New Stories and More

Photo by miguel ugalde from FreeImages

I’ve been bad! I’ve not been keeping my website and my Facebook Author page up to date, but I have been writing some short stories. I’ve created a new page to contain the links to these new stories, and I hope that you will drop by and have a look at them.

I’m always interested in reflecting on my creative processes, and one thing that I have discovered is that I am much more interested in writing the stories than I am in publicising them. I suspect that I’m not alone in this!

It is likely, I feel, that there are people out there who are more interested in telling people about their stories than in writing them, and I understand that, but I find it hard.

When you self-publish, your free options for publicising your books and stories are limited. You can make them available on Amazon, or on Kobo or similar sites, or you can make them available through Smashwords or some other aggregating site.

Putting them up there, on the Internet, doesn’t guarantee that people will find (and buy) your books. You also need to tell people about them, so one of the first things that you need to do is to set up a Facebook Author page like I did.

People will still not find your stories, but there is something that you can do, to direct people to your stories, and that is to buy adverts. You can do it on Facebook and you can also buy Google ads.

That means spending money. Well, if you are prepared to spend money, good on you. I don’t want to spend money, so I am resigned to selling one or two books a decade. Unless I’m extremely lucky, (and my books are good enough, which I’m unsure of), I won’t have a best seller on any list!

One more thing that I could do, is give people the option of paying me money to read my books right here on my website. I might do that in future.

Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.

Some of my stories have been published on Amazon (as eBooks and paperbacks) and Kobobooks and Smashwords (as eBooks). Here are the links to my Author Pages on those sites.

Unprecedented

The situation is unprecedented. There will be mistakes, over-reactions, back downs, changes of directions. There will be shortages of this, that, and the other and panic buying and hoarding, people not getting the help that they should. There will be accidental and intentional breeches of self-isolation. There will be people saying stupid things (I’m looking at you Hoskins) and others doing them. There will be others selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of you, me and the rest of us.

The authorities are moving faster than they have ever before to try to contain the situation. Many, many times faster. Obviously not everything is going to go right. That is not their fault, though they will probably blame themselves. It is the fault of the situation.

The Government is probably unable to help those stuck overseas. They are probably unable to help those from overseas stuck here. There’s no use in assigning blame.

They are probably going to change their minds on things twenty times a day. This doesn’t show indecision. This is merely day to day reaction to what is happening.

Let’s not forget that they are doing their best. The Government, the police, the medical profession, shop keepers, food growers, all the supply chain workers, from the farmers to the supermarket workers. Plumbers, who fix that pipe which burst at the worst possible time. Teachers who are struggling to keep the education system going. They are all doing their best.

In my opinion, temporarily making supermarkets the sole source of food and other supplies is a good move. Shutting butchers’ shop might not have been a good idea, but I understand why it was done. Letting booze outlets sell their wares online is probably a good idea, for morale, if nothing else. I reluctantly agree that keeping the cigarette factories open is a good idea, though I hate smoking.

Sadly, when this is all over, there will be recriminations. People will accuse the Government, the police, the medical profession, and all of those who struggled to maintain some sense of normality in these abnormal times, of making wrong decisions. Wrong decisions will have been made, but those decisions will have been made with the best of intentions. People should remember that.

(My apologies. I will not be including any images in this post. I just want to get it out there.)

What to do When You Have Nothing to Do

Comfy Chimp
Photo by Chad Littlejohn from FreeImages

The previous post, which I posted on February 20th, was about the possible extinction of the human race as a result of global warming. Since then, the Covid-19 virus has become a huge threat, and we all have to self-isolate and stay home. It’s not an extinction threat, but it is a threat.

For those of us in paid employment, self-isolation means working from home, which of course brings problems, especially with regards to any children who are in the home. Even though in most cases there will be partners at home who can give the home worker a hand looking after the children, it may well be that both partners are working from home, and it then becomes a question of how child care is arranged between the partners.

