Imposter Experience? Embrace It.

Writers all over the world talk about Imposter Syndrome*, that feeling your success is undeserved and that one day the world will collectively blink, take a good long look at you and realise you are some kind of fraud.

It’s something that affects people in many walks of life, creative or not. You would think it should be a simple thing to look at your own achievements and accept the success that years of experience, hard work, and learning, have brought. For many people it’s not always so. I’ll admit to being one of them. I don’t think my writing is good enough, I try with every piece I write to be a better writer. It’s the same with my leather-craft and, even though I can see the results and know I’m getting better, on some days I still feel like I’m an amateur.

I love our garden and creating the right conditions for helping things grow – to eat or for the pure pleasure of seeing them there. Gardening is also great for letting the mind wander where it will.  This morning I was sweeping up leaves, cutting dead fronds off the Dicksonias, and getting the grass out around the bulbs that are just starting to show. As I was working it occurred to me that maybe this Imposter Experience* is not such a bad thing.

One thing I find useful during my ruminations is to turn things around: What if up was down, black was white, happy was sad? How does that make me feel about things? What, I wondered, if there was no such thing as Imposter Experience?

If I was content with everything I’d achieved wouldn’t I run the risk of becoming complacent, sit on my laurels, and stop trying to get better? Nobody knows everything. The experience of writing each story is different, long form or short. I’d be a real fool if I thought there was nothing left for me to learn, and that would be far worse.

I think this feeling of being some kind of imposter, while not being a very nice experience, is actually one of the things we should take strength from. That doubt shows that, while we might not be as good as we want to be, we acknowledge that fact and are trying to be better. And so we will be.

~

* We shouldn’t think of it as an illness or a syndrome. Pauline Clance, one of the clinical Psychologists who first wrote about it now believes it should be called Imposter Experience,

(This article was first posted in January 2018 on the Milford SF blog)

Science for Fiction – Calling all UK SF Writers

The brilliant Science for Fiction event curated by Dr. David Clements at Imperial College London is back!

Where else can you spend a day and a half with friendly NASA scientists, and university researchers  and professors talking about their work – and then ask them your SF-questions too?

Last year was brilliant. I blogged about it here. I am sure this year will be just as fascinating, inspiring, and informative. And it’s always good to meet new people as well as writer friends I’ve not seen for too long.

Here’s what David has announced so far:

We now have dates for Science for Fiction 2018!
They will be 4 and 5 July, starting after lunch on 4th, and all day on the 5th.
Cost will be £30 as before, though some funds are available to help those in need of support.
Registration is by email to me. I will be advertising this more broadly as we have a nice lecture theatre this year.
Please also let me know any subject requests and any dietary requirements.

David’s email is davecl (at) mac (dot) com.

I shall definitely be going again. I hope to see some of you there!

~

Tesla Powerwall 2 – Full Winter Sun

Graph 1 – Sat 24 Feb

I’ve been waiting for a couple of days of consecutive sunny weather and finally they arrived. The news was as good as i hoped it would be. There are several ways to show this, so lets start with Graph 1, the full 24 hours for Saturday.

The graph shows mains draw in white, Solar generation in yellow and battery charge and discharge below and above the line. It was a beautiful clear and cold day, the Solar generation is almost a perfect curve. Mains draw fell to zero as the Solar took over, and stayed there except for some tiny blips throughout the day.

 

Graph 2 – Sun 25 Feb

Once the sun set the Powerwall took over, and ran and ran. There was still around 12% charge on Sunday morning, another clear day. Graph 2 shows the next day and does include mains draw, but there is virtually none. Graph 3 shows mains on its own, and it is tiny, only 0.2 kW from midnight to 4pm.

The Sunday charge ran through until Monday morning. By the then the weather had changed, and it’s now cloudy, cold, and snowing. Before that happened we were effectively off-grid for 48 hours.

In February.

Graph 3 – Sun 25 Feb. Mains only

 

That’s not all. Part of the installation was an additional switch to divert current to the hot water tank immersion when there was sufficient charge. We’re having our bathroom refitted, that fat spike in Graph two around 8:30 – to 9am is the immersion heater kicking in after a long hot bath, the first we’ve had for a few days. No gas was used to heat that water, just sunshine.

There are a couple of things I don’t understand: why there is that mini draw from the mains when the Powerwall is charged, and what the rules are for the immersion discharge. I’ll talk to the installers and report back. I’m not concerned, these two days have really proved the functionality of the system.

