Marketing tip for Indie / self-published authors

Have you, like me, been voraciously reading all the advice for self-published authors on how to actually sell your books? My problem is that my books (about horses and film) present a bit of a cross-genre quandary and so are a bit more difficult to market. I’ve been pursuing all the advice about building up social media (shame I didn’t start before publishing…) and so on and I’ve advertised in the horse media and in the film media. I even took out an ad in the UK Sunday paper The Observer but that was definitely not a good return for the cost in my case despite its millions of readers.

A lot of the advice around is along the lines of “go with giveaways”. Amazon’s Kindle Select programme allows you to do just that with the ebook version of your book and you can do it with paperbacks through Goodreads. I’ve done both but got very little back in terms of reviews (though they can lift your book up a little in the ratings and you can make useful connections on Goodreads).   

Anyhow, the latest thing I’ve tried is Story Cartel – and so far, it’s looking good. Story Cartel offers readers free books in return for an honest review.  Story Cartel comment that they are “a home to any kind of book you could imagine, from nail-biting thrillers to tender romance novels, serious literary fiction to self-help non-fiction”. It does cost ($30 – or under £18 at current exchange rate).

It’s important to point out that Story Cartel isn’t about buying reviews. It isn’t about manipulating people into giving your book five-star reviews. But remember, even low star reviews can help your ratings on amazon (and if all your reviews are 5 star, conspiracy theorists might think they’re all written by your relatives…).

Anyway, I’m part-way though the 3 weeks my book is on free offer for and so far I have garnered more reviews than I did with Goodreads and for half the cost. So right now, if you too need more reviews, I’m recommending giving Story Cartel a go. (Watch this space to see if it gets better by the end of my 3 weeks).

You can check out my book on Story Cartel – and find out more about the what Story Cartel has to offer both readers and writers here: http://storycartel.com/books/horse-and-pony-colours-which-one-would-you-choose

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Run for Glory – stunning film about a stunning racehorse

If you like horses, racing or classical music – or all three – do check out Run for Glory – Ode to a horse.

It’s a fictional account of a race horse from foaling to a tremendous win.  Director Ahmed Jamalat was inspired by fabulous Derby winner (1994) Erhaab. Erhaab’s win is said by the experts to have been a particularly exhilarating win. I missed that one – are there any readers out there who saw it and can confirm this (or otherwise)?

The film shows a mix of ups and downs in the life of the horse and his owners. I think the film’s particular success comes through his use of music to enhance the audience’s emotions. It’s set to two movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Herbert von Karajan).

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Publicity pictures copyright Melville Arts

Be warned though. The film runs for only 35 minutes and it’s certainly not a Disney style film. And at £15 (at the time of writing) the DVD is not cheap. If it’s your sort of film it’s definitely worth it though. If in doubt, as ever you can check out the trailer on YouTube. Better still, the film has its own website at:  http://lifeofahorse.com/

(for more horses in more films, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film (Kindle or paperback)

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Lone Ranger: ten top (and real) horse stunts

Spoiler Alert: this may contain a few spoilers so… you might want to watch the film first.

The Lone Ranger film has now reached TV (at least here in the UK) so I’m re-issuing this (original, similar post in December 2013).  Also the DVD is out). This film has some tremendous horse stunts – some of which were filmed for real (a refreshing break from the  CGI). Yet the American Humane Association has given it the all-clear, issuing its famous “No animals were harmed” in the making of this film. So how did they do it?

The American Humane Association often posts film reviews which give some of the answers to this question. (They’ve got a great website). So this is what I found out:

For a start, as a matter of course, the horses used included specially trained “falling horses” and “lay down horses” that fell on cue and when they did that, their landing area was specially prepared to be soft.

lone ranger

Here’s how ten of the best horse stunts were filmed:

