Guest Post #1 – A. L. Butcher, who just published Tales of Erana: The Warrior’s Curse

This week, I am giving over my blog to the author, A. L. Butcher who runs the excellent Library of Erana website, which, among other things, showcases writing talent and has featured interviews with me on two occasions.

The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles - Book 1

The Light Beyond the Storm – Book 1

Welcome to A. L. Butcher (Alexandra); author of The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles.

Hi Alexandra, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Hi, and thanks for the interview. Let me see, I am British author of fantasy, fantasy romance and poetry. I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. Aside from the writing and reading I like science, history, astronomy, gaming and movies.

1. What were you like at school?
Rebellious 😉 I was raised to be individual, to stand up for my beliefs and to question things. This caused problems, especially with rules I saw as a bit…. pointless. Lessons I liked I was happy to attend, the boring ones – well I guess I was a pain to teach. (Sorry). I actually co-led a student rebellion at college (high school to the Americans). There were several issues with the management of the college – and I mean pretty serious issues such as alleged fraud and misdemeanours of that nature… Anyway I was vice president of the Students’ Union and we had a tiny rebellion….a sit in – and press coverage etc. We actually had the support of some of the teaching staff, the National Union of Students and a proportion of the student body.
Other than that I worked hard at the subjects I liked, but I was always a bit of a loner and considered a bit weird.

The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles - Book 2

The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles – Book 2

2. Were you good at English?
Yes. I loved English Lit and Language and went on to study English Lit at college.

3. Why do you write?
Because I enjoy it, because I have stories to be told and because it keeps me sane (ish).

4. What fascinates you about fantasy?
Fantasy is such a versatile genre. Anything can and does happen. More than that it is at the root of our culture – think of all the influences. I’m English and our patron saint is St George, he of the dragon slaying. Britain has a rich culture when it comes to fantasy, folklore and magical beasties. We have fairies, wizards, dragons, heroes, magic swords, mermaids, giants, goblins, elves and so much more. I love the lore, the worlds and the freedom the genre brings, and I love the storytelling of mythic tales of heroes and monsters.

5. Who is your favourite author and why?
Just one? I doubt I could pick one. Fantasy – Tolkien, Janet Morris, Homer, Terry Pratchett, David Gaider, Mary Shelley. Historical/classics – Ellis Peters, Philippa Gregory, Dumas, Victor Hugo, the Brontes, HG Wells, Jules Verne. I love the stories they tell. In many instances these authors were pioneers in their genre, or at least broken new ground. Anything that can still be read over and over and often years later is a masterpiece.

6. When did you write your very first book and what was it about?
The first actual book is under my bed, in several notebooks. It is/was a Phantom of the Opera story. I dare say it will stay where it is. The first fantasy – the first book in the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles was published in 2012. It sprang from something else I’d written. Book I is the story of an elven sorceress in a world where magic is illegal and elves live as slaves. Once she escapes from her wicked master she has to find a way to survive and to help discover the plight of a missing elven child. It’s a story of courage, self-discover, inequality, hardship and heroism set in a dark and dangerous world. The later books follow this elf, Dii and her friends as they seek to right injustice and find freedom.

Tales of Erana: The Warrior's Curse

Tales of Erana: The Warrior’s Curse

7. How much research do you do?
I’ve researched herb-lore, medieval weapons, castles, swamp and forest flora and fauna, recipes and quite a bit more.

8. What books have most influenced your life most?
Oh gosh, another long list.  Wuthering Heights, Lord of the Rings, Soul Music, I, the Sun, Watership Down, War of the Worlds, Schindler’s List, Chronicles of Narnia, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein.

9. What book are you reading now?
I’ve just started Oblivion’s Forge by Simon Williams. So far it’s very good.

10. Do you write full-time or part-time?
I have a day job, so I only get time to write in the evenings and at weekends. I’d love to be able to write full time but I need to pay the bills.

Spectacular Tales

Spectacular Tales

11. Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
Read, watch a movie, try and write something else. I find ideas come from other ideas. I have a folder filled with half-ideas and random scribbles, sometimes I look through that and an idea pops up. If it doesn’t then it doesn’t. If you have to force yourself to write then likely as not what comes out won’t be very good. It is OK to go and do something else for a while.

12. Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
JD Hallowell and his War of the Blades books I really enjoyed. Also Leeland Artra’s Thread Slivers

13. What are your current projects?
I’ve just released a short story – Tales of Erana: The Warrior’s Curse which is a tale within a tale of heroes, monsters and dark magic. I’m working on another short story about a desperate elf and the simple farmer who helps her. I’m also working through Book III of the Chronicles – aiming for release in spring 2015.

14. Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My friend Diana has been my rock. She’s my sounding board for ideas.

15. Who designed the covers?
Oxana Mazur is the photographer for books I and II and I used Mia Darien for the cover for book III

16. What is your latest book?
As I’ve said Tales of Erana: The Warrior’s Curse is the latest release.

17. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Keep writing. Treat people the way YOU want to be treated, if you’re a jerk in your social media then expect the consequences. There will ALWAYS be someone who doesn’t like your book – it happens, move on and don’t respond to the reviewer.

