Sunday, October 17, 2010
We all have those artists and bands we’ve longed to see live. This year I get to see two of them. Yay me! Turns out in order to make some dreams come true, you don’t need a genie, you don’t need a Fairy Godmother, all you need is cash or credit. But who cares when it’s worth every penny.
Fair warning now: I’m a fan of Sheryl Crow and I arrived at the concert on a high anyway, (met up in the afternoon with a very dear friend I don’t get to see nearly often enough), so the chances of any objectivity here are slim.
Let me just begin then by saying exactly what you’d expect me to say at this point.
The Hammersmith Apollo was a new experience for me and it’s a great venue with all the character of a lovely old theatre, which makes for a more intimate setting than the huge arenas you’d expect to see stars of Sheryl’s magnitude playing. Magnitude, by the way, not being any reference to size: she looks great and she has no qualms about telling the audience she’s 48. And if I look that good in five years’ time, you can bet I’ll be doing international music tours and shaking my stuff on stage with just as much vibrant energy. Scary thought, I know, but don’t worry, it’s just my way of saying it’s never going to happen.
But it’s not about the looks, it’s very much about the music with her. She’s one of the artists I welcome (most) covers from, because there’s more of a sense she’s doing it not to sell more records but because she loves the song. And she’s managed to evolve her sound and explore fresh avenues with each album, without uprooting and moving on altogether. True, a lot of it comes down to voice – you ought to know those textured velvety tones anywhere – but she does put a certain instrumental stamp on whatever she does. And I love a talented artist who, when hearing a new record of theirs for the first time, no announcements or even halfway through, I know right away it’s them.
What she gave us live was an electric (not eclectic) mix of old, new, borrowed, blues – which is what you want from a Sheryl Crow concert – with never more than two newbies or classics in a row, so there’s no sense of this is the new section and now for some old favourites. Which worked really well. It’s all one body of work, it’s all Sheryl and it all fits comfortably together.
Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention. But what the heck, in the interests of balance, I’ll go ahead and say that there were – inevitably – some songs I’d been hoping to hear but didn’t. (Good Is Good and Diamond Road, for instance.) At the Peter Gabriel gig I attended, in a momentary quiet spell you could hear my solitary voice in the crowd shouting a request for Solsbury Hill – and lo! the nice man obliges. But alas, Sheryl wasn’t listening to me. In fairness to her, it was a loud crowd and there were a couple of tracks where the sound mixers even managed to drown her out – most notably in the middle of the Terrence Trent D'Arby cover, Sign Your Name. Which is a song I’ve never especially liked, I don’t know why, but even with that I like Sheryl’s version more.
All I Wanna Do was a predictable choice for an encore number, but hey, it’s not like she could have gotten away with not playing it and I’m happy to say, as familiar as I am with that number, it – if you’ll forgive the cliché - rocked the house. And in that vein, the rest is just awesome, I’m afraid, but I’ll spare readers a long list of glowing reports and just recall a few select highlights.
Which would have to include the sublime I Shall Believe (grand piano wheeled out especially) and (Are You) Strong Enough (To Be My Man?) – the latter of which she entertainingly turns into a sort of personal ad in the middle, reminding us she has two little uns now and therefore might be a lot to take on. Most of the males in the audience were undeterred and were keen to take her up on the offer. Although not me, of course, I’m married and my wife reads this blog. Although having said that, at one point she leans down to take the hand of a guy in the front row and sings directly to him. And it wasn’t me, damnit. Sigh.
Most of the oldies hailed from Tuesday Night Music Club and her second album, Sheryl Crow, with the belting If It Makes You Happy (it did), the uplifting Every Day Is A Winding Road (helped me forget I nearly got run over on one of London’s not-so-winding roads) and the gorgeous Redemption Day (I have no glib comment to make). But she found room for My Favourite Mistake, which is one of my favourites and not at all erroneous – from quite possibly my favourite album of hers, The Globe Sessions – and Soak Up The Sun from C’mon, C’mon.
If the whole thing had gone on until the sun came up over Santa Monica Boulevard, I’d have been over the moon. Actually, what with the time zones, for all I knew it had. But anyway for two hours, between 9pm and 11pm I was a very happy bunny. And several days later, I still am.
