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War Drugs

25 Sep

This is an article about the use of drugs in war, not the war on drugs. For the latter, please refer to the US State Dept.

panzer-ivA few years ago I watched a documentary about the use of drugs in war. The premise of the show was that Hitler hadn’t actually intended to invade the Low Countries & France the way he did. First a bit of history: the German offensive against the Allies began on the 9th May 1940 with the invasion of Luxembourg and within a couple of days both Luxembourg and Belgium had fallen. Unlike most sensible tourists, the Panzer divisions didn’t bother to stop in Brussels for beer, they just kept on rolling. By the 19th May, the Germans had reached the English Channel. After a short delay, which allowed for the evacuation at Dunkirk on the 26th May, the advance resumed and shortly thereafter France fell.  Allegedly, the lightning advance to the Channel took place because the Wehrmacht were ramped up on amphetamines (pervitine, which is actually crystal meth) and couldn’t be reasoned with. After ten days, all the meth they’d imbibed took its toll and the army collapsed into a deep slumber, thus giving the Brits a narrow window in which to organise their escape.

pervitinI found this to be a fascinating explanation as to why the Germans just stopped when they had the Allies on the ropes. Had they continued their advance the Second World War would have played out very differently to the way it did. It’s a good story, but is it true? It’s certainly true that the Germans had a secret drug programme (Projekt D- run out of Kiel) and it’s certainly true that they built up a massive reserve of pervitine prior to invading Europe. It’s also true that pervitine addiction and withdrawal was a real problem in the ranks. German officers knew from their experiences in France that prolonged use of pervitine caused sleep disorders and irrational behaviour. It was still used though, for the duration of the war. In order to negate the German advantage post-D-day, the American army issued speed capsules to their men. To counter this, the Nazis issued massive quantities of drugs to their Fuhrer, in the belief that it would turn him into a superhuman.  As with nearly all people who take large amounts of experimental drugs, this did not end well.

German scientists were aware of the shortcomings of pervitine and continued to experiment in secret. Eventually, in 1944 they produced drug D-IX, which was a combination of cocaine and crystal meth for alertness, with added heroin to counteract the meth downer that troops complained about.  It was too little, too late. At the end of the war, while the Americans were busy collecting the rocket scientists (later called NASA) and the construction moles (75% of all German construction after 1941 was underground), the Brits sent the SAS to Kiel, to collect the Nazi drug programme. Without giving any more away, this forms the basis of the plot for The Ferret Files.

fly-agaricA bit more research into the history of drug use in warfare, and you’ll find that every army has been up to it since records began. The Incas – off their heads on cocaine. The Zulus fought on a mixture of tobacco, marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms; they believed that the fungus made them bulletproof. Again, this did not end well.

Research into war drugs has never stopped – it still persists to the present day. Those in charge will do anything they can to give their men the edge over the enemy.  I’m no expert on modern war drugs and we’re verging into hearsay here, but I’ve read that some of the pills and potions the US Army trialed in Iraq made their soldiers paranoid and trigger happy. Those drugs, along with the weapons surplus from that war were then sold to various US Police forces. As I said, it’s hearsay, although it does resonate given the escalating situation that’s currently playing out across America.

My drug of choice is alcohol. I have a fairly large cache of the stuff. Should WWIII break out, that’s the drug that I’m going to take. It might not turn me into a psychotic killing machine capable of staying awake for weeks at a time, but it will ensure I have a damn good time and no horrible withdrawal symptoms… at least until I run out!

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Version 1.0

14 Sep

Here’s a question for yoversion-1u: how many versions of a document / manuscript does it take to create a Version 1.0?

To clarify, V1.0 is something that you the author are happy to publish and distribute to the world. On the cover, after the title, in large, friendly letters, it says:

 

Document Name

Author: YOU

You will be judged on the content, the grammar, the spelling and the layout. If it’s a work of fiction, add the plot and characters too.

halberdPart of my day job is authoring design documents, which are subject to internal review prior to being published. Hence I’m used to criticism. The most complex design doc is the High Level Design, or HLD. I reckon on 4-5 iterations by the time v0.1 goes out for comment. I then expect to go through another 2-3 versions before final publication. I’m really happy if v0.3 is the final version before v1.0, which gives 8 versions in total. If a document reaches v0.5, I start minor increments (v0.51). Once we get to 15 versions (v0.56) , I’m chomping at the bit to get the damn thing out the door. At this point, between me and success there’s always a pedant who won’t be moved because he/she doesn’t like a particular paragraph or requirement definition. All the time I’m boiling away inside, feeling personally slighted and wishing for a medieval weapon.

