Another day, another dawn #photo

Some of you will know I’m a keen photographer. Of late a new influx of crows has disrupted our sleep. I was awake before dawn, listening to these noisy bloody birds, so I thought I might as well get up and head for the beach to catch the sunrise. The days have been calm, and I was hoping for dead flat water and beautiful reflections. But the northerly wind, forecast to strengthen later in the day, had already whispered across the water. The tide was a little higher, too.

IMG_8900Still, there’s always a picture opportunity. I was delighted to see my old mates the Brahmani kites back on the sand bar at the creek. The light was low, and the bird wasn’t in a chatty mood. Seems he didn’t want to share breakfast.



Sunrise, when it happened, was through a bank of thin cloud.

sunrise photo

And there’s always somebody trying to hog the spotlight.


Beware of Greeks bearing gifts – or – is it really free?

Trojan horseA few days ago we finally bit the bullet and bought a new PC for my husband’s home office, one of those computer onesies with all the kit in the display screen. It’s a what-you-see-is-what-you-get configuration, so you can’t add cards, but the huge advantage is that there isn’t a mini-tower sitting in a cupboard in the desk. This

  • keeps the machine cooler
  • avoids the hassle of having to move the very f***ing heavy desk anytime anything hardware related happens. Picture a 60+ female person kneeling on the floor, trying to see around dark corners with a torch, while swearing enough to make a sailor blush.

Anyway, I’ve digressed.

Unfortunately, the system was loaded with Windows 8.1. No options there, but we didn’t much like the idea of upgrading to the latest Microsoft Office. We’d stopped at Office 2003. We like it. We BOTH like it. And with every new version, they change the user interface so you have to re-learn how it works, which causes a great deal of angst, bad language and violence. So we decided to use Libre Office. It’s free, opens and saves in MS formats, and is functionally pretty much the same as the Office equivalents. There was just one problem. The OH likes the Bookman Oldstyle font. It comes with MS Office, but not Libre Office. I’m a good wife/IT manager. I could do that small thing for him.

I had a look on a reputable font site on the net which I’ve used several times before. No Bookman Oldstyle. However, a Google search came up with lists of entries, all for free fonts. I had a look at a couple, selecting the ones the Avast online security app said were safe, then hit the ‘download’ button. A screen appeared, listing a bunch of wonderful free extras which would also be downloaded. All of those were checked. I unchecked them.

When the install package started, I noticed a few things that bothered me, files that didn’t seem legit. A font file is tiny. What was all this other stuff? So I cancelled the process. But I was too late. Avast had detected malware and moved it to the vault, where it was isolated from the rest of the system. Good news. However, every single time I opened a browser window on the machine, a female voice informed me a potential threat had been detected. Even after I had deleted the entries in the vault. A visit to Avast’s forums showed this had happened to other people. I should purchase a PC cleaner product to remove the malware. I bought the recommended product, which didn’t work. In the end, I rolled the machine’s operating system back to an earlier time. Fortunately, that did the trick.

If you’re not sure what malware is and what it does, here’s a good explanation.

So, dear reader, if a metaphorical wooden horse appears in your Google search, offering free downloads, take care, even if the site is deemed safe by the virus protection software of your choice. You do have virus protection software, don’t you? Unfortunately, not everyone in the world is as honest as you and me. You need to know about malware and viruses, and what to do about them. Here’s a link for Avast users. And by the way, you know that story about how Macs are not affected by viruses and such? That belongs in the same basket as believing the earth is six thousand years old. If you’ve got a Mac – or an Android tablet, for that matter, and you’re not protected, get yourself Avast. It’s free.

Frequently, even legitimate sites offering free software (or books or music) attach extras which will be installed unless you deliberately opt out. Read that screen BEFORE you click ‘install’. That goes for reputable concerns like AVG and Adobe. Otherwise, you’ll find something on your system you didn’t expect. (‘Ask’ toolbar, anyone? Or a free trial version of an anti-virus app?)


Bye bye Apple. Wish I could say it’s been nice

canstockphoto16214523You know, I was working on PCs before the IBM PC was released. Yeah, programming, that sort of geeky stuff. So I’ve seen machines come and go. For the record, the first IBM PC was a heap of rubbish. Four colour graphics? 360Kb floppy drive? It was horrible – but it was IBM, so many much better built, better performing computers, went extinct.

But IBM improved. The 286 was a leap ahead of the 186, then the 386, 486… But they all had that clutzy press-the-keys-in-the-right-order interface, and the operating system restrictions on memory.

