Back to school

“In the morning they gave Reacher a medal, and in the afternoon they sent him back to school…” So begins Lee Child’s latest novel: Night School.

In Scotland, in North Lanarkshire at least, kids are going back to school today. Thursday seems like a very strange day to be going back. It used to be Wednesday after a couple of teacher “in service” days when my kids were younger. I’m sure I went back on a Monday, back in the day.

Every year I think that I really need to go back to school myself. There’s only so long I can work before my skills become out of date. The main problem I have is what to study. Every project I see advertised has a different skill set required. Oracle database, SQL Server database, MS Access database… SSRS, SSIS, Oracle BIEE, SAP Business Objects… Excel VBA, Power BI, Qlik, Tableau…

Yet, if I take the time to study one of these, I know it will come in useful, either in a contract or to show I’m committed to personal development.

Thinking about going back to work is bringing this question back into focus.

I quite enjoyed Night School, by the way. More than some of Lee Child’s more recent novels. He seemed to capture some of the originality that has been lacking.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to “attend” the same sort of “school” as Reacher (chance would be a fine thing), but it is interesting that most of us are in the enviable position of being able to decide we can gain new skills or refresh older ones, and that we can decide which skills to try and gain.

It allows us to direct our lives rather than simply being ordered one way or another.

Back to work?

I’ve been in the fortunate position this summer of being able to stop looking for work, to spend more time with my family and also work on my next novel.

I knew I only had a limited time, but am now wondering if that time needs to come to and end sooner than expected.

I had two phone calls yesterday, both asking if I was interested in contracts. One was only a short job – a couple of days working for an organisation to modify an application I developed. The other role could go up until March next year. There’s no guarantee I would get that role if I went for it, but I’m also very aware that there is no guarantee another role will become available.

If I start work in the next week or so, it will take me longer to finish the sequel to Fallen Warriors. That might not be a bad thing. I have been wondering if I need more time for research.

I’ll need to make a decision today whether to apply for the second role or not…

All that we can achieve

I was pulled up short this morning. I’ve continued reading past the two books of Samuel and am now half way through the first book of Kings.

The last few chapters have been quite a slog, king after king who did evil in the eyes of the Lord, each one failing to learn from the mistakes of those who went before them. Israel divided in two and for a time it seems like the new nations of Israel and Judah are being led by leaders who are as evil as each other.

Then I read this: “As for the other events of Baasha’s reign, what he did and his achievements…” 1 Kings 16 v 5

I generally consider achievements to be a positive. I have 100 goals and as I make progress towards achieving them I feel good about that. Yet if I gained the whole world and lost my soul…

All we can achieve may be worth recording in a book some day, may be worth people remembering, but if those achievements are side by side with a legacy of disobedience to God, of a life spent following whatever evil our hearts find to do, then what ultimately was the point?

A box of books!

Does a print run count as a first edition when your novel’s been on sale through Print On Demand for the past three years? Probably not.

I received my first proper print run of The Great Scottish Land Grab today – 100 paperback copies. Quite exciting!

I’ve already got some orders, so will be posting them off immediately and will need to crack on, contacting more book shops to see if they will be willing to stock Land Grab.

I only ordered a small quantity of books for both Land Grab and Fallen Warriors. Having heard horror stories from other authors who ordered thousands of copies only to be unable to sell them, I’ve played it safe. I would rather sell these and have to re-order than worry about storage.

If you would like a paperback edition of The Great Scottish Land Grab you can order through your local bookshop quoting ISBN: 978-0-9929883-7-1

If you would like to buy a signed copy, I’ll be joining Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston at Cumbernauld Library on the 16th September from 2pm.

What if none of it was fiction?

I published last Sunday’s post knowing that a good many people consider Genesis to be a work of fiction. I don’t. I believe it all happened as recorded, witnessed by the one doing the creating – God.

There are other portions of the bible I’m less sure of. I think that most people believe that Jesus was comfortable sharing made up stories, parables we call them about shepherds and muggings and lost coins and farmers. There is the book of Job which I suspect most people dismiss simply because it starts in a place no human observer has ever been – Heaven.

