Archive | October 2013

A Lullaby For Pain

Listening to the radio this morning there was an item about whether the sound of a lullaby can actually take away a child’s pain.

A study at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital has showed that playing music to children waiting for heart transplants can actually reduce pain, slow heart rates and improve moods.

The BBC report included the following explanation:

One of the study’s authors, David Hargreaves, of Roehampton University, is a jazz pianist as well as professor of music psychology.

As he sits playing a jazz interpretation of My Funny Valentine, he says the piece calms him down and makes him happy.

He says that kind of connection with music is shared even by young children: “Lullabies are something that children are familiar with. They’re intended by parents to be used with their children to create relaxation and remove tension.”

It’s the kind of thing that intuitively makes sense but now researchers have some hard facts to back up the idea. (For the full BBC report, go here – apparently lullabies date back to Babylonian times).

Listening to the report, my mind went off on a bit of a tangent (as it’s prone to do) and I wondered if that ‘dealing with pain’ is another of the (many) reasons why teenagers spend so long listening to music.

Growing up can be traumatic and I certainly spent many, many, many hours shut away listing to ‘my’ music. I wasn’t in physical pain but angst and emotional confusion also need treatment and music played a big role in mine.

Music certainly affects mood. I used to love listening to dark, tormented tunes when I was feeling low – knowing other people felt the same way helped me deal my own emotions. Equally, there are some tunes that just make me feel good the moment I hear the first notes.

LouReed03PA090112On a sadder note, there’s been lots of coverage of the passing of Lou Reed. Now, there’s a man who’s music I’ve spent a lot of time listening to.

Though I do get a little bit annoyed by all the radio stations who play Perfect Day and Walk On The Wild Side – okay they were his biggest commercial hits but to my mind they’re not the important songs.

This is Reed and David Bowie performing the Velvet Underground’s White Light, White Heat – important to note that although Bowie went on to become (and remain) the global mega-star, in the beginning it was Reed that influenced Bowie:

If you want something a bit closer to the knuckle, here’s I Wanna Be Black from 1978. Recorded in Cleveland, there aren’t many people who could get away with these lyrics:

I love most of Lou Reed’s work but one of my favourite albums – and one that I was lucky enough to see him perform – remains Magic & Loss. This is Sword Of Damocles:

 

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Title Dilemma

Why is it that one of the hardest parts about writing a book is also what should be one of the simplest?

I’m talking about titles. I can write thousands of words of dialogue or action without (too) much difficulty. But coming up with an effective, snappy title often seems a much tougher challenge.

Thin IceI’ve been working on a rewrite for my paranormal thriller Thin Ice. The book got a reasonable rating on Amazon (4*) after it was first published in 2012 but the original climax confused a number of readers.

As a result, I’ve decided to rework the ending – not changing it but explained things a bit more. (That’s another problem with being an author; just because everything makes sense to you that doesn’t mean it’s equally obvious to your readers – you’ve got to ensure that what’s going on inside your head makes it to the page in a way others can follow).

Anyway, I’m using the opportunity to give the book a thorough re-edit at the same time. And, as the new version will be a bit different, I’ve decided to also give the novel a new title.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Thin Ice but – apart from it being a new version – there are lots of other books (mostly related to ice skating) that use the same title.

Aaargh! Not only have I got to come up with an intriguing new title but I’ve also got to find one that no one else has used before. Not easy.

Oh. And then I’ll have to produce a new cover. Anyone know any good artists?

The Pace Of Change – Part II

So, fancy a new car for less than £1,000 or a television for under £60? Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not a trick – just how much these things were being advertised for back in 1963.

The newspaper where I work two days a week runs a ’50 Years Ago Today’ column and today I had the job of going through the old archives to find some suitable stories.

Tito and queenThe news was interesting – in part for the historical details. There was mention of President Tito of Yugoslavia driving through the area on his way back from a UN meeting and local rows about whether fluoride should be added to the Hampshire’s water supplies.

What was also interesting was how similar much of the news was to what goes in the paper today. Some people have a rose-tinted view of life in the past but judging by the stories in the paper it wasn’t that different.

Okay, no mention of drugs but otherwise still plenty of the usual local newspaper staples – theft, drink-driving and petty squabbles.

Even at a national level I found familiar themes. The New Forest’s Conservative Member of Parliament warning that the Government needed to take action to keep mortgage costs down because young couples were being priced out of the property market. (We certainly haven’t solved that one!)

Singer VogueWhat I found just as fascinating, though, were the adverts. Back in November last year, I wrote a post called The Pace Of Change, mostly talking about how technology had changed in my lifetime.

Looking through the newspaper adverts from 1963 was weird. This was two years before I was born but it was like a world out of a book or film.

