Sunday 28 February 2016

Chris Cobb's Adobe Rainbow

There's a tweet that caught my eye recently. You've probably seen it? It's about a bookshop in San Francisco where all the books are ordered by colour. It looks absolutely incredible.

I decided to look it up.

There's a really nice write-up about it on Superhero Journal, along with more pictures.

Although the address is slightly different, it appears to be Adobe Books & Arts Cooperative (click the red book top left to enter the main site).

Unfortunately, colour coordinated book shopping isn't a permanent feature, it was a project by local artist Chris Cobb back in 2004-05 involving over 20,000 books. The title of the project was: There Is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World.

There's a really nice video of it all being put together and an interview with Chris Cobb over on KQED.

Saturday 27 February 2016

VATMOSS - What a Mess

This is absolutely evil.

Last year, a new EU tax law came into place which is completely destructive to small online businesses.

I only learned about this last week through an authors' forum, where a small press was explaining why they couldn't use online ebook sales to generate income unless they sold the books through a third party, like Amazon. As though Amazon don't already rule the world.

The reason they couldn't sell the books themselves, and keep the profit without a middle company, is because of  #VATMOSS, or, as it's become better known on Twitter: #VATMESS.

As I understand it, having had this explained to me by said peeved publisher, it means that any company in the EU must pay VAT on one-time digital products. 

Yes, that needs some explaining.

A one-time digital product is something you create once (an e-book, album, website template) and sell multiple times to more than one person or company. 

If it's a bespoke product like a website, or a jingle, or a YouTube documentary that you have designed specifically for one person or company, that - as far as I understand it - doesn't count.

VATMOSS stands for VAT Mini One Stop Shop (presumably there's a superstore down the road?).

You'd do well to be confused about this. Usually you're not liable to pay VAT as a UK company until you break the £82,000 threshold. How many self-publishing authors or small press can claim that achievement?

But, even though you're earning £40 a quarter from selling your book online via your website, you've still got to sign up for VAT, charge it on your product, and file your quarterly returns with HMRC. The only way out of it is to use third party companies like Amazon, who automatically deal with the tax for you.

Which is ironic, as it's Amazon and Co. who are cited for this law being introduced - forcing them to pay VAT on digital items in the country of sale, rather than the corporation's country of operation.

That's not a bad idea, but the problem is that VATMOSS is being applied indiscriminately - to all sellers, whether multi-billion pound online giants, or your Aunty Ruth who's always enjoyed publishing her stories online and wanted to make a couple of extra quid for cat food.

It is so atrociously thought through that even HMRC seems to admit it's causing a headache:

HMRC has started to de-register 3,000 small businesses from the VAT MOSS system, treating them as ‘hobbyists’ rather than businesses in line with recent guidance.

It's already led to one high-profile walkout: Digital platform Ghost leaves the EU thanks to #VATMOSS

For anyone not familiar with the implications: we had to rewrite our entire billing system twice, charge many of our customers more money, and submit to woefully complex and inadequate new accounting requirements. All of which had been put in place to stop multibillion-dollar corporations like Apple and Google from tax-avoidance in Europe. All of this was a constant, constant source of pain…

In a bid to prevent online tax-dodging monopolies, this move rather seems to support them, as it means no one without sufficient funds to afford a tax-whizz is going to be able to trade for themselves. We'll all have to go through the big companies who understand the tax system, and no doubt have already found a way around it.

VATMESS just seems to be a massive headache for everyone.

Well done whoever thought that one up.

Friday 26 February 2016

Last Secrets

Well, I didn't make my word count this week.

Instead of 10,000 I fell 863 words short - because I finished.

79,137 and 293 pages.

It's a shorty.

But I fully expect the word count to go up in the edit. I plan to give myself three weeks to work on this. I know you shouldn't go direct from completion into edit, but I have another novel to write and it's excruciatingly difficult to try to write one novel whilst editing another. In switching your head between two entirely separate worlds, you're likely to leave half your brain behind.

