Becoming a Twit

June 30, 2012

This morning, I got an email from Debi Alper, my editor and cyberfriend (thanks, Debi) who suggested that I should consider going onto Twitter.  I´d already set up this blog and website, linked them to Facebook and The Word Cloud and did all those good things, like you’re supposed to, but had noticed that there’s not a vast amount of intersite traffic; far less than I had expected.  Apparently, according to Debi, it’s because the world is tweeting.  When I first heard about Twitter, I thought it sounded a bit unnecessary.  Why send SMSs on the computer when you can email?  Why would anyone be interested in what I’m doing?  Barack Obama, yes, but me?  Uh-uh.  Frankly, I had never bothered even registering with them and didn’t miss it.  Or so I thought.  Anyway, it seems that tweeting is now what it’s all about so I have succumbed to the inevitable.  Apparently, I am at  Follow me to find out when I’m on the toilet and things like that.

Shopping today for some new threads and suchlike.  I’d run out of PG Tips tea bags and you cannot get them in Lisbon.  You can only get insipid powdery tea in little bags and have to use three to get a good English cuppa.  There are one or two specialist shops that sell loose tea, though, so I am now the proud owner of a teapot and strainer.  Now I can follow the full ritual…warm the pot, leave to infuse for 5 minutes, milk in the cup first, all that good stuff. The result is exquisite!  Still looking for a tea cozy….

Speaking of another English invention, I have also found a good Indian shop so can indulge in my very favourite English food: curry.  I have a theory that the Brits invented  curry because the heat comes from the chili which is indigenous to Central America, not India.  It was the Brits who brought it to India.  Well, it’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.  I believe that David Cameron is negotiating with the Indian government for curry to be declared  traditional English food, in exchange for which India can claim that cricket was invented in India.  Good deal?  I think so.  Perhaps I’ll tweet about it.


Going mobile

June 27, 2012

I spent yesterday tidying up the website and checking the links.  In the process, I updated my entries on Lulu and reduced the prices that they had assigned to hard copy so that I make nothing.  Just a martyr to the cause, me, but it’s my current policy and it should apply to hard copy as well as the eBooks.  So, if anyone wants hard copies of my books, you can access them at Lulu are pretty good for Print On Demand; their books are good quality (rather better than a lot you see in W H Smith) and arrive quite promptly.  I also updated the PDF files on my website and made sure that the ISBNs (given free by Lulu) are correct.  So, it’s all working fine now.

Then I thought about mobile devices.  I had a Blackberry when I was working but only used in for emails.  As a browser, I found it pretty useless.  However, the world has moved on and I know that the entire population of the world has one of the new mobile devices.  Everyone except me, that is; call me Luddite, but I never felt I needed that level of connectivity.  Any road oop, I decided to make sure that the website is accessible to mobile devices by clicking on the goMobi site builder icon on the iPower control panel.  For §1.99 a month it automatically makes the website availabe in a format accessible to mobile devices.  At least, that’s what it says on the tin but I wouldn’t know as I haven’t got one.  If any of you techie  people out there would like to try to connect to, please let me know if it works.  Maybe it can be accessed by the Kindle  browser as well, which should enable downloads of the PDFs.  Again, if anyone would like to try and let me know, I would be most grateful.

I’ve checked the stats for the website and there have been more than a dozen downloads of the books so far.  Thank you!  Have a good read and let me know what you think.  You can be honest…I have a thick skin!  I only cry at the opera.

eBooks on line!

June 25, 2012

Well, I have never created a website before but had set this week aside to learn how to do it.  The normal advice is:

  •  Get a domain name
  •  Find a host
  • Create a website

However, the world seems to have changed and, actually, it’s now only necessary to find a good host and they will organise your domain name and give you website creation tools, a kind of ‘Websites For Dummies’.  Having got a domain name from Namesco, and then having selected iPower as my host, I found I couldn’t use it as it was pointed to a different server and takes 60 days to transfer. No problem, they said, and gave me a new domain name.

To cut a long story short, what I had expected to take me a week was done in three hours because iPower ( have some website creation software that makes it so easy to create what you want. It takes an hour or so to understand it but it uses what they call a Weebly drag-and-drop builder.  Really, it couldn’t be easier.  There are plenty of other hosts that provide this one-stop service but iPower have had some very good reviews and I am impressed.  In addition, they have live 24/7 help that doesn’t make you wait for hours listening to The Four Seasons.  I called them on Skype and they were efficient, friendly and professional.

The result of all this is my very interim website at  I have added the possibility for free downloads of my books in PDF form as it will be good for exposure.  That’s an excuse for saying that I’m not sure how to charge for them yet, so get them now, while they’re free!