The new Singer Vogue – yours for £685 plus tax – boasted ‘fully adjustable front seats’ and even came ‘now with front disc brakes’. The ad also highlighted the fact: ‘greasing points now completely eliminated’.

What! Did people have to grease their cars before 1963?

austinYou could also buy the new Austin A60 for £720 or rent the latest Philips 19″ TV for just 9/6 per week (that’s 47.5 pence in decimal coinage).

Alternatively, buying the new telly would set you back £59.85. But that was without legs. They were another £2.10.

Looking at the ads for electrical goods was like staring into the technological dark ages. One advert offered a deal encouraging you to buy two televisions – ‘be a two TV man and get the best of both channels!’

Yes. That’s right. In 1963 British viewers had the choice of BBC or ITV. The BBC2 channel didn’t come along until 1964 and Channel 4 was a very, very long way off.

There was also the ad for the Bush auto-player. This marvel could play both 10 and 12″ records – and was ‘wired for adapting to stereo’.

An advert for bathrooms highlighted the fact there was a ‘wonderful choice of colours’, while the National Coal Board was plugging (coal-fired) free-standing cookers that could not only heat the kitchen but provide ‘the luxury of instant hot water’.

If that much can change in 50 years, it makes you wonder what they’re going to be advertising in 2063!

Blast From The Past

I had a different kind of blast from the past last night. I went to see the Boomtown Rats at Boscombe Academy.

For those of you poor people not familiar with the Boomtown Rats, they’re the Irish new wave band led by Bob Geldof that had a string of hits in the late 1970s – and reformed this year. Their best known song – in the UK at least – is probably I Don’t Like Mondays:

Back when this came out, I was still at school and – like so many others – could totally relate to the sentiment of the title.

But the story behind this song is much darker than just wanting to get out of school. In January 1979, the Boomtown Rats were on tour in the US and Geldof was giving a radio interview in Atlanta when the telex machine (?!) next to him started printing out a report on a school shooting in San Diego.

A 16-year-old girl called Brenda Ann Spencer had picked up the semi-automatic rifle her father gave her for Christmas (she later claimed she had asked for a radio). Spencer started firing across the street into the local elementary school, killing the headteacher and the school custodian, and injuring eight children.

At the time, Spencer’s explanation was “I don’t like Mondays”. Geldof adds that at the time a journalist was asking her “tell me why” – which became part of the refrain.

I’m not going to comment on the link between the first part of this post and that story. Except to say that it’s sad how some things don’t change and perhaps the world would be a better place if we worried more about people than having the latest ‘things’.

Nuff said. I’ve got to finish rewriting the ending of a book.

Final Hours

Time’s up! The price promotion for my mystery thriller The Vault was originally supposed to last one week but has somehow stretched to around three.

But the price goes back up at the end of today – so be quick if you want to grab a bargain copy.

Whether you download today or tomorrow – or order the print version – be assured, though, that 50% of all royalties go to support a very good cause.

The Vault is published in aid of the disaster relief charity ShelterBox – which has recently been working helping victims of flooding in Niger, earthquake and typhoon in the Philippines and families driven out of Syria by the ongoing conflict.

Vault Kindle Comp CoverThe Vault

Set in a small English town, The Vault revolves around the story of schoolboy Adam Strong, his battles with a gang of local yobs and his personal dramas.

But it also features three other strands woven around Adam’s story – an armed raid on the home of a reclusive billionaire, the discovery of three dead bodies in a local lake and a sex offender on the run after breaking his parole. The four stories all build to a climax when the significance of the vault will become clear.

To download a copy, click here or on the cover image.

Below are comments from a few Amazon reviewers:

Garry Kay: “Seamlessly combines the innocence of light-hearted childhood drama with the high-tech sophistication of extreme wealth and the criminals who pursue it along with the drudgery of rural police work and the twisted mind of a sex offender.”

David Brown: “A well-written mystery with four very different storylines seemingly unrelated but all coming together by the end. Adam is a great character, young and seemingly weak, but wise beyond his years when it comes to doing the right thing. This a really good read.”

DM Dickson: “In addition to the main story of crime and murder, there is teenage angst, first love, bullying, a dark and menacing side with a character preying on children. There is a broken marriage and even some little hint of racial prejudice.

“On the face of it that would seem to be too much for one book to hold but Huw Thomas skilfully packs all these into an enjoyable, thrilling and enthralling read that is at times unputtdownable.”

Don’t forget, you can also win print copies of The Vault, plus Amazon gift cards and other prizes by clicking on the image below:Competition link

Strange Dichotomy

Travel and home: two concepts that are very different but both extremely appealing.