The Psalms are simply songs, there are a few books that simply contain words of wisdom: Proverbs, The Song of Songs, and potentially one of the most depressing books of all: Ecclesseasties… So, neither fiction, nor history. Perhaps you could even class them as the first Dummies Guides To… Well, The Song of Songs would be the first Dummies Guide to Sex. I really should re-read that…

There are a lot of books of prophecy in the Bible. Kind of hard to classify that using the Dewey method. Non-Fiction that hasn’t happened yet? Alternative Future History? Actually, that might be exactly the right classification as the impression given throughout the Bible is that whatever the blessing promised through the prophecy, it can be lost if we insist on rebelling against God and whatever destruction is warned against could potentially be avoided if we seek our creator, turn from evil, start showing love and kindness to those around us, especially the poor and the weak.

Back to the original question though. What if none of the Bible was fiction?

Genesis and Job share one common factor, they both begin from God’s perspective. Recorded outside of human experience. It shouldn’t really surprise us that the God who is so involved throughout the rest of the Bible would share a little of events outside of our experience, especially since the entire direction of our history seems to involve God trying to lead us back to a place where he can walk and talk with us as he did in Eden.

I wonder sometimes if even Jesus, when he told those parables, was actually using illustrations he’d witnessed. It’s not hard to imagine him turning real events into generalised stories in order to make a point.

Regardless, the Bible remains the most powerful book available to us today. Are you reading it?

Going backwards

Well, yesterday was a bit of a disaster writing wise. I’d been going so well, 3,000 words a day on the Fallen Warriors sequel for a whole week and then – bamm! 789 words. Not only that, but I’ve decided I need to delete 300 words from another section.

On the plus side, I think that loss of 300 words allows me to do something that will be much better in terms of plot, making the story more interesting. I’m going to try and write some more today (Saturday) so I may yet get closer to my target. I’d hoped to be at 25,000 words by yesterday and I’m still 2,000 short.

So what actually happened? Why did I fail to hit my word count goal?

I did what I promised myself I would not do, I spent time on admin in the morning and got caught up in that, putting off writing until I knew I was going to struggle to hit my goal. Then when I started writing, I felt under such pressure that it took me longer than it should have to write anything.

Yet, I’ve been putting off the admin all week and I really needed to do some advertising. I called some more book shops and while I didn’t get any sales yet from those calls, I also had a followup from a previous contact which is looking promising.

I’m not going to spend all day writing to try and catch up. It’s the weekend and I’m in one of the most beautiful villages in the world on Regatta day. I’ve got kids to look after, ice-creams to buy and water to avoid falling into…

Refusing to Rush

I confess that I am impatient. I’ve been wanting to order new business cards for over a year, but have prioritised completing Fallen Warriors, marketing Fallen Warriors and recently writing the sequel.

When I decided yesterday to have a go at a new design for my author business cards, I wanted to order them straight away. (I felt a bit of pressure as there was a “33% off” offer from the printer I was planning to use…)

I was happy with the front image, but I knew the text on the back wasn’t working. Posting the front and back images yesterday was useful. I got helpful feedback which I’ve tried to listen to.

I had no-one suggest a different front, which is encouraging. The latest version of the back is below:

I had tried Tempus Sans font on the previous version–which I use on the cover of Fallen Warriors–but have now changed that to Antonio.

Thinking about what I’m trying to do with this card, I want to primarily use it as a marketing tool, something I can give to people I meet to advertise my novels. It tells them where they can buy or order, from selected bookshops (only four so far, but I need to keep working to expand that) and online.

Also, currently I’m giving away a short story to anyone who signs up to my mailing list, but it would make sense to offer samples of both novels since Book One of The Great Scottish Land Grab and Episode One of Fallen Warriors are both available for free already online. I can bundle the opening chapters and the short story into one sampler and it means that whether someone is interested in either novel, they can try it out in exchange for signing up to my mailing list.

I wondered if white as a background was too sparse and so have added a photo.

I’m going to hold off ordering new cards until next week. If you’ve any more feedback for me, do let me know.

An author business card

I’ve had two different author business cards over the last few years and haven’t been happy with either of them.

I didn’t like the cover image for book one of The Great Scottish Land Grab on the first one and replaced it with the cover I had designed for the full novel.

The second business card looked great, but the text on the back was confusing and didn’t tell people how to buy the book.

I’ve wanted to design a new card that I could use for both Fallen Warriors and The Great Scottish Land Grab.

