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Michelle's corner

Michelle Knight. Writer, photographer, programmer, truck driver and general, all round nut case. Life is a journey and that's what this blog will probably end up being. Let's see where we go, eh? ;-)

Currently reading

Your Beauty Mark. All You Need to Get the Hair, Makeup, Glow, and Glam.
Dita von Teese
Progress: 208/256 pages

Review - The Shepherd's Crown - Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd's Crown - Terry Pratchett

I don't feel like I can give this book an actual star rating, if you know what I mean. Pratchett passed on in 2015 after the, "embuggerance," as he called it, finally got the better of him.


He did much in his life including campaigning for assisted suicide. An emotive subject from which he had an advantageous position in the discussion; ie. being well known and respected, his voice carried some weight and he could speak well.


My memories of Pratchett's Discworld series go back many years. When I was younger, reading a Pratchett book on a train was a sure fire way to be embarrassed as hell by the time I reached the final station. His writing was so funny that it was impossible to stifle a guffaw. Everyone else in the carriage would then look at me as if I was out of my mind. (they knew me too well!) Such was the power of a Pratchett book.


Discworld itself has been a growing environment. It has been a transformation. Sadly, it wasn't only the Discworld that transformed. Pratchett did also. His later works lost their sharp, observational humour and became more focused on the storyline itself. Not entirely a bad thing for a book, but it wasn't my original reason for picking up Pratchett.


To understand, "The Shepherd's Crown," it does pay to have read the appropriate books before in the Discworld series. The sub-wiki on the witches is here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witches_(Discworld) - and that's quite a lot of books.


There are very occasional patches where Pratchett's humour does still shine through, however...


Then he shouted so that the rest of the clan could hear him, "This elf is oor prisoner. A hostage, ye ken. That means ye are nae tae kill it until ye are told." He ignored the grumbles from the clan. "As tae the rest o' ye, tak guard around yon stones. And if they come in force show them what the Feegles can dae!"

Daft Wullie said, "I can play the harmonica."

Rob Anybody said, "Aye, weel, I suppose that puts the willies up me, so wud likely keep them awa."


Not exactly rip roaringly funny, but gives you an idea of Pratchett's original sense of fun. One of the more enduring lines early on in his Discworld career being, "In some parts of the city curiosity didn’t just kill the cat, it threw it in the river with lead weights tied to its feet.." - more here - http://www.chrisjoneswriting.com/terry-pratchett-quotes/category/curiosity - and don't forget to check the categories on the right hand side for more.


Like many of the Discworld books, there are a fair number of characters involved, but it was one of his abilities to be able to have a high number of characters in the story and still the reader is able to keep track of what's going on.


The story doesn't really, "complete," for me. If you come in to this book without having read what comes before, you will definitely be missing things about You the cat and other odds and sods that make this book what it is. Even if you have read them, then there are still things left without being fully addressed. I still want to know more about Mephistopheles the goat, for example. Pratchett gave things special properties without adequately explaining them for my inquisitive mind.


The final battle was a disappointment. It was over far, far too quickly. The whole book had been building up to that point and I, personally, found it to be wanting. I had been growing disappointed with his later books. I hadn't really picked up a book of my own accord for more than a decade. I only read them when family and friends gifted me one for a special occasion; as this was gifted to me also.


I guess that as Pratchett's writing moved him to greater fame and winning literary awards for the story and plot... he lost that devil-may-care humorous magic that I loved him for. Every time I eat a curry, Death crosses my mind, stood alone in the darkness of Ankh Morpork. Don't worry... read Mort (book 4, I believe.)


To conclude I guess that, for me personally, this isn't the pinnacle of Pratchett's writing career. Is it a statement of his life, and a true and honest memorial to the man that gave the world so much wit and laughter? Very possibly so. If you're going to read this, I highly recommend going through the whole series. It is worth the time I believe, for what little my humble opinion is worth.

Just decided to do a test...

I'm eyeing up a mechanical keyboard for work. At home I've got a mechanical keyboard with Cherry Brown switches. At work I have to put up with a mundane membrane keyboard which I wish I could throw through the window.


Well, my boss had to come to my workstation to type something in, and she liked it, so I said I was considering a mechanical keyboard and she could have this one when it came. The problem was, mechanical keys are usually noisy as hell in an office.


I did a bit of research and have one on order with Cherry Silent Red keys. Brand new, just released, it won't even be in stock before the end of next month... but in the mean time, I just decided to do a typing speed test. No practice, no limbering up, just straight in off the blocks on the membrane keyboard.