I just need to get this one to a position where someone else can comb through. There's some major plot mishaps, and things I only learned about characters towards the end that need fixing in the beginning for continuity. I actually think this might be the hardest edit I've ever tackled. It's a real slippery fish of a novel.


Fetch me my red marker!

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Maguru & Insibika

Eric Lafforgue

A while back, whilst reviewing Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes, I mentioned the custom in African storytelling of distancing yourself from the story, so that you don't get trapped within it. I specifically gave the example of Maguru the warrior and Insibika the shapeshifter.

The Rwandan band Holy Jah Doves put the story to music, and I'd like to share the lyrics in Kinyarwanda and English. The lyrics are originally from this site, but I live in fear of it disappearing some day, so decided to reproduce them. I've tweaked them a little for clarity.

So, without further ado, the story of Maguru and Insibika:

Mureke mbacire umugani mbabambuze umugano nuzava i Kantarange azasange ubukombe bw'umugani narabumanitse kumuganda w’inzu.

Let me tell you a fictional story and awake you with a bamboo cane so that even the one who is coming from far away finds the roots of this story attached to the pillars of the house.

Harabaye ntihakabe harapfuye ntihagapfe hapfuye imbwa n’imbeba hasigaye inka n’ingoma. 

There has been and there should not be, dogs and rats died, only cows and the crown of the king survived. [Waiting for clarification on this line].

Kera habayeho umugabo akitwa Maguru ya Sarwaya akaba umuhigi mu ishyamba rya Manyinya na Maganya.

A long time ago there was a man called Maguru, son of Sarwaya, who was a hunter in the woods of Manyinya and Maganya.

Maguru uwo yahigaga imbogo n’insibika mu ishyamba rya Manyinya na Maganya. Umunsi umwe aza kujya guhiga mu ishyo ry’insibika asanga aho insibika ziryamye maze ayica umurizo.

Maguru was hunting for buffalo and insibikas in the woods of Manyinya and Maganya. One day he went to hunt for a group of insibikas and he found them sleeping.

Ni uko insibika zishiduka Maguru yiruka zimwirukaho maze Maguru arazisiga. Ni uko insibika yaciriye umurizo iramubwira iti shahu Maguru nubwo ujyaniye umurizo shahu Maguru we Maguru we Maguru we hee

He then cut the tail from one of the insibikas. When the insibika realised what had happened, Maguru had already left. They went looking for him, but he was faster. The one whose tail was cut told him: You, Maguru, even though you took my tail, we will meet again. You Maguru!

Unjyaniye umurizo Maguru we
Nzigira inkoni nziza uzantora
Unjyaniye umurizo Maguru we
Nzigira agacuma keza uzanjyana
Unjyaniye umurizo Maguru we
Nzigira umukobwa mwiza uzandongora

You have my tail, you Maguru!
I’ll disguise myself like a nice cane so you'll pick me up.
You have my tail, you Maguru!
I’ll disguise myself like a nice calabash so you’ll bring me along.
You have my tail, you Maguru!
I’ll disguise myself like a nice girl so you’ll marry me.

Ni uko Maguru arataha abitekerereza nyina, nyina akibyumva ati uramenye mwana wanjye ejo ntuzajye guhiga. Maguru bukeye afata imbwaze arazizirika aragenda no muri rya shyamba rya Manyinya na Maganya. Agezeyo ahura n’agakoni keza we arakareba yibuka amagambo insibika yamubwiye igira iti Maguru we Maguru wehe

So Maguru went home and told his mum what happened. When she heard this, she told him: My son, don’t go hunting tomorrow. The next day Maguru left his dogs at home and went hunting in the woods of Manyinya and Maganya. When he got there, he found a nice stick. He looked at it and remembered the words the insibika had told him. You Maguru!

Unjyaniye umurizo Maguru we
Nzigira inkoni nziza uzantora
Unjyaniye umurizo Maguru we
Nzigira agacuma keza uzanjyana
Unjyaniye umurizo Maguru we
Nzigira umukobwa mwiza uzandongora

You have my tail, you Maguru!
I’ll disguise myself like a nice stick so you’ll pick me up.
You have my tail, you Maguru!
I’ll disguise myself like a nice calabash so you’ll bring me along.
You have my tail, you Maguru!
I’ll disguise myself like a beautiful girl so you’ll marry me.