18. How can readers discover more about you and you work?

To support Alexandra’s Tales of Erana Thunderclap event please click the link, support and share: http://thndr.it/1w9Qz2a

Blog: www.libraryoferana.wordpress.com
Facebook: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarkFantasyBeyondTheStorm
Twitter: @libraryoferana
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6430414.A_L_Butcher

Amazon Author Pages:
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alexandra-Butcher/e/B008BQFCC6/
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Alexandra-Butcher/e/B008BQFCC6/

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Blog: Amazon Women on the Moon – Lazlo Ferran

This week: Walking in Buckinghamshire, Reviews, OCD update, Badger culling, Free Offers

Walking in Buckinghamshire
There is no sneak preview this week because the stuff I am working on is very complex and time-consuming. Hence I haven’t actually written that much. If I do sneak previews every week there would be no need to publish. Instead I will tell you about my ramble in the Chiltern Hills of Bucks on Sunday. It was a beautiful day. Originally I had intended to go on Saturday but it clouded over. The forecast said Sunday would be more completely overcast but warmer. In the end, there actually was some sun. The autumn leaves thickly carpet the ground now and bathed these ancient clay woods with a yellow light. I used to spend a lot of time there in my childhood but I don’t remember them looking more bewitching. Most were still in church so the woods were quiet although I had a strange incident. As I parked my car among those of the worshippers at a tiny church, the priest spotted me and said, “Ah! You!”.
He looked Asian which intrigued me; this area of Bucks is true-blue Conservative terrortory (ha! ha! Pun intended). I thought by the way he was talking that he must recognise me from my youth although this seemed very unlikely as I didn’t recognise him and I have a very good memory for faces. When I walked up to him, a crowd gathered around the ‘stranger’ and I asked, “Do you know me?”
He said, “No!”
I wanted to say, “What the fuck did you speak to me like that for then?” but I just said I remembered the place, and the priest, before his time. The onlookers relaxed and nodded with everything I said. I explained I was here to walk and that I had to leave. He mumbled something and seemed to physically reach out for me.
‘Desperate,’ I thought.
I walked away and heard others saying they, “Had to leave.” The crowd scattered and he was left alone.
I know the church is getting desperate – I am a believer but I don’t like the ritualised formality of Church – but why do they have to try desperate tactics like pretending they know you? It’s more like the sort of behaviour I expect from evangelical Born-Again Christians on Tottenham High Road.
Anyway the beauty of the woods soon relaxed me. The sun also came out and while walking along an old track I saw some mushrooms growing on a tree-stump. I had a clean, spare bag with me so I picked them up with this to take home for cooking. Later a woman walking her dog passed and smiled. Even later still she crept up on me and asked me if I was ‘mushrooming’. I had to deny it, explaining I had only picked half a handful. Funny that in this day and age you have to defend picking a few mushrooms. I have head of criminals being caught with 40 tonnes of topsoil containing blue-bells in May. They are the real criminals. But it was all good-natured on Saturday. As the sun began to set I started back towards my car. Imagine my surprise when I saw a dark brown butterfly or moth. I think it was a butterfly actually, but I can’t be sure. Either way to see large lepidoptera on 1 December is very unusual. Perhaps its not so cold an autumn as I thought. I also passed a line of very ancient cherry trees. These are some of the oldest in Britain and nobody is quite sure why they have lived so long or grown so tall. No longer yielding any berries, nevertheless they tower majestically some 80-100 feet above the main path. Normally its unusual for cherry trees to grow taller than a two-storey house. If you know of any similarly tall ones, let me know.
I did notice that the woodland quiet was rent by the squarkings of thousands of birds. Even the pigeons were singing at the top of their lungs. I have no idea why and its the first time I have noticed this.
Then it was back to the car and a nice drive home with a Snickers along the way to fill my hungry stomach.

Update: Despite thoroughly using all the websites I could find to identify the mushrooms, I could not do so. I had to throw them away; there are mushrooms which are so poisonous you have to have a kidney transplant to survive.

OCD update
I am now four weeks into the new course of intensive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I must say doing it once per week instead of every three weeks is helping a lot. My therapist is not wasting time either. He is really encouraging me in getting to the root of the issue and I am even attempting ‘exposures’ myself. ‘Exposure’s are instances of attempting something you usually avoid when you have OCD. In the woods on Sunday I jumped off a fence and although I was wearing gloves, I had to put my hand down during a heavy landing and some mud got on my hands. Normally I would probably get pretty anxious about this but I left it (after checking there were no rabbit droppings on that patch of soil!). Later I cleaned my hand with some clean grass and that was it! When I returned home I didn’t even clean my hands before eating. This could be progress but we will see after I discuss it with my therapist. There was a funnier incident when, in the middle of some dense undergrowth, I found an old abandoned and collapsed shed with some kind of large, heavy bowl outside. It was full of black water and could have once been a tractor hub or something. In any case somebody – probably one of the gypsies who were frequent visitors in the 60s – probably used it as a stove. It was very heavy. I tried turning it over with my foot to see what it was. I couldn’t move it at first but then it moved slightly and spilled all its contents on my foot. Normally I would be horrified; after all there could be anything in that old water. This time I just accepted it as a test. I later thought of the phrase, ‘getting reinfected with reality’ to describe my feelings about it. I will keep you updated, as usual, with my OCD. If you suffer from OCD, or think you do, do not hesitate to seek help. There is plenty out there, even if you just google it on the web. Some websites offer self-help guides but you can get help for free on the NHS although the waiting lists are about 10 weeks at the moment. If you are not sure but think you might have OCD, these are some of my symptoms:
1. Obsessive and repeated washing of hands, accompanied by rituals
2. Fear of dust and germs
3. Anxiety when going outside unless wearing gloves
4. Generally repeating actions a lot to make sure you did them correctly
5. Episodes of Brain-block: this is where your mind gets stuck and you find it hard to start of finish an action. OCD sufferers often have great difficulty moving from ‘inactive’ activities (such as thinking, sleeping) to active activities (such as walking, moving)
6. Using rituals to avoid certain unpleasant thoughts.
This book by David Veale is excellent as a starter but do seek professional help: Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques. I may well do an OCD page in the near future with some useful resources.

