Defeated and Storytelling

Conceded Defeat

Yesterday, having discovered the cause of certain problems, I conceded defeat and switched from using the free LibreOffice and moved to Word.  This was a big disappointment for me, as I dislike Word intensely.  The simple fact is, however, that I need to be able to provide manuscripts in set formats, based on templates, and those manuscripts have to be in Word doc format.  Now, LibreOffice will save in the appropriate file format, but in doing so, it corrupts the page formatting!  It only seems to do this, for some reason, when using a template.  That means that my submissions get rejected, require considerable work by others or produce a less than desirable end result.  I tried everything I could think of to fix the problem, but every time I told LibreOffice to save in doc format, the errors returned – sometimes magnified!  If you’re just using the standard page layout, then there’s no problem.  The thought of writing in LibreOffice and then switching to Word purely for template versions, though, just seems to be an unwanted complication.

Storytelling and the Audiobook

I my review of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen recently, I made mention of reading to children and audiobooks.  I thought it might be worth expanding on the subject.  Don’t get me wrong!  I think audiobooks have a place, and if a child can’t get read to any other way, then they’re as good a way as any.  But, I honestly believe that children should be read to by a parent, or some other loved one, whose voice is very familiar, and very comfortable.  Why?  Well, as I said previously, even children have some idea of what the voices of characters should sound like, and they can maintain that if they are listening to the loved one.  An audiobook is acted as much s it is read.  As an unfamiliar voice, often using different ‘voices’ for different characters, the audiobook can easily override the child’s own imagination.  I recall reading a book and imagining a character to have a warm, homely, lovable voice.  I then heard a radio dramatisation of the book and the actor had a harsh, high voice that made the character sound distinctly unpleasant.  It could have ruined the book for me, if I had been younger.  Yet this phenomenon had never occurred when a loved one had read to me.  So I seriously believe that audiobooks should be the preserve of adults or those children who have no other option.

Why did I mention a voice being ‘comfortable’?  Well, there are many fine children’s books which may have a scary bit or two.  A loved one’s voice is comfortable.  It can be trusted, especially to protect.  A child will then enjoy the scary bits and not be unduly frightened.  I doubt that this is true with an audiobook.  In fact, many of the best voices in audiobooks are actually quite ‘dark’, and there would always be a temptation for the actor to use vocal tricks to emphasise the scary bits.  It would be a terrible shame if books started disappearing from the ‘safe list’ because of audiobooks!

These remarks aren’t confined to audiobooks.  They apply equally to radio dramatisations of books.  And going beyond that, movies and television may be very damaging to books.  Apart from their usual inaccurate rendering of books, the combination of actual images and voices that don’t fit the child’s imaginings can ruin a book completely, so that the child may abandon a favourite, possibly forever.

We play with such things at our peril!

~ Steve


In my last post, I talked about video as a promotional tool.  I mentioned, then, that I dislike the sound of my own recorded voice.  Now, we’ve all seen the bombardment advertising by Amazon for their Audible audiobook service.  It’s an area that I would, in fact, love to utilise, but I still have the same problem.

Audiobooks open up the world of literature to those who can’t read due to visual impairment.  Why Amazon insists on advertising only on the principle of it being convenient to perfectly sighted people, I’ll never understand!  Now, I would be very pleased to offer my ebooks in audio format too, but using computer generated “voices” is very unsatisfactory.  Of course, I could invest in more natural sounding voices for the text-to-speech systems, but it’s an expense I can’t afford.  The same applies to hiring somebody to read the stories for me – it’s just not something I can afford to do.

I’ve listened to a few Project Gutenberg audiobooks, where the “reader” is a computer generated voice and I have to say that they really don’t work for me.  Equally, I’ve found some that are actually read by real people where I simply don’t like the sound of their voices.  I don’t wish to be harsh, but some folk have that kind of voice.  I strongly suspect that I would be one of them!  I applaud their efforts, providing audiobooks that might never be produced otherwise, but as a reader-listener, I can only be honest about whether I would listen to the works they’ve worked so hard on.

