Saturday, 4 January 2014

On writing...

2014 is the year I get something done.

It's the year I get serious about writing this novel that has been in my head for so long.

But how? I hear you all ask me. You work long hours, have two children under 4 and a wife... That's impossible!

Normally I would agree with you 100% - but I have a plan. I'm not kidding myself I doubt I will finish said novel in 2014, just get serious about! To that end I have some tools to help me along.

Before I get into those tools and the methods I will try to use, here is something inspiring that makes me happy and makes me feel like I can actually do this. I need to post this here so that when I get down (and I will) I can look on this and think that I really can make it. I still have time.

Writing tools

These are the things that I will use to turn ideas into words and words into paragraphs and scenes and chapters and such. The basic elements...

And that is Microsoft Word - I use it everyday at work, I understand the way it works and I already own it... what more do I really need? I have seen a number of writer word processor style programs but the truth is I don't need them I don't need the angst of learning something new. I just to be able to write when I have the chance and for it to work and be able to be sent on for proofing or comment from my panel of experts (more on that later)

I am also using Evernote to note down ideas or thoughts as they come to me - I use the iPhone app which is great as my phone is always with me - so I can easily jot something down and have it there on my PC when I get home. I can also add images which is also great for idea generation - if I see something I like something that could be described or used in the story I can take some pictures or link to a website and there my idea is saved for me to use later.

I also use Pinterest to capture images and ideas I find that having a heap of different images around a theme helps me to describe that in my novel. The Metropolis in this story is vast and has many layers and levels, it is more than any physical city we have today and yet I am finding small bite sized chunks of my city in the world. So I have been collecting them on a Pin board - one I can look at easily and grab a few simple snapshots from to help describe a scene or a moment in the story. I will also use this idea for many other aspects of the story as it develops. I liken this to research. You can see my Pin board here if you want to see what I have so far.

Jerry Sienfeld, no I haven't employed Jerry to help me write but I have employed his productivity tool. A calendar. From Lifehacker

He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here's how it works.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.P
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain."P
"Don't break the chain," he said again for emphasis.P

I have my own small version of his calendar courteous of McDonalds Ringwood... it's BATMAN!

Each day I do something on my novel I get to mark it off. It might be research, character development or actually banging away at the keyboard, this is the trick to getting it all to work this year. To actually do something on it each day.

Process Mapping. It sounds a little managerial speak (and truth be told that's where I got it from) but for me this technique allows me to 'see' the connections between characters, places, events and mark out the plots and movements. It's nothing new or ground breaking it does however give me something to work from and on.

Panel of Experts will be people I can call on to read through parts of the story, give me feedback and comments on the characters, ideas, grammar and spelling!!! My beautiful wife is a teacher and librarian, we know others similar and my good friend Zles has a degree in creative writing and is hopefully embarking on his writing journey as well this year. So I hope to be able to get these friends to help me find my voice and make sure it is creating what I want. A tale people will want to read and experience.

I have found a wealth of books and tips on writing online and through Amazon and recommendations from other writers. I quite like Eddie Jones "Writing Skills - A Novel Idea: Story Structure Tips for the Break-out Novelist" (very reasonable price on Amazon for the e-book). K M Weiland has some great stuff on her blog and I want to get her book "Outlining Your Novel" as some stage... TOR have many great articles and items and I subscribe to their newsletter...

Books, books and more books. I also need to read this year - to get a better understanding of what makes a good story better, what works and what doesn't (at least for me). I have heard a lot from writers saying they went out to write a story they would read. There is a lot to be said about that. The writers I like have written a number of books and get a hell of a lot of readers, so my tastes can't be that bad. If I can write something that I like then chances are there will be others that like it as well.

There are other tools I will be using, my headphones (at times), music, dedication and support, maybe even this blog will be a tool I can use to test chapters or scenes with you all.

However, mostly I will need confidence that I can do this and that I will achieve what I want.

I turned 38 last Tuesday, I learned this week that John Mahoney (Fraiser - Martin Crane) started acting at 37... I have plenty of time...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Another Day in Melbourne

