I Like Trucking!


I mean, just look at that sunset!

fabulous sunset

Of course, it’s not a real truck… I don’t have a license to drive HGs (Heavy Goods Vehicles, for those unfamiliar with the acronym) and I have never sat in the cab of one in my life.

So let me explain…. For my birthday in 2017 my son gifted me a driving simulation game on the game platform Steam, called Euro Truck Simulator 2 (or ETS2). I’d seen him playing it on his PC and had admired the graphics, which looked very realistic. I’d never been much into computer games so although I was pleased with the gift, I wasn’t sure if was really going to be my ‘thing’.

Well, a year and a few months later, I am hooked. At the present time I have 9 small (3 bay) garages and 1 large one (5 bay) which means I ‘own’ 32 virtual trucks based all over the UK and Europe, and ’employ’ 31 drivers (myself being based in my London garage, from which I drive a Volvo. I also ‘own’ a flat-bed trailer, but when I had it ‘delivered’ one of the other drivers in London nabbed it for a job, so I have never used it myself (the cheek of it).

a heavy load!

As you can see from the second image, I get to carry some interesting items! Most challenging on the narrow roads of Europe are the oversized loads. In ATS (American Truck Simulator) the loads I have most problem with are the double-trailers – I have yet to master reversing one without getting into a complete pickle! The earnings are lower in this game but the roads are much wider and easier to navigate, even with a double trailer (unless you’re reversing).

What I like most about ETS2 and ATS is the realistic quality of the graphics – the detail, especially in ETS2, is AMAZING and I can barely imagine the hours of coding it must have taken to get to that level of detail. If you have your graphics set to ‘high’ then you can see the grime, the road texture, and after rain, the spray coming up from the wheels of the vehicle in front. On my current ‘job’ I’m really enjoying the way the light changes as clouds race across the sky, momentarily obscuring the sun. It really is amazing. As are the sound effects – obviously I’m no expert when it comes to real trucks, but all the truck models (Volvo, Scania, Iveco, Man, Mercedes, DAF) have different engine sounds (apparently SCS, the makers, record real engine sounds – and they also use real peripheral sounds like air brakes, the noise a truck makes as it goes over an uneven road surface… the sound of a truck driving over gravel or snow is to die for! Yes, I know I’m weird…) which adds to the realism. You even get the sound of other vehicles driving in the opposite lane as they fly past you.

I’m not sure if the towns and cities in the game are exact replicas of the real ones – some generic views are almost inevitable, given the complexity of the virtual world. One day I will look up a town from ETS2 on Google Street View to see if ETS2’s version is accurate… until then, I can still enjoy travelling right up to Scandinavia and even parts of Russia. I’ve even been to St Petersburg, and without a passport!

somewhere in Europe!

If you set your options for ‘roadside incidents’ to mid or high, you have the added challenge of crashed trucks and cars to contend with, which can loom up on you around a blind corner with little or no warning – I’ve totaled a few trucks that way! You can always get your truck repaired, though, however bad the damage – but you will most likely lose the cargo you were transporting at the time and, of course, the payment you would have earned for the job!

My son also gave his father the same gift, because he loves vehicles and driving. However, it turns out he much prefers real vehicles. He took his truck out and crashed it almost straight away…. Apparently it is still lying there, blocking the road and annoying the other virtual drivers! I would like to go and retrieve it for him, at least put it back safely in the garage, but he’s forgotten his password. Ah well…

Although each game is single-player, you can go onto the Multi-Player version and engage with other players. My son and one of his Uni friends meet up online from time to time and have their own little convoy. I’ve been invited to join them, but until I can work out how to install MP (or my son can help me) I’m confined to my own version of the game.

You can also sign up to ‘World of Trucks’ and get a wider range of job opportunities – the pay is often better, too! As you expand your trucking empire you can ‘buy’ trucks online. I drive a Volvo (I like the throaty engine sound – the Scania is very popular but I think it doesn’t sound nearly as powerful).

