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Archive for March, 2010

Things that irritate, no.403

March 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Some months back, on a whim, I bought a small battery powered personal grooming device when it was on special offer in the supermarket. It’s intended to trim nose hairs – something we men do occasionally have to pay attention to. Especially when we get past the age of [cough]. And yes, I change the battery in it regularly.
So it’s irritating when the blade sticks and jams on a nose hair. Disassembling it to free the blade while it’s in that position is worthy of a humorous story in its own right…

The local bookshop is closing

March 27, 2010 2 comments

So it says in the local paper. At the end of this month, after having been there for 40 years, apparently. It’s because they simply aren’t doing enough trade – online sales seem to be the main culprit, along with high business rates and the credit crunch.
A couple of other businesses have also announced closures and several have already closed, so pretty soon we’re going to lose the individuality of the town centre and its selection of small, specialist shops like this bookshop.
I have mixed feelings abut this. I never bought much from them because most of the things I actually want to buy are relatively specialist nonfiction or niche literature of one kind or another. I could go there, place an order and wait, then go back and pick up the book. Or I could order online and it would turn up a couple of days later, usually at a cheaper price from an Amazon reseller. So yes, bookshops do have a tough time these days.
However, as a community we will miss out, because they were specialist sellers of local history and did a fair bit of trade with hobbyists, mainly in areas such as vintage vehicle enthusiasts and model railways. I was always interested in the books they displayed on how to model a particular segment of railway line, circa 1948 and reconstructed from original plans and photos, or the history of mobile library vans – not that I actually bought these things, but was somehow (obscurely?) reassured that such stuff actually existed.
No doubt they could find another way to sell this stuff – from a market staff on Thursdays and Saturdays, or online or whatever. But I think the bit where we’ll suffer is that much of this material, including the local history, is published in pamphlet form, or self-published, often without ISBNs, and wouldn’t easily be available other than through the shop. Indeed it may not even be easy to track down online (and yes, I did just do some test searches!).
So what saddens me is that some of the more recondite local history is likely to become effectively unavailable.
As to the model railway stuff – there’s still a model railway shop that may stock this kind of material. The rest of it, I don’t know.
I don’t personally want to spend huge amounts of time getting involved in ‘saving’ local history and vintage mobile library history. But it does seem to me that there’s a case for someone, or some people, to start collecting a lot of this material and doing a print-on-demand service that could be run off a website… there has to be some publishing model that would work for niches like these that are not simply small, but tiny – though nonetheless seem to be important in terms of maintaining local identity and culture.

Don’t make assumptions…

March 26, 2010 2 comments

In between showers, went out to the local shops and to post a letter – a 5 minute walk. On the road ahead of me is a chav – typical trackie bottoms, scuffed hoodie, pulling a scabby dog on a bit of string. And he has his mobile phone out, holding it at arm’s length, muttering, squinting at the screen.
I figure he can’t be peering at a text, he must be using the camera function. Turn round. Behind me is a huge, strong, shimmering rainbow that’s come out after the last shower. That’s what he’s taking a pic of.

Success of the zombies

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Just heard Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction will run a story of mine in the upcoming TQF 34, due out in June – though the website warns that Stephen is doing a lot of stuff for the British Fantasy Society so timing could slip a bit! Zombie fiction with a bit of a twist.
In other news: I’m not at the World Horror Convention, which is where I wanted to be – too much to do in the past few weeks, both writing and playing a minor supporting role in relation to a couple of family illnesses. I hadn’t been able to organise either booking a place at the con, or making the time to get there.
Instead I’m sitting here writing ‘proper’ stuff about the training of solicitors, barristers and paralegals, which is all surprisingly subtle and complex.

What did famous writers earn?

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Here’s a random thing I found via a group on Linkedin. It points out how many well-known writers had day jobs, what they did and what they earned.
Some were reasonably well paid – Henry Fielding and Trollope, for example – while others were on tiny salaries. Charlotte Bronte was paid a pittance as a governess, though used those experiences to write Jayne Eyre. Kafka did okay (though not brilliantly given his doctorate in law).
I guess the point is that even people we now regard as famous writers (your view of whether they were great writers may vary) still needed a day job and the security of its salary for most of their lives.
Links:

http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/visual/charts-graphs/day-jobs.php

http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/writing-stiffs/

The latter has some links in it to very nice essays about the experience of being a writer. You can go there to read them, there’s no point in repeating that stuff here!

Things I should have done, but didn’t

March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

1. Gone to Radio Cake at Fabrika.
2. Gone to the last Shortfuse.
3. Gone to the Indie Book Fair at De Montford Uni – couple of sessions I wanted to see.
4. Gone out pretty much anywhere – the countryside for example

I do feel bad about not getting out more. I plan to go places, but get overtaken by stuff that happens around the home, and/or in my head. Instead I’ve been writing stuff, doing a fairly poor job of looking after a poorly V, spray-painting an old rococo-ish wrought-iron garden shelf that will become a bedroom bookshelf (eventually and after a few more coats) and allowing myself to get annoyed at the fact some magazines haven’t even bothered to send rejections for stuff sent 8-9 months ago. On the plus side of writing I had a sudden burst of ideas for stories so I’m now writing four simultaneously along with the thing I’m supposed to be doing, a training module on career choices. A couple are coming along quite well and the other couple will have to go on the back-burner for bit… and hopefully by the end of this evening I’ll have hung the rococo mirror on the bedroom wall rather than have it sat in packaging in the middle of the living room.
I’m kind of envious of a friend who posts on LiveJournal – one day Liverpool, next day Torquay. I think I should be that footloose. I’m going to try to make that happen in the coming weeks!