  1. In the scene where the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, picks up a bottle with his mouth and appears to drink beer out of it, horse trainers placed a rubber beer bottle into the horse’s mouth and then pulled gently on his rein to make it look as if he’s drinking it.
  2. The dead horse lying on top of a Texas Ranger was fake.
  3. In the scene where the Indians ride round the barn, shooting their guns in the air, the area was cordoned off by production with fencing. Only quarter load blanks were used (these are very light). After the action, wranglers came in to calm the horses down.
  4. Where Silver jumps from high up out of a burning barn and runs off in the distance, production achieved this image by capturing the horse jumping from a small height with different camera angles. The film crew used wands, each of which was on fire, at seven points to make it looks as if the fire was surrounding the barn. They placed a smoke pot in front of a strong wind machine. The horse actually jumped from a small platform onto mats and soft footing.
  5. OK, this one did use a tiny bit of CGI: In the scene where Silver licks off the scorpions from Tonto and Lone Ranger’s faces, two fake heads were placed in the sand, and covered with treats. The horse bent down to eat the treats from the fake heads – the scorpions were added into the film later by CGI.
  6. In the same scene, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are buried up to their necks and Silver pulls Tonto out of the ground by having him bite onto the reins while Silver backs up, pulling him out. This scene was accomplished by having the two actors buried in a special box with their heads sticking out. Trainers had the horse bend his head down, whereupon the actor bites onto the rein. The horse then backed up, so it looks like he’s pulling the actor out of the ground.
  7. In a scene where a stable explodes and the horses escape from the explosion, trainers built fence posts outside the corral to keep them in place as they run from the stable. The crew placed mortars under the ground which set off small explosions of dust – but the mortars were never near the horses. The explosions in fact took place after the horses were cleared from the set.
  8. In the scene where the Lone Ranger rides Silver across the rooftops, the crew had constructed a set made to look like the flat roofs of town buildings. There was a ramp for the horse at each end. A stuntman rode the horse from point A to point B, jumping over small barriers along the way.
  9. In one of the most exciting scenes, where the Lone Ranger rides his horse on the train jumping from car to car, the production crew had built a set that looked like the top of a train. The trainer rode the horse up a ramp to the set, and rode on the set, jumping on a blue screen placed between the two carriages. The horse was never actually galloping on a moving train.
  10. In the scene where the man pushes the woman off the train and she lands on the horse facing the Lone Ranger, riding face to face, the production team filmed the actors facing each other on the horse riding at a relatively slow pace, then the film was speeded up.

Like horses in film? Try “Lights! Camera! Gallop! The story of the horse in Film”. Lots of photos too.

Ebook on the Horse in Film - under £7 from http://tinyurl.com/lightscameragallop http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lights-Camera-Gallop-story-horse-ebook/dp/B0092SU57Y/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1400246580&sr=8-2&keywords=lights+camera+gallop

Truly wild horses! Przewalski’s horses

Ever wondered what a wild horse would look like? Or how it would behave? One descended from a complete line of wild, undomesticated horses? I’ve been fortunate enough see those in Woburn Safari Park (about 50 miles north of London, UK) and even more fortunate to be able to interview an animal keeper at Woburn Safari Park who knows them well.

The other horses or ponies you think of today as wild are actually descended from escaped or released domesticated horses. This includes the mustangs of America, the brumbies of Australia, the “wild” horses of Namibia and so on.  Free-roaming ponies such as those in the UK’s New Forest or on Dartmoor are all owned and protected in various ways. New Forest ponies for example are regularly rounded up, given a health check and even have their tails cut to indicate what where their owners are from.

Przewalski’s horses, though, are the last surviving subspecies of wild horse. They’re the real thing. The first person to write about them scientifically was a 19th century Russian explorer named – yes, you guessed it – Przewalski. These horses used to roam the steppe (treeless grasslands) along the Mongolian border with China. Gradually though because of hunting and the disappearance of their habitat with the spread of humans across the steppes their numbers dwindled. They became very nearly extinct. Still, some Przewalski’s horses were kept safe and bred in captivity – but not domesticated. Today there are about 1,500 of them, mostly in zoos though some have been re-introduced back into Mongolia and China.

Compared with the usual, domesticated, horse Przewalski’s horses have a shorter, more muscular body and they’re smaller (about 12 to 14 hands high). They have a pale belly and beige to reddish-brown coat. They have a striking dark mane that sticks up. Here’s a picture of the ones in Woburn.

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Animal keeper Tom Robson’s job includes looking after Woburn’s Przewalski’s horses – when he’s not tending to the giraffes, rhinos and zebras. He told me they’ve got six Przewalski’s horses: two mares and four geldings. They are part of the international breeding programme to keep the breed alive. They stick together as a small herd, with one more dominant male.