That could be a problem of course. But for those of us whose children have left home, there is a different issue. Typically, a married couple or long term partners have different interests. That’s fine in a “normal” (scare quotes) situation, but in these unusual times, couples are forced more closely together.

That can be a mixed blessing. You may be able to recapture some of the attraction that brought you together in the first place, which, while not lost, has mutated into a more mature relationship. But you have matured, and you will have, usually, developed interests which you partner may not share.

Photo by carl dwyer from FreeImages

They may not share your interests, but they will support you in them. They will tolerate your culinary experimentation, while you will indulge them in their taste for art house cinema.

So, I am a writer and a geek. My wife tolerates these interests, just as I indulge her in her liking for quiz shows on the TV. I actually enjoy them too.

I’m a deep geek. I have written low level routines for several Operating Systems, and I’ve even written programs which run at a hardware level on some. Don’t worry about the terms I use. It just means that I have delved as low as it is possible to do so without actually designing computer chips and the circuits that they operate in.

So, what has this to do with my title? Well, in the absence of doing things like shopping, at the supermarket and other places, which I’m happy to do with my wife in normal times, of course, how do I fill the hours?

Photo by Renxx Gmdr from FreeImages

Well, I’m spending a little more time on my writing, but on the geek side of things, I’ve been looking at moving my web site from WordPress to Drupal. Not seriously. I’ve long been a fan of Drupal, but I’ve settled on WordPress as my platform of choice, and that is unlikely to change.

Drupal is much more flexible than WordPress. That means of course that it is more complex. WordPress has ‘posts’ and ‘pages’. Pages are static, intended to have a long lifetime. Posts are intended to be ephemeral, at least in terms of relevance. You might want to look at a post from three years ago, but you are more likely to want to read a recent one. Pages are the things that tell people about you (“about” pages) or allow people to contact you (“feedback” pages), and so on.

Drupal has ‘Article’ and ‘Basic page’ ‘content types’ which, roughly correspond to WordPress posts and pages, but you can easily add extra content types in Drupal. Drupal has a highly complex system which allows you to do this, often using one or more of an extensive list of modules which enhance the system.

WordPress also has a system, the plugin system, which allows you to extend the base system. In fact there are thousands of plugins, but if you can’t find one that you want, you may be able to cobble something together from existing plugins.

The Drupal icon
The Drupal Icon

So these are the things that I have come across so far in my geeky delving. I downloaded the Drupal 8 package onto my ‘server’ (otherwise known as the computer in the back room) and installed it.

Drupal works out of the box, after a fashion, but you would probably not use it like that. Some things can be fixed, like the site logo, but others need one or more modules.

I set about downloading and installing the modules necessary to make the site look better. One example of Drupal’s quirkiness out of the box is that Articles and Basic Pages have addresses like https://<site-name>/node/293. A module is necessary to change it to something user friendly like https://<site-name>/feedback for the feedback form.

Somewhere along the line I discovered that the correct way to install Drupal and its modules these days is to use a program called ‘composer’. This is basically a package management system. Yes, yet another package management system to learn. Oh well. So I blew everything away and started again from scratch.

Photo by Dimitris Kritsotakis from FreeImages

Next I downloaded the modules necessary to allow me to import my WordPress website into Drupal (using ‘composer’). I always knew that it wouldn’t be an exact fit, but at least I would be able to see what it looked like, and what I had to do to make it look reasonable. I wasn’t trying for an exact copy of my WordPress site.

I managed to import my Posts and Page from WordPress into Drupal as Articles and Basic Pages, and they looked, um, OK. So I went looking for ‘themes’. Both WordPress and Drupal have themes, which are essentially great bunches of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript. They can change the look and feel of a site in an instant. I downloaded it and installed it via the ‘composer’.

That was a lot better, but I wanted to tweak the styles a little, so I sub-themed it and created a small file with just my changes in it. This small file overrode the parts of the main theme, while the main theme supplied the rest. Or so the theory goes. In fact I had to add some parts of the theme configuration (the ‘regions’) to my sub-theme to make it work properly. I don’t know why sub-themes don’t inherit everything from the main theme automatically. It seems sort of broken.

