Fourteen tips for getting the most out of your Zoom time

Now that we are all getting comfortable with using online video software, there are certain do’s and don’t’s that we really should all be following.

Online you can find dozens of Zoom etiquette guidelines. They’re couched in earnest helpful tones; they tell you stuff that’s basically obvious, common sense so they’re sort of useful. But if the earnest common sense annoys you, here are some less obvious gender, race, age and ethnicity nonspecific tips for getting the most out of your time in Zoom meetings. Our fourteen pointers start with what not to do. Why fourteen and not five or ten? Well because fourteen is four more than ten and four more than five is nine and nine is my lucky number.

During Zoom meetings don’t

1. … pick your nose (You can do this if you do it behind your hand, but it’s unlikely to go unnoticed so only do it if you’re desperate.)

2. … wear see through clothes (They’re distracting and while this can be a useful way to put off colleagues you want to get into trouble, it’s unfair for everyone else. But if you want to send some people into a frenzy, choose the outfit wisely.)

3. … file your nails under the desk (This is especially to be avoided if you are prone to gazing rapturously off screen, however it could be diverting in very dreary meetings. Choose your moment wisely.)

4. … stroke your dog’s head under the desk (Stroking even the shortest dog risks you coming across as elsewhere; coughing and moans as you struggle to reach make it worse.)

5. … take your computer to the loo (If you have to wee or more hold it for as long as you can, but keep a straight face and keep still. Jiggling is a no-no.)

6. … shout at the screen without first checking that you are muted (This is a really big no-no, unless you are angling to be furloughed or fired)

7. … make rude gestures at the screen without first checked that video is off (see 6.)

8. … hum (you might find it soothing and a tricky habit to break, but humming means you’re not listening to whatever drivel is coming through. Remember that humming can happen subconsciously.)

9. … practise your impressions of colleagues during the meeting, especially not those in the meeting (take notes of particular traits and tics for future use)

10. …if you’ve mastered the art of sleeping with your eyes open, remember not to snore

11. … forget to pay attention (It’s impossible to fake a look of thoughtful pondering on screen when it happens suddenly.)

12. … play video games in a secondary window (Although it might look like you are paying attention to the meeting, you might inadvertently go mental. This disconcerts colleagues and undermines your appearance of engaged attentiveness)

13. … try to answer emails if you are prone to talking to yourself

14. … get drunk unless you do it discretely and can be sure not to go red in the face as the booze kicks in

Of course there are some useful things you should be doing during online meetings.

do

1. … use the Chat function to warn that your Internet connection is playing up so that you can duck out when you’re fed up with the ramblings

2. … wash your face and dress (if you only dress your top half, remember not to lean too far sideways if you have to reach for something. If you think there’s a risk of your bottom half coming into view, wearing big, fancy underwear.)

3. … nod slowly and thoughtfully no matter what’s being said, by whom (Make sure to practise your nodding beforehand, so that it isn’t too mechanical.)

4. … mute yourself when talking lovingly to an unseen pet, as this could easily be misunderstood

5. … keep your wine/beer/cocktail glass discretely hidden, ideally on a tray the floor to avoid it slipping over and spillage (you can slurp whilst retrieving a dropped pen see 6.)

6. … appear to be taking copious notes (Asking people to repeat themselves can reinforce your apparent commitment, but don’t overdo it see 5.)

7. … keep your expression engaged, with no eyerolling or heavy sighs (Remember to change your face from time to time.)

8. … clasp your hands under your chin if you need to stick out your tongue at half-wits

9. … hide the plate and napkin when you’re eating (Avoid spicy or messy food that might lead to choking mishaps and eye watering as this can be misinterpreted as sincere emotion.)

10. … remember to ensure your chat messages only go to the intended person and that most of your colleagues are likely to have had a sense of humour bypass

11. … prepare for the meeting in advance, or at least appear to have done (Shuffling notes and looking over your glasses helps here, as does looking at your watch.)

12. … get there early to check everything works and to be first for maximum creepy creep points (See 11.)

