Some More Bitface Thoughts

    Something I forgot to mention yesterday was that I thought the “bitface” term was useful not just to refer to people who manipulate bits for a living (or hobby) — programmers, like myself. It can also work to discuss anyone who makes digital content: websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, photos, and so on.

    We’re all moving bits around. We’re all labourers at the bitface.

    One Month Gone

    As you’ll know if you’ve been paying attention, I’ve challenged myself to blog every day this year. Well, the first twelfth of the year (approximately) has gone, and I’ve succeeded so far (my problems posting last Saturday notwithstanding).

    One or two posts were extremely short, maybe just a link and a few words. But most of them have been more substantial. So I’m quite pleased with my progress so far. I’m not sure that it’s making me write more — well, by definition it is, as I have to write something every day.1

    So: blogging about blogging. It’s a fine tradition. And thirty-two days in a row now.

    1. I could write posts in advance and set them to publish on a future day, but there’s no need for that. Maybe when I go on holiday I’ll have to do that. ↩︎

    On Writing by AL Kennedy (Books 2014, 11)

    Unlike Stephen King’s book of the same title, this isn’t exactly “a manual of the craft.” You won’t find much about the writing side of writing here; nothing about crafting sentences, forming paragraphs, developing characters or plots.

    It’s less about the craft of writing than about the life of a writer; and it shares with King’s eponym the part-memoir approach. Kennedy spends a lot of time describing how writing has been bad for her health in various ways, and how in turn her pathological fear of flying has made the writing life more difficult, (travelling to North America by ship for a signing tour) for example.

    The largest and most entertaining part of it was originally published as blog entries on The Guardian’s site.

    It’s very good. And not from the book, but with Doctor Who back (and nearly finished) you should read her meditation on it and on the state of Britain.

    Andy's unpunctuated ambiguity

    Andy Murray finally reveals views on Scottish independence“, says the headline in the Telegraph. It goes on to say he “appeared to declare his support for Scottish independence”. That “appeared” is key, because the lack of punctuation and capitalisation in Andy’s tweet actually allows at least a couple of interpretations:

    Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!

    The Telegraph is clearly reading that as “‘No’-Campaign negativity…” The negativity from the “No” campaign, in other words.

    But you could read it simply as “[there has been] no campaign negativity…” In other words, the absence of negativity in the campaigning (by either side or both) has left him with a positive view of the referendum.

    I’d guess that the Telegraph‘s opinion is correct. But it just goes to show… if he could place a quote character like he can place a tennis ball, it would all be perfectly clear.

    Once again I won’t be reaching NaNoWriMo’s 50,000-word mark this year, but I have written over 30,000, which is the most ever. And I finished a novella at the start. So I’m pretty happy.

    3,446 words today for a NaNoWriMo total so far of 15,724. That also completes a 20,000 word novella called “All Tomorrow’s Troubles”. Going well. Now I can get back to my novel.

    This “short story” that I was going to knock out before getting back to my novel is growing into a behemoth. At 12000 words it’s thoroughly a novelette, and heading squarely for novella-land.

    November spawned some words (but not that many)

    I'm not very good at this NaNoWriMo thing, it turns out (again). This year I declared myself a NaNo Rebel (basically anyone who aims to write 50,000 words, but not of a brand-new novel). I had originally hoped to finish my previous novel before November started, and leave November clear for taking a big run at the new one, the idea for which came knocking when I was about three-quarters of the way through the then-current one. But as it turned out I didn't manage to finish it until a few days into November. So I decided just to count the words of original fiction I wrote in November.

    Which proved to be just as well, because after just a couple of days on the new novel, I was cycling home from work one day when a short story deposited itself in my head, unbidden, but complete. I took a few days off from the novel to work on that, thus further ensuring my rebellious state.

    As an experiment for my own interest, I also tried to keep a note of how many words I wrote for other things, both at home and at work; just to get an idea of how many words I write normally. I kept that all in a Google Docs spreadsheet, so I could get to it wherever I was. I’m sure I wasn’t complete in recording everything, though.

    In the end I wrote 16,600 words of fiction;1 so comparable with last year. And oh, dear: reading over those old posts to get links makes me realise that this is the third NaNo during which I’ve been working on Accidental Upgrade.

    But having said that, the thing that I’m underplaying in all this is that: I. Finished. My. Novel. 89,000 words of first draft, done and… well, left quite dusty, truth be told.

