDF file opens in a new tab or window, which you can save, print, transfer to your e-reader, make into a place mat for your cat or dog or indeed just read there and then.

I’ve also updated the Short Stories page to make things nice and tidy and consistent. If I could do my housework with a bit of html, I’d be so much happier but then I might lose the bloodthirsty streak and the will to channel my annoyance into writing.

There are some completely new stories there and some that had languished as snippets for far too long.

Killing Phil is brand spanking new, written, umm, the night before last and when told, the victim laughed. He should really be quite worried. That’s him on the cover and I’ve written eight pages about how he’s driving me crazy and I’m going to kill him and bury him under the back yard. But then, if you read it, you’ll see he does a lot of that. Laughing. It’s why I’m going to kill him.

I hope you find something you like among the new uploads. Leave your comments on the pages here or drop me a line. I love to hear what readers think. Even when you laugh when you’re not supposed to. I don’t know where (most of) you live so you don’t need worry that when I snap I make you part of the blood-fest.

There’s a new short trying to write itself in my head right now. It begins with the words “Go to Hell” and was inspired by my neighbour’s kid yesterday. The look on his little face as his mother said “You’ll do as you’re told!” set the typewriter in my brain away, so that’ll be getting an airing shortly, no doubt.

Inkredible is also clicking away in there and I hope to get a lot more written while this nocturnal pattern lasts. I don’t know what it says about  me that I write and create so much better at night when all is dark and hidden. Well, I have my suspicions but I’ll keep them under my hat for now. It’s a nice hat. All bright colours. I made it myself one night.

I do so love the night!

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 🙂

Take responsibility for your typos!

Lately I’ve read a few reviews and comments on Amazon and elsewhere that seem to explain away horrendous volumes, and I mean that in more than one sense, of bad grammar as a glitch in the ebook conversion. Yes, that’s right. When you upload your ebook file, it is immediately transferred to a team of howler monkeys with keyboards and between them they may or may not reproduce your file in the perfect, error free state it was in until then.

From where has this myth arisen? Well, it has to be writers who can’t own up to a bad job. ebook publishing systems are fully automated. They copy, byte for byte, what you submit. If the formatting is ‘squiffy’, guess what? You’ve missed something in the guidelines they all provide. If incorrect words appear, yeah, you’re with me now, you put them there.

I make typos. I miss words out that I don’t intend to. I can make a pig’s ear of a paragraph just as easily as anyone else. Sometimes software does ‘helpful’ things that mess up your code or corrects typos to something with an entirely different meaning. But if you don’t spot them, someone else will and when they do, it’s no good saying the computer did it. You didn’t check that it hadn’t. The computer really isn’t clever enough to know what you mean. Only what you entered.

The difficulty for anyone publishing an ebook now is the reputation that others have spread to us all by means of this myth. I’m reading one at the moment and for the first ten percent, I really wasn’t sure English was the guy’s first language. But apparently it is and he’s been writing for years. It really bothers me, not least because of this OCD grammatical nervous tic of mine, but mostly because it gives everyone publishing to ebook a bad name by association. Perhaps the process is too easy. Perhaps we need to crack down by means of review and stop worrying whether someone might take it badly to get two or three star ratings. It’s why we’re given grades in school. It’s why we have appraisals at work. It’s why it used to be very hard to get published.

Writing is art. Art will never exist without criticism. Artists must learn to take criticism and use it to improve their work. But we must stop molly coddling one another and tell it like it is. Everyone is allowed to write, but not everyone can. I can pick up a paint brush but I can’t produce a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt and if anyone tried to tell me I was good, they would be doing me a disservice by encouraging me to keep coming out with the same shoddy workmanship. Would you tell the department store their clothes were wonderful if the first thing you noticed was the buttons hanging off and a sleeve set upside down? You’d let them know it wasn’t up to standard and they’d do something about it or the reputation of their entire chain is at stake.

You must see what I’m getting at by now anyway! Writers must take responsibility for their writing. Readers, among whom will be writers because we can’t only ever read our own work, must regulate the system and help each other out with realism. If we don’t this brave new world of publishing will quickly collapse as people grow tired.

Note: I’ve read this back several times and run spellcheck as well. The first one to spot a mistake wins a JAM point and will make me laugh for at least an hour. JAM points have no pecuniary value, cannot be redeemed at any retail outlet in the known universe and are worth only as much as you attribute to making someone smile.