Can’t wait for the summer now!

~

 

 

 

 

 

Tesla Powerwall2 – One Month On

Having the Powerwall installed has made two things very obvious. First, just how much solar energy is available even on a short sunny winter day. And second, how much of that goes to waste with just a solar PV array.

Chart 1 – Friday

The days are slowly, slowly getting longer, and just four weeks after solstice there is a noticeable difference in generation. Last Friday was a day of clear blue skies from dawn to dusk, my 3.8kW solar PV peaked at 2.5kW generation, and by the end of the day the Powerwall had reached 50% charge starting from empty.

Chart 1 Shows PV generation (yellow) starting about 8am. Soon after grid draw (white) drops to zero and stays there for the rest of the day. (How excellent is that?) While the sun shines the PV runs the house and also charges the Powerwall (green). When the sun sets the Powerwall runs the house for the rest of the day.

Chart 2

 

That’s not the end of it because a 50% charge is enough to (almost) run the house through the night until the morning. I say almost because you can see four little blips between about 2am and 6am where there is a very small draw from the grid. The Powerwall will be at a very low charge state by then and I’ve seen before how discharge appears to gracefully decline rather than just stop.

I’m still not sure what those 1kW spikes are at night. I suspect the chest freezer but am not sure how to prove it.

That 50% charge very nearly carried the house through a full 24 hours. Had the next day been a sunny one that would have carried on and we’d have as near as dammit been off-grid in January. This being winter in England there’s been nothing but grey skies, sleet and rain since then, with very little PV generation.

Even so, I’m impressed. 50% is not quite enough, but 60% should do it. Give it another few weeks and cold clear February skies, maybe a 60% charge, and we should be there. It’s going to happen and I now believe it will be much sooner in the year than I first expected. A 100% charge is some way off yet, but when that happens I am excited to see how the other gadget I had installed along with the Powerwall behaves.

Watch this space.

~

 

Tesla Powerwall2 – The first few days

I’ve had a Solar PV array on the roof since around 2010. Earlier this month I had a Tesla Powerwall2 battery fitted. This is a 14kW battery that saves excess solar generation to run the house later in the day.

The first few days have been interesting.  Even this time of year it’s clear a sunny day is enough to charge it to about 30% (About 4.5 kW). You can see this from yesterday’s graph.

– White is mains power usage

– Yellow is Solar PV generation

– Green is Powerwall charge/discharge

The mains draw drops to zero as the Solar PV starts to generate and takes over powering the house. Excess solar generation now charges the Powerwall (the green under the line. Generation maxes at about 2.5 kW (on a 3.8 kW array).  I was surprised a December sun can do this.

Around 15:30 the sun goes and the Powerwall  then discharges to run the house until between 20:00 and 21:00 when it begins what looks like a graceful decline in output.
You can also see when we get home about 4pm and put the kettle on! Other spike are, I think, a mix of kettle, washing machine, and the fridge & freezer.

The result is that even in December the battery can lift self-powering from about 10% Solar only to 43% solar/battery combined. Sunny days only, however. Today with rain/cloud, and sun it will be less, but still something. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens in the summer months and hoping we will go off-grid for long periods.

In other news, the installers did struggle with configuring the control unit – a separate unit to the battery that manages the power flow etc. This need a firmware upgrade to get it working, provided remotely by Tesla, and it then was clear that the WiFi module is faulty. At the moment it is directly connect via UTP to a Wifi network extender I happened to have spare. So it IS all working but I am waiting a replacement unit.

None of this is the fault of the installers, who have worked above and beyond, and I’m putting this down to being a very early adopter in the UK. So far I’m very happy and slightly obsessed with the whole thing.

~

Weasel Words & Their Allies

I have fulminated about weasel-words at least once before. I’ve been doing a fair amount of critical reading recently and while my opinions on many things have changed over the years I find the same words ­­­– these weasel words – still bug me for the same reasons. Here are a few of them and why they rattle my cage.

Almost, Seemed, Appeared

Pwimula Nesbytt pulled the saddle from Bismarck, her faithful battle-mole. She seemed to be upset about something.

Only seemed to be? And only about something. Do we care, do I need to worry? Either Pwimula is upset, or she isn’t. If she isn’t, don’t mention it. If she is, then you should say so, say why, and describe how she is upset – angry, tearful, irritated. Not doing so creates a false tension that for implies the author, rather than the characters, is uncertain about what is happening.