For The Ferret Files, I tried to follow my tried and tested methodology. It took six revisions to create v0.1. I figured v0.3 should be it. I was wrong. We’re finishing up on v0.53. Where I went astray was my estimation for how long it would take. I thought perhaps weeks. Try two people full time for four months. The final version of Ferret is revision 13. I was not happy with this figure to begin with. Recently, I saw Jeffrey Archer being interviewed on TV. He said that on average it takes him 17 revisions to get a manuscript right, all hand written then typed up. He neglected to mention that he has a secretary to do the dirty work. So by his estimation it takes two people full time for nearly a year to produce a best seller.  Suddenly, I’m feeling much happier.

My copy editor asked me why I was on v0.53 and not v0.8. Well, it all harks back to my first serious job, working for Commodore computers, who made the C64 and Amiga. One day, I met Frankie, a big shot engineer over from California, who was auditing the UK’s manufacturing processes. We got on rather well – he was a solid, no crap kinda guy at work, a hoot down the pub., which is where he told me about a recent chip manufacturing saga.

chip-03“Have you ever looked at what’s stamped on the top of a chip?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s the chip catalogue number.”

“And after the serial number?”

I’d never paid much attention to the last set of figures, which on most chips was ‘-01’ or ‘-02’. Occasionally, there was a ‘-03’. Frankie explained that in order to blow a chip, the engineer must first create a mask. The final set of figures was the mask number. Given that each mask cost $100,000 (in 1982), the engineering department obviously preferred a ‘-01’. Frankie then pointed me to a chip that had ‘-05’ on it, which, I remarked, had  presumably cost a cool half a million dollars to get right. Frankie laughed. The engineer who been tasked with making the mask didn’t know his ass from his elbow. By the time he’d reached ‘-07’, this was obvious to all and sundry. Except nobody stopped him, so on he went creating new masks and muffing it up. Each time, his boss figured he’ll get it right soon… if I just give him one more chance… And so on. Eventually a working chip appeared with the suffix ‘-33’.  It had cost months of messing about and $3.3m to make.  To avoid public humiliation, the suffix was immediately changed to ‘-05’. This was followed by an enquiry, during which the engineer responsible was reassigned and told never to work on chip masks again, and his boss was fired. Presumably into orbit.

The moral of the story for me is quite simple: keep your version numbers low, preferably below 0.5. If you get to 0.5, panic and start the cover up. Management can’t tell the difference between 0.5 and 0.54. They can. however, tell the difference between 0.5 and 0.9. If you’re covering up, don’t leave it until 0.7, as this grabs too much attention. Finally, if it takes 33 revisions to get something out the door, perhaps you’re in the wrong job…

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Libel or Bust

31 Aug

I’m still stuck in Edit Hell – the 7th circle to be exact, which is populated with pedants and grammar Nazis. Trust me, you do NOT want to run into the comma Brownshirts – they’re the worst!

While working through the comments I’ve received from beta readers, I was asked to consider whether the following paragraph is libelous:

Led-Zeppelin According to Emerald Room hearsay, the hippy had begun selling weed back in the day, when it was still exotic and difficult to obtain.  Legend had it he’d bumbled his way into a sound check one day and with a combination of charm, cheek and a bag of very good marijuana, secured himself a job working for Led Zeppelin as their new dealer, their old one having been busted with a K of Morocco’s finest down his pants the night before.

That was Woody’s story and he was sticking to it.

