Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The World's First Ada

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. The daughter of poet Lord Bryon, Ada is sometimes considered the world's first computer programmer. She was a mathematician who translated notes on Charles Babbage's analytical engine from Italian to English and included instructions for use, which could now be considered a computer program. The robust computer language used in avionics and the space industry is named after her: Ada.

So today I ask the question: why are there not more women in IT? The numbers of women in medicine and the sciences increase steadily with women now making up more than 50% of medical students. But, in my 15 years of working in IT, I am still the only woman at the conference, on the course, and sometimes the only woman on the floor! With the ladies toilets all to myself.

Well, I have a theory. And it's to do with culture, boys, gaming, comics, dungeons and dragons, and the massive tech industry that attracts boys while girls seem more interested in the external world. IT and specifically software development is enveloped in this boys world and from the age of about 10, girls probably feel that a career in IT means entering into this world.

Perish the thought. I'm not a gamer. I've never played dungeons and dragons (I used to leave my collage mates to it, down the back of the canteen), and I don't own any comics. I do however, love writing software. In school, when I was 17, we had a computer club after school hours and while I was indifferent to most subjects, that hour of messing about with a program, trying to get the results I wanted, I found exhilarating!

The stereotype is deserved. A career in IT does mean you can limit human contact and we do attract people whose social skills are not their strongest quality. But, the message that the outside world doesn't seem to be getting is that we have our gregarious types too. A career in IT can be highly sociable and involve travelling, meeting clients, and it's a very creative job. In fact, having met other people in IT, like myself, who also write, we agree that writing software and writing fiction are not worlds apart. There's huge scope in IT to carve out the role that you want. And that's not all! It also offers more flexibility than most jobs, is needed everywhere and can make for a highly lucrative career.

But we are suffering from a lack of diversity. Our workforce is made up of much of the same kind of people. That means that attitudes and work-cultures are not challenged the way they should be. What keeps women away is the same thing that they could solve.

That was theory 1. Here's theory 2:

I have a memory from my childhood of looking through one of my mum's magazines. There was a photo of an actress I recognised. She had big hair and was looking back over her shoulder at the camera. The caption read "Let's face it: A woman's brain just doesn't develop after the age of 35". In 2005, American economist Lawrence Summers gave a speech during a conference on science and diversity, and explained that a difference in "availability of aptitude" between men and women contributed to why women have not risen in scientific ranks. Studies have found physical differences between the typical male and female brain but, while analysing brain structure and activity is a matter of technology, analysing the significance of these results is entirely another matter. What if, for example, the performance of our complicated, malleable brains is related to confidence and identity - in other words, social conditioning? Subjects who participate in these studies come from the real world, influenced their whole lives by factors outside the controlled environment. So how can real world factors be ignored? Conclusions drawn in these conditions can only come from and reinforce existing prejudices. In this prevailing environment then I wonder if young women simply assume they wouldn't be great at programming. Even if they get exposed to it, with stereotypes hanging over them, how easy is it to be put off when a program refuses to work, and fall back on the stereotype? Maybe I'll try something with multitasking instead. I have one female colleague who started with us as a junior but has recently been promoted. She leaves her male peers for dust when it comes to showing an aptitude for logic and taking control of complex problems. Ah, how many more are like her and have not discovered their powers?

The solution: starts in school. Not that girls should have to enter the culture of programming and gaming with peers, but that computer programming should come into the classroom. Often maths and computing are put together under the branch, logic and I think people assume if they don't like maths then they wouldn't like programming. But actually an aptitude for maths is not the same as an aptitude for programming. I've never been particularly good at handling abstract numbers - don't ask me to figure out the bill - but there is a branch of mathematics called predicate logic which I loved in college and I don't see why it can't be taught in schools. If you like building logical statements, you'll like writing algorithms. Also, I think schools should have a programming class. What if kids learned how to write their own phone app, for example. How much fun does that sound??

Since poking around the internet to read about this subject, I have come across this great campaign agency, Lady Geek whose aim is to bridge the gap between women and the IT industry. Chief geek Belinda Parmar, has just published a book called Little Miss Geek to inspire young girls to become tech pioneers.