13. … be well rested or use makeup to hide the bags under your eyes; sunglasses are a no-no

14. … snap back promptly when you hear your name, and remember to blame the connection when you ask for the question to be repeated

Picture this

undefined

It’s a peculiar sensation to see first cover visuals for your first novel. They’ve got the story’s title and your name – your name – writ large. And one of them is a perfect expression of what the book’s about. It jumps at your throat, it’s gorgeous, professional and an image that you couldn’t ever think of, not in a million years.

The sensation’s almost as good as the moment when a publisher’s email says “I’d like to see more” although only almost. That feeling shimmers and shines for a very long time, forever maybe. It’s so powerful that it’s almost impossible to answer the email. And then you can’t find the file you need and when you do you can’t open it. You can’t spell the name of the person who wants to see more of your work, or indeed your own name because you can’t spell at all. All the words have dried up and blown away under your hot frantic panting, your overexcited breath. Worse, you have totally forgotten what the story’s about and how many words it is. Because you can’t find the file again, it’s impossible to find out, and because you’ve inadvertently deleted the precious email you can’t send the requested material in any case.

After some minor moments your blood pressure’s so high it’s making your eyes go funny. And the banging in your veins and pulsating brain drowns out your own voice, and you can’t hear yourself saying no, no I haven’t really deleted it, it’s still in the bin, still on the mail server and still on the automatic back up. It’s data, it still exists, it does, it must, it has to. It’s got to still be there somewhere. Except you’re still panting to the point of hyperventilation, your eyes are still being weird and you can’t really see the details on the screen so it’s impossible right now to try and retrieve the email.

If you reach this point, for any important email, not just the one from a potential publisher, the best thing to do is to go to the window, open it, look down, look up, make sure to stay inside and not jump, and wait until your face starts to hurt with the cold. This only works in winter, so in summer you have to actually leave the building; try to do this calmly so as not to terrify colleagues and other members of your household. Once outside pretend to be exercising very slowly until you can be sure that your vision is not made up entirely of darting silver spears and unpredictable colour flicks. If the sun’s shining, don’t look at it. Keep your eyes down.

Once your eyes are being sort of normal and you are relatively calm, stay away from your desk for a few more minutes and think of restful things, like the majesty of snow clad mountains or sleeping puppies. If you go back to your desk too soon, there is a very real risk that the demon will roar once more and the whole scary scenario will repeat itself. You must prioritise finding the important email, reading it carefully, understanding the questions and systematically answering them like a grown-up. Panic and hysterics have no place in this process.

The cover designs are exciting and tell me that publication of the Draftsman is really happening. Tears will be in order when I see the first edits come back from Unbound. That someone has taken the time and trouble to fix my text somehow means more to me than a publisher wanting to read it. I know it’s what they’re paid to do, but still it’s all quite wonderful. Each step of the way makes a change, transforms, recreates and confirms. Not just for the book, but for me too.

Global corona virus suspension order

In light of the corona virus pandemic, governments around the world have got together and made an important declaration. The Coordinated Global Governmental Announcement (CGGA) is being made in response to the rapid spread of the virus. The devastating contagion has caused a variety of national lockdowns, forbidden civil sniffling and coughing in public, banned all hugs, kisses, close quarter flirting and general jollity. The bans have consequently caused considerable misery. People have been forced reluctantly to sprawl on sofas, eat takeaways and drink beer, while watching excessive quantities of Netflix, You Tube and BBC content. To ease the burden, the CGGA has decreed that all problems and related processes are now suspended indefinitely.

The announcement comes at a time of unprecedented government generosity, with the exception of personal protective equipment provision and virus testing kits. Tonnes of money has been promised to businesses and citizens all over the world. Governments in countries such as the UK have also provided additional original online entertainment content as part of their support packages. Funding is only available for people who can negotiate complex strategy based gaming moves to work out how to claim money they are entitled to. Processes have been made especially exciting to titivate and tantalise those people whose cash flow has dried up completely. Claimants are expected to be much encouraged by today’s announcement that processes and problems are now suspended for the foreseeable future.