I took a strange journey to get here, where I am now. Not in the physical sense - although it was a day's travel, but in the mental and almost spiritual.
At my previous job I was, in my mind at least, on a path to career progression. I was given a lot of opportunities (ones I felt I earned) and it seemed that things were going well. A good job with a career path - I knew it would not be forever, in my mind I had always known that if I really wanted to reach heights in my industry I would have to at least try a different work environment and were I was that meant moving (relocating). I was surrounded by family and friends, with interests outside of work and a huge network to call on.
Then it happened.
I am not sure if I didn't try hard enough, or if I didn't impress the right people or even if it had nothing to do with me at all, but I missed out on a promotion.
I had been working that position in an "acting" role for nearly 12 months - getting some good results and making positive changes. Even winning an award - which I attribute to the changes I had made.
That really set me back, and with a new baby on the way I had to make a choice about my life and my family.
Now I'm not going to get into the whole debate over who should or should not provide for the family - hell if things were different and I needed to I would stay at home with the kids. However, our situation was that I need to be the one providing at this stage and my wife supports that and I support her. As far as I am concerned we are both working full time - I just get a pay cheque for mine!
So I needed to decide if I was going to stay in the position I had (my substantive role) and wait around for another opportunity with no guarantee or look for something else.
I will admit that I was pissed off - I was angry (and so was my wife) and I did really start looking for alternatives.
An opportunity came up, 800 kms away, in a different state far away from any family or friends, with no support network in a very different (although similar) work environment.
I applied for it. Thinking if nothing more this was a chance to get my resume into order and hopefully practice some interview techniques.
Not only did I get an interview (phone followed up by in person) I landed the job a few short weeks before my second child was born.
The decision to take this job came not from the anger and disappointment I had felt but from several moments of serendipity.
Call it fate or whatever but ever since saying yes and exposing myself and my family to this big upheaval the choice has been vindicated in more ways than I can recount.
Today was filled with such moments.
We had learnt about a kids event at Art Play that was on today, it's a short train ride to the City so off we went, all four of us for a day out.
It was a little rainy as we came into Flinders Street station and we stopped for coffee and some morning tea. Then crossing the road to Federation Square we sat and drank and ate while a street performer (from Circus Oz) did a 30 minute show - brilliant, funny and I even partook with some assistant work holding his unicycle.
After the show (we deposited some $'s into his hat because he truly was worth it) we turned to head down to Art Play and walked into the Greek Festival. We also found a Fine Design Market full of wonderful hand and locally made items. Deciding that we had come to see Art Play but wanting to come back, we moved on.
At Art Play my 3 year old played on the equipment while the baby was fed. We met a Chilean family who are over here for 6 years while the husband studies his Masters and Phd (on a scholarship). That put our lives into perspective - our move while a long way was nothing compared to coming to another country with a new language with three children (one born here) and no easy way to get to family. 
After all this play and looking at wonderful things we headed off for some lunch and a rest, and it was here that I realised that all we did that morning was within a few hundred meters of Flinders Station - a mere 30 minutes from our front door.
We planned one event, a trip to Art Play and instead saw, experienced and took part in so much more.
This day is typical of any day out in Melbourne.
We took a trip to Warrandyte last week (when my parents where visiting) and found not only some great shops, a kids play ground, access to the Yarra River and walks but a community theater group with a play that started that night. With grandparental babysitting we got to go and met some theater people - we plan on joining or at least trying to attend more shows into the future.
I took a big risk, and I won't lie there have been moments that we have regretted it, the fear, the isolation, the unknown has contributed to us doubting our choice. We put ourselves out there and asked the universe to give us a break, a break we felt we earned and one that we worked for (and still do).
A friend once told me, "put our good vibes and you shall have them come back at you" - all I can say is that whatever happens and whatever the future holds this choice this step we took has been for the better and can only get better.
Looking to the future.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Apple TV

Thanks to my good friends and colleagues from my former employer I was given a gift card that allowed me to buy an Apple TV.

Why did I go down this path? To have access to stream (through rent or purchase) TV shows and Movies to my TV. Sure the Xbox 360 can stream movies or files I have on my PC but TV show subscription was not really an option (as far as I could tell).

iTunes and Apple have a heap of stuff at a reasonable price that means I can watch what I want without having to either break the law or my budget.

The device is simple to use... as can be demonstrated by the back (where all the important connections are located - the front only have a small white LED to show it is on)

Power, HDMI, USB, Optical and Ethernet (I use WiFi so only have two leads coming out of the device)

The remote is equally simple and built to the high standard you expect from Apple... how the hell they make the remote is beyond me - I cannot see any way to open the damn thing!) - MAGIC!!! DEVILS WORK...

It works great I have been able to stream movies and have subscribed to a couple of TV series...

The thing I got working today was AirPlay... this is brilliant. I watched the new Doctor Who mini episode regarding Paul McGann's Doctor (number 8 for those counting at home) regeneration... Go see it if you have not...  Anyway I obviously wanted to see it on the larger screen after seeing the video initially on my iPhone. Easy with AirPlay - I swiped up, hit AirPlay and bang it started to play on my TV...

Same with videos, images, music and more on my iPhone. Truly this is the feature that makes the Apple TV....

And a good thing it have AirPlay.

While the remote is simple it lacks a hell of a lot. I want to search I need to move a cursor around to type single letters - more often I go to my PC and using iTunes search to buy/rent whatever I want. The device is great to play things through BUT not to find them. The menus also seem to be too deep take too long to get to the part that you need to... Not what I expect from Apple.

Apple TV is great but it is not perfect.