And then Apple released the very first Macintosh.

Its operating system was the forerunner of what we now call Windows, albeit with a dinky little black and white screen. What it did so much better than Microsoft was graphics. And that has remained its major strength. There was a reason why most advertising agencies used Macs.

But Apple nearly went bust. Why? Because they insisted on the integrity of their product. You couldn’t buy a cheapy printer to output your wonderful diagrams. It had to be an (expensive) Apple printer, which didn’t work with your non-Apple machines. And if you wanted to share your great Mac spreadsheet with the rest of the Microsoft users in the office? Um…

It has always seemed deliciously ironic to me that Microsoft ended up rescuing Apple. There’s no doubt the MS users gained a great deal from the exchange, but Apple was also forced to recognise that forcing their ‘standards’ on folk isn’t a great marketing ploy; not when you’re competing with a company that will interface with anything.

I’ve always admired the Apple operating system. Easy, intuitive, no background tweaking necessary. Not like MS with its constant updates to its operating systems. Remember Vista? And Windows 4? Not to mention its non-standard program interfaces. You’d expect the programs in the MS Office suite to work in the same way. That was a silly expectation, wasn’t it?

So after my last desktop computer died, I took the plunge and went Mac. This will be my last Mac, and I will never buy another iPhone.

  • Apple does not seem to have learned that restricting peoples’ use of their devices is a major turn-off. To use iTunes for music, you have to have one library on a computer. From there, you synch to your mobile devices. But you can’t copy from the ipod to the computer. You can only do a backup, which isn’t the same thing. My hard drive failed, I didn’t have a backup of my iTunes library, so I wanted to restore from the ipod to the new hard drive. Nope.

  • Apple seems to have picked up a few bad habits from Microsoft. I updated the Mac’s OS from Snow Leopard (who makes up these stupid names? Still, it’s better than Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich) to Mavericks. I’ve already blogged about that. Why do they fix things that aren’t broken?

  • A few days ago my iPhone’s battery died. I couldn’t get a new battery (phone is too old), so I bought a new phone – a Samsung. I wanted to retain the contacts from my iPhone so (with the phone plugged in via the charger) I looked for the control to save my contacts on the SIM card. Uh-uh. Can’t be done (yes, I know I could have downloaded a third party app – I shouldn’t f***ing have to). It’s possible on other phones, like Android.

The fiasco with the phone was the final straw.

I’m sick of jumping through hoops to make the Mac talk to the various MS machines in my home. Yes, I know Microsoft has its own three ring circus – but it’s a circus I know, where I know what I can tweak, where I can lift up the hood and fiddle with the carburettor. (How’s that for mixing metaphors?)

So… goodbye, Apple. Good luck with your projects. I wish I could say it’s been nice.

At last there’s a work-in-progress

canstockphoto19778842It has been far too long since I last published a book, although it was this year. For anyone waiting for a new story about Morgan’s Misfits – sorry, but it will be a little while yet. Those of you who know me would be aware that I believe in the Muse as much as I do the Easter Bunny and Father Christmas (that is, when it suits me) But I do believe that when the writing just won’t come, it’s because there’s something wrong. Frankly, I couldn’t see where the story was going. The characters wouldn’t talk to me – wouldn’t even look at me. So I abandoned the Morgan’s Misfits story. I’ll get back to it when the characters come to find me. And they will. Oh, they will.

Meanwhile, I’ve embarked on a new Ptorix Empire story. Someone once suggested they’d like to hear a bit more about Senior Commander Butcher, who is Admiral, then Grand Admiral Saahren’s aide de camp in the Iron Admiral books. And why not?  So I had a quiet word with him, asking what happened after the decisive battle between the Ptorix and Confederacy Fleets off Qerra.

It seems he finally got that promotion, the chance to captain a Confederacy battle cruiser. He’d been in command of ships before, of course. Patrol ships, a cruiser. But this had been his life long ambition: captain a battle cruiser. While his new ship is in refit, Butcher takes leave on his home planet of Validor. He hasn’t been back for twelve years, hasn’t lived there for twenty. Six months ago, after ten years of marriage, his wife divorced him. He’s at a loose end, looking to pick up the pieces of his life. One piece he’s kept an eye on is his first love, Tarlyn. She’s a member of the ruling clan in this matriarchal society, related, if not directly, to the current queen. She suffered a bereavement not too long ago. Her husband died in a boating accident. She’s way out of his league in the social hierarchy on Validor, but he’s never forgotten her, and lately she has been haunting his dreams. So first day back on his home planet, Butcher turns up at a public festival celebrating the arrival of Humans on Validor. The queen and her court will be there. He might get a glimpse of Tarlyn…

That’s where the story starts. Validor has a large Ptorix population – as much as sixty percent. And as we’ve seen on our own planet, winning a war doesn’t necessarily build bridges. There are old scores to be settled, and new hatreds can blossom. On both sides.

