Sunday, June 28, 2015

Phew! It’s getting hot!

It’s been a glorious spring in this part of BC, and summer is kicking into high gear this weekend. Don’t know how long it will last, these spells of 30+ tend to last only a week or two each year around Victoria, but for now it’s barbecues and salads alfresco.

With one thing and another, my plans to get everything finalized this month to release Tiamat’s Nest early July took a hit. Seeing as we’ve also got some summer camping planned I’ve now settled on a release date at the end of August.

If anyone would like to help spread the word, I’ll be posting more details as soon as the final cover is ready. Meanwhile, the e-book is now available for pre-order on Smashwords at an introductory price of $0.99.

So, how’s your summer going? And do you have any unique or adventurous vacation plans?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Memory lane

Things have been quiet on the blog recently for a couple of reasons.

First, I'm letting life settle back to normality after a week-long trip to my old home in Guernsey, UK. This is only the second time I've been back since moving to Canada, and the last trip was six years ago. This will probably tell you that this is not a journey I choose to make for my own pleasure. Both times were to celebrate significant family anniversaries.

I was not looking forward to the traveling. It's long, tiring, and we are regularly regaled with stories of how airlines treat their paying passengers as nothing more than cattle to be herded into the smallest possible space, so I had visions of traveling conditions deteriorating even further over the last six years.

In the end, things weren't nearly as bad as I'd feared, and the trip as a whole was a good experience. The downsides were the inevitable fatigue of so much traveling for such a short spell - barely over jet lag one way before it's time to turn around and head home - and endless waits in airport lounges, shuffling in line at check-ins, security, passport control, baggage reclaim...

On the plus side, I was pleasantly surprised by the Air Transat flight. Although airline seats are not designed to fall asleep in, at least I didn't feel like my knees were pressed into my chest the whole way. And we were served relatively decent food, with a complimentary glass of wine - something I really didn't expect in cattle class!

It was good to reconnect with family and some old friends, and to revisit a few places. Things haven't changed much over the years, apart from a bit more development squeezing out the last few open spaces. The big change has been in my own perceptions. Having grown used to open spaces, few crowds, and courteous drivers, getting around the island was intimidating to say the least.

As an added bonus, I was able to meet sci-fi artist Chris Foss, who has a home and a studio in Guernsey. Chris's cover art for Azimov and E.E. "Doc" Smith books, amongst others, has had a big influence on my own work.

The second reason for staying offline (I did say there were a couple) - I'm busy finalizing Tiamat's Nest for publication. After a few back-and-forths with the book designer I think we're very close on the cover design, and I'm working through a final round of edits on the text. I'm hoping to release the e-book next month, with the paperback to follow shortly after. More information to follow in due course...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

No, I'm not a robot

I've just encountered a new level in online annoyance.

The dreaded Captcha is being replaced on some blogs by an innocuous check box saying "Please prove you're not a robot".

Up to now, on blogs I've visited this simply involves clicking on the box and posting the comment. This morning's, though was different.

When I clicked on the box, up popped a new form that at first I thought was an irritating pop-up advertisement for something to do with cookery. After a few second's hunting for a way to dismiss the intrusion, I realized it was part of the verification process.

I was presented with a dozen pictures of food, and the instruction to click on all those that involved pasta or noodles. Sounds easy, except the images were too small and grainy to confidently tell in many cases what they were pictures of. I tried, but didn't find enough to satisfy the beast and it gave me a new test. Ice cream this time. This was easier because they were more obvious, but there were clear cultural assumptions at work. Who outside of North America, for example, would know that a round carton with a big "DQ" on the side needed to be clicked?

In my view, this now officially surpasses Google+ and Disqus in the "pointless ways to piss off your readers" stakes.

I can guarantee that if your blog inflicts this on me I will not be leaving a comment.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Our connected world

Isn't it strange how technology has changed us in just a few short years? Sometimes I complain about the "always connected" life we live, especially the kids with their iPhones surgically implanted into the palms of their hands, but even I, dinosaur and closet Luddite, feel somehow vulnerable if I leave the house without a phone.

Sometimes, though, it can be handy.

Just about to leave work this evening. Phone rings. Ali, telling me to avoid the highway. Tailback northbound almost back to the edge of town, so find an alternate route. She's caught up in the middle of it so I might be home before her despite setting out a lot later. I travel on side roads and rejoin the highway several miles up, beyond where accidents usually happen.