Nuko Maguru arikomereza muri rya shyamba rya Manyinya na Maganya yegeye imbere ahura n’agacuma keza wehe Arakareba yibuka amagambo insibika yamubwiye maguru arikomereza muri rya shyamba Yegeye imbere ahura n’umukobwa mwiza we aramureba yibuka amagambo insibika yamubwiye bimwanga munda. Aramurongora ati ikiba kibe njye nzanywa umuti njye Maguru Yasarwaya. Nuko baragenda bageze mwishyamba rwagati Maguru agiye kubona abona umukobwa ahindutse insibika wehe Maguru aribaza biramuyobera Maguru ashya ubwoba we biramuyobera nuko wamukobwa aramubwira ati sinakubwiye shahu Maguru we Maguru we Maguru wehe

So, Maguru continued to the woods of Manyinya and Maganya and he came across a nice calabash. He looked at it and remembered the words the insibika had told Maguru, so he continued to the woods. He continued until he saw a nice girl. He looked at her and he remembered what the insibika had told him, but deep inside he loved her and he married her. If anything bad happens I’ll take medication, I am Maguru son of Sarwaya. So they went to the middle of the wood and Maguru saw that the girl changed into the insibika. Maguru wonders at this, but he fails to understand and gets scared. The girl says: Didn’t I tell you, Maguru? You, Maguru! You, Maguru!

Sinakubwiye Maguru we
Nzigira inkoni nziza uzantora
Sinakubwiye Maguru we
Nzigira agacuma keza uzanjyana
Sinakubwiye Maguru we
Nzigira umukobwa mwiza uzandongora

Didn’t I tell you, Maguru!
I’ll disguise like a nice stick so you’ll pick me up.
Didn’t I tell you, Maguru!
I’ll disguise like a calabash so you’ll bring me along.
Didn’t I tell you, Maguru!
I’ll disguise like a beautiful girl so you’ll marry me.

Nuko Maguru murakokanya nibwo yahise yurira igiti ageze hejuru aca akababi maze aragatuma karagenda no mugatuza kanyina, nyina abibonye ati umwana wanjye wehe nibwo ahise arekura imbwa zose za Maguru ziragenda no muri rya shyamba rya Manyinya na Maganya wehe zifata insibika zose zirazica nuko Maguru aramanuka arataha n’imbwa ze

It was then that Maguru climbed into a tree. When he reached the top, he cut of a leaf and sent it to his mother. When his mother received the leaf, she understood that her son was in trouble. She released all of his dogs. They went to the woods of Manyinya and Maganya and they killed all the insibikas. Maguru came down from the tree and went home with his dogs.

Sinjye wahera hahera Maguru n’insibika

I didn't end the story like this, it was Maguru and the insibikas.

Sinjye wahera hahera Maguru n’insibika

I didn't end the story like this, it was Maguru and the insibikas.

Sunday 21 February 2016

ISBNs, PayPal, and How Technology is Failing Artists

You may think there has never been a better time to be an artist: a writer, musician, poet, singer, actor, filmmaker or director.

There are so many ways to get your work out there, to a global market.

If you write, you can self-publish online through Kindle or Smashwords, at no initial cost to yourself. You can Print on Demand with Lulu or Lightning Source. You can put yourself out there for the world to see, and the money from sales comes straight to your bank account. You can market yourself further than ever before, using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to promote links to the sales site of your paperbacks, e-books and Audible audiobooks.

If you're a painter or you make handcrafts, there's Etsy, and you can showcase your music on Jamendo or SoundCloud, and sell your CDs through countless outlets like Tunecore. You can start to build a business for yourself. You can even build a website for free and add a payment button.

You might start to say technology is doing fabulous things for artists.

But only for certain artists.

