Archives for November 2012

Bones of The Old Ones Contest

Goodreads is hosting a giveaway of Howard Andrew Jones‘ new book, The Bones of the Old Ones, the sequel to his masterful Arabian Night’s sword and sorcery adventure, The Desert of Souls; a book I liked so much I blurbed it.

Bones of the Old Ones

The three winners will each receive a signed hardback copy of The Bones of the Old Ones as well as The Desert of Souls. Head over to Goodreads and sign up. Winners will be announced on December 19th.

Evernote Clearly

As long-term readers of this blog will know I use Evernote a lot. It is my go-to program for storing ideas and web clippings. I also keep travel documents such as e-tickets in it and maps of places I am visiting and all sorts of other stuff. It has many advantages – it is cloud-based and it synchronises all of your notes and clippings to any computer or phone that you have the Evernote app installed upon. This makes it an invaluable notebook-substitute for any writer. It is free an it runs on most PC and mobile phone operating systems. 

I just discovered an addition to the Evernote stable that I really like. It is called Evernote Clearly and it does one very simple thing very well. When you use Evernote Clearly it provides an overlay which subtracts all of the distractions from a web page. Basically,with the push of a button, it makes it look like a page of type on a newspaper. (Here is what my website looks like after Evernote Clearly has been applied.) 

Evernote Clearly

 I have seen programs before that have done this – unfortunately I cannot remember the names of any of them and I am too lazy to look them up – but the clever thing about Evernote Clearly is that it is very well integrated into Evernote. With the push of another button you can clip the page you have just simplified into Evernote. This is more useful than it sounds because sometimes when you clip a page all of the complex formatting turns into a mess inside Evernote. Clearly prevents this from happening.

Evernote Clearly has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It has several different themes that allow you to view the simplified webpages in different ways. (This is Night Owl.)

Evernote Clearly Night Owl

It also allows you to define your own themes. You can also markup sections of a page as with a coloured marker pen. This allows you to highlight sections of particular interest like so:

Evernote Clearly Markup

 Like Evernote, Evernote Clearly is free and you can find it here. 

Notational Velocity

Notational Velocity is a very simple-looking but surprisingly sophisticated little program for the Mac. It is intended to allow you to make and track notes very, very quickly. You just open it and start typing, rather like you would type in the search box in Google or Spotlight in OSX. What you type will bring up a list of the notes you have already written containing what you’ve typed. If you hit enter, it will turn what you have typed in the search box into the title for your new note, and move your focus down into the note body section where you can type the rest of your note. That’s it and I have probably made it sound a lot more complicated than it is.

NV SShot

Notational Velocity constantly auto-saves your work so you don’t have to remember to push the save button. Your notes can be stored in an encrypted format. You can export your notes in a number of very different formats, such as plain text, RTF, HTML, and Word. You can tag notes with keywords for quick searching. You can make links between notes. 

The program is optimised for speed and designed so you need never take your hands of the keyboard which is pretty much always faster than pointing and clicking with a mouse. For best results it should be used with an application launcher like Launchbar or Quicksilver or a hotkey program like Keyboard Maestro. That way you can launch the program without using a mouse or trackpad and begin taking notes immediately. It makes Notational Velocity ideal for getting your ideas down quickly when you are in the middle of doing something else and it makes it really easy to find them when you need to. Notational Velocity is a clever, useful and elegant application. It’s Open Source and available free here.

Stealer of Flesh Released In Czech

Here is the cover for the Czech edition of Stealer of Flesh now on sale throughout the Republic. My thanks to the good people at Polaris for the release. (And thanks to Radka for the photo.)

Kormak Cover Czech

Skyfall

On Saturday Radka and I went to see  Skyfall, the latest James Bond film. I enjoyed it. Daniel Craig’s 007 was physically convincing and seems to me to be closer to Ian Fleming’s original concept of “a blunt instrument employed by a government department” than any previous Bond (even Connery’s, who was just too charming), the locations were stunning, the ladies were beautiful, the stunts astonishing. In short it was pretty much all I could want or expect from a Bond movie.