I have an idea where Butcher and Tarlyn will lead me, and I think I know what the ending will be. But it’s all subject to change without notice. Hang in there. I’m hoping to get it out there in a few months. And no, I haven’t thought of a title yet.

In praise of five star reviews

picture of five starsReviews. It’s one of the buzz words in the author world – especially if you’re self published or small press. Many articles have been written about how to handle negative reviews, how to get reviews, how to write reviews and whether reviews actually matter.

One thing that constantly comes up, in comments or in the article itself, is the sparkling, five star review. We all love those, of course, but so often potential readers say they ignore them. Why? Because:

  • they may have been paid for – Amazon’s rotten core (well worth reading, that article)
  • they may have been swaps with another author, therefore not entirely truthful – but Amazon has tried to limit those cases by removing some author reviews from books
  • they may have been written by your mum, dad, husband, cat. No, not the cat. The dog.

Sure, all of these things have happened. We’ve all read glowing reviews which didn’t exactly align with the book for which it was written. I recall one book which boasted half a dozen reviews along the lines of “wonderful book”. And then there was the other review, which pointed out the grammar problems evident in the first few pages, and even in the book’s title. Something like The Smith’s. This might mean the glowing reviews were the result of some of the issues mentioned above. I checked. The grammar issues were certainly there. As was the error in the title.

But then, maybe that’s uncharitable. A lot of people leave five star reviews because (er) they loved the book. I certainly have. Who’s to say the people leaving a review on The Smith’s didn’t love the book? Not everyone is a grammar Nazi. We do a lot of chest-thumping about one star reviews, how everybody is entitled to an opinion and after all, that’s all a review is. The same is true of five star reviews, especially if they’re considered and thoughtful.

So I like my five star reviews. I haven’t paid for them, haven’t touted for them, haven’t swapped for them. I love the fact that people enjoy my writing enough to say so.

What do you think?

You know what you can do with your DRM

Big_MouthOkay, folks. You heard it here first. I’M NEVER GOING TO BUY ANOTHER BOOK WITH DRM ON IT.

Yes, that’s me shouting. Do I hear you asking why?

I’m so glad you asked. But first, for those who don’t know, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Essentially, it’s an attempt by suppliers to ensure that only legitimate purchasers of electronic content (books, software, music etc) are actually able to make use of their products. Wikipedia’s description is as good as any other. Or you could read this one, which describes the restrictions imposed by DRM.

You might think DRM is relatively new. It’s not. The acronym might be, but the technique has been around from pretty much the time when personal computers exploded onto the scene in the early eighties. Products such as dBase III, word processors, spreadsheets and the like were protected with licences. Without the licence key, you couldn’t run them or do anything else with them. Other software companies came up with dongles – a hardware device fitted to the machine running the program. The idea was supposed to be that pirates couldn’t profit from the developers’ hard work.


Two things happened.

  • They pissed off legitimate buyers, who had to jump through another hoop to use the product. Buyers couldn’t even run a backup – because that created a copy of the software. But hey, computers never fail, do they? (/sarcasm)
  • The hackers saw copy protection as a challenge. No sooner had developers come up with a nifty protection system than the backyard geeks set about breaking it. Pirate copies of all protected software (etc) (minus irritating locks) was readily available, probably within days of release.

Anyway, back to ME.

I wanted a particular book, just released. I found an epub version on Kobo. After a fair bit of navel-gazing, I decided I wanted the book enough to part with $14.99. That’s a scandalous price for an ebook – but what the hey. I paid my money.

It was only then that I discovered it had DRM protection. It said so on the download button.

So I downloaded the book. Now, if this had been Amazon, the fact DRM was imposed would be transparent. I would just open the book in my Kindle app and start to read. Not with this epub, brothers and sisters. In order to read the bloody book, I had to register an account with Adobe to get permission to read. Then I had to link that account with my epub reader. To read a book. What if Adobe’s servers were down when I wanted to read? Or my internet connection? Tough titties, I guess. My reading pleasure awaits the convenience of the book seller.

