Can Everton Jones find out how his father stole Emperor Bokassa’s diamonds and, more importantly, where he hid them; before the world and his brother get there first?
Click on the picture link in the sidebar to read an extract of my first novel, which was published by Paradise Press in August 2012.

Monday, 23 May 2011

An Object Lesson

Some random thoughts on returning from Gay's the Word and the launch of John McCullough and Sophie Meyers books.

It's always a treat to see poetry performed live, it comes to life somehow. The reading today put me in mind of Essex Hemphill and Linda King performing at the Oxford Lesbian and Gay Centre; a memorable evening which seems like many lives ago now.

I turned up early to the bookshop and, much to my surprise, it was locked. They were still setting-up inside. If I'd thought about it, I should have checked their opening hours! Only a few people were hanging around outside, and I feared it was going to be poorly-attended. Come seven o'clock and a vast crowd turned up right on time. It was rammed!

Book Reading at the Gay Authors' Workshop, Sunday 22nd May

Read another extract of my book at the Gay Authors' Workshop in London. Much kudos for having my book loaded on an e-reader. (see the panel to the left for the gory details.) Actually, the reason for getting it into an e-book format is that I make more money from an e-sale than for a physical book. How strange is that? I'm just happy that the effort I've put in to get my book into ".epub" format has paid off. Looking forward to the book launch later today. Watch this space...

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Book Launch

Salt Publishing and Gay's the Word are launching The Frost Fairs by John Mc Cullough and The Private Parts of Girls by Sophie Mayer. Two collections of poems. It's at "Gay's the Word" bookshop, 66 Marchmont St., London (nearest tube: Russell Square) on Monday 23rd May at 7pm. Entrance is free and all are welcome, no booking is required. Wine available.

Friday, 13 May 2011

How to build an e-book part 2

Once I looked at my e-pub book using some downloaded e-book readers, I discovered that my lovely fonts had mostly been substituted with Times New Roman. That’s not at all what I wanted. So I set about finding out how to embed fonts. That seemed a simple matter in Sigil of control-clicking on the fonts folder and adding an existing resource. I had to make the fonts visible to the finder and then copy them to the desktop, but it was fairly painless. The font files duly appeared. When I ran the validation routine (clicking the green tick icon), I was told the fonts were in the manifest, but not discoverable (i.e. not used in the document). Upon further investigation, and I mean a LOT of further investigation, I found a blog with the fix I needed. Apparently, I need an “at-rule”. They provided an example and, with a little tinkering to get the path to the fonts right, I tried putting this at the top of my .css style-sheet, and it works in Adobe Digital Editions, Nook and Sony e-reader:

Now, when I view the book in nook’s e-reader, I get exactly what I wanted. Or nearly. It seems the chapter headings are being left-aligned, and the small caps doesn’t work. There’s a rather messy work-around for both.


But to explain why, I need to talk about the table of contents. The e-pub format has usually two tables of contents. One, at the front of the book, which is part of the text. I haven’t yet decided if there’s any point in doing this. And another, which is “metadata”, a file you can’t edit which is created by the program and is used by the particular e-book reader your customer has to navigate through your book. The way this works is device-dependent and you can’t alter the formatting, so don’t even think about trying!


The text within “heading 1” tags (<h1> and </h1>), is used to build the table of contents. I tried making this invisible using a class I called “.hidden”, and put it at the end of each chapter, but when viewed by an actual e-book reader, I was directed to the end of the chapter when I used the built-in table of contents. So the heading had to go at the top of the chapter.


Incidentally, not including a heading means you can’t include the particular section in the table of contents. No problem, I decided to make each prelims page a separate chapter, but to omit a heading from it, so the reader just scrolls or clicks through the prelims before getting to chapter one, or else uses the contents to skip them.

I wanted to have my chapter headings use just the title “The View from the Bushes” for example, but felt the reader would like the in-built table of contents to list it as “1: The View from the Bushes”. Luckily this is do-able by adding the following to the <h1> tag:

The table of contents uses whatever value you assign to the “title” attribute.