I discovered that the images in my Drupal site still pointed to my WordPress site, which was a nuisance. One way to prevent that would be to edit the Import file and manually change the addresses. Definitely do-able, but I shelved that problem for now.

Photo by Luiz Fernando Pilz from FreeImages

Another thing that I spotted about images was that the images that I uploaded appeared under the ‘Images’ tab of ‘Content’ part of the Admin pages. But there was another tab, labelled ‘Media’ which was empty. After a bit of reading I discovered that there is move away from images towards Media Image objects, which are more like WordPress Media images.

Which sounded great until I found that there Media Image objects could not (currently) be embedded into content via the WYSIWYG editor. No button. But this is, fortunately, scheduled to appear in the next release of Drupal.

And that’s about when I gave up. Drupal is a great CMS, but it is not easy to learn, like WordPress. I could use it, but it would take a lot of work, and maybe I’ll delve into it again at some time, but for now I’m happy with WordPress.

Drupal is flexible, but the price of that flexibility is complexity. I was trying think of an analogy to contrast the two CMSes, but the only ones that I could think of denigrated one or the other in some way. There’s more than enough room for both.

Image from https://kinsta.com/blog/wordpress-vs-drupal/

Reading by Writing

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

Who am I writing for? What is my audience? That’s actually a hard question to answer.

Firstly, on a superficial level, I’d hope that the age group that I would hope that I’m writing for would be “Young Adult” and above. I looked up what that means and there is no real consensus on the definition, but it can refer to children from the age of 12 or 13 or up. That’s a little low, I think, for Young Adult,

However, that’s not an issue so far as my writing is concerned as my characters don’t go beyond a smooch and a hug or two. What they get up to in private is entirely up to them.

I’d hope that the absence of any salacious bits doesn’t restrict the upper age limit of those who read my books and stories. It’s the story that matters, of course, and the characters.

Speaking of characters, I’ve discovered that, so far at least, I haven’t created a decent villain. I’ve created characters who could have been villains, but have turned out to not be villainous as the story develops. A vampire. An assassin. The few villains that I have created have been unimpressive. An insane Khan who quickly gets killed off. A few inconsequential Kings.

Photo by emre keshavarz on Pexels.com

On the other hand, it seems that I find it easy to create heroines. When I look back at my stories, a big majority of them have a heroine. I wrote ‘feisty’ there but took it out. Nasty word. My heroines can be dominant, but they aren’t, as a rule, aggressively so. They are, in general, the equals of my heroes, but they have a larger role in the story. Maybe they are the prime characters.

My signature characters are the Mage and the Boffin, and they demonstrate this well. The Mage specialises in magic and the Boffin specialises in science (or physics, they would say), but there is a crossover. The Boffin is very much the mother figure, and the Mage is a father figure.

The Boffin quite often takes the lead in their adventures, but it is evident that she believes that the partnership is 50/50. The Mage doesn’t disagree. He follows where his wife leads, but without exception, they are always headed in the same direction. They very rarely differ, and each respects the other and the other’s view of the world.

The Mage does not feel dominated by his wife. In fact, he often finds her direct approach amusing. For example, the Boffin blasts a cell door when someone incarcerates them, and he merely inquires whether or not she is feeling tetchy, since they could have simply ‘stepped’ out of the cell.

So, what would I say my genre was? I’d say ‘fantasy’, but isn’t all fiction fantasy? Technology in my stories tends to be simpler than our technology, but some more modern stuff does creep in now and then.

I’m not too concerned about anachronisms. I’m not worried about inconsistencies, except within a story, and if the same character appears in more than one story, I don’t expect him or her to be exactly the same, to remember the same things, to do the same things.

Photo by James Frid on Pexels.com

I could explain this by pointing at the core mechanism that occurs in many of my stories – the idea of multiple worlds, and multiple versions of a character – but that’s not really the explanation. No, the real reason is that the stories are seemingly linked, but are actually independent.

