WHAT HAPPENED TO PENDRAGON?

What happened to Pendragon?

Research. That’s what happened to Pendragon.

That, modern internet stupidity and a crisis of confidence about being misread happened that’s what.

Plus real life etc – That Dickens bloke must have been quite obsessive (the deadline thing explains some of the gibberish he wrote anyway!)

Seriously though, I had this idea for the Illuminati to be a major player in what was going on in my story. Not just the Bavarian originated offshoot of the Enlightenment but the conspiracy theorists beloved super secret organisation that makes the Freemasons, Knights Templar and the Bilderberg groups look like the boy scouts.

So far so ordinary.

I studied a bit about the original Illuminati while doing a course on European Humanities and the Enlightenment. They seemed interesting enough, persecuted in their time and sufficiently obscure to make a great sinister organisation behind the workings of magic in Wales and the world.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration was how the right wing loons on the internet had interpreted this stuff. The Illuminati (who don’t appear to have actually survived suppression in the late eighteenth century have got tied together with the whole World Zionist conspiracy trash put out by neo Nazi idiots. I was doing a bit of innocent research for how my Illuminati might have survived and thrived in Wales post 1785 (with actual magic of course!) when it became increasingly obvious that despite the truth it was going to be very difficult to separate modern perceptions of the Illuminati as a front for the New World Order as a Jewish conspiracy, from my version which had nothing to do with that at all.

I am still tempted to continue but I have absolutely no desire to be party to fuelling this anti-Semitic tosh. So I stopped.

I am wondering whether to carry on now and flip it so the Illuminati are actually the good guys or to just ignore the general current idiocy regarding conspiracy theories.

On the whole I may for another story on a different tack altogether.

Apologies for baling so spectacularly and not explaining why.

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WHAT’S WRONG WITH EBOOKS?

The Chief Executive of Hachette Livre, the world’s third largest publisher, was reported in the Guardian yesterday as saying that ebooks are ‘a stupid product’, that is unlikely to see further growth.

Now I have a lot of time for Hachette, they were the company that stood up to the mighty Amazon after all, and stopped the decline of content reward to zero. They refused to cede control of pricing to Amazon and thus put a temporary dent in the onward march of a potential monopolist retail giant (after all Capitalism requires competition to thrive right?).

However I am not entirely sure Arnaud Nourry has got it quite right this time. Don’t get me wrong, the ebook market has plateaued and is if anything on a downward (a slight downward) gradient and I can see lots of reasons for that continuing, but Nourry’s reasoning looks a little odd although it contains nuggets of truth.

He reckons that ‘as publishers’ they have not done a great job of going digital, and I think he is probably correct, but his reasoning from there, the details of why growth has stalled is flawed. He thinks the problem lies in lack of imagination and digital know how, hence Hachette’s acquisition of three digital game companies over the last couple of years.

Is he right?

Well the holy grail a while back when video games started making it big, was open ended interactive storylines that went where you wanted them to and each person’s Mutant Ninja Zombie Rabbit IV would be a unique discourse. A truly postmodern retelling with each reading if you will.

It hasn’t worked yet as far as I know. I am not a big video game fan so I cannot say definitively that there are not wonder products that deliver exactly that experience out there, but I think they would have made more of a cultural splash if there were. Call Of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered for example starts and ends at the same place whatever you do inbetween. Indeed there are whole episodes where whatever you choose to do, if you wish to progress you have to fulfil certain plot conditions. This may a stunningly clever philosophical commentary on the inevitability of human action and the false illusion of freedom of will, or it may be a product of lack of processing power and the need to deliver a marketable game where (spoiler alert) the good guys win in the last reel.

Having said that you could go for the 3D, multi path, envisioned view of the ebook, but is it still a book? One of his criticisms of the ebook was ‘The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience.’

And of course there is the appeal for book lovers. If we want film we’ll watch it. If we want music with our reading we’ll pick it thanks very much (‘no thanks’ generally for me – reading is an immersive experience which occupies all my faculties if it is good enough, I don’t want distractions). I want the author’s vision of the experience, be it action, character development, plot, descriptive power or authorial world view, rather than a computer programmer’s. (I know there are creative developers who direct the story, plot, graphics etc but they are working with technical parameters moderated by experts. The more collaboration involved the more like a camel the thing gets – look at movies/films/TV).

The problems with ebooks that are killing growth are:
Pricing (who wants to go the music route where ‘content providers’, the actual creative raison d’être of the ‘industry,’ are treated as incidental to the process and paid virtually nothing for their efforts and sales?