The nook e-book reader is forcing my chapter heading to left align, so I went back to using a paragraph <p> tag for the chapter heading with the old “.chapterHeading” class to format it and then an <h1> tag repeating the chapter heading which I hid with by adding a “visibility=“hidden” ” attribute to the h1 style. In this case I don’t need to set a title attribute. NB, the id attribute is for some reason being added by sigil, and I can’t stop this happening. I suppose it’s something to do with creating the table of contents. This is how the code looks and it sucessfully restores the centred text when rendered by the nook e-reader and also stops it being defaulted to bold:

Setting the font-variant attribute to small-caps has variable results. It seems not to be well implemented. Even within Sigil, as I vary the point size it switches from small caps to regular unpredictably. In some e-boook readers it doesn’t ever render in small-caps at any point size. One solution would be to use all capitals in the first place and to use a class which displays it at (say) 80% . But this doesn’t really work if there is a sign within the text, like “Stevens and Williams Solicitors” in chapter three. So I defined a class called “.signs”, with a font-size attribute of 80%. Within the text, I used a <span> tag to identify the lower case letters of the sign and applied the “.signs” class to it. The text within the tag was in upper case. I didn’t apply the span to the initial capitals of the text. This is how the class looks in the style sheet:

And this is how the span looks in code view. It’s clumsy, but it works:

It’s a lot of work, and fiddly to do, but at least it gets the output to render correctly. Thankfully there are few instances of signs requiring this format in my book.


I’ve been reviewing this, and have made a few further refinements. I've added a stand-alone page with instructions on how to create an e-book from scratch, using my format, aimed at beginners. I can e-mail anyone a copy of the .css file I’m using. This will make using my format as easy as control-clicking on the styles folder and importing it.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

How to build an e-book part 1

I’m feeling rather smug about having made progress on building an e-book. Firstly, it seems the publishers want .xhtml files, preferably conforming to an industry-standard .epub format. (Amazon, of course, want something
different, “mobipocket”, but I believe there are converters.

Their site says here: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2GF0UFHIYG9VQ that they accept submissions in .epub, so that’s wha
t Im aiming for. They do say they will accept file in Word .doc format, but much of the formatting won’t convert and the word files will need drastically re-formatting. I think .epub would be safer.)

So I found a programme, Sigil, which is basic and can be downloaded free from here: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/downloads/list and runs on Mac OS X, linux and PC platforms.

It’s really simple to use. I just copied and pasted my first chapter into the new untitled window which opened up on launch.

The Word file looks like this:

Yet it rendered in Sigil like this:


As I hope can readily be seen, the font is obviously Arial, NOT Franklin Gothic Medium, as I intended and the paragraphs are all unindented and the spacing has changed. Also the chapter number and title are left justified. I’m not fussing too much about the left justification of the text, as apparently Kindle users can change the justification, so where’s the point of trying to fix that? If they are used to messing with the justification, even if I could force it to be fully justified, they would probably not like it.


On further investigation, I found there is a “code view” option, which I switched to, and got this:

Which isn’t really as scary as it looks. Forget the “header” section at the top for now, it’s what’s inside the “body” which counts, i.e. whatever comes between the <body> and </body> tags.


All there is in the "body" is a sequence of paragraphs, each one between the<p> and </p> tags. And there’s the problem. Kindle say their system defaults to paragraphs which indent. Fine, except the first paragraph after a change on point of view or scene break shouldn’t be indented. And it’s a bit disconcerting that Sigil seems to display the paragraphs without any of them being indented.

Quite apart from being inelegant, tabs, nonbreaking spaces etc. don’t work to indent in an .html document and would take an age to edit in. So I set about forcing the paragraphs to indent and space the way I want them to.


Web pages use a system called “cascading style sheets” (css) to format the paragraphs (and any other elements on the page). The format closest to the <p> tag is the most important and takes precedence over the formats Kindle will supply. So if I can set the format within my document, it ought to look right on a kindle.

Adding this to the header forces each block of text enclosed within the <p> and </p> tags to be indented by 15 points, will use first franklin gothic medium (if installed) then verdana and then arial in a last resort and removes the default “margin” from around the paragraphs and closes them up:


Switching to “book view”, the result is much nearer what I intended:



But how to “unindent” the paragraphs after a scene break and insert a blank line where the break occurs? The answer is very easy: insert a manual line break within a paragraph. The text continues on a new line, but unindented. If I insert two manual line breaks then I get the blank line I wanted.

