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“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

Image of a man sitting in an armchair with a laptop, in the middle of a clockface painted on the floor.
Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

A short update post – a lot has been going on since I last posted.

Last year, after a long illness, my beloved Brian died. I am now on my own and thinking hard about my future. After two years of being a full-time carer, my health isn’t too good and I’ll need to move out of this house and back to England near my family. That means changing the title and tagline of this blog – directions to my new home will no longer include “turn left at the bridge”, and I will no longer be looking out over the lovely Galloway Hills.

I’ll also need to go back to the design, layout and publishing work that I used to do with Brian. A single person’s pension doesn’t stretch far these days; besides, I’m bored crapless and need something to get me out of bed in the mornings. I’ve just landed some copyediting and layout work for an old client and it’s feeling very satisfying. I’ll be hunting around for more work, making a proper business of it.

So, if you’ve a book that needs publishing/editing, drop me a line….

The title quote is by William Penn, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania.

My Work

Screenshot of my current layout and typesetting project, using Affinity Publisher

I’ve been using DTP (Desktop Publishing) programs since (I think) 1996, trying out a few and finally sticking with Serif PagePlus. We wanted to print a small quarterly magazine and PagePlus was cheap and easy to use. Other people started asking us to design and print stuff for them, so Oakleaf Print & Design was born.

PP was discontinued in 2016, but we continued using it – mainly because my husband flat out refused to try learning a new program. However, I was by then publishing and selling my own annual Elfin Diary; PagePlus had been replaced by Affinity Publisher, which was being offered at a very generous introductory price. I tried it for the Diary, immediately loved it, and can recommend it, especially for professional print work. And before you ask – yes, I’ve tried Adobe’s Indesign. The subscription price put me right off (the Affinity price structure is buy once, pay only for upgrades) and I didn’t particularly like it anyway.

I also use Affinity Photo, for editing and optimising images and Affinity Designer, for laying out covers. Part of the Affinity suite, they work so seamlessly with Publisher that I sometimes forget which program I’m working in. Hemingway Editor is very useful for spotting bad grammar and clumsy prose (this post has been run through it). Strangely, it doesn’t have a spellchecker, but Publisher does that job.

Yes, this is a blatant ad for my copyediting, design and layout services. What exactly does all that mean? OK, copyediting is correcting your MS for spelling, grammar & readability, and also factchecking; design is the overall look of the finished book (including cover design, if needed); layout (which includes typography) is is making the insides of your book look attractive and readable. Interested? My contact page is currently broken (I’m working on it) so at the mo, the quickest way to contact me is to drop me a DM onTwitter/X at @valdobson or just leave a comment below.

A Cat’s Tale (with no cat)

When I was twenty-one or so and unemployed and single, I shared a flat with four others, all similarly un- and under-employed. It was very Young Ones at times – we squabbled over the cleaning rota, ate quite a lot of lentils, had a laid-back landlord who was into Jung and primal screaming. Our weekly Giros arrived on Tuesdays, which meant that we were penniless by Monday morning.

(more…)

Hard Sun review

“It’s as if Luther, Line of Duty and Utopia all went to the pub together, emerged several hours later, steaming, and decided to form a supergroup.”

(more…)

More Thoughts

This post is a sort of run-on from the last. I had a bit of a rant there about how “diverse” characters (and I’m not talking just about trans) shouldn’t be shoehorned into a creative work without justification. Welp, I wasn’t really expecting to have my point proved so quickly. (more…)

A Book Review (with diverse diversions)

Just finished John Scalzi’s Old Mans War. It’s now been out for 15 years and is one of those books that everyone who knows SF says you ought to read. So I finally did.

Clearly a homage to Robert Heinlein, it’s not a bad read at all – I only skipped a few pages, near the end, when I was in a hurry to get to the climax. The plot is basically this: in the future, humanity is exploring the stars and has discovered there are are lots of intelligent alien life forms already out there there; however (more…)

Mr Mercedes S1 Review

WARNING: SPOILERS APLENTY
So, having dealt with Designated Survivor (which didn’t survive), I’ve been watching the first series of Mr Mercedes. I loved the book and was interested to see what sort of mess the adaptation would turn out to be. Up till now, I’ve seen screen adaptations of eight King works – The Shining, Dolores Claiborne, Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, The Dome (TV series), Langoliers (TV series), Kingdom Hospital (TV series) and 11/22/63 (TV series). The movies were terrific; the TV series were spotty. The Dome was just terrible (every single recording of it should be confiscated, fired into the sun and never mentioned again); Kingdom Hospital was less terrible, but only slightly – it was at least four hours too long and nothing will make me sit through it a second time; Langoliers was OK but not memorable; 11/22/63 was terrific – mainly due to the fact that it cut out about 500 pages of padding and subplots from the novel and concentrated on the main story of the time-jumping hero.
So I was hoping that this one would be good, at least. (more…)

Designated Survivor review Pt 2

SPOILERS AHEAD
Well, I’ve carried on watching and have now finished Ep 15 (of 22). I’m not really excited about it, but I’ve paid for the whole series so I’m determined to get my money’s worth. Besides, I am mildly curious about how the story will pan out.
The US has turned out some excellent TV series – The Americans, The Wire, Mad Men, West Wing – but DS is nowhere near that standard, I’m afraid. (more…)

Designated Survivor review Pt 1

CONTAINS SPOILERS
I only learned about this US TV series when I saw a post on Twitter about a trailer for the second series, which featured a shot of one of the characters sitting in a London cafe. This trailer followed the time-hallowed Hollywood convention of using signifiers of typical English life – in this case, a red telephone box, black cabs and a picture of the Queen hanging on the wall – to let us know that we are in England. The Twitterati were having great fun with this sequence by pointing out the errors – traffic going the wrong way, the wrong type of license plates on the cars, every public building having a picture of Her Majesty (Gawd bless ‘er!) on the wall….

