Archive for the ‘software’ Category

Yes, I know I should be editing. Or writing. Or cleaning. Or exercising. But I have done all those things today and wanted to invent something nice.

I found a print of a tree I shot many years ago. It was a photo, developed in my dark room cellar and later photocopied on an ancient mono machine.This gave it the texture you see here and I brought it into Photoshop and added the green background one day recently when I was playing around.

After that, it sat on my hard drive till this week, when I added some pelicans. I grabbed the image from a seascape photo by Yair Hazout at www.unsplash.com (where you can get and use hi-res photos free of charge). I cut out his pelican and made three of them, layering each of them once or twice with different blend modes.

Then I brought in a guy I found in the support materials of Manga Studio 5 – now called Clip Studio Paint – and layered him in too. The moon I pulled in from a children’s illustration I did a few weeks ago (you can find it in my portfolio here) because I hate to waste a good bit of art! And then I used a KyleTWebster splatter brush to fling a bit of paint around!

But I’m a writer, you say? OK, so I invented a haiku to go with it while doing the aforesaid exercise (a drippy walk in the rain). It’s a pretty naff poem but I hope you like the image!

screenshot pelicans

sharp eyes

 

 

 

Inkjet watercolour paper

I tried printing on some Bockingford inkjet watercolour paper last week, hoping to make nice prints of one or two of my proper paintings. They came out really well – perfect colours from my lovely Canon printer. I don’t frame the originals because they’re often huge pastel paintings. So a print of the photograph is a better idea in terms of wall space.

But the challenge to the frugally minded here is – what do I do with the offcuts? Not all paintings use the whole A4 paper. Would the offcuts be useful for painting real little watercolours?

I tried the idea out with my little Koi set today, just daubing petals and leaves. It worked well enough but it’s not like real watercolour paper, except maybe the cheaper sort. (Might be good for coloured pencils though.) I then fired up Photoshop to crop the photograph, thinking  it might work for a birthday card.

Photoshop and filters

Trouble is, I then thought: filters! And I never know when to stop. So I now have nine versions of this card. The original plus eight with filters on. Of course, it’s considered pretty naff to rely on filters so overtly. But who cares? I like these – some more than others. My favourites are the last three and the poster edges one, top right. This latter is probably because it reminds me of pen and wash – but hey, I could have done that by hand with less fuss. *shakes head*

What do you think?

flowers 1

flowers 2

flowers 3

I’ve been promising some info on my digital journey.

I had been using Photoshop in a rather elementary way, mostly for photo manipulation, for a while before I got into proper stuff and iPad art apps. I originally had Photoshop Elements to adjust photos but Adobe offered me a ‘can’t miss this’ opportunity to buy PS CS5 cut price. At the time I didn’t have the skill to use most of it but it was a good offer. I then renewed my laptop and the new (used) one had the whole CS5 suite on, and I made some progress with Illustrator. Trouble was, I was just getting better at this when I changed laptops and crucially forgot to deregister the CS suite first. So I lost access! That left me with Photoshop on the big iMac. Fine. But I missed Illustrator.

Still with me?? Well, when I finished the Children’s Book Illustration course at London Art College, I enrolled on their Digital Illustration course. This used Gimp (um, fine if you like non-intuitive key presses and menus!) and Inkscape – a progam for vector art that I grew to hate. Luckily for me, just after Inkscape trashed my brain, along came Affinity Designer. Now that is a program that will blow Illustrator away eventually. Intuitive too. So now I have both Photoshop CS5 and Designer and lack nothing 🙂 Well, just skill!

However, the point of telling you this is that although I didn’t like the software specified on the digital illustration course (both of which are free, hence their use on the course), I did thoroughly enjoy following through the assignments.

Here are two of my many pieces. I particularly took a liking to my hound! I realise now that the scribbly biro work I have been doing recently may have started with this scribbly stylus-drawn alien.

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Alien hound painted in GIMP

Cartoon done in GIMP

Cartoon done in GIMP

I would love to hear what you think and what your favourite painting software is. I haven’t even started on iPad stuff yet, of course.