For a comparison maybe I should try Roku 3


Monday, 11 November 2013

Getting Fit... one lap at a time

Those that know me or follow me on Twitter have been bombarded by my #swimfit tweets. I have been going to the local indoor pool after the kids are in bed in an effort to lose some weight and ring my general fitness up to speed.
I've been a fan of swimming for a long time - running puts too much pressure on my knees and the gym is just too much for me. I like the quiet and almost trance like sound of the water and my breathing, and when tired you can move into the recreation area and just float.
However I do struggle with breathing and getting my timing right while swimming freestyle - so I usually end up doing more laps breaststroke but in my mind at least I am doing them.
I have taken some swimsperation from instagram and follow a few official and unofficial swim pages. Ones like this...

I'm never going to win a gold medal, I'm not the fastest at the pool nor the thinnest or best looking - but I know I am giving it a go and getting better very time.
In the end that's all we can do - my  motto is the only person I need to beat is the one I was last week.

Sunday, 10 November 2013


A good friend of mine, Tracy Verdugo) will be publishing her first book next year. It's based on her art classes and the techniques that she uses.
This is her specialty and she has created opportunities all over the world for her art classes - the book is a natural extension of that.
For promotion Tracy has used Social Media to it's full power - she is on her various pages on Facebook (her personal page has reached capacity at 5,000 friends and her business page is at 2,500). She is real, approachable and connects with all her friends and fans - from this she has been able to run her classes all over Australia and USA.
She has now started her campaign for her book - with preorders open (Fishpond for Australian shoppers or Amazon) already she has been able to create a buzz from her fans and gain sales.
This got me thinking about how to best promote something in this new world - this smaller world within the internet and how individuals have been able to create niches and opportunity.
I work with marketing and media however I have always been promoting something an entity bigger than an individual - mostly with the budget of an individual, however at least something that was already in the mind of the public.
I've been heavily involved in mass marketing bus, train visuals, TV commercials (with great success - see video below), online display and search advertising and print. I've managed online social media staff across several platforms and linked with major statewide and national brands. Yet always it's been a product or a place - never a personality. I've tried to use personality but it is hard to do within a corporate environment.

However I see the benefit of a more personal approach to marketing - especially in the realm of selling something that person owns or has created.
It's not something limited to the small time or the novice either - Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are some of the bigger names out there promoting their work - I would not have known about Neil Dr Who short story if he had not tweeted it.
John Scalzi has created a suite of opportunities for his work, from books to his involvement in TV Shows and Computer Games.
Wil Wheaton sold his book Happiest Days of Our Lives from his website (hell he and his wife spent a weekend or more packing and posting them out... I know I got one). In fact most of the people I read or listen to I follow, like or read about via the internet and various forms of Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and such).
It's also not limited to the "official" pages either. The best news about The Cure is Chain of Flowers a fan channel who post songs as they are played in gigs around the world - or link to tips and bits of news.
What's common about all these things? What is it that makes them great and makes so many people follow, like or be part of them?
I looked at Charlie McDonnell - first UK You Tube account to hit 1 million subscribers and now sits at over 2 million. How did a teenage boy from Bath, England gain so many to follow and like him? It's simple - it's what Tracy does. He has been himself, warts and all, he connects not because he is a salesman or trying to be whatever is the latest fad or do whatever (think Justin Beiber here - he is a product first a person second...) This has become his job - his career. He also plays music and has commenced writing and producing short films (check out his Tea Chronicles) with a feature film in the pipeline.
So if you are looking to create an opportunity for promotion via the digital world the only advice I can see and I can give - is be yourself and let your work sell itself via you...
I also think that you need to create content and be online as much as possible - allow people to see you - post pictures and links to things you like - cross link all your bits of Social self to a central place that has the real information especially the link to how they can buy your stuff... Don't be a salesman but be someone that people want to buy from.
Handy links for those who need them...
Hugh Howey on why he favors self-publishing
Adventures in self-publishing: Why I took a year's work and tried my hardest to give it away
Self Promotion
Take Control with Independent Publishing

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Bullies, #StopBullying

Wil Wheaton has this great blog post over on Wil Wheaton dot Net - check it out... read it then come back here...

It was a well timed post from Wil as today I witnessed some bullying in the playground as my daughter and a friends child were playing. Although not physical bullying and it was stopped thankfully by the mother of the bully it did raise the question of when I, as a parent, need to step in and how do I make my children strong and safe (there is a difference between them and I don't believe that it is ALL up to my child to defend themselves from bullies or me.

I'll set the scene - not as an excuse but to allow you, dear reader, the opportunity to understand this particular situation better.

We (my wife A, K 3 yr old and T 10 wk old, both girls) met with a friend (Pt) and his 3 kids (R 5 yr old girl, B 3 yr old boy, and P 1+ yr old girl) at the museum for a fun day out (and it was).