Next up in the dream concert series, Shakira in December. I anticipate more belly dancing. But for the time being, I have to concur with Sheryl. Good is good, bad is bad – but I know full well which one I had.
Monday, October 11, 2010
The other day I was walking into town and bumped into a friend of my sister's, who happens to be an avid reader and she always asks how my writing's going and from there – not least because she always has a book in hand - we usually end up talking about what we've been reading lately. On this occasion I answered that I was reading some Jules Verne (Mysterious Island – seen the film, never read it before) and showed her my shiny new Kindle, on which said work resided along with two or three other e-books that represented my earliest purchases from the Kindle store.
Whereupon this lady, who is really funny in all the best possible ways, backed away and held up her fingers in the sign of a cross and, like a true exorcist, urged me to return to the world of real books.
I laughed, discreetly tucked the offending device away in my pocket and promised I'd still read proper books as well.
The funny thing is, it probably wouldn't have been all that long ago that I might have reacted like her. Call me a literary Luddite, but when it comes to reading there's no real substitute for the feel of a paper book in your hand and anyway, after my experiences of so much proofreading of other people's work on authonomy, I think I'd rather have gouged my eyes out than read another document off a computer screen. Add to that my lifelong dreams of publication and an e-book just doesn't cut it from an author's perspective either.
When I think of the trees that have died to bring us the works of Katie Price and others, well, my material's worth many a rainforest next to that, damn it. But setting those green sentiments aside, nothing beats seeing your books on the shelves and I've always looked forward to the day when I could add volumes of my original works next to my previous Doctor Who output and so on that currently have their own little shelf at home.
So when others recommended I publish one of my own works on Kindle, I stopped short of making the sign of the cross, but was sceptical and resistant to say the least. But after a prolonged period of coming up against similarly resistant publishers and agents – the two worst forms of writers' block – you owe it to yourself to investigate alternatives.
These same agents and publishers were, after all, telling me that my work was “excellent”, “colourful, imaginative, well-written” etc and declaring that as an author I should be encouraged. All the while, in spite of those endorsements, acting as barriers between my books and potential readers. Nervous because of the state of the industry, ridiculously high advances paid to a select few (like the Katie Prices) whose books end up immediately discounted in the windows of WHSmith and the inevitable reservations when met with anything original. (Wot no Teen Vampires?)
Now if I'd had the resources, I might have set up as an independent publisher, but at the end of the day I'm a writer and I was cautioned by an independent publishing friend that basically I'd end up with little or no time left for writing. Not good. On top of which, I doubt I would have been able to produce books at a comparably affordable price to compete with the mass marketed slush pile known as popular fiction.
Time then for me to embrace the 21st Century. (In a purely Platonic way, you understand.)
Me being me, if I was going to publish some work of mine on Kindle, I was going to treat myself to a Kindle gadget.
Now I do like gadgets, it's true. And you might suppose a certain bias on my part, since I have now made one of my books available on the device, but this is not a sales pitch – you don't need a Kindle to enjoy my book, you can download the software free to your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad and what have you – no, it's more just a shared revelation, in that I can't quite believe how quickly a staunch paperback traditionalist like me has become a convert to the e-reading experience.
Admittedly, it's still early days and any toy has a degree of novelty value, so maybe my current enthusiasm will wear off. Allowing for that then, I am impressed.
The Kindle is a good deal slimmer and lighter weight than I'd expected and, especially for something grey and rectangular, it's an elegant design. First and foremost though, it's the reading experience that won me over. There's no screen glare, it's as easy on the eye as reading a cleanly printed page and the refresh rate means the delay between pages is no more than you get from physically turning a paper page.
Obviously it scores in the portability department over a paperback and I'm not entirely sure how many books you can store on it, but I'm pretty sure it's more than my entire collection. (And I have too many books for our shelf space at home.) Plus you can 'archive' books that you've read and they're removed from the device but available to re-download at the touch of a button. The downloads, by the way, are very fast and the range of titles available (now including Evil UnLtd folks ;-) ) is , well, what you'd expect from Amazon really. It's tempting to spend more time browsing than reading, almost too easy with its one-touch purchasing, and you could spend a fortune on books without feeling it at all. Luckily I confined myself initially to the 'FREE' list – and even though some titles on the list will cost you £0.49 for example it's been a great way to catch up on some classics without breaking the bank. Meanwhile there are plenty of other titles I already have my eye on and it has genuinely reawakened my reading habit, which can only be a good thing.