It does take time to get used to using the W A S D keys to control stopping, starting, braking, etc, and using the mouse to control turning and indicating. The first time I tried the game, it took me ages to even drive the truck off the Eurostar and I almost gave up…. but I persisted, and I’m so glad I did. It has given me a whole new appreciation of the skill of real truck drivers, and it is a great way to relax. I also find it useful for thinking about writing – I often come up with ideas when driving to my day job (not so much coming home) and the same is true when I am driving a virtual truck. (That’s how I justify spending time on the game when perhaps I could be writing…)

In case this rather rambling post has made you curious about ETS2 or ATS, there is some info (and links) here. Do let me know if you take up ‘truck driving’ and what you think of it!

Elaine, March 2019

high-value cargo!

A New Book!


A few days ago I published ‘Minding Mama and Other Short Stories’ , my second short story collection.

available now on Amazon (worldwide) h

and here’s the back cover, which gives you a little summary of the stories:

If you would like a review copy (free in exchange for an honest review on Amazon) please get in touch via my Facebook or Twitter pages!

Thanks for your time!

How To Create a Program Booklet


With so much informative content available online, it can be hard to sift through it all to find something really useful that won’t take an age to learn to implement (I’ll be writing a seperate post about that quite soon). And having multiple email subscriptions which, let’s be honest, most of us never have time to read, can feel like so much clutter in your inbox – even though you must have thought they’d be useful because you signed up!

But every once in a while, something really, really useful pops up in my inbox, and the latest one from Theaterish has just landed in mine. Thank goodness I didn’t cancel the sub!

Theatreish is primarily aimed at – yes you guessed it – those in theatre production. But they have some really useful stuff for writers and creatives generally, and their blog post on How To Create a Show Program in Google Docs is exactly that. If you are looking to create a program for your book fair, convention, book signing event or even an advertising brochure, look no further! They even have a downloadable, editable template for just $5, bless them.

http://www.theaterish.com

I haven’t tried it out yet, myself, but just glancing through the instructions and at the downloadable content, I can see this would be very useful if you are running a book fair and want to produce a printed program to hand out at the door, or if you want to create a publicity booklet promoting your own work. Trying to create any kind of booklet in Word is a bit of a nightmare (for me, anyway) – I always end up with the pages in the wrong order, or it won’t print in the required size/format. I will try it out (I have a project for which it may be just the thing) and report back. Watch this space.

In the meantime, a big Thank You to Theatreish for being such lovely people!

Elaine, February 2019

On Creating a Book Trailer…


As I write this, my good friend Susan Turner of www.elephantinscarlet.co.uk is close to the final edit on the crowdfunding trailer for my graphic novel, ‘Minding Mama’.

Here’s the lovely Kate Davies-Speak as Mama, lead character in my post-apocalyptic tale of life on Earth after decades of intense solar flare activity has severely damaged the ozone layer and sent humanity underground.  The fragile community is facing starvation as their aged hydroponic equipment starts to fail. Desperate to save her son, Bully, Mama and her trusty FarmBot Cyril (voiced by ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ actor David Learner)  set out to find other survivors.

image by Stephen R Cox
Mama prepares to make a broadcast for help

image by Stephen R Cox
Cyril is a FarmBot – immune to UV radiation, he can safely venture onto the surface in order to raise UV-resistant food plants for his human charges.

 

Creating a live-action trailer (complete with a set, props, and limited green screen effects) has been a real challenge – and, I should add, a lot of fun!  From the original short story, to first concept art by Amanda Fullwood

to the first sample pages from  Dan Schaefer  (who has worked for DC, Marvel and Dark Horse Comics, and more recently as storyboard artist on NBC’s ‘Grimm’) , it has been an interesting journey!  There is a saying that one should not work with children or animals – should we add robots to that list, I wonder?  Filming Cyril wasn’t without its challenges!  And it’s not over yet…

MM_MAMA_by_Dan_Schaefer
art: Dan Schaefer,  coloring: Grant Kempster

Now I’m working on the details for the crowdfunding campaign which, if successful, will allow us to produce Issue 1 later this year. We’ll be offering some fabulous rewards to our patrons, including signed canvas prints, signed scripts, photos and more.