Badger Culling
It seems that the two experimental culls have come up way short of the 70% fatality they were aiming at. For those not following this grim story, the Government led culls need to kill at least 70% of the badgers in any area to effectively wipe them out. Any less than this and the colony will survive. The hope is that even babies safe in the set will not survive if 70% of the whole group is not killed.
Of course the Government is claiming ‘illegal activity’ on behalf of protesters as the cause of the failure. Frankly, I don’t care as long as it stops. Killing innocent animals when an effective vaccine (just requiring a little more time and Government investment) is just around the corner is inhumane. Perhaps David Cameron and George Osborne are just hoping an excuse for a return to hunting is in the air?

Reviews
I have had some great reviews on Amazon lately. Here are two:

Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate
Exciting read
In the genre of The Da Vinci Code, this is a good read. It is well plotted, very well researched & I liked the characters. If you liked the Da Vinci Code, you will like this book.

Attack Hitler’s Bunker!
Great read
Great concept.It really captured the dedication and spirit.Not to mention the bravery it took to stand up to the task of defeating an evil axis.

Free Offers
With the exception of Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, And Attack Hitler’s Bunker!, all my kindle books will be free for periods between now and Christmas to give you a chance to give one as a present.

Other News
In case you’re wondering this title is from the excellent and very funny 1987 film. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. The title is also a reference to my issues with Amazon this week.
I have become weary of sellers on Amazon offering my paperback books at extortionate prices even up to £40 in one case. There are currently more copies on offer than I have actually sold. This means either sellers are offering them (including used and quoting the condition ) before actually buying them or buying them, tearing them apart, copying them and printing them.
I spoke to Amazon’s support about this and the representative said Amazon allows them to charge whatever they like for products and cannot prove if they like and has no way of checking whether they have actually bought the item or not. It seems they don’t even care if the item is a fake or illegal copy. He said the onus was on me to prove something illegal was going on and than to email copyright@amazon.com.
Consequently I have had to spend quite a bit of time getting a detailed royalty payment history from Createspace – who publish my books. I mentioned that Amazon own Createspace but was told it made no difference. They still couldn’t access the data on my behalf! Now I have emailed Amazon at the above email address with the detailed account history and list of the offenders I have found on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. I have also emailed the sellers directly warning them of my actions (one of them – any_book removed the book immediately, another – gb_book is trying to, so they tell me! Another Pamaxs hasn’t responded). If you see these sellers, avoid them. I have also put up the prices of most of the books (older books and Iron I being the exceptions) to make it not worth while anybody copying one and selling it. If you are selling a paperback at a low price and it’s popular, watch out! Somebody might be copying it and selling it!
I guess for a writer publishing on Amazon, being independent means having no support at all!

Update: I just received Amazon’s reply (although I don’t understand it or their apparent lack of interest)
“Amazon respects a manufacturer’s right to enter into exclusive distribution agreements for its products. However, as the enforcement of these agreements is a matter of contract between the manufacturer and the distributors, it would not be appropriate for Amazon to assist in enforcing these agreements.”

Elsewhere
I was a big fan of Time Team in its early days. In recent years its got a bit too long in the tooth. I was fascinated by their Special programme on the 1066 Battlefield. I would love to see more like this. I only regret that they didn’t have enough time to do more than speculate that the actually centre of the battle was at the centre of Battle (no pun intended). Let’s hope they have another go soon. No evidence of the battle has ever been found but it has to be there somewhere.
I have also found the recent series on the Cold War fascinating. It’s very worth watching if you can get it on catch-up TV if only for the idea that Brent Cross shopping centre won Britain and the US the Cold War! The series has been good material for my current project (hint!). The presenter is a bit too pro-Maggie Thatcher for my liking; I am one of those who narrowly avoided a prison sentence for busking under her ‘iron’ rule. Many people suffered terribly and who can forget the pole-tax?

Blog: Witchfinder General – Lazlo Ferran

This week: Sneak Preview, Gravity’s Rainbow review, the End of Formula 1?

Sneak Preview

This week’s is from a a project provisionally entitled December Radio. Hard to say what it’s about at this point without giving it all away but you can be sure there will plenty of tension with a huge climax and even some philosophy for those that have the time. This excerpt holds the reason for this week’s blog title.

December Radio

Copyright © 2013 by Lazlo Ferran

All Rights Reserved

Sarah barked at the crows, “Shut yer mouths. I ain’t got no food for you and you int a ‘having my body. Not even when I’m dead. They’s ‘ll probably burn me and if not, I will get a Chist’an burial. She spat into the puddle swilling around her filthy skirt- hem but missed and it splatted against piece of rock. She even found this funny; Sarah had a bright soul. Her long, brown and unwashed hair had fallen loose over her left eye while she had been working at the crosses and she pushed the strands back into place while humming a tune. She had made it up to go with the spell her mother had taught her so long ago:

Firft, third and fourth finger,
From a dying fold’r,
To tickle the Debil
– he’ll hold back the sickle
But afore he’ll do It –
‘E must dance on the ‘eather,
In black temper weather,
Naked as t’wer in cradle.
T’sharpen hif piffle.

How she had wondered when she was a little-un what piffle was! It hadn’t been long afore she found out! She laughed as she sang.

