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Monday, April 29, 2013

Deathless insults

 They said it ... very unkindly

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."·
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."·
 "He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr·
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." -Winston Churchill· "
I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." Clarence Darrow·
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).·

 "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas·
 "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain·
  "He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.." - Oscar Wilde·
         "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill·
         "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second ... if there is one." - Winston Churchill, in response.·
 "I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." -Stephen Bishop·
  "He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright·
  "I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." -Irvin S. Cobb·
  "He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others." -Samuel Johnson·
  "He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating·
  "In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." -Charles, Count Talleyrand·
  "He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker·
   "Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain·
  "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West·
  "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." -Oscar Wilde·
   "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)·
   "He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder·
  "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." – Groucho

  With thanks to Judith Smith


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sacramento's First Newspaper

The Placer Times

The Placer Times was first published on April 28, 1849./ Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong
Sacramento City's first newspaper, the Placer Times was established 164 years ago in an adobe-like structure near the modern day corner of 28th and K streets, just outside the walls of Sutter’s Fort.
Originally a weekly publication, the Times, which was initially published by E.C. Kemble & Co., began the distribution of its first issue on April 28, 1849.
At the time that Edward Cleveland Kemble established this pioneer newspaper, the Times was one of only two newspapers being published in California.
The other newspaper was Yerba Buena’s (San Francisco’s) Alta California, which began through a mergence of California’s first two newspapers, the Californian and The California Star.
The Californian, which included news in English and Spanish, was first published in Monterey on Aug. 15, 1846. The paper was relocated to San Francisco about a year later.
Predating the Californian’s arrival in San Francisco, the Star, which was founded by Samuel Brannan, became San Francisco’s first newspaper, as it was published for the first time in Yerba Buena on Jan. 9, 1847.
Like Brannan, Kemble came to California on the Brooklyn, which dropped anchor at Yerba Buena (in San Francisco harbor) on July 31, 1846.  Soon, he acquired both the Californian and the Star, merging them as the Alta California. And then he made his historic decision to establish a paper at Sutter's Fort, the gateway to the "diggings."
According to the 1880 book, “History of Sacramento County,” type was acquired from the old Alta office, a Ramage press (the same one used by California's first printer, Augustin V. Zamorano) was repaired and old Spanish printing paper was obtained. Then the items were shipped to Sacramento City (originally known as simply "the Embarcadero") on a small schooner, Dice Me Nana, and carted up to the walls of Sutter's Fort.

The Times, which was originally printed on 13-inch by 18-inch paper and had its title cut from wood with a pocketknife, also served as a bullhorn for news of the Gold Rush.
The original price of the newspaper, which originally featured three columns of text per page, was $10 per year, $6 for six months, $4 for three months and 25 cents for single copies. Although the first issue of the Times was not rich with advertisements, it nonetheless included notable advertisements such as a notice that Captain John A. Sutter was offering a $200 reward for the return of two horses that went missing from Sutter’s Fort.
Kemble’s time with Sacramento’s first newspaper was short lived, as is evident by the following words that were printed in the June 23, 1849 edition of the Times: “The ill health of Mr. E.C. Kemble has obliged him to retire from his post as editor of this paper. He has been succeeded in the duties as such by (T.R. Per Lee).”
Under this new editorship, the Times was relocated to Front Street during the following month.
Four months later, however, the Times was being printed on 2nd Street, between K and L streets.

In only a short period of time, the Times would experience many other changes, including an enlargement in its size and cost, its evolution to a tri-weekly publication on April 22, 1850 and its emergence as Sacramento’s first daily newspaper on June 5, 1850.



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Amazon to remove short shorts?

Jason Boog on GalleyCat reports that Amazon may be planning to remove books that are under 2,500 words

This was after a KDP writer reported receiving a letter from Amazon stating that books that are under that length should be augmented with additional relevant material, as otherwise they would be removed.

Here is the letter:


During a quality assurance review of your KDP catalog we have found that the following book(s) are extremely short and may create a poor reading experience and do not meet our content quality expectations:

[Name of Short]

In the best interest of Kindle customers, we remove titles from sale that may create a poor customer experience. Content that is less than 2,500 words is often disappointing to our customers and does not provide an enjoyable reading experience.

We ask that you fix the above book(s), as well as all of your catalog’s affected books, with additional content that is both unique and related to your book. Once you have ensured your book(s) would create a good customer experience, re-submit them for publishing within 5 business days. If your books have not been corrected by that time, they will be removed from sale in the Kindle Store. If the updates require more time, please unpublish your books.

The author in question reported this on the KBoards forum, and received some interesting replies -- including the observation that the new ruling would eliminate a lot of erotica!

My personal view is that 2,500 words makes a very short story.  If I bought a story that length, it would be part of a collection, or in a magazine that is willing to publish short shorts.  (My latest story in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, "The Bengal Tiger," is 4,800 words, which is the usual kind of length.)

And anything that Amazon does to improve the quality of the reading experience is fine by me.

Banknote to picture Churchill

Churchill banknote to be issued

Sir Winston Churchill will feature on the new design of a banknote which will enter circulation in 2016, the Bank of England has announced.

The wartime leader's image is planned to feature on the reverse of the new £5 note, together with one of his most celebrated quotations.

Churchill was chosen owing to his place as "a hero of the entire free world", said Bank governor Sir Mervyn King.