You can find out more on www.mindingmama.org

DomeSmall
WIP -Minding Mama – from a short story by EJ Jackson, art: Dan Schaefer, colouring: Grant Kempster

Are you a WASPI woman? Do you know what it means?


I very rarely (make that almost never) post about anything political.  I see it all going on around me on social media – tweets, Facebook posts, and the like, and I hold my virtual tongue, because (a) I don’t consider myself that well informed and (b) rightly or wrongly feel that I don’t have time to get up to speed with most of it. I don’t want to get embroiled in an argument where I don’t have all the facts, or as importantly, an understanding of the facts.

I’ve made an exception for WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) because I understand one important thing about it: I will have to work until I am 66 years and 8 months old before I can claim my state pension. Given that I have a chronic disease (for which a life insurance company penalized me when my husband and I first took out a mortgage in 1990 because (in the words of the agent) ‘statistics show that you may not live as long’) well,  I have to wonder if I will make it. Fingers crossed, I will – but I wonder how many women born in the 1950’s won’t?

In case you are not up to speed on what WASPI is all about, in a nutshell it is this:

UK women born in the 1950’s were originally told that they would be able to claim their state pension at age 60. Starting in 1995, successive governments have increased the state pension age (the age at which you can claim the pension you have been paying into since you started work) so that now, the majority of women born in the 1950’s will not be able to claim their pension -which in many cases means they cannot retire from work because they will have no income- until they are 66 or 67 years old.  In my case, at today’s pension rate it means that I will have been deprived of approximately £41,397.00, or £6,203.00 per year, by the time I retire at 66 years and 8 months of age. My mother lived until the age of 77 (being born in 1930 she was able to claim her pension from age 60). Granted she was a smoker and had other health issues I don’t (to my knowledge!) have, but if I don’t make it beyond 77 the state will have made a nice little saving… and I will have worked for half a century in return for ten years’ pension. Hmmm, something feels wrong there.

The issue is not so much that this has happened (and I can see how, with the increasing age of the population and the dwindling pension pot – more people living longer, less money to go around – I dread to think at what age my son, who is now 24, will be able to retire if he is reliant on state pension), but that many women were not told about it, and so had no opportunity to make arrangements to prepare for the shortfall. Women like me have written to the DWP as part of the WASPI campaign, and have received standard replies which basically say ‘actually, we did send letters, and it was publicized‘. I did not get a letter, nor did many women I know; it seems to have been very hit-and-miss. And publishing details on the relevant government website or in newspapers will not (and clearly did not) reach everyone.

I gradually became aware of the pension age increase over a number of years, but not in a way that suggested to me I needed to do something about it if I wanted to retire at 60 – to be honest, it pretty much went over my head until I started writing books and got involved with social media – way too late for me to make any meaningful financial adjustment. Was I horrified? Yes.

I haven’t yet worked out what I am going to do – work on until I can claim my pension, or stop work and hope to survive on my husband’s pensions until I come of pension age.

It is, of course, too late to lock the stable door for many of us – the pension horse has long disappeared over yonder horizon. Perhaps we should have ‘paid more attention’ – but that isn’t really the point, is it? Governments have a duty of care, and as I see it, they have failed thousands of women in my situation by not communicating the true situation in a responsible manner.  Perhaps the DWP should have enlisted a well-known poster boy:

PDFtoJPG.me-1
(with apologies to Uncle Sam)

Well, perhaps not. But something that was ‘in your face’ was clearly needed.

Are you a female born in the  UK during the 1950’s? Did you know about the increase in your pension age, and if so, when did you find out? Have you been able to make adequate provision? How do you feel about the situation?

If you’d like more information, please go to the WASPI website: WASPI

                                                             ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Political rant over. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

Elaine

 

Lessons Learned: My Journey as an Indie Author


In the Beginning…

In August, 2014, I published my first science-fiction book on Amazon, ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘. As the title suggests, it is a collection of short stories, and the act of publication was a very exciting moment for me. It represented decades of wanting to be a published author but not having a clue how to go about it; two years of independent study with both Faber Academy and The Writer’s Workshop whilst holding down a stressful, full-time job; and two years (at least) developing and writing a full-length novel (working title ‘All Our Tomorrows‘) which would then only see the light of day in a much-reduced form, as the titular tale in ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘.