Ownership. It has dawned on many people that their purchases of books are not purchases. They are rentals, and providers who get pernickety about consumer behaviour have been known to suddenly withdraw access to whole libraries of books. I have paid thousands of pounds for my books and they are mine. I can do what I like with them. Ebooks on the other hand are not yours. And you have them available at the whim of someone else. Not the author, not the publisher in most cases but the retailer. Imagine if a high street retailer’s van pulled up outside your house one morning and said they thought you might be letting other people read your books and they were taking your entire library back?

Sort your marketing model out before you start creating an ebook ‘experience’ that is no longer a book.

There is also the problem of ‘flicking’ back and forth between pages. Generally in fiction not much of a problem – unless you want to try and find where Pierre Bezuhov first comes into the story – but in non-fiction and say rules for games (a personal bugbear of mine) it is a killer –there are ways of sorting it, do it.

He was right however when he said that allowing ebook prices to drop to $2 is going to kill the infrastructure and author’s revenues. Modern supermarket approaches to bookselling have already caused a massive thinning out of the infrastructure of publishing with big houses gobbling up small independent publishers and small bookshops gone. Titles are remaindered before they hit the shelves in a bid to cut perceived losses based on weird pre sale review algorithms and a fire sale mentality.

Ebooks may be a ‘stupid’ product but the problem lies not in the idea of a portable compact reading library but in tech companies interference in marketing models.

A ‘smart’ product may be whizzy and bright and may have geek appeal, but it won’t be a book.

B****y Hell That was fast!

I was writing a bit of whimsy, gawd ‘elp us! when my email flashed an incoming note from a publisher. I was a bit surprised because I wasn’t expecting anything at the moment. There is a piece with an American publisher which allegedly is still being considered for publication but which I expect is propping up a wobbly desk somewhere and I would be (pleasantly) amazed if I heard any more from them. There is another story out there, but I know that publisher and they aren’t going to reply just yet. Then there was a story I’d submitted to a prestigious SF magazine for consideration, but that was yesterday and I couldn’t imagine anyone being that quick.

Wrong.

I guess some things suck so bad that all you need is a glance.

First up, I’m impressed they even got around to looking at it within 24 hours. That is frankly amazing.
Second I’m distinctly teed off that they can take one look and bin it. I know, I know, and they were quite clear that ‘it wasn’t what they were looking for at the moment’, but let’s face it that sits right up there with ‘ it’s not you it’s me’ in the greater scheme of crappy let downs. I think what we can read from that sequence of events is – reader opened the email and went; ‘Nah fam, s’rubbish innit?’ or the US equivalent.

I’m guessing that given the number I was in the submissions queue and the fact it was c12,000 words long, they didn’t actually read the whole thing before pressing the preformatted get stuffed email button. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful it wasn’t really ‘get stuffed’, my ego is fragile enough, and it is nice not to be left hanging about for months wondering what is going on, but…

It would have been nice if they could have perhaps waited another 24 hours just to preserve the mystique, the glimmer of a possibility that they may have actually read more than the title or first paragraph before going, ‘Jeez, no way!’– bin. I mean I could treasure that 24 hours of hope without fretting and at least buy into the ‘not quite what we are looking for at the moment.’ But less than 24 hours! I mean how long have they actually been working in the States? A morning? That means they probably didn’t even get past the covering letter.

Ah well.

Maybe leave the whimsy about blood doning for the time being, and go and sulk for a bit.

End of (Another) Era.

I just took my son to his primary school for the last time this morning. He had his leavers’ assembly yesterday and the sports day was the day before that. He seems okay with all this. No tears or complaints. A little moan about the weather not being sunny today when it should be bright and cheerful to see them all off.

The school has been brilliant. In distant times, when my daughter left the same school for example, there were some really disastrous leavers assemblies. How to celebrate your years in primary school and welcome the move to pastures new? With a You Tube video, complete with doom laden American voice over reminiscent of those cold war information films, warning how our children must work ever harder to combat the menacing challenge of the Chinese economic powerhouse on our borders? There were tears. And the kids were upset as well. I’m surprised there weren’t serious complaints to the Local Authority. It was a catalyst for me taking a more active role in the governing body.

The new head has a much more upbeat approach. The day is emotional enough without winding it up with mawkish end of an era speeches and ceremonies that go on for two or more hours, reducing ten and eleven year olds to heaps of mush. He has a celebratory approach and he has released the teachers to be joyful in encouraging the children to remember their time and achievements positively. To cement friendships and build a firmer foundation for their move to the future. A short, positive, joyous celebration of seven years of shared challenge, triumph and laughter. Spot on.

Of course there will be challenges. Nobody is hiding their head. But the way to meet this is with a raised spirit and a smile over that firm chin, not with gritted teeth and words of doom echoing in your head.