There’s a reason why Amazon has now given authors the option of not using DRM on their books. Amazon is all about customers, and customers don’t like DRM. If you think it helps prevent piracy, think again. Want to take the DRM off some book you’ve bought? Try googling ‘remove DRM’.

If you’re not convinced, Electronic Frontier Foundation has a page about DRM and its consequences. This Guardian article is worth reading, too. Why the death of DRM would be good news for readers, writers and publishers

Having written all this, I recall going through a similar circus to read a book I bought from somewhere. So that’s twice I’ve been bitten. There won’t be a third time. If a book has DRM on it, I simply won’t buy it. Got that, Kobo? Barnes and Noble? Amazon? You know what you can do with your DRM? You can take your DRM and shove it.

Musings on death

picture of Death as a skeleton with a scytheDeath. It’s something that everyone reading this post must face at some time. At my age, many people I have known and loved have passed the final portal. Some deaths were expected, and indeed, were a relief to the dying and to those left behind. Others died suddenly, brutally, and far too young. Yet others took their own lives.

Just recently another person I cared about succumbed far too young to cancer. I knew that, unlike me, this woman had believed in God and I suppose that’s the reason I’ve written this.

If you ask me, I’ll tell you I’m an atheist, that I do not believe that anything but the strange and arbitrary forces that operate in the universe ‘created’ us. But actually, if pressed, I would have to say that I’m an agnostic. Just as the religious among us cannot prove there is a God, those of us who don’t believe in the imaginary father figure in the sky (or whatever) cannot prove there is no such thing as ‘god’.

So what happens as we face death? My anticipation of what will happen is as certain as anyone else’s. I believe my body will cease to function. I will go to sleep and I will never wake up. The cells that together made up my being will be swept up into a new creation. My ashes will help something else grow and thrive. It fascinates me to think that every cell in my body – indeed, on this planet – was created from elements once spewed out into the universe from the death throes of a giant star. It’s only right that those building blocks will be passed on, in some way, to something new.

Those with a religious bent believe there’s more to life than the corporeal, that we have something else, call it a soul if you will, that ‘lives’ on independently of the body. What happens next can vary, according to tradition. You might be reincarnated as a new entity. You might go to heaven or hell. You might be entertained forever by virgins, or have the Valkyrie sweep you away to feast in the halls of your fathers. Or whatever.

Terry Pratchett has the most wonderful way of dealing with the mythology surrounding death. In his Discworld books Death is real, an anthropomorphism of an idea. Over the centuries death has often been pictured as a skeleton with a scythe, an image which Pratchett uses in his books. He adds bright blue, distant lights in the eye sockets of the skull, which always makes me think of those stellar super giants whose fiery deaths are an act of creation. Death has a cameo appearance in almost every Discworld novel and has a major supporting role in Reaper man, Mort and Hogfather. And he likes cats. In the best traditions of witchcraft, witches and cats can see him while they’re still alive.

Just about every time an important character dies, Death appears, speaking in sepulchral tones (all caps) never dictating what will happen next. If the recently deceased asks if there will be dancing girls, he says, “Do you want there to be?” Perhaps that’s the best thing you can wish the family of someone who has just died, that their beloved is now at peace/in heaven/carousing with the Valkyries/about to be reincarnated as a cat.

Sorry about the morbid navel-gazing. We will now return to normal programming.


Does on-line marketing work?

picture of downtrending graphAugust is drawing to a close. I’ve been particularly busy this month, trying my best to do some on-line marketing without inundating people with ‘buy my book’ links on Twitter, Facebook and the like. I know that doesn’t work, anyway. So I’ve tried some other approaches.

This month I have participated in a science fiction romance boxed set Nebula Nights, which has done quite well, reaching number three on Amazon’s paid science fiction romance list, number one on Kobo for some time, and good ratings on Barnes and Noble.

Associated with that boxed set:

  • I participated in conducting a fun launch party on FaceBook.
  • I have posted guest posts and interviews with three bloggers, as have all of the other eleven authors in the set.
  • Each of us bought advertising to help the boxed set along, with ads on Coffeetime Romance, The Romance Reviews, Nightowl Reviews, the Fussy Librarian and many others.
  • In addition to that I have been on a blog tour promoting my latest novella, A Matter of Trust, which involved guest posts, interviews, and one review over twelve blogs, as well as a half hour radio interview. The blog tour spanned 18-23 August, the radio interview took place on 27th August.
  • I was interviewed on Smart Girls love sci-fi, discussing my SF and my paranormal books, the profits of which I donate to tiger conservation.