Keep Only What Serves the Story!

It was a very steep learning curve, and probably one of  the most important things I learned during that period was not to be afraid to cut out what doesn’t work. Ditching the best part of sixty thousand words (representing months of writing) and stripping the story down to the core to produce ‘The Journey’ was not an easy decision at all. As it happens, I believe  some of that material will probably be used somewhere else, one day… but it just wasn’t right for that particular story arc. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that… for now.

Keep it Up!

As soon as I finished the anthology, I began writing my first full-length novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox‘, which funnily enough, was also inspired by  ‘The Journey‘. And again, I had to make a major decision during the writing. I didn’t have to lose so many words this time, though!  I had been so invested in Tom and Eva’s story (which began in ‘The Journey’ and continues in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’) that I made the mistake of making them the main characters in ‘Methuselah’. I soon realised that it just wasn’t working, and that the main character needed to be the time-traveller, James Moran. Once I accepted that, everything fell into place. So never be afraid to ask yourself – “Is my main character the right one?” Be honest, even if it feels rather like a betrayal to those characters. If you must, tell them that you are saving them for better things…!

Is Your Protagonist The Right Character for the Job?

Tom and Eva’s story had pretty much been told in ‘The Journey’ –  and ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ takes place almost a quarter of a decade later, when Tom and Eva’s daughter is abducted. Who has taken her – and why? It seems obvious in hindsight, but being emotionally invested in your characters, whilst it is a good thing, can also blind you to their place in the Grand Scheme of Things. So common sense prevailed, Tom and Eva took a back seat, and James and (to a lesser degree) Emma stepped forward. Hurrah!

Another Learning Curve… or two! 

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published two years (not quite to the day, but the same month!) after ‘The Journey…’, and I was already thinking about the next project. But hold on a minute – that’s not all I did during that time…

Almost a year before ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published (and whilst I was still working on it) I decided that I wanted to make a book trailer to promote it. Having taken a short course in screen-writing with The Writer’s Workshop , and because I love TV/Film drama, I wanted to try to bring my characters to the screen.

Incidentally… if someone out there would like to bring ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ to the screen, please do get in touch via admin@neonskybooks.com.

Crowdfunding – the Indie Creator’s Gateway

But how was I ever going to find the money to pay voice-artists/actors, graphic artists, a camera operator and a composer to realise my vision?  Crowdfunding worked wonderfully for me, and again that was another steep learning curve, with a whole other level of responsibility. If people are sending you money to help you create something, you had better get your sums right!  I used an awesome networking site for the film industry, Stage 32, to find a concept artist, Cat Archer-Wills, and using Patreon and GoFundMe -and some off-line funding from family members – I manage to raise enough, which was a huge relief because I had been working on the script since January 2015… We finally recorded material for several versions of the trailer in March, 2016, and completed several versions of the trailer just in time for the book launch in August 2016. Here’s one of them.  Kudos to everyone who helped make the trailer a reality – the teamwork of creative collaboration is just the best thing ever!

What’s Next?

One of my writing buddies (yes, you, MW!) described me as an ‘ideas machine’, and it is certainly true that I have more ideas and notes for new stories than I currently have time to write. I don’t have a full-time day job anymore (or as fellow author Nick Stephenson calls it, the DDJ – ‘dreaded day job’)  having graduated to a four-day week, but there are still never enough hours in the day!

Currently I have two novels on the back-burner (one of which is a follow-up to ‘The Methuselah Paradox’), a stage adaption of the same book, another short-story collection, and a Graphic Novel. I do like a challenge! First an anthology, then a novel and a trailer, now a comic book – whatever next?