The computer tech cohort at my further education course, had to do typing as an element of our exam, so we were trained touch typists... not that we really did any traditional pool typing. We were also the generation that trained on the BBC Micro and used the IBM PC keyboards... you know the ones... they had metal backs and if you dropped them, they'd break your foot.


I've already dropped the cash on my new board - http://www.keyboardco.com/keyboard/uk-filco-majestouch-2-nkr-silent-soft-linear-action-keyboard.asp - so this is going to be interesting. I'll try the test again in a few months time, to see if the new keyboard actually makes a difference, or if my love of mechanical keyboards actually justifies the cost.

Free book for a few days

"The Sexual Compass" is still free for a few days more on Smashwords - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/698913


You can find some reviews here - https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25375024-the-sexual-compass


I reviewed it on Amazon in Jan 2015...


Full disclosure. I was on a chat about my book and Michael told me about his. He sent a copy, didn't request a review, but it's so good it's going to get one whether he likes it or not, because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The blurb concentrates on the mice straight/gay experiment side, but actually Michael has used this as a skeleton key. He unlocks the door to an honest look at the human condition and how stupidly seriously we take ourselves on occasion. His writing is a nice, easy style and the diction is of an everyday level that means the book just flows naturally. He's even got things down to the little "super-secret-spy" conversations that people have with themselves in their head occasionally. The only negative in this, was one place in which a character had to put over a concept in such detail, that it felt out of character; but the rest of the book was a breeze.

All in all, it carries the message not to get so hung up on yourself, avoid getting stuck in a rut and that, now and then, you should take the time to reset your sexual compass.

The question that has no answer.

An interesting article regarding copyright popped up on the BBC - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40029781


Charles Dickens even went to the USA to protest his case and then, copyright was not granted to non-citizens, so his books were being pirated by all and sundry.

So, intellectual property reflects an economic trade-off, a balancing act. If it's too generous to the creators, then good ideas will take too long to copy, adapt and spread. If it's too stingy, then maybe we won't see the good ideas at all.

And now, how it has all changed. Thanks to the Mickey Mouse law as it is known, the USA is now the primary driver of extended copyright.

A few decades later, when American authors and inventors spoke with a more powerful voice, America's lawmakers began to take an increasingly fond view of the idea of intellectual property. Newspapers, once opposed to copyright, now rely upon it.

A strange beast indeed. The pendulum which gave unfettered freedoms has swung so far the other way that it hurts. Will it swing back? Who knows. And if it does, will it find a sensible medium or simply swing back too far the other way? This is a debate that will run and run. A question that has no answer. Is 0 a number?

Reading progress update: I've read 115 out of 352 pages.

The Shepherd's Crown - Terry Pratchett

Tiffany sighed. "Being a witch is a man's job; that's why it needs women to do it."


Enjoying this so far. Not like Pratchett's earlier works. Those were off the wall funny, while this has a more in-depth story to it and some very observant one-liners.

Doing productive stuff

When I look back over the last few years of my life, I think I've become fed up with being a never-ending consumer, and I've wanted to do creative things.


There are some creations I can't discuss in open forum... *ahem*... but writing has been among them. I also do YouTube videos and blog posts, mostly to pass on the little knowledge that I gain during my adventures.


While Check Mate is still being audio processed (it takes time when people are offering their help for free) I've turned my hand to rescuing vinyl. Actually I was into hi-fi in my teens, but last year I went back to it in a bit of a way, especially returning to vinyl and valve amps.


For those who are of a like mind, I put together a blog post on Ello, detailing how I clean second hand vinyl on the cheap. Ultrasonic cleaners cost two thousand pounds, and there's no way I can afford one of those... so I use a few mixtures and some special record cleaning brushes to keep the cost well below a hundred. Enjoy - https://ello.co/msknight/post/nh1j5yqadjardm6qx5qfwq


Review - The Game Believes In You - 5 out of 5 stars

The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter - Greg Toppo

Where do I begin? This book took me some time to read because.. well... life. But I'm a gamer, and I was determined to make it through this one, and I'm glad that I did. You don't have to be a computer gamer to be able to read this book. It's very accessible and covers non-computer gaming as well, because it discusses the whole learning and creative process.


In many respects there are a number of conflicting elements. One is that people learn better when at a machine (and machines were being used to teach before computers as we know them) because a machine goes at the pace of the student; whereas learning in a class everyone goes at the same pace (some get bored while others drop behind) but the class teaching is social whereas the game teaching is not social.... except in the cases where it is.... and in game world there isn't the restriction of who's wearing the latest branded trainers... but in the real world, talking with a child about what they're seeing on screen can deepen learning and having real consequences to actions can make things more thrilling and engaging...