PortOct01Travel means freedom. It’s also lack of routine and unpredictability, plus chances to discover something new – whether that’s a place, a building, a person or something never tasted before.

PortOct02I’ve just come back from two weeks in Portugal, a country I love. The places Carolyn and I went weren’t completely new but it was still an adventure. One highlight was staying in a small village called Monsaraz. It’s an idyllic spot – not much more than a castle, church and three streets of whitewashed houses on a hill overlooking the rolling Alentejo landscape.

PortOct04We also discovered some gorgeous new beaches on the coast and revisited a couple of old haunts. Plentiful sunshine, blue skies, cheap wine, excellent cakes and the charming Portuguese themselves helped make it a wonderful holiday.

(I did take a laptop and got some writing work done so it wasn’t all play.)

PortOct03Funny thing is, though, I’m glad to be back. I didn’t miss anything in particular but there’s definite comfort in the familiarity of home.

Maybe it’s partly because we only moved into our new place at the end of August – and I’ve got lots of work to do on the house. I’ve also got a stack of writing projects ahead – edits, rewrites and new projects. And I can always start planning the next trip away…

Unthinkable Exclusion

Walking up through the small Portuguese town of Odemira yesterday, I noticed a line of jaunty purple and grey umbrellas hanging from the trees in the park.

umb02Suspended from each umbrella were various cards with short pieces of text on them.

Now my Portuguese isn’t brilliant but I got the gist of the messages. They were all to do with social exclusion and included statistics on the number of adults in the area who are illiterate, the number of children who fail basic exams etc.

Made me think. I worry about editing my books, inspiration for the next novel and how to get my message across in the most effective fashion.

It’s hard to imagine that there are still people for whom the written word is a total no-go area. I realise that oral storytelling predates literature by a long way but I really couldn’t imagine a world without books. It seems so unfair. Unthinkable.

Cobbled Together

Sometimes a collection of individual parts can create a remarkable new whole:

cobbler1cobbler2I came across this statue – about 20ft high – on a roundabout in the small town of Almodovar in Portugal’s Alentejo region. The town used to be know as ‘cobbler land’ because of the high number of shoemakers.

The statue is made of all kinds of miscellaneous metal items. The straps of the cobbler’s apron are made from the chains off some type of tracked vehicle (I think!) and the top of the apron is formed from two old sewing machines and the rest out of circular saw blades.

One of the many things I love about Portugal is the amount – and variety – of public art on roundabouts.

Making The News

Ever wondered how to get a newspaper or radio station to take notice of what you’re doing?

If so, my latest book might be of interest – and the Kindle edition is free to download this weekend (Saturday & Sunday).

My main focus these days is on writing novels but – in that strange parallel world that involves working for a living – I originally trained as a newspaper journalist before going into the PR/communications field. I’ve also been involved in training others in how to use the media.

Cover02Now, I’ve put some of that experience into a new ‘how to guide’ called Making The News.

The tagline for the book is:

Simple advice on writing clear, effective press releases

And that’s what it’s about. Advice from the horse’s mouth – based on more than 40 years’ joint experience from myself and my wife, Carolyn, of working both on newspapers and for ‘the other side’.

The guide is aimed primarily at anyone who’s new to the world of public relations – whether you’re doing this as a career or you’ve got a particular cause or enterprise you want to promote.

It doesn’t cover the whole gamut of PR and communications. This is focussing solely on using the media – newspapers, radio, TV etc – to get (free) publicity through news stories.

One word of warning – the advice inside is based on working in the UK. How the workings of the media translate to other countries, I’m not sure, although the basics of how to write a press release and communicate your message should be universal.

Hopefully the guide might also be of interest to anyone who wants to brush up on old skills or anyone thinking of a career in journalism.

There’s no rocket science involved. In fact, that’s the point. Using the media is about having a clear message and knowing how to communicate it.

Try it and see. If you like it, please consider posting a review on Amazon. If you get it for free and like it, please consider making a donation to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox. (They’ve got affiliates in 18 countries so you don’t have to give in the UK.)

Please note: the free download is available tomorrow and Sunday – not today!

That’s all for now. Have a good weekend – I’m flying to Portugal this evening for a two-week holiday and I can’t wait!

Who You Calling ‘Nice’, LOL?

I think I’ve mentioned my love of words before. I’m not someone who studies them – I just know a good word when I see or hear it.

Pontificate, fractious, manifold, rowlock, internicinegot to love ’em.

Obviously you have to be sparing with such gems when writing a novel or your readers will think you’ve swallowed a dictionary and are showing off, or – far worse – won’t understand what you’re on about.

