Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Spain again, but England is loath to let us go.

The journey from Oxford to our home in Spain is about 1,300 miles. We mostly take it slowly and endeavour to enjoy the trip: it’s like a holiday.

This time we travelled in our replacement camper van: it’s bigger than the old one which we had for ten years. We got as far as Dover without mishap. There we visited the castle which is enormous and commands an imposing position high above the famous white cliffs. There I learned that this stronghold was only once invaded – by a group of drunken townsfolk during the English civil war. We ate in an interesting restaurant called the Allotment and had a long conversation with a delightful pair. The mother was some sort of adviser to the EU in Brussels and the son captured pirates in different parts of the world. We were in awe.

Next morning we got up in plenty of time for the ferry to Calais. I went for a run, we ate breakfast, showered, then with an hour or so to go before departure I turned the key of the van. Nothing. It had a completely flat battery! I raced around trying to find someone with jump leads: no good. A kindly local lead me to Halfords, but it did open until 10 a.m. on Sundays! I ran back to the van removed one of the bicycles we were carrying and pedalled quickly to the ferry terminal arriving just before our boat was due to depart. There a friendly P&O Ferries employee rang a few people then informed me that it was OK: I could take a later ferry at no extra charge.

I cycled back to the van then walked once more to Halfords which was about a kilometre away and just opening. I explained my problem and asked if they could bring a new battery around and possibly fit it. The young man at the counter was willing to bring the thing around in his own car, but had to check with his boss. This man shook his head slowly and mouthed the stultifying words “health and safety”.

So, I had to carry the heavy battery back to the van – and it was heavy. At least two people actually said, “That ttttlooks heavy,” as I struggled along – such wits the Dover men. But I finally got there and began the difficult job of changing the batteries over: things are such a tight fit in modern vans. By two o’clock or so we had left the old battery at Halfords and were on our way across the channel. Not too bad really. The man at the ferry gate wanted to see the receipt for the battery before letting us through, but then gave us a ten-pound token to spend on board! I had a Cornish pasty, the last for at least three months.

France was as enjoyable as ever, but expensive for food and drink, and run down in places. Highlights of the journey were the Ouche Valley in the Bourgogne where we rode our bikes alongside the canal, and Villefranche in the Pyrenees, a magical walled town full of shops and restaurants.

We reached our village just in time to catch the end of the major fiesta where the firework-spitting bull chased us. We danced, were kissed by people we hardly know, drank far too much and finally went to bed at five in the morning. Nice to be back.

Monday, 12 August 2013

A fairy tale reborn

I started writing a long time ago. In the past much of my stuff was technical - reports, conference papers and such, then latterly books. But I also wrote things for my kids in the early days and did try to get one of my creations published. It was a long poem called the Bogle of Bump and I must confess that quite a lot of it was written during interminable meetings! Through the Campaign for Real Ale I met an illustrator, Liz Worsley, and she prepared some lovely drawings to accompany the poem. I offered the thing to a few publishers, but soon gave up. After all, the Bogle of Bump was really written for my girls, not for the public.

Later, the boys came along and I read the tale to them whilst showing them Liz's colourful pictures. I think they liked it. Time passed, the typewritten verses began to yellow and the pictures to fade then, possibly stimulated by my son's poem , The House of Stink, which is much better than mine and illustrated by himself (Rafe's a clever lad), I thought - why not resurrect my old story?

I dug it out, scanned the written sheets and passed it through some software to change the typescript into text, then scanned the pictures and chopped them up them to match each verse. Next, I used PowerPoint to combine the pictures and text exporting these as image files into the Kindle comic creator. It all took a long time - though not as long as writing the thing in the first place. And, thirty-nine years after reading it to Sheena, my eldest daughter, I uploaded the thing onto the Kindle Store: The Bogle of Bump was published as an eBook!

It's a story about a wicked witch and an ugly bogle called Bungi, together with pretty fairies who have lost their fairy light and their sight: good old-fashioned fairy tale stuff with a happy ending. I don't suppose it will ever sell many copies if any, but I offered it for free for a couple of days and there were a few takers in the USA, UK, Germany, Italy and Japan!

Of course, bogles and their like do not age, but since Bungi Bogle was born in my head it will be his fortieth birthday next year. When he was conceived, the Internet was just a whisper amongst academics and a secret tool of the military. There were no mobile phones or personal computers, microwave ovens were for the rich and the nearest thing to facebook was a pen pal or two. Nowadays, my Bungi Bogle is dancing around the World Wide Web!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

They're stealing my books!

On Thursday night I went to a strange do in Oxford. Held in a pub, of course, it consisted of a couple of plays without scenery and then an off-the-cuff performance which included members of the audience. It was a little odd, but rather fun. I didn't get involved in the extempore stuff, but did get talking to some of the actors over a pint afterwards. One was a bright young software engineer from Moldova (next to Ukraine, he informed me tiredly). His girlfriend is writing a book (who isn't?) so we got to talking about eBooks.

He was particularly interested, I recall, in protection. How could you ensure that your book wasn't pirated: copied then sold, or given away, by someone else? We talked a little about Digital Rights Management which is supposed to protect eBooks, but neither of us knew much about it. I told him that Smashwords (which sells eBooks in lots of formats) did not use it and claims that it is actually counterproductive: it's better to have your words out there regardless of the odd bit of pilfering, they say.

Recently, I made the exciting discovery that Smashwords had sold a number of copies of my novel, Shaken by China, in New Zealand and Australia. Since then I've been going a little Smashwords crazy. I now have seven books in their eBook shop and I told my Moldovan friend that I was quite happy with the odd person copying a book that they had bought of mine and giving it to someone else. It seemed to me a little like lending a paper book - but it isn't.

Next evening I did a search for "Hedy Rob Walters" I can't remember exactly why, I think I was trying to get to the Hedy Lamarr page of my own website without clicking the visitor count. Anyway, I was amazed at the sheer number of hits that came up and started to wade through them, then I came to this:

Yes, my Hedy Lamarr book available for FREE to anyone! I was stultified. That book took ages of research and months of writing and rewriting. I sell it through Amazon as a paper book and an eBook and though it does not sell in huge quantities, it does sell and I am gladdened by every sale. Meanwhile, I now find that anyone searching for my book can download it for free from this pirate website and I have no idea how long this has been so.

How did they get my book? I don't know. Why do they do it? Money, somewhere along the line, I suppose. How did I feel? Angry, despoiled, gutted, but unsurprised. I immediately bashed out a flame email starting with "How dare you..." and ending with the threat of action if the book was not removed within one week.
Later that night I met Jim in one of my favourite pubs in Oxford (Far from the Madding Crowd) and told him of my shock discovery. He was unperturbed. He told me that he had found one of his own publications offered for free recently and was pleased, but then he's an academic. Moreover, he also told me that he had software that can strip off any protection surrounding an eBook or document. So what can you do? Anyone else experiencing this?

Part way through writing this blog I found another shocker. Someone has put much of my novel, Shaken by China, onto their website for anyone to read. They call themselves Kilibro and claim to offer readers the opportunity to dip into books before purchasing them, yet they offer no means of purchasing the book! I'm afraid that the more I search for this sort of thing the more I will find. It's a rough world out there in the Internet.