Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Covers and paperbacks

It's been a year of biting the bullet.

When I say 'year' I'm including 2018, since that's when most of what I'm going to talk about happened.

Each time since 2014 when I uploaded a new book to Kindle I intended to produce a paperback version as well. And I got myself an account at CreateSpace to do this, but somehow held back from going through with the whole process. Formatting an ebook seemed a piece of cake by contrast with preparing a book for print. The thing that was my main sticking point was sorting out the cover.

Recently, CreateSpace went out of existence and Kindle (KDP) took over the print on demand process. I decided this was it: time to take the plunge. I worked my way through everything that I thought needed to be done and then checked with my older son, who's the IT whiz in our family. Immediately he pointed out a bunch of things that weren't going to look good unless I reformatted and improved the fonts and shifted pages around and got rid of things that weren't appropriate for the paperback version. Phew.

He came over to my house and wrote me out a check list as a reference for when I did the other three books. It proved immensely helpful, and for the most part I managed to reformat the remaining three books on my own. Even doing the covers.

The first paperback, Diary of a Prostate Wimp, was published in the second half of last year, while my wife was in England. The first time we spoke on WhatsApp after I'd published the paperback, she told me she'd ordered a copy. (So at least there was one sale...!)

All the books are now available in the printed version, and it's been encouraging to see the interest in the books as opposed to their electronic cousins.

Having achieved this, I felt it was time to do something about the cover for Grimhilda! The original e-book cover was adapted from the poster for the stage production - Grimhilda! had started out life as a musical. My son and I had sat down one evening, taken the poster version, got rid of some elements, improved others, and generally made it more presentable. No disrespect to the original artist but the poster wasn't up to scratch for the wider world of book covers.

The cover my son and I made was good, but not excellent, but it sufficed for the first four years of the book's life online. I always knew I wanted to redo it, but I never seemed to have the cash in hand to get a good artist (such as the guy who did the original cover for my third book, The Disenchanted Wizard) to make a good job of it.

There was no option: if I wanted a new cover I'd have to do it myself. And early this month (January 2019) I sat down, worked my way through Canva and produced a cover that I was much happier with. It's more striking, looks more like a proper cover (!) and hopefully is more eye-catching altogether.

Grimhilda! new cover
It was made from a variety of elements: the background only came to my attention after I'd tried a bunch of other options, such as finding something on Pixabay. It turned out none of the photographs I looked at there were going to work, but they gave me ideas for what could work.

I settled on the background, and then looked for a graphic that would connect to the title character. There were plenty of these, but most of them didn't belong with the rest of the cover. Thankfully, in the end I found the one of the witch on the broomstick, and she fitted perfectly. On the earlier cover my son had found a similar graphic that he applied over the snowy background as a shadow of the witch flying overhead. Very neat.

Today I revised the cover again...the author name seemed to stick out in a way that wasn't comfortable and the quote at the bottom of the page just cluttered things up - apart from not being readable on anything small.

Hopefully now I'm done with this cover for the time being. Might be time to tackle one of the other ones I'm not so happy about!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Men, do you know you have a prostate gland?

British men largely unaware of the role of the prostate says a heading to a short article I came across today.

I'm not surprised by this in the slightest. It was only when my doctor - some years ago now - suggested having a PSA test regularly that I even knew I had a prostate. Is that possible? Had I been nearly 50 years on this planet without knowing about this vital part of my male anatomy?

Maybe my prostate had been mentioned in passing, but when you have an internal organ that behaves itself and does the job it's supposed to do without quibble, then you pretty much ignore it. We all know we've got hearts, because we can feel them pumping, or because the heart manages to get into all sorts of common expressions: Have a heart, brokenhearted, he's got a big heart, my heart longs for you, and so on.

We know we have a brain, even though we can't feel it, because the same thing applies: the brain comes into our everyday speech, and reinforces its part in our lives. Use your brain, you great useless piece of leftover spittle. 

But the prostate? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any common, everyday expression that involves the prostate. Worse, it's easy to get it mixed up with another word, prostrate, which has nothing to do with it, and which we sometimes use when we're talking about a person lying down. Or prostrating themselves before someone who's their superior. (Not something Western people tend to do least not in public.)

Otherwise the prostate doesn't get a mention, until your PSA climbs the charts (which it shouldn't) and you're sent off to the hospital for a prostate biopsy. A prostate biopsy, for most gentlemen, is not fun, though a friend of mine (who shares my birthday, as it happens) claimed he came through his biopsy without bother. Plainly he's tougher than I am. 