For many authorities, citizens’ inability to navigate funding application processes was considered a mildly worrying problem. However CGGA’s announcement means that this problem, along with all the other problems in life, goes away. Difficulties such as paying utility bills, buying food, paying for heating and internet service provision, loneliness and the like are now classified as problems. Henceforth they are cancelled.

The CGGA’s new measures are expected to remain in place until the corona virus is totally destroyed. This might take a few years, or a few generations, but there is little certainty as to which. There is also little certainty on possible corona virus exit strategies, however, as this is an especially severe problem, it has also gone away especially severely.

Hilary Mantel at the Royal Festival Hall

On the 6th March, 2020 Alex Clark, a journalist and broadcaster, interviewed Hilary Mantel live on stage at the Royal Festival Hall. The two discussed Mantel’s the Mirror & the Light, the final part of her Cromwell trilogy that began with Wolf Hall. The conversation held an audience of some 1500 people absolutely spellbound.

undefined

Image credit: George Miles

The event began with two actors each reading from Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies to get the audience in the mood and to set the scene for the new book and the conversation’s context. As Mantel explained, for most of history Cromwell has been labelled a “bad man” and been viewed as such. Yet, as her books try to show and as she offered on stage, he was a man constantly climbing, looking always for the next opportunity for advancement, for ways to influence circumstances, and not always serving his own ambitions or those of his King. When Cromwell reaches the top of his ladder he’s reaching closer to God, drawn away into realms that his faith determines and of which he is unafraid. His tempting of fate is almost deliberate, logical.

Mantel said that after the success of the Wolf Hall trilogy she hoped that history would judge Thomas Cromwell differently. Perhaps opinions will move away from the “bad man” conclusions and towards more balanced thinking reflecting the man’s many achievements. She reminded her audience Thomas Cromwell was “a European … [engaged in] outreach to Europe” to strengthen trade, reduce risks of conflict, and religious fracturing. And he managed to do all three during the course of his life, despite the considerable personal risks involved. For instance, he was responsible for major reforms to how England was governed, reformed Parliament and drove improvements to the Poor Laws of the time.

It was a magical couple of hours at the Royal Festival Hall. We learnt that Mantel’s working day starts at 09:00 and ends “when my husband collects me from my writing place at seven o’clock”. We learned that the title of the final part of the trilogy refers to its mirroring of what went on in Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, and the illumination of how Cromwell’s inevitable downfall came about.

And there was much more besides, particularly insights into Mantel’s process and approach to writing and the origins of the Cromwell trilogy. The idea came to her quite some time before she started working on Wolf Hall because “sometimes you have an idea, [but] that’s not the time to carry it through”. She also said that “there’s always a prospect that a project goes stale on you”. Fortunately that didn’t happen with Thomas Cromwell, a character with whom Hilary Mantel has spent over fifteen years. She advised writers to “make sure you have a robust character on your side, if you’re going to have to hang out with them this long.”

Somewhat self-deprecating, Mantel also said that historical fiction is her preferred genre because “I have no idea how to make a plot, but history will do it for me”. Mantel works by creating the fiction equivalent of a collage, creating multiple parts and pieces that she brings together into a cohesive narrative. If she gets stuck, she just ploughs on with something else, anything because it is all part of the writing process: “it’s a question of doing it… because that’s the job, it’s showing up at the desk … even you just pass this process, if you don’t write you enter a downward process of self-disgust.” Mantel reminded her audience that “your wastepaper basket is your friend, you can always write something”.

And best of all, following the conversation, Mantel read a passage from the Mirror & the Light that took many peoples’ breath away, including mine. It’s towards the end of the novel and Cromwell is contemplating his life and its impending ending. Thinking of the dead, Cromwell sees that “They are distilled into a spark, into an instant. There is air between their ribs, their flesh is honeycombed with light, and the marrow of their bones is molten with God’s grace.” If you’re planning to read this book but aren’t sure you’ll have the stamina to make it all the way through to page 904 go straight to page 866, where you will find this lovely passage. It and the following paragraphs might even inspire you to go back and plough through the preceding 865 pages, just to get the full force of these beautiful sentences. As Thomas Cromwell says somewhere, “endings, they’re all beginnings”.

