Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bright Lights, Big City

I’m not normally a nervous traveller. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time, both with and without my parents, hopping around the globe. Flying was a freedom and meeting new people was a celebration.

Then 9/11, 7/7, and an overdose happened and suddenly my confidence was shot to Hell. I didn’t want to leave the safety of my own country. Because of it, I missed out on some amazing opportunities.

In mid-2013, I had an email from a friend. Would I like a week in Vegas? Vegas has always been one of those places I’ve wanted to visit. For well over a decade, I pined for the bright lights, the jingling slot machines, and the desert warmth (for the record, I’m not a fan of the heat, nor the sun). I wanted to see what it was like living a higher roller life on a bookies pay cheque.

On April 11th, I boarded my first flight in nearly a decade and, within minutes, was reminded why I love flying so much. There’s a freedom to breaking free to gravity, to feeling the wheels rumble over the asphalt before the ground disappears and the plane makes for the sky. I’d forgotten how nice it was to sit back with a drink and watch a film. I’d forgotten what it was like to make friends with the cabin crew. I’d forgotten what it was like to look out of the window and watch the sea below.

The downside was it was a long flight. Due to cost restraints, I’d split it in two and changed planes in New York. On the upside, I got to show a young girl the New York skyline as we came in to land. She’d never seen it before and it was a pleasure to point out the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. On the return trip, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a gentleman who was making his first trip to the UK. He was coming to see family he hadn’t seen for over thirty years. It was an honour to sit next to him and talk about our lives. It brought tears to my eyes to be the first to welcome him to the UK.

Vegas is exactly as you’d imagine it to be. It’s all bright lights and loud music. There’s slot machines everywhere and adverts for shows and restaurants decorate the cabs and buildings. Unfortunately it’s no longer the Vegas of yore. Gone are the sub-$5 buffets and no longer do you hear the jangle of thousands of quarters dropping from machines. The hotels crank up charges for whatever they can (beware of the “resort fees” if you ever visit. I knew of them before I went but they were still a shock to the poor credit card on my return).

Yet, Vegas is what you make it and I had experiences that I’ll never get again. How many times are you going to be able to stand comfortably at the carrier of a concert? I did and, in the process, managed to shoot 200+ photos of one of my favourite bands (I’m still sorting through them all!). Where else are you going to have free drinks brought to you while you gamble? Yep, did that as well! Partied down on Freemont Street? I can check that off my Bucket List too! (Incidentally, we’re thinking of staying down there next time. Apparently there will be a next time)

I also had the honour of looking around the legendary Sound City Studios, but that requires a blog post all of its own. We also visited the apartment where Megadeth were formed back in 1983 and did a drive by on Studio 606 (Prize to the first person who can name who that belongs to!). We danced on Santa Monica beach and rode the carousel on the pier. We watched the sun set over Hollywood.

Would I do Vegas and LA again? Oh, heck yes! Without a doubt I’d go again. Hopefully, next time, it’ll be for longer…

Rae’s Vegas Tips and Tricks

Here’s a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way.

  • Know the resort fees before you go. These change from year to year and the only way to get out of paying them is if you spend enough over your resort. We were with the MGM group so get a player’s card and use it everywhere you can.
  • The player’s card (M-Life if you’re with the MGM group) will get you discounts and helps rack up points towards your next visit. Keep it on you at all times.
  • Carry water with you everywhere. It’s surprising how quickly air conditioning and the desert heat can dry your throat. Some stores and restaurants will refill bottles for free (Lush in Mandalay Bay were awesome for this).
  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen – ‘cause that desert sun is brutal.
  • Budget about $200 a day for food, drink, and all the pretties you want to buy. Budget more if you’re going to gamble.
  • If you have an addictive personality, know your limits when it comes to gambling. Give your cards and cash to a friend to hold if you’re worried. All casinos, by law, have to carry the number of Gambling Anonymous. Call it if you need it.
  • All the resorts are linked by trams, monorails, and walkways. Be prepared to walk. A lot.
  • If you don’t want to walk, the buses run 24 hours up and down the Strip. It’s $8 for a 24 hour pass.
  • See all the sights. The Bellagio fountains, the Venetian canals, and the New York New York skyline. They’re free so make the most of them!
  • Do Freemont Street. It’s the old part of Vegas and you’ll find lots of like minded people to let loose with. There’s nothing quite like dancing in the street! Plus, it’s cheaper than the Strip.
  • Talk to people because guidebooks only tell you so much.
  • People don’t care what you look like. Dress up to the nines, or go and play blackjack in your onesie!
  •  Go with friends. Or make new ones while you're out there. Vegas is a hell of a lot more fun with company!