Pwimula brushed away a tear as she unsaddled Bismarck. She laid her head against the side of her faithful battle-mole and listened to its faltering heart.

 There’s a place in language for all words in the same way there is a place in the kitchen for everything that belongs in the kitchen.  However, you don’t keep the milk in the oven or the iron in the fridge.*

I don’t like words like ‘seemed’, ‘appeared,’ ‘almost’ because they make action and emotion imprecise, and introduce uncertainty or doubt. That’s not to say they don’t work well in the right place:

‘How was she?’
‘She seemed to be upset. Then she laughed. I didn’t know what to make of it.’

He and She

I once became frustrated with the opening of a book because the main character was introduced as ‘She’. Page after page the novel wore on, and She did this and She did that. If the author had been in the room I’d have been begging on my knees, ‘For God’s sake, just tell me her name.’

This is an example of deliberate withholding for no good purpose. Another example of false tension. There’s something the reader needs to know and it doesn’t create drama, mystery or tension not telling them. In fact you’re doing your own story a disservice by not saying. The effect is distancing. And for me it is annoying.

Very rarely should the anonymous ‘He’ break the catch and slip through the window. It should at very least be the assassin, the randy lover or the desperate messenger. If it’s the hero of the story just tell us his or her name. Give the reader something to work with.

Of course ‘he said.’ And ‘she said.’ are almost always the best ways to tag dialogue.

Words ending ’ing’

There’s a place for these words (inflected verbs) but I try not to use them because I think they stifle description and flatten tone towards passive.

He was writing, he  looked out the window and saw it was raining.

You can’t get away with writing ‘It rained.’ as easily as you can say ‘It was raining.’ You need to qualify ‘It rained’ with description, sensation. How was it raining? Falling like soft mist or stinging whips?

A good exercise is to go through a piece of writing, remove all your ‘ing’ words and replace them with more sense-driven phrases.

Bogus accents

There are two main ways of doing this, both horrid. They are character speech and writing style, often over-seasoned with rampant anachronism:

Buboe sprang from his artful hidey-hole. ‘Gis ‘e’ ‘ere yer blimmin’ fancies, posh boy.’
‘Avaunt, blaggard, step thee kerb-wards, pronto!’ expostulated Fontleroi.

Cod formalism and mangled speech are not how you create texture and tone. And it’s, like, completely bogus, dude.

So these are some of the things that bug me, and I try to avoid them. I’m sure you have a few of your own.

~

*If I have in fact been getting this wrong all my life, please let me know.

 

Two Book Reviews: The Fountain in the Forest, and The Capinga Questions

Once again the books I’m moved to review are fitting neatly into pairs. Here are two novels set against backgrounds of recent political history. Both have rather broken policeman as the focal character. In almost all other respects they are very different, and very good.

The Fountain in the Forest, Tony White

This engaging and absorbing story starts as a classically police procedural – crime scenes are described in close detail, and the police methodology feels as authentic as the attitudes and banter of the police themselves. DS Rex King of the Metropolitan Police is an outsider of a cop, a man who doesn’t fit in. He’s the perfect person to investigate the murder of an unknown man found hanging and mutilated in his friend’s theatrical studio.

Except he’s not. He has a deeply awkward relationship with some officers, his education and background keep him at arms-length with the rest. He’s not popular. He treads on toes. He gets the job done.

While the crime may have been committed in the present the roots to the case lies in the past. White interleaves the two narratives skillfully. The investigation and King’s own life move forwards while the origins of the murder are revealed in another place and time, and in another country – the Fountain in the Forest.

The politics of the Thatcher era are integral to this book. White clearly wants to write about the prices paid there, the brutality and the loss of a kind of innocence. For Rex King and many others the ripples from those times still spread out today, wider and wider.

DS King is not an easy character but he’s hard to dislike. While I found the level of detail description in the early parts a little too much, White’s writing is vivid, his characters complex and original, the structure just the right side of ambitious. Tony White is always interesting, occasionally experimental, sometimes bold. This was a compelling book and it still lingers in my mind.

The Capinga Questions, Damian P. O’Connor

This is the second of O’Connor’s ‘Smithy & Mostert’ books of set in apartheid South Africa.

