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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Rise of the Sexbots

8 Sep

machina_aSome years ago I found myself working with a bunch of very bright management consultants, all with impeccable educational records. It was around the time of the dotcom boom, and conversation frequently veered towards the next big craze – which stock to buy/company to invest in. One of the group was a bit of a computer nerd – actually, he was a lot of a computer nerd – our go-to guy for deep technological problems. So we’re having a quiet beer one night and he offers up some confidential advice from a successful entrepreneur he once worked with.

“You only need to ask one question of any technology, to know whether or not it will be successful,” he said. “Does it aid the spread of porn?”

Well, we all tittered and guffawed.

Meanwhile, he carried on, talking about the history of film-making, and how the very first porno-shoot took place almost as soon as the photograph was invented. When the movies came along, so did the porno-flick.  With the invention of the cine camera came the shooting of home porn. In the 70s, the video cassette appeared. According to our friend’s business model, it was always going to be a success. The same applies to the CD, the DVD and Blu-ray – all meet the spread of porn criteria. Finally, in the 1990s, the internet came of age. Was it going to be a success? I’ll leave that one to you to answer.cine-camera

My friend’s prophecy 15 years ago was that the mobile phone would morph into a mobile data device with an LCD screen, and because it would be possible to spread porn using such an invention, it too would be a roaring success. We applied the ‘spread of porn’ criteria to many companies and many different technologies, to see which ones we thought might make it. Apart from the mobile phone, Virtual Reality (VR), which was still in its infancy back then, stood out as a clear winner.

Fast-forward to today, and VR has taken amazing steps forward. Porno-VR is already being trialed, and porn stars are already figuring out how to licence their images accordingly. The thing is, in order to become fully immersed in such a virtual world, ancillary devices are a must, for both sexes. They’re on their way too. Here’s a link to an article I stumbled across the other day: SEX ROBOTS

freefly-vrHowever, it appears all is not well in the world of sex robots. There are certain moral and ethical issues arising around the creation of sentient sex toys. Is it alright, for instance, to produce Sexbots of children? Whoah! I hear you say. For the record, I was uncomfortable even writing that sentence, it does my head in. Once the basic mechanisms have been perfected and Artificial Intelligence modules installed, where do you draw the line? Dogs; sheep; co-workers you fancy who’ve said ‘no’; exes who’ve slapped you with a restraining order.  There is, of course, a campaign against Sexbots. Personally, I think the whole scene is just damn weird, and I’d prefer a real person any day. Would I have an affair if I wasn’t getting any at home, or might I visit a Sexbot Booth for a few hours? That’s coming too.  I can just imagine telling the missus I had a go on a Sexbot but it’s OK, because I programmed it to look and talk like her. I’m pretty sure I’d be sleeping in the car. To be ultra-realistic, my missus-a-like Sexbot would have to have the occasional headache. What would I do then? Cheat on the Sexbot that looks like my missus with another Sexbot that also looks like my missus?!? And what might I do if Sexbot #1 finds out?

The only people who are going to make money out of such a complicated scenario are the lawyers. I have to wonder, did we miss a trick all those years ago? Perhaps the question we should have been asking all along, regarding the potential of a technology business to succeed is this: does it facilitate the spread of lawsuits?

 

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

Killed by Death

3 Jan

Ace of Spades

In case you missed it, Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister of Motorhead fame passed away over Christmas.  The title of this piece is a reference to a song he once wrote, which is both ridiculous yet sublime.  I should start by saying that I’m not a massive Motorhead fan.  Ace of Spades – terrific song.  It throws open the saloon doors, strides in with menacing purpose, grabs you by the throat, drinks all your whiskey, smashes up the tables and leaves.  You can’t ask for much more.  Why am I not a fan?  Back in the early 80s, Motorhead played the Northern town in which I grew up.  We’d heard that they were the loudest band on the planet, so two of my pals John & Pil decided to have a competition – who could get the closest to the speaker stacks and lose their hearing for the longest.  Pil won.  He was so proud of the ringing in his ears, which lasted for three and a half days.  That was when I knew Motorhead were not the band for me.

LemmyI spent most of the early 90s hanging about the London rock and metal scene, watching as many bands as I could, going to backstage parties, studiously avoiding the gruff northern git in the cowboy hat, who by that time had grown a splendid pair of warts.  Nowadays, no self-respecting performer would do that – they’d be straight down the surgeon’s with a writ from their agent for their removal.   Not Lemmy.  He proudly announced they were a part of him, there to stay.  For my part, I have a bit of a wart phobia, caused by one of my school teachers, who had a very prominent pink growth on the knuckle of his index finger.  If you were naughty, he’d grab you by the nose and thrust his wart threateningly close to your eye, much to the revulsion of the entire class and the abject horror of his victim.  He did it to me once for late homework, and I never got over it.  Hence meeting Lemmy was a no-no, even though it was relatively easy, him being such an approachable guy at the bar.  Over the years, I’ve been to countless festivals where Motorhead were on the bill.  Every time I found someone else to see, to the point where it’s become a standing joke.  After 35 years of going to gigs, I’m still a Motorhead virgin.  I always assumed that at some point I’d accidentally run into them, they’d nick my cherry, make my ears bleed and I’d come to hours later in a dumpster, in a back alley, sore and battered, smelling of JD and coke.

That’s no longer going to happen.

lemmy heavenIt’s a week since Lemmy passed away and I find I’m still delving into his legacy.  For a bloke that I spent many years deliberately avoiding, where on occasion it would have been easier to run into him, he hasn’t half had an effect on my thoughts.  I’m sure it comes down to an uncompromising attitude and a determination to do things his way.   In an era of oh-so-safe homogenised pop bands with spray-on lego hair. waxed brow lines and perfectly managed, sugar-coated content-free interviews, he stands out a mile.  He had character; he lived a dozen lives in one lifetime; he was surrounded by a gang of loyal die-hard fans who he regarded as his family.  He had no time for political niceties, he told it as it was.  Coming from a Northern fishing town, I grew up with people like this: grizzled, hard drinking fishermen, all with tales to tell.  That industry is dead now, the characters long gone.  They don’t make real men like that any more, except maybe in Alaska and Siberia.  Lemmy was cast in a day when the rock and roll foundry made them one at a time, with rough edges intact.  Today, they mass produce acts using cookie cutters and a strict formula.

In closing, I’m reminded of the film/documentary ‘Lemmy’, where one of the interviewees states: “When the nuclear holocaust comes, all that will be left will be cockroaches and Lemmy.”  Sadly, he was wrong.  Like many others, I’m still in shock.  I thought Lemmy would go on forever and I’d finally get to see him perform on my 100th birthday.

RIP you rock and roll legend.

You did it your way.

 

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