 

Tell me what you think in the comments below. Does it constitute libel in your country? If you want to know what I think regarding the UK laws, keep on reading…

In an earlier draft of the novel two incidents were picked up during copy edit as potentially libelous. In the first incident, Ferret says some horrible things about David Icke, then repeats a bunch of facts about Icke’s life, which when checked, were not entirely true. In the second incident, Ronnie Wood pockets a wrap of cocaine. Being of sound and belligerent mind, I had to go check things out. I found the following article to be a very good summary of the UK libel laws, it’s definitely worth a read: http://www.urban75.org/info/libel.html

In the case of Icke, the horrible things that were said are fine. Calling him a ‘shell suit wearing conspiracy nut’ is permitted, as it’s simply an opinion. Relating facts about his life that are untrue – that’s libel and depending on the damage to his reputation, may result in compensation. In the case of Ronnie, a quick search of the internet reveals he was a bit of a party boy back in the day, so it’s definitely something he might have done. However, he’s recently cleaned up his act and become a dad again.  As The Ferret Files is a contemporary novel, Ronnie’s act of pocketing drugs might well have happened yesterday.  One of the reasons I included him as an incidental character is because I once met him at an exhibition of his paintings and he was a thoroughly nice chap. However, I don’t wish to damage his reputation (or mine), so out went the pocketing of marching powder.

Now, onto the Led Zep paragraph. Woody is talking about the early 70s. A quick search of the internet reveals that the Zep were out of control in those days, and a few spliffs was nothing compared to the rest of the well-documented things they were up to.  In context, Woody saying that he became Zep’s dealer, without specifically saying what he dealt, or to whom, at a time when the band were allegedly out of hand on a combination of drugs and alcohol,  whilst entertaining groupies of a questionable age is hardly going to damage their collective reputations. Plus, it’s a story told by a character who, once we get to know him, is not entirely reliable.  Hence, in my opinion, the paragraph stays as it does not constitute libel.

Now, back to Edit Hell. If only I’d brought a ball of string with me and unraveled it on my way in…

 

Edit Hell

29 Jul

They say that a piece of Art is never finished, as in the artist will always find something he/she isn’t happy with, which requires a bit of a tweak. I am that kind of fiddler, and it doesn’t help reading through yesterday’s output before starting today’s.  I like working this way, the only thing is, it slows down the whole process of finishing a story. But, we’re well past that point now, down the final furlong.  I’m not changing any more bits. No more rework. Honest.

And then the suggestion comes from my copy editor – ‘this scene here, it’s good, but if you do it like this it’ll have more impact…’  And damn, she’s right. Three spots, three bits of rework, three scenes that now whiz rather than just motor.Troll

Welcome to Edit Hell.

As each section is redone, it has to be re-read and re-checked. The Comma Fairy thought she was headed for the beach, but she’s been pulled out of retirement and redeployed with her bag of tricks. Lurking in the background is the Split-Infinitive Troll – sentences pass over his bridge, and he slams his hammer down, causing words to jiggle about (damn, he even got me on that last sentence). The Definition Gremlin is my worst enemy by far. You know – when you misspell a word, but it’s still a word, just not the right one – so the Speelchucking Goblin lets it through the gate.  Auger was the last word said Goblin gave a free pass to. It was meant to be Augur, as in someone who tells the future. Instead, I ended up with a tool for boring through wood. Dur!  Another one that made me laugh was ‘chicken coup’. The Goblin let that one through without so much as a light frisking. I’m sure a coup by chickens would be interesting to watch – it sounds like a scene straight out of Animal Farm, but what I actually wanted was an enclosure for chickens, which is a coop. Bad Goblin!

So down the final straight we go. Just got to re-read the whole novel end-to-end for the umpteenth time, making sure that the Continuity Homunculus hasn’t messed the running order up (there goes the damn Troll again) and we’re done.

Sleepless nights? Not me.

Since I started taking a hammer to bed, that pesky two am in the morning Brilliant Ideas Gopher doesn’t stand a chance…

Nearly There

20 Jul

DucksWhen I decided to write a novel, I had no idea it would take so damn long to get all those pesky ducks quacking from the same hymn sheet.  I started in earnest in November 2012 and now we’re in July 2016.  The Ferret Files is due for release as an e-book the first week of August 2016.

So what have I learned over this time?

