Did you know Getty are now allowing bloggers and other social media users to use their images for free?

Of course there’s a catch. You are actually hosting an iframe which embeds the image from Getty directly into your page. If privacy issues are a concern, then you may want to read more about what that means for you and your users.

I’m not sure how big a deal the privacy issue is (I’ve never been too good at corporate paranoia. Axe-murderer hiding under the bed paranoia, yes, absolutely!), and it allows me a sudden cornucopia of eye candy that would never previously have been within reach.

It’s also really easy – but bizarrely unadvertised. I’ve been looking around for a good half hour or so, thinking: okay, I’ve read all these reports that I can use Getty images, but, uh, how? Do I need to register? Where are some instructions? I’ve found an image I want, I can see payment options, but not a lot else…

Wonder no more! See the </> symbol below my image above? That’s all you need. Click that and you get a little snippet of code. Paste that into the html view of your web page, and bob’s your uncle. Pretty image on your site.

Hurrah.

If you need more info than that, see Getty’s own instructions.

Happy image searching!

me with fizz

me with champagne (not today, but I’ll look very similar when we crack a bottle open shortly – just wearing ten extra layers…) [photo credit: Uncut ID]

I know I have not been a good blogger recently. Work commitments stepped up and this left me with little writing time. What time I had I naturally wanted to spend finishing my two-years-overdue work in progress, Kikimora.

And today I finally have. Hallelujah! It’s been a hell of a slog. I originally envisaged it as a short, simple story, something a bit easier after the three plus years I spent on Darklands. Well, here we are four years later and 40,000 words over budget…

The edit can wait for another day. Today I’m just happy with having reached a draught (certainly not a first draft, and definitely not the last) – but a draught which is of reasonable enough quality that I may manage to hand it over to a trusted ally for some constructive criticism. Or I may sit in my darkened room for another year with a red pen, crossing words out and putting slightly different words back in…

The main issue is that it’s too damned long, clocking in at a hefty 136,000 words. Darklands was 114,000, and I thought that was really a bit too long.

The draught I’ve just completed started out eight months ago with the lofty intention of trimming the manuscript by a quarter. Instead I added about 10,000 words :-/

But I will persevere. I know roughly where I need to trim. I like the beginning, I like the end. The middle section sags and is all doughy and bleh. I need to whittle it down, and liven it up. As I say, a job for another day. Today I am so happy to have finally reached this milestone.

As a taster, here is the glossary I have just written, introducing characters from a variety of mythologies who either make an appearance or are referenced:

Baba Yaga A dreadful witch. She flies through the air in a pestle and mortar, and lives in a hut that stands on chicken’s legs.
Bacchus The Roman god of wine and revelry.
Banshee A female spirit in Celtic mythology, said to foretell death with a terrible wailing.
Czernoboch A Slavic god with dual roles of death and rebirth.
Djinn A genie.
Hecate Greek goddess of witchcraft, poison and necromancy.
Leshy The guardian of the forest. Fierce and wild; humans should be wary of him.
North Wind A frequent character in many mythologies, particularly European ones – bluff, fierce and unpredictable.
Old Silenus Companion of Bacchus, habitually drunken and riding on a donkey.
Orpheus Renowned musician from Greek mythology whose music caused riots and hysteria.
Red Cross Knight Saint George, as described battling with a dragon in Edmund Spenser’s epic poem of 1590, The Fairy Queen.
River Styx In Greek mythology the river you must cross to reach the land of the dead.
Rusalka In Slavic folklore a water spirit, much like a mermaid. Fierce and treacherous, their aim is to lure people to drown in their pools.

Any of that particularly take your fancy? I know my sister is looking forward to reading about Leshy, Baba Yaga and the Rusalkas – they are after all the main mythological presence in a Slavic set story. But the story’s characters are well read and curious, and well aware of other folklore traditions.