There’s plenty of dirt when you’re fighting an illegal and secret war in Namibia. When one of the enemy camps is destroyed by SA forces, international accusations of chemical weapons use means an investigation is required. Smithy is the right man for the job. Because this is a military crime he’s assigned Trudi Mostert, a savy, intelligent female officer.

The relationship between these two characters is core to this riveting book. Mostert is smart and brave, as a female Army officer she needs to be. She deftly fends off Smithy’s inept attentions; he’s outclassed in so many ways.

Needless to say, the true reasons they are sent to investigate the alleged gas-bombing, and the answers that are really wanted are different things entirely.

Sergeant Smith is more cunning than smart, a reactionary by upbringing, pitiably naïve and morally unilluminated. He’s young but he’s made terrible mistakes and done very bad things. One slow step at a time he’s dragging himself out of the mire of prejudice and violence that defines the apartheid state – and him. The deeds haunt him, the consequences will never let him go. The Bureau for State Security (BOSS) know what he’s done and it won’t let him alone either. As a result when the dirty jobs need doing Smithy is the man they send for.

The era of apartheid South Africa is one that needs writing about, it needs fiction to help tell the stories of a brutal, murderous time of intolerance and hate. In The Capinga Questions O’Connor writes about some of them in direct and accessible ways. What’s it like to be a state-sanctioned murderer, a gay man in that state’s army, the child of a monster, a human being?

It bemuses and frustrates me that a writer as good as O’Connor doesn’t get more recognition. His story-telling is compelling, the stories themselves are outstanding.  The world he describes feels utterly authentic. You can feel the dust on your teeth, the action is riveting, the revelations – well, you’ll need to find out for yourself.

~

Both these books are bout things that happened in the past, and the cost. I can think of no better way to put it than O’Connor’s own prelude:

‘It’s easy to ask questions. The hard part is listening to the answers. And the hardest part of all is asking the right questions and then listening to the hard answers.’

The Fountain in the Forest, Tony White, Faber & FaberAvailable Jan 2018

The Capinga Questions, Damian P. O’ConnorOut now

 

Two Book Reviews – Hotsuka’s Story, and A Wizard’s Henchman

Hotsuka’s Story, by JF Mehentee

Hotsuka, an immortal being, falls in love with a mortal woman. In punishment he is banished, imprisoned, tortured, and finally stripped of his powers and made near-human himself. Despite this he is still intimately involved in a great power-play among the ruling immortals because he has changed that game. As a result of his affair there is a child, half human and half god.

While some immortals want to destroy Hotsuka, others protect him. As he lives his life as a human Hotsuka begins to understand the great harm he has done to the mortal woman he loved, and the risks to his child.

This is a highly readable, engaging and smart story of becoming aware of consequences and living with them, and how sometimes amends cannot be made. Set in a richly detailed world Hotsuka’s Story is an original and imaginative tale. If you are looking for intelligent and beautifully written fantasy in an Asian/Eastern mythological setting I strongly recommend this book.

Hotsuka’s Story is the first of six books in the Dragon Pearl series. I read this as an ARC.

~

A Wizard’s Henchman, by Matthew Hughes, PS Publications

Erm Kaslo is smart muscle for hire, a highly competent and rather dangerous man. Yet the world, indeed the universe as he knows it, is about to change in a catastrophic way. Along with computers, guns and spaceships all his skills and special equipment will soon count for nothing. Kaslo is a survivor. He attaches himself to a man currently thought to be eccentric, if not mad, but soon to become a power-player beyond imagination – a magician.

If you enjoy the works of the great Jack Vance (and I do), then there is a very good chance you will like this book a lot. Hughes writes a very close pastiche of Vance’s mannered, witty and slightly baroque style. His humour is dry, his observations mordant.

Yet Vance was a romantic, almost all his books included matters of the heart. There’s nothing of that here – if you’re looking for female characters you will find them only in minor supporting roles. And Kaslo at times can be brutally cruel. Hughes is not Vance and it’s wrong to expect him to be. He’s clearly a huge fan and this book is a wonderful and near-perfect homage. It and the others in this series are set in the universe as it might have been before the Dying Earth novels.

It’s wrong to judge a writer – especially one as good as Hughes – by a single book. For me the gender omission is the only obvious flaw. I greatly enjoyed A Wizard’s Henchman and will be reading more of Hughes’s work soon.