The care of these horses is similar to that of rugged native UK breeds – in Woburn they’re kept on grass with a hard-standing area (which helps keep their hooves sound) with supplemental hay, chaff and pasture nuts provided when necessary and they have access to shelters. Like American mustangs, they’re very sensitive about their hooves. Like most herbivores, their main preoccupation is eating but Tom has seen them playing the occasional chasing game. A snippet from Woburn that tickled me is that the keepers give the horses’ hoof trimmings to the wolves – who just love to roll on them.

So, overall, Przewalski’s horses are similar in many ways to domestic and free-roaming horses but they certainly look a bit different. While I was in Woburn Safari Park, I heard a Dad confidently telling his small son that they were “donkeys with small ears”.  What do you think?

To read about wild horses in film, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film

http://tinyurl.com/lightscameragallop

http://www.lesleylodge.co.uk

Fracking – how bad could it go? check out Thine Own Well

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In the UK, fracking took a step further this week with two new applications. And I’ve just read a book that shows us a possible future for us – if it all goes badly….

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Here’s my review:

Canada 2036

From Thine Own Well, a dystopian novel set in 2036, presents a fearfully realistic picture of what could be. The starting point for a number of worrying developments takes actual agreements and statutes in place in 2012, in particular the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, which sets out how foreign conglomerates are not compelled to comply with national legislation. Unconstrained fracking has led to the contamination of the water table and the fracking companies have reacted ruthlessly and greedily, controlling the only drinking water. The poisoning of a young girl then sets the scene for conflicts between horrified civilians and thuggish fracking company personnel.

This book has a wide range characters on both sides of the conflicts and I confess I was a little confused at first, but they are all well-drawn and each has his/her own distinct characteristics. I particularly liked the rough and ready “outdoor” guy Landon and there are a number of feisty female protagonists. There’s plenty of tension in the main story of civilians versus corporate conglomerates but there’s a further dramatic tension as story moves between the various groups of civilians and their different approaches – peaceful resistance or meeting violence with violence. The story also shows the viewpoints of several distinctly drawn bad guys (male and female).

Necessarily there is a fair amount of exposition, to bring the reader up to date with developments from the present day to 2036 – but rest assured, there’s plenty of excitement and action, from sinister threats through violence to the chaos of an earthquake. Enjoy

For more, read on:

Blurb:

Noxious substances in the watershed brings a society to its knees; fracking by oil companies has taken its toll.

Canadian society has been altered, seemingly irrevocably; water resources have become scarce and individual freedoms cast off.

It is now 2036, only 24 years since the most devastating of a series of international accords, one simply known as The Agreement, set the precedent for many that followed – effectively causing the federal government to collapse into ruin and dependency on corporatist rule.

Unrestricted fracking and irresponsible mining practices have caused major watersheds and underground streams to become contaminated, the precious fluid – noxious.

The sole purpose of The Coalition, a regulatory body created by the world-wide conglomerates that took over the governing of the country is to ensure the profitability of its corporate members.

In Yukon, Canada’s far north, a baker’s dozen of unknown, everyday people and one dog are loosely thrown together in an effort to combat The Coalition and its impact on Canadian lives and the environment.

Join Landon, Nora, Galen and the others who, through no design of their own, have become the unknown hope for Canada’s future. Will they prevail in the small jurisdiction they reside in and set the bar for the rest of Canada?

Only time will tell.

***************

Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTYsjdt4CQE

From Thine Own Well at Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18387288-from-thine-own-well?ac=1

From Thine Own Well at Amazon – http://amzn.to/19bUP20

From Thine Own Well atSmashwords – http://tinyurl.com/ny68b6t

From Thine Own Well at Kobo  –http://tinyurl.com/lul7a9z

The author is Norm HamiltonNorm (1951- ) lived in Whitehorse, Yukon for 40 years. In December 2012 he retired and is currently on Vancouver Island with his wife, Anna, where he is meeting people and experiencing new adventures to write about. He trusts that retirement will afford him the time to delve further into his writing. This photographer, freelance writer, copy-editor, proofreader and novelist is currently enjoying Lake Cowichan, B.C.