I do like to keep my storyverse consistent though. It’s just that I don’t fret if it isn’t.

But to come back to my original question – who do I write for? Well, my stories are up on my website, and I know that people do stumble across it. I don’t know, because I haven’t looked, how many people have downloaded them.

Similarly, some of my stories, collected into books, are available as eBooks or even paperbacks. I have looked to see if anyone is buying them, but so far as I can tell, no one is.

So, I still keep writing them and polishing them and making them available, which means that I am, simply put, writing them for myself. I enjoy the process of writing, and when I start a story, I often don’t know where it is going to end. It’s a process that might be called ‘reading by writing’.

I’m happy to keep doing this, for as long as story ideas come to mind. Sometime someone may read on of my stories and enjoy it. That will be a bonus.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Some of my stories have been published on Amazon (as eBooks and paperbacks) and Kobobooks and Smashwords (as eBooks). Here are the links to my Author Pages on those sites.

A Brief Note

Photo by Andrew Beierle from FreeImages
Photo by Andrew Beierle from FreeImages

OK, this is just a quick note about this blog. It is a WordPress site, and periodically they come out with updates. One of the recent updates has included a new editor, the so-called Block Editor. I’m a technophile, but have been putting off switching to it, because of the time involved in learning something new.

The new editor, sometimes known as Gutenberg, is certainly a lot different from the old editor, the TinyMCE editor. Each ‘element’ (maybe not the official terminology) that is added comprises a block, and each block can have different properties (eg background colour or background image).

Having each element in its own block means that chunks of the page or post can easily be shifted around, using drag and drop. It’s a lot easier and quicker than cut and paste.

I’ve mostly used the ‘paragraph’ block, for text, and the ‘file’ block, to give access to my files. This second block makes it easy to give access to new files, but it presents them slightly differently from the standard underlined blue links, but I’m happy with that.

There’s a new feature that I like very much. It’s called ‘Reusable Blocks’ and is ideal for chunks of standard text. For example, see the chunk of text with a yellow background below. I’ve used it on a few pages and posts to warn my readers (if I’ve got any!) that things might look a little different.

In conclusion, I’ve only had a brief look at the new editor, but it is definitely worth a try. The old one won’t be around for ever, (it goes in 2022, I believe) so it is a good idea to have a good look at it well before then. I haven’t found any glitches yet, but in any case, it will only improve over time.

In addition to using the new Block Editor, I’ve also switched to using a new theme, which is called ‘twenty sixteen’. That too will make things look different. I’ve set up new menus, a new home page banner, and a couple of other things. Maybe I should mention that in my chunk of text!

I’ve switched to using the new WordPress Block Editor, and this means that my posts may look different from now on. Things may change as I get more used to the new editor, so please excuse any small changes that you might notice. Please comment below, or fill in my feedback form, if something appears to be really wrong. (e.g. bits of text hidden by buttons.)

My Three Latest Stories

I’ve switched to using the new WordPress Block Editor, and this means that my posts may look different from now on. Things may change as I get more used to the new editor, so please excuse any small changes that you might notice. Please comment below, or fill in my feedback form, if something appears to be really wrong. (e.g. bits of text hidden by buttons.)

Below you will find the details for my three latest short stories. Feel free to download them and enjoy them. They will eventually be included in my next collection of ‘The Mage and the Boffin’ stories.

A Man on a Quest

Rory has been having recurring dreams where he is fighting someone in a high place. His dream ends when he is pushed off the high place. His fiancee sends him off to see a Dream Reader, but when he returns, she has shocking news for him.

Being Dead

John is dead. He knows that he is dead, but if he is dead, how does he know that he is dead?

The Assassin and his Mistress

Louise is present when the Assassin kills the King. She is swept up in his wake, and has to travel with him to the Assassin Guild lodge. Along the way she gets to know the Assassin’s hidden depths.

These three stories will eventually form part of my next “Mage and Boffin” collection of stories, to be published on Amazon and Kobobooks. Here are the links to my Author Pages.

Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.

My Characters On a Sabbatical

Cocktail
Photo by ‘Robert Owen-Wahl’ Link: CharterForCompassion.org from FreeImages

Things don’t always go to plan, when writing a story. For instance, the protagonists in my latest story are currently frozen in time, as I try to work out what they are going to do next. It’s as if they’re at a stage in their journey where they have to change course and head off in a slightly different direction, but they don’t know which direction to go in.

Oh, I know where I want them to end up, pretty much, and I know roughly how they are going to get there, but it’s the details that are currently eluding me. Do they turn left or right when they leave the door? Do they stick together or split up, and (maybe) get back together again later? One of them has a secret. Does it come out now, or later, and what are the knock-on effects from the revelation?

So, they are on a sabbatical at present, sitting by the side of a pool somewhere in the storyverse, sipping cocktails and asking each other “Where do you think he will send us next?”

When I come to a sticking point in a story there are a number of courses of action that I could take. One is to abandon the story for a while, like I am doing with the story in question. Or I could force the narrative onward.

This second course of action is generally much harder, but on occasion I have taken it. Generally it means I write a few words, maybe a sentence on two, then play a game or take the dog for a walk. Then I push it a step or two further. And so on, until the log jam breaks and the words start to flow more freely.

This works for me. I know, though, that other people do things differently. There are many tricks to break the log jam, which is sometimes called a writer’s block. For instance there are web sites which produce a random sentence, often of the form “<subject> <verb> <object>” with maybe few random adjectives thrown for good measure. I can see how this would help, if the writer’s narrative fit the suggestion reasonably closely, but often this is not the case. (Others may be luckier than I am, of course).

I can’t say that I suffer from writer’s block, though. I’ve shelved stories for up to a decade or so, but that more because I wanted to do other things than because I can’t advance the narrative. It’s more temporary loss of enthusiasm than a block. But it does bring the narrative to a temporary halt.


Most of my stories have been or will eventually be published on Amazon and Kobobooks. Here are the links to my Author Pages.

[Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here only as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.]

Three New Short Stories

The Girl, the Boy, and the Dragon

Idris was a dragon. Not a huge, fierce, fire-breathing dragon. No, Idris was a tiny, two weeks out of the egg, baby dragon, who had lost his mother. Fortunately Idris had met a young human, Jim, who was on the run, though he’d committed no crime. Jim didn’t know how to return Idris to his mother, but fortunately he had a plan.

Download the short story as a PDF here.

How to Save a World

How do you stop mankind from wiping itself out through constant war? Why, you form a special team to use their talents to change the mindset of the leaders and persuade them that diplomacy and trade are a better answer to conflict than constant war. If that isn’t enough there’s one other course of action that will bring peace to a troubled world.

Download the story as a PDF here.

The World Within

Fi seems to be just like any young girl just starting University, but she isn’t. She has a secret. Fi does her best to fit in, and quickly settles into Varsity life. She finds that her new friends, Jess and Felix, also have a secret, one which comes between Jess and her boyfriend, Mark. Fi quietly tries to find out what Jess’ problem is, at first without success.

Download the story as a PDF here.

These three stories will eventually form part of my next “Mage and Boffin” collection of stories, to be published on Amazon and Kobobooks. Here are the links to my Author Pages.

[Please note, I’ve decided to share my stories here only as PDFs. If you would prefer a different format, for example, an ePub file, just let me know through my feedback form.]

The Coming Apocalypse

Bombed out church
Photo by Lisa Setrini-Espinosa from FreeImages

I see people and nations trying to come to terms with global warming, but the efforts to reverse it seems disorganised, incomplete and ineffective. Governments sign agreements containing measures that sound good, but which are not implemented or implemented badly, and all the time the ice melts and the ice caps break apart.