Eh! It’s grand to be a healer – a wise woman – aye a witch! Dancing under the stars in summer, walking the lanes for herbs and not a man to hold her down. She could take a man whenever she wanted! Eh, it was grand until the likes of Matthew ‘opkins came a’hunting. And drowning. But now Merry Charlie was on the throne things were better. It was almost back to the old life. She was stopped in the middle of a laugh when she reached the top of the short hill. Serious for a moment, she turned to look back at the crossroads one last time. Shielding her eyes with her palm against the lowering sun in the blood red sky, she stared sadly at the three corpses hanging like fleshy rags from the crosses made by the townsfolk.

Review of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

I am about 70 pages from the end of this epic novel. The middle section about Slothrop’s adventures really had me hooked. But they came after page 400 which is leaving it very late; I might well have given up before then if it hadn’t been for a friend’s encouragement. I also love Byron the (eternal) Bulb’s story. It’s very witty and just the sort of thing I love. For instance, my favourite bit of Life of Brian is the alien spaceship bit. I love frivolity which throws the  main story into focus. There is no doubt Pynchon has a keen wit.

I must admit I struggled a lot until half-way through. At 900 pages it is way longer than anything of its kind that I have read before. It has very little chronological structure – indeed very little structure of any kind. The author attempts to make words the fabric of a reality without the meaning that we apply to the one around us but one in which everything is inter-connected. He is reducing reality to a serendipitous flux. I know Pynchon flirted with the beat writers but did he finally settle for the existential school of Camus et al? I haven’t finished yet but that seems so at this point; it’s a kind of American existentialism.

There are a few errors; Luftwaffe pilots did not get ‘furlough’s or holidays for instance. They had to fly until they dropped. There are a few references to things that didn’t come until after the War. So unless this is a time-travel story they are out of place. But fair dos – the book is very complex and Pynchon was writing before the world wide web so its a masterful piece of period depiction (and research), even with the mistakes (if you meant them Thomas, forgive me).

As I understand it, Mr Pynchon is shy of public intention so he’s unlikely to correct me. What are your views?

The End of Formula 1?

Brazil: the last race of the season and you would think it would be happy affair. Brazil is known for its parties – Valentino Rossi used to make a week-long affair or it. But it was like a funeral. Mark Webber retiring, Massa moving down a few teams from Ferrarri and Ross Braun apparently moving on made it it a very sad occasion.

I was not surprised when, somehow, Webber’s tyre went wrong, AGAIN! It even looked staged when Vettel has a similar problem. Perhaps the Red Bull feelers detected a certain sang froid from their fans and decided to stage Vettel’s problem to molify them? It didn’t work for me if that was the case. Mark’s time with Red Bull (not when it was Jaguar, mind) has been a story of mechanical and strategic failures whereas the Golden Boy, Vettel has had all the ‘luck’. Massa seems to have always come out worse when he has gone up against Hamilton and this week was no exception. Crossing the ‘hatched lines’ on pit entry has never been punished before. Why now? And especially why on his last race with Ferrari. It just seems cruel as well as unjust.

It just seems to me there is an element of choreography going on behind the scenes in F1. Some drivers (so called ‘crowd pleasers’) like Vettel and Hamilton are singled out and pushed into the limelight. They more than often than not win in any ruling situation with the stewards. Meanwhile drivers who are probably considered saps by the some cynics behind the scenes – Massa and Webber come to mind – are treated cruelly at times. I think it’s very sad to see a talented driver’s career being curtailed like this. Those responsible – if they are – should be ashamed.

Braun leaving Mercedes? It seems that Mercedes, having bought Braun racing from him, have decided he is no longer so useful to them. This is not just typical of F1 but of most industries. Buy up a successful business – reassuring the owner of their l;ong-term security of course – and then summarily sack them after a few years. The trouble with that is that the business usually fails soon after. Indeed a good example is Jaguar racing which was Stewart before that. Mercedes had better take note.

I won’t be sad if I never see another F1 race.

Blog: Playing for Keeps – by Lazlo Ferran

This week: Sneak Preview, Free offer results, Short Stirlings, philosophy.

Sneak Preview is back!
Yes, I am writing again! It’s taken a few weeks but here is an excerpt from the forthcoming (in the next few years!) novel with the working title December Radio.