The current face of the £5 note is social reformer Elizabeth Fry.
'Truly great leader'
A wide range of historical characters appears on the reverse of Bank of England banknotes, with Elizabeth Fry the only woman among the current crop.

The Bank of England governor has the final say about who appears on a banknote, although the public can make suggestions. The latest addition has been announced by Sir Mervyn at Churchill's former home of Chartwell, in Westerham, Kent.

Friday, April 26, 2013

eBook bestsellers

Digital Book World has published its list of digital best sellers for the first quarter of 2013

And there is a big surprise

The big story so far this year is Hachette. Driven by the success of series like Beautiful Creatures, some 27% of all books on the list so far this year have been titles from Hachette.

Random House and Penguin are not far behind with 87 titles and 42 titles, respectively. Combined, Penguin Random House has published roughly 40% of all ebook best-sellers this year.

Just behind Random-Penguin is the big surprise: self-published titles. In the first 13 weeks of the year, 22 self-published titles have hit the best-seller list (7% of all titles), including two No. 1 spots.

2Random House87823
9Houghton Mifflin Harcourt757
10Simon & Schuster769

The James Patterson ad blitz

Publishers Weekly and the Patterson ad
"The New York Times needs to wake the fuck up."
-- James Patterson

The great James Patterson machine has swung into action -- in defense of traditional publishers.

This past weekend, James Patterson took out ads on the cover of PW, in The New York Times Book Review, and in Kirkus asking the questions "Who will save our books? Our bookstores? Our libraries?" and listing a number of classic books like The Sound and the Fury and A Wrinkle in Time.

His rationale? 

Without traditional publishers, along with all the traditional editing and so forth, there will be no more great books.

"This is hopefully starting a dialogue," Patterson said to PW. "I hate sitting around and talking; I like to do things."

Specifically, Patterson expressed frustration at the lack of advancement of the future of books discussion. The discussion, Patterson said, is stuck in a rut and there are ways everyone can chip in to fix it. "Publishers are sitting around saying: 'Woe is me.' Get in attack mode," Patterson said. The problem continues with media coverage, as Patterson said the same article about the book business being in trouble--with little information beyond that and little mention of possible solutions--is being written over and over. "That article is not worth running," he said. "The New York Times needs to wake the fuck up."

Predictably, Joe Konruth, the great supporter and promoter of the digital revolution has seen red.

"I'm not finding much to agree with here," he writes.

Along with lots of argument, he produces an evocative story.

"I'm reminded of the story behind the publication of The Confederacy of Dunces," he writes. "The author, John Kennedy Toole, was rejected by publishers, was supposedly very upset about it, and eventually killed himself. His mother took up the cause to publish the book posthumously, and eventually it was -- by the Louisiana State University. And then it won the Pulitzer."

Would the result have been different if Toole had published with KDP? Who knows?

The point is that the traditional publishing machine passed on a classic book. 

Personally, I think that the James Patterson machine could do a great deal more to help publishing and newbie writers than take out expensive adverts that lead to a lot of inconclusive debate.  After all, he has ninety-eight million dollars a year to play with.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Digital denial

Joe Konruth's blog is essential, addictive reading

It is also controversial


Because it lays out the lines between traditional and Indie publishing ... from the point of view of the author

On Sunday, he posted the nitty-gritty of a talk given by Barry Eisler at the Pike's Peak Writers' Convention which upset a number of trad publishers, who took to twitter to vent their unhappiness.

So what led to the twitter war with Eisler?  What points did he make?

First, that trad publishers are basically paper pushers. "The primary value-add offered by legacy publishers has traditionally been paper distribution," he said. "Certainly legacy publishers offer many other services (much of which is outsourced) -- editorial, copyediting, proofreading, book packaging, and marketing, to name the most obvious -- but the primary service, the one the others are built on, has always been paper distribution."  In order to succeed -- or get noticed at all -- an author needed a publisher to get his offering out on paper.

Obviously, this has changed.

As Eisler said, "The advent of digital book distribution means that today, not all authors need a paper distribution partner. Authors can reach (and thousands of authors are reaching) a mass audience in digital by self-publishing instead (a third option, Amazon publishing, combines elements of both systems)." 

As many of us know, it's wonderful to have an editor who is in love with your manuscript, and positively desperate to get it published. It would be even more wonderful if it was a bestseller, but -- publishing being a lottery -- the chances were that it would not make that NYT list.  Indie publishing is just a big a gamble, as very few Indie authors make it to the Amazon top 100, but at least authors now have a choice.

And, he argues, the digital revolution means that the author should have much more power, too.  Once the huge costs of paper distribution are taken away, the profit to the publisher is much greater -- and the author should be getting a much bigger royalty than the 17.5% for digital rights that are typically offered.

Perhaps that is why the trad publishing fraternity got so upset. Konruth's comments might upset them even further.  Read on.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Agent-assisted self publication

The Argo Navis Grab

"Lazy literary agents in self-publishing money grab via Argo Navis," runs the title line in an apparently very well-researched and definitely timely post on David Gaughran's blog, LET'S GET DIGITAL.

It was written in response to the news that David Mamet is going to self-publish his next book.

"While I think it’s great that someone as high-profile as David Mamet is self-publishing," writes Gaughran, "I was very disappointed to find out the way he’s doing it."

That is because Mamet is self-publishing through an outfit with a nautical name, Argo Navis.