    And a new short story drafted, and another novel reasonably well under way. I’m feeling quite positive about it all.

    1. And around 9000 of other stuff. ↩︎

    The Words that Maketh Novels

    It seems like almost no time at all since I last wrote about not completing NaNoWriMo. But here we are again. A year passes like nothing.

    I wasn’t strictly following the rules (but they’re only really guidelines, and optional at that) in that I wasn’t starting a new novel this time. I was carrying on the same one that I started last year, and I hadn’t written many more in the interim. I managed just under 15,000 words this year, which is slightly less than last time (and less than a tenth of my erstwhile OU Creative Writing classmate Karl’s crazy figure)

    It has, however, given me a new kickstart, and I intend to carry the momentum onwards, but at a more manageable rate. My novel (working title Accidental Upgrade) currently stands at around 36,000 words. I’ve set myself a target of 80,000 by the end of February. That is more like the length of a modern novel, and achievable at a rate of around 475 words a day, according to Scrivener.

    That’s much more feasible for me than Nano’s 1667. Though I’m just realising that I said essentially the same thing last year, and it obviously didn’t work. Still, I feel more confident this time. I wrote around 600 words today, and I’ve got Scrivener to help me keep on track.

    Tell, and Maybe Show as Well

    Prospective -- or actual -- writers are always given the advice, 'show, don't tell.' It's considered to be more engaging as a storytelling technique to let your reader know what's happening by letting them experience it via the experiences of your characters, rather than merely informing them what happens to your characters.

    Good enough advice, in general. But there are always counterexamples.

    This morning on the way to work I read a story on Tor’s website, which is almost entirely telling; and almost entirely wonderful.

    Six Months, Three Days’, by Charlie Jane Anders. Highly recommended.

    Link: Writers’ Bloc – a Literary Band

    Writers’ Bloc – a Literary Band « East Kent Live Lit.

    Some nice thoughts on what my friends in Edinburgh get up to with their spoken-word performances and chapbook publishing.

    I really must get up for one of their performances.


    Well, this is my [NaNoFail]( report. I managed around 15,000 words. Which isn't bad in its way, but is not only a lot less than the desired 50,000, it's also less than last time, when I at least made it to 20,000.

    Oh well. The plan now is not to stop, because then I’d most likely never finish it. Instead, I’m going to carry on, with a much reduced target of, say, 500 words per day, and see where that takes me.

    Edited to say: That’s 15,000, of course, not the meaningless “15,00”.

    The Day After Hallowe'en

    Well, midnight on the 31st of October is fast rolling round. We're not long back from a week in the Highlands of Scotland (very wet, but great, thanks). It'll soon be the 1st of November, which means two things this year.

    1. We'll be able to buy Mitch Benn's mighty 'I'm Proud of the BBC' in downloadable single format. So head off and do that now, and help it to chart. I'll wait.

      Actually, it’s not yet midnight as I type, and I’ve just downloaded it.

    2. NaNoWriMo is about to start. I'm having a go this year. Wish me luck.

      I last tried it in 2004, which is much longer ago than I thought. I sort of had a half-hearted poke at it last year, but soon stopped. I’m hoping that expressing my intention in public like this will help to keep me going.

      We’ll see, of course.

      I see that the approaching start has brought the NaNoWriMo site to its knees. Oh well. Hopefully they'll get things back together.

    Link: Screenwriting Tip Of The Day by William C. Martell - Romeo to Rambo

    How good scripts get turned into bad movies: Screenwriting Tip Of The Day by William C. Martell - Romeo to Rambo

    Link: How to Write a Story, by Robert Jackson Bennett

    "The first step is waking up." Brilliant: How to Write a Story, by Robert Jackson Bennett

    Link: A Self-Referential Story

    "Sentient sentences": an astonishing piece of work.: A Self-Referential Story

    Michael Marshall Smith speaks wisely on opinions on the internet

    If you can't take the time and trouble to learn how to write a coherent sentence, then why on earth do you believe people should listen to what you have to say?

    Oh, yes.


    Hi, I'm back. Have you missed me? I have some good news.

    First Edition is a new magazine publishing new writing: fiction, poetry, and reviews. It’s just reached issue 4. That’s an important one to remember. Issue 4. That’s the one you should go and buy.

