Flash fiction

Just published: a couple of flash fiction pieces that I wrote back in 2014 while member of a writing group. To read them click on the ‘Writing’ menu option above, or on one of the links below:

Pretty straightforward, in which a mobile phone conversation is overheard.

Sam’s story, in which a young man describes his world.

Word as a writing machine

Word for novelists

An uncluttered Word (click image for a larger version)

Microsoft Word is the world’s most popular word processor and has become a standard in the book industry. However it is criticised by novelists for being too complicated, and for lacking the facilities of something like Scrivener which is designed specifically for creative writing. Thankfully Word is highly adaptable, and can be customised to give you just the features you need. It also has some advantages over Scrivener, in that it’s display adapts better to smaller devices such as tablets, and it saves your document as a single file which means it works better with cloud services such as Dropbox.

Here are some steps you can take to give yourself a relatively uncluttered screen, and add some features that are particularly useful. These instructions refer to Word 2010, but should work with later versions as well: Continue reading

Listening to the homeless

Photo by Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Photo by Albert Bridge (Creative Commons licence)

At around 11pm a few nights back I was walking through the centre of Bath when I encountered a woman and her dog sitting on a blanket next to a hat containing some small change. I did what I usually do when I encounter such people, which is acknowledge them and walk on, reminding myself that I can’t give money to every beggar I pass, and I do regularly donate to charities that work with the homeless.

However this time, having walked on a few yards, I stopped and returned. I had just come from a party where I had been talking to some extremely wealthy people, and I am not exactly hard up myself. Life works out nicely for some of us and not so well for others, but when all’s said and done, we’re in it together. I dropped a couple of pounds into her hat and apologised for my rudeness. No, she said, Don’t apologise – it’s nice to just get a smile. And so I listened to her story. Continue reading

The cost of self-publishing

Having published When Computing Got Personal: A history of the desktop computer in both Kindle and paperback editions, I thought it might be helpful to share the costs that I incurred in doing so. Much has been made of how cheap self-publishing can be, but there are some costs that you should not avoid if you want a professional product, even if you only intend to publish to Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Kindle only

Copy editing by LibroEditing cost £420. Liz Dexter’s standard charge is £8 per 1,000 words, but she offers a discount to self-publishers and quotes on the text as presented. Don’t even think about publishing without having your copy edited by someone who knows what they’re doing as readers are very unforgiving of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Continue reading

Choosing a narrative mode

NarratorAn important choice for any writer, particularly of fiction, is that of ‘narrative mode’, by which I mean the choice of viewpoint and tense. It is rarely make-or-break as you can usually rewrite your story in a different narrative mode, but you don’t want to have to do this after you’ve written a substantial amount, so it makes sense to get it right early on.

In most cases the telling of a story involves at least three people, namely the reader, the narrator and the protagonist (or protagonists). However they can be combined. In a first person present tense narrative, for example, the narrator is the protagonist and the reader is invited to occupy his shoes, as in “I pick up the gun and point it at the burglar. For a brief moment I wonder whether I should pull the trigger, but then he moves and my instincts take over.” In the right hands this can be effective, but it is limiting as it gives no scope for reflection. Continue reading

The link between storytelling and Gestalt therapy

I’ve just finished reading Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke, a profound and detailed study of the underlying structure that is common to all stories, whether told through film, television or print.

To recap, the storytelling process starts by introducing the basic setting and the main character, the protagonist whose story it is. The protagonist is then presented with a problem or a challenge which he or she may at first refuse, but will eventually have to face and take steps to solve or overcome. His actions may bring some success, or make things worse, but either way they bring ever bigger challenges until he overcomes the final crisis and gets the girl/boy or vanquishes the monster and is able to return to continue on his way, enriched by the experience. Continue reading

Tax matters with Kindle Direct Publishing

Setting up an account on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service (KDP) now requires you to submit the information they need to deduct the correct amount of tax from your royalty payments. The process is not very intuitive and the documentation difficult to understand as it is intended to cater for a wide range of eventualities. What follows is a description of what you have to do if you are not a US citizen, do not have any other operations in the US, and are not operating as a limited company. These details are specific to a British publisher, but are probably valid for many other nationalities.