That’s a fair bit of exposure over a short period of time. I was rather hoping that all that social media would result in a bit more interest in me and my books. There are six books (three full length novels and three short stories) in my Morgan Selwood collection, three full length novels in my Ptorix Empire series and one stand-alone novella, A Matter of Trust. Those stories are all SF romance, and the first of the Ptorix Empire series (The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy) is in the Nebula Nights boxed set. I’ve also written two paranormal romances, Black Tiger and White Tiger. That’s twelve books. For several months the numbers sold have been steadily falling. That trend has not changed, except perhaps I’ve sold a handful more of The Iron Admiral: Deception, no doubt new readers from the boxed set. Sales on Amazon yesterday, on all channels, amounted to two (2).

I know a month isn’t a long time but I had hoped to see some burst of interest. If, in fact, there WAS a burst of interest, then my figures for August without all that effort would have been dreadful. What else could I have done that I did not do? I have not released a new book since February.

I think it’s pretty clear where I should be spending my time, don’t you?

I’m buzzing all over the place

Busy little bee (It's an Australian native blue-banded bee)

Busy little bee (It’s an Australian native blue-banded bee)

I’ve been a busy little bee lately, a blog tour with Buy The Book Blog Tours, a radio interview and a guest interview on Smart Girls.

If anybody wants to listen to me talk SF writing, click here.  You’ll be treated to a genuine Australian accent, too.

On Smart girls, I talk about SF romance – but also a bit about my paranormal novels. Click here.

Come on over and say g’day.



A review is just somebody’s opinion

A review is just somebody’s opinion. It’s something of a truism, of course. And sometimes, it’s not even true. Some reviews are deliberate attempts to undermine a book’s (or a movie’s, or a restaurant’s) reputation. Sometimes they’re the reverse – paid-for reviews, or reviews left by well-meaning family and friends. Let’s exclude those from the discussion and only consider what might be termed ‘genuine’ reviews.

I think everyone who’s been in the writing business for more than, say, five minutes has learned that not everyone is going to like their book. My science fiction romance books may contain too much sex and not enough science for some readers. Or, the other way around, too much action-adventure and not enough romance. That’s a matter of reader expectation which can be addressed in a number of ways – cover and blurb being the obvious ones. Even then, though, what can you say to a person who is disappointed to read a $0.99 short story, not a novel, when the description clearly shows the length as forty pages? Or the ‘reviewer’ who complains about the gore in a book clearly marked as extreme horror? Or the reader who can only have ignored the blurb stating the book is dark, transgender homo-erotic when there is no happy-ever-after?

But back to real reviews. Like so much in life, people’s take on a story depends so very much on their own life experience. An author friend recently received a review on a book that dealt with deep, dark subjects. The reviewer couldn’t believe that the main character would make the same mistake more than once. Surely he wouldn’t go back for more! Really? Tell that to the battered wife who believes him when he says it’s the drink talking, he loves her, he won’t do it again. Or the heroin addict who knows the next dose may kill her, but shoots up, anyway.

Some people find swearing a complete turn-off. I’ve expressed my opinion on the ‘F-bomb’ (an expression I despise) elsewhere. But I do have to wonder if those readers have ever been anywhere where a group of teens gathers, and listen to the conversation. Other people wonder why the character would venture down into the basement by herself when she hears that strange rustling? But people do. Because we’re curious. This is not the ‘too dumb to live’ scenario, where the fourth person in the group goes down the dark path under the trees, after her three companions have already disappeared one at a time, in the same direction. People are a mixed bunch. Some women do still have a tendency to see their ex as something of a child, who has fallen into something beyond his control. Some people think it’s wise to marry somebody imprisoned for murder while they’re still inside. Some people tend to try to see the best in everyone.

The easy answer to this apparent disconnect between the words on the page and the reader is that the author hasn’t written the book well enough to convince. That may be so, but what about the reviewers who did ‘get’ it, who were convinced? If they’re in the minority, that’s a problem the author may care to consider. If they’re not, all s/he can do is shrug and move on.

To paraphrase the immortal Obi-wan Kenobi, “what I told you is true – from a certain point of view.” (Return of the Jedi)


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