Lights Out

The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.
The above words were spoken by Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, as World War I began, 100 years ago.

The Royal British Legion is asking everyone in the UK to turn off their lights between 10pm and 11pm tonight, leaving a single light or candle lit, as a mark of remembrance.

The hope is to light one million candles. That’s one for every serviceman and woman who gave their life in the Great War.

My wife and I will be extinguishing our lights tonight and lighting a candle. Please join us.

For more information, see the Royal British Legion page.

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Getting The Words Down – The Writing Path Blog Tour

Andrew Knighton invited me to take part in IC Publishing‘s writing path blog tour. I try not to post too much about writing, since that isn’t really the focus of this blog, but I thought it might make an entertaining diversion. Here goes…

How do you start your writing projects?

Since I write non-fiction, I write about subjects that I’m interested in. The difficult part is choosing the next subject, since I have a lot of topics that I want to write about.

I normally write out the chapter headers first, and they serve as an outline. Normally I have a good knowledge of the subject to start with, but more research is always necessary. This can involve requests under the Freedom of Information Act, visits to the National Archives, or searching archival websites such as the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. Wherever possible I store the research in digital form, because I find it easier to organise digital files, and I can make sure I have good backups.

Citation Needed

By (CC-BY)

I’ve tried various tools for doing the writing. Many people rave about Scrivener, but I didn’t get on with it, possibly because I use Linux, and the Linux version is still in beta. I’ve tried writing in a text editor, using HTML or Markdown. Currently I’m writing in LibreOffice, which seems to be the best fit for me. I’ve also tried various ways of organising my research. I used Zotero for a while, but at the moment I’m using Referencer.

How do you continue your writing projects?

If I’m honest, with difficulty. I find it much easier if I can keep up momentum, so try to find time to write frequently and often. Other commitments make that difficult sometimes, but I generally manage at least one evening a week. If I have a break, I have to really force myself to sit down and write. Once I’ve done that, though, I find it easier to get back into the routine of writing (until the next break).

Sometimes I find that starting a second book helps. It gives me a break from the first book, but it keeps me writing.

How do you finish your project?

When I start the project, I have a good idea in my head of what I want to cover, so it’s easy to know when it’s complete. Then, of course, it needs to be edited. I’m gradually building up a list of regular expressions that I can use to find errors that I tend to fall for (missing Oxford commas, for instance). Once it’s as good as I can make it, I send it to my editor, Alexis at Word Vagabond. Meanwhile, I contact Kit Foster to get a cover, and try to write a description, before contacting The Blurb Doctor for help.

Give one tip that our collective communities could benefit from.

When you’ve finished editing and proof-reading, use text-to-speech software to listen to your book. The computer will read exactly what is written, which will help find some errors and typos that your eyes skip over. I often use the text-to-speech function on my Kindle, but there is software available for phones and PCs, too.

Passing the BuckPen

Next week, Larry Jeram-Croft is going to continue the tour. Larry is a retired Royal Navy pilot and aircraft engineer. After thirty years service and another seven years in industry, he turned to writing. Following the principle of “writing about what you know”, he has created a series of adventure stories about the modern navy as well as two about sailing, another of his lifelong hobbies.

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Translations Now Available

cubierta copertura copertina del libro

I’m starting to get my books translated into other languages. At the moment, A Damn Close-Run Thing has been translated into Italian and Spanish, and A Fleet In Being has been translated into Italian. More translations will be released soon. All translations can be found on the Translations page.

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Digital Book Day 2014

Digital Book Day banner
Monday, 14th July 2014 is the first Digital Book Day. On that day, I and over 100 other authors (108 at the time of writing, and that number is likely to increase) will offer one of their books for free.

I will be giving away A Damn Close-Run Thing. Simply come back on Monday 14th, and use discount code DBD2014 to get it for free.

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Gavrilo Princip and the Mythical Sandwich

Gavrilo PrincipIt is generally accepted that the First World War was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip. In recent years, however, an extra twist has been added: that the only reason Princip was in a position to fire at the Archduke was because he happened to be eating lunch when the Archduke’s car drove past. Millions of lives were lost during the war that followed. The Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler and Nazism, the Second World War, and even the atomic bomb can arguably be attributed to the First World War, and thus, to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It’s sobering to think that all of those terrible things might never have happened if Princip hadn’t felt a little hungry and stopped off at Schiller’s delicatessen for a sandwich.

The sandwich theory, however, is deeply flawed. The Smithsonian blog published an excellent debunking of it back in 2011. It appears that the original source of the sandwich was a novel by a Brazilian TV host. The post is very interesting, and well worth a read.

When I first heard about this, I wasn’t at all sure how to feel about it. It seemed to trivialise a truly earth-shattering event, and I couldn’t understand why people felt the need to focus on the apparent coincidence of the Archduke’s car happening to go past the delicatessen where Princip was having his lunch. When I mentioned it to my wife, she came up with what seems like a very plausible theory. People have difficulty relating to the event, because they have nothing in common with Princip. People find it hard to empathise with a murderer, and the fact that the act had such incredible consequences makes it even harder to relate. Everyone, however, can relate to eating a sandwich. It’s something we all do, so it gives people something in common with Princip, some tiny little thing that they can relate to, and that makes the whole story easier to take in.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of AustriaThe sandwich is a minor detail, and perhaps it doesn’t matter if such minor details are incorrect. If the sandwich was told as an interesting aside, maybe it wouldn’t bother me quite so much. The problem is that in some accounts, it takes on a great deal of importance, and is said to be what led Princip to be in the right place at the right time to fire the fateful shot. The implication being that, if Princip hadn’t had that sandwich, he wouldn’t have killed the Archduke, and history would have been very different. However, the Archduke had already survived one assassination attempt that day, and even without his assassination, a war was likely. These things are all too easily forgotten when people focus on the apparent bizarre coincidence of the sandwich. Suddenly a major war (and all the events that can be said to have happened as a result of that war) happens just because one man ate a sandwich. If that were true, all well and good, but it isn’t, and so many people get a completely wrong understanding of the events that led to a major war where millions died.

No doubt there will be much written and spoken about the war over the next four years, as the centenary of various events comes around. Let’s make an effort to honour those that suffered by doing our best to get the facts right. It’s not always easy, of course, and an honest disagreement over the correct interpretation of events is perfectly valid, but there’s no excuse for making up stories or coincidences that simply didn’t happen.


Honour those that suffered in WWI: make an effort to get the facts right – Click to tweet

Many people suffered during WWI. Repeating fictional stories as fact dishonours their sacrifice – Click to tweet

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