Here he is:

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Norm’s latest project is a novel titled, “From Thine Own Well,” a story about a dystopian Canadian society brought about by unrestricted gas fracking and irresponsible mining techniques. It all began with a FIPA agreement in 2012 that left the federal government open to lawsuits – that they lost. This book is available as a paperback on Amazon, and as an eBook on Amazon Smashwords, Kobo and other online retailers.

Norm has written one non-fiction book, “The Digital Eye.” It is a compilation of articles for people wanting to improve their photography skills or for those who want to learn digital photography. This book is available as a paperback on Amazon, and as an eBook on Amazon Smashwords, Kobo and other online retailers.

Book Page  http://fromthineownwell.normhamilton.ca

Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/NormHamiltonWriter

Website http://normhamilton.ca/writer/

Want to read an excerpt:

Sample Text from Chapter 1

The vastness west of Whitehorse was bathed in a golden glow as the sun rose over McIntyre Mountain. No stirring of animals or ruffling of birds signalled the beginning of the day; there hadn’t been any for over 15 years.

Landon McGuire grunted as he rolled over on the makeshift bunk in his cabin at the south end of Coal Lake. He squinted against the blazing sunlight that flooded the single window beside the wooden slab door. The smell of the rough-sawn plank floor permeated the air and dust particles sparkled in the glowing rays that streamed through the chinks in the walls. The 45-gallon drum wood stove in the corner had seen better days as a pile of fine ashes dribbled on the floor beneath its door.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and pushed his six-foot frame to a sitting position. His head ached from the effort to drown his memories with home-distilled spruce gin. Gawd, he thought, my mouth tastes like sap. Breakfast was out of the question. After pulling his greying hair back and securing it into a pony-tail with an elastic band, he scoured the floor for his clothes.

His mind wandered back to the years he’d worked in mining exploration, spending weeks at a time in the wilderness staking claims. It had been a wonderful period in his life; time outdoors and Wenda waiting at home when he came back. He remembered the mines taking pains to ensure they caused as little interference to the environment as was humanly possible.

Then it had all changed. After The Agreement, the mining industry got careless in their approach to resource extraction. He became saddened and ashamed to be a part of it. His sadness had turned to despair when Wenda died. It was then that he had quit and moved to the cabin. He still questioned if the carelessness of the mines or oil and gas companies had contributed to her death. Since then, he’d sought solace as a recluse and had as little to do with other people as possible.

A scratching on the floor from beneath the mattress interrupted his thoughts and announced the awakening of his husky-shepherd cross dog, Bob. Landon interrupted his search to watch as Bob stretched, pointing one hind leg at a time behind him. Then, ears up and tail switching back and forth, he wiggled his white and black body over to Landon.

“What d’ya think, Bob? Should we head out to the horseshoe?” His question was met with a vigorously wagging tail. Landon was planning a hike to a hidden location where he could collect fresh water without having to purchase it from The Coalition.

His eyes took in the cabin—spartan, but always kept clean and tidy. Wenda had always insisted their home be spotless. A cracked mirror on the wash stand reflected a day’s growth of stubble on his leathered face that he decided could wait another day. He pulled on an old pair of blue jeans and shoved his socked feet into a pair of well-worn boots. The early August sun beat down on the cabin as he stuffed a warm fleece and waterproof jacket into a backpack in preparation for the drop in temperature during the hike into the mountains.

Things have sure changed, he thought as he strapped a 44-magnum around his waist and slid a pair of throwing knives into sleeves prepared for them on his bandoleer. He could remember when there was no need for weapons other than a rifle in case of bears. Now, with the water situation, it was desperate people that were of more concern. After slinging a .308 calibre Winchester over his right shoulder, he headed out the door with Bob following close behind.

As soon as they were in the open, Landon stopped to listen, peering in all directions, looking for any indication of others. Satisfied that no one was around, he grabbed the handle of the cart with the empty water vessels and struck off on the 14-kilometre trek to the crescent-shaped bowl west of his cabin near Coal Lake that had been formed by the Ibex volcano in some distant past.

Clean water was no longer readily available as it was in the days before The Agreement. Even the water near his cabin was suspect. They were headed for one of the few spots left where the water ran clean and pure.