Javier Bardem’s villain, Silva, was both camp and frightening, a combination that is difficult to pull off but which he managed very handily. He suffered a little too much from the modern movie supervillain’s omniscience for my liking– being able to predict what would happen at one point right down to placing explosives to derail a tube-train to forestall Bond’s pursuit as he escaped through subterranean London. This is the only real criticism that occurred to me at the time and, let’s face it, a Bond review is probably the wrong place to quibble about a lack of realism. 

The set-pieces were jaw-dropping, particularly an assassination attempt on top of a skyscraper in Shanghai that took place to the flicker of gigantic neon signs– very cyberpunk. The climax, set in a cold and chilling-looking Scottish Highlands, worked very well. I found the ending quite moving and got a certain nostalgic thrill out of the reappearance of the Aston Martin I remembered having as a Dinky toy when I was a kid. (It may just be my memory playing tricks  but I would swear it was a different colour though.) 

This was very much a changing of the guard movie– I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers– and it was about as thoughtful as a Bond movie is ever going to get on the subject of mortality, heroism and the ruthlessness needed for command. A couple of new versions of old characters are introduced and it looks like the reboot begun in Casino Royale is well and truly done now. If you like Bond movies you’ve probably already seen it but I just thought I would add my voice to the general chorus of approbation.

Black Library Weekender: the Report

So I am finally recovered enough to report on the Black Library Weekender. I had a fantastic time and would just like to say a big thank you to everyone, fans, fellow authors and Black Library staff who made it such a pleasure.

The hotel was very pleasant and, I was surprised to discover, not too far from the neighbourhood in which I used to live when I worked for GW in Nottingham. En route from the airport I passed my old chip shop and local pub as well as the corner shop where I used to buy my newspapers. That provoked a fit of nostalgia, I can tell you.

The convention itself was small, intimate and conversational. I spent a lot of time just chatting away to people in the bar and dining room. The venue was just the right size for encouraging this. There was also a lot of sitting around and shooting the breeze in the Green Room with such good people as Jim Swallow, Clint Werner, Sandy Mitchell and Sarah Cawkwell. I also met Ray Swanland for the first time and got to burble to him for a bit about how much I love his artwork.

Unfortunately, at one point, my megalomania took over and I annexed the Green Room in the name of the nation of Bildonia. The new government consisted of Josh Reynolds as Prime Minister, Lindsey Priestley as Treasurer, Dan Abnett as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Nik Vincent-Abnett as Minister for War and Entertainment. Sadly I was desposed from my position as Absolute Benefactor in an overnight coup. I must say that Dan and Josh did a particularly fine job of singing my praises in verse before I was removed from office. Following the overthrow of my firm but benevolent rule Bildonia collapsed into a welter of splinter-states (such as Danistan) while Josh absconded to Miami with the treasury. It was a terrible warning for all about the dangers of meddling in politics.

My one and only panel was scheduled opposite a Horus Heresy panel. I figured no one would show and I would get a chance to put my feet up on the desk and catch up with some sleep. Much to my surprise a small crowd of very pleasant people showed up to hear me reveal many of the hidden secrets of my career, such as the fact that I am, in reality, Grey Seer Thanquol. I also made public my master plan for dealing with an orcish invasion of the panel chamber (which was to shout at the audience, “forward my brave stormvermin, to inevitable victory,” while diving out the rear window, just in case you were wondering.) There was a lot of very positive feedback for the Tyrion and Teclis books and Angel of Fire which pleased me. My apologies to the audience for my general incoherence. Nearly a year as a new father has left me even less capable of rational speech than usual.

Sadly I must now turn to serious matters and unveil the details of what shall, no doubt, forever afterwards be referred to as the Karaz fiasco.