I leave you with this list of inspirational women who are tech pioneers and wish you all an analytically satisfying Ada Lovelace Day.

Grace Murray Hopper, developed the 1st compiler for a computer programming language, US Navy Rear Admiral, in 1973 became the 1st person from the USA and the 1st woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society, IEEE Fellow 1962 (1st woman awarded), Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award 1964

Cynthia Breazeal, pioneer of social robotics at MIT Media Lab, US Office of Naval Research (ONR) Young Investigators Award

Rosalind W. Picard, credited with starting the entire field of Affective Computing, MIT Director of Affective Computing Research, IEEE Fellow 2005

Radia Perlman, the “Mother of the Internet,” 1st Sun Microsystems female Fellow, 1st Anita Borg Institute Woman of Vision – Innovation award winner 2005, IEEE Fellow 2008

Lynn Conway, Mead & Conway revolution in VLSI design, invention of generalized dynamic instruction handling, IEEE Fellow 1985, Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award 1990

Deborah Estrin, Professor of Computer Science UCLA, pioneer in the field of embedded network sensing and is the director of the Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) at UCLA, Fellow IEEE 2004, ACM Fellow 2000, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2007 Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award for Innovation, WITI Hall of Fame 2008

Erna Schneider Hoover, as a researcher at Bell Laboratories, created a computerized switching system for telephone call traffic and earned one of the 1st software patents ever issued (1971), 1st first female supervisor of a technical department at Bell Labs

Mary Allen Wilkes, known for her work with the LINC (Laboratory INstrument Computer), a 12-bit, 2048-word computer, considered the first minicomputer and a forerunner to the personal computer, at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory from 1959-1963. She simulated the LINC on the TX-2 computer, wrote many LINC operating systems, and designed the LINC console. During that time, she used a computer in her home, usually considered to be the first home computer user. As part of the Macromodular Systems Project at Washington University in St. Louis, she designed the multiply macromodule. She left computing to become an attorney.

Karen Spärck Jones, pioneer of the science behind information retrieval, ACM SIGIR Salton Award 1988, BCS Lovelace Medal 2007, the ACM-AAAI Allen Newell Award 2007

Susan Landau, Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer, Anita Borg Institute Woman of Vision – Social Impact award winner 2008, American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, Association for Computing Machinery Fellow 2011

Anita Borg, founding director of the Institute for Women and Technology (IWT), which became the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), EFF Pioneer Award 1995, WITI Hall of Fame 1998, ACM Fellow 1996

Augusta Ada King (Countess of Lovelace), 1843 wrote a description of Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is credited with being the 1st computer programmer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Orla's Code Gets a Makeover!

Where were we? Oh yes, I was getting rejected. But finally some of my rejections came with some positive feedback. 'A good story but not quite there' / 'Writes very well but pace a bit fast'

It was about this time I decided the way for me to go is the way of the e-book. At 42,000 words, Orla's Code is considered a novella, though its word-count and the time frame it spans are longer than usual for the style. Novellas are not generally considered commercially viable by agents and publishers. This is because they cost the same to print as full-length novels but have to be priced lower thus making them less profitable. Another reason is, novellas are not as popular as novels, tending to have a niche market. But in the digital world, the book length does not matter as much and production is cheaper. Publishers who have started to get involved in e-publishing are obviously changing with the industry; they might be looking outside the usual formula too.

Also, at this time, I realised that my perspective on the story was shot. A year after completing it I still couldn't read it with fresh eyes. But, I felt I should address the issues brought in the feedback, before the next round of submissions. 

So, I decided to have Orla's Code professionally edited. I had no problem chosing the editor. I had been to a talk about self-publishing company, Silverwood Books about a year before and was impressed with what they had to say. With many years experience in the industry and a genuine approach, I felt they were about helping a writer to produce and market quality work. I remembered also they provided services like proof-reading, editing, formatting etc. I got in contact straight away. 

A few weeks later and we were off. The editing experience has been invaluable. The feedback, done with Word comments covered everything from punctuation to character inconsistencies to suggestions around visual descriptions. Now, when I read the finished work I can see how it flows more smoothly as a whole story. I also received a lot of advice along the way about writing for the reader and the industry in general. As a result, it has given me a lot more confidence, was a great learning experience and was also fun!