I tried to add the book ‘Flight Into Darkness’ in Kindle format but this was more difficult than I had expected and just provided a load of gobbledegook that only a Kindle can understand.  Never mind, I’ll find a way but I suspect that the only way is to upload it to Amazon’s Kindle website and let people download it from there directly onto their Kindles.

My PDFs were created on Lulu (, who I use for print-on-demand for hard copy.  It’s easy to use, gives good results, and it’s free.

So, there you have it.  I’m mentally exhausted.  Now, what shall I do for the rest of the week?

Taking the eBook plunge…for free and in only 578 words!

June 20, 2012

I had a free day today so started the process of learning how to do the eBook thing.  I decided to start with Kindling; all the best fires start that way.  The launching point is a wonderful Irishman living in Sweden named David Gaughran, who will be at York (Festival of Writing) this year.  He has published a DIY book and he makes it available for free at  This basically tells you what you need to know and it has a useful resource section with a lot of good links.   More than that, it makes the point that the internet has revolutionised everything it has touched and, despite what you hear, publishing will inevitably be no different.  Luddites beware; the world is changing.  Now, I have to confess that I really like books and don’t even have a Kindle but the second step is to download the Kindle software for free onto your PC from those nice Amazonians:

OK, next you need to have a complete, edited, formatted, perfect, polished manuscript.  That’s the easy bit!  Put it into single line spacing and get rid of headers and footers; you don’t need page numbering.  Font size doesn’t matter much but font does; choose one with serifs.  I used TNR 12 point, but then I always do.

Get some cover artwork done.  David strongly recommends getting this done professionally (and I will as, apparently, people do judge a book by its cover).   Initially, I did one of my own on Photoshop, just to have something.

See the new note at the bottom of this blog before doing this next step! 

Next, download a programme that converts your masterpiece into Kindle format.  I used this one which works well:  Then open your MS in Word and and save it as a ‘web page (unfiltered)’.  This is an HTML file, though you wouldn’t know it.  From Calibre, upload the MS and follow the instructions at (really important; follow every word).  It’s straight-forward.  Remember to upload your cover artwork as well during the conversion stage.  You need to tell it the starting format (zip or HTML) and the intended final format (MOBI).  Then, after the conversion, save it to ‘My Kindle Content’ which Kindle has set up under ‘My Documents’.  That’s it.  You can then open your Kindle software, click on your masterpiece and be the first to read it as an eBook.

Easy, eh?  well, not entirely straight-forward.  I found a number of formatting errors when I first tried it, but the solution was saving the Word document as a ‘web page (unfiltered)’ as Word has lots of secret features that mess things up for you if you use the simple ‘web page’ option.  My problem was that it put extraneous carriage returns before and after speech marks.  Not everywhere, just here and there.  No reason. Maybe Bill Gates knows.

This all took me about 10 hours but I am a complete newbie and you don’t need to take as long.  The difference between saving the Word document as a web page (unfiltered) took me about three hours to discover.

Next steps will be some professional cover artwork, then final publication on Kindle (and the others, in different formats), then the work really starts.  Marketing.  I need set up a separate website for that.  Not sure how to do that just yet.  It might take another day or so, but you will the first to know.

Important Post-blog note (18 Aug 2012):

Unless you want a copy of your book as an eBook for the Kindle prior to publication, you don’t need to put it into Kindle format at this stage.  When you upolad to Amazon for the Kindle, they do it for you from a DOC, DOCX or HTML file.  All you have to do is to format it appropriately, they do the rest then let you have a look at it, edit or revise before it goes live.  Far easier.

Jacarandas and castles in the sky

June 14, 2012

The Jacarandas in full bloom

Yesterday was a Lisbon holiday to celebrate São Antonio, patron saint of the city.  Only in Portugal….only in Lisbon…anyway, everything was closed so I wandered up the hill to Praça de Carmo, a monastery which was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake.  By the time they got around to thinking about rebuilding it, the vogue was for romantic ruins, so they saved their money and it still sits, majestic and sad, on the hill at Bairro Alto, overlooking the city, its ribs exposed like a dead dinosaur.  The square in front of it is full of Jacarandas in full bloom and the perfume is quite intoxicating.  The morning sun glints on the flowers, lilac against a clear cobalt blue sky, against the shadows of the walls of the old monastery.  A magnificent old ruin.

O castelo at Sintra

Then I was at a bit of a loose end, so I thought I’d drive out to Sintra and have a look at the royal palace at Pena plus the castle on the hill.  When I say ‘hill’, it’s rather more than that.  It’s so high that you can get altitude sickness.  From the old Moorish castle, you can see half of Portugal and it looks down on the town of Sintra like an eagle.  The castle is now a ruin, of course, but reminds me of the great wall of China, the way it meanders up and down the Serra, built in the great clefts in the mountain, around boulders and crags.  Now, it’s a botanical garden in the sky with an elaborate folly threading through it, nestling amongst massive trees that have reclaimed their land.