This is my current draft, Front:

Back:

Thanks to Mark at http://covervault.com/ for the template I used for the book mock ups!

I’d appreciate any feedback on the designs.

[Update] After just a couple of discussions I’m now wondering if I’m trying to do too much with this card. A business card is normally used to share contact details, but I hope/intend to use this as a marketing/advertising tool, to give out to people I meet who may be interested in reading my novels, not getting in contact…

So, should I include an email address, a phone number even? Or just focus on where people can buy the books?

3,000 words

I woke up this morning, as usual thinking that I needed to tweet the scheduled blog post and share it on Facebook, only to remember I didn’t write a post yesterday…

That’s the third day I’ve missed so far. I had intended to write a post yesterday afternoon, but I’ve been working to a new target of completing 3,000 words on my Fallen Warriors sequel each day and yesterday it took me to after 5pm. I started at 9am…

That’s a full on normal working day to produce 3,000 words.

I started this new regime–for want of a better word– on Friday last week. Friday, Saturday, Monday and now Tuesday I’ve managed to hit 3,000 words each day. The only problem is that I seem to be taking longer each day to actually do it!

Admitedly, I’ve had a few distractions. My mind was elsewhere for chunks of time, and sometimes my body as well. Kind of hard to write when you’re not sat in front of your computer. (well, for me anyway.)

So, I don’t feel too bad about missing my 100 word target yesterday. Continuing Fallen Warriors is a more important goal. And to be honest, while I have now missed three days on my 100 words in 100 days challenge, I’ve never failed to write and publish at least a 100 word blog post each day. Today, I’ll need to write two posts, this one and tomorrow’s. Just need to think what I’m going to write for that…

Will Quince MP – A Ten Point Plan

Some of you will have seen the Tweet by Will Quince MP that has kicked off a mini firestorm on Twitter since 5th August 2017: Just had to pay a parking fine for being 10mins late when in Devon, genuine mistake but caught on ANPR. Is it me or is £54 unreasonable?

Will then followed this up with a response last night: All those people having a pop at me today seem to forget that those on lower incomes are disproportionately affected by high parking fines.

I couldn’t help myself. I responded when I saw those tweets this morning…

Then I took a step back, thought about it and decided that a more constructive approach might be helpful and I wrote this open letter to him:

Dear Will,

after reading your recent tweets and indeed responding to them, I decided a constructive open letter might be a better way forwards. If I may, here is a suggested ten point plan for you to consider. I would be happy to discuss this further.

1. Take a deep breath and consider that for almost everyone who responded, this wasn’t about high parking fines.

2. Accept that not everyone who responded hates you (or even your political party.)

3. See this as an opportunity. You’ve obviously touched a very raw nerve. People – including myself – are angry about the way people are treated on benefits.

4. Engage in research about fines and sanctions for those on benefits.

5. Consider whether it is reasonable that the same Darwinian justice is applied to both parking and benefits.

6. Try and understand that people are crying out for compassion and mercy – you could be a catalyst for change.

7. Don’t delete your tweet or bury your head in the sand.

8. Do speak with benefits claimants who have been sanctioned.

9. Look into proposals such as Universal Income.

10. Finally, take a look at your pay check and compare that to the income someone on benefits receives.

It is my intention to post these suggestions on my blog tomorrow (www.dragonlake.co.uk) If you would like to respond I would be happy to acommodate you.

I am the author of Fallen Warriors and The Great Scottish Land Grab. I blog about writing, politics, faith and whatever else takes my fancy. My twitter handle is @my100goals

I have a lot of sympathy for your situation, I don’t doubt that you meant no harm by your tweet about parking fines. Your response to the reaction you have received however suggests you don’t understand why we responded the way we did.

I’ve been on benefits. I remember clearly the feeling of helplessness, of powerlessness. I have tried in recent years to make sure I will never, ever have to be in that situation again. I realise though that there are no guarantees. You are in a very priveleged position. You are in the top 10% of earners in this country (using the Office of National Statistics.) I am now also in that bracket of earners.

The responses you have received are NOT about parking fines – they are (mostly) about anger and frustration that a Conservative government has made life unbearable for the poorest and weakest in our country. If you can recognise that and find a way to fight on behalf of the poorest and weakest, then you will actually turn this situation into a positive force for good.

Yours sincerely

Mark Anderson Smith