    That’s the one that contains a poem by me.

    Oh yes. I am a published poet, as of - well, just about today, really.

    Available now from some good magazine shops, allegedly. But certainly from that there website.

    Go on, check it out. You know you want to.

    A poem

    So on my OU Creative Writing course, we're currently on the poetry module. After reading the chapter on imagery last night, I formed the following in my head while cycling to work this morning.

    Crossing at Islington

    We swarm
    Fluourescent honeybees on wheels
    For electric flower’s red stamen
    to turn green.

    Some go too soon
    Red flashes out its warning.
    Angry metal birds roar down
    And pick them off.

    I phone, you phone

    So, I've got an iPhone. I walked into the O2 shop near work the other day, and came out half an hour later with an 8 GB phone and a £30-a-month contract.

    The device itself is a thing of beauty, in both hardware and software terms.

    iTunes, however, is an ugly piece of dingbat’s kidneys.

    Don’t get me wrong: it does its thing well, from playing music, through purchases, to synchronisation. But my god, it looks ugly.

    And nor do I like the way it presents the music it knows about; but then, I’ve never seen an application that does that very well.

    As to typing with the on-screen keyboard, well, it’s actually not that bad; it’s never going to. Be fast, bit there are some smart optimisations, like automatically switching back from the symbol keyboard to the letter one when you hit space after a comma, or immediately after you type an apostrophe.

    And I almost cry with happiness every time I see the transition from one app to another.

    ETA: As you can see from the typoes above, I wrote that on the shiny device. I’ll leave them in for posterity.

    Diplomacy 101, and Cash for Stories

    Sometimes I write these things and don’t post them immediately, and then they seem wildly out of date. But it’s still worth putting them out there. Blogging doesn’t have to be completely reactive. Sometimes it should take the longer-term, contemplative view. So I offer this.

    It seems obvious to me that, if your navy personnel are captured by the forces of a foreign power, in peacetime, and accused of being in the foreign power’s waters, then what you should do is as follows:
    You say, “Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to have them off station; didn’t think they were, actually, but if they were, we’re sorry.” Even, and let me make this quite clear, if you know perfectly well that they weren’t in the other power’s territory.

    That, it seems to me, would be the diplomatic thing to do

    So why did they not do that? My best guess is that they – the British government – were worried about losing face.

    ‘Losing face.’ It’s a strange thing for the government of what is still a fairly major world power to be worrying about, isn’t it? After all, it’s not as if making such a guarded admission and apology would actually have done Britain any harm, would it?

    And it might have got the captured service people home a few days earlier – and without being humiliated on TV – you never know. Perhaps, even, the Iranian government would have apologised in their turn, and admitted that they might have made a mistake.

    That last seems almost likely, given that they did appear to concede quite graciously in the end. But what do I know? I’m neither diplomat nor politician, and there might be some way in which doing what I suggested right from the start would have been political suicide. And obviously things will have been going on in the background of which we know nothing. But still…

    And then they get home and tell their stories. I seem to be the only person in the country who thinks like this, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to profit from doing so. Somebody is going to profit from the stories being told, so why shouldn’t it be the ones to whom they happened?

    Sure, if it’s against the rules of the service, then that’s the deal they signed up for. But since the Ministry of Defence authorised it, then at the very least, I don’t see how you can blame the sailors.

    I speak as someone who likes to write; so if I imagine myself into a situation like that, I know I would want to write my story once I had escaped. And if I could go on to sell it for professional publication, then you’re damn right I would want to do so. Why not?

    The reported reactions of some of the families of service personnel who have died in Iraq is, to my mind, a red herring. There’s no direct comparison. As far as I know, there’s nothing to stop those families from writing, telling, or selling their own stories, or those of their lost ones. If they choose not to, that’s fine. But the two situations are quite different.

    A Deadline Crash, and a Reading

    Over the last few weeks I've been trying to write a Doctor Who short story. It was for a competition that Big Finish, publisher of DW books and CDs, were running. Alas, the closing date was the 31st of January, which is now past, and I didn't finish it (does that make it a Small Finish?)

    Still, I’m enjoying writing it, and intend to finish it anyway, just on general principles. It doesn’t do to go around having lots of unfinished pieces (and I speak as someone who has a great many unfinished things lying around, of one variety or another).