Imagine you didn't have access to any of those tools, because you had no means of receiving payment for your work.

Pretty much the entire global online arts industry relies on the ability of people in different countries to make instant online payments to one another. Most often through PayPal.

But there are vast swathes of the world where PayPal doesn't exist. I live in one of those areas. Not only does PayPal not exist, but when you ask about it, there are some banks who aren't even sure what it is, even though it's been around for almost twenty years.

I've heard that it is possible to set up a PayPal account for making payments online, but not receiving money. So far it doesn't appear possible to link the PayPal account to your bank account and transfer money between them. So it remains 'virtual money' that isn't contributing to the country's economy.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) and how countries without them were kept from the international book market. In June 2015 I was happy to announce that Rwanda now has an ISBN distributor: Rwanda Library Services.

Hooray, I thought. Now we're on a more even footing.

But, of course, we're not.

Last week, I went to Rwanda Library Services to find out how expensive ISBNs are. I was worried they might be retailing at Western prices. In the US a single ISBN will set you back $125, and a batch of ten $250, whilst in the UK, until recently, you could only buy ISBNs in batches of ten. This has apparently changed, but it's still £75 for one, and £149  (around $215) for ten.

I was thinking: what good is an ISBN number when most publishers in Rwanda can't afford one?

So I was really surprised to learn that in Rwanda, not only can individuals buy ISBNs without having to be a publishing company, but they can buy them singly or in batches, at a cost of around FRW 2,000 (£1.80/$2.60) for one, or 10,000 (£9/$13) for ten.

After I got over being impressed, I started to feel angry.

Even in a world of horrific financial disparity, it seems rather apparent that authors in the West are being right royally ripped off. For little more than a digital image, we're paying almost 42x the price of an author or publisher in Rwanda. Five times, you could understand, perhaps even ten - overheads are high. But forty-two?

I'm in no way suggesting Rwandans should pay more. I'm suggesting we should all be paying less.

Then it started to dawn on me.

You know, it really doesn't matter if Rwanda has an ISBN distributor.

It means very little, when you can't sell anything online.

When you take all online payments out of the equation, both nationally and internationally, you're really only left with stocking the local supermarket. You could sell face-to-face, but without the sales equipment to monitor it, you can't really track purchase information, which is what ISBNs were designed to do.

When there was no ISBN number, I thought it was unfair because books from countries without ISBN agents wouldn't make it onto international book distribution lists. Then I realised, even if they do, it still requires an external go-between with access to online payments to be able to put anything on Amazon, Smashwords, in any bookshop at all (because even once they've collected the money from sales, they still need to get it back to the publisher in Rwanda - and have you seen the cost of banking fees?).

It's a miserable situation.

And it's not just miserable for the artists around the world who have no hope of selling their work to an international audience, it's also miserable for a global arts community that is deprived access to fully international art. Stuck in a vacuum of economically developed output, deprived of further enrichment.

Although, I will admit that online payment systems aren't the only problem.

It's undeniably the problem, and possibly the only obstacle, to sales of online media - anything digital (e-books, music, audiobooks, films), but when it comes to physical products: paperbacks, hardbacks, paintings, handycrafts, you also have to consider the postal restrictions. Things like reliability of postal delivery, access to appropriate packaging, and the cost using a parcel courier such as DHL adds to the price of a sale. But all of those issues could be overcome if you could just make a sale in the first place.

Even with digital media, you face difficulties with the cost and speed of internet. Here in Rwanda we already have super fast 4G, which is perfectly good for streaming and uploading media. Although it's out of the price range of most people, especially struggling artists. If you live in the capital city there's a free 4G hub you can pop in and use. But although most weekly and monthly internet packages say 'unlimited,' they are, in truth, extremely limited, usually to 1GB per day. So there's only a small amount of online business you could affordably do, and you have no hope if you're uploading videos.

I find the situation deeply disturbing. Especially in economic terms. A large part of Rwanda's income lies in tourism. It is the country's largest foreign exchange earner. Think what a booming arts industry could add to that if you only had access to a means of payment.