On to the next step: Now that Orla's Code is as polished as I can make it, I have submitted the first page to WEbook and Jottify for, hopefully, some positive feedback. If you're not familiar with these sites, they have come up in the age of digital publishing. Both allow you to submit samples of your work and rate others. Both have a community, friendly feel and their role is to connect writers as well as provide a platform, an alternative way to get work out there. My impression, so far, is that Jottify is the easier one to use, although WEbook charges for submission. But then, WEbook exposes rated work to agents. For this reason it is also more strict about the rules of submission. You can only submit the first 250 (or so) words, so the first page. There is also a restrictive limit on the 'blurb' that accompanies it. Jottify allows you to add as much or as little as you like and you can add a picture to accompany the work, which is pleasing to those of us who slaved away on a visualisation (look to your left). So far, on Jottify I have received 14 views and 1 like. I've also been 'gifted' an ink pot - this is cool, but I don't fully understand its power yet. 

While I am getting around Jottify and WEbook, adding some reviews and comments of my own, I shall be thinking about my next round of submissions. Stay tuned...

The first chapter of Orla's Code is also here on my site.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Having It All - The caveat and the myth

It dismays to hear people refer to women "having it all" as a myth we were served up like some kind of trick. I think the failure of this ambition, and by failure I mean the general occurrence of sleep-deprived women working 2 jobs - home and career not knowing how they can go on, is because a rather large caveat was left out of the equation. That caveat being that in order for women to have it all, men have to have it all too.

I like the idea that some day we'll look back on now and think of it as primitive that people chose one job for life or felt forced to choose between being a hands-on parent and having a career. There was a time when people worked six days a week, there were no pensions, no welfare, no workers rights - all these things seen as a threat to the survival of business and national solvency - and we shudder to imagine the quality of life. Many European countries are ahead of the game in this area. In the Netherlands working a 4-day week has become common place - see this interesting article in the New York Times: Working (Part-Time) in the 21st Century. In France the official working week is 35 hours with 6 weeks a year holiday. In Bulgaria maternity and paternity leave is a shared year at 100% salary with further flexible leave for both parents after that. The thinking being that human beings should not be tied to a job or a kitchen sink. It's the next step in civilisation - from the technical age to the flexible age.

Certain Western countries, Britain, Ireland, U.S.A. - I'm looking at you, still sort of rely on women to hold the fabric of family together while "having it all" on their own time. And I think we need a shift in perspective again, to allow both sexes to enjoy choice. I don't have kids but I'm all for a society that puts children first and I think these two issues fit together - what they have in common is that they are currently secondary concerns in an increasingly corporation-first society. The breakdown of family life is a busily explored topic and I think there are a lot of moving factors that contribute to it. One, witnessed in Ireland during the 90s, but is seen elsewhere, is that due to soaring house prices, couples were driven out of cities to buy their first home; likewise, companies were encouraged to locate in remote areas; the end result being people with 4 hour commutes who simply didn't see their kids during the week. Another challenge to family life is the lack of flexibility around working hours and working from home. Despite a lot of talk, this hasn't really taken off the way the Sci-Fi movies envisioned. Another is the changing law on shop opening hours. Sunday used to be a day people spent with family. That included the retailers. My point is: the difficulties that families face, I think, are lifestyle related, and lifestyle is dictated by industry. The problem is not feminism, hedonism on the T.V. or gay people wanting to get married. 

As things stand, people have choice about how to live their lives but the work/life structure does not support choice. People daring to 'have it all' have to give up sleep or any downtime and hope they won't get ill. The flexibility needed to allow people have real choice while protecting family life is seen as a threat to the corporate world. Solutions have been knocked around for years and they seem to fissile out. Whatever happened to the dream of crèches in the workplace? I've worked for 9 multinationals - never seen one baby. Why can't more people be working from home or have tailored hours? The bottom line is: we want women in the workplace and we want them to keep having babies; so we should be helping them to do it. 