You see... this can be sliced and diced so many ways, and I've read a good chunk of wisdom about learning... or more appropriately HOW we learn... in this book.


If you're interested in children and learning then I believe that this book is well worth reading, even if you're not a gamer. As well as discussing the learning and exploratory process, it has a section that deals with the long argued issue of violence and games as well as the topic of addiction, and it offers some sensible viewpoints that I believe are very much worth considering.


For parents, there is definitely a strong message to get involved with your child's game play and discuss it.


What most adults fail to realise, he said, is that as safe as they are, kids today are dealing with anxieties that previous generations didn't. 'We're exposed to things going on all over the world,' Schleifer said, 'A hundred years ago, children were only exposed to what was on the block, what was around the corner. Maybe something bad would happen in the neighbourhood, but if it wasn't in the neighbourhood, then nothing happened.' Now, he said, they've got access to news of the world, to bad things happening everywhere. 'How does a child get their head around something like a tsunami? How would you deal with that? For adults there's no way to deal with it.'


There's no getting away from the fact that playing games affects the mind and can actually be more effective than medications.


"So for the past few years, a small group of psychiatrists, researchers, educators and game designers have run a quiet but intense footrace to become the first to earn FDA approval for a medically sound, prescription-strength video game for ADHD. That's not a metaphor. They are seeking approval for a game that a doctor can actually prescribe.
The problem with drugs like Ritalin or Adderall , researchers say, isn't just that they have side effects. It's that they're almost entirely hit or miss. They activate 'your entire brain, in a very blunt way,' said Dr. Adam Gazzaley, a psychiatrist and founding director of the Neuroscience Imaging Centre and the University of California, San Francisco."
"Gazzaley began wondering if he could develop a game to enhance this switching in older adults. At the time, a few of his friends were working for the game developer LucasArts, so he asked if they'd be interested in helping him out. They said they'd be delighted. 'Their perspective was that they'd been teaching teenagers how to kill aliens for fifteen years now - most of their professional life - and they were looking forward to the opportunity to work on games that might have a different kind of impact.' "


I learned so much from this book, that it gave me some new perspectives on learning and game processes. Some might find that this book needs to be read in multiple sittings, but in my humble opinion, it is well worth it.



Audio book is coming along

I've been told by the person doing the editing, that he has just finished Chapter 7. He's still got a way to go, but I know he's under pressure. I've told him to do it only when he actually gets something out of doing it. Art is best when it's done at a time when its loved. I know that sounds totally moronic, but it's the best way I can describe my feelings about it.


So, the audio book of Check Mate is going to be a while... but it'll get there. Things are starting to settle down here. I'm hoping to start working on the Companion re-write towards the end of June. Things are just too nuts right now for me to feel like I can concentrate fully.

"My Dad Wrote A Porno"

I'm not sure what to say about this one. I won't be tuning in myself, because I'm not really in to the porn side of things; I'm an, "emotional ride," sort of person... but this came on the radar and intrigued me to the point I thought I'd share...


Jamie's father had sent him the first few chapters of the racy novel he'd been secretly writing. "I naively assumed it would be some story of swashbuckling pirates or a spy thriller. It was only when I started reading it that I discovered he'd been penning porn," says Jamie, 29. Bodice-ripping sentences he stumbled over included "the job interviewer had just asked her to remove her jacket and silk blouse" and "her black brassiere was working overtime". Following the initial shock, Jamie decided to read his dad's adult literature to some friends down the pub. They immediately collapsed with laughter and piled in with their comments and critiques.




Indie Bound

Well, common sense said it had to exist. In the UK we have Hive which is a collection of independent bookstores. Sometimes the books I buy are cheaper on that, than Amazon. Plus other stuff comes up that just isn't available in mainstream. And I know I'm supporting local. Maybe not local to me, but at least local to someone !!!


The US have Indie Bound - http://www.indiebound.org/ - not that I can review them as I'm the other side of the planet... but it's another thing which I thought was worth mentioning.


From their web site...


Why shop Indie?

When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:

The Economy

  • Spend $100 at a local-owned business and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.
  • Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
  • More of your taxes are reinvested in your community--where they belong.

The Environment

  • Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.

The Community

  • Local retailers are your friends and neighbors—support them and they’ll support you.
  • Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
  • More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.

The Bronx - No Bookstore

Apparently, the Bronx has spent the last year without a book store. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-us-canada-39979281/the-place-with-a-million-people-and-no-bookstore


There are a number of issues raised in that video segment including the book store that Noelle Santos plans to open in a few months.