Switch to code view and add the tags:



Switching back to “book view” this is how it now looks:


To make the next paragraphs unindented, you’ll need to remove the closing </p> tag and the opening <p> tag to run the paragraphs into one. Replace them with two <br /> tags like this (in code view):


(Actually, thinking about it, you could just repeat the <p><br /><br /> trick I used on the first paragraph, and make life much easier for yourself!) Either way, when you go back to book view, it should look like this:




Which is pretty much how it should look. To use css styling to get the headings and chapter numbers right I used a different approach. I don’t want to use the built-in heading 1 etc. tags, because they will need a lot of format information specifying. Instead, I’m going to use a “class”. (note that “class” styles begin with “.”) To specify the class information, I just need one extra line in the css part of the header. If I enter the following in the header:



This defines the chapter number as being in small caps and centred. The chapter heading is also centred but 200% as big as the paragraph style. All other styling is the same as for the paragraphs. By specifying the font sizes as relative, if a kindle user increases the point size, the ratio between my body text and headings doesn’t change, maintaining my design.


To apply these styles to a paragraph, simply add 'class="chapterNumber" to the first <p> tag, as shown here:





Which looks like this in “book view”:




OK, so it’s not quite what I started out with, but I can tidy it up, add a font family to the chapter heading and get the relative sizes right. The beauty of doing it this way is that it’s relatively simple and doesn’t involve a lot of typing to get the formatting the way I want it.


One thing I do like about sigil, it tidies up my html and formatting everytime I switch between code and book view. It can even spot and correct minor typos in the code. But I do think it is best to write the html yourself. Sigil can do some formatting for you, but it generates the code automatically, and this can be difficult to untangle when there is a real problem.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Wrong Kind of Plastic Bag

I just made the fast Euston train yesterday, only to have it stand at the platform whilst they waited for a signal to change. Apparently a plastic bag had blown into the points at Wembley, and they wouldn't change. They had to send a guy out to walk down the line to the points and try to get it out. The Croydon train was blocking us in in the other direction and we were well and truly stuck. In the end, they re-routed the next one and, half an hour later I was finally underway.

At Euston, as the trains connect, I had only a few minutes to get on my connection to Stafford. So I didn't have time to get anything to drink. But exactly the same thing happened. By now several of their staff were in the wrong place, and we had to wait on a packed train until a steward was finally available. And it was too risky to get out and make a dash for a bottle of coke, in case the train left whilst I was away. Bummer, it left 20 mins. late. And that was the last train I could use my super off-peak ticket on.

Two and a half hours later, and nearly at Stafford, the train stopped. The driver got out and made a call from a phone by the side of the track. He got back in and we carried on. The Steward we'd had to wait for made an announcement: "The driver had been informed that children had been seen playing on the railway and he was going to have to take it more slowly than usual." And so we crawled our way the last few miles.

One of the more bizzare reasons for disruption to train services, I think you'll agree.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

(c)anal street LOL

Just found this online. The heart of the "Gay Village" in Manchester revolves around Canal Street. Someone seems to have made a rather amusing deletion on this road sign!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

News on Print on Demand Quotes

The situation about print on demand is clarifying. Berforts just got back to me about repeat orders. They say they won’t be charging set-up on a repeat order, as I expected. But their quote was not itemised. They said the price would be the same less £15. I can’t believe set-up is charged at only £15. Lightning Source and Orbital Print came in around the £60 mark.

I must admit this is deeply disappointing. Recommending a printer to Paradise Press is a tricky job. There are two scenarios we will face, initial launch and re-order. The numbers vary quite significantly for each and both are important. I am working on an initial order of 100 books and then a re-order of 10 books as a likely model.

Running the numbers on the four businesses I’ve identified, this is what re-order comes in at:

Berforts: £9.20 each for 10 copies, £3.49 each for 100 copies and £3.15 each for 200 copies. Delivery included. (Based on the unit cost from my previous post and subtracting £15 set-up)

Orbital Print: £4.99 each for 10 copies, £4.86 each for 100 copies and £4.75 each for 200 copies. Delivery not included. (Based on the unit cost from my previous post and subtracting £58.08 set-up)

Print on Demand Worldwide: £5.69 each for 10 copies, £3.34 each for 100 copies and £3.12 each for 200 copies. Delivery free if ordered online. (I used their online quotation widget)

Lightning Source: £4.04 each for 10 copies, £3.45 each for 100 copies and £3.45 each for 200 copies. Delivery not included in the quote. (re-calculated using their original quote and subtracting £63 set-up)

Interestingly, Print on Demand Worldwide comes in cheapest for a re-order of 200 copies, but that’s not likely to happen. Lightning Source is cheapest for 10 copies and will, in fact, print a single copy, however as they print them off four up, this needs to be investigated. Print on Demand Worldwide and Berforts don’t offer enough of a reduction on re-order and Orbital Print have a unit cost which is just too high. Lightning Source are the clear winners, although delivery wasn’t included in the quote. They also have an annoying £1.25 order processing charge, which is not an insignificant consideration on very small orders.