December Radio

Copyright © 2013 by Lazlo Ferran

All Rights Reserved

“Scary the first time but don’t look too long; you’ll be fine,” said Max Schickert, coiling the blue nylon safety line around the taut muscles in his forearm.
It was Davis Connaughy’s first trip to ‘The Telescope’. He looked at the innocent-looking gap between the two boulders with distrust. The noon-day heat of Peru in October was making him sweat slightly after the long hike up the hill above San Ramon. He glanced at the blonde Apollo in front of him and grinned. He turned to look back out across the vast valley of refulgent green, ruffled nearby by the gentle east-north east breeze.
“No problemo. I have done The Cave of Swallows twice!”
“You do realise how privileged you are to be here? Don’t fuck up! And pay attention.”
“Sorry.”
“Strap on here.” Max patted the piton he had just fixed his safety-line to and slipped through the tall grass covering the opening between the boulders. “Remember what I told you,” he shouted from within the cave. “The first twenty feet looks easy, but it’s slippy.”
Davis attached his line, took a deep breath and pushed aside the grass to enter the cave. “Moss?”
“Probably. Shit too. Including human. Shepherds used this as a latrine for hundreds of years.”
“Yeah I can smell that. Can’t see a damned thing yet.”
“You will. Swallows is nothing like this. I mean, bigger, yeah. But this place is just damned weird. Press will have a field day once this gets out. Okay, you beginning to see?”
“Yeah. Je-sus!”
“And I bet you ain’t never jumped from within a cave before.”
“Oops. Nearly went over! Still, Swallows is tricky at the top! Where is the first annulus?”
“You won’t see it. Not from up here. Stand here. And shut the fuck up about Swallows. It’s a walk in the park compared with this baby. Do you wanna die? I only accepted you along ‘cause your dad used to jump with my dad. I don’t usually jump with newbies!”
David caught up with Max on a narrow ledge overlooking the strange vaulted cavern. Once inside the entrance he could see for himself that the upper opening had been blocked by a massive rock fall, perhaps for thousands of years. The rocks were held in place only by their own weight. Any violent earthquake could have brought them down. The cave – if cave it was – ran down at an angle of 44.9 degrees from the horizontal and was five times as wide as the Albert Hall.
“I can’t even see the other side!”
“Nope. You’ll only see that when you jump!”
“This is the only way out and that’s the only way up,” Davis reflected out loud. He pointed to the single rappel rope secured around a rock to the right of his feet. It hung over the edge of the precipice and it stretched into the yawning abyss below. He stomach turned over.
“Yeah, we’ll fit a winch when we get time. Don’t forget you’re only the fifth man in here. How is your SRT?”
“Rusty. Never done much single-rope stuff.”
“Well make sure you have your gear secured before you jump. No way I’m pulling you up! You better get your stuff ready. And whatever you see, you’re sworn to secrecy. Right?”
“Right.”
Both men prepared their parachute equipment in silence. Speech could mean death. Davis was the first to finish.
“I’m ready,” he announced.
“Yeah… Well check it again. I’m not ready.”
“The lights!”
“Yeah. I’ll turn them on.”
Max bent to a crude electrical switch on the end of a black cable which also snaked over the precipice and into the gloom. Instantly the awesome shape of the cave was revealed dimly by a string of halogen lights, stretching away to the bottom of the cave. Every hundred metres or so, an annular opening marked a narrowing of the tunnel – five in all – before the bottom, over four hundred metres away.
“Wow! That looks scary!”
“Oh yeah! You’d better have your shit together here, man! Those ridges are what makes it lethal. And it narrows down to less than a tennis-court. Wet too. Mostly a big, slushy puddle. But you won’t mind, if you get that far. Ready?”

Free Offer Results

I had 373 downloads for Attack Hitler’s Bunker! which was a lot more than for Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate the week before. Admittedly there was a small promotional advert on Facebook but it yielded very few click-throughs so I think it’s a pretty fair comparison. It’s good to know my most recent work is doing so well.

Short Stirlings

As any who are fans of WWII aircraft will know, there are no Short Stirlings left in this world. Some may say that is a good thing; who wants to remember old bombers? However the Short Stirling was the first British heavy bomber. It suffered many handicaps forced on it by a short-sighted Air Ministry and yet still delighted the pilots who flew it with its beautiful flight characteristics. All other heavy bombers from all sides are represented in museums around the world but the few Stirling wrecks have been left to rot at the bottom of the sea and on mountain sides. The Stirling Aircraft Society aims to correct this. With very little money and few resources they are slowly, painstakingly building a ‘replica’ of a Stirling front fuselage using as many original parts as possible. Although I am not a member of the Society I have taken a keen interest in their progress. My book Attack Hitler’s Bunker! deliberately featured the Stirling prominently in an effort by myself to raise awareness of its achievements and plight. All profits from the book for the first two years will go to the Society. Last week I became aware of a wreck discovered by a French team of divers. They clearly do not realise the importance of the wreck which seems almost intact. It would be such a wonderful event if it could be lifted. The Society has contacted the team but as yet I have no information about where it is or how easy it would be to recover. I will post updates on here if there is any  progress.

Review of Castle Keep

I am reviewing this obscure WWII film  not because it’s good but because it raises some questions for me. The book is an average production, telling the story of a platoon of US soldiers defending a Belgian 11th Century castle during the Battle of the Bulge. No doubt soldiers had become incredibly cynical by 1944; the campaign was known for it’s brutality. No wonder then that it was chosen by the producers in the Hippy sunset of 1969. The period is known for its picaresque movies.

‘Picaresque’  – of or relating to a type of fiction in which the hero, a rogue, goes through a series of episodic adventures. It originated in Spain in the 16th century – Collins English Dictionary

Don Quixote is perhaps the first novel that suggests this type of character but he/she seems to have become very French by 1969. In most movies of this type there is at least one French character and so it is here; the US Major, played by Burt Lancaster billets at the castle and sleeps with the Count’s gorgeous young wife. His platoon are the usual bunch of misfits but with one art critic who envies the Major his bed-partner. Another soldier, played by Columbo’s Peter Falk is a former baker and when they discover a brothel he instead heads for the bakery.

“Where there is a baker, there’s a baker’s wife,” he answers to their jeers.

And sure enough the baker’s wife asks him to “Come to bed,” within a few short minutes. He has seemlessly replaced her lost husband. This typifies the slightly crazy and cynical nature of the film. In another scene a German tank is driven right inside a large church where the soldiers capture it. They try to drive it out but end up knocking down the whole church; typical dramatic and unnerving juxtaposition of images and ideas used in these picaresque adventures. They usually end inconclusively and so does this one. I find that I don’t really care for any of the characters; they have become too cynical for that. We are supposed to like the Major. Sometimes he is referred to as the General and I suppose this is where this film fails to even match it’s genre rivals. Everything about him is vague, as if he is a cipher.

