Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tolkien quiz

Yesterday was Tolkien Day, apparently, and to celebrate The Guardian ran a fun Lord of the Rings quiz.  All you have to do is read the selected passages and decide where the characters were at the time or what was about to happen to them.

I'm amazed to say I got eight out of ten right which must earn me the right to swank.  Then again, I've been reading Tolkien since I was ten years old and can still quote chunks from Lord of the Rings, so I'd have been embarrassed if I'd got any less than that!

You can find the quiz here - good luck.

Friday, March 22, 2013

What happened to spring?

The official first day of spring was a couple of days ago now.  According to the weather reporters, it was three whole weeks ago.  And yet winter keeps on keeping on.

The forecast for overnight and today was terrible - four inches of snow, strong winds, blizzards on the hills, even the motorways struggling to cope, let alone the ordinary roads.  In the event, it isn't quite as bad as predicted... or at least, not yet; but it's not exactly pleasant.  It's been snowing since the early hours, and has settled in parts.  Some of the high-level routes in the county are already closed.  It's blowing a gale which is sweeping the fallen snow into drifts.  And it's 1 degree celcius.  At the end of March.  (As a useful comparison, a year ago the temperatures got up to 20 degrees.)

As I type the snow is intensifying and starting to settle more.  I've got a feeling that before it gets better it's going to get much, much worse.  Luckily the house is warm and I've got enough food in to survive for several days, even if the town gets cut off.  It would be nice to see even a glimmer of sun, though, or go outdoors without seven layers of clothing and heavy boots.  It would be nice if spring were just, well, spring.

Even my daffodils have got snow on their heads!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sweating blood

Just how can something so short be so difficult?  The other day I spotted a call for submissions for a 'pen portrait' - a description of a particular type of character in around 200 words.  The piece needed to be in either second or third person point of view and the subject of this particular call was 'hypochondria'.

Most of my family have been obsessive about their health one way or another, so it seemed like a rich seam to mine.  I recalled one particular incident, which was brief but quite dramatic and illustrated the theme quite well, and managed to reproduce it in just under 200 words.  And thought I was happy.

This morning I've had another look, and have come to the conclusion that it isn't in second person point of view at all.  That particular style is notoriously difficult to pull off, and clearly I haven't pulled.  What I seem to have done is wandered into first person point of view, but addressed to 'you' as the other character.  So I decided to shift it into third person, which is at least easier to use, and work from there.

And even that hasn't worked!  It's in third person, but parts of it are still from another character's point of view and I can't seem to shift it.  I'm going to have to think very hard about this one, because the magazine I want to send it to is pretty picky and I need to get it right.  You wouldn't think 200 words could be so tricky...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sky broadband update

You might remember a couple of weeks ago I was grumbling about our terrible broadband service under Sky Connect, and the fact that they'd secretly applied 'traffic management' (ie slower download speeds) to us at busy times.

Well, we've switched providers!

BT have been widely advertising their new 'Totally Unlimited' service (almost certainly in response to news and/or grumbles about Sky's policy) so today Dave phoned them and said, could they absolutely guarantee that they would never apply traffic management to the service, even by invoking some loophole in the small print.

And they said yes, they absolutely could guarantee it. Under no circumstances whatsoever will they limit our broadband service, operate traffic management at busy periods, or do anything else that will adversely affect our download speeds. So we've gone with them. It'll take a few weeks to set everything up, but by mid-April we'll be shot of Sky and hopefully have decent full-speed broadband in the evenings and at weekends.

Sky really aren't doing themselves any favours with this one...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Password aggravation

I'm on so many different sites these days, all with different passwords and log-in details, that I've completely lost track and can't remember *any* of them.

Last week I thought up a really good new password, totally personal to me (but without the usual birthdays or husband's names etc), that nobody would ever be able to guess in a month of Sundays. Today I thought I'd set about changing one or two of the odder ones to this new one.

Talk about frustrating. So far I've tried two. Google (for this blog and various other sites) wouldn't accept it because it was 7 digits and they insist on 8. I had to add something silly to get it to accept it, so now I probably won't be able to remember it any more than the old one.

