pen and paper

Jo Thomas – Writer

By day, Jo Thomas is a compliance advisor for a waste resource company – basically an environmentalist hiding in an office. After work, she’s a writer, editor, Hellhound wrangler and Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) hobbyist. Her second novel and second anthology are due out from Fox Spirit Books this year.

Good things to read.

My first nomination for a good read is The Future Fire, a quarterly(ish) online speculative fiction magazine that publishes short stories up to 10,000 words. All of the stories are on individual web pages so, due to the length of them, you should be able to read them one at a time without burning out your retinas if you’re reading on a standard screen. Specifically what I like about TFF is that the material they put out is very… egalitarian. They have a mission statement to be as inclusive as possible. In clumsier hands than their current editor, it could end up preachy. In reality, it just makes the science fiction and fantasy they publish that little bit more welcoming to people who aren’t the “average” (male, white, young, straight, cisgendered, neurotypical, etc, etc). Because full disclosure is necessary, they have picked up a few of my stories and one is due out in the March issue. (Also, I’m not male, I’m edging out of the young and I’m not neurotypical.)

My own reading and writing tends to fall to the fantasy end of the speculative fiction and my favourite book – or the one I go around enthusing about when I get talking – tends to be The Deed Of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. It’s available as three books or an omnibus. In many ways it’s a standard Tolkien-like fantasy set in a medieval not-quite-Europe with elves and dwarves. But there are minor differences that make it stand out, at least to me. Elizabeth Moon has a military background and an interest in HEMA. She’s also done a lot of research into the historical aspects, including the Roman and Germanic law codes. The result is a very believeable journey along the path from young farm hand to fantasy paladin. If you’re into this kind of fantasy, whether through films, books or games, I recommend Paksenarrion as a good read.

The “environmental” in the mention of the day job up there may have been a hint that I have an interest in things Green. I also like the Hulk, BattleCat and Kermit, but I didn’t mean that kind of green. A book I recommend for getting in to this is one of my readers from university (back in the day) called A Green History Of The World by Clive Ponting. The version I have is the one first published in 1993 but he also reissued it with some changes in 2007. As Clive Ponting seems to be more interested in explaining how resources can become overused – a version of the Tragedy of The Commons – I consider it a history book with a focus on resource use rather than a specifically environmental book. However, it’ll give you a taste of the issues involved in being “an environmentalist”.

Good things to watch.

My first nomination is the 1973/1974 duo The Three Musketeers and the Four Musketeers. I am aware these are two films but the people who made them weren’t until they came out. I understand it caused quite a stir at the time. However, my interest is because I love the novel by Alexandre Dumas, père, but understand that not everyone wants to wade through old fashioned prose. These two films capture the storyline and intent beautifully. They have good actors chewing the scenery, some fun and well choreographed fencing scenes (pay special attention to how each of the Musketeers has their own fighting style!), and much snarking from the background peasantry.

My other two nominations are going to stick with the fencing theme – but not quite as seriously, because films should be fun. Although it looks as good, the fencing is more obviously Flynning in the 1952 Scaramouche. What makes this melodrama impressive is the final fight, which is to date the longest fencing scene ever filmed and was apparently blocked out as one sequence, although what we see is probably several takes. This film being a fifties production, it’s all bright colours and significant glances and highly enjoyable. It is, of course, based on a book and the adaption leaves quite a lot out if you’re interested in picking up the book afterwards.

The last good thing to watch I’m going to recommend is The Court Jester from 1955. I’ll start by explaining that Danny Kaye couldn’t fence. However, he had the esteemed Basil Rathbone (yes, that one) to teach him enough Flynning to get through the film. Basil Rathbone, it ought to be stressed, was a fencer and basically obsessed with smallswords and epees. Danny Kaye, however, was a great performer who could do an extremely physical sequence that involves his character being hypnotised into being a great fencer – and snapping between fantastic Flynning and being a clumsy jester whenever he hears fingers click. It’s a very funny film if you like old movies.

Good things to use.

As a writer, I hear and read plenty of recommendations for software for writing. Programs that will allow you to set goals or keep track of multiple story lines or track your submissions or put sticky notes all over your desktop. However, the best thing to start with if you’re interested in giving it a go is the basics. So here are some basics:

If you think old style might be the way forward, get yourself a notebook and pen or pencil – this may also work for drawing but I can’t answer for that. I barely even doodle these days. They don’t even have to be wonderful notepads or amazing pens. I find that I like writing this way on train journeys but can’t seem to sit down to it in other circumstances. On the other hand, pen and paper will work when computers run out of electricity.