That’s deeply annoying, because Lightning Source are by far the most annoying company to deal with. But it looks like we’re just going to have to grasp the nettle.

I’ll get back to Berforts to query the £15 set-up and ask for an itemised quote, but I’m not holding my breath.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

OMG

Anyone who ever said "texic" was a harmless addiction of empty-headed teenagers was wrong. One of those children seemingly incapable of texting in proper English has evidently grown up and opened this shop in Harrow. I may as well say it myself, like OMG it's like uuuhhhh seriously like OMG I mean (makes meaningless hand gesture). And people actually talk this way as well. It comes to a sorry state of affairs when today's children are reduced to mime to express themselves when there is one of the world's most subtle of languages at their disposal. Bah humbug!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Alternative Vote Hoop-la


There's a lot of news coverage in the UK around the upcoming referendum on the "Alternative Vote". The Tories are strongly against it, because they judge it will disadvantage them. The Liberal Democrats (in the same governing coalition) are of course strongly in favour, as are the Labour Party, perhaps because they wanted to persuade the Lib Dems to go into coalition with them, perhaps because they think it will favour them.

In essence, it's a no-brainer. Say you're in a constituency out in the countryside, where Labour are always going to come a poor third. But you're a socialist at heart. Do you vote for the Lib Dems and hold your nose, or waste a vote? With the Alternative Vote, you could put Labour first and the Lib Dems second. Your voice is heard and your vote is given to the Lib Dems as the second best, after the Labour candidate is eliminated. (Swap all that over if you're a Tory in a Labour safe seat.)

A lot of the agenda focuses on the need to retain the link between an MP and his or her constituency. Well, I'm all for that. But what we really need is proper proportional representation. Duh, how difficult is that to organise? Even if they keep "first past the post" or move to "alternative vote", it's still non-proportional. Whatever the system within a constituency, surely the obvious solution is to give each elected MP in the Commons a vote worth the total popular first preference vote for their party in the election, divided by the number of their MP's returned. Essentially a "card vote" familiar to followers of Labour Party conferences. The link between constituency and MP is retained, but the overall vote in the commons available for each party reflects the total vote cast for them in the election. Parties not winning a single seat don't get to participate. If they get just one MP then she or he gets a disproportionate number of votes in the Commons, but not bigger than the popular vote cast for their party, which is only fair (isn't it?). That's one of the other arguments against AV btw, that it would let in smaller parties.

Obviously we don't want to end up going down the Belgian route, where they returned such an evenly split parliament this time around that they've been unable to form a government. (Four main parties all split into Flemish and French speaking factions, so eight equally sized parties and less motivation for the Flemish/French parties to cohere recently.) Interesting to note in this regard that I spotted a graffito on a wall next to the Police Station on rue St. Léonard when I was last in Liège saying "Soyons Ingouvernable". (Someone helpfully added the necessary final "s"--not really visible in the pic. Given the use of the subjunctive "soyons" (let us be), the failure to add the plural agreement at the end is surprising.) Haha, there isn't any Govenment in the first place! (maybe this is better as a new post)

And, whilst we're re-writing the electoral system, why not hold elections in constituencies on a rolling basis, re-calculating the votes per MP after each one? Then we'd not have to have the nonsense of a general election every four or five years and we'd get a regular performance check on a government every so many weeks. Given the high turn-out in by-elections and the resources directed to them, the percentage of the electorate voting might even go up?

Anything which is more democratic, or which will keep instinctively homophobic parties out of power is top in my book. I vote on Gay Rights first, education second, humanitarian policy and intercultural awareness third. The economy comes in a poor fourth.

As a sideline, if this rips open the governing coalition, so much the better. The Lib Dems signed up to the coalition for a referendum on AV, if it doesn't happen, they're going to get mightily pissed off. If they then shaft the multi-millionaire Tory cabinet forcing austerity on the rest of us and re-align with Labour, I'd be only too happy!
 
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