Then I tried Wordpress and they were even worse. They didn't mind the 7 digits, but refused utterly to accept the new password because it was 'too weak' even though it's already a mix of letters and numbers. Kept telling me I *had* to have a mix of upper and lower case letters. In the end I gave in and made one of the letters upper case, even though that would have been harder to remember again. It came back with more red stuff on the screen, saying it was *still* too weak and I had to have 'special characters' (like ? or £). It simply will not accept anything without. I had to give up in the end, and keep my old password, which is also 'weak' by their new definition, and much easier to hack or guess than my new one would have been.

It seems utterly mad that you can't now change your own password to something that you, yourself, will be able to remember and re-use. Make it too weird and you simply have to write it down somewhere to memorise - and where's the security in that?

Friday, March 08, 2013

Sheer brilliance on a screen

Every now and again something comes up on tv that takes your breath away.  Some of the 'Scandi noir' series, especially The Bridge and The Killing II, had that effect, as did the BBC spy drama The Shadow Line from a couple of years ago.

All this week we've been glued to the screen by the latest example of brilliance - a dark drama called Mayday.  Set in a fictional southern village, it shows the impact on a small community of the disapperance of a young girl on her way to be crowned as the May Queen.

Everything about the series was magical, in both senses of the word.  Writing, direction, cinematography and above all acting combined into one well-crafted whole.  The series had attracted some big names - Peter Firth, Lesley Manville - but no one actor took over and dominated, in the way they sometimes can.  Instead we were treated to the best ensemble performance I've seen for a long time.  Even the less well known 'faces' shone. 

The characters all had their own secrets and flaws, yet none was unrealistic.  Even the unsympathetic characters had their own reasons for their actions, their own moments of grace, which makes a refreshing change from all those two-dimensional baddies that turn up in tv shows and films with monotonous regularity.  These were real people, with real hang-ups and problems, and real misunderstandings. 

Too often the ending spoils an otherwise good series.  Even The Shadow Line was marred by an outbreak of last-minute melodrama, while the end of the last The Killing series was quite frankly bonkers!  But here, I think the writers got it just right.  We knew enough to satisfy our main questions - who killed Hattie and why - and there were delicious hints of a final, unstoppable justice from beyond the grave.  Other threads were left dangling, but then real life is like that - not everything can be explained by the detective in the library afterwards - and it's even possible the show's creators were leaving a few things open for a second series.  I rather hope so, because if it's as good as this was, then I can't wait.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Amazon and book series

If you're an author with several books published in one series, either on your own or with a co-author, then it might be worth your while checking how Amazon are listing your books.  Word is spreading around the net that they may be lumping all books in a series together into a single listing, in the misguided belief that it's all the same book!

For once this doesn't affect me since I don't write series (or even sequels, much) but I still thought it was worth passing the word on.

Monday, March 04, 2013

First daffodil

I think spring might be just around the corner.  The weather has been slightly less horrible this past week.  We've had some sunshine, and although the temperature hasn't been what you could call warm, it's been mild enough to sit out in the sun for brief periods.

Yesterday I saw catkins for the first time, on the trees by the banks of Mill Beck.

And now the first daffodil has burst into a glorious blaze of yellow in the back garden.  It's only a miniature one so the flower is very small, but manages to look cheerful and utterly defiant in the face of morning frosts and a keen wind.  Daffodils are my favourite flowers for just that reason.  It's lovely to see them shouting their wares from the tattered winter flower-beds again.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Buying your own bestseller

I'd often wondered about those two little words on the front cover of so many new books, irrespective of genre, author 'clout', or even, dare I say it, quality.  Not only that, but books are often released with 'bestseller' already on the cover, which made me think the publishers were either clairvoyant, or insanely optimistic.

This fascinating blog post at The Passive Voice explains all.  The whole thing is based on pre-orders, and on the services of marketing companies who specialise in purchasing, or arranging the purchase of, enough copies of a book to send it straight into the bestseller lists once it's released.

It sounds dodgy, but apparently it goes on all the time, and seems to benefit everyone who takes part.  On the one hand, it's depressing that yet another aspect of the publishing industry (like awards and inclusion on Richard & Judy's lists) is governed by pounds and dollars.  On the other hand, it's perhaps encouraging that with a bit of palm-greasing, you too could be on the next bestseller list.  Assuming you can afford to spray that kind of money around, of course...