Landon smiled, noticing the forest trail was showing signs of lack of use as the vegetation began to overgrow it. He always liked it when nature reclaimed its space. As they walked, Landon kept an eye on Bob, watching for any reactions to their surroundings. The dog could feel, instinctively, when someone, or something, was near.

For more go to:

From Thine Own Well at Amazon – http://amzn.to/19bUP20

From Thine Own Well at Smashwords – http://tinyurl.com/ny68b6t

From Thine Own Well at Kobo  –http://tinyurl.com/lul7a9z

The Lone Ranger – ten exciting horse stunts explained

Spoiler Alert: this may contain a few spoilers so… you might want to watch the film first.

The Lone Ranger film has now reached TV (at least here in the UK) so I’m re-issuing this . (And the DVD is out). This film has some tremendous horse stunts – some of which were filmed for real (a refreshing break from the  CGI). Yet the American Humane Association has given it the all-clear, issuing its famous “No animals were harmed” in the making of this film. So how did they do it?

The American Humane Association often posts film reviews which give some of the answers to this question. (They’ve got a great website). So this is what I found out:

For a start, as a matter of course, the horses used included specially trained “falling horses” and “lay down horses” that fell on cue and when they did that, their landing area was specially prepared to be soft.

Image

Here’s how ten of the best horse stunts were filmed:

  1. In the scene where the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, picks up a bottle with his mouth and appears to drink beer out of it, horse trainers placed a rubber beer bottle into the horse’s mouth and then pulled gently on his rein to make it look as if he’s drinking it.
  2. The dead horse lying on top of a Texas Ranger was fake.
  3. In the scene where the Indians ride round the barn, shooting their guns in the air, the area was cordoned off by production with fencing. Only quarter load blanks were used (these are very light). After the action, wranglers came in to calm the horses down.
  4. Where Silver jumps from high up out of a burning barn and runs off in the distance, production achieved this image by capturing the horse jumping from a small height with different camera angles. The film crew used wands, each of which was on fire, at seven points to make it looks as if the fire was surrounding the barn. They placed a smoke pot in front of a strong wind machine. The horse actually jumped from a small platform onto mats and soft footing.
  5. OK, this one did use a tiny bit of CGI: In the scene where Silver licks off the scorpions from Tonto and Lone Ranger’s faces, two fake heads were placed in the sand, and covered with treats. The horse bent down to eat the treats from the fake heads – the scorpions were added into the film later by CGI.
  6. In the same scene, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are buried up to their necks and Silver pulls Tonto out of the ground by having him bite onto the reins while Silver backs up, pulling him out. This scene was accomplished by having the two actors buried in a special box with their heads sticking out. Trainers had the horse bend his head down, whereupon the actor bites onto the rein. The horse then backed up, so it looks like he’s pulling the actor out of the ground.
  7. In a scene where a stable explodes and the horses escape from the explosion, trainers built fence posts outside the corral to keep them in place as they run from the stable. The crew placed mortars under the ground which set off small explosions of dust – but the mortars were never near the horses. The explosions in fact took place after the horses were cleared from the set.
  8. In the scene where the Lone Ranger rides Silver across the rooftops, the crew had constructed a set made to look like the flat roofs of town buildings. There was a ramp for the horse at each end. A stuntman rode the horse from point A to point B, jumping over small barriers along the way.
  9. In one of the most exciting scenes, where the Lone Ranger rides his horse on the train jumping from car to car, the production crew had built a set that looked like the top of a train. The trainer rode the horse up a ramp to the set, and rode on the set, jumping on a blue screen placed between the two carriages. The horse was never actually galloping on a moving train.
  10. In the scene where the man pushes the woman off the train and she lands on the horse facing the Lone Ranger, riding face to face, the production team filmed the actors facing each other on the horse riding at a relatively slow pace, then the film was speeded up.

Horse and Pony Colours: Which one would you choose? (Colourful Christmas present?)

“A good horse is never a bad color!” I absolutely agree. But, just supposing you could choose the perfect colour for your horse – or the horse or pony of your dreams, which colour would it be?