Friday, 25 April 2014

Ghost and Girl

Back in February, I was given the opportunity to speak on the wonderful Ghost and Girl blog. Sarah and Laura are two amazingly supportive and encouraging women whose idea of paranormal research goes beyond the normal. They've kindly returned the favour and written a post for the Veetu Industries blog. Without further ado, I'll let them speak to you.


I'd like to start this post by expressing my gratitude to Rae for inviting GHOST & GIRL to make this entry on her blog. It is most appreciated.

The purpose of this post is to tell you about an online paranormal project called GHOST & GIRL. My friend, Laura, and I came up with the idea in the last quarter of 2013, and launched on the 3rd January this year. Both Laura and I have a shared interest in the paranormal, specifically in ghosts and a spiritual realm. Our interest in the topic has come from necessity more so than choice, as we've both had paranormal experiences that stretch right back into early childhood.

As a child, when I would wake in the middle of the night to find shadowy figures moving about my bedroom, I was convinced that the Devil had come to take me. I grew up in a family that simply did not talk of ghosts, ever, but we were a regular church-going Christian family, and as such, I knew who the Devil was. However, as I got older, and with the shadow figures continuing to make a regular appearance, I became less certain of what it is that I was seeing, and the reasoning for it. Logic is forever telling me that there must be a "reasonable explanation" for the things I have seen, heard and felt, and yet I still do not have an answer to the multitude of questions that plague me.

Whilst there are numerous blogs, online journals, websites, and "paranormal research" groups scattered all over the World Wide Web, the information that both we are particularly keen to discover just isn't there. There may be hints of it, traces, scraps and mere mentions, but nothing of real substance. Therefore, the idea behind GHOST & GIRL is to take ghost stories and personal experiences and look at them in great detail from differing perspectives. It's not so much as trying to prove that ghosts and other spiritual entities exist, but rather, trying to discover the common points of interest that may lead someone to have a paranormal experience.

As time passes, we hope that by considering historical, spiritual, scientific and psychological interpretations of the paranormal, we might be able to develop some conclusions. In addition to the personal experience, we also consider the following influences on our understandings of the paranormal:

* The historical development of the spiritual;
* Religion and spiritual hierarchies;
* Urban legends and the influence of the internet;
* Cultural perceptions;
* Scientific theories and hypothesis;
* The development of spirit communication tools;
* Spirit photography;
* The rise of the "ghost hunter" in popular culture;
* Demonological considerations; and
* Parapsychology.

At GHOST & GIRL we are forever mindful that not everything "unexplained" is paranormal, and try our best not to jump to ghostly conclusions. However, we theorise that the key to understanding the paranormal may be found in the personal experience, which we feel is too often dismissed in modern paranormal investigation and research. Yet we do not want to limit the personal experiences shared at GHOST & GIRL to just our own. This would restrict our ability to truly consider the meaning of them.

We hope to use GHOST & GIRL as a means by which we can interact with people right across the globe; that is, the believers, the steadfast sceptics, and the people in between. We want to hear every story, impression and opinion. We would love to hear from laypeople and professionals alike, from a variety of backgrounds. We want to consider and share the knowledge.

Right now, we don't have the answers, but we're embarking on an intelligent journey of discovery to find them.

Can you help?



Friday, 4 April 2014

Interview: Mark Barry

I've been itching to interview Mark and I've finally been able to snare him! Mark's latest book, The Night Porter, is out now (The paperback looks amazing and I can't wait to get stuck in!). As well as that, he's a HUGE supporter of Indie authors and self-publishing. He's also written a slew of books with subjects ranging from witchcraft to football violence to the life of the night porter. Sticking to genres? Not in Mark's world!!


Hi Mark! How are you?

I’m in terrific form, thank you, Rae. And how are you?

I'm doing good! Packing my bags ready to go travelling. Tell us a bit about yourself.