On the hill next to it, and even higher, is the former royal palace of Pena.

The Royal Palace at Pena

It was built by King Fernando II and looks as if it has been transplanted from Bavaria. This is not surprising because the Portuguese-sounding Fernando was, in fact, born Ferdinand August Franz Anton Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  Yes, you guessed it…he was German and a cousin of our own dear Queen Victoria and her husband, Albrecht…wait for it…Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  Byron called it ‘glorious Eden’ and wrote about it in ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’:

There is pleasure in the pathless woods/ There is rapture on the lonely shore/There is society where none intrudes/ By the deep sea, and music in its roar/ I love not man the less but nature more. 

Quite so.  I was so pleased that my favourite composer, Richard Strauss, had also been there and spoke of it as the ‘…castle of the Holy Grail perched over the garden of Klingsor’ (reference to Wagner’s Parsifal).  It deserves all of this and more.  It is quite unforgetable.  As a royal palace, I would say it is modest compared to some of the stately piles in England.  It was built around an original monastery and many of the rooms are small and on a human scale, almost intimate.  The architecture and elaborate furnishings remind me a little of the Brighton Pavilion, being a bizarre mix of Gothic, traditional Manueline Portuguese, Moorish, Indian and Turkish.  Buckingham Palace it is not, but then our Queen isn’t perched on top of a mountain, looking over her land like Zeus from Olympus.  I was entranced by the place.

I should point out that, in this modern age of steam transportation and the horseless carriage, we don’t really expect to have to climb mountains.  Well, yesterday, I climbed a mountain.  Two.  Several times.  No choice.  And, in the process of paying my respects to these stately ruins, I think I’ve become one myself.

The view from the Palace

Computer says no

June 12, 2012

Another rejection last week and a stunned silence from the eight remaining agents.  Perhaps they’re really giving my magnum opus some serious considered thought.  On the other hand, it’s probably in the slushpile under a heap of three hundred others while they push the autobiography of some tart with big tits or a talentless nobody who’s famous for being famous.  I am seriously considering the ebook route now, having more-or-less given up on the traditional Dickensian route.  I’m in Lisbon at the moment and will be spending a lot of time in the new apartment, initially furnishing it, then following the ebook route.  I’m told it’s easy to publish but the time-consuming hard work is in the marketing but that’s OK because time is something I have plenty of.  However, first comes my descent into IKEA hell and getting electricity, gas and water.

Lisbon, like most big cities in Portugal, has a Loja da Cidadão, literally a ‘citizen’s shop’.  All utilities are under one roof, including Finanças, vehicle licensing,  cable TV, internet…the list goes on.  You take a ticket and wait your turn.  The first thing I should say is that most people here do not speak English.   Even young people who have had English as a mandatory subject cannot string more than a few words together, or maybe they’re just shy.  I don’t mean that in an arrogant or derogatory sense; I’m in their country and I know I have to speak their language.  Why should I expect them to speak mine?  (Answer: because it’s become the world language).  OK, my Portuguese is coming on quite well and I organised everything in my mix of Portuguese and Spanish which I call Portugañol.  When I can’t think of the Portuguese word I use the Spanish one.  If I can’t remember that one, I speak German.  That confuses them, but I can’t stop these words coming out of my mouth.

At both electricidade and gáz, I sat and presented my passport and notarised contract of purchase (the deeds). The smart young man on the other side of the desk consulted his computer, hit a few buttons, frowned  and said, “Não existe, senhor.”  “Was?” I spouted, lapsing into German.  “O seu endereço não existe.”  My address does not exist.  I suggested that it effing well does because’d parted with a lot of money and slept there last night.  On the floor.  I added that I’d had to shower in cold water but at least I had water because the builder had rigged up a bypass to fool them all.  I invited them to come over to see that it is not a figment of my fevered imagination.  They could come and install the meters, I said.  They came, they saw, they looked at the empty meter cupboards, frowned at the pirated water supply, gazed at the ceiling for the flat that exists in their records and saw only blue sky because I am on the top floor.  Much shaking of heads.  There is, according to their computers, a lower mezzanine level, flats 1, 2 and 4.  Mine, Number 3, does not exist.  Ok, by this time, I had exhaused my limited range of Portuguese expletives and German ones aren’t really very effective.  Computer says no.  It’s a funny old world where people do not believe a notarised contract or the evidence of their own eyes if the computer tells them otherwise.  There’s a story there somewhere but I think ‘Little Britain’ got there first.  Long story short.  Their records refer to the building that was there originally; no one had told them it had been knocked down and rebuilt.  A sad little aside is that, apparently, there was orinally a No. 3 but it had no services.  Here’s how it works:  you see people sitting outside their front doors because the houses are dark and it saves on electricty.  Wood provides heat in the winter and you can always get bottled water to wash in.  Portugal is a poor country and a lot of people have to still live like that.  Really.