At the Weekender, the BL team ran Pitch-factor, a version of the reality TV show format where writers pitched to a team of editors, the prize being publication of their story. For the record this panel consisted of Graeme Lyon, Rob Sanders and Laurie Golding, names that will live long in infamy and quite possibly be written into the Book of Grudges. 

You may have heard that Gav Thorpe and myself entered the contest and were shot down in flames. I would just like to give our side of that story, the one that shows we were quite clearly victims of a biased panel with its own anti-Dwarf agenda.

All day Gav and I worked on our entry until we were a well-oiled pitching machine. (It is just possible that in Gav’s case he was lubricated by something other than finest grade Dwarven engine oil. Unlike some people I could name, I cast no aspersions.) We decided to pitch Karaz, a 20 book multi-generational dwarven epic and set ourselves to plot the first volume, a pretty tough ten minutes work over lunch in the Green Room.

Our concept was straightforward. We would follow the fortunes of the Ewingsson family of the Dwarven City of Karaz, as two rival brothers fought for control of the ancestral brewery in the aftermath of the disappearance of the clan patriarch Ewing Ewingsson. Jorri, possibly the most black-hearted dwarf who ever lived, would try and wrest control of the Black Gold by a program of wicked schemes and treachery and be oppossed at every turn by his not-too-bright but noble and handsome brother Borri. Soon we had an epic tale of beards, beer and betrayal presented by two giants in the field of dwarf lore, and felt we were at least in with a shout.

We prepared ourselves with answers for any questions that the judges could possibly ask. Rather than troubling ourselves with detailed responses, we contented ourselves with three all-purpose replies with which we could parry any inquiry. For the record these were:

1) The pitch made that perfectly clear.

2) Gav saying: He’s Bill King and me saying: and he’s Gav Thorpe.

3) Are you stupid? The pitch made that perfectly clear. (This last to be used only under extreme provocation.)

Anyway, come the evening we climbed on the stage and gave our pitch which climaxed with a literally all-singing, all-dancing rendition of the theme from Dallas that left many observers open-mouthed with amazement and admiration. (Josh Reynolds was kind enough to report that the person sitting next to him’s jaw dropped when he witnessed it.)

Once the fevered roars of approbation had subsided, the judges revealed their biased agenda and refused to buy it.

Such small-minded criticisms as “the pitch was supposed to be for a 1000 word short story not a twenty volume multi-generational epic” were raised. The fact that Gav won’t get out of bed in the morning for less than a novella was simply not taken into account.

Laurie Golding claimed that we used cliches, but I prefer to see our carefully honed words as unimprovable classics.

OK– it’s true that Gav may have forgotten a few of his lines and I may have corpsed with laughter trying to prompt him but what of it? I flatly deny the rumour that this was all brought on by Gav having consumed a couple of barrels of Bugman’s Extra Strong. I can, with hand on my heart, swear in any court in the land that I have never seen that man drink more than twenty pints at a sitting.

Some have claimed that my habit of arguing with the judges and flagrantly disregarding the rules of the contest (such as no singing), along with my rock star leap from the stage at the end, may have come across as a bit arrogant, but, as ever, I rise airily above such petty-minded niggling.

I think all fair-minded people can agree with me when I say that it was nothing more than anti-Dwarf prejudice that caused the judges to turn down what has been referred to elsewhere as possibly the greatest epic in the history of fantasy. However, justice will be served. Gav and I will be back next year, most likely sporting horned helmets and long beards, to make our pitch again.

(In all seriousness, I was awed by the willingness of people to get up in front of several hundred people and a trio of harsh judges and make their pitch. I could not have done this. Well done, everyone who took part and in particular, congratulations to everyone who made it into the final group, I salute you.)

The next day there were more signings, more conversations and the revelation of the  awesome new Horus Heresy comic by the mighty Dan Abnett and Neil Roberts, a fitting ending to a great couple of days.

The Weekender was an absolute blast. I will be there next year. Hopefully, if you are a fan of Black Library, you will be to.