Search This Blog

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.