This is one example of how I suspect many artists are being disadvantaged globally.

I can't help thinking that it's a cause all artists should take up. Rather than making it an uphill struggle that artists in non-PayPal countries have to fight for themselves, what if artists on the winning side of e-commerce started to kick up a fuss, petitioning PayPal and other providers to allow them to buy from countries not currently on the list?

If you're an artist disadvantaged by this weighted payment system, or an art lover unable to purchase what you want, please drop a comment and talk about it.

[See also: article explaining exactly what an ISBN is.]

Just to add to this...

Halfway to 70

Well, 35 years ago today I came into the world.

Thank you Moomin and Dabbley for having me, and providing the essentials of life: love, food, water, shelter and books.

Especially the books.

Apparently, I am now middle aged:

What exactly is middle age? Is it when you hit 40 or 50 or 60? According to one study, the average person believes youth ends at 35 and old age begins at 58. Therefore, the years in between -- all 23 of them -- constitute middle age.

I went through that list of indicators (which probably makes me middle aged). I discounted the one about golf, because there are no tees in Crazy Golf, which is the only kind of golf us young, crazy, people play - right?

88% (21/24) didn't apply to me, so I take that as a good sign.

Also, I found it reassuring that I now have 23 years between being middle-aged and arriving (genteelly) at old age. When I try to remember what I was doing 23 years ago... well, I was twelve.

So, I get to live my whole life over again from age twelve, only this time no one is going to force me to get out of bed at seven in the morning five days a week, tell me what to wear, or tell me off for swearing. Why? Because you can all fuck off.

Just think. All that time again. Without the hormonal crap, the distress of 'finding yourself,' being cooped up for hours of every day with people you don't really like (unless you have an office job - in which case, I'm sorry), and generally the freedom to drink when you like, eat what you like, and go to bed when you're damn well ready.

I'm quite excited about this.

And I'm eating ice-cream at five to eleven at night, whilst being excited about this.

So, nyyyr.

Had a few near misses with swing poles on speeding sledges, lorries on the M6, earthquakes in Cyangugu, kayaks off the Dorset coast, and a really, really dodgy Belgian waffle.

Survived it all to arrive at this point.

Thanks to mum for pointing out I'm now halfway to seventy. 

Although, readers of Lucid will know what I mean by the Aborigine perspective on time: that the things you remember are the closest in time, and those you have forgotten - and don't matter - a long way past, even if it was breakfast a week ago. The body may age, but time is non-linear. 

And I still have a young person's discount with the Society of Authors for another year.

Thursday 18 February 2016

70,000 Secrets

I am on fire.

Another 10,000 words added in the past four days: 3k, 3k, 2k, 2k. 

The Secret Order of the Literati is now respectably novel-length and can only get more so.

Ideally, I was only aiming for 80k. Write shorter fiction and more of it. I'm now not so sure. I think it can be done, but I'm taking tomorrow and the weekend off to think hard about how to get the plot over the finish line. 

I am incredibly happy with my progress over the past couple of weeks. I've put a cool 23,000 words on the manuscript since getting back to Kigali earlier this month. This time next week it would be wonderful to say 'finished,' but that always depends on the book, never the author. We shall just have to wait and see.

Time for a well earned beer.

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Punctuation in Novels

Oh, I think this has become my new favouritest thing since The Library of Babel Online.

What does a book look like when you remove all the words and leave only the punctuation?

What does that say about the author's style of writing?

What would all that punctuation look like if you gave it a colour and turned it into art?

Find out in this article on Punctuation in Novels.

Thanks to @FesmireFesmire for tweeting it.

Monday 15 February 2016

How To Write More

I'm not entirely sure whether Austin Hackney reminds me most of an Oxford don or someone who's escaped from Unseen University.

Either way, what he says is spot on.

For a long time, I've been on the hunt for a writing routine. I always follow that sentence up with 'because I hate routine'. I do. That's not changed.

But I have realised that staring at the clock makes me hate it even more.

A couple of years ago, I attempted a 1k a day routine for seven days a week.