And Gaughran follows up with a list of well-thought-out reasons, all backed up with logic.  It's a post that anyone who is thinking of self-publishing and is signed up with any of the following agents should read without delay:

  • Writers House
  • ICM Partners
  • Carol Mann Agency
  • Cynthia Cannell Literary Agency
  • The Hartnett Agency
  • Paul Bresnick Literary Agency
  • Pinder Lane & Garon-Brooke Associates
  • Curtis Brown (US)
  • April Eberhardt Literary
  • David Black Agency
  • Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency
  • Folio Literary Management
  • Levine Greenberg Literary Agency
  • Liza Royce Literary Agency
  • Melanie Jackson Agency
  • Janklow & Nesbit Associates
  • JoĆ«lle Delbourgo Associates
  • Arcadia Literary Agency
  • Harvey Klinger
  • APA Talent and Literary Agency
  • Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency
  • Irene Skolnick Literary Agency
  • FinePrint Literary Management
  • Donald Maass Literary Agency

  • There are some big, reputable names there ... but they are all agents who have signed up with Argo Navis ... which has not got a very good record.

    How did it happen? As Gaughran says, "Argo Navis don’t (and won’t) deal with authors directly, and will only accept titles for distribution submitted by literary agents."  And it appears that the people who benefit most (after Argo Navis, of course) are the agents.  Not the authors.

    So, what does Argo Navis offer to these agents?  "Essentially," he says, "Argo Navis are a distributor. They offer a portal through which authors’ work can be distributed to all the various retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo.

    "In exchange for this relatively trivial service, Argo Navis take a 30% cut. You read that right. After the retailer takes their standard cut (usually also 30%), Argo Navis take another 30% before passing on payments."

    And on top of that, the agency takes their 15% commission.  I leave it to you to read the rest.

    With thanks to Rick Spilman.

    Hybrid author elite

    When the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author David Mamet released his last book, “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture,” with the Sentinel publishing house in 2011, it sold well enough to make the New York Times best-seller list.       

    So runs the first sentence of an interesting New York Times front-page story by Leslie Kaufman.

    This year, Mr. Mamet is taking a different route. He is taking advantage of a new service being offered by his literary agency, ICM Partners, as a way to assume more control over the way his book is promoted.   He is publishing his next work himself.

    As Kaufman observes, the digital revolution is reshaping the whole publishing business. As self-publishing takes on momentum, it offers an increasing array of options for anyone with an idea and a keyboard.

    Most of the attention so far has focused on unknown and unsigned authors who storm onto the best-seller lists through their own ingenuity.  But now we see the so-called hybrid author, the writer who has been traditionally published, and may still have strong connections with a traditional publisher, but is also publishing work him- or herself.

    Bringing out a backlist after regaining the rights is an option that many authors are taking, often with lucrative results.  Because the percentage the author gets is much greater than a traditional publisher can offer (as much as 70%), self-publishing can be a money-spinner.

     ICM, which will announce its new self-publishing service on Wednesday, is one of the biggest and most powerful agencies to offer the option. But others are doing the same as they seek to provide additional value to their writers while also extending their reach in the industry.

    One is Trident Media Group.  Another is Inkwell Management.

    Read the full story


    Monday, April 22, 2013

    Paranoia and the Constitution

    Editorial, Dominion Post, 22 April 2013

    How -- and why -- Obama's attempt to control out-of-control sales of guns has been stalled.

    A thought-provoking editorial from Wellington's newspaper

    Every culture has its dark side, its lunatic obsessions. America's is guns.

    Political attempts at rational gun control founder on this madness. The Senate's disgraceful rejection last week of President Barack Obama's mild initiative on background checks for gun owners is just such a case. The world watches, and gapes. How can Americans behave like this?

    The usual answer is to point at the power of the gun lobby. Of the 45 senators who voted down the measure, 42 had received money from firearms lobbyists. The aptly-named Senator Jeff Flake, who switched his vote at the last moment, had been given $5000 by a pro- gun outfit. Mr Obama was right when he accused the Senate of caving in to the National Rifle Association and its tawdry mates.

    But in a sense this explanation just shifts the mystery back a step. The gun lobby buys some politicians and frightens others into submission. Some of the Democratic senators who killed Mr Obama's measure last week say president Bill Clinton's 1994 ban on assault weapons cost many of their party their seats. But how is it that the voters are so influenced by the lunatics of the gun lobby?
    Surveys show, after all, that 90 per cent of voters support moderate gun control. Last week the senators did their dirty work while survivors of the latest mass shooting, in Tucson, looked on. One, Patricia Maisch, shouted "Shame on you" and left. If shame and the voters' presence could force a politician to behave decently, this would have been the time.

    So the madness lies deeper than lobby power and the shadow of money. Many Americans think guns are a necessary part of their lives. Survivalists who think Washington is out to get them keep a pistol in the drawer. Guns symbolise freedom, a great American taonga (national treasure).

    Besides, the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment. This is a genuinely outmoded bit of late 18th-century treaty-making. Guns were needed to arm a "well-regulated militia" - in other words, to fend off the Redcoats fighting to keep America British. But it's in the constitution, and for many Americans the constitution is Holy Writ.

    Read the rest

    Koch brothers to buy US newspapers?

    A political agenda?

    Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch were behind the formation of the Americans for Prosperity political action group, which supports many causes backed by ultra-conservative Tea Party groups, although they are not formally affiliated.

    Now they are weighing a bid to buy several top US newspapers, or so the New York Times has reported.