Designated Survivor poster

So, I looked up the series and it sounded quite promising. The Designated Survivor is the low-level cabinet member who has to be kept in a safe room during the annual State of the Union address, when the President addresses the entire US goverment apparatus – Congress, Senate and judiciary. In the extremely unlikely event of, say, a huge bomb going off in the building and blowing up every single person inside, the Designated Survivor suceeds to the Presidency and forms a new government.
Here, Kiefer Sutherland plays Richard Kirkman, who happens to be the chosen minor cabinet member when the extremely unlikely event happens; the series follows him as he struggles to keep the country together. I first read about the Designated Survivor protocol years ago and it’s odd that nobody appears to have used it as the basis for a work of fiction before now.
So far, I’ve watched two episodes and my interest is now waning a little. The first episode is the scenesetter, showing the principled but unambitious Kirkman going through his day as a father, husband and Secretary for Housing and Urban Development. He learns that he’s about to be fired and moved sideways to an unimportant diplomatic job in Canada; a bit of a wimp, he’s unwilling to make waves and his wife has to persuade him that he should make a stand and refuse the new posting on principle. In the evening, he settles down in the safe room with beer, popcorn and TV, watching the address. Then the TV goes off….

Kiefer Sutherland in Designated Survivor
Kiefer Sutherland

The first episode is pretty good overall. The family set-up was decidely soapy – cute blonde seven-year-old daughter, sulky spotty teenage son, georgeous blonde brainy wife – but it wasn’t pushed too hard and I could overlook it. Sutherland’s performance as the stunned Kirkman is pretty good. He’s in frozen shock for much of the time, as anyone would be under the circumstances; grabbed by Secret Servicemen and rushed to the White House bunker, then hurled straight into the business of of running a government in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist event far bigger and deadlier than 9/11. He spends about a third of the episode with a very convincing rabbit-in-the-headlights look.
There is one jarring moment, in a scene where Kirkman throws open the shutters on the window in his safe room and sees the enormous fireball rising above Washington. Um, wasn’t he supposed to be in an underground bunker? But no matter – the moment passes quickly and we’re pitched into the action, which is well-done. And there are one or two decent lines. For example, when the Secret Service pick up the sulky teenage son from the warehouse rave that he sneaked off to, he asks them how they found him. Head Secret Service guy says “Well, we went through all your social media contacts, combed through their recent posts with a keyword-matching program, triangulated some likely places…” STS: “Really? You can do all that?” HSS: “You think we’re some kind of masterminds? Nah, we simply pinged your phone, stupid!”
Throughout, we get quick introductions to the main characters – an improbably young and georgeous Oriental non-blonde FBI agent, the cartoonishly hawkish General who is itching for war (of course), the blandly handsome Chief of Staff,the minority-ethnic speechwriter (we know he’s minority-ethnic because he’s plump, brownskinned, not-blonde, not-handsome; plus the actor is also a comic IRL and can’t help looking like one) – pretty much the usual clichéd Hollywood roster of characters.
Cliche is largely avoided, however, when it comes to Kirkman. Upon being sworn in, he doesn’t immediately turn into Jack Bauer. He remains the timid, unambitious inexperienced civil servant that he’s always been; the other characters in fact keep saying exactly that, sometimes to his face. You get the distinct impression that the whole lot are taking bets on how long he’ll will remain in office.

The second episode – well, that starts getting a little bit predictable. Islamic terrorists are immediately blamed; Dearborn, Michigan (which has the US’s largest poplation of Muslims) starts locking up anybody who looks brown; the brown-looking speechwriter gets harrassed by cops (to be fair, this last isn’t a cliché but pretty much everyday experience for brown-skinned minorities after a terrorist outrage). The writers still try to avoid the zero-to-hero cliche with Kirkman, with a disasterous photo-op that ends with the new president looking weak and hopeless, but inevitably the inner hero starts showing through. He gets tough with the Iranians, he gets even tougher with the rebellious Governor of Michigan and shows him who’s boss, he tells the war-mongering General he won’t be starting a war with Iran without 100% proof of guilt. You almost expect Jack Bauer to appear and waterboard the General.
The improbably georgeous FBI agent is clearly signalled as the heroine of the season, with her dogged insistence that the forensic clues pointing to Islamists have been planted to mislead. If she has a job title I missed it, but she is apparently an analyst who has single-handedly solved several major terrorist plots. However, nobody accepts her crazy idea that the forensic clues pointing to an Al-Queda offshoot have been planted to mislead everyone. And can you blame them? After all, who else but Islamic terrorists would want to blow up the US government? It’s a teeny bit obvious that she’ll be breaking open the whole case all by herself.
Then there’s the other Designated Survivor, from the Republican Party (Kirkman is a Democrat). She’s warm, friendly, insists that she and Kirkman must and will work together. She nice – too nice, you suspect; when we see her searching Kirkman’s past on Google, you may start wondering what she’s up to…
Would it perhaps involve that slight crazy HUD woman staffer from Ep 1, the one who worked closely with Kirkman before the bombing and is furious that he’s not been in touch since? is Kirkman really so squeaky-clean?
Tune in next week, folks. Well, you may – I may not.

Daffodils

It’s daffodil time here! This isn’t really a painting – well, it obviously isn’t. It’s a photo I put through a few filters.

Daffodils