I managed about four and a half weeks, which was more than I was expecting.

1k a day is not hard, but I still gave up.

I managed to complete the novel, Rosy Hours, but I stuck to my tried and trusted method of 'write whenever the hell I feel like it, for as long as I feel like it.'

That does work for me. I've published four novels to date, and there's a nemesis novel in a bottom drawer somewhere. 

However, this year I'm trying to be a writer, rather than just writing. I'd like to have three novels not only finished but either sold or on submission by the end of the year. At which point, I rather need to approach it as a (very low paying) job.

I know 'don't set yourself a timetable, set yourself a quota' sounds like the same thing, but I can attest that it is not. There really is a noticeable difference.

If you allocate yourself a specific time for writing, it's amazing how productive you'll become on Facebook over those two hours. If you give yourself an hour to see how many words you can write, that little word counter in the corner of the screen will take on mammoth proportions, you'll start hallucinating that the count is going down rather than up (unless you're using Write or Die, in which case it really is going down).

Time limits are pointless. It's not time you're trying to create.

Coming from the 'write when you feel like it' angle, I don't really want to write 5,000 words a day. I know I would hate it, and I don't want to hate writing because I love writing (most of the time). 

So, knowing myself, I know that I'd be happy with 10,000 words added to a manuscript each week. That's 2,000 words per working day, or 2,500 plus a day off if required. At that rate, you'd have a novel every eight to ten weeks. Even with the amount of goofing off I'm capable of, that should get me three novels by December.

There, I've jinxed it now.

You'll notice that I've stipulated 'working days' there. If I'm treating this like a proper job, no way am I working weekends. Shuv it up your arse! That's not the deal. I get lie-ins, I get plenty of coffee, and I get weekends.

The quota is for the week, rather than the day. Mondays are a good day (how many people can say that?). Refreshed after the weekend, and enthused having had two days to cogitate plot twists, I can happily knock out 3,000. Today I managed my 3,000, and did the shopping, and got my phone fixed, and made soup. 

Slam dunk.

That takes the pressure off for the rest of the week. I can coast. 1k is cat's piddle, 2k, no big deal. And if I find I'm straggling, due to needing a day off to deal with Real Life (TM), I can put in my final push on Friday. Working hard on Fridays is sort of nice, because there's an immense satisfaction when you finally finish and look ahead to two free days and a tub of ice-cream. Finishing on Fridays is such a nice feeling, you don't mind the mental sweat that precedes it.

So, for the first time ever, I may just have hit upon a writing routine that works for me.

I tend to find whole numbers help, too.

Adding 10k a week I usually start the week on a whole number. Last week was 50,000.

Two days later I hit 55, which is another satisfying number, because it's halfway to where I need to be.

Two days later, 60,000.

When I open up a manuscript, I look at the word count, imagine what it'll look like when I've finished for the day (say 61,000 becomes 63,000) and off I go. I only give the counter a cursory glance to check if I've made it. 

I always finish the sentence or paragraph I'm writing. This helps too, because it means I start the next day already twenty, thirty, sometimes a hundred words into my next writing target. 

Unlike saying I must write 2,000 words today!  if you're working to a weekly quota you're ahead of the game if you went over the day before. You're not resetting the clock to zero each day.

Psychologically, it has a big impact.

And, yes, some days it's like pulling teeth, and you stare at the word counter like you used to stare at the clock during class, but, at the end of the day - or the week - you get results.

Let's see if I can keep this up longer than four and a half weeks...

Sunday 14 February 2016

Happy Birthday Rosy Hours

Can't believe it was one whole year ago that Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran hit the shelves, debuting at #6 on Amazon's Historical Fantasy best sellers list.

Show a little love this Valentine's Day and stop by Ghostwoods's revamped website, where you can find sales links for the paperback, ebook and audiobook all in one place.

A transgressive Arabian Nights tale from a parallel universe which nudges our own reality. There's clearly been an obsessive amount of historical research, but it's been whipped up with magic and a dark, deep sensuality into an utterly compulsive, strange and disturbing confection.