I have always been attracted to odd or funny or unusual words. I love that the English language has such a wealth of them.* As I child I would sometimes sit and read the dictionary – finding strange words and trying to work them into everyday speech (or the many unfinished stories I always had on the go).

gormenghast notes

My very old copy of Gormenghast, with notes. The same page also contains: raddled (either twisted or reddened) and pranked (adorned, shown off)

Words I remember learning in that way:

Grimalkin: an old witch.
Madder: a natural red dye.
Glabrous: smooth skinned.

I first read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy at 15, and for many years adored it (although I have to say I prefer my prose a lot less fancy these days). But it was full of many words I didn’t understand. I would mark them in the text. Then when I reached a suitable break I would get out the dictionary, look up all the recent words, and write the meanings in to the margins – in case i forgot again by the time I re-read the book (you will recall from previous posts that although I love books, I am not precious about them).

Words I remember learning from Gormenghast:

Gibbous: the moon when it is more than half, but less than full.
Fastidious: fussy.
Osseous: made of bone.

For a time I became particularly intrigued by unusual names, and kept a small notebook in which I jotted down odd names that I came across.

My favourite company names, learnt whilst working as a temp for a variety of local, mostly mining-related businesses:

Norbert Dentressangle; a haulier, but the name always reminds me of Murun Buchstansangur, which I used to enjoy as a child, and – having now looked it up after *cough* years – is even odder than I remember.
Angst Pfister; they’re real, honest. And safe for work!

I also made up reams of names. Sometimes I would think up a character to go with the name. Sometimes they made it as far as (an unfinished) story.

Tragically I can no longer find the notebook full of my best names. But these are a few from a comic-adventure boarding school story I still vaguely intend to finish one day:

Boscoe Roast; a schoolboy and a bully.
Colt Saltarello; a handsome, laconic Texan, and dancing intructor.
Frances Botticelli-Irvingspoon; from a wealthy but dissolute family, she knows all manner of interesting things that a young girl probably shouldn’t, and is excellent at poker.

And finally, three very common words which for some reason when I see written down I often mispronounce/misapprehend to myself:

misled: (myzelled) I went out for a misle; now I’m thoroughly misled.
mishap: (mish-ap) I have no idea what that could mean. Perhaps it’s similar to a mashup?
doing: I want to pronounce it to rhyme with boing.

Anyone got a favourite word they’d like to share?

* German also has a great number of peculiar words, I later learnt. My favourite is ausgeflippt: freaked out.

Why is it so utterly impossible and infuriating and time-devouring to write a synopsis for your novel?

Since I’m currently taking a hiatus from Kikimora‘s editing, I thought I should have another go at a decent synopsis. Days later, I emerge, blinking and disoriented. I’ve done it! I’ve written 137 words that I only kind of hate a bit… :-S

This is my umpteenth attempt at Kikimora’s synopsis. There have been three or four major versions – all quite different, yet all equally true to the story. How is that possible?

My first attempt was perhaps a little high on whimsy and low on hook:

Raised in isolation by a brooding magician and his learned cat, Kikimora has almost come of age – and that means she has a destiny to fulfil. For Kikimora is no ordinary girl, but a monster spun from the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer, and her purpose is to wreak vengeance on mankind.

But Kikimora’s nature is not harsh or cruel. Sent out into the human world alone, she will need all of her ingenuity and resourcefulness to overcome the destiny laid out for her, and perhaps find her own path to happiness.

It clearly wasn’t good enough, so I sought some advice, courtesy of Mike Wells. With a formula* in hand, I had another go:

crazy bacteria stuff growing in thermal pools

I choose to express my feelings on synopsis writing in an abstract manner.

Since her creation, Kikimora has been raised to believe that humans are a blight upon the planet; greedy, stupid and unreasonable. Commissioned to bring about the ruination of a mining community, she wants to prove herself a good and dutiful monster.

But Kikimora finds that cruelty and spite do not come easily to her. Nor had she anticipated falling in love with the very worst of the men, the gunpowder master.