What Amazon requires from you is a Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding, otherwise known as a W-8BEN. This is a four-part form that enables you to take advantage of a tax treaty that exists between the UK and the US which allows Amazon to release the full value of your royalties, with nothing withheld for tax purposes, on the basis that you will be declaring it to the UK authorities. Note that this applies to all royalties, regardless of the country in which the sale occurred. Continue reading

Is Waterstones selling Kindle ebooks?

Anyone who has wandered into a Waterstones bookstore recently will have noticed a display of Amazon Kindle ebook readers, apparently for sale at the same prices as those displayed on the Amazon Web site itself. More recently you would also have noticed prominent signs encouraging you to connect your Kindle to the free in-store WiFi, from which you could presumably buy any book you fancy directly from Amazon. So why is Waterstones doing this?

James Daunt, MD of Waterstones, announced a deal with Amazon back in May 2012, but was reticent to discuss the “commercial details of the partnership.” Howevere his response to the accusation that he had signed the company’s death warrant was: “Do I look like a total moron? Because what you’re describing is the behaviour of a total moron.” (BBC News)

So there is definitely more to the arrangement than meets the eye. What I have heard from private inquiries is that a substantial chunk of the proceeds of a purchase made from a Kindle through the in-store WiFi go to Waterstones, rather than Amazon. In return Waterstones makes no profit on the devices themselves, which is why they match Amazon prices.

Waterstones press office still refused to disclose details of the deal when I spoke to them this morning, but they did not deny this was the case, and indeed confirmed they had heard the rumour before. If it is the case then I assume the details are being kept quiet to prevent unrest from competitors. There will also be technical changes that need to be tested. However such a deal would allow traditional bookstores to participate in the ebook boom, which can only be a good thing.

Will robots kill the market economy?

Photo by Richard Greenhill and Hugo Elias of the Shadow Robot Company via Wikimedia Commons.

I recently attended the Master Investor conference, held at the Business Design Centre in Islington. One of the speakers was the highly successful investor Jim Mellon who gave a succinct summary of world markets as they stand today. But what particularly caught my attention were his remarks towards the end of his speech, when he touched upon the effects that robotics will have upon the modern world.

This is apparently to be the subject of his next book, and he did make it clear that he had yet to map out all the implications. However his central argument is that the increasing use of robots in factories (particularly in developing countries), and the imminent arrival of more intelligent machines that can – for example – drive cars, will inevitably lead to unemployment at levels far beyond those we are experiencing in the current recession. As Mellon pointed out, when £25,000 will buy a robot that doesn’t need sleep or holidays, never makes a mistake and will never draw a pension, why continue spending similar amounts every year to employ a human being who does and will? Continue reading

The privatisation of the NHS

Free Online PicturesNow that the government’s plans for the privatisation of the NHS have become clear, I thought I should pen a quick guide to help the modern entrepreneur take advantage of the opportunities arising:

  1. This is essentially a scheme that allows you to divert large quantities of taxpayers money into your own pocket through the dividends, bonuses and executive pension opportunities open to you and your fellow board members. Remember to contact your tax advisor for information on the many tax avoidance schemes that you might be able to use.
  2. It will of course be necessary to pay yourself a salary high enough to ensure that you aren’t tempted to transfer your services elsewhere.
  3. Don’t worry if things go belly-up as the government is not about to let an NHS service provider go bankrupt. Instead they are likely to hand over even more public funds in an effort to keep your company afloat, which of course you can continue to divert into dividends, bonuses and executive pension schemes.
  4. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the service you actually deliver. Even if things get so bad that some of your employees are prosecuted and end up in jail, it is highly unlikely that you will be held to account.

And of course, if it does all go wrong, or the derision of the press becomes too uncomfortable, you can always retire to the tax haven where you’ve deposited your well-earned takings.