I’m wondering, now, whether I’m thinking too narrowly.  I can’t possibly know whether those who are visually impaired are willing to accept anything rather than nothing.  I have the option to read books for myself.  I’m not dependent on others to allow me to enjoy the vast world of literature.  A visually impaired person may well be so desperate that they can tolerate even the soulless voice of a computer.  How, after all, can I discover the reality?  I know only two people with sight problems, and I seriously doubt that either would be keen on audiobooks, so that means I have nobody to guide me in my decision making.

If any of you have experience in this area, I would love to hear from you!

~ Steve

A Reader First

I am, as the title states, a reader first, a writer second.  That must be true for all writers.  Reading isn’t always a form of entertainment or escapism, however.  It can be to learn, either in the sense employed in education, or for pleasure or personal interest.  For example, I read books on military history, particularly the Napoleonic Era, and some contemporary accounts of military action.  I’ve also been known to graze on encyclopedias and etymological dictionaries (I’ve never become so involved in non-etymological types).  Other than that, my reading tends to fantasy, science fiction and military history fiction.  I’ve read classics, too, like Les Miserables, War and Peace and a few others.  There are, however, times (like now) when I don’t read books at all.  I’m fairly sure that I’m not unusual in any of that.

As a reader, I’m looking for certain things.  First, and foremost, the subject has to interest me.  Second, the blurb needs to offer something intriguing, something that drives my curiosity to seek expansion.  Third, it has to be fairly easy to read, without huge expanses of complex language.  Finally, it should be reasonably well written.  Turn-offs include a plethora of typographical errors, darkly depressing passages and highly intellectual pieces.  I can forgive poor quality writing if the feat of imagination is sufficiently impressive.

Until very recently, I also had a strong preference for real books.  I love the feel and smell of books.  Put me in a second-hand bookshop and I can become lost just by the atmosphere!  That’s something no web site will ever be able to achieve.  That said, with book prices what they are, economics have forced me to look to ebooks as a serious option.  That and lack of space for more books in the house.  There’s no doubting that I’m headed down the eReader road, despite myself.

It may sound odd for a writer of ebooks to be less than keen on the technology  but I’ve been reading for many years, being on the wrong side of 50, and it’s difficult to shed the love of physical books.  It’s an inescapable fact, though, that ebooks are the real future, with physical books likely to end up being collectors’ items, for those who can afford them.  They offer so much more than a real book can, and future advances in eReaders must bring genuinely useful extras.  Eventually, there will be total domination of the world of literature by ebooks.

Let me just look at eReaders.  They can carry a good sized library, which would require a considerable space investment if the equivalent number of physical books were kept.  They offer ease of use and enhancements for those with vision problems.  Many allow annotations, bookmarking and dictionary access.  It is quite likely that we’ll see increasing use of access to things like Wikipedia, authors’ official web sites and audio.  For audio, we’ll see audio books and word pronunciation facilities in dictionaries.  Those annoying moments when we encounter the use of a foreign language we don’t understand will be overcome, by allowing access to a translator.  Interactivity is growing fast, too.  There are now many books aimed at allowing children to interact with colourful ebooks and that will be extended.  I fully expect to see things like the Encyclopedia Britannica no longer being offered as a software package but, rather, being sold preloaded onto an eReader, and providing the same interactivity as the software always has.

Much of this is simply beyond physical books.  With physical books, you need access to dictionaries and other reference works, increasing the space you need for all those beautiful books.  More, you can only access those extra volumes if you’re in the same location as them.  You’re not about to carry your whole library around with you!  I wonder how many people who voice opposition to ebooks use computers to access information as a consequence of their reading of physical books?

There are limitations on ebooks, at the moment, but very few of them can’t be overcome.  Ultimately, the ebook-eReader combination will be the victor in this revolution.

~ Steve