When a rockfall traps the miners deep underground and the caverns slowly fill with water, will Kikimora betray her master and upbringing to rescue the miners – even if it means sacrificing everything?

Meh. I get the need for a hook, but I don’t want to sound like a (bad) Hollywood thriller. Forgetting all about the formula, I took a fresh approach:

Korsakov forest is changing. Where carefree Rusalka once swam in golden pools, now sulphurous run-off from the mines has clouded and poisoned the waters. Where impenetrable forest stretched across the horizon, now ancient trees are felled and burnt.

But the inhabitants of the forest have a plan; a simple, ruthless plan. From the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer is spun a strange creature: half child, half nightmare. Schooled in cruelty, Kikimora’s sole purpose is to terrorise the encroaching humans and drive them away.

But Kikimora finds herself strangely unprepared for the realities of the human world. As she learns more about humans, she begins to question her upbringing and her purpose.

When disaster strikes the humans, Kikimora must decide where her loyalties lie: with the guardians of the forest or the humans she has sworn to destroy.

There are some elements of that which I like, but it still sounds stilted and clunky (they all do, I know!) Finally I’ve attempted a mash up with the above and the formula version, and I think it’s the best I’ve got so far. But I’ll probably have rewritten it by tomorrow…

When mining pollution threatens to destroy their home, the spirits of Korsakov forest enlist the help of the world’s greatest sorcerer to create a monster. Spun from the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer, Kikimora’s purpose is to terrorise the miners and drive them from the forest for ever.

But Kikimora discovers there is much her guardians neglected to teach her about humans: important things like music and friendship and love. Drawn into their lives, their hopes and fears, Kikimora’s heart rebels against her duty, and she begins to question her purpose.

When disaster strikes the miners, she must decide where her loyalties lie: with the guardians of the forest or with the humans she has sworn to destroy.

But defying her destiny could mean sacrificing everything – even her life.

Thoughts, anyone? I feel like I’ve bludgeoned the story to death, and there is no charm or life left in it. But that’s probably (hopefully) over-familiarity breeding contempt. Does anything about this synopsis intrigue or invite, or should I go back to the drawing board again? (or throw my computer out of the window?)

Who else has trouble writing synopses? Anyone got any great tips or advice?

* visit the site for the full version, but the essence is:
Hero + situation should = goal; unless villian causes it to = disaster.

facebook likeA year or two ago I signed up to one of those author hub sites with various tools, resources and networking thingamajigs. One of the things they promoted was, Hey guys, let’s ‘like’ each other! Not actually like, of course. Just facebook ‘like’.

What the hell, I thought. I was building up my facebook page. It can’t hurt to garner a few more contacts. So I left the details of my facebook page, and went through the list, selectively liking some of the previous entries. Before long I began to receive a few likes back. The way this happens is that someone finds my details on the list, comes and ‘likes’ my page, then leaves a message saying, ‘Hey, I just liked your page! How about you like mine back?’

I know this is the deal I signed up for, but it makes me very uncomfortable. It’s so blatantly un-genuine: I have no interest in what you do or say, I am simply making a transaction.

Every few weeks I will duly look through my messages and visit the pages of the people who have liked me. The trouble is, sometimes I don’t like their pages. Sometimes I really dislike their pages.

Because I know it’s a networking thing, and because I know it’s an exchange thing, I let my usual standards slip a little in terms of what I will like.

It’s all about romance novels?? Aw! But wait, lets look at a few posts… Okay, she posts links to some interesting and useful articles. Okay, she gets a like.

It’s all about romance novels, and her posts are those ones with pictures of angels and kittens, and messages about believing in some higher power, and finding the strength within yourself to blah de blah de blah? No. I’m sorry. There is nothing on that page I have the slightest interest in. Not only can I not in good conscience like it, I don’t want to see it in my news feeds because it will make me cross and irritated.

