Thursday, January 26, 2012

My conversation with an alien

The other day I found myself talking to an alien.

It all started with a visit to a friend’s house. They asked me how my new novel was progressing and we chatted about this for a short while. Little did I realise their young son was listening. He joined the conversation by asking why I bothered producing a paper-based copy of the novels. An innocent enough question, at first glance, especially given to way e-books are clearly taking over and will certainly become the main choice for readers of this lad’s generation, if they aren’t already.

I tried to explain how my love of books, and writing, stemmed from the great memories I cherish, associated with the tales I read, and often the circumstances of where I read them. I cited three examples to illustrate why these memories have persisted.

I was a precocious reader and devoured books by the tree load. My parent were quite happy for me to grab a book, once homework was out of the way, but not too pleased when I insisted on finishing a chapter before going to bed. Little did they know, I frequently snuck the book up to my room where I continued reading under the bedclothes with the aid of a flashlight. (This is one instance where back-lighted e-reader screens have a distinct advantage).

As my second example, I recounted a journey made on a ferry from the UK to France when I was 15, where I was violently seasick. The crossing was anything but smooth and I had read one and a half James Bond novels during the trip (I can speed-read when I want).

My third memory was of four months condemned to bed, recovering from a serious illness. I was so out of it, the only things I could do were watch “Falcon Crest” or read. There’s only so much Angela Channing a human being can take, so I read 47 novels in the first month alone (including all that Robert Ludlum had written at the time). After that, people kept turning up with suitcases full of books to keep me fuelled.

As a ‘bonus’ I added the unique experience of reading “Out of Africa” by Isak Dinesen (the pen name of Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke) while sitting outside the very same farmhouse where she lived, when I was in Kenya in the ‘70’s, eons before Hollywood got its hands on the tale.

These examples, just four of many, where being able to escape from the mundane into worlds populated by spies, robots, conspiracies, spaceships, great journeys and a long etcetera, brought added dimensions to enrich my existence.

For me, a major part of the remembered experience is the tactile sensation associated with the read: the all-enclosing, warm security of the sheets as the words whisked me off to distant planets with Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy”; “Goldfinger”, with one hand grabbing a rail as the boat was tossed willy-nilly in the Channel; or looking up from anecdotes set in the Ngong Hills, to see the very same landscape and smell the red dust suspended in the dry air. Magic Moments all.

You could argue the same experiences could be enjoyed with an e-reader. I won’t attempt to deny the possibility; however the sensory input was completed for me by the texture of the pages between my fingers, not the smooth plastic of a Kindle or Nook.

So the alien asked me if it was just nostalgia. I reflected for a while and eventually agreed that he was probably right. As long as it is still possible, I will continue to produce a paper-based copy, even if it’s just one, so I can see it on my bookshelf at home and remember all the events that brought it into existence. You can’t point to a Kindle and have the same feeling: “see that thing you can’t touch, smell, hear or taste in that plastic box over there, well I remember…”

Vapour-ware we used to call it.

Why do I say he is an alien?

This is the generation that will have almost no reference of paper-based books when they are my age. I feel sorry for them. It’s like they are from a different planet, certainly a different culture.

How much of your memories are stimulate by what you were reading at the time?

Eric at

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A cautionary fairy tale for the writers of this world…

Once Upon a Time there was a writer of thriller novels who liked to do things right. He is also a fan of westerns. His latest book is set in a small town in Southwest Texas in the present day. He thought it would be a nice tribute to one of his favourite films, “High Noon”, to name the town after the one that featured in the film. Incidentally, the town is never named in the film; its identity is revealed just after the opening credits (minute 4:39”) in a sign on the railway depot. Furthermore, the action in the film takes place in New Mexico Territory.