Make no mistake this book is a challenge, because of its huge scope and the complexities involved in herding us along with Cromwell and the army of other characters as Cromwell’s end draws nigh. During the conversation at the Royal Festival Hall Mantel urged readers to take their time reading the Mirror and the Light because “you’re not reviewers, you don’t have to rush; you will not be paid to read it in 48 hours”. 48 days will be more like it.

However long it takes, many of us will feel bereft when they finally reach that last page and have to face the end of our intimate time with Thomas Cromwell sharing his world. It will be an awful moment, reading the final few sentences. But we can console ourselves with the thought that there will most certainly be another play and another television miniseries. As part of Cromwell’s growing body of admirers we can also console ourselves with the knowledge that Hilary Mantel has changed how he will be judged, and indeed how we judge history from now on.

Discontent leads to progress

Without discontent there can be no progress, which is probably how I have ended up here, doing this, writing blogs about writing and fiction. Not that life’s been an endless series of gloomy torments, because it hasn’t. But discontent is a powerful driver borne of dissatisfaction and suffering. I did all my suffering a very, very long time ago. Ever since, I’ve struggled to keep it in a strongbox, chained, padlocked, buried in some dark and chilly recess. Mostly that is where it stays, ice cold, frigid. Occasionally I unlock the padlock, loosen the chains, lift the lid and stare into blackness that only gets lighter, if I have the courage to keep staring for long enough. This was never often, but it’s getting more frequent and slowly the blackness recedes.

So it is with all of us, although too soon we slam down the lid, grab at the chains with wet, tearstained hands, and clasp tight to shut the padlock once again. This is a bad idea, because the next time you open the box the blackness is deeper and denser. Next time, if you let it the blackness starts creeping out of the box, stealing its evil way into your head and heart. When this happens, brutal exercise can help but only if followed by a long and lazy bath, preferably with someone you love. And if this doesn’t work, the box must once again be opened. This time make a diamond of your head and heart, take hold and scream as loudly as possible the names of all those terrible demons who want to own you. The diamond head will add the necessary light and the diamond heart won’t be broken again. Where were we?

undefined

Ah yes, discontent and progress. Discontent that leads to progress is something other than the agonies of our personal black worlds. This wider discontent is borne of anger and frustration, of an awareness of universal frailty and vulnerability, frustration with the lazy belief that individuals can make no difference, that we are all sad and passive players in some abstract horror story. The list of reasons to be discontented is long, from climate change and the environment, to the suffering of so many displaced and untethered people in so many contexts.

So what’s to be done? Nothing much in truth. It’s as it ever was. But each of us can still take tiny steps, no matter how miniscule they are towards a more positive world. Far better than bleating about whatever and moaning and looking for scapegoats, people or histories to blame. Far better than wallowing in our own wonderfulness or victimhood. Put it behind you and accept that the why of the what isn’t always the point: mostly the why is beyond us or our capacity for understanding the what. Yes something can be done to make a difference. Engage, recognise and own your own truths with harsh honesty. Have compassion for those willing to listen to you and do not judge. Be more than your audience. Embrace as wide a view of the world as you can manage, and do it with patience and kindness, with sympathy and empathy in every part of your day. Without complaint, without blame, without recriminations, harness discontent so that it really does lead to progress no matter how small the step.

Where does getting your novel published actually start?

Obviously with writing the thing in the first place. But then what? Most first time wannabee authors, me included, haven’t a clue about the publishing business. We all think that the most important thing of all is the manuscript, but that is naïve and foolish. Very foolish.