The gorgeous Mark Barry
I’m a writer and publisher of Independent contemporary fiction. I am approaching my fiftieth birthday (if anyone wants to send me a card and a biscuit), have one son (who I adore) a close family and some terrific friends. I support Notts County, enjoy horse racing, rock music, collecting comics and most of all, reading and collecting books. I also run the Wizard’s Cauldron dedicated author interview site where you and I first spoke, oh great Steampunky one.

How did you get into writing? What inspired you to start? What was the first book you put out?

I’ve always written but it was the advent of Kindle that inspired me to set up the business. I mean, WOW. Look at the environment we work in, Rae.

No evil publishers obsessed with sales and marketing. No vicious, nasty slush pile guardians, (frustrated writers all); no three year wait for your book to go live and no pernickety editors telling you what you can and cannot do with YOUR OWN work.

Ultra Violence” has to be one of my favourite books of the year. It’s gritty and real and doesn’t sugar coat the topics it approaches. Your writing is brilliantly unapologetic which I think is one of the reasons I’ve really been enjoying it. What made you say, “Right, I’m going to write a book about football hooliganism.”?

I have, er, some experience of the lifestyle that UV portrays. Many other clubs had their own books on hooliganism – particularly the big ones, the Birminghams, the Millwalls, the West Hams – but I thought there were enough stories from my club, Notts County, to justify a short novel. It made the right decision as it has proved popular.

For the uninitiated, what exactly is a football firm?

It’s an organised gang of men whose intention is to fight opposing football supporters at football matches. They usually have names, like Millwall’s Bushwhackers or Sheffield United’s Blades Business Crew or Birmingham City’s Zulu Warriors. The newest phenomenon is the ages of the men involved. You might think that a sixty three year old being arrested for fighting on a Saturday afternoon is a bit far-fetched, but it happened in January in Burnley. Several fifty year olds were also arrested. I wrote about it in the sequel to UV and this kind of over aged scrapping is becoming more and more common. It is clearly extremely addictive and difficult to give up.

We don’t see as much about the football firms as we used to. At one point, they seemed to be in the news every weekend. Have they died down? Or do they just not get the news coverage they used to?

Rae, I must stress, football violence is a shadow of its former self and you can go to most matches now and not see an eyebrow raised in anger, thanks to brutal, neo-fascist policing, draconian prison sentences from a compliant judiciary, soulless all-seater stadiums, a fly’s eye array of CCTV cameras and most of all, changing attitudes, as I wrote about in the second last chapter of UV. We might live in a shitty society, Rae, but it is no longer a particularly violent one and hooliganism of many kinds has gone out of fashion. Saying that, you do see it about. I know the dad of one of the lads in the article below. His son got a three and a half stretch for his (minor) part in this Saturday afternoon disagreement between Lincoln City and Luton Town.

You’re quite a sports buff. Do you have any tips for us for the coming year? Who do we need to look out for in the Grand National?

Two horses. Tidal Bay and Long Run. I love my horse and greyhound racing, In the days before mobile telephones, my ex-wife and friends knew to find me in the bookies at the end of the road. These two horses are quality animals and, now the fences are a lot safer than they used to be, classy animals tend to do well. The latter won the Cheltenham Gold Cup a couple of years ago.

When it comes to writing, you’re quite a genre buster and don’t stick to the same topics in every book. We’ve had witchcraft, football, and now one about modern publishing. How do people respond to you not staying in one little niche? Do the readers enjoy not knowing what they’ll get from you next? Do you recommend that authors explore outside of one genre?

Genre is absolutely critical in Indie, Rae. This may seem surprising for me to admit, but its been my experience. Unfortunately, I don’t have a genre so this has hampered my progress. With the exception of one book, I have been quite well reviewed by the community and readers have been kind. One of my books sold a respectable amount, but I do suffer from this wandering soul tendency. I don’t read genre books and therefore I don’t write them. I like books which defy characterisation. The Dice Man, Luke Rhinehart. Night Train and London Fields, Martin Amis. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace.

My best written book is Hollywood Shakedown and yet, because it doesn’t have a genre, I cannot sell it. It is a paradox I cannot break out of. Even I don’t know how to categorise Shakedown and if I cannot do it, how does a busy reader do so? Technically, I have never written a more complete book and I doubt whether I ever will. Seven or eight people who have made it through its hundred thousand words think it is a fantastic book – and more of my readers consider it my best than any other - but I do wish I had added a whodunit to turn it into crime fiction or a talking goblin to turn it into fantasy. For me, not having a genre has killed Shakedown and its lack of success has been the saddest part of my journey into Indie. As a book, it pees all over UV, yet the latter has sold thousands more because it has a specific, notarised, unimpeachable, indisputable genre.