So well done to the head, the management team and the staff. And most of all to the children who said how they wanted to celebrate their time together, and pulled it all together in rapid time and superb order. Good humour and jokes and mutual support and recognition abounded.

So now they are all right, can someone put a parents leaving assembly on for me please? I hate endings and after 13 years association with the school I suddenly have no reason to go back. Having sent two children through the school, having been a governor and chair of governors, my wife having been secretary of the PTA, I suddenly find myself a complete outsider.

Maybe my son will help me celebrate the past and the future. Football and model aircraft and playing with toy tanks beckon. I’m feeling a bit better already.

CV Weasel Words

My daughter rang me up about half an hour ago. She was filling in her UCAS application and she was asking for some information about what her mother’s occupation is. Not that she doesn’t know very well what her Mum does but everything that is in her job title and description doesn’t fit the UCAS profiles. We came up with something but it isn’t as precise as it could be because UCAS has its own ideas about how the world is. We spoke about CVs in general and what you have to put in them and how you do it. It’s been a long time since I did one and I always hated it, even when it got me an interview and a job. So I was looking for some advice online. I suspected what I was stepping into, but I hadn’t realised how much worse it it is now than it was only a few years ago.

I came across this – not the most egregious example and I apologise if I appear to be picking on the person concerned. I am not. I despise all the advice of this nature and the system that promotes and sustains it. I am sure her intent was pure and good.

 

“Changing CVs

Mrs Mills says it is important that applicants put modesty aside and show self-confidence in their CV.

“If you are not confident about your skills and abilities then why should an employer have faith in you,” she says.”

 

And there in a nutshell is what has gone wrong with British employers, employment practices and business in the UK.

Nothing about ability note – just as long as you are confident in yourself. You might be a dribbling moron but as long as you can make a noisy self obsessed case for yourself you get the prize.

You see it’s a lot easier to pick a screaming weasel out of a box than to actually do some work yourself, think about what you want the person in the role you are advertising to be and do some reading, research and interviewing of candidates relevant to that specification.

No – PICK ME!!! – is what gets you noticed.

 

And why do we wonder when we get ‘customer care’ departments that don’t, ‘delivery teams’ that can’t, and managers who fail? Because we are optimising business for the gloss, the glitter and no substance.

I have an enormous contempt for the obsession with badly thought out, but elaborately marketed, HR personality testing that demand thousands of pounds to tell you the bleeding obvious that teams need more than just a bunch of top psychopath predators to produce results.

They don’t put it quite like that of course and make up all sorts of names for imaginary ‘personality types’ like ‘completer/finishers’ or ‘Ghengis Khan’ managers or ‘innovative wazaks’.

What they mean is you need people who have a mix of skills and attitudes otherwise you compound your errors and spend all your time ‘blue skying’ or infighting for power and not actually doing the job. And in that respect they do tell us something useful – but you don’t need to pay more than about a tenner to read any sensible book on team building – or go and talk to a member of the armed services for free.

So you need to get someone who can think about the problem from a different perspective, someone who can be critical of the plans and someone to remind everyone that the aim is to make and sell rulers not revolutionise the Euclidian desktop space environment vis a vis mensuration mechanics. And some people to write it down and tell management, workers and customers what the hell is going on (and for God’s sake don’t tell the finance director or he/she’ll stop everything. Then someone to DO IT!

So what do HR do? Get a consultancy firm to do the recruitment. And what do they do? Apply whatever fashionable bollocks is currently in vogue and wait for some shouty, preened idiot to turn up and pretend they are a genius. They then make up some dribble to wrap the candy coated buffoon in and trouser the fee. Leaving the business to realise they have yet another loud mouthed twit who can read and copy the latest ‘how to land a job’ plan and pass it off as their own.

Meanwhile they thoughtful, intelligent but honest perfect fit for the job types don’t even get an interview.

And we wonder why French business employs people who work significantly shorter hours than their UK counterparts but are massively more productive than UK businesses?

It’s one of your own dribbly guru sayings people!

SMARTER NOT HARDER!

Yet we let management experts produce so much of this fluff and guff that even when they accidentally produce a correct answer we can’t dig it out from the background screaming.

 

Do some work.

Think about it.

And for God’s sake look for quality not noise.

What Happened Next

The laptop arrived and after a slight hiccup with getting Office 365 registered, we got it set up and guess what – it streams Netflix after all!

As we were starting the process, I got a call from PCWorld Customer Relations in response to my online complaint. They were very apologetic and said they had contacted the store manager to find out out what was happening there. No offer of any recompense for my time, trouble and general embuggerance though. I didn’t write for that, but you may think that if they really cared about their staff messing people about that much they may have offered a peripheral or piece of software or a voucher to go with the apology.

Still, getting an unequivocal ‘sorry’ felt like some sort of vindication.