The services should finally all be connected today.  In the meantime, I have made extensive forays into that little bit of Sweden that we all know and hate so much.  OK, they gave us Abba as well but does it really have to be so bloody complicated?  You cruise around the glossy showroom, scribbling down little numbers and unponouncable names, then descend past pictures depicting Mediterranean scenes to the rotating knives.  The mangled flesh slurps down….oh, wrong building….you go down to the warehouse, lightly pick up your own 50kg boxes (a good job I did weight training) put them onto flatbed trolleys, then try to steer the laden leviathan to the checkout.  Of course, it doesn’t fit and you have to unload it all so they can scan everything.  Now I ‘m 3,000€ poorer and am faced with piling seventeen boxes weighting several tons into my little MX5.  I’ve always been surprised how much you can get into my little sports car, but it took one look at them, rolled over and died.  Nils desperandum.  IKEA have a transport service.  Smiles, more money and more paperwork.  Then it vanishes and you wonder whether you’ll ever see it again.  They’ve got my money and now they’ve all got all my stuff as well.  It’s clearly a good business to be in.

Anyway, next day it all arrived at my non-existent address and, with my screwdriver in hand, I managed to get it all together.  And, do you know, there was not one bolt or screw left over.  Well, I am an engineer.  I finally had a bed to sleep on and chairs to sit on, a coffee table to put my mug on and all that good stuff.  Shame it was dark so I couldn’t see anything.  Had a cold shower and went to bed.

In the morning, I was met by a pile of empty cardboard boxes that looked like a community bonfire for Guy Fawkes night. It almost reached the ceiling.  Now, what do you do in a small apartment on the third floor when you don’t even have a dustbin?  I can’t leave it out on the street to get washed away by the rain because it’s June and probably won’t rain again until November.  I can’t burn it without firebombing the city.  In the end, I found an ecopoint which had a vessel big enough but I still had to drag those boxes up the Himalayan hills to get to it.  No funicular railway.  I think it’s better than weight training and it’s good for the diet because, when I’m working, I forget to eat.

Now, it’s done.  I can sit and survey my new pied à terre with satisfaction.  Lisbon hustles past in the street below but it’s quite quiet here; just the hum of a city at work.  The occasional ambulance, a motorbike putt-putting away.  And it was all done with a screwdriver.  I asked my computer if it could help.

It said no.

Impressions of Lisbon

June 3, 2012

I’m slowly getting the feel of this city.  The first thing that strikes me is that it seems to be full of happy people, despite the recession.  The women are all smart, intelligent, beautiful and wear little make-up; they don’t need to.  The men seem to be sophisticated,well-dressed, well-educated and don’t exhibit that macho image that we see too much of in the Algarve.  Conversations in the cafés and parks are subdued, laced with smiles and laughter.  The language is spoken with care, precision and gentility.  Although this is a capital city where everything happens, the overall atmosphere is one of a life that is worth living, a mixture of work and play; you never get the impression of a rat-race.  It’s OK to sit in one of the thousands of street cafés and have a relaxed beer at lunchtime, and that can take up to two hours.   There’s none of that feeding frenzy that I was used to in the north.

Although our apartment is in Anjos, to the northeast of the citycentre, we stayed in a small hotel in Bairro Alto,to the west of the centre.  Bairro Alto is, I suppose, the latin quarter; in any other city, it would be called a slum, full of tall terraced houses that jostle up and down the hills, shoulder-to-shoulder, colourful, old, some run-down, some newly painted.  Lisbon was never bombed, so this part of the city is probably as it was centuries ago, with ornate little churches, cafés and restaurants.  It comes as a slight shock to the system to find out just how hilly Lisbon is.  In parts, the streets are so steep that there are funicular railways for those who can’t be bothered to drag their tired bones to the top.  From the summit of Bairro Alto, the views over the city are stunning.

As the sun goes down, the lights go up and the bars and clubs open their doors.  Some drink inside but most are on the cobbled streets, sitting, chatting, laughing, smoking.  Revellers mix with ladies of the night and the occasional drug dealer, but there is never that feeling of looming danger around the next street corner in a city that is so good-natured.  At around 2am, the city sleeps again and in the morning, there’s no reminder if it except the fag ends of the evening and the echoes of a good time.

The city is full of parks with monumental trees and, in late spring, the Jacarandas are in full bloom, leaving a field of lilac snow at your feet.  The sunlight dapples through leaves and branches and the old folks pass the time of day with each other while the yougsters drift past, hand-in-hand, their minds only on each other.  Statues of forgotten heroes and faded Imperial buildings with grand façades look down on the same street theatre that they have been watching for a couple of hundred years.  They will still be there when we’ve gone and new generations will repeat the experience of falling in love with a great city.

I think I’m falling in love again.