What are your views on publishing at the moment? Do you think, much like the music and film industries, that they’re still playing catch up with modern technology? Do you think they there’s any more changes the industry will make in the coming years?

Unless you are very, very lucky. I suspect the days of writing for money are over, Rae. Expectations need to change. Too many writers (and I feel a hypocrite for saying this, bearing in mind an earlier answer), chase too few readers. Look at music. Once a goldmine as deep as the Grand Canyon, now a talented wannabe band will be lucky to make a pie and a pint after a birthday gig at the local boozer. Shared between four. At one point, bands made all their money from albums and lost money from tours. Now, thanks to Napster and download culture, its reversed.

Also, I think that the much anticipated gatekeeper at Amazon is coming, Rae, and not just for formatting, spellos etc. They have bought several publishing imprints and are pumping out their own authors – as my terrific friend Lelani Black told me – and they will probably feel that the presence of a rougharse Indie book is more trouble than it is worth.

The kids have it right, Rae. At the street level, the kids are fantastic, all that YA stuff. They work together, support each other to the end, run a barter economy, reciprocally buy each other’s books regardless of quality, blog tour each other, review each other, act like a tribe, and generally play the game properly. Many authors my age could learn a lot from the YA community. I know I could. Some older authors I have bumped into would rather remove their own teeth with a lump hammer than retweet another author’s work and that’s a shame. The only way to sustain this level of quite bizarre economic madness is to create barter economy groups between authors, but that’s for another post….

One of my huge gripes is the amount of different file formats we have for e-readers. This, of course, isn’t the fault of the publishers and I’m forever thankful to all the publishers who offer different format downloads. But often I find that I can’t get a book for my reader (I use a Kobo because, unlike many other devices, it’s survived the “Rach Warranty Test” and not broken into a million pieces). Do you think there will come a time when, like with digital music, there will be a standard file format which is used across all readers? Is it something that companies need to look at, especially as many formats are DRM protected and unable to be converted to be used on other devices?

Rae, do you know what, you’ve stumped me here. I only ever deal with Amazon and Createspace. I figured B & N and Smashwords were only really beneficial to American writers, so I stuck with those. Personally, I think that if there were to be a standard file format – and you won’t like this, my friend – it will be a Kindle one. They are a global locust swarm who could eventually monopolise publishing in a couple of decades. Sorry I couldn’t give you a better answer – I know how much you love planes and engineering

If you had to give one tip to an indie author, what would it be?

Write short books. Noone can be arsed to read long books, sadly, as my shelves are full of the blighters and I tend to write them too. A book less than 50k should do it.

Oh, and don’t stop reading. An author who does not read defeats the whole object of Indie and will not develop either. In fact, you need to read more and more the more you write.

Be nice to people on the way up because you are sure to meet them on the way down.

You’ve just brought out “The Night Porter”, which I’m really looking forward to reading. What’s it about? What inspired it?

It’s based in a hotel at the end of my road which houses four authors who are about to attend a prestigious
literary awards ceremony. One writes thrillers, another YA, another romance, and the fourth is a self pubbed contemporary fiction author. The hyper-professional Night Porter looks after them all for the duration of their stay. There is a whodunit, commentary on the world of writing, some nasty observations, ego, bitterness, laughter, snappy patter, a beautiful hotel, a betting market for the categories and lots of book chat and plenty of jokes. It’s my most accessible book – my biggest critic likes it, which is a HUGE relief – and I enjoyed writing it. It’s inspired by many things, but mostly people. I like writing about people and I like conversations. Not dialogue – there is a difference between dialogue and a conversation – and the book is full of the latter.

I also wanted to write a paperback book that is so professionally produced, no one would ever know it is Indie. The back blurb is going on after the notices are returned, but I think I am on the right lines, Rae,

Pimp yourself! Where can we find you online?

Dedicated Interview Blog:
Information about Green Wizard, Extracts etc

Thanks so much, Mark! It’s always awesome to talk to you! The Night Porter is out now in paperback and on Kindle. Enjoy!