If Machiavelli were to write a novel based in Persia in the nineteenth century, this would be it. I was awestruck and could not stop turning the pages. It is difficult to say much without giving away the surprises in store - and there are many. The author has done her research well, and there are many significant details that uplift, thrill, and give the story that extra dimension of reality. And when you discover what "those rosy hours" actually are - it will take your breath away!

A beautifully written and completely captivating read. Richly evocative and darkly mesmerising, I couldn't put down. Woolley's best literary offering yet.

Friday 12 February 2016

60,000 Secrets

I'm ever so slightly tearful at the moment.

It was only Monday, five days ago, that I passed the 50k mark on Secret Order.

Which means I've added 10,000 in the past four days. 

I honestly can't remember the last time I did that.

Really hasn't been easy. I've been working through some serious plot block, but it's starting to come together. 

I'm trying so hard to work out a routine. I'm not a routine person. I started by telling myself I had to reach my word count for the day before doing anything else. It was the first few days after getting back to Rwanda, and I was having trouble sleeping and getting up at a sensible time. Now I realise - because it's the dry season - that if I want to get anything done during the day, morning is way better, before it gets too hot. This works well, too. By the time I've zoomed around town I feel ready for a sit down.

I still don't have a solid routine, but so long as I continue to churn out a word count like that I'm happy.

It's been ages since I've shared anything from this work. So, rough, ready and unedited as ever:

The final guest had been different.
He looked odd. Much odder than the man with the flat cap. But he didn’t give her the willies. He was about the same height as the guy in leather who had rolled to a halt with the woman and the giant, only he was really thin and angular. More than anything, it was his hair that stood out. Or, rather, up. It was black and sort of buoyant, with the occasional wisp of gold that caught the light.
He was perched on the counter when she returned with a book, one ankle casually resting over his knee.
“Hi,” she said, keeping her distance.
“Hello. And you are?”
“And I’m Aesop.”
“How may I help you?” she said, before stopping herself. She wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. “Actually, no. You can help me. How do I get out of here?”
“Out of here?” he raised one eyebrow.
“I’ve been kidnapped. I’m a prisoner and I can’t get out.”
The man frowned and she thought perhaps she shouldn’t have spoken.
“Oh. So you’re the one?”
“One what?”
“The one he was talking about. Frizzy afro, beautiful brown eyes.”
Sophie self-consciously put her hand to her hair. “Who was talking about me?”
“The Deliverer. Faces are changing around here so fast, it’s hard to keep track.”
“Look, please, I really need to get out of here. I have a boyfriend, and a family. They’ll be so worried about me.”
“Have you told Allen?”
“The old woman with the—” she held her hands on top of her head to indicate the giant bun.
“She’s the one keeping me here!”
“Well, that’s most irregular.”
“I’ll do anything. Please, just show me the way out.”
Aesop looked behind him at the door, then over to the bookshelves, then back to her. “Really, I’d love nothing more, but I’m afraid I have rather pressing business. It’s extremely important that I speak with Allen.” Sophie opened her mouth to protest, but he held up a finger. “You tell Allen I’m looking for her, and when we sit down to talk, I will find out what this,” he swept his fingers to indicate the entire room, “has all been about. I will help you Sophie, but you need to help me first. Deal?”
She wasn’t at all happy about it, but she nodded.