‘Minding Mama’ – a Tale of Future Earth

Minding Mama‘, the Graphic Novel – or comic book, if you prefer – almost became one of the short stories in my next anthology (and still might). Originally written as a competition entry, I didn’t get to the required word-count before deciding that it was fine just as it was. I put it aside. Then I went back to it, and realised that it would work very well in a more visual medium… so back I went to Stage 32, and advertised for a concept artist, then later a storyboard artist/illustrator. Amanda Fullwood (who in addition to being a first class concept artist, is also a talented costumier/production designer) was first to join the ‘Minding Mama’ team, followed by Dan Schaefer . (Dan has worked for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics and the film industry, creates documentaries, does graphic design for the advertising industry and was storyboard artist on NBC’s ‘Grimm’). My long-time friend Sue Turner agreed to do the camera/editing work, and Matthew Thomason is on board to provide a theme. We have cast one of the two performer roles – David Learner (science-fiction readers will recognise David as Marvin the Paranoid Android in Television and stage versions of the late Douglas Adam’s best-selling novel, ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘)

As of August 2017, we have concept art and sample pages (fully coloured, but without text) and are well on the way to creating a trailer/pitch video for the crowdfunding campaign – you can find out more about that here!

I love the process of research, writing, then creating a team to take it all further. Geography is no limiter – our current team uses Skype to link participants in Camberley, Southsea, Norwich and Oregon. Isn’t technology great?

So You Want to Self-Publish?

If you are just starting out on your self-publishing journey, and have doubts about whether you can do it, my advice to you is to keep at it! I’ve learned so much since I started on this journey, and have met some wonderful, very talented people. There’s a commonly-held misconception that writing is a lonely calling, and perhaps some of the time, it is. But I don’t see it that way. When I’m writing, my characters keep me company, and when I’m working with a team of fellow creatives, be it my cover designer (waves to Rachel Lawston and Harry Saxon) illustrators, actors/voice artists (hello to Simon Bugg, Richard Oliver , Amelia Sefton and David Learner), composer (here’s to you, Matthew Thomason) camera operator/video editor (waves to Sue Turner of www.elephantinscarlet.co.uk), stills photographer (thanks to Sue Thomason) and last but not least, all the lovely people whose crowdfunding support made the trailer for TMP a reality, it feels anything but lonely!  There is a wealth of online advice  to be had (some of it free, but some well worth paying for if you can afford it)  and you’ll find that most people are more than willing to share their experience and to help you however they can.  Go for it!

Elaine Jackson

Camberley, August 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Singularity already under way?


Eminent scientists – among them Professor Stephen Hawking, who may have a brain the size of a planet – have been warning us for some time now that the advances made by AI could turn out to be the writing on the wall for mankind.  I mean, extinction. Hoist by our own petard, no less.

i, robot
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.

Now we learn that Facebook decided to shut down its very own AI program after it created its own language.  It wasn’t done with malice aforethought, or because the two Negotiating Bots (apparently named Will and Alice) wanted to take over the planet… they simply found it a more efficient way to communicate than using the English they had been taught.

Will our desperate race to create better and faster ways of doing things using AI (artificial intelligence) really be our undoing, as posited by Professor Hawking and a myriad of movies such as ‘BladeRunner’ (in which a group of artificially engineered and physically superior humans called Replicants returns to Earth to demand a longer lifespan from their creator – before killing him) – or are we all basically just AIs anyway, seeded by aliens who thought it might be interesting to see what happened… Whether we are truly indigenous or not, did the life-forms who were subsumed and/or destroyed by humanity’s rise from the primordial soup have the capacity to worry about it? Or were they blissfully unaware of the ticking time bomb in their midst until it was too late?  And would they have been able to do anything to stop it, even if they had realised what was going on?  You can read the original article here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m just going to swim back into the primordial soup and pretend this isn’t happening…

Elaine Jackson, July 2017

P.S. If you’re interested in the topics raised here, you might enjoy my next project, a graphic novel titled ‘Minding Mama’, which my team and I will be crowdfunding very soon.  It’s a dark tale which takes place amidst a ruined eco-system. Humanity has fled underground, leaving the surface to wither and die. Only the FarmBots can survive above ground…

Visit www.mindingmama.org to find out how you can help bring the project to life (if you dare) and earn some unique and very cool rewards!