    When I do finish it, I’ll probably put it online. Now my question is, does such a work now count as fanfic I suppose it does, on some level. Curious, because the winner of the competition gets professionally published, and that obviously isn’t fan fiction.

    Still on a literary note, my friend Andrew was in town the other night, because he was one of the authors who was doing a reading that was organised by Farthing magazine. Until Andrew told me about the event, I didn’t even know that the publication existed.

    It was a good night. I missed the first reading, by Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, but heard various drabbles, Andrew’s story, and two other fine stories.

    During the interval I picked up the back issues of the magazine and took out a subscription. Then at the end we helped the Editor, Wendy Bradley, to carry some boxes back to her flat, and drank her whisky.

    All in all, it was a fine night.

    Copyright Matters – Pass It On

    So here I am, all ready to write about my day for the History Matters - Pass It On site's One Day in History project, which has been much hyped of late. But before I started writing I took a look at the terms and conditions, where I found this little thought:

    You agree, by submitting such material, to grant the Partners jointly and severally a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, play, make available to the public,

    That’s fair enough, right? You’re granting them a non-exclusive licence to use the material. But it goes on to say:

    and exercise all copyright and publicity rights with respect to, your material worldwide and/or to incorporate your material in other works in any media now known or later developed for the full term of any rights that may exist in your material.

    Umm, “exercise all copyright”? Now I’m not so sure. Let’s see what else there is.

    you waive any moral rights to your material for the purposes of its submission to and publication on the Site or for the general purposes specified above.

    Ouch. I don’t like the sound of that. Now the thing that got me looking at this was this, which is not in the Ts&Cs, but right on the submission page:

    The History Matters partners own the copyright of any materials that you submit and be free to use them in any History Matter related materials such as any media stories, published books etc.

    Not just overbearingly copywrong, but ungrammatical, too. Ouchy, ouchy, ouch, ouch!

    Then, as if to add stupidity to a lack of concern for people’s work, there is a section entitled, “Links to this Website.” It includes the following paragraph:

    The Partners reserve the right at their discretion to prohibit any link from another Internet site or equivalent entity to materials or information on the Site.

    Ok, so they’re not banning deep links, they’re just warning you that they might do so.

    Furthermore, no page or pages from this website may be framed by or with any third party content or otherwise made available to the public in conjunction with any third party content without the prior written consent of the Partners

    So it’s all right to take thousands of random contributors' work away from them, but we can’t in turn reproduce or reuse your work (or that of the random contributors)?

    C’mon, guys, this is the web: linking is what it’s all about.

    And as to copyright: The History Matters project is founded, according to its FAQ, by:

    National Trust, English Heritage, The National Heritage Memorial Fund and Heritage Lottery Fund, the Historic Houses Association, Heritage Link, the Civic Trust, the Council for British Archaeology and Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

    All publicly-funded and/or charitable bodies, if I’m not very much mistaken.

    Now you may think that I’m being unreasonably cautious about this. I’m just some guy in London writing about his day. It’s not like they’re stealing what I write, or as if what I write matters that much in the grand scheme of things. And that’s true enough. I have absolutely no problem with them using what I might write. Indeed, all my writing here is Creative-Commons-licensed, so you don’t even have to ask if you want to use it. The problem is this: if you follow the letter of the agreement, then I lose all rights over what I submit to them. That means that if I write a description of my day, submit it to the project, and then post a copy here, on my blog (as I intended to do), then I’ll be in breach of copyright.

    And that is madness.

    I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt: I’m working on the assumption that this is just carelessness; that the terms and conditions are just poorly thought through, rather than deliberately evil. But really, someone there has a duty to take care. When you’re a public body soliciting material created by the public, you have no moral right to claim the exclusive intellectual rights over that material.

    On Countries, Nationhood, and Being Invited to Write a Guest Spot

    Dave Hill is a novelist, Guardian writer and prolific blogger. He is running a series of guest pieces on his blog. They're on the theme of "What I Like About England (or not, as the case may be)." He was inspired to do this mainly by all the flag-waving furore during the World Cup (with maybe some influence from Andy Murray's attire at Wimbledon).

    I’m pleased to say that he has asked me to contribute. I’ll post here, of course, when my piece is up. In the meantime I’ve been thrashing out some of what I might say in the comments thread of one of the earlier pieces.

    Dave’s overall title for this project is ‘Big England’. You can see all the pieces to date here

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