She had finished wrapping up the last list of books a while ago. Her uneaten meal sat in the dumbwaiter, waiting to be lowered away. There was nothing for it but to sit on the floor and hold herself.
For some stupid reason, she trusted that weird bouffant of a man. There was something in his voice. He didn’t sound like he was lying when he spoke. But how long would it take Allen to come back, and how long before she did go to visit him, and how long after he’d finished talking about his crisis would he remember to talk about hers?
Was she destined to spend the rest of her life locked in a lonely library?
The floor trembled.
At first she thought she’d imagined it. Then it trembled again, so hard that she put her hands out to brace herself.
The next wave was less of a tremble and more of a violent shudder. It dislodged a book from the shelf. The book fell to the floor, bounced once, and fell open at the middle.
Sophie watched in disbelief as streams of text curled up from the pages, twisting and entwining to create thick ropes of prose.
…came down from Cumbria for Christmas and brought with him a large stocking, red, with my name embroidered in white around the rim. Mother told him he’d brought too much, but I could tell that she wasn’t really angry with him… in the flower garden, and I picked up a ladybird, opened the mouth of the snapdragon, and placed it inside, waiting to see how long before it would crawl out, its little red body yellow with pollen… ringing in my ears as he punched me again. I rolled over to get him off me but he was too strong so I had to hold up my arms to defend against the next punch… think the interview went well, but the questions were tough. Perhaps it would be better to go freelance, but you need the experience, or the qualifications, for people to trust what you do… ticket to Pakistan. The camera’s definitely charged and somewhere in my pocket is the name and number of the guy who’s picking me up at the airport…
The words were moving so fast, Sophie’s eyes couldn’t keep track of them all, she could only snatch a few sentences here and there. As she watched, the words seemed to form a murmuration, flexing left, then right, up, then down, pulled back to the centre by an invisible force until they amassed a solid lump. She couldn’t say for certain what prompted the thought, but she suddenly realised she was looking at a human being. That all the words and sentences made up a life story.
At the moment of her realisation, the words formed an image.
That image fell to the floor, screaming.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Vocabulary Builder

When I accidentally broke Verdy, my old Kindle, I felt as though I'd lost a limb. I live in fear of being stuck somewhere without something good to read. So I bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite. 

I really just wanted another Verdy, as I tend to read with a night light, so I didn't think the back-lighting would be much of an advantage, and I really loved the buttons on Verdy. Fine, so I don't have pages any more, but buttons at least left a semblance of tactility. Plus, the touch screen on Paperwhites ain't all that, especially when you read in smaller print - it's not so accurate.

Thankfully, Verdy was fixed, so I now have two Kindles. But I find that I've stuck with the Paperwhite for a couple of reasons.

The first, is that it allows me to easily highlight sections of the text and store them as notes. This makes reviewing the book afterwards much easier.

The second major pull has been the Vocabulary Builder. If you tap on a word, it'll tell you what that word means, and even Wiki it for you if you're connected to the internet. It also stores the word so that you can refer back to it at a later date, and even provides flash cards so that you can test your memory of new words.

That is rather groovy.

Some of the words I've recently added:

Duiker: A small African antelope 
Terrazzo: Flooring material consisting of chips of marble or granite set in concrete 
Contemn: Treat or regard with contempt 
Repine: Feel or express discontent; fret 
Dandle: Move (a young child) up and down in a playful or affectionate way 
Indefatigable: Persist tirelessly 
Perfidious: Deceitful and untrustworthy 
Torpor: A state of physical or mental inactivity 
Quixotic: Extremely idealistic; unrealistic and improbable 
Obdurate: Stubbornly refusing to change one's opinion or course of action 
Arras: A wall hanging made of a rich tapestry fabric, typically used to conceal an alcove 
Coeval: Having the same age or date of origin; a person of roughly the same age as oneself 
Sedulous: Showing dedication and diligence 
Sommelier: A wine waiter 
Chintz: Printed multicolour cotton fabric with a glaze finish

I believe I may have mastered them:

As I dandled the chintz-wrapped toddler upon my lap, I gazed up at the duiker embroidered on the opposing arras. It was caught in a pose as though escaping from the hunt. Its indefatigable hind legs pounding the earth with all the effort of one intent on living. 
Obdurate in my quixotic belief that truth is, indeed, within the wine, I called over my coeval sommelier to bring another carafe. Far from being a sedulous man, he seemed to languish in ever-intolerable torpor. So much so that I had to call thrice before he would respond.
As he stumbled across the terrazzo towards me, I felt it my duty to contemn this perfidious wretch. In repine I snapped "More wine! Quick, before I am sober."

Pass me The Times crossword!