As a writer, I also tend to use some more old-fashioned British spelling variants. I prefer dreamt to dreamed and archaeology rather than archeology. Not sure quite why – probably because I grew up reading English classics by the likes of Hardy, Scott and Stephenson (as well as stacks of sci-fi).

Keeping up with changes in language can be hard work… particularly as you get older and don’t spend so much time at the cutting edge of cultural developments. I’m still not sure what twerking really is.

I’ve also got a tendency to stick my nose in the air when people start using nouns as verbs. At last year’s Olympics we had a rash of athletes podiuming and medalling, which to me just sounds plain wrong.

But as well as creating new forms from old words, some words change meaning over the years.

What would you think if I told you that the title of this blog post could be read as indignation about an elderly woman suggesting I’ve got rather loose morals?

Nice is one of those words that’s been around for a very long time and its meaning has definitely altered over the centuries. Just as wicked can now mean excellent (according to the OED, that use dates to the 1920s), back in Shakespeare’s day nice also meant wanton. So, when he wrote about nice wenches, he wasn’t referring to the kind of girls you’d take home to meet your mother.

The texting abbreviation LOL has come to mean – to most people – laughing out loud. Prior to that, though, it was often used for lots of love – while back in the 1960s it meant little old lady.

Ah, words… a source of endless fascination. Or should that be distraction? Probably I should spend less time reading blogs and articles about them and spend more time working on my next book!

Anyhow…. rambling over. In other news, I’ve decided to keep the promotion on The Vault running for another week. So if you want a bargain copy of a mystery thriller – and also want to help support a worthwhile cause due to the fact that half of all royalties go to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox – then click here.

And don’t forget my competition:

Competition link

Where Do I Go From Here?

I’ve got a confession to make. It’s rather embarrassing and I’ve been in two minds whether to just keep silent and pretend everything is wonderful or come clean and ask for help.

The thing is, I launched a promotion for my novel The Vault last Thursday and – so far – I haven’t sold a single book!

I'm in a whirl...

I’m in a whirl…

There, I’ve admitted it. Obviously, I’m still hoping the big zero is down to a problem with Amazon’s sales reporting but that seems a bit unlikely. So now I’m asking, where am I going wrong and what should I do now?

The Vault had been priced at $4.85 on Amazon.com (with a 3.9* rating from nine reviews) and £3.99 on Amazon UK with the same rating and number of reviews. On Thursday, I dropped the price to $1.99 and £1.99.

I didn’t want to spend a huge amount on advertising – particularly with sites that won’t give you concrete figures on how many people they have on their subscriber lists. (Can’t help feeling a bit suspicious there.)

However, I did pay for the following:

  • a ‘bargain book sponsorship’ listing on Bargain EBook Hunter, which included a listing on Pixelscroll on Thursday
  • a ‘hot deal and tweet package’ with the Kindle Book Review starting Friday
  • a 14-day ‘Kindle Daily Deal’ slot on Digital Book Today – this was due to start this Thursday but Anthony Wessel has generously made my listing live from today

Not a lot, I know, but I wasn’t sure where else it was worth advertising and I can’t afford to just throw money around.

I’ve also organised my own mini ‘blog tour’ with author interviews, book features etc on a number of other blogger’s sites. Two of these have gone live already with several more to come but – based on performance so far – I’m not feeling that optimistic.

Now obviously my book isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But it has had a number of 4* reviews and a couple of 5*s (plus those 2 and 3* ones). Lisa Hall has just reviewed the book on her Read & Rated blog giving it 4*s and commenting:

“I had no idea what to expect from The Vault but soon found myself greatly enjoying this multi stranded tale which brings you into the life of school boy Adam Strong and very real feeling account of being at school and dealing with friends, bullies and girls!”

During previous free promotions, I’ve given away about 4,500 copies and I have sold a trickle of copies over the past year.

I also appreciate these things take time. Building a name isn’t going to happen overnight – plus the Digital Book Today listing has only just gone live and some bits of my ‘blog tour’ haven’t happened yet.

But no sales at all?

I think one problem is with the cover. I went through a bit of a redesign several months ago when I released the print edition. (The book was also re-edited to iron out a few typos etc mentioned by previous reviewers). Although I think the print edition cover is fine, it doesn’t work as a thumbnail size ebook image.

I did put a different cover on the Kindle version which looks completely clean on my computer whatever the size but for some reason isn’t coming up well on Amazon and looks slightly blotchy.

I do want to commission a new, professional cover but I can’t quite believe that’s the only problem.

So – dear readers and fellow bloggers – I’m asking for help!

Obviously you can make me happy by going ahead and downloading a copy but what I also want is advice.

Where am I going wrong? How do I get my book noticed? What sites will profile my book to real customers for a sensible amount of money? All answers on a postcard please… or just use the comments box below. Thank you.