One of those thing is that the reading group she's running plans to focus on authors of colour and female authors, as well as local authors. The immediate thing that crossed my mind is how are they going to tell this? Unless I research an author, the name is such an unreliable mechanism these days. Family names are now so diverse for a start, and then you have the large issue of female authors who deliberately write under male pen names.


There is also an issue which is relatively unresearched; the issue of men who write under traditionally female names, as well as names which are unisex. The gaming community currently believes that in World of Warcraft, if you come across a female character, there's a 50/50 chance that the player behind it is male... (reading Greg Toppo's book, "The Game Believes In You") and from that, I infer nothing sinister (in the majority of cases) but there's nothing wrong in my eyes, with a person exploring aspects of themselves that are usually reserved socially for the other gender... but that the individuals still possess... after all, we're all emotionally whole humans. Men do cry, and women do want to bash the living crap out of something now and then. - by the way, if yu're one of the 5,461,554 WoW fans that haven't seen Abbot and Costello's classic, "Who's on First" then you might find this entertaining - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ekLO8BwxwE


I do find myself wondering how they are going to achieve this, and how they select the works to discuss at the club. The obvious question is whether they have had disappointments and if so, how have they handled them.


Now... where'd I put my male dwarf character... I feel like hitting something with an overly large mallet.

Race and writing

I came across this on the BBC News web site this morning - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39988992


Author Anthony Horowitz says he was "warned off" including a black character in his new book because it was "inappropriate" for a white writer.

The creator of the Alex Rider teenage spy novels says an editor told him it could be considered "patronising".

Horowitz wanted a white and black protagonist in his new children's books but says he is now reconsidering.

"I will have to think about whether this character can be black or white," he told the Mail on Sunday.

Horowitz, who has written 10 novels featuring teenage spy Alex Rider, said there was a "chain of thought" in America that it was "inappropriate" for white writers to try to create black characters.

He said it was considered "artificial and possibly patronising" to do so because "it is actually not our experience".

"Therefore I was warned off doing it. Which was, I thought, disturbing and upsetting."

Horowitz, who has written a new James Bond book, went on: "Taking it to the extreme, all my characters will from now be 62-year-old white Jewish men living in London."


There is a little bit extra in there, because a few years earlier he had commented that actor Idris Elba was "too street" to be the next Bond, and had apologised to him later. But this whole thing does show how writing for a race other than your own, brings out the political police.


Look at Stephen Moffat. A 55 year old white guy from Scotland, he's currently writing Dr Who episodes and the current companion is Bill Potts, a teen/early twenties black woman who I think is from London, and she's homosexual.


One of the questions I would like to hear Moffat answer, is how he does this and avoids criticism... or if he does get it, how he handles it. Even if he does rely on the actors being able to add their own interpretations, I don't believe that Mackie (who plays Bill) is homosexual... or even if she was, no one seems to be getting on anyone's case about it.


It's not what you do... it's how you do it. That is the only conclusion I can take away from this.

RAW audio done

So, it's done. The audio for Check Mate has been recorded. Not exactly a stellar performance, because I'm not an actor by any stretch of the imagination... (unless you count my mother's recollections of when I, "acted up," as a child.) ... but at least it is done.


A friend has offered to help out, so I'm giving him the opportunity... *ahem*... awful task of editing the WAV files together, and edit out all my mistakes and extra takes, in order to make a cohesive whole.


This is not a straightforward job, and will take probably twice as long as it took me simply to read the book... and that was two days already.

Only for the devoted...

...and those who have half an hour on their hands.


I told you I'd record a video when I started the audio book ... so far my conclusion is that if anyone tells you that comedy is easy... they're making a funny.




Indie Book Discovery

For your book discoverers that have a particular taste for exploring outside the mainstream, there is another resource for your armoury; a site called Indie Book Discovery.




Yes, I'm on there, but this is the front page link, and not to my page... so happy exploring :-)

Antitrust, Amazon and the EU...

"The European Commission has adopted a decision that renders legally binding the commitments offered by Amazon. The commitments address the Commission's preliminary competition concerns relating to a number of clauses in Amazon's distribution agreements with e-book publishers in Europe." - http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1223_en.htm I can't work out whether this is going to be good or bad for authors in the short or long run. Lower prices seem inevitable in order to win market share back from Amazon. Will they succeed? Who knows. Amazon have that, "one click," advantage and are now for many people, the first and only place they shop for many things. This whole thing is a journey in to the unknown and untested waters.