    Koch Industries, a company owned by the brothers, is mulling the purchase of several regional newspapers owned by the struggling Tribune Company, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Hartford Courant, according to the Times.

    If the sale goes through, it would be among the largest sales of newspapers by circulation in the country.

    The Tribune Company — a $7 billion media conglomerate that also owns 23 television stations — has struggled in recent years and is selling off its print properties after emerging from bankruptcy late last year.

    The Los Angeles Times (which Murdoch is also considering buying) is the fourth-largest paper in the United States by circulation, while the Chicago Tribune is ninth. The deal with the Koch brothers could also include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, The Times wrote.

    Penguin buckles under, too

     Controversial price fixing of eBooks coming to a close

    The European Commission said Friday that book giant Penguin has offered commitments designed to end a probe into price fixing in the booming electronic publishing business.
    The EU's competition watchdog said commitments by Penguin owner Pearson were "substantially the same as those proposed by Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Hachette (and) Holtzbrinck and made legally binding by the Commission in December 2012."

    The other major US, French and German publishing groups, along with iPad giant and key e-book distributor Apple convinced the Commission then that they would "restore normal competitive conditions" in the market.

    The United States has taken similar action and in August 2012, it announced it had reached a $69 million accord with US publishers after charging them with conspiring with Apple to hike e-book prices.

    The Commission's concerns were that the companies might have "contrived to limit retail price competition for e-books" but the publishers agreed to terminate or amend agreements over the next five years to remedy that issue, and offer retailers freedom to discount e-books during a two-year period.

    Penguin's offer would grant the latter freedom for five years.

    "The proposed commitments aim to alleviate concerns that Penguin may have engaged in an anti-competitive concerted practice," the Commission said in a statement.

    It will now "market test" these proposals for one month and given the decision on the other publishers, can be reasonably expected to make them legally binding also on Penguin.

    Saturday, April 20, 2013

    Tracking down a seaman?

    1835 Registration of British Seamen

        He no sooner lands than he becomes the prey of the infamous harpies who infest maritime London.   
        He is robbed by outfitters... he is robbed by the tavern-keepers, the crimps, and the boarding-masters.
        He is robbed by his associates, robbed in business, robbed in amusement.
        'Jack' is fair game to everybody.
    'Gaslight and Daylight' by Augustus Sala (Chatto and Windus, 1872)  

    The Merchant Shipping Act required all men serving in the Merchant Navy to register formally - so that they could be called up for the Royal Navy if required.

  • Men who registered were issued with tickets, which contained their personal details.
  • The Liverpool Seamen's Orphanage was one of the many institutions set up to educate, house and feed the children of men killed at sea.
  • Voluntary registration of ships' masters and mates was introduced in 1845, with certificates of competency issued. The system descended into chaos, and was abandoned in 1857.

  • If you are hunting down a seaman, here (courtesy of the BBC) are some very useful links:

    If you think your ancestor was an officer on a merchant vessel, you should look for his certificate of competency at The National Archives
    If you think your ancestor was a seaman on a merchant vessel:
    If you know the name of a merchant vessel on which your ancestor served, you can track down the crew list and agreement.

    How crowd sourcing got it wrong

    Internet detectives blunder badly over Boston bombing

    Dave Lee

    Amazon to pilot TV shows online

    Public vote solicited for TV pilot shows

    Fourteen pilot shows - including Alpha House and Zombieland - are to be put to the public vote on Lovefilm and

    Viewers can submit feedback influencing which shows get made into full series.

    The 14 shows are made by independent production companies and produced by Amazon Studios, the film and series production arm of Amazon.

    "This is the first time Amazon Studios has done this," said Simon Morris, Lovefilm's chief marketing officer.

    Eight adult comedies and six children's animation series will be put to the public vote.

    The shows will be aired on Amazon's pay subscription services - Amazon Prime in the US, and Lovefilm in the UK - but Morris told the BBC they would be available to everyone and not just subscribers.

    Friday, April 19, 2013

    Believe in the great god Zeus?

    Some Greeks returning to ancient religious beliefs

    "They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past"
    -- Father Efstathios Kollas, the President of Greek Clergymen.

    Followers of the 12 Greek Gods, who, according to mythology, ruled the Ancient World from Mount Olympus, have cast a thunderbolt at their Orthodox opponents.

    Hundreds of followers of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Artemis, Aphrodite and Hermes stood in a circle, a mile from the Acropolis, in what was the first official religious service allowed in the grounds of an Ancient Greek temple.

    Previous rites have been performed covertly, but the culture ministry was obliged to grant permission for the event after a court last year legitimised the religion, which was eclipsed 1600 years ago by Christianity.

    After successfully staging a landmark ceremony at the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, their leader pledged to fight for the right to conduct baptisms, marriages, and funerals according to the rites of the ancient religion.

    First book printed in America

    First book ever printed in America up for auction

    And it could fetch as much as thirty million dollars

    The Bay Psalm Book, which was printed in Massachusetts in 1640, is one of 11 remaining copies of a translated version of the Book of Psalms.

    The Bay Psalm Book was written by pilgrims 20 years after they established a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

    Colonists John Cotton, Richard Mather and John Eliot, who wrote the book, wanted a version of the psalms which they believed was closer to the original Hebrew than the ones they had brought with them from England.

    "The Bay Psalm Book is a mythical rarity," said Sotheby's David Redden.