Other movies of the type do better. The Beatles particularly employed this style in Help and The Magical Mystery Tour and here they manage to be likable. Perhaps they have more respect for the style. I can’t think of earlier films that follow this style but certainly by the turn of the decade films from Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines to The Confessions series to blockbusters like Waterloo and even Mary Poppins employed it. One of the more successful uses was Clint Eastwood’s series of Spaghetti Westerns (the genre probably culminating in El Topo, about as far ‘out there’ as a movie could be). Indeed Eastwood himself went on to star in one of the last picareque movies, Kelly’s Heroes.

Of course it’s not surprising that films became more cynical after the stifling of the Hippy movement. Either the directors were liberal and felt disappointed or they were right-wing and appropriated some of the Hippy aesthetics for their own use. Either way, such darker films became very typical in the early 1970s. Was it perhaps an Anglo Saxon attempt to appropriate French existential ideas as a sop during these dark times? British moral structure became almost vacuous in the wake of the Hippy collapse; probably not because everyone missed it but because nobody had anything better to offer.

Into this vacuum, perhaps the Dog-eat-dog philosophy of Freddie Ayers seeped. Many of his ideas were formed during the terrible Spanish Civil War of the late 30s and so his suggested structure – we are all animals so why not behave like it’ (my paraphrasing) was tailor-made for such times. Unfortunately, it may be that they have left a deeper imprint on our society than we would like to think.

Until now my views have been impartial, speculative but I leave you with one final thought and here I do have strong views: it might even be that the Big Brother House and X-Factor owe their existence to the picareque Don Quixote. Perhaps with the terrible fate of Jade Goody, who after all had nothing more than a hunger for fame as a talent, we have seen the noon of this way of thinking. Perhaps now we can get back to some sanity and appreciation of real talent.

Other News

As you can see from the excerpt, I am writing again. I reached a nice stage with the IT stuff so for the next month or so I will be concentrating on writing alone. I am assured that the Second Edition of Amit Bobrov’s The Journals or Raymond Brooks is being worked on by the publisher so I think we can expect that out soon. It is edited by me.

Elsewhere

I was a bit disappointed with the way Valentino Rossi ‘sacked’ Jeremy Burgess. After all these years of working so closely together it’s a bit rough. However I think it shows just how ruthless and determined to win Vale is. Let’s hope at least it brings results next year. Burgess has surely been one of Rossi’s most crucial partners during his whole career.

Blog: Miracles for Sale – Lazlo Ferran

This week: Facebook privacy, FREE Offers, building a social network, OCD Update and Formula One.

I haven’t actually seen the film Miracles for Sale from 1939, but having read the synopsis, I want to see it. The reason for my choice of title will become clearer if you read the section on Facebook privacy. Because You’re Worth It might have been a more appropriate choice of film title but the 2002, made for TV film has no reviews and no actors in it.

Facebook Privacy
Now I am making some progress with my project to build my own Social Network, I have to start thinking about I handle data and specifically how to keep member’s data private. Privacy is a huge issue these days; when I asked a friend for his views he told me he had joined over ten networks and that people are into privacy these days. I think he’s right. People don’t want to share their personal information with anyone but their closest friends. The problem is that Facebook is doing exactly that.

If you log in to Facebook and then click the drop down to select your Privacy settings you will see a menu on the far left which includes Apps and Ads. I suggest you turn off any aps you don’t use (I found many here listed which I never use) but for now click on Ads. At the bottom you will find a sub section: Website and Mobile App Custom Audiences.
Read this. So how does Facebook get away with this? Simples: they are very open about it.

But are they? If you click on the Learn more link in the first bullet point (it’s not very obvious because they have used a dark blue highlight with black text) you will see a video that explains how Online Behavioural Advertising works. Its all pretty simple and we know the theory behind it; by sharing some of your data with advertisers, Facebook allows the advertisers to place adverts in front of you if they think you might buy their products. In the process Facebook makes shit-loads of cash. Nothing new there.

However, Facebook is keen to point out they don’t share any of your Private Data. They only share your public data. In actual fact I found Facebook’s link didn’t work but a quick google located the website they refer to: http://www.iabuk.net/.

I was curious. This websites didn’t seem aimed at the general public but more at advertisers; they constantly talk about ‘they’ and ‘them’ when referring to the public who are viewing the adverts. It seems like another world from social networks so I hunted around and found this video: http://www.iabuk.net/video/the-evolution-of-online-display-advertising.

This is much more interesting than the first video. I had the uncomfortable feeling while watching it that I was being given the hard sell for the concept of the Ad Exchange. I didn’t really understand what it was other than a network of people sharing your personal data. I needed to do more research.

I won’t go into technical details but it seems to me that what Facebook and the Ad Exchange do is share your IP address which they consider NOT to be your Private Data. They consider this Public Data. This is because from a techy point of view, they processes simply won’t work unless they share your IP address (essentially the physical address of your computer). While it’s true that they are not connecting your browsing habits with your name, they ARE connecting them with your computer so to me, the difference between your IP address and personal name is academic. Sure somebody else could be using your pc/mac/laptop but most of the time it will be you.

I suspected as much because recently a friend of mine was caught in a retail scam and when she contacted them they managed somehow to connect her with her blog posts criticising them even though she used a false name on the blog. There is only one way they could have done this; if her IP address was shared.

Thus it looks like they have hidden a declaration of what they do beneath layer upon layer of jargon. Paradoxically it looks like the older process or infrastructure called the Ad Network is more transparent and fairer; there the advertiser buys advertisisng space on a website and trusts the publisher (usually the owner of the website) to publish their advert for them. In this process the advertiser never sees any data about you until you browse or buy their products.