A number of studies on flexi-hours have shown businesses gain in savings and employees have greater job satisfaction. Other studies show company savings through a reduction in the need of temporary staff and less sick days being taken. Here are some links: FLEX TIMEFlexi-time Case Studies

I hear a lot of women say they'd like to work but can't get the hours they want - they want to be at home when their kids get home. I wonder why there's no such option as working school hours? As in, less money for a 6 hour day, say, instead of an 8 hour day. In my experience, outside of pressure periods, people have a natural amount of work in them per day. In places where the hours our fixed and long, people take more breaks. In places where the hours are short, people tend to work through lunch or skip afternoon coffee. Obviously this kind of flexibility is not possible everywhere but I think it would save companies money. The scheme already exists, if you think about overtime. 

Here's a controversial article published recently in New Statesman suggesting a 21 hour working week for Britain in conjunction with the Big Society.

And what about working from home? I do it sometimes and my connection is rubbish but telecommunications is probably the fastest advancing area in I.T. Certainly there will be a time when we can video call with work and access everything we need on our servers without the visible delay. This would reduce the overhead cost of having employees sitting at their desks. That's the point of 'hot desking', people sharing an onsite desk which they only need once or twice a week and companies can pare down the office space they need to rent - but it's not really being utitilised to its full potential yet. Why isn't the demand on this greater? Is it only coming from women? Are men missing a trick? 

What's next? The crèche issue. Some countries conduct live studies into childcare allowance and crèche subsidies but still, many women say they don't work because it would cost them more to work than not to! So why don't more companies have crèches? Multinational corporations are one thing, small businesses are another, and I'm not suggesting a small company should have to set up a crèche, but, there are degress by which these things can be implemented. For example, what about company-subsidized local crèches? Here's an article about a law firm in Brisbane who have done just that. The idea of forcing companies to grow in socially responsible ways is not new. They already have to supply employees with pensions, health benefits, holidays. Government incentives steer companies to be environmentally friendly, to get involved in local communities. Aside from all the perks of upper-management, most multinationals supply just for the worker bees: parites, days out, subsidised canteens, subsidised local facilities, gyms, onsite medical staff, relaxation rooms, climbing walls, exotic plants and I still don't see any God damn babies. See, we do set standards but the family domain seems to be the cut-off point. Why is that? Aren't children like the environment - an investment in the future?

I'm not saying anything controversial here. You talk to the front man, the P.R. representative of any major firm and he'll tell you 'Of course we're family oriented: A productive worker is a happy worker and a happy worker has a well-balanced life. Sure, we're a family ourselves'. I once worked for a multinational that had fixed office hours (50 hours a week), 3 weeks holiday a year (illegal, but they found a loophole), no flexi-time or working from home and STILL tried to pull the 'We're family oriented' rhetoric. Well, I'm glad we're all on the same page: A happy worker is one who doesn't cry in the toilets about missing their children.

I've gone outside the boundaries of a programmer who writes poems and fiction here and I am not an expert on any of the above. But, I've always felt uncomfortable with women being told by feminism that they're letting down the side for wanting to stay at home to raise their children and now I'm uncomfortable with this sense of "I told you so" towards women who have chosen to work – there seems to be a revival in judgement of these women as if this great experiment has failed. But it hasn't failed. There's just a missing part of the puzzle. I look forward to a time when working towards a work/life balance for everyone is not separated into feminism, employee-rights, promotion of diversity and a moral agenda. I think we all have to get on board with it. And get men to realise they can have it all too. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Not So New Girl