When I had the idea for my third book, I knew of course that horses come in many colours and many combinations of colours – but I didn’t even guess that there are over fifty recognised horse colours. Yes fifty! Amazingly, the specialist website The Horse Colors Site  identifies over fifty different horse colours  – and that’s not counting the standard bay colour. They’re all listed at: http://www.horsecolor.com/

My own favourite – and I’m guessing the favourite of a good few of you out there – is Palomino. I could be influenced by childhood memories of Trigger and Mr Ed and that holiday job I had on a Palomino stud farm.

But, but, but…. I like the pure black ones, the dappled greys and the spotted ones too. and the cremellos and the buckskins and, and…

Anyhow, check out Horse and Pony Colours: Which one would you choose? Out early December 2013 in paperback or kindle, with colour photos. There a little bit of science too and a link to a website where you can enter the colour of the sire and dam to get a prediction of what colours the foal might be.    

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http://www.lesleylodge.co.uk

 

London Film Festival and behind the scenes film snippets – and camels.

London’s 57 film festival draws to a close (20th October) after showcasing and premiering a huge variety of films: 235 feature films and 134 short films from 57 different countries – over just 12 days. Wow!

I’ve still got the day job so with 21 London venues I was only ever going to be able to catch a fraction of them. Ten films in fact. Choosing what to see is not easy because there are generally few independent reviews around; many of the films are being shown there for the first time. Still, I’ve been doing this for a number of years and my choosing process starts mostly with picking the ones not to watch – those films chosen for the opening and closing gala nights are generally very expensive, almost impossible to get tickets for – and likely to come out on general release in the UK anyway. Then I focus in on thrillers and on films with really new concepts. Some years it’s essentially a bit of a lucky dip.

And of course I keep an eye out for films with horses in them. Back in 2007 I struck very lucky on this with Horse Thieves. Two horse-thieving brothers living in Eastern Europe in 1856 get caught up with two other brothers who are Cossacks. There is thievery, murder, revenge – and a lot of horse action.

Didn’t find many horses in my selection this year but there was one amazing film with camels in it: Tracks. Tracks is set in the Australian outback and tells the true story of Robyn Davidson’s solo trek: an unbelievable 2,700 kilometres on foot with four camels and a black dog in 1977. The landscape is stunningly beautiful and the camels are star actors. Tracks stars Mia Wasikowska and for much of the film she is the only human on screen. She’s fantastic, going through the emotions of loneliness, fear, nostalgia and determination, often while facing the camera and controlling the four camels.

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Tracks directed by John Curran, starring Mia Wasikowska (and 4 camels)

One of the great things about the London Film Festival is that you often get the director, the producer or one or two of the stars for a Q and A session afterwards. In this case, director John Curran talked a lot about how it was to direct the four camels. He said the lead camel was great – he growls a lot, in a deep-throated but sort of benign, almost warbling, way and the key thing was that he seemed to know when he was being filmed. John said he would do the growling as soon as the camera was on him, never needing a re-take of a scene.  The black dog, on the other hand, easily got restless and in fact had to be played by several dogs in turn.

There’s a part in the film where the baby camel gets sore feet from the sheer heat of the sand. Apparently, this happened unexpectedly for real during the filming. Throughout filming, John Curran said, the camera team mostly kept a long way off, using zoom lenses. Mia simply fashioned some clothes into shoes, wrapped them around the baby camel’s feet and off they all went again.

If you get the chance – and even if camels aren’t really your thing, I definitely recommend you grab the chance to see Tracks when it reaches your cinema.

coversmall

Flygrazing, abandoned horses – what about leasing?

Got called in for a team meeting for the day job and some chance remarks from my colleagues set me thinking. The first was from a British colleague who reported that the habits of “flygrazing” and even horse abandonment were resurfacing in her part of southern England. Flygrazing usually takes the form of tethering horses or ponies to graze on common land, grass verges or even roundabout.

Theoretically, this somewhat desperate habit could be accomplished without cruelty – if the horse or pony is regularly monitored and has access to water and shade from the sun. But what happens all too often is that the horse is simply left, sometimes for days at a time. There’s the danger too that the horse may break free and wander onto roads or into other hazards. For concerned members of the public the dilemma is whether to report such instances or not. Is the horse suffering? Will its owner re-appear soon or not? Sometimes what starts as flygrazing ends up as the total abandonment of horses.