I feel quite disillusioned with a lot of the latest ebook apps that I’ve downloaded to my iPad, because the narrators in many of the books are awful (often American sweetie pies) and the content is boring. A story needs to hang together as a story and the things a child can do need to be worth doing, otherwise a second reading won’t happen. I won’t name names here because I value my freedom. But I do have general comments to make (you wouldn’t expect otherwise!)

Things I wouldn’t want in my own ebook include (in no particular order – drum roll…) 

1 Musack playing on each page for the sake of it. When I read to a kid I don’t have a CD on! They need to hear the words if they’re to speak properly.

2 Tapping on an animal or man who simply turns a different way or makes a slight nod. No speech, no variation in action. No point in doing it, nor ever again.

3 Finding that much of what is on the page does zilch. Some children simply would lose interest. The point of an interactive book is interaction. Otherwise, Bring on the Mr Men.

3 Not having an obvious means of turning the page.

4 A really tiny sensitive place for turning over – some kids won’t manage to pinpoint it

5 Illogicality – if x, y and z are mentioned, why would they appear out of order? Is that weird or what?

6 Just dragging a flower around to rearrange the scene for no purpose related to the story.

7 Tapping a second area but the sensitive area for the previous tap overlaps, so the first one happens again. That’s careless coding.

8 Pages on which you have to tap to turn before the interactive bits are available. A child who has tried touching the animals with no response when the page first opens will not try touching again – they learn that it isn’t active. A bit like unresponsive parenting! And page turns should mean just that.

I do think Nosy Crow has set the bar very high indeed. Or perhaps old stories already have the wow factor that gives rise to invention around it! If you drag stuff in Cinderella, it’s because the fairy godmother needs it and it’s hidden in the picture. If there is music, it’s because they’re going to dance to it. In other words the interaction is part of the story – which is, I think, what many writers are saying: the story should be central.

Moving on

Splat!

I have a early book (for reading to 4s-5s and originally published traditionally, with pictures on each page) for which the rights have long since returned to me. It is still eminently relevant to life and and it would lend itself brilliantly to really good interactive stuff. I have already made a list of what I’d want it to do. (One example – when the pumpkin plants start growing to jungle proportions, I’d want the child to make them grow all over the page by running fingers around, and they pumpkins would grow where the fingers traced – different each time. The coding would then allow the child to place the four pumpkins where he wants them to be as they grow – again, different each time, so it’s worth doing. This is one spread only from the book.)

I’m not sure the current rash of book-building apps have sufficient oomph to do a good job, and I very much doubt I could afford a top-grade outfit to do it for me. I’d also need an illustrator (or they would) because the original illustrator is not in on this now.

And finally

My highest concern, apart from standards, is about how we are supposed to sell interactive ebook/apps in schools on author visits. I really love going in and enthusing kids about my books and I don’t see how an electronic version without a paper version can facilitate this. Anyone know of a solution? Because otherwise, we’re only selling to parents. It’s the kids I want to wow.

Authors can be divided roughly into the plan-it-outs and the get-going-on-its.

I’ve tried being both. I planned my MA novel meticulously in one sense – I decided how the events in any one plot stream should develop from less important to most important, causing the storyline to progress to a climax, and had the various plot strands decided in advance. (After that, I used to daydream the story itself in a half-comatose state in that precious creative hour before actually admitting I was awake.)

Later, when writing the Lothian Dragon books with my friend, we had piles of cards on the floor, and these were numbered 1 ,2, 3 etc, and had a, b, c, d etc in between as required – ie main plot point plus sections within them. This worked well for the two of us.

I then strayed from the organised way when I started my next novel – but I’ve written about this before so I won’t elaborate here – and this probably explains why it’s currently on the back burner, despite winning prizes for the opening chapters.

So I’m reverting to what I’m sure is in my genes. With my new teen novel, I’m again naming every plot scene and gradual development of the plot strands. And for this I’m using Scrivener. Because I simply can’t be bothered to have index cards on the floor any more.