    "With it, New England declared its independence from the Church of England," he added.

    Funds for the printing press were raised in England.

    The 1640 edition of the Bay Psalm Book is the earliest surviving print from the press, and was adopted by nearly every congregation in the Massachusetts Bay area.

    There were 1,700 copies of the original Bay Psalm Book, of which 11 are now left in various degrees of completeness.

    The book comes from the collection of the Old South Church in Boston which has two copies of the edition.

    Senior minister of the church, Nancy Taylor, said the money from the sale would help to keep the historic building open and help to increase outreach programmes.

    The book will tour various cities in the US before the auction on 26 November.

    Thursday, April 18, 2013

    The serpent in the Garden of Eden

    Second Chances (After the Fall) by CHARITY NORMAN

    In the quiet of a winter's night, a rescue helicopter is sent to airlift a five-year-old boy with severe internal injuries. He's fallen from the upstairs verandah of an isolated farmhouse, and his condition is critical. At first Finn's fall looks like a horrible accident; after all, he's prone to sleepwalking. Only his frantic mother, Martha McNamara, knows how it happened. And she isn't telling. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

       Tragedy isn't what the McNamara family expected when they moved to New Zealand. For Martha, it was an escape. For her artist husband Kit, it was a dream. For their small twin boys, it was an adventure. For sixteen-year-old Sacha, it was the loss of her lifestyle and friends, but also a challenge.

       They end up on the isolated coast of the North Island, seemingly in paradise. But their peaceful idyll is shattered as the family is driven down a path that threatens to destroy them all...

    There is more than one mystery in this brilliantly written novel by Charity Norman. Who was Sacha's real father, and what will happen if she finds him? Why do their precious keepsakes keep on disappearing? Is it just an imaginary poltergeist that is threatening them?  Where has Kit disappeared to? And how did five-year-old Finn fall from the balcony? 

    There are so many spoiler alerts that writing a review of this compelling story has to be a careful process. All I can really do is rave. I loved Charity Norman's debut novel, Freeing Grace, so confidently expected to enjoy Second Chances. (Readers in the UK will find it under the title After the Fall.) It's different from Freeing Grace -- surprisingly different -- but, if possible, it is even better. I'm no marathon reader, but I read it in one long, hypnotised sitting.

    The scenario will be familiar to many -- Martha's artistic, attractive and mercurial husband, Kit, loses his advertising agency in the economic crisis, and it becomes extremely difficult to manage on a single salary, particularly as Kit starts to look in the bottom of a bottle for the answer to his problems.  And so the option of migrating to New Zealand is raised.

    There are the usual push-pull factors. In New Zealand, the family can live on Martha's income, so Kit can pursue his dream of becoming a creative artist.  The five-year-old twins are ecstatic at the prospect of adventure. The scenery, Martha hears, is stupendous. On the other hand, she is very close to her sister and her really adorable father. And the twins' half-sister, sixteen-year-old Sacha, is appalled at the very idea of moving across the world.

    But they do it. New Zealand is just as beautiful as advertised, and the natives are friendly. They find an idyllic life-style block with bush, birds, a beach, and an atmospheric old house. Martha has a job she likes, and can do well. Kit paints beautiful scenery and his work finds a market. But, while New Zealand has no snakes, there is a serpent in this Garden of Eden. And Martha's dream becomes every mother's nightmare.

    Tension mounts as she struggles to cope. Prepare to stay up late, and reach for a box of tissues.  Five stars, unreservedly.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist

    From the BBC

    It's no surprise that Hilary Mantel should be on the shortlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction (once the Orange Prize).  But, boy, is there some competition....

    Hilary Mantel and Zadie Smith are among the authors up for this year's Women's Prize For Fiction, the UK's only annual book award for female fiction writers.

    Smith, shortlisted for her novel NW, is a previous recipient of the prize, as is fellow nominee Barbara Kingsolver.

    Kate Atkinson, A M Homes and Maria Semple have also made it onto the 2013 shortlist.

    Formerly known as the Orange Prize, the £30,000 award - now in its 18th year - will be presented on 5 June.

    If Mantel wins the prize for her historical novel Bring Up the Bodies, she will become the first person to win all three of the UK's major book prizes.

    Her acclaimed novel, a follow-up to 2009's Wolf Hall, won the Man Booker Prize last year and was named Costa Book of the Year in January.

    Actress Miranda Richardson, chair of this year's judging panel, said she had been "a little bit nervous" about shortlisting Mantel's book, fearing there might be a backlash.

    "But I was hopeful that excellence would win out in her case," she told the BBC after the announcement.

    "If something is brilliant, you have to give it its due."

    North Korea novel wins Pulitzer

    From the BBC

    Surprise, surprise, there is a Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year

    The Pulitzer Prize for fiction has been won by author Adam Johnson for his novel based in North Korea, The Orphan Master's Son.

    Last year, judges failed to select a winner of the award for fiction for the first time in 35 years.

    Johnson, who teaches creative writing at Stanford University, spent time in North Korea to research his book.

    "I wanted to give a picture of what it was like to be an ordinary person in North Korea," said Johnson.

    "It's illegal there for citizens to interact with foreigners, so the only way I could really get to know these people was through my imagination," he added.

    Pulitzer judges praised Johnson's book as "an exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart".

    Other books in contention were, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, by Nathan Englander and The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey.


    Galleycat's list of Indie bestsellers ...