I learned a lot about prostates when I had problems with not being able to pee, and when my PSA count started to skyrocket. I learned more about biopsies when I had one and it caused other problems. Later, at the encouragement of a fellow-sufferer, I wrote a book about it: Diary of a Prostate Wimp. (Which incidentally, is the only book of mine that I can claim has been a bestseller, mainly because it was on Amazon's top twenty list for books relating to Urology a few times...!)

What I'm saying to any male who reads this: be grateful to your prostate. Be grateful that for most of your life it will work perfectly well. Be even more grateful that these days it's possible to have prostate cancer and survive. I know several guys who've been there and are still functioning well.

But guys, if your doctor says to you, we need to keep an eye on your PSA count, make sure you do. It may save your life.

PS: The majority of men who have a PSA test and a biopsy will prove to have no cancer. Cancer is not a given. I didn't have it. 

PSS: Talking about prostrating oneself, in a Korean TV series we watched some while back, the less important employees bowed to their superiors continually. It was quite disconcerting. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Banks and bouncers

The following column originally appeared in Column 8 on the 21st July, 1993. Like a number of my columns, it's a bit of a riff on an idea that drags in a bunch of possibly unrelated issues. The BleedUsSlow Cup (generally known to rugby fans as the Bledisloe Cup.) It's fought over between Australian and New Zealand teams - mostly annually. 

Banks and bouncers

Bledisloe Cup
courtesy Hpeterswald
Some time ago I promised I’d write about banks and bouncers. And seeing a bouncer being choosy about the cup crowd entering his pub doorway last Friday night reminded me. (Here, this should raise my mana a little; I actually watched all of the BleedUsSlow Cup – and got excited about it.)

Have you noticed the new trend in our main shopping area? Everywhere you turn, banks and bars. Both these institutions are eating up retail space, instead of loitering round back streets where they belong.

Furthermore, one bank has turned into a bar, and another bank and bar are cohabiting. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the pre-cup crowd confused one with the other.

That might not be a bad thing: banks could do worse that taking on the look of a bar, and vice versa.

In the matter of bouncers, for instance. When the teller sees someone whose cheques continually bounce come in the door, she just calls on the fullback at the doorway, ‘A moment of your time, Bill.’ And when Bill arrives, ‘Show this bankrupt the street, will you?’

You’d expect bank bouncers to deal with a better class of customer, having none of the confusion which with bar bouncers must contend.

On the surface a bouncer needs nothing more than muscle and an assortment of fierce looks towards unwanted clientele. But discernment is required. The worthy were once distinguishable from the unworthy by their state of dress. Now scruffy and up-to-date are much the same.

The feller who turns up with his shirt hanging out front and back, with baggy pants and no socks – his girlfriend wearing her singlet over her sweat shirt and her hair in three vibrant colours – may be an acceptable customer. Equally you can’t automatically let in the besuited.

This would also apply in a bank, of course. The besuited might be the pauper and the scruff the one with the money.

When bars become like banks they’ll need to install automatic barpersons. We have this in part already, with drink-dispensing machines – the idea just needs a little extension.

Bar personnel do little besides race around all night pouring drinks, grabbing bags of chips and taking money. A modern machine could handle the job easily. (Barmen who lend an ear to garrulous soaks only appear in the movies.)

Automatic barpeople would fit into the walls of your average bar. The customer slots in his bar card with its own PAN (personal alcohol number); the machine pours into his glass the exact amount of liquor the licensee desires – and there’s no problem with change.

Humans might still be seen behind the bar, but their job would no longer be sweaty and hectic.

Banks, on the other hand, need to take over something that’s prospered in bars – live bands.

Instead of piped music, inducing the customer to soporificity, we’d have live bands performing (and beginning to work in the daytime like normal people). They’d probably need to go upmarket, and change their image from ragged and hairy to couth and cleanshaven (I will not be applying).

Bands encourage customers to linger – necessary in the midst of banks’ fierce competition for people’s money. Picture yourself walking into a bank and hearing your favourite band playing heavy metal or rap or string quartets – depending on the kind of image the bank wishes to portray. Isn’t that more exciting than posters full of percentages?

Not only that, customers could relax in banks after work, discussing their finances, and maybe being allowed to count their money. Tellers who’ve been made redundant by automation could return to work as cooks and waiters, and serve meals.

In fact, if banks and bars joined forces and occupied the same buildings, they’d save on overheads, save on staff, and provide interesting alternative venues.

A three sheets in the wind customer might mix up his PIN and PAN and pour dollars into his glass. Bill the Bouncer would take his elbow, guide his feet along the white line, and quietly open an investment account.