To date, I have 47 cards in the main draft folder. In basic corkboard mode, they are all over the screen in a nice grid. Which makes me feel I’m getting somewhere.

In another folder sit six plot strands that must intermesh – within which are listed the scenes that must happen in each strand, colour coded. These discrete events also appear in the main folder where there are some more proposed scenes that will be needed.

So what’s my next move?

Scrivener's freeform corkboard button (centre)

I shall press the “freeform corkboard” button in Scrivener and those index cards will become mobile. They will agree to move around according to which order I want the plot to proceed in. But what is additionally important for me is that I’ll be able to see from the colour coding whether the various strands are progressing in a consistently mixed fashion. I don’t want any to lag.

This way I’ll also be able to orchestrate the ending of each plot strand so that the lesser ones get tied up at their climax first and the most important one gets tied up last.

How could this fail? (No answers please!)

I’ve set myself Christmas to complete a first draft.

Every morning I cuddle up in bed with my two best friends and write. No, don’t run away. It’s not a threesome like you imagine.  I’m talking about Scrivener and my Macbook Air.

The Air, which I’ve owned for six months (hence this post), is as thin as a slice of bacon and as light as a beautiful Northumbrian evening. I couldn’t live without it and it has progressed my writing beyond what might be expected of a piece of equipment. It’s just so easy to pull towards me and open single-handedly. It’s never off, I just let it sleep between sessions. It’s what Macs do best.

The Macbook Air

Scrivener, on the other hand, has been with me for a few years, transferring from machine to machine – yes, all of them Macs. This piece of software has revolutionised the ease with which I can get back into writing after pulling up the Air’s lid. It doesn’t have a teamaker on the menu but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it there. It has everything else – chapters/sections/units in one folder, research in another, trash (not yet permanently discarded) in another, and all contained in the one project binder.

Scrivener also has the ability to have two bits open at once, and/or a floating window to refer to. Notes are kept with each part of the text in a side panel, tags and labels mean I can search and find only the bits (for instance) where a particular character or item occurs in the story, and – get this! – I can line up whichever sections I want and view them joined as one document, even though they’re gathered from various mini files within the folder. Then I put them back where they were. They never moved in fact. How could anything be easier?

That’s only a fragment of what Scrivener has, or what it does for me. You’ll need to try and see for yourself. But hundreds of published writers use it. It just works. Which, I believe, is what Steve Jobs always says about Macs. And they do.

So I thought I’d tell you in case you’re about to upgrade your working environment in any way.

The Macbook Air is here.

And Scrivener is here.

Cheers!

Nothing ever goes according to plan in a writer’s world.

No sooner had I started thinking about the car story for January (see my last post) than it had to be relegated  to February because my brain kicked up a twirl and a swirl in storm fashion and presented me with (tra-la) a teacher, faced with a scrawny newly-arrived child and her need to connect and find a way to integrate him into the class. Complete – characters, story, the lot. With an amazing ending (ha! we shall see).

So yesterday I outlined the plot in my normal software, and today I started writing. It felt so good. And just maybe, if I hadn’t made that plan to invent these short stories every month, this plot would not have sprung so readily to mind. Brainstorming lives!

MindNode software

Anyhow, when your brain spews initial ideas out, you need some way of recording them. For me, this is a stage prior to outlining and constructing. It’s when I’m checking if the idea has legs. Will it get past page one? Will it offer some emotional tug? Can anything unusual happen? Or does it die in childbirth?

For this kind of brainstorming/thinking, I use MindNode. It’s a Mac-only program, but MindNode makes it so easy to drag and drop things from node to node that it barely causes a bleep between my thought and it being recorded for posterity (or binning).

If you have a PC, then head over to MindNode to see what it looks like for simplicity, and then try iMindMap instead or track down some other brainstorming software that suits you, and have a play with your ideas.

By the way, if anyone wants to join me on my one-story-a-month adventure I would be delighted to hear from you.