In addition, you can email your own documents (Word, PDF) to the device, and make notes on them, so potentially ideal for proofreading. I'm aiming to put that to the test on Evil Vol 2 and a new YA fiction idea I'm developing, I'll let you know how that goes. Supposedly there's also an MP3 player on there, but I've yet to put that through its paces. It's not crucial, and I honestly would be happy with it as a dedicated e-reader.
The downsides? The keyboard is serviceable for the little I've needed it so far, although numerical digits are only accessible via a 'Symbol' key and that can be a minor nuisance. Far more grating, I gave the speaking book feature a whirl and frankly it made a hash of it. It struggles with pace and intonation, 'just a bit'. The words were discernible, but – no offence – unless you relish the prospect of Stephen Hawking reading you your book at bedtime, I wouldn't bother. (Although listening to it read the first page of Evil UnLtd last night did provide some entertainment value.) Maybe technology will allow for a voice of your chosing – Holly Hunter or Emily Procter would get my vote. Or, for Evil, Stephen Fry, Richard E Grant or Benedict Cumberbatch could do a worthy Dexter Snide, I think. Yeah, a voice to suit the work, that'd be the way to go.
Since I don't need that feature, it's not a real gripe. So my only proper grumbles arise from an author's viewpoint. It's not the uploading of your work that's a problem, that's as easy as pie. But, and I appreciate I'm a learner here, while the conversion process from PDF (or Word) to Kindle is a breeze, there are formatting issues and I had to download the resulting HTML and edit that in order to polish my processed MS to presentable standard. (This after the original doc – and hence the PDF – had been polished and smartened to the nth degree.) It wasn't anything major, but I did have to go through and check every line break and scene break etc, and then each time changes were made and I uploaded the altered document, it could take anything up to another 48 hours before the book was 'live' again on the Amazon Kindle site.
So, a bit fiddly in that respect, but that's the process for the author, rather than the device. And as I say, I'm a learner, and I'll know by the time it comes to uploading Evil Vol 2 (this time next year, Evil fans!) to attend to all the relevant formatting changes in one go before re-uploading. Also, once I'd finished smartening up the document, I had some trouble downloading the updated version, since the device still retained the old version in its archive. Happily, the Kindle support people were prompt and helpful and emailed the updated version direct to my Kindle. Sorted.
And I have to say, all bias aside, it looks the business. (Obligatory plug here: take a look – you can download a sample for free. Also available on Amazon.com, for readers across the Atlantic.)
It's true that I still aim to see Evil UnLtd – and other works from yours truly – in paper form, a nice collection of spines all in a row on the bookshelf. Luverly. But in the meantime I'm at least happy that now some of my work is out there and available to readers because, well, that's the whole point, isn't it.
But the biggest turnaround for me – and the biggest surprise – is how readily I've become a convert to the electronic age of reading. I love it. Just don't tell my sister's friend that. She'll likely drive a wooden stake through my heart and chop off my head.
Friday, October 08, 2010
Some people might think Cheryl Cole was Evil for choosing Katie over Gamu. But that's nothing compared to Evil UnLtd.
They're Evil. Their Evil knows no limits. And they work exclusively for themselves.
And now they're launching their enterprise on the Kindle. The first volume of their exploits - Evil UnLtd: The Root Of All Evil - is now available, from the Kindle store on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.
There's no greater volume of Evil.*
And don't worry, if you don't happen to have a Kindle device (although I treated myself to one recently and I can thoroughly recommend it), the Kindle software is available to download FREE for a variety of platforms: PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. Although Uncle Tom would appreciate it if you asked him nicely before using him as an e-book reader. He's funny like that.
Please Support Evil. Every two minutes and seventeen seconds another villain falls prey to some big dumb action hero. They need your help.
As Dexter Snide himself says,
“All that it takes for evil to succeed, someone once said, is for good men to do nothing... In a word, bollocks. Evil needs nurturing, looking after, hand-raising by those who understand its little ways.”
So please spread the word, tell your friends. And go on, treat yourself to a quick download. All proceeds will go towards Gamu. Okay, not really, but one more random mention might earn us more hits.
*Evil UnLtd were filmed using Evil extensions and enhanced in post-production.