  1. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  Many moons ago, I had a meeting with Micheal Jacob, who was head of the BBC’s commissioning arm for new shows ( I was trying to get a sitcom off the ground, with a bunch of pals) and he asked me in the very first pitching workshop we did what it was I really wanted to get made? Well, I thought about it, and thought about it some more. He looked at me knowingly, and said: “It’s not this show, is it?” And he was right. His advice was to find an idea that I truly believed in, then refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer. Whatever it took, believe in it, live it and make it happen.  Ferret is it. When I decided to set-to writing, I spent some time going through all my old notes dating back 15 years and rediscovered the fabulous furry Ferret.  There were a dozen one-off stories and to begin with, I tried to weave them all into one book.  Clue: it didn’t work.  So I took the best story I had and made it into the first novel.
  2. I can’t write and do a full time job.  Tried it, it doesn’t work.  The only way for me to write anything other than magazine articles, reports and short stories is to go at it full-tilt, full time.  3 years and 8 months sounds like a long time, but that’s elapsed time rather than time actually spent on the project. Broken down, Ferret has taken 42 weeks to get from idea to finished item, which I think is pretty good for a first novel. Of course, I’ve also broken the cardinal rule of being a first time author – don’t give up the day job…
  3. Get a support network.  Early on, it was Twitter and WordPress.  Then, when the manuscript had progressed sufficiently, friends and family, not forgetting the artist of the piece, Richard Argent. There was a point when I was hiding behind the illustrations, as in asking everyone what they thought of pictures rather than the text. Every writer goes through periods of self-loathing and hating the novel, it’s part of the creative process. Miraculously, whenever I was having a down period, a picture would appear, either in draft or completed form.  Knowing that someone else gets the characters was really important.  I can’t thank Richard enough for those lifts, especially as he didn’t even know I needed them.
  4. Do it for the love of Art, not the $$$. Enjoy what you do and make your finished work an expression of you. If I’d wanted to bring Ferret in cheap, I could have lost the artwork. But, I wanted to do something unique. Personally, I think the finished novel is better with the pictures – feedback will tell.  One change I made in the final draft, after talking it over a lot, was to remove the names of celebrities and replace them with text such as: ‘a well known English footballer and the ex-popstar missus’.  It’s a detective novel, go work it out. If you’re still stumped, go look at the illustrations. Russell Brand is brilliant.
  5. Find a good coffee shop. Not the Amsterdam type of coffee shop, somewhere where you can take your laptop, have a decent cup of coffee and experience life.  Remove those headphones, and watch and listen. Writing is a solitary occupation, and when you get blocked-up no amount of internal dialogue will unblock you.  It has to come from outside. Most of the situations and characters I create as an author are based on real life scenarios, either things I’ve experienced or stories people have told me. Occasionally, I borrow stories I overhear. Sometimes I borrow people. A coffee shop is a good place to start. If anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them. At some point, you’re going to have Ferret2to talk about your work and practice makes perfect. So bat some ideas about, see what kind of feedback you get. Strangers are often far more honest than those who are close to you.

That’s it for today.  Now, where did I put my pint of Fursty Ferret?

 

What’s in the Box?

18 Jun

The Ferret Files

Thanks to Richard Argent over at ArgentArt, we now have a cover.  I’m very pleased with the result, which took a lot of work to get right.  It’s not what I originally had in mind, but that simply didn’t work in the real world – and besides, this is much more fun.  Richard took inspiration from Will Eisner’s work on ‘The Spirit’ comic.  The composition is spot-on, and there’s a lot going on, hidden in plain sight which relates to the novel.  You’ll have a great time decoding it all, I’m sure.

For now though, the big question is what’s in the box?

You’ll have to read The Ferret Files to find out.  Not long now, honest.  I know I’ve said that a few times over the last six months, but this time it’s true.  I had a misfire with a copy editor who didn’t perform as expected, so had to draft in a replacement, who did a much better job.  However, it’s cost me two months in wasted time to find another editor and work through all the comments.

Fingers crossed – I’m aiming to be ready for the first week of July.

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Now I’m excited…

26 Apr

Things are now proceeding with pace.