Now this innocent also likes to include what he calls ‘Winks’ into his novels. These are Inside Secrets hidden within the tales he weaves, but highlighted on his webpage. As part of the tribute, he was going to explain the town name reference and illustrate it with a still (one image from the 122,400 that go to make up the complete film), explaining how he thought the town was an unaccredited character in this classic western. So he wrote to MGM seeking permission to use the image in this context. MGM quickly responded indicating they no longer have the copyright to that film. Much digging later, this misguided soul wrote to Stanley Kramer’s production people, who still hold the copyright.
The rapid response consisted of an e-mail from Kramer’s Hollywood lawyers, where, in menacing tones, they indicate their belief that the novel must be in breach of Kramer’s copyright, as it is a “derived” work – note: the Big, Bad Wolf has not read the novel, and was given a two-line synopsis where it clearly stated that the use of the town name was the only reference. Of course, they also indicated that the use of the still and the “derived” storyline could be licensed, that is to say, in exchange for money. They needed to see the work to decide if it was “derived” and how much they needed to charge.

After walking round the woods for several days, he was not lost, just angry, the writer responded indicating that the town name had been changed and there would be no reference to the film in any shape or form in the novel. End of Story.

They all lived happily ever after?  Why does the writer have the sensation that the Big Bad Wolf is waiting for publication to see if he can blow the house down?

Now just a few more breadcrumbs… (I know I’m mixing fairy tales)

1)      ---There are at least 2 other towns in the US with that name, neither in New Mexico or Texas.

2)     ... The film’s scriptwriter, Carl Foreman had to buy the rights to a novel (‘The Tin Star’ by John W. Cunningham) when it was pointed out his screenplay was too similar, and looked “derived”.

3)     ... Mr. Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) wrote a short story, published in 1899, called “The Man that corrupted Hadleyburg” – I wonder if the Hadleyville of the aforementioned film (1952) was “derived” from this? Just A thought.

4)      ...The US Copyright legislation, in its section on ‘Fair Use’ would have allowed the reproduction of the still without prior consultation or permission-seeking, as long as it was correctly attributed. Anyone visiting the writer’s website will see at a glance how any references to other people’s Intellectual Property is not only attributed, but where possible links are provided so interested readers may purchase their works or read more.

5)     ... Incidentally, the Big Bad Wolf says that this incident is covered by “attorney-client privilege” and thus cannot be discussed. They’ve obviously never heard of the First Amendment, either, nor the definition of attorney-client privilege under US law. But, maybe things are different in Hollywood Fairy Tale Land.

Fairy tales usually have a moral, and this is no exception. In this case our moral is provided by a third party:

"No good deed goes unpunished"
-          Clare Boothe Luce, dramatist.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Is this a good thing?

Continuing the food and drink theme of the last post, I've just read, in this week's on-line Popular Science weekly summary, how Scottish scientists have recreated the hundred year old whisky Ernest Shackleton drank. 

Is nothing sacred?

In my opinion, part of the lure of enjoying Scotland's liquid treasures is the inherent impermanence of their availability.  

Why are we all so obsessive about recreating our past. What's next? The Black Death -oh, that'll be fun!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Three Kings

Santa takes second place, here in Spain, to the Tres Reyes Magos, the 3 Wise Men (Maji becomes magic). During the night of the 5th of January, the 3 Kings bring presents to children throughout the country. The tradition starts with letters addressed to their favourite King, Melchor, Gaspar or Baltasar, where they state what presents they want. The kids know if they have not been good during the year, the Kings will bring them coal instead of gifts. Coal, made from blackened sugar, is available in all the cake shops and supermarkets just in case it's needed. On the evening of the fifth, spectacular parades are held in every Spanish city, celebrating the arrival of the Kings, where they and their Royal Pages throw handfuls of sweets to the people watching. The parades started in the 1850's in Alcoy, also the home of the most famous Moors and Christians Festival held there in April every year. Next children have to shine their shoes and leave Turrón (almond sweets) and Milk for the Kings, as well as water and bread for their camels, overnight. Magically, the Kings will visit overnight and leave gifts or coal (or both) by the shoes.