It’s foolish because the most important thing about the book business, as with any other business, is sales. Sales dictates how every other part of the complex machine that is fiction publishing functions. You think it’s just a simple process of designing a cover, getting an ISBN number, plus a bit of editing argy bargy and some layout and your work is ready for the press. However the process that leads to you holding a copy of your printed novel in your grateful clammy hands, is entirely sales driven. This is something to keep in mind when you are working, and even if that idea offends your sense of art and ego, it’s fundamental to getting your work published.

Take the agent thing to start with. Most literary agents are totally overwhelmed by us wannabees, some receiving upwards of 500 submissions a week. Who can read all those synopses without help from a willing intern or three? If they’ve a stack of lovingly completed entire manuscripts agents and their minions generally skim, having dutifully read the first and last chapters. It’s a bit like being able to tell a decent wine from a crap one. That first sniff says it all.

And that isn’t even slightly fair because many first time authors work so hard at their words. Many however start off without warming up properly, without brutal focus on what they are trying to convey. They jump into their texts with no limbering up or stretching, no mental or emotional preparation and absolutely no objectivity. They may have plenty of the self-critical variety of objectivity, the beat-me-with-a-biscuit-until-it-hurts sort which is not the same as a rigorous editor in your head telling you what works and what doesn’t.

Ruthlessness from the very start is mandatory. If a sentence is too long cut it, even though you love the sound of all those luscious words. Remember that your work is not an extension of you, and just because you’re agonising over it and struggling, that doesn’t necessarily make it any good. Usually the opposite is true. Good writing hurts not because of you and your personal agonisings, but because it’s hard to use words as building blocks for an abstract construction, a story that takes flight beyond you and your ideas.

Someone once asked me what advice I would give to people starting out as fiction writers, as if I had any authority. Of course I don’t but thirty plus years of writing and earning a decent living at it have taught me that you, author, are not important. But the work is, so do your best to keep your face out of the pie.

This probably all sounds mean and unsupportive, but writing is about entertainment, engagement and expressing something that others will find meaningful, for whatever reason. If the work doesn’t achieve this on some level, interest will be sparse. And it comes back to sales. Much as we distain commerce in art, it is a reality that has to be respected because ultimately the market doesn’t lie.

The trials of getting your novel published part 2: Some more of the journey

Last week seemed overrun with other peoples’ work, technical stuff, reading fiction (a 723 page work of historical fiction completed over an immersive four days), wrestling with social media and of course keeping the website alive and active.

There was also a bit of helpful wrestling with a fellow author at Unbound whose book, Draca, is due out on the 14th May 2020. Geoff Gudgion is bravely considering a London book launch and this brings to mind all sorts of wild imaginings. The most important thing isn’t the venue or how much nosh and booze to order, but who will be there and making sure they’re the best candidates for the job of promoting the book.

It got me thinking about whether I should do the same for the Draftsman which is due out in May or June. A needling steely voice in my head says yes, but the rest of me, limp and weedy, says no. Why is that? Money? Publisher’s support? Neither. The reason is that despite 30+ years experience with press conferences, speaking and running seminars, I find the whole idea of a book launch quite terrifying.

Think about it. You have to invite people to show up (having found them first). What if they don’t, and how do you bear yet more rejection? Then, with as much gushing sincerity and enthusiasm, you have to welcome those few brave souls who do come, and hope that none of them are people you already know. What do you say to them? How do you talk about yourself without sounding like an American (sorry Americans, but I know you know what I mean)? How do you talk about your book in a way that doesn’t come across as either unbelievably pretentious, embarrassed by it, or just plain bombastic? And if you are able to raise a modicum of passion about what you want to say what tone do your strike? How do you keep from ranting and scaring everyone? How do you avoid making idiotic jokes that no one will understand? How do you keep yourself from necking too much wine before, during and especially after the presentation?