~

Why Every Writer Should Join the ALCS

ALCSALCS, the UK Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, collects secondary royalties on behalf of writers for work published in the UK, and campaigns and lobbies on writers’ rights at national and international levels. The society is now in its 40th year and to date has paid £450 million to its 90,000 members.

These royalties come from photocopying & scanning by business, education and other organisations, overseas library lending, re-transmission, and several other sources. There’s more detailed information on their website.

Not every writer knows the ALCS exists. Everyone should be, and everyone should join. Lifetime membership costs only £36.00 GBP, deductible from your first royalty payment. In fact if you are a member of the Society of Authors or one of a few other organisations, membership is free.

I wasn’t sure of membership is open to all nationalities so I contacted the ALCS and they confirm that is the case – anyone can join.

So why should you join? Well, why shouldn’t you? If you have had any magazine articles, short stories, novels, scripts, etc published, you may well be owed money and the ALCS will collect it for you .

I’m by no means a widely-published writer but my payments are worth having – my last payment was just under £150.00. Honestly, I have no idea where this comes from and am very grateful to the ALCS for their collection efforts! So far, year by year, this has slowly grown. More successful writers payments are quite substantial.

Once you’ve joined all you need to do is register existing work and add new publications as they come along. Then, once a year, you can look forwards to some  extra income from your hard work.

Which reminds me, I need to update my publications.

~

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Dodged a Bullet

It’s time to ‘fess up: I’ve been putting off that thing I had been meaning to do for too long. As a consequence I woke up yesterday to find my Amazon account had been hacked.

So instead of spending the day writing I started by cancelling my credit card, talking to Amazon, and then doing my high-tech version of bolting the stable door after the horse had gone – moving all my passwords over to a secure password manager. In my case, LastPass.

I’m not a security expert but I am tech-savvy. I’ve been working in IT for 30+ years, I try to be cautious online and I don’t feel I’m complacent about the risks. Even so, it wasn’t enough, they got me. The Bastards.

The thing is, I knew it. I’ve learned with my writing not to ignore the little voice in my head that says ‘You can’t get away with that’ about some aspect of the story. I had a similar voice about this. ‘Oh, I’ll get around to it,’ was my invariable response. Not only should I not have ignored it, I knew it too.

People – don’t ignore this. Make a start now. It’s a mild pain to go through the process, but once you’re done it’s done. In the end it is a change of behaviour and  it will help keep you safe online.

I browsed reviews on tech sites for an hour and then picked LastPass. DashLane is also an excellent choice. Both operate the freemium model, the DashLane Pro version is more expensive.

There are also several other well-reviewed and highly rated password managers. Most work on the popular browsers and operating systems. Here’s a review and comparison of LastPass & DashLane, including a feature chart of other products.

LastPass is reasonably easy to use. It does tend to accumulate duplicates of sites where you have changed a password but that’s easy to spot and manage. On FireFox I noticed a ‘feature’ where your list of sites blanks and you have to log out/in again, also not really a big problem.

Password managers work transparently for most sites, once you’re set up they log you in without keystrokes. LastPass can run a password strength audit, and will generate secure long random passwords for you too (You can view these if you need to.) Sites that ask for characters selected from a keyword or similar will still need some action from you however.

In the end for me – no harm done, just some stress, worry, and wasted time and inconvenience. It’s a pain to be without a credit card for a week, but the bank was immediately helpful. Amazon were also great – they froze my account, reversed the transactions the hacker had made, and returned the account to me all within the day. Once I had my account back I set up a secure password and deleted the credit card info on the account.

The only thing that was hard was finding out how to contact Amazon without an active account. All the contact info is behind the account login wall. A quick Google for ‘Amazon telephone’ returned 0800 279 7234 though obviously that may change with time.

So, lesson learned. People, please learn from my mistakes and make a start now. Today if possible. Right now.  Then, like Jimmy in my flash piece below, you’ll get away with it.

~

Jimmy Checks Out

Pow!

He’d caught a bullet.

Snatch! Just like that.

He’d seen it coming he told them later. He’d snatched that motherfucker right out of the air. Burned his palm but that was OK. Anyways, it wasn’t a real bullet, it was a copy. Nice one, too.

How did Jimmy know? He knew because you couldn’t do that with real bullets. You couldn’t catch ‘em.

Jimmy flipped the bullet, caught it, and slipped it into his pocket. Guy who fired it wouldn’t mind. Guy like that, he’d have a whole bunch of bullets. He could spare a few.