Beetling along nicely - and thanks for the warning - when I hit another slow patch and finally reach the actual source of the trouble - a nasty accident in the other lane. If traffic northbound was slow, southbound from that point on was worse than I've ever seen it. I need to turn left at some point but all the intersections are snarled up with oncoming traffic trying to escape the mayhem.

Call Ali (before you ask, hands-free and legal!) to check on her progress - not a true necessity, but peace of mind counts for a lot at my age. They've made it past the crush. Better yet, they'd made another diversion down to the coast and just spotted a pod of orcas out in the bay. I was in time to join them, but if we hadn't been connected I would have missed the sight.

Everyday technology does have its perks.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Does music help you work?

Some people swear by music, to help them work, to help them write and create.

For writing, I generally find music more distracting than helpful. Maybe writing - actually stringing together coherent sentences - just doesn't come so naturally to me so I need to really focus to get anything done.

But I'd forgotten how much I used to enjoy music playing while I paint. For me, painting makes less of a mental demand but it's surprisingly physical, so the right kind of music helps keep the brush moving.

On this gorgeous spring day I've taken a spur-of-the-moment day's vacation. A "me" day. Just because.

With no particular pressure to do any of the usual weekend non-fun stuff, it's been pleasingly productive. I've almost finished the background artwork for Tiamat's Nest. I need to sharpen up a few details here and there, but it's pretty much ready to hand over to my designer.
This is intended as a full cover spread - both back and front covers for the paperback. The front cover will just be the right-hand half of the image, and there are a couple of other visual elements to be overlaid on top by the designer.

The last sections of the foreground were painted this morning to the strains of Tangerine Dream.

Do you find music helps or hinders you? A must-have or a no-no?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Is it safe to come out yet?

*Peers cautiously out from under rock*

I might give the A to Z challenge a go another year, but it is a big time commitment and I chose to spend it on things other than blogging. Even not taking part, the sheer volume of posts flooding my dashboard in April was overwhelming, so I visited a bit but mostly stayed out of the way.

Work is hectic and intense - not unmanageable, but certainly draining. Life outside of work brings the usual Spring activities getting things straightened out after the Winter months. In between the two, the logistics of after-school activities seem to get more challenging with each passing term.

Fortunately, I've still found time for artwork. The cover art for Tiamat's Nest is progressing well and I think I'm on the home stretch.

How was your April? Did you survive the A to Z?

Monday, April 6, 2015


I've been getting to grips with iDraw since I last posted about it in February.

I still reckon Visio is more suited to most uses at work. The big thing Visio has that iDraw hasn't is the concept of connections. Visio is all about shapes (boxes, circles etc.) and the connections between them. Move a box, and the linked connecting lines intelligently reposition themselves to preserve the links. Great for org. charts, mind maps, and technical diagrams.

iDraw doesn't do that. Everything is a "path" which you can edit but which remains separate from other objects on the page. Having said that, I'm finding iDraw far more powerful in respects that make it way more suited to my purposes at home.

iDraw makes it incredibly easy to draw irregular shapes using the line and pen tools, and to tinker with shapes you've already drawn. Visio is fairly limited here. A rectangle, for example, can be squeezed and stretched and rotated but remains stubbornly rectangular. Many times I've had to cobble together an overlapping collage of boxes in Visio to achieve an effect, but with iDraw, you can create highly complex shapes with ease. Many of the other tools, such as line and fill, also offer huge degrees of control and flexibility.

As well as being easier in many ways, there are things I can do in iDraw that I could never hope to achieve at all in Visio. More on that another time, maybe...

I've now got a few very different drawing projects on the go, including a star chart, architectural drawings, and mock-ups for a book cover. To give it a fair comparative road test, though, I tackled a project similar to something I'd already done successfully in Visio. Over Christmas, I drew a ship plan using Visio. This time I used iDraw to produce plans for another ship that will feature in the sequel to Ghosts of Innocence.
(Click on image to zoom in)

Conclusions: Because this type of drawing is mostly collections of simple lines, both tools are easy to use in broad terms. However, iDraw makes it easier to add curved elements, and I found it handy to separate parts of the drawing into layers for easier editing. I know I can achieve good results in both tools, but my preference now is firmly for iDraw.

Case closed. Happy camper.

How's your Easter weekend going? We are having a fabulous time. Warm sun, and the deck is now cleaned and the furniture brought up from winter storage.
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