Check out this link to the Farmers’ Weekly to read about proposals to make flygrazing a criminal offence. There’s a picture there of a badly tied mare with foal:  http://www.fwi.co.uk/articles/01/08/2013/140304/make-fly-grazing-a-criminal-offence-says-nfu.htm

In the past, flygrazing was restricted to the travelling community, who generally did keep a regular eye on their horses but the financial crisis has meant many people have squeezed incomes, reduced hours of job losses to contend with plus the rising cost of stabling and general upkeep for horses. I think too that the unusually sunny summer in England has really slowed the regrowth of grass. England’s “green and pleasant land” is looking distinctly yellowy-brown in places. It’s the first ever summer I’ve had to feed hay throughout – my cob mare is a hairy native breed, out in the field all day but the grass is simply not coming through. Hay prices are not at all cheap.

Back to my colleagues. My second colleague is based in Florida and she – quite separately – commented that leasing horses is almost a craze there. With leasing, two, three or more people share the cost of keeping one horse. They also share the riding and the fun. Think holiday timeshare when it works well, but on a much more frequent basis. So, could leasing help address the difficulties in being able to afford to keep a horse in England? Probably yes – but it needs organisation and it needs trust and co-operation. It won’t solve the whole problem by any means but it could certainly help some. Perhaps social media such as Facebook could easily be used to help riders find other riders nearby with similarly constrained finances. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

Have you seen flygrazing? Have you leased a horse? What are your thoughts?

www.lesleylodge.co.uk

Ebook on the Horse in Film - under £7 from http://tinyurl.com/lightscameragallop

Writer’s block: Real? Imaginary? Solutions?

 

I’ve been a bit distracted from my “proper” writing recently – but have I really got writer’s block?

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Look up writer’s block and you’ll find it confidently defined along the lines of “writer’s block is a condition, mostly associated with writing as a profession, in which the author somehow loses the ability to write, to produce new work”.

I was listening to Lee Child, however, at the recent (and very great fun) Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He equally confidently denied the existence of writer’s block. Lorry drivers, he pointed out, might not feel like working some days, but they do nevertheless. Similarly, Philip Pullman has asked “Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?”

Robert McKee (that’s the Robert McKee of the world-famous Story seminar – check out http://mckeestory.com/ ) has suggested that Writer’s block “is not a paralysis of creativity but a malnutrition of material.”  The implication then is that if you think you’ve got writer’s block, either you simply haven’t done enough research – or you should just pull yourself together and get on with it.

OK I thought. I’ll just get on with it. But… but…

On the other hand, some very famous authors claimed they genuinely struggled with writer’s block. F. Scott Fitzgerald (Great Gatsby etc) is one example. Bestseller Dan Brown has been reported recently as going to the extreme of using gravity boots to hang upside down in order to fend off writer’s block. (ebay’s got some for £17.99 ($27.20) by the way).

So is the real answer is somewhere between these extremes? Yes, a lot of it is about research and even more is probably about getting going – just pour it out, write and write. You can improve it, edit out the bad stuff and so on later. That does suppose your starting point is at the least an idea or two and some characters. If you haven’t got those, then maybe try research – even if it’s only walking round the location of your story or dredging your own memory for that spark of an idea, a “what if” line.

I think there’s a less obvious, more insidious cause of writer’s block too – the internet and all its associated social media, whether coming at you by phone or by laptop. Yes we can always do some research on the internet – but let’s be honest with ourselves. If we’re not focusing in on some essential detail, say, what type of gun our antagonist might have used and whether that model had a safety catch, chances are what we’re really doing is wasting valuable writing time.

If you’re lucky enough and there’s some money in what you’re writing, there’s always this suggestion of Lee Child’s:

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“Make a tall stack of tax demands, tuition bills, and mortgage statements. Stare at it until the block disappears. Usually takes three or four seconds.“ (You can substitute your own bills of course – vet bills for injured dog and petrol would be on my list).

Finally, some others to read on writer’s block:

There’s io9 – a daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the future lists ten types of writer’s block – with ideas on overcoming them (with some fabulous Pulp magazine images)

http://io9.com/5844988/the-10-types-of-writers-block-and-how-to-overcome-them

or try: http://flavorwire.com/343207/13-famous-writers-on-overcoming-writers-block