While thinking about how to use RDF on my Social Network I had started to wonder how I was going to share the triples while (which is a fundamental part of the RDF paradigm) and now I have decided to develop a system along the Ad Network model.

Free Offers
Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate is still FREE on Amazon until 5 November for Halloween.
Attack Hitler’s Bunker! will be FREE on Amazon from 6-10 November. This will be its first free promotion so make sure you grab a free copy.

Building a Social Network
This week I had to choose a triple store for my data. It has taken me a few weeks to think about this because it was not clear to me how one can legally or morally share data in an RDF world although the world of triples is one of sharing data. I want to contribute to the Global Graph so I needed RDF. In the end I settled on MongoDB. It’s slow (according to reviewers) at inserting triple data but this doesn’t matter to me. My primary store is MySQL and I only need to run a daily cron to update the triple store. However, MongoDB is quick to query and more versatile if I later choose to build some commercial tools. Note: I will DEFINATELY NOT be sharing members’ Private Data of my members. So if you are one of those already in the test group, don’t worry!
Since installing the triple store (thanks MongoDB makers – your instructions were wrong and caused me problems for a few hours!) I have focused on building a Facebook Ap. That is about all I am prepared to say about this for now. It’s proving a bit tricky to achieve what I want but for those of you who are interested, I will keep you updated.

OCD Update
For those of you not aware, I have suffered from OCD for the last 18 years. After a six-month period of private Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) last year, ending in November, I pursued a plan devised by myself and refined by my therapist for the next six months. My fear is of dust and germs and my flat had become difficult for me to clean. My plan was to employ a regular cleaner and this worked for a while. But then I was made redundant. SInce then I have had to make do with cleaning myself. I must admit, there has been little improvement in my OCD since then. I talked to my doctor about it and we agreed that I should apply for more treatment on the NHS. I was placed in a queue and my first appointment is on the 6 November. I will let you know how I get on.
On the same subject, there were two tv shows on OCD this week; one focusing on patients at a treatment centre and one on OCD sufferers being used to clean the flats of people who simply don’t clean. I didn’t catch the second but the first was interesting. One sufferer called James seemed to suddenly gain control of his OCD through a fairly simple exposure exercise. For those not familiar with the term, one of the techniques used in CBT is exposure; making the sufferer touch something they don’t want to touch and then not applying their normal rituals to counter the effect. I am very happy for James that he made progress so quickly. I found it quite moving I did note that OCD can look amusing to the casual viewer. One case I have heard of was a sufferer who was convinced they caused road accidents wherever they drove and so had to loop back to check the roads all the time. Their journeys took a very long time to complete.

Formula One
I am even sadder that Mark Webber will be retiring this year. He has been a very underrated driver and has suffered while at Red Bull. Their constant pushing Vettel forward and holding Webber back has curtailed a promising career. I am not normally a conspiracy theorist but I do wonder why it is that Mark always gets the technical issues. Why on earth wasn’t his KERS turned on and charged when on the grid last Sunday?

Blog: The World Is Not Enough – Lazlo Ferran

This week: Para-Worlds, Social Network build and Free Offers.

Para-Worlds
I have spent most of this week defining a para-world. When I sit down to work on one of my literary projects now, I often feel hesitant: have I forgotten the thrust of the book; does what I am going to write fit into the world-view o the main character; oes the story express the world view I want to show. With about ten books published it is getting increasingly hard to keep track of the different world-views my stories encompass. moreover its becoming harder to invent new stories that are either so radically different from my existing ones that I don’t have to worry about any incongruity or ones that are similar enough to existing ones that I need to avoid the reader saying, “Hey, this doesn’t fit with that previous story – what’s going on?”

So I decided to think about coming up with a para-world which could encompass my sci-fi and fantasy stories. I am not exactly coining the term ‘para-world’ but I had better define what I mean. I mean by that a world that explains the unexplained elements of our own world; the hidden world as I see it if you like. Actually it is more like a hidden world as I see it; it is not the only view I have and is probably not the one I use in my day-to-day life.

I am not the first to try it either; Tolkien did it on a monumental scale; The Silmarillion can hardly be equaled for breadth of vision. I certainly don’t expect to equal it. I have come up with something though. To my delight I have found that it can accommodate most of what I am writing and most of what I have written. It does make me wonder a bit if it wasn’t there all the time without me knowing it. I have documented it and will develop it in the future. It may well remain a secret although bits of it will obviously seep out.

Social Network Build
If you follow my blog and read last week’s post, you will know that I am developing my own social network; I have the skills from my years in the IT industry and I may well have the will to do it now. Three of my friends have accounts now so that we can develop some ideas.

This week I added an email module to Drupal so that one can sign up on the test version without the admin having to unblock accounts. I also downloaded the Zen theme so that I can mess around with the look and feel. I have an idea or two to try and will probably develop them this week.

Free Offers
Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate will be FREE on Amazon from 1-5 November for Halloween.
Attack Hitler’s Bunker! will be FREE on Amazon from 6-10 November. This will be its first free promotion so make sure you grab a free copy.

Elsewhere
Has anybody noticed that Eddie Jordan is looking more like Woody Allen every Formula 1 race? I would love to see Woody Allen commentate on F1. He would be even funnier as the pit-lane reporter.
David Coulthard: Woody, did you see that tyre change? What more can you tell us from the Ferrari pit?
Woody: Jake? Is that you? I am having a… what’s the name… a panic attack! Oh my god! This woman with something above an F-cup just walked up to me and asked me for her autograph. She thought I was Niki Lauda.
David Coulthard: I see. That’s great, Woody.
Woody: Yeah, it would be but she didn’t have a pen. She didn’t have paper either but she wanted me to sign her thigh. Needless to say I left my pen in the ladies toilet. I could hardly say, “Come with me and I’ll take you to my pen!”
David: How did it get left in the ladies loos?
Woody: Yeah. Well, that’s another story… Anyway, turns out she’s a psychotherapist so I think I got it made!
David: Thanks Woody for the latest from the pit-lane.