When I reached that point in the anxious wondering about having a book launch, I went for the nearest slab of Cote d’or Belgian rather than imagine any more of the awfulness. It’s fine, wonderful even, that Geoff is getting on with it, and in a way a launch would be okay for me to try. But mostly it just wouldn’t without involving a lot of chocolate and champagne first, and that really wouldn’t do. But maybe that’s the germ of an idea for how to manage it? Don’t manage it, succumb to the chocolate and champagne, bite the nails until they bleed, don’t speak or see anyone that you care about in case you lose it. Instead accept that you will turn into a screaming wild banshee for a little while and go for it. Get a list from Unbound of all their peeps who cover book launches and who have a proven track record of getting their stuff published. Get a venue willing to dish up just chocolate and champagne. Get people along to talk together about what they do and what they look for in new releases. Encourage them to sit and sprawl on comfy furniture. Ply them and yourself with ample gobs of chocolate and champagne (you might have had enough by now and be onto the gin instead). Chat some more about what they want to write about and then lie as much as necessary about the book. All that remains is to finish the remnants of chocolate and champagne and probably gin (shame to waste it) and job done!

Dangerous Ideas

Yes, unless it’s dangerous an idea does not really deserve to be called an idea. But these days where every little thought gets shared online and shredded, most new ideas are about as dangerous as a small and rapidly evaporating puddle on the pavement. Why is that? Is it because all the exciting ideas have already been had? Is it because ideas in and of themselves become less dangerous, the more widely they are shared? Or is it because truly exciting ideas engender fear, and the world’s got far too much scary stuff already?

There is no way that all the dangerous ideas have already been had. Rather it seems we just don’t seem to embrace much radical thinking these days, perhaps because there is so little bandwidth for thinking things through with any great depth. Our worlds and headspaces are filled with trivial superficialities, reality television and a miscellany of horrors. From politics to climate change, from identity confusion to sex, processing all the data is quite exhausting and there’s always more information, and less focused indepth debate.

Ideas about who and what we are, what we share and our societal roles and identities are hard to express in a world where news bulletins range from the deeply depressing to vacuous and cheesy, deceitful. There’s a weird new scale for understanding how we are expected to relate to each other, ranging from abject confused victimhood to glittering fantastic stardom. There’s a creepy and even desperate need to place the individual, the self even, somewhere on that scale, to make it conform to some external construct. And yet most of the scale is about not conforming, about coming up with a category that no one else should be allowed to share. Yet they want to.

Of late this has provided quite a rich seam for fiction writers in all formats, but particularly works highlighting some of the horrible stuff that’s always been a fact of life, but that now people want to understand better. Yet apart from the human tragedy themes, in fiction the range of truly new ideas in début works is limited. The classic stuff about identity and the fear of change, of struggling to deal with new experiences, new people, the quest thing, it’s all pretty available if not terribly original. And perhaps readers understand that they should not expect truly original ideas, original writing. They can buy the book as an object, buy its packaging and the comforting familiarity of the themes the blurb summarises. Maybe they don’t much care about its originality.

The bright exceptions are those stories that have often taken a long time before finally reaching the light, and when they do their individuality gets lapped up: think Harry Potter or His Dark Materials. Then a torrent flows and washes around the reading universe, swamping everything else and turning the creators into megamillionaires, stars even. This is a good thing for originality, but it sets a very high bar for all the up and coming writers who lack a champion or the means to keep pushing their books for twenty years or whatever, before a publisher is willing to take a punt.

Moaning aside, it’s a great time for fiction because there is so much technology aiding writers new and old. Technology has also cut the risk of diverse publishing projects and created a host of new channels, making fiction available to global audiences. Once we all get over this and once expectations for what’s new and exciting shift, we can expect to see more brave, bold thinking. And that’s when we can look for truly dangerous ideas again.

The Lassies’ Reply

Not really a blog and with apologies to Robert Burns, here is my take on the reply to Toasting the Lassies for Burn’s Night 2020.

The Lassies’ Reply

Thank you sir for toasting the ladies
We’re all in heaven, far from hades
We know the tunes, the sins, the wages
And so do you
Side by side we turn the pages
You know this too

Though your fate is to do our bidding
We know its trust and not just kidding
That keeps us oft from just admitting
Of what you can do
We ponder standing and just sitting
Oh what thoughts ensue

If you wonder why we love you
Know our dreams are sometimes of you
Though nightmares might be closer truth
And what we see
In holey pants and scuffed up shoe
Is mystery!