CVs, sense and sensibility

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve spent the last few days writing the section of of a training course that deals with writing CVs and resumes. It’s been unexpectedly interesting, perversely enough because most of the material I’ve been dealing with tries to be so damn serious and sensible, and I’ve been buried under a ton or it – advice from jobsearch websites, templates for CVs, example CVs and the like.
Most of the rules for writing CVs and resumes are straightforward and obvious – which is not to say we don’t all need reminding of them from time to time.
Keep it simple (content, language, structure, formatting) because whoever reads it is going to get bored within seconds if the print is too small, layout too fussy, or inappropriate technical language is used. Okay, if you’re a research chemist, automotive engineer, IT specialist or the like you may need to use technical and scientific terms to explain what you’ve been doing for the last few years but most of us aren’t and don’t.
Keep it as short as you reasonably can (1-2 pages for a resume, 3-4 if possible for a CV). No one reading these things wants to scroll through 13 pages of stuff, and the worth of a CV isn’t measured by the weight of the paper pr length of the file.
If there’s an ‘industry standard’ for your industry, use that structure. IT in particular expects a format that doesn’t follow the generic guidelines.
The last couple of decades seems to have seen a move towards opening CVs and resumes with a short personal profile or personal statement. This needs to be specific – ‘good sense of humour’ (or even ‘twisted sense of humour’) may be a de facto requirement of many jobs but no one who reads a CV is going to want to read that. And what makes your particular sense of humour ‘good’ anyway?
For the rest, there seem to be two general patterns to choose from. The first is a short list of skills and experiences, with education and employment shown afterwards as essentially the ‘evidence’ for the key points you want to present about yourself. The second is a more traditional format with qualifications and employment history first, and the skills and experiences section following as an indication of what a reader should be able to interpret from the ‘raw data’.
I have to say, though, that one of the things that strikes me about CVs is how far the quest for seriousness seems to drive out creativity. I doubt that CVs have ever been regarded as appropriate documents for the exercise of creative imagination (ok, people tweak CVs to fit particular job and person specifications and there can be some re-interpretation of one’s life history involved…).
In part this will be down to matters such as legal requirements and processes. If the job of putting bells and whistles on things can legally only be done by someone with appropriate professional qualifications and certification to practise, your CV will need to state that you have been a fully accredited member of the Institute of Bell and Whistle Design and Fitting Professionals since 1973 (or whatever). Recruiters would need to know that. Some of it will also be down to the business culture, because people want to recruit dedicated people who are serious about making a contribution to the corporate enterprise.
However it’s at this point that I thank my lucky stars I’m freelance. And I’ll share a secret with you. I haven’t updated my CV or resume for well over a year. This is because most of my work is self-generated and stands or falls on its own merits, not on a list of previous experience and skills.
As and when I do update them, they should probably start with a profile along the lines of ‘Jon Vagg is an experienced writer, editor, proofreader and researcher. He has a PhD in sociology and writes distance learning courses and training materials in the areas of social science and management. He has also authored several academic and nonfiction books, along with numerous articles and some short stories.’
Finally (for this post) if you’re a creative type, you’re in trouble. Many sources say CVs for ‘creatives’ are often difficult to construct and frequently don’t read in a standard format because they can’t. Frequently they will just boil down to a list of published pieces, or discography, or paintings completed/exhibited/sold, along with a rough indication of current projects. They might include stuff like media appearances, voluntary work and the like, but it’s debatable how much of who a creative ‘is’ can be captured in any traditional CV format.
For me personally, the ‘creative’ side of what I do means that the short author tags that go on jacket blurbs, lists of contributors, etc. are more significant than CVs (not least because they’re probably read by at least three or four more people!). And the idea is usually to intrigue and amuse. I can offer two versions.
The semi-formal statement, used at a recent local literary event: ‘Jon Vagg is primarily an author of educational and training materials. He has been writing speculative/science fiction for around 10 years but only recently started to get published. In 2009 his short stories appeared in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Sinister Tales, Ballista and Ignavia. He is a recent member (though infrequent attender) of the Speculators writing group.’
The off-the-wall statement, currently tagged to stories sent out to SF/horror mags: ‘Jon Vagg drinks too much coffee and gets bored easily. Much of his writing is done late at night. The nature of his imagination means he has no social life to speak of. He is based in the UK and has previously published in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, Ballista, Ignavia, and online in Dark Fire.’
It would be interesting to speculate about what ‘creative’ things some professional/business people might say about themselves if given the chance, and whether these comments might reveal more intriguing sides of them than their CV.

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