B is a vibrant and funny lad who K loves to play with and they get along like a house on fire. R is great with them and when together the 3 of them just do there own thing looking after each other and having a great time. As parents we all love this - we can watch them and of course monitor them while not needing to be hovering or controlling. Fantastic.

B (and indeed his siblings) have grown up without the typical gender roles - he has long hair and more often than not wears a dress or like today a smock style over shirt and trousers. It's his thing, he likes it and who the hell cares!

Unfortunately this makes him a target and in the cause of my daughter, upsets the general gender ideas. After the first play-date (since they were under 1) K kept referring to B as a girl (correcting us by saying "no, he's a girl!"). She has since worked out that wearing dresses and having long hair does not make you a girl and accepts B for what he is... besides he rocks a skirt like nobodies business.

So after lunch as the kids were playing on a playground Pt took P and R to the toilets and left B and K (and us watching) to play. Two boys slightly older than our two started talking to them and A and I over heard the familiar, "you're not a boy" in reference to B. At first we thought it was K getting confused again but as we watched more closely and listened we realised it was one of the two boys. B said something back to them and they commented about his hair and clothes and B was noticeably getting upset (angry). K said something as well and I was getting ready to head over and say a word or two when the boys mother (guardian?) walked up and told them it was time to leave.

They walked past us on the way out and she was telling them off saying something like it doesn't matter what other kids wear it was rude to say nasty things (one of the boys piped up as well agreeing with the mother figure).

That made me happy, I didn't have to be this defending father over-stepping the line, the mother took responsibility, but what made me (and A) happy was the reaction from B and K.

They walked off as the mother took the boys away, as they came around the play equipment they were mirror-images of defiance. Arms crossed in solidarity they marched up to the ladder daring any other kids to say anything - stern looks on their faces, united! They stood up to the boys and afterwards made an almost victory march around the play ground to show off their combined strength.

That made me proud of K for standing tall when another is being bullied and of B for fighting back and not letting them tell him how to be.

A and I (and indeed Pt and his wife) intend to bring our kids up with the sense of  self worth to be able to weather these storms but also with the decency to stand up for others and their beliefs.

Wil Wheaton is right - parents, schools, teachers, neighbours, friends and society need to #StopBullying but it is also nice to see kids sorting out some of the minor infractions and being strong enough to defend and maybe by doing that change the course of history.

I remember being bullied and thankfully it didn't last, I had good friends and more important things to do, but not so for many others. I often think about one boy who, in high school, ran away from  home and ended up on the street selling his body. I never knew what happened to him and as I write this I think about what I could have done to help him more. True there was more than bullying in his life (broken family and not fitting in with either parent) but it must have impacted on him. Could I have done something - did I bully him in anyway myself? All lost to history and the past. I only know I can make a difference and while I may not have stood up then I sure intend to now and I will make sure my daughters have every opportunity to do so as well.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Jazzmaster Guitar Project

I have talked about this project on Twitter and Facebook but I really need to put it down in a central place. Oh wait yeah I have a Blog for that...

So anyway to bring you up to speed aside from learning to play a song all the way through... (Achieved here) I have also been playing with building a Guitar.

I have dabbled with re-wiring my old Peavey (Strat clone) which while I got sound to come back out of it... I now only have 1 pickup working and that goes straight to a Volume control (no tone and two useless pickups in the guitar) - but it makes noise and that was all I needed!

My good friend Les has been more productive and had a body lying around not doing anything so he gave it and some very nice pickups to me... This was the beginning of the Jazzmaster project.

With a standard JM pickguard - which I wasn't going to use...

I didn't want the traditional JM layout so I went for two P-90's a three-way switch, single tone and volume.

This was to choose silver or black knobs - nothing had been fixed at this stage also I hadn't got the three-way switch
I liked the contrast of the black jack cover, knobs (I went for black) and pick guard against the chrome pup plate and other fittings. with the blue burst it all seemed to work.  The neck was a lovely piece of birdseye maple with a beautiful top that has such wonderful contrasting colours and shades...

Birdseye Maple is a lovely wood (same wood used in my drum kit)

The neck is lovely both to look at and touch - can't wait to play it!
As mentioned above I am not that confident with soldering and in the end I was prepared to pay someone to do it for me. When, right out of the blue, a mate at work tells me he has heaps of guitars and has built and repaired more that a few and sure he can solder the JM up for me.

So a VERY big thanks to Brett!

All parts added - still need to finish the neck with some tuners and bits so I can string it up but the body work is done! (oh and some strap buttons)

Shiny... also flash flares (sorry) but you get the idea!
All in all I am very happy with this Guitar and the way it all came together - while I didn't end up trusting myself to do the electronics I did start and I planned it all out so that was good and while I still have a few things left these shouldn't be too hard and then I can do the set up and start playing this baby!