Not too much sugar
For the adults, as well as the children, there's more to come. Another tradition is the Roscón de Reyes, or the King's Bread. This is a yellowish, doughy, sweet bread made into an oval or circle (smallest I've seen was about 25 centimetres in diameter, the most common being over twice that), covered with confectioner's sugar and candied fruit, and optionally, with a filling of whipped cream. Zero Calories! Many accompany generous helpings of Roscón with hot chocolate, just to ensure their energy levels are maintained. Incidentally, hidden within the dough is a surprise, usually a small figure, and whoever ends up biting down on that, either gets an emergency visit to the dentist, or, as the tradition demands, has to buy another Roscón. What is it about the Spanish and sugar?

When I come down from my sugar high, I'll try to do some more work on the latest novel.

More Roscón anyone?

Happy Reyes to all.

Eric at

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Magnificent writing

I've just finished reviewing "The Physics of Love and Letting Go" by Kasia on

Not often do I come across a piece of writing so enjoyable, it makes me sit back with a stupid grin on my face, but this is the case here. The author behind the pen-name of Kasia has really made my day with this beautifully written introduction to a novel.

This sums up all I like about YouWriteOn. Over the nine months I've been reading and reviewing submissions by fellow writers, I have come across a few that have stood out from the mean. And that's not to say that the mean is by any way "average". The general standard of writing on this site is exceptional. What's even better is the spirit with which almost everyone reviews each other's work in such a positive fashion. You do get the occasional exception, but the site's moderators quickly put an end to people who don't understand the word "constructive".

Although the site is UK in origin, the writers are from all over the world. If you write, join in. The input from the reviews I receive for the introductory chapters for my new novel have been invaluable. Also if you just like reading and wish to discover the names of tomorrow, this is the place. It's 100% free.

Eric at

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bob Anderson R.I.P.

Who? you may ask.

Well, if you've been to the cinema in the last 60 years, you will probably have seen his work. A member of the UK Olympic Fencing Team, he was subsequently recruited to train Errol Flynn for The Master of Ballantrae in 1953. That was his introduction to Hollywood. His list of credits is awesome and includes, in no particular order: the Banderas Zorro films, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit, Alatriste, a couple of the Bond films, Highlander... but for me, a fellow swordsman, his most outstanding sword fight arrangement was in The Princess Bride.

My sincerest condolences to his family.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Other skills

On my Tips & Tricks pages I include interesting skill sets I picked up during my professional life as a consultant when I feel these can be of use to fellow writers. One such set of techniques, which has not only been very useful to me as a writer, but also the source of some fun over the years, relates to interviewing.

Knowing how to perform a great fact-finding interview, what to do and what never to do, can save you, as a writer, a lot of time and embarrassment. To read the full article go to

If you can think of any other skill sets that might be of use to you as a writer, let me know. I can't promise an answer to everything, but I have over 40 years experience under my belt and have picked up a thing or two. I'm always willing to share, especially if it's two-way.

Hope you find this useful.

Eric at

Happy New Year 2012 to all

Here on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, last night's celebrations of the start of the New Year were blessed by a sight not seen too often. Usually the luminic contamination afforded by so many hotels allows only four or five of the stronger stars to peek through. Whether it is the financial crisis, lack of tourists, or whatever, I'm not sure, but yesterday much less ambient light was apparent.

Together with a half moon, relatively clear skies and a pleasantly warm night, we were treated to a breathtaking counterpoint to the obligatory firework displays. The Milky Way was easily visible in the sky, and in particular Orion's Belt seemed to hover overhead for hours.

My thoughts travelled to the Pyramids at Giza, in Egypt, and in conjunction with the date, I see this as a powerful portent for this being the year of my "2012" thriller.

What an amazing sight; to call the magnificence of the Milky Way majestic is a little trite but it's the word that came to mind last night.

My very Best Wishes to all for 2012 and my hopes that all our dreams find a way to come true this year.

Eric at