I try to reciprocate most of the likes. But I don’t know how to handle the ones I don’t like. Up to now I have simply been ignoring them. I recognise that is not a good solution, I just don’t know what else to do.

The problem is intensified when someone sends another message a few weeks later firmly reminding me that I have not liked their page, and please do so now. If anything was likely to deepen my dislike for them, this is it.

What do I do now? Continue to ignore them? Shut up and click the damn button? Explain to them precisely why I don’t like their page and can’t be seen to publicly do so?* Extricate myself from the networky ‘like’ exchange program?

I’ve been back to visit the site in question for the first time in over a year. As far as I can see there is no unsubscribe from this system. It does state on the page that anyone who does not continue ‘liking’ will be removed from the list, but that seems like the only way to get off it. Maybe I could write and request removal?

The thing is, I do like to network with people; I do like to meet new people and see what they’re up to (when I’ve got time, which I haven’t much lately). But I’m coming to dread each new ‘you’ve been liked’ message that pops up on my page.

I will also occasionally get messages from authors advising me that I have only liked their page from my author account, not my personal account – and those likes don’t count towards the total of likes! If anything proved the futility of this like system it is this complaint.

I liked your page from my author account, so that when I’m in author mode I can go to that home page and see posts from authors I am interested in – YOU, in fact. But you are unhappy with that because you didn’t get to see your number go up? For realz??

Through the process of articulating all these thoughts, I am seeing several obvious answers: a) man up; b) you made a deal, keep your end of it; c) why the hell did you ever sign up to such a spammy nonsensical thing in the first place?

I no longer know what the point of the exercise is. So my facebook likes have gone up to 270? Big whoop. How many of those people who technically liked my page (and it is fair to assume, also liked the pages of dozens, if not hundreds of other people off that list) ever see a post I write or interact with it in any way?

I can’t answer the first part of the question, but I can answer the second. Very few. There are a bare handful of other authors I interact with on facebook with even the slightest regularity. Five at most.

So I wonder, what am I gathering ‘likes’ for? And what are they, these likers, gathering likes for? Just to see that number go up? What is the point?

I don’t care about the number of my likes. I care about interacting with people, making connections, having conversations, sharing information. Why does that seem like a problem?

Something needs to change in the way I handle my facebook account, but I’m undecided which way to go with it. Request removal from the whole thing, or just start managing it better – putting a bit more time into it, maybe creating a list of those pages I actually do genuinely like, and accessing them that way?

So, anyone else have experience with this? Am I over-thinking it? How do you handle it? Are you honest with people about why you can’t like their page? Or do you just like it, and then remove it from your feeds? That seems both pointless and dishonest. But I’m coming to the conclusion that it also seems easier than mithering on about it like I am!

* Though tempting, this seems an unwise move. Even apart from my own pathological fear of confrontation, everyone knows that hell hath no fury like a writer scorned. I have no interest in getting involved in a word feud (unless its that game I play on my iphone that’s a bit like scrabble, but just different enough to avoid legal action…)

He could see Undine beneath the crystal vault

“He could see Undine beneath the crystal vault,” Arthur Rackham. Image source: http://rackham.artpassions.net/

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally realised what Pinterest is for! (not least due to my pal, Emilly Ladybird’s Dark Fairytales board, which she created for her book, Steampunk Apothecary).

I’ve spent a pleasant morning putting together a board of all things Kikimora - for my own research, inspiration and motivation, but hopefully also to whet the appetite of potential readers and give them an indication of what to expect. It encompasses images of traditional fairy tales, snowy forests, little cabins in the woods, steepy mountains, churches with onion domes, snowflakes, and various mythological creatures, including: Rusalka, Leshy, and Baba Yaga.

I’m really pleased with it, and wish I’d collated it before I began the story. I will definitely do it for my next book. It’s a great way to keep together a scrap book of visual inspiration and aide memoirs.

Who else uses Pinterest as part of the writing process? I haven’t really heard of it that much, but I thoroughly recommend it.