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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

SENSE AND INSENSITIVITY - A novel cover for cybercriminals?

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen fans will be horrified to hear that her novels are currently being used by cybercriminals to conceal online hacking.

Passages from Sense and Sensibility, written in 1811 and still one of the author's most enduring works, have been discovered 'wrapped around' malicious software, according to The Times newspaper this week. The aim is to to dupe virus scanners into believing that they are in the presence of a respectable web page. The hidden virus is then free to attack the victim's computer.

And, according to a report by technology company Cisco  UK, what they call 'Austen-based attacks' are on the rise. For users encountering unexpected references to their favourite Jane Austen characters - such as Elinor Dashwood and Mrs Jennings - on a web page may be perplexing but not a cause for alarm, says the report, 'but their lack of unease gives adversaries more opportunity...'

Hackers, it seems, also use text from magazines and blogs which prove a better strategy than using random strings of text.  Even more worrying is the suggestion that cybercriminals are increasingly mirroring the practice of legitimate businesses by setting up customer support lines and offering warranties to hackers who buy their software.

Meanwhile, mature 'newbie' authors like me who try to have a good online presence might be forgiven for disappearing into the attic to find ancient leather-bound copies of their favourite works. After all, if you can't join them you might as well beat them. What do you think?

Monday, 13 July 2015

Don't Mock Harper's PR - this is a genuine publicity stunt.

There's been nothing quite like it since Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned in 1960 or children's author JK Rowling finally  emerged as a crime writer...  readers just  love a controversy.

So it's  no surprise that  Harper Lee's sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird has hit the headlines on the day before it's due to hit the shops. After all, Go Set a Watchman has been eagerly anticipated for the last 50  years.

The problem is caused by Atticus Finch, the pro-equality lawyer at the centre of the original book who has reappeared as a racist bigot in the follow-up, according to today's Times Newspaper (and quite a few other tomes a well.)  Strange how this 'news' seems so relevant right now.

So what would I prefer to hear about? I really enjoyed the article in last weekend's Guardian about actress Mary Badham, who at just nine years old played  Scout, the lead role in the film of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her leading man was, of course, Gregory Peck, whom she  regarded as a surrogate father for much of her early life. Mary retired from acting when she was just fourteen - now that's some career path!

Interestingly, my favourite Times columnist Melanie Reid has  a few words  to say about both Scout
and  Harper Lee in her Notebook today.  Of the author she writes: 'She never wanted publicity or fame. I struggle to believe she would change her mind in old age. For me, it is faintly sick: the news reporters standing on the pavement outside her care home; directing cameras at the windows, or interviewing townsfolk; while the critics wait with sharpened pens for those once-rejected words.

Admittedly some of  Melanie Reid's thoughts  in this piece are a little tongue-in-cheek. But I prefer to believe that she says it like it is.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

To tell you the truth...

When was the last time you were truthful with yourself ? In a world of social media where everyone seems keen to impress, I think we may have forgotten how to be really honest about our feelings.

Which is why two articles written by authors for authors  have made a big impact on me this week. The first  was written by the highly successful and enormously likeable novelist Freya North. In this  summer's edition of The Author magazine, the journal of the Society of Authors,  Freya talks candidly about facing her doubts and fears, something we all have in our lives but often prefer to dismiss.

With a dozen best-selling novels over a twenty-year career,  the contemporary fiction writer admits
'until  recently I had never known the feeling of not being able to write and so, when it struck, I was floored.'

  'I had the book whirring around in the ether, close enough that I could sense every scene, yet too far away for me to hear what the characters were saying. They were talking behind my back but every time I turned they were gone.'

Her mind, she admits was bursting, but the screen remained blank. It was months before  her latest novel, aptly named The Turning Point, was finally finished.

Freya's story of how she suffered from, and dealt with, writer's block, will no doubt bring comfort to anyone who believes it is not fashionable to admit to any kind of failing.

Meanwhile, it is six years  since Annie Barrows took on the authorship of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, when her aunt Mary Ann Schafer became ill. Sadly her aunt  died without witnessing the book's worldwide success (more than six million copies sold in 37 countries) but not without leaving a very important legacy.

Annie who was already well-known  in the States as a prolific writer of children's books, most notably the Ivy and Bean series,  says writing for adult readers was a very big learning curve.

Interviewed in this month's Writing Magazine, she  explains how the change affected her.

'As a children's book writer, you have to write so tight, you have to keep it spare, you have to know everything that's going to happen before you write a word, you have to have everything planned - so I lost my mind when I got to write for grown-ups.'  '

Her new book had so many drafts it resulted in a 57 inch high mountain of paper that took a very long time to edit.  'When I started with  The Truth According to Us....I was enjoying myself, as my editor said, far too much. I was playing with my characters......and I hadn't really got the story.

Set in America in the 1930s the book is described as an engrossing tale of small time secrets and family tragedy.

'This is a novel,' she says, about the stories families tell, not to outsiders but to themselves.' She goes on ' I don't really think there's any such thing as a fact. There's what people believe about themselves and their pasts and the stories they tell themselves and how they create a narrative out of their lives.

Which brings me back to my reason for writing this post.  Authors or not, we all have a story to tell. Without stories life would be very dull.

But instead of trying to impress the world,  should we try now and then to face our failings? It might make a whole lot of people sigh with relief after all.


Monday, 22 June 2015

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know

I came across a piece on actor Rupert Everett this week in an eighties copy of Cosmopolitan magazine (yes - I'm a hoarder!) The Most Promising Actor of 1982 and star of 'Another Country,' was interviewed by journalist and soon-to-be TV star Paula Yates. He told her;  'I want to be successful not just famous, and not just for lots of money. I want to be in position where I can choose what do, which parts I'll play.'
Interesting then, that Everett was quoted this week as saying people now think they have right to everything they want.