I like Zooey Deschanel. I thought she was good in (500) Days of Summer. I was hopeful about her being interesting and talented. That is why I gave New Girl, 5 minutes of my time, despite obvious reservations... If I didn't know any better, I'd say that there's a conspiracy to pump a conservative agenda though mainstream T.V. with the appearance of being liberal. And I'll tell you why. I happened upon the episode where New Girl decides to have a one night stand but once she finds her male equivalent of the dumb blond, who in real-life, if he had this dialogue would be considered mentally impaired, she changes her mind, realising it's not for her. And I thought, imagine she went through with the one-night-stand, had great sex and went home thinking she'd found a new lifestyle. Now, THAT would be a new girl. Because while shows like this love to show us promiscuity (because they're so hip), it's usually the side-line character who has the easy morals and of course, low self-esteem. She's the comic relief, the hooker with a heart of gold, she's Joey from Friends, minus the admiration. Meanwhile, our girl-next-door protagonist seems to be shoehorned into a moral agenda where she never has sex without emotional involvement and her career decisions are always made with her heart. Admirable qualities, of course. But I'm predicting her career will never suffer - the tricky thing being, the downside to her choices is unlikely to be explored. So, why are we being served up such patronising, conservatism with our mindless entertainment? I mean, who's in charge of T.V. anyway? Bill Hicks claimed it's the corporate brandateers who sponsor the T.V. channels, demanding a certain audience. The question to me then is: are we getting what we want or are we being told what we want? I think we're being duped. We want something new, something that will surprise us. But most shows are only made to look progressive because they'll start with a modern premise. Then, despite her freedom, the newest girl will never really leave a safe "family values" perimeter and the over-contrived plot will never have her lose out because of it. So, really, no risk is being taken, nothing is being challenged and we're just being served up the same old after-school special. Don't even get me started on the male counterparts who always seem, in contrast, to be family-reluctant morons, happy being treated as children. It's as if, in representing women as being "able to do it all", the male stereotype has had to be reduced to an extra child in the house.

I think it's easier to put original programmes on T.V. in Britain, than in the U.S. There's less advertisement - sponsor influence and corporate control and the censorship rules are more relaxed and diverse across the terrestrial channels. Sharon Horgan's Pulling is an excellent example of original, uncompromising T.V. which was broadcast on BBC3. Even the insipid Coupling, the British answer to Friends didn't bother with a moral agenda. Also in The States, religion has had more ferver in recent years (to put it mildly) and there has been a revival of family-value/traditional idealism. Which makes me think: Bill Hicks had such faith in his audience; it's part of what has made him a cult hero - he believed the audience was just like him and wanted his edgy, subversive style of satire - if he could only get passed the censors... But, maybe he was wrong. Maybe there's no conspiracy. No mind control to keep viewers in the optimum state of watching and buying. Just people getting what they want.

In which case, fine by me. I can switch channels. Or, better still, I can buy The Wire on D.V.D. It's just... don't call the damn thing New Girl!

I realise that I have repeated myself, because here is my poem Sitcom Drops which has a similar theme.
And, here's Prime Time Guy, about the struggle of the T.V. satirist.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's The Right Thing To Do

What is your connection with the Middle East? The editor of The Arab Review asks me when considering my poem for publication. I wrote It's The Right Thing To Do on the bus to work, down a long London street of local shops, looking out the window at women wearing the full burqa. I think a woman has a right to wear a burqa to express her faith, just as another woman has the right to wear a miniskirt to express herself. But what I find difficult to understand, is how it has come to be believed that the face, clearly designed for communication and interaction, should only be revealed in private. And why is it only a woman's face that is inappropriate for public viewing? Obviously, it is in the reaction of the beholder. But when does the beholder take responsibility for his actions? Can these questions really be down to cultural insensitivity? And in the situation where the burqa is an enforced rule rather than a choice, where is a woman's refuge when she does not want to comply? You only have to read your local newspaper to answer that question... No connection to the Middle East I reply. Just London living.

Today I was supposed to be working on some poems - competition deadlines loom and I'm also editing Orla's Code at the moment but that's a topic for another blog update. Instead I am taking the opportunity to read through the impressive, culturally rich Arab Review. I love this poem by Mahmoud Darwish: I Do Not Sleep To Dream. There are a lot of poems about sadness and loss but this one has something so visceral about it - maybe because it's so physical. Or maybe it's physicality is accentuated because it is written by a man from a woman's point of view. There's so much going on in this journal - fiction, interviews, photography, travel reports... I really like this article about the Egyptian grafftii that tells the story of the revolution: Street Art And The City. And I thought this was an interesting, sober report on the Syrian conflict, by way of book review: Taking the future into their own hands. And of course there's the poignant I Wore The Veil by Farah Chamma.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Performance Poetry Night 3

It's a dirty word but this time I went mainstream. To the Southbank Centre to see Saul Williams and Kate Tempest who are definitely not mainstream. This was in the lead up to the Shake The Dust series - the biggest ever youth poetry slam in the UK. Out of all the events going on around it, these two artists caught my eye and I booked myself a ticket for last Thursday night. Yes, one. I still can't get my beer-swilling friends along to a poetry evening. They don't know what they're missing.