They say a man’s more with a wifey
Not sure it’s true when times get dicey
For winds blow cold and long and icey
Oft it’s endless
So forgive weather that’s unkindly
Try a caress

If we get cross when you digress
Or switch the channel sans redress
Or leave the bathroom in a mess
Please, just don’t
We’d rather have your tenderness
Than spit “I won’t”

For men who touch us slow or fleetly
Who we do serve, just oh so meekly
You know we see you
And you care for us, oft thrice weekly
You know what to do.

This short poem is too soonly ending
On your patience it’s been depending
But time for you, is not mere lending
It’s for always
Though only if the knee’s sharp bending
For all the days.

Beware our passion and our scorn
Remember us lest you should mourn
Hope and faith are with us reborn
For lust and love
Needs you strong, bold, and not forlorn
Our hand, your glove.

Invention is the mother of necessity

Where to start. Is it with what’s happening with the Authors’ Club and my reviews of Best First Novel Award contenders? Or is it where the Draftsman is in the Unbound publishing process (they’re doing design and edits)? Or who Laurel Lindström is (nobody really knows)? Or is it the familiar territory of graphics production technology? Ultimately that’s where I am most comfortable, but it’s also the world I am slowly turning away from, slowly and with considerable anxiety. Or is that world slowly turning away from me?

Starting in Malibu and ending in Eastbourne (yes, Eastbourne)

The beginning of this long and rewarding writerly career was on Cliffside Drive, Malibu, California, deep in the heart of the graphics industry way back in 1980. It started with a police car and a three month assignment for Jonathan Seybold and turned into a fourteen year spectacular before going tits up. Thank you to Agfa Graphics’ Marc Tinkler (now someone terribly important with Epson) for then commissioning me to write a 1000 word article for interface, their inhouse magazine. I can’t remember what the piece was about, but I do remember the £250 I was paid for it (freelancers always stay hungry). And thanks too to top trade mag Printing World’s Scott Beagrie, the then features editor and now a successful freelancer himself. Scott commissioned me to write 5000 words on colour repro systems. It took me an agonising and unnecessarily long six weeks to research and complete. But the end result earnt a lavish sum: £700+ I think. More importantly, it gave Laurel Brunner a profile in the printing and publishing industry as a freelance writer and journalist. From 1994 to date, I have been paid to write about graphics industry technology. Much more importantly I have had a life that has been and remains nothing short of amazing.

From wow to blah blah

Over recent decades the graphics industry has changed dramatically, so much so that now there is little challenge to understanding how stuff works, how well it works or whether it’s worth the investment risk. Today, with a handful of exceptions, there is pretty much no great investment risk especially in software. Hardware is cheap and plentiful, foundation technologies are proven and robust, and apart from a few renegade recidivists, inventors who might once have served the graphics industry are busy elsewhere.

Technological advances have been astonishing since well before 1994. Those colour repro systems I agonised over and finally wrote about a mere 26 (magic number, I’ll explain one day) years ago cost upwards of £10,000 a pop for the basic system. And they were cheap compared to the £100,000+ proprietary systems that preceded them. Today most, if not all and more, of what they did can be done in Adobe Photoshop. And for the £50 monthly subscription you also get InDesign for page layout and Acrobat for making perfect PDFs, plus Illustrator, Premiere Pro and XD (it’s for user interface design). Yes you might struggle at first to use these tools, but the online support ecosystem will sort you out for free. Quite a departure from the costs associated with the publishing front end systems way back in 1980.

Eyes front

Looking back risks a cricked neck and a stumble off the edge, so my view remains ever forwards, ever broader and ever wider. It’s about keeping up with technology and writing about it whenever there is something interesting to say. And it’s about inventing my own interesting stories, starting with now, here on this site, where someone called Laurel Lindström is telling new tales, while holding very tight to Laurel Brunner’s clammy inkstained hand.