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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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It’s a Wrap

8 Jul
Ferret in London

Ferret in London

Thirty months ago I set out to write a novel, not really having a clear idea of where to begin.  Being the sort of chap who learns best by doing, I threw myself headfirst into the task of producing a framework with major plot points.  It took six weeks to create the novel’s back story and the character arcs.  The writing commenced shortly afterwards and I proceeded at pace, adhering assiduously to the plan.  Two months in, I published some excerpts to this blog and after considering the feedback, realised that what I’d proposed was: a) far too long for a first book; and b) was not going to fly in its current form.

Rather than soldier on, I changed track, rethought the plot and cut the size down, turning one book into two.  In the process, I was forced to edit out two of my favourite scenes.  That really hurt.

The first draft took nine months nearly full time.  I spent roughly 4 days a week, 8 hours a day writing, and 2 days a week reading advice columns, character hints and other writer’s blogs.  All very useful stuff and I urge anyone who’s struggling with a first draft to do the same.  The ending was all a bit rushed, I needed to get it finished so I could go back to work.  So much was missing, so many loose ends untied.  That was June 2013.

Steady, cowboy

Steady, cowboy

Two years later and the second draft proper is finished, with the ending now complete.  One of the advice columns I read – I can’t remember who said it, or I’d post a link – but paraphrased it goes like this: think of yourself not as an author but a pilot.  The audience has climbed aboard your plane, participated in the take off, flown the flight.  If you’ve done the catering right, they’re all still aboard (apart from the ones who freaked and parachuted out early on).  Now, they’re trusting you the pilot to land the effing plane, so you better not disappoint.  In the case of Ferret, the plane has an outbreak of snakes, there’s a pair of armed terrorists aboard, food poisoning has incapacitated the flight crew, the landing gear is jammed and there’s a storm directly ahead.  Oh, lordy…

Truth be told, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years.  Well, since IBM declared me persona non grata for producing a series of films, with the participation of their top brass, which supposed the firm was run like the mafia.  They terminated my contract and tried to impound and incinerate every one of the DVDs.  Fortunately, they failed.  Anyone who know me knows that every once in a while I have to create some noise and cause trouble.  It’s a genetic trait – I blame my father for instilling in his children a healthy disrespect for the establishment and their organs of justice.  Company newsletters were my thing for a while.  Three times I went too far for the liking of management, collecting one written and one verbal warning.  Fidelity Investments took great exception to a piece about tattooing barcodes on the back of their employee’s necks and checking them in and out with a barcode reader, for security purposes.  Shortly after that I moved on to short stories published in various magazines, regarding working practices in IT, with names changed to protect the guilty.  The guilty may not have spotted themselves, but their co-workers did, which forced me to switch to a series of pen names.

All in the Edit

All in the Edit

Ferret ups the ante considerably.

Whilst it is a work of fiction, it takes many real life experiences garnered from hanging about with consultants, working in high finance and on confidential government projects.  I’ve not set out to spill any secrets, merely write a tale of how these organisations behave under the covers.  Believe me, this is a full-on cage rattler – lord knows, I’ve taken enough time to get there.

I’m now commencing the final edit, which I’m really looking forward to.  I know from making movies, that the editing studio is where those six hours of footage become 5 minutes of freaky fun.  Hard work looms, but I can’t wait to see what comes out the other end.

 

Ferret goes Detecting

26 Jan

Carrying on from my previous post, I asked my pal Richard Argent over at Argent Art to have a think about what Ferret might look like when he’s out detecting.  Here’s one of the results:

Sleuthing it up

Sleuthing it up

Lets face it, a detecting Ferret is pretty cool.

Here’s a dilema for you… What should I do?

9 Jan

Here’s a question for you:

money-bagsFour months ago I quit my job in the city to take time out and write the Ferret Files, excerpts of which I’ve been printing here.  Today, I was offered a six figure sum that doesn’t begin with ‘1’ to go back to work for a bunch of banksters doing something I regard as morally wrong, until this time next year.

On one hand it’s a LOT of money, on the other it means abandoning Ferret for the next year, which means in turn it’ll probably never get finished.

Over the last 15 years I’ve worked in Defence, Finance, Telecoms and computer gaming.  I’ve got a lot of experience in all of these areas, the constant thorn in my side being  Management Consultants, who I simply *love* taking the rip out of.

Ferret is the biggest rip of the lot, by far: he is one.  A management consultant in a defence conspiracy, with millions at stake.

So, should I continue writing, or should I take the money and run?

 

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