Another overwhelming display of talent but I have to say Performance Poetry Night 1 is still top of my list. First of all, I could have done without the kids-entertainment style hosts who asked us, at the beginning of the evening, to think of people who had annoyed us during the week and shake our hands to get the annoyance out. During acts, they also helped us to practice things like clapping and cheering. What is that all about? There were no children in the audience and everyone there was already a fan of poetry. I don't need to be fluffed, thank you.

Before the main acts, we had an array of young poets reading personal poems. I was impressed with all of them. Loved one actually but I can't find a link to it - the link to this event seems to be gone from the Southbank website. It was interesting to see the mix of styles during this half - ranging from confident and adept to nervous and shy. One woman appologised for the silence at the end of her poem, which showed how new and inexperienced she was. But it was the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre, so really fair play to her for getting up there.  

Kate Tempest is pretty awesome. She seems to transcend to another plane in front of our eyes as she is carried away by her words. And it is contagious. Imagine your soul-felt longings pinged around a pin-ball machine - that's her. Saul Williams is more understated. His poems are long and exploratory and delivered with a scoop of self-righteous authority. But I thought both poets delivered originality and perception and like any good poet, brought us a new way of looking at things. At one point Saul Williams compared close-mindedness to a police state, only allowing to roam free, the thoughts that align with government. He paused to say 'Let me ask you this? What is your immigration policy?' - and the crowed went wild.

BUT, they both spoke so fast that a lot of the time it was hard to catch what they were saying. Every now and then they would slow down to drive home a point - and the crowd would go wild. I wonder if you're not supposed to catch all of it - you sort of catch snippits, get an impression - like impressionist art, a stroke here, a smudge there, add detail to the important points to hold it all together. Jim Morrison used to whip himself up into a frenzy on stage. But before he'd lose it, you could actually understand him and take the ride with him. For me, the ratio of coherent impassioned verse to garbled delirium was just a bit on the self-indulgent side. I'm struggling here because I do think both artists are really talented. From what I could hear, their words were thoughtful and had substance and I really wanted to hear more! I've tried finding lyrics online but can only find links to performances. Check out Kate Tempest's Icarus though. She really is awesome!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Orla's Code Update

Imagine my excitement on hearing from a publisher who liked my synopsis and was interested in reading my manuscript! Well, you'd be wrong. I was not excited at all. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, telling me all was not as it seemed. This is because I had heard back from them the day after my submission, congratulating me on "taking initiative" and promising to help with whatever my goal. You can see the stance they're taking here. And I only have one problem with it. If you're offering support to people who want to self-publish, then just say that. If you want to charge them $1000, as I subsequently learned, in order to "share the financial risk" then allude to it on your website, if you think it's such a great idea. A week after submitting my MS I received another email of congratulations and I knew the nature of the publishing contracts "tailored for me" before reading them. But there was one sentence I found more alarming than the email pick-pocketing that was going on. It was this: "In your case, we believe that what you have submitted to us shows promise specifically but only in terms of commercial sales potential. We do not critique submissions for any other opinion or determination." What in the world does that mean? In grappling to understand I interpret it to mean: "We do not stand over quality". And this alarms me because I then make the leap to shit-peddlers. Is this why self-publishing has a bad name? Because some companies will take your money and publish your work no matter what the standard? This gets me all riled up because it reminds me of the Dark Lords who bring us marketed pop music. Don't even get me started... Part of this deal was that if I made 1000 book sales I would get my money back. But where is the incentive for them to help with book sales? The answer is, there isn't any. They win either way. But self-publishing doesn't have to be like that. There do appear to be self-publishing houses that will work with you to improve the quality of your MS before publishing it. And there's always print-on-demand which gives you greater control and doesn't cost all your savings up front. Well, maybe, as an international company, their marketing clout would have provided essential support but it's the shady way they went about revealing their intentions, hidden beneath this motivational marketing speak that meant, no matter what they had to offer they were never going to be my type.