For me, F1 is getting very boring. I rarely even make the effort to watch now. Apart from the domination by a young man who has been spoiled into thinking he is the best, the technology has become somewhat stagnant. I look forward to the return of turbos next year.

I also wish Valentino the best in tomorrow’s MotoGP. Great that Hayden made it onto the front row, a very rare thing for Ducati these days. They really need to get their company philosophy sorted out. Do they want to be the best small manufacturer out there or an average medium-sized manufacturer? Also, it was a terrible error for Marquez last week but he is young: you can’t go through a rookie season without a few big mistakes.

Blog: Back to the Future – Lazlo Ferran

This week: Social Networking website dev and RDF, Lord of the Rings radio series, review of La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf biopic).

No sneak preview this week. God! Another week when I haven’t a clue what to write. I will just have to wing it!

Social Networking Site
This week’s blog title is due to my first tentative steps into the AI world of Web 3.0. For the last two or three years – since stumbling upon an article about Resource Description Framework (RDF), I have been championing the whole idea of large data sets of triplets describing resources in a meta-data kind of way. Tim Berners-Lee – inventor, if you like, of the World Wide Web – has pronounced it as the precursor to and foundation of Internet Artificial Intelligence. I believe him. Without some way of aggregating data and meta-data there will soon be just too much information around to be used by humans. We need an intermediary, an intelligence that can filter it for us. For that we need large data stores of meta-data. That is where RDF comes in. It has been around for many years but, like HTML, it has been adopted by developers in a role for which it was never intended. It’s simplicity is probably it’s main virtue, and asset – as with HTML.

I always intended to dabble myself in this field, if only to keep up with the latest IT developments. I was on the very first HTML course – just five of us – in South Kensington. This was way back in 1996. I had discovered the internet and world wide web the previous year while temping at Nortel. The little dog cursor, running in ftp, has fascinated me. I consequently booked a place in Islington’s Central Library on the first internet connected PC for the public in North London. For the next six months, mine was the only signature in the bookings. There was only black and white text then, and only a few American sites (UCLA for one) had cracked images. It was a frontier. I love frontiers; few rules. From that I was able to walk into my first job as a webmaster and command my own fees.
This may all seem a million miles from writing but at the root of both my writing and internet projects is a love for connecting with people and observing how they behave. For this reason I have decided to try and build my own social network website.
I have gone with the WAMP paradigm: Windows (cos I have a windows PC), Apache, MySQL and PHP.
Tutorials for installing these were easy to find on youtube and I chose the ones my lucidnerd. He speaks very clearly and seemed to know what he was doing. Unfortunately he left me in the lurch somewhat when I reached the point of installing my cms for the social network. I chose Drupal. I used it in my last job and found it to be pretty stable. Sure enough lucidnerd did a turorial for installing drupal on Windows 8 so I thought I had it made. Wrong… At the beginning of the tutorial I find that he uses the WAMPserver application – a kind of one-click application to install all of the above three apps.I could find no help at all in installing Drupal 7 on the above development environment.
Therefore, I had to just install Drupal 7 on my own. Everything went fine until I told Drupal where the database was and what user/password to use. The next screen had a brief message telling me the table ‘properties’ already existed and the rest of the page was blank. I googled this error and found many others had experienced the same problem. The cause seemed to be browser related so I tried again in firefox and explorer – several times. The problem was worse in Firefox with not even an error message and explorer wasn’t any better. It was only when I returned to Chrome that I received a similar error, but this time naming a difference missing table. I thought… hm, this sounds like a memory issue. Sure enough, further googling revealed a comment by a developer that a problem with his flavour of drupal could be fixed by increasing the execute time and memory allocated to Drupal. I increased both hugely and… success!

So now I have Drupal installed and RDF ready. I have been researching themes and it looks like Zen is the one to go for: mobile friendly, versatile and quick. From here I will want to extend the application using a NoSQL data store and RDF.

Now I just need an idea for my site. Ideas on a postcard please.

I will keep you informed of my progress with this project.

Other News
There will be an announcement here shortly of two free promotions of my books. Watch this space.

Elsewhere
I watched La Vie en Rose – the biopic of Edith Piaf this week. It’s an excellent movie but Piaf is such a boor. If it wasn’t for a passionate singing voice, I don’t think there would be anything likable about her. As a performer of chanson réaliste songs, she was impressive but I don’t think she quite matches up with other modern chanson singers like Jaques Brel. Nevertheless the film is colourful and well-directed. You won’t get bored if you are the slightest bit interested in singers or her life. My only criticism was the jump cuts – backwards and forwards throughout the film. This could have worked very well if they had jumped ‘back’ to only one segment of her life but the director chose to randomly visit various stages of her career. The clarity was not helped by fluctuations in her appearance – it could deteriorate and then improve with her heavy drug additions and recoveries. The confusion was even further exacerbated by lack of information about her various romantic relationships: men appeared and disappeared, including a husband with little or no explanation. Four out of five I think.
I have also stumbled upon a radio series of Lord of the Rings which I was unaware of. I will start watching it tonight. If anybody else has listened to it, I would like your views. I don’t yet know why it is labelled ‘notorious. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTledKaqoJ4