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.

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.]

On Learning Blender

I’ve been using the GIMP recently to draw some things, and I’ve discovered that there are some things that it can’t do easily. Specifically, I want to draw a three dimensional scene, and that requires textures and other images to wrap around objects in the main image. Like, for example, the label on a can of beans. While this is possible in the GIMP, I’ve not been able to produce really convincing wrapped objects in the GIMP. This is almost certainly my fault and not the program’s fault, of course.

Anyway, I started looking at alternatives, of which there are many. Few of them are free, but one of the best, according to my research, is Blender.

The GIMP doesn’t pretend to be a painting program. It is as its name says, an Image Manipulation Program. (The G stands for “GNU”, which I will not explain. I will refer you to Wikipedia instead.) So, it’s main purpose is to take an image, perhaps a photograph, remove any blemishes, any unwanted photo-bombers, and apply effects and merge images to form composite images.

One task that can be achieved pretty easily in the GIMP is creating text strings and positioning them on top of images. That is great for creating book covers, for example, and I’ve created a few using the GIMP. It is great for two dimensional tasks, but is not designed for building things in three dimensions.

A book cover created using the GIMP
A book cover created using the GIMP.

Blender, on the other hand, is designed for creating three dimensional images. You can even fly or walk around them. A cube looks like a cube, a sphere appears spherical. You can see an example of the layout of the Blender screen at the head of this post. Unfortunately, reducing the Blender screen to this size makes it almost unreadable, but the cube can easily be seen.

So, Blender. I decided to try to learn Blender with the aim of creating images of three dimensional objects and “painting” them with two dimensional images to produce the effects that I wanted. I could then “render” them in Blender to produce images of the objects that I wanted, and then I could import them into the GIMP.

Blender is complex! Even the methods of navigating around the work area needed hard work to get my head around, and actually creating anything more than a simple primitive object such as a cone or a cube is hard.

If you go to YouTube and search for tutorials on Blender you will find literally dozens of them. I came across a series of basic tutorials which numbered forty one. If you perform an Internet search, there are thousands of Blender tutorials. It’s a very complex program.

It also has a quirky and very complex interface. For example, it doesn’t prompt you to save your work on exit, like many other programs, but if you forget to save, it has a way to recover your work from the previous session. This infuriates many people, and a search through the arguments for and against this feature can be entertaining.

Another quirk is that the “select” function is driven by a mouse right button click rather than the more usual left button click. This feature at least can be switched off if the user wishes.

Blender is most easily “driven” using hot keys, though the menus are there. There are so many hot keys and combinations of keys, that they are hard to remember. What does pressing Shift plus Ctrl plus the letter L do, for example? I don’t know, but it is probably something useful.

Anyway, I’m going to try to learn it, and I probably post some of my experiences with it here. So long, I’m off to read a 1900+ page PDF on Blender. It’s a beginner’s guide!

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

 

A UFO drawn in the GIMP

I’ve been playing around with the GIMP recently, drawing stuff, rather than editing or touching up photos. I decided to try to draw a small UFO, and the following post shows how I did it. There’s almost certainly better ways to do it, but I’m no Gimp guru!

[For those who don’t know, the GIMP is a free image processing program available for Windows, Linux and Mac, which has similar abilities to Adobe Photoshop.]

My main idea was to create the UFO as a rectangular image, and then to use the “Map Object” filter that comes with the GIMP to wrap this image around a sphere. So, first I created a rectangular image, four to five times as wide as it was high.

I wanted to have two chains of windows encircling the UFO, so the next step was to create a small layer for a single window. There are many ways to create a new layer, and I’m not going to go into details of all the methods. Please read the Gimp documentation if you want to know more.

One way is to open the Layers dialog either through the “Windows” menu or simply by hitting Ctrl + L, and using the small button at the bottom to create the new layer. I recommend right clicking the new Layer and giving it a name through the “Edit Layer Attributes…” option.

Anyway, having created a new layer, I selected a small rectangular area on it, and filled it with the foreground colour, black, then I used the “Select” menu “Grow…” option to grow it by 10 pixels all round. Here’s what I had at this stage. Note the Layers dialog on the right. I always keep the Layers dialog open as it is so useful!

OK, that’s a little hard to read, I know. The important bit is the bit in the middle, the black square surrounded by a white border, the current selection. I selected “Crop to Selection” on the Layer menu to shrink the Layer to the smallest size needed.

The next stage was to create more window layers with a window in each, so I just clicked the small copy button in the middle of the bottom of the Layers dialog about ten times, with no visible change to the image. This is because all the new layers get created right on top of one another! However, all the layers are listed in the Layers dialog on the right of the screen.

I then used the Move tool to move the new layers to different positions on the screen. I made sure that I’d spread them all out. See below.

As you can see, they are not exactly aligned and spaced, so that was my next task, using the alignment tool. I wanted this middle row to to be evenly spread along the mid line of the image, so in the alignment tool properties dialog I selected “Relative to     Active layer”. Then I selected all the layers on the middle line, and finally selected the Background layer. I selected the button to align the layers on the mid line of the image (the lower middle of the six buttons in the “Align” section) then I selected the button to distribute the layers evenly across the image (the one on the right of the first row of the “Distribution” section). Now the image looked like this :

So now I needed to make the second line of windows, just about the first line. So I created a further eight windows by repeatedly copying one of the lower windows, then I spread them out slightly above the other line.

Then using the alignment tool, I selected all the windows in the new line. I changed the “Relative to” value using the drop down menu to “First Item”, then aligned the windows to the first one by using the middle button in the second row of the “Align” section. The reason I aligned the windows to the first window rather than active layer is because otherwise the windows would simply overlay the first set.

Now I needed to space out the windows, so, leaving them selected, I changed the “Relative to” value back to “Active Layer”, then used the right most button on the first row of the “Distribute” section to spread the windows evenly along the line. They now matched the first line, as shown below.

At this stage I saved the image to disk, in case of accidents. The GIMP lets you undo the steps that you have taken in editing or creating an image, but sometimes (especially if you are experimenting), it is useful be able to abandon all your fiddling and start again from a known good image. However, saving an image means that you can’t backtrack from that version of the image.

Now I needed to apply the filter, but the filter appears to only work on a single layer of an image, so I flattened the image to a single layer (using the Image menu), and applied the Map Object filter to the resulting image (Filter->Map->Map Object…). I changed the lighting to make it appear that the lighting was coming from above and to the right and I also adjusted the orientation a little so that viewpoint was slightly below the UFO, as if it was flying overhead. These are options in the filter. I clicked OK and got the following result.

And that is it. It’s a simple enough image, but good enough for my purposes, and it shows a number of simple GIMP techniques. To create the image at the top of the post I merely hid the background layer and filled the areas around the UFO with sky blue. I hope that this post will be useful to someone.  Obviously there is a lot of scope to improve the image, perhaps by adding doors to the lower part, landing legs and so on, but it will do me for now.

Acknowledgement : Much of the stuff on the usage of the Alignment Tool was gleaned from this article. Many thanks to the author, Debi Dallo.

Please read my books. The paperback versions can be found Amazon, and the eBooks can be found there or at your favourite eBook store. I mainly write fantasy fiction.

My Books in eBook form, half price.

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I publish my eBooks through Smashwords and Amazon, so that I get the highest visibility for them. Smashwords has a “New Year” promotion, starting Christmas Day and extending through to New Years Day. During this period, my eBooks will be available through Smashwords at half price.

My paperback versions of “The Last Beautiful Woman” and “The Mage and The Boffin” parts one and two are available on Amazon only.

The Mage and The Boffin in paperback

I’ve published some of Mage and Boffin stories in paperback on Amazon. I discovered that if I’d included them all, the paperback would be too long, so this is the first of two parts! The second part might make it onto Amazon by Christmas, but failing that, watch for an update in the New Year!

The details are as follows:

The Mage and the Boffin – Part One: The Early Stories (Paperback)
ASIN : 0473461900
Link : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0473461900

 

A new book and an update

I’ve just published my latest book, “The Mage and The Boffin”. It can be found at your favourite eBook publisher. Just search for my name, “Cliff Pratt” and it should appear in the list.

It is a book of short stories featuring the two title characters and their friends and relations. Some of the stories relate in some degree to fairy stories and legends, but they are not simple retelling of the stories and are significantly different from them.

I have also updated my brief book, “How I Wrote and Self Published My First Book: My Path Through the Creative Maze”. This describes in some detail how I published “The Last Beautiful Woman” and why, and may be useful to anyone who is going down the same path. This is only available on Amazon as a Kindle book. If you don’t have a Kindle you will need a Kindle app.