I like to pretend I’m a rebel so I haven’t allowed Microsoft near my PC for years. As a result, I don’t use the standard Microsoft Office. What I use is the freely available LibreOffice suite – although donations are appreciated by the team and if you’re going to use them on a commercial basis (i.e. as a company) you may need to pay. It’s worth noting that LibreOffice is just one of several similar packages, it’s just the one I have. So, if you want to try writing (or spreadsheets, or presentations, or basic databases) on your home computer without paying for the full Microsoft licence, look up “OpenOffice” and try out a variant or two.

Get yourself a large mug, for whatever your choice of poison is. Something that holds about twice as much as your average cuppa. If you get into this writing lark, you’re going to need it. Not all shops will sell the bigger cups, so you may need to do some hunting to find them – and then you need to find one you can put up with staring at when your mind’s gone blank!

Connect with Jo on Twitter, @Journeymouse.

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Nathan Powell – Freelance Designer

Nathan Powell is a visual designer living in Madrid, Spain. He’s author of The Designer’s Guide to Freelancing and founder of nusii an online proposal service for designers and creative types.

Good things to read.

1984 by George Orwell. Orwell sat down to write 1984, over 60 years ago, and his vision of the future was staggeringly accurate. Big Brother is here, and has been for quite some time. 1984 is about repression, a totalitarian state and 24 hour surveillance. The paranoid in me loves this book. I read it nearly every year, and it just never gets old.

Start Small, Stay Small by Rob Walling. Start small, stay small is not a “get rich, quick” book, but one that shows the possibilities available to anyone wanting to grow beyond a 9 to 5 existence. While it was originally written for developers (no geek speak necessary), the content is just as valuable to designers, or any first time entrepreneur looking to create their own digital service or product. It pushed me to want something more than just client work.

Everything I know by Paul Jarvis. I read this book at the end of last year, and it’s one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read on the subject of creative life. We all struggle, we struggle to find the right clients, we struggle to stay motivated and to stay true to ourselves. Paul talks about his own struggles and makes you feel that you’re not alone. It’s 100% inspiring and will give you the creative kick in the ass you need.

Good things to watch.

Breaking Bad. I couldn’t talk about good things to watch without mentioning Breaking Bad. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do watch series. Breaking Bad is based around the life of Walt White. Walt’s a chemistry teacher who finds out he has cancer, not wanting to leave his family penniless, he decides to start cooking Meth… as you do. While the first season is slow, it does set the scene for some of the best TV ever made. Everyone deserves a bit of Heisenberg in their life.

The Sopranos.  Tony Soprano is a mob chief with a heart, albeit a twisted, black one. He’ll put a bullet in you and then agonise over it for months with his shrink. He’s a family man in every sense, and while he’s capable of horrific acts, he also has the capacity to be incredibly humane, in a Tony Soprano kind of way… “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in”.

Jaws.  I almost feel I should apologise for this one, but it’s old school summer blockbusterness at its best! I’ve seen it more times than I can remember and it still gets me. Yes, the shark is plastic, yes people really got hurt (the first victim had her ribs broken on camera, hence the chilling screams) and yes Roy Scheider was always old. A true classic. Hurray!

Good things to use.

A smartphone. There’s no doubt that Apple changed the way we work, rest and play (or was that Mars bar), and I can no longer imagine life without my smartphone. I use my phone to keep up with family back home (VOIP), keep up to date with my work schedule, get around Spain with GPS, answer urgent emails, sign contracts, you name it. Aside from my laptop, it’s my most valuable tool. Love them or hate them, there’s no getting away from smartphones.

Alfred. The first thing I do after a clean install of OSX is install Alfred. I can’t work on a mac without it. It’s a reflex action to hit ALT+Space and BAM! Access to anything. Alfred lets you get to any app, file or website in a second. I never use the launch bar, that would be wasting valuable seconds. Once you’ve tried Alfred, which incidentally is free, you’ll never go back. It’s the most used app on my laptop.

Pen and paper When I wake up at 3 in the morning with an idea that would otherwise be lost, it goes down on paper. Invariably the paper gets lost, but it gets written down anyway. It’s nice to have something that’s old school. Digital alternatives are great, but not at 3 in the morning. Long live the pen and paper.

JK Rowling – best selling author

These are JK Rowling’s good things.

What are some good things you’ve read?

Emma by Jane Austen. “You’re drawn into the story, and you come out the other end, and you know you’ve seen something great in action.”

Regarding Roddy Doyle, Rowling said “I love all his books.”

Cheri by Colette.  “Chéri is a love story between a very spoiled young man and his mistress who has “been there, done that.” He’s self-centered and vicious, and she ultimately turns out to be very noble. The final scene is incredibly moving; it makes me cry.”

More of Rowling’s bookshelf at Oprah.

What are some good things you’ve watched?

A Matter of Life and Death is my favorite film.”

The Fabulous Baker Boys.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I was Rowling’s favorite Potter book to movie adaptation.

What are some good things you’ve used?

There is this pen and paper sketch from Order of the Phoenix.

According to Scholastic, Rowling likes Sushi.