I see Greta Thunberg ranting at the United Nations about their inaction on climate change. She has a point. If the world is to be saved, then those in power should take decisive action, now. But she is preaching to the wrong congregation. Most of those in the UN are in the later stages of their careers. The people that Greta should be taking to task are those of her parents’ generation, those who are just coming into their powers, mainly the millennials.

Can the millennials save the world? I think not.

Can the world be saved through democratic processes? I think not.

The problem with global warming is not the flooding of islands and the melting of the icecaps inundating coastal areas. People can always move inland. No, the problem is inland, in the areas that grow the crops that feed the world and in the forests that provide the life-giving oxygen and remove the stifling carbon dioxide. Global warming is going to inevitably cause crops to fail and forests to die. Droughts, floods, storms that devastate large parts of whole countries will become common.

Dry ground
Photo by Scott Liddell from FreeImages

This will lead to food shortages and famine. Famine leads to the spread of disease and to war, as those without food invade those areas which have food, and those who have food fight to keep what they have. Inevitably the wars will result in the inability of the food growing areas to produce food, leading to deepening famine, and deaths in the billions.

Technology will suffer. The things that we use every day, like cooking equipment, technology that we utilize to entertain ourselves, or our means of communication, like our smartphones, will not be produced as people find it necessary to concentrate on obtaining food rather than producing technological wonders. The networks will fail.

We will see the failure of democracy and the rise of autocracies as wars proliferate and famine and disease spread.

Fidel Castro
Photo by Mike Minor from FreeImages

The autocracies and wholesale death by famine and disease may be the saving of the human race. If the human race is decimated, the pressure on the planet may ease, and the forests may return, springing up from remnants of the original forests or from species that have imported into the area by humans of our era. The autocrats may force workers to recreate the forests, because, after all, they will have experienced the effects of global warming. They can compel whereas democracies cannot. Autocrats are not magnanimous, but their best interests will hopefully be served by an end to global warming.

Where does that leave us? With a human population of much less than a billion. With the forests returning, maybe not the original forests, but forests made up of different species from other parts of the globe. There will be animals, but probably not the original species. With temperatures falling, and oceans returning to health.

There will be countries, but not the countries of today, and it is unlikely that any global organization, like the United Nations will remain. All current treaties and agreements will be long gone, replaced by other more local agreements and treaties.

Indigenous peoples may resurge in some places, but disappear in other.

It will be a world unlike our current world. Technology will have reverted as the huge factories needed to support it will have gone, but the knowledge may be retained, and the technology may resurge, but probably in a simpler fashion, using fewer resources. The day of the mega-factory will be over.

People will not fly around the world, and would probably live, and die close to where they were born. Large cities, of the size of London, Shanghi, or New York, will probably die, but smaller cities will likely survive.

That is the best case scenario. In the worst case the famines and wars will reduce the human race to very small numbers, and once the decline has got to those sorts of levels, the human race will fade away. No species resurges to previous levels after a die off of this magnitude without outside help. Where are the aliens when you need them ?

Inflatable aliens
Photo by Cheryl Empey from FreeImages

A New Book

 

The Shock of Her Life
“The Shock of Her Life” Book Cover

I’ve just published a new book, a sequel to “The Last Beautiful Woman”. It’s a short novel (approx 20,000 words long) called “The Shock of Her Life”, and takes up the story of Jenna and her friends.

When it opens, Jenna’s life has settled down, and she is still trying to adopt the two kids, Isla and Ryan, who seem to be like her, and who may also live very long lives. All three are frustrated that it is taking so long.

Jenna still sees her purpose in life as helping others, and she and her staff guarantee that they will answer any question that is sent to her, whether it is mundane or complex, from a child or the largest business or government.

She is still searching for others like herself, and when this search goes wrong it triggers a series of events that result in Jenna getting the shock of her life.

The book is currently available only in eBook form, and can be found on Amazon, Kobo Books, Smashwords, and other eBook retailers.

In other news, I’m currently revising a project that I was working on a few years ago, and which has not yet seen the light of day. Please look out for it! It’s currently called “The Castle”.