Other than that, in my quest to find an audience for Orla's Code, I fill out agency submission forms trying to figure out if I've written a novel or a novella. Depending on what website you visit, a novel can start at 40,000 words, 50,000 words or 70,000 words. If we take content rather than length as a measure, I would say a novel reveals itself completely; telling all the stories that contribute to the main story. A novella tells a self-contained story. So, in a way they are opposite things and I have written a novella. And then there's the genre. It's funny that in a lot of industries, thinking "outside the box" is a good thing. In writing - one of the most creative professions - we're encouraged to fit inside the box. Well, I'm a cirangle. Yes, I just made it up. There isn't a box for me. My story is through the eyes of a woman but most of the characters are men. It's about the emotional landslide that takes someone when they feel persecuted but it's set in a highly technical world. It's fiction but the roots of most things are real. Incidentally, doesn't this sound like the perfect pocket-read for your commute? It's understandable though that outside the box falls through the cracks. No publisher is looking to publish random work. They have a relationship with their readership. They build a name through consistency. Like Starbucks, you know what you're getting. This is how any business works. It's how sales work. Hell, even if you look up tips on blogging, you'll be told that's how blogging works - consistency. This is also why we have independent movies, alternative music, the word indie and Mr. Frothy. Which begs a question:

Why is it that indie-music/movies are cool but self-publishing has a bad name? It's like the former is considered a noble act and the latter is dismissed as vanity! My initial thought is it's because self-publishing is just so easy. But, it wasn't always as easy as it is now. And anyway, it's never easy to write a book! So, here are some multiple choice suggestions: (fun, right?)

A) Indie music/movies are usually a collaboration so it means a few people have to think it's great before it goes anywhere.
B) Indie music/movies actually cost quite a lot of money. Kevin Smith's Clerks cost $27,575. I think we'd all think twice about publishing our memoir for that.
C) Self-publishing is relatively new and we need a few more talented authors to make it through before it really starts to establish itself.
D) The aforementioned companies that are willing to publish anything.
E) None of the above. Suggestions please?

I'm also taking suggestions on genre...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Performance Poetry Night 2

If I have strange dreams over the next few days involving dark figures shouting 'Terrorism' or a Goth trying to cleanse me with an industrial vacuum cleaner or a man trying to unlock the secrets of a Cornish pasty, telepathically, possibly using the vibration of sound, I'll have to blame RichMix's avant-garde evening Maintenant Camarade Poetry.

Maybe I'm not equipped to comment on last night's performances. But I do have a question. Does avant-garde mean by definition these days, introspective art? Not art for the sake of art but art for the sake of the artist? And is what used to be avant-garde now considered alternative - in a more liberal age? I think experiment in sound/art is interesting if it is part of something, a progression that leads to a new form of expression. My personal preference is art that wants to say something rather than art that just wants to shock. But I enjoyed last night. It's fun not knowing what's going to happen next.

Before the performances there was an exhibition of visual poetry. I thought this one was cool. It's by Stephen Nelson. I've just found his website Afterlights with more of his work.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The March issue of Tuck Magazine has come but not gone

Nice to be a part of an arts magazine. Today I spent my lunch break looking at the latest work from artists, photographers and film makers among my poems Prime Time Guy and Sifting For Gold. A break from the 0's and 1's chit-chat we programmers usually engage in.

Loved Simon Crofts' photography. The unusual angles and composition are really arresting. And thought Gerard Stricher's art had something in common as they both create striking shapes.

I really liked the poems by Liam Bond. Loved the rhythm of The Music of Spheres by A.J. Huffman and The Eve Factor in a Bee's eye by Michael Kwaku Kesse Somuah made me smile.

Hope you're all enjoying Tuck March Issue too.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It was you who fell first

WordJar asked for a dedication to accompany the poems in their anthology My Love 2. I suppose this would normally be to the object of affection in the poem, but my poem is about a young woman who is letting go of an unobtainable man and the object of affection, in the end, is herself. So, instead, I dedicate the poem to my friend Gill. When I asked Gill what she thought of the emotional state of the woman in the poem (because I like to annoy my friends with such questions), Gill shrugged and said, She's just being a woman. We both nodded wisely.

Click here for My Love 2, including The Procrastinator