    ... is very revealing

    If you want to top the bestselling independently published eBooks list, the answer is simple.

    Write a romance.

    Oddly enough, I took a quick stroll through Harlequin's digital offerings yesterday, just out of interest, to see how they are doing.

    Not particularly well.  Is this because of the competition from Indie authors?  Or because that Fifty Shades woman has turned the romance market upside down?

    I have no idea how graphic (as in sex) any of the following titles are, but just in case you want to check for yourself, here are the top Amazon Indie sellers.  Hit the link at the top to have a look at the other outlets.

    Amazon Self-Published Bestsellers for the Week of Monday, April 15, 2013

    1. The Bet by Rachel Van Dyken: “‘I have a proposition for you…’ Kacey should have run the minute those words left Seattle millionaire Jake Titus’s mouth. Instead, she made a deal with the devil in hopes of putting her past behind her once and for all.”
    2. Real by Katy Evans: “Remington Tate is the strongest, most confusing man I’ve ever met in my life. He’s the star of the dangerous underground fighting circuit, and I’m drawn to him as I’ve never been drawn to anything in my life.”
    3. Second Chance Boyfriend by Monica Murphy: “Lost. That one single word best describes my life at this very moment. I lost the last games of the season and both my team and my coach blame me. I lost the last two months because I drowned in my own despair like a complete loser. And I lost the only girl who ever mattered because I was afraid being with me would destroy her.”
    4. One Week Girlfriend by Monica Murphy: “Temporary. That one single word best describes my life these last few years. I’m working at a temporary job until I can finally break free. I’m my little brother’s temporary mother since our mom doesn’t give a crap about either of us.”
    5. Falling Into You by Jasinda Wilder: “I wasn’t always in love with Colton Calloway; I was in love with his younger brother, Kyle, first. Kyle was my first one true love, my first in every way. Then, one stormy August night, he died, and the person I was died with him.”
    6. The Love Game by Emma Hart: “His challenge? Make her fall in love with him. Her challenge? Play the player. Until life changes the rules of the game.”
    7. Music of the Heart by Katie Ashley: “For Abby Renard, the plan was supposed to be simple—join her brothers’ band on the last leg of their summer tour and decide if she’s finally ready for the limelight by becoming its fourth member.”
    8. If You Stay by Courtney Cole: “He’s a tattooed, rock-hard bad-boy with a bad attitude to match. But he’s got his reasons. His mother died when Pax was seven, leaving a hole in his heart filled with guilt although he doesn’t understand why.”
    9. Going Under by S. Walden: “Brooke Wright has only two goals her senior year at Charity Run High School: stay out of trouble and learn to forgive herself for the past. Forgiveness proves elusive, and trouble finds her anyway”
    10. Promise Me Darkness by Paige Weaver: “For me, life was simple. I went to school and studied. I spent time with my friends and stayed out of trouble. I didn’t drink or swear and I only dated gentlemen. I was the typical good girl with a bright future. My world seemed perfect. But that was about to change.”

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013

    Titanic disaster 101 years old

    New exhibit to be added to museum display

    HALIFAX -- A new exhibit will be added today to the Titanic exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.

    To commemorate the 101st anniversary of the sinking of the luxury liner, a copy of the original 1912 report into the sinking will be added to the museum's permanent exhibit.

    The report was the product of an influential British investigation used by the Cunard Line to upgrade the safety standards for its fleet.
    RMS Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic early on April 15, 1912.
    The sinking claimed the lives of 1,500 of the ship's 2,200 passengers.

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Interactive magazine breaking new ground

    It's a yachting magazine with a difference

    It's a digital magazine. 

    You download it on your iPad.

    And then you browse. 

    Find something that interests you?  Touch the screen, and pow! -- more information is there.

    Chris Savage, 47, has founded a ground-breaking digital magazine which he believes heralds the future of publishing.

    “We believe it is set to redefine the way we interact with information,” Chris told the Midhurst and Petworth Observer (UK), “and that this represents the future of publishing.”

    Chris and his business partner Sam Laurie have now been nominated for the Media Pioneer Awards 2013.

    Last year, they formed a company called Bight Media and its first production, called BOYD, focuses on yachting lifestyle and is designed for an iPad. In the first two months, BOYD has generated more than 2,000 subscribers and more than 130,000 video views on its YouTube channel.

    The format uses little text and allows users to interact directly. “We set out to create an interactive journey connecting the audience with the subject in a dynamic and captivating way – it’s actually closer to a multi-layered movie than a magazine. If you see something that interests you, you touch it to learn more. It’s really as simple as that!”

    Sunday, April 14, 2013

    Jane Austen's Fifty Shades

    Would Jane Austen have written urban pornography today?

    Joanna Trollope thinks so

    Joanna Trollope, whose contemporary version of Sense and Sensibility will be published later this year, is struck by the original novel’s similarities with E L James’s sexually explicit Fifty Shades of Grey.

    “It’s a fascinating novel, as it’s all about money,” she says of Jane Austen’s classic, which was published in 1811. “I have to say, I think Fifty Shades of Grey is all about money.

    “If you took the situation and you put it in a student bedsit, it would suddenly be about abuse; it’s the money that elevates what the hero does to an erotic level.”

    Trollope adds: “Jane Austen knew that perfectly well – Mr Darcy would not have any sex appeal without Pemberley and owning half of Derbyshire.”