I received the manuscript for Ferret back from the editor’s yesterday, with only two flags raised, neither of which are red. Both potential libel, apparently… There are only so many things one can say about celebrities. I thought I was being insulting, but the editor thinks differently.

Ho, hum. No biggie.

Onward!

We’re aiming for e-publication in June, just waiting on the cover art.

Ferret in Highgate

Crazy Vignettes

11 Mar

Well, I finally finished editing Ferret to my satisfaction and during the read through noticed that the illustrations are not as well spaced as they might be.  Cue a mad panic and a half dozen vignettes, which I must say have turned out to be rather splendid.  So much so, I thought I’d post a couple for your delectation.

Cyrano in flight - cropped

One of those ‘oh, oh’ moments…

 

Centurion - cropped

Tristan goes bonkers…

Artwork Complete

5 Feb

This is the fourth and final illustration for the Ferret Files, as drawn by my good pal Richard Argent, over at Argent Art.

It’s been a long old slog, I thought it might take 9 months to write the novel – we’re now at 3.5 years!  Admittedly, the actual time I’ve been on the project full time is 8 months – about to take 3 weeks off and finally nail the sucker.  Then comes the scary bit…

Balloon Flight

The (In)competent Secret Society

20 Jul

knights_templar

I’ve been fascinated by secret societies ever since I read a book called ‘The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail’, back in the 80s.  Dan Brown took the fabric of this investigative piece of work, added a plot and called it the Da Vinci Code.  If you happen to be a fan of the secret society genre, you’ll find that the Knight’s Templars, the Freemasons and the Jesuits are pretty much responsible for everything that’s happened behind the scenes from the twelfth century onwards.  In fact, the more you read, the more brain knots you’ll end up with, as each author argues persuasively that it was their favourite society who were responsible for this or that event, and not another author’s.  Fast forward to today, and the vast array of secret organisations attempting to control the world are mind boggling, including in their number the Trilateral Committee, the Knights of Malta, Skull & Bones, Bilderberg, etc.  All of these societies are presented to the layman as totally omnipotent, in control of our lives from the day we’re born.  Occasionally, member’s lists sneak out, and lo & behold – everyone who’s anyone is a member of them all.

Before I go any further, let me state that I am not and never have been a member of any secret society, although obviously, if I was, that’s exactly what you’d expect me to say.  D’oh!  I was once a member of Round Table, but that’s: a) not a secret club, and b) a charity organisation.  What I discovered from that experience is when you throw a load of successful businessmen in a pot, add a framework for the purposes of imposing order, and stir, what comes out the other end is not necessarily as successful as its constituent parts.  This is mainly thanks to infighting and vested interests.  The same can be said of Parliament and the Senate – MPs and Senators do what is right for them and their backers, not the people who put them in power.

Back of the US one dollar bill.

Back of the US one dollar bill.

Given that this is how things work, I have to ask whether the idea of the all-seeing, all-powerful secret society that cannot be beaten and never makes a mistake is fact the truth.  Perhaps that what they want you to believe, because the truth would shatter their carefully concocted image.  Certainly, if everyone who’s anyone is a member of every society going, then their vested interests will conflict between societies, causing proceedings to grind to a halt.  Plus, the Anyones will never have any time to do any real work, because they’re so busy with their secret society schedules, they can’t fit the day job in.  Just a thought, but it’s one I like very much – the incompetent secret society that blunders its way through history, screwing up every major deal it’s involved in.  When they try to hint how powerful they are, even that continually goes wrong, with the result that they’ve never been mentioned in print for the whole of their 200 year history.

City of LondonWith most of the protagonist Vs Secret Society plots, the hero is desperately trying to outwit the bad guys and solve a mystery before their men get him.  Now flip that on its head.  What if the protagonist is a member of an incompetent secret society who find it difficult to recruit new members because no-one has ever heard of them.   The only thing they’ve been able to do is infiltrate the world of finance (City of London), and they’ve made a massive dog’s dinner of that, thanks to corruption, vested interests and plain stupidity.  This is the world in which Ferret finds himself – he is that protagonist.  And he’s had enough of taking ridiculous orders, he wants out.  What happens when one tries to leave an incompetent secret society that has a habit of handing out concrete flippers to those who want to leave?

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