'People have forgotten how to communicate, he says. 'Even sex is conducted online. No one's looking outwards anymore. We've been trained over the last 30 years to be as selfish as possible. 

In the new X Factor world it's enough just to want it. The creative mantra is, 'I want this so much.' They want it so they have a right to have it.' 


I am sure Rupert Everett has worked very hard for his success and  deserves everything he has achieved, but isn't it amazing how the years can change our views?


The actor, who is now 56, is currently in the Italian coastal town of Taormina, which has been hosting the 61st Taormina Film Festival this week.


Read the full article here



Monday, 8 June 2015

Oh, to write like Einstein...

Einstein and his handwriting courtesy of The Times newspaper
I have always been envious of people with  handwriting that flows along the page  symmetrically and is easy to read. My own handwriting has been the butt of so many jokes over the years and  sometimes I do struggle to read it myself. So I'm delighted to hear of  new software that mimics the  'elegant handwriting of Einstein' according to The Times newspaper  today.

The Einstein  font is the brainchild of German typographer Harald Geisler and Elizabeth Waterhouse, (a dancer with a Harvard physics degree!)  It is based on samples of the great  physicist's handwriting taken from hundreds of notebooks, essays and letters.

The inventors wanted to see if  writing in Einstein's script could change a person's relationship with what they are writing or thinking. 'For example,' said Mr Geisler, 'when you wear something nice like a Prada shirt, your body language changes.' (Please wait while I go and buy a Prada shirt to test this theory.)

According to Miss Waterhouse 'Einstein was a thinker with both beautiful ideas and graceful penmanship.' She added 'The idea  of genius handwriting that everyone can use is deliberately wonderful and ironic.'

A fundraising campaign to pay for the development of the font has been hugely successful. Its  release is scheduled for the end of this year to celebrate the centenary of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

As for me - if I type using this amazing new font AND wear designer clothes at the same time - I'll be happy.


Monday, 25 May 2015

No Greater Love...

Marie Colvin
 Marie Colvin - Photo courtesy of The Times newspaper
      When Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times war correspondent, set out on her fatal assignment to Syria three years ago, she carried with her a  heavy manuscript contained in a small knapsack.  After she was killed in a rocket attack  the 387-page unpublished novel, Gospel Prism by Gerald Weaver, was recovered with  her few belongings.

      In her role as war correspondent for the Sunday Times Marie was regarded by her peers as unsurpassable.  Despite losing her left eye when she was hit by a Sri Lankan  rocket-propelled grenade in 2001,  she still managed to file her report on time. From then on she wore the black eye patch which became her trademark.

      In a remarkably honest podcast  Weaver, who has been described as Marie's first love and lifelong friend, talks about her with deep affection.  She was, he says, the one who encouraged him to write  about  'our friendship and our relationship' adding 'Marie was the father of the book and I was the mother.'

      The author  describes his debut novel as ' a detective story with a spiritual aspect' but it is clearly so much more than this.

      'I carry Marie around inside me a lot' he says simply.

       Gospel Prism was  published on May 23 2015 and  is dedicated to Marie Colvin's memory.

      Monday, 18 May 2015


      Behind every picture there is a story.

      These two  service medals  (below) were given to me by my daughter on the anniversary of VE Day,  to add to my collection of World War Two memorabilia.  With them came a photograph of their owner, Lieutenant R Greenwood,  taken in February 1942  and a snap of two young soldiers.

       'I knew you would want to know the story behind it,' my daughter wrote. And she was right!
      Is one of these men Lieutenant Greenwood?

      Lieutenant R Greenwood

      Why did he have a scar on the bridge of his nose? Is he one of the younger men in the snapshot? What did he do after the war?If Lieutenant Greenwood was a member or friend of your family, I'd love to know. Whatever the truth he's a lasting symbol of every war hero who finally made it back home.

      Monday, 11 May 2015

      Dear Guernsey.... a letter to an old friend

      GILL CULLEN, a Guernsey girl now living in  Vancouver,  wrote this  letter to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Channel Islands. It has touched my  heart and the hearts  of  so many people and is reproduced  here with her  kind permission. Thanks, Gill.   Long live Freedom!
      Torteval Church, Guernsey

      Dear Guernsey

      How I wish I could be with you this year . This 70th celebration of the end of the Occupation.
      How many years I have sat and listened to stories of your Occupation , from my father ... Stories of trepidation and daring , Of victory signs , Of tea dances , of curfews (often missed . With bad recompense ) Of hunger .. Of seaweed bread ... Of cabbage soup , Of Crystal sets , Of prisoners of war .....
      My childhood was during a time of recovery for you, dear Guernsey ... And I embraced your lovely beaches , your windswept shores , your crashing waves ...
      Ferry rides ...watching every wave as it broke on the bow of the "Martha Gun " or the " Capstan" or the " Lady Dorothy "
      Other Liberation days when a trip to Herm was often in order to help celebrate ..and to walk through the fair on the way back ....
      My life has taken me away from your beautiful shores , but my heart remains a Guernsey Girl, an islander through and through ...
      I would love to to stand with everyone this year, on this anniversary .. So many of our loved ones gone .. Yet I am sure still present .. In the cry of the seagulls or in the rise and fall of the tide ...
      I miss you always more on days like this ..
      Yet you always welcome me back with open arms and a warm hug 

       Enjoy your day, dear Guernsey ........
      You will always be my first love ...
      My Sarnia Cherie ....