    Plausible?  It's hard to imagine the demure spinster writing about spanking and bondage and all that naughty stuff .... but the sexual attraction of money?  As I quoted only yesterday, the founder of the romance novel went on record as ruminating, "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."

    Or maybe not. While lots of money might make life easier, it does not always bring happiness, and the same rule undoubtedly applies to sexual adventurousness. 

    And I am sure Jane Austen would agree.  If she ever thought about it, which I am sure she did not. 

    Saturday, April 13, 2013


    Quotations from the famous

    To enliven your weekend

    A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of
    -- Jane Austen

    Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater
    -- Gail Goodwin

    God runs electromagnetics by wave theory on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the Devil runs them by quantum theory on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
    -- Sir William Bragg

    Being in the army is like being in the Boy Scouts, except that Boy Scouts have adult supervision
    -- Blake Clark

    Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first
    -- Mark Twain

    The point of quotations is that one can use another's words to be insulting
    -- Amanda Cross

    eBooks gain traction over 2012

    The figures for 2012 are in, and Digital Book World analyses them

    eBooks made big gains, according to the Association of American Publishers.

    Digital books accounted for nearly 23% of publisher net revenues in 2012, up from 17% in 2011 and, astoundingly, 1% in 2008. Ten years ago, in 2002, the first year that the AAP measured the size of the ebook market, revenues from digital book sales accounted for 0.05% of the overall take.

    That's quite a revolution.

    For adult fiction and nonfiction, ebooks were up to nearly $1.3 billion in revenue, a 33% gain from the previous year. While the overall size of the market is impressive and dwarfs the entire publishing business in all but a few of the largest economies worldwide, growth has slowed to an earthly rate compared to the otherworldly numbers posted in previous years.

    Children’s ebooks were up 120% in 2012 to $233 million, driven by huge gains in the beginning of the year, perhaps due in part to the success of titles like The Hunger Games. Religious ebooks closed out the year up 20% to $57 million, a disappointing finish to what had been a red-hot start.

    Between the three categories measured in the AAP’s monthly reports, ebooks were up to $1.54 billion, an increase of 41%.

    Friday, April 12, 2013

    Return to last edit

    Getting back to the last change you made to your document

    One of the nicest tricks with microsoft word was being able to return to your last edit (or search) by hitting SHIFT + F5.  

    This was because when you open a document, it automatically opens at the beginning. While it is probably a good thing to go over your writing from the start, again, as polishing is always to be recommended, it is a pain if you are in a hurry, or have something that you want to paste into the document right away, before you forget what it is, or overwrite it by accident.

    On old versions of microsoft word, when you hit SHIFT + F5, it takes you back to your last change, and if you hit it again, it takes you to your second-to-last change, and the same with your third-to-last change.  The fourth hit of SHIFT + F5 takes you back to that latest edit. 

    All very useful. Except that if you have a version of microsoft word that was created after 2003, that handy little wrinkle isn't there any more. Why? I have not a notion.

    But I have found a way to get around it -- by returning to an earlier version of microsoft word when you save your document.

    When you save, instead of simply hitting the square at the top left of your ribbon, you go to SAVE AS.  Click it, and the menu shown in the screen shot here will come up.

    Scan down to "Word 97-2003 Document" (highlighted in orange) and click that.  Your document will be saved as .doc instead of .docx

    And presto, when you open your document again, you can hit SHIFT + F5, and flip by magic to the last edit.

    Thursday, April 11, 2013

    B&N relaunches Nook publishing

    Galleycat @ MediaBistro . com reports.

    Barnes & Noble has relaunched its self-publishing arm as NOOK Press.

    The bookseller has told authors using the bookseller’s old PubIt! program that they need to sign up for a NOOK Press account.

    The new tools were designed through a partnership with FastPencil. Here’s more about royalties at NOOK Press:
    NOOK Press authors can price their titles between $0.99 and $199.99 and receive a competitive royalty based on the given price. For NOOK Press NOOK Books priced at or between $2.99 and $9.99, authors receive 65 percent of the list price for sold content. For those priced at $2.98 or less, or $10.00 or more, authors receive 40 percent of the list price. NOOK Press authors will be compensated from the list price they set with no additional charges, regardless of file size.

    Wednesday, April 10, 2013

    Weta Wellington

    Film capital of the country now -- soon the world?

    The Hobbit, Tintin, and Rise of the Planet Apes have helped bring in film industry revenues of almost $830 million, just in the year to April 2012. That's 67% up on the figures for the previous year.

    Film New Zealand CEO Gisella Carr said that a cluster of companies in Miramar (a rather hilly suburb, with rather nice views of the city and the harbor) had contributed largely to the result.

    We can thank Weta Workshops for a large part of it, too. A Statistics NZ survey concluded that Wellington was a leader in digital graphics, animation and effects.  This aspect of the business generated $427 million in revenue.

    Carr said that Weta's continued ability to pull in major American production had been a major factor.

    "We're seeing a significant dominance of Weta Digital in visual effects and their outstanding global reputation," she said.  They are not alone, though -- there are now 789 post-production companies in Wellington.

    There is also a significant taxpayer input, the New Zealand Film Commission's large-budget providing rebates of 15% for films made in New Zealand, when at least $15 million is spent within the country by the film company.

    Obviously, it is working out. New Zealand's production and post-production industry, covering both film and television programs, grew nearly 20%, to reach $1.67 billion, last year.

    Last month Sir Peter Jackson's first instalment of The Hobbit brought in more than one billion greenbacks at the global box officer, the 15th film in history to do so. 

    Blake's 7 returns

    Remember Blake's 7?

    It was a hit SF series screened in the 1970s, with iconic characters, Avon being a personal favorite

    Now, more than thirty years after it disappeared from our TV screens, it is making a comeback.

    A 13-part revival, described as a "revolutionary reinvention" of the BBC program, is now in development, under the aegis of Casino Royale director Martin Campbell.

    The instigator is FremantleMedia International, and Joe Pokaski (CSI) is working on the scripts.

    He will need to be really inventive. As I remember, the cast was completely killed off in the final episode.

    Tuesday, April 9, 2013

    Chinese bowl worth millions

    Record for Chinese porcelain broken

    Isn't it a gorgeous bowl?

    I have a twelve-inch deep-blue vase with exactly the same design ... but it is "only" Cloisonne, and because I bought it many years ago when staying at the historic Peking hotel, I wouldn't part with it.

    Or would I?

    HONG KONG (Reuters) - A red bowl with a lotus pattern broke the world record for Chinese Kangxi ceramics on Monday, fetching over $9 million after a bidding war won by a Hong Kong ceramics dealer at the last day of spring sales for global auctioneer Sotheby's.

    The five days of sales in wine, jewellery, Asian and Chinese art, ceramics and watches, an indicator of China's appetite for luxury goods, are being keenly watched after sluggish economic growth in 2012 and a crackdown on lavish official spending.

    The Ruby-Ground Double-Lotus "falangcai" bowl from the Kangxi period of 1662-1722 went for HK$74 million, handily beating pre-sale estimates of HK$70 million and selling for more than 140 times the price paid three decades ago in a sign of surging demand.

    More than 400 customers turned up for the auction of 57 ceramic pieces in the morning session, with several rows of people packed into the back of the auction room and telephone lines busy with bidders. The bowl ultimately went to Hong Kong ceramics dealer William Chak.

    "Of course, at the very, very top of the market, you do have lots of participation from overseas and other parts of Greater China," said Nicolas Chow, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby's Asia and International Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art.

    "But in terms of quantity, the largest quantity of objects traded today of Chinese art go back towards the mainland."

    The red bowl with a design of pink and blue lotuses sold for HK$528,000 the first time it went under the hammer at Sotheby's in 1983. In 1999, it fetched HK$12 million.


    A mightily philosophical master mariner

    From The Friend, Honolulu, December 7, 1840

     The Trials of Ship-masters

    To the remark, that all classes of men have their trials, and difficulties, most certainly that of Ship-masters, forms no exception. It would seem as if the recent movements in California, increased those trials and difficulties a thousand-fold. An officer, or a sailor may get his discharge or do as they sometimes do, take "French leave," but not so with the Ship-master. When he takes command of a vessel, she becomes his "for better or worse," until the voyage is ended, or death separates them.

    He must keep in mind the owner's interests, and not lose sight of his own; he must govern his ship's company, not losing sight of their health and welfare. He has a character to sustain, and fortunate indeed, is the ship-master that fulfils all the trying, and responsible duties of his station, in a manner not to sacrifice the owner's interests or his own; not to acquire the charge of a "bad" master, yet maintain good discipline and authority on ship-board.

    We have been led to make these remarks, in consequence of looking over the private journal of a ship-master, which has fallen under our observation. From this journal, we have taken the liberty to copy the following remarks. The writer seems aware of the trials of his station, and speaks of a ship-master's "perplexing responsibility" in language becoming, and dignified. The journal everywhere abounds with passages indicating a thoughtful and even a philosophic turn of mind. The writer is a person remarkably fond of reading, and though his present voyage is not more than half completed yet he remarked that already he had read about "two hundred and fifty volumes" --

    "24, November, 1845, -- Begin with frequent showers of rain -- the weather squally -- winds light and variable from the southward and eastward. Several sails in company at 6 A.M. It opened to me by a call from the steward to hasten on deck, and assist the first officer in a scuffle with the cooper, who had refused to obey his orders, and had been very insolent in his language. While in the heat of passion, I thought to punish him severely, but after a little deliberation I concluded to give him a severe reprimand, which I did in presence of the whole crew, and then sent him to the mast head for the forenoon, and promised him for the next offence, that I would punish him, or anyone else. I have so far in the voyage found him to be a very bad man -- a very poor mechanic, frequently grumbling, and guilty of other misdemeanors.

    "Few situations involve a more perplexing responsibility; or require a higher combination of rare talents than the commander of a ship. To be popular, and at the same time efficient, he must be able to enforce a strict and rigid discipline, without giving to it that cast of unfeeling severity, to which the despotical nature of a ship's government is extremely liable. He must be open and unreserved, and express even his sentiments of disapprobation with a freedom and frankness, which may lead the subordinate officer to that instantaneous conviction, that there is no suppressed feeling of bitterness, which may in any unexpected hour reveal its nourished and terrific strength. This plain and honest dealing, is infinitely preferable to a heartless hypocracy of manner,-- it relieves all around from those disquieting suspicions which duplicity never fails to excite, and where it is united with a generous disposition, a well informed mind and a dignified demeanor, can never fail to secure affection and respect."

    The spelling and punctuation are exactly as reproduced in the newspaper.  And, despite the high-falutin' sentiments, I bet a blind eye was turned when the cooper jumped ship in San Francisco!