Thursday, 13 June 2019

Lately I've been watching....

My fairly regular look at TV series and films I've seen recently, with mini reviews, my star ratings, and the trailers.  For more of these posts, please click the 'Lately I've Been Watching' tag at the end.  I've watched a lot of stuff!! 

3 Part Series: Black Mirror (Season 5)

Charlie Brooker never disappoints, and these three hour long dramas were totally up to standard.  The first was a clever and amusing look at virtual reality video games, while the second two were set in the present rather than the future, and showed the dark side of our technological advances, and social media.  As technology becomes ever more invasive and impossible to hide from, I found the second of these stories the most frightening; it depicted the influence of social media, and also showed how much information we leave about ourselves online.   BTW, if you think the hologram Miley Cyrus on tour was far-fetched, think again; it's already happening.  Not with her, but others.

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Series: Billions (Season 4)

I just adore this high-finance-in-the-fast-lane series, and the twists and intrigue don't slow down for a minute in Season 4.  Although incredibly fast-paced, with never a moment of downtime, the dialogue and acting is so good that the characterisation doesn't lose out for a moment.  Damian Lewis as Bobby Axelrod is my favourite, as ever.  Ended on the perfect 'end of this phase but what's coming next looks even better' cliffhanger.  Excellent - if you've never seen it, start at the beginning!

5 stars plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Netflix Film: I Am Mother 

SciFi/Post Apocalyptic film - human life is said to be extinct, but in a secure unit, thousands of human embryos are kept by 'Mother', a droid who chooses those to be born.  'Daughter' is happy in her life, but longs for brothers and sisters; as she gets older, she becomes more curious about what lies outside.  Then, one day, she hears a real human being crying for help...

I enjoyed this film a lot; it's unpredictable, and the suspense side of it is edge-of-your-seat stuff.  Nice one.

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Series: 3% 

Brazilian series, with moderately good dubbing.  In an un-named place, 97% of people live in the broken-down, slum-like 'Inland'.  When Inlanders reach the age of 20, they can register for the yearly 'process', which, through a series of tests, picks 3% of those who apply to go to live in the luxurious 'Offshore'.   But not all the Inlanders are in favour of the 'process'; these are the anarchists who work for 'the cause'; they wish to infiltrate the process and destroy its unfairness in order to establish equality.  I'm half way through Season 3; I liked Season 1 the best, as it dealt mainly with the candidate test, which was fascinating, but the characters and plot are developing in an interesting fashion.

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Series: Dark (Season One)

German, dubbed well.  In the small German town of Winden, ancient caves hold a secret - a wormhole that allows travel in time, back in 33 year periods.  People go missing, never to be seen again.  Soon, lives start to crumble as the ties become evident between the missing children and the history of the town and its citizens.  

The story is great, and I enjoyed seeing the characters deal with life back in 1986 and then further back, in 1953.  However, it can be hard to keep up with who is who in their past/future lives, as different actors are used for the younger versions, rather than the same ones ageing up or down; the plot threads and relationships between the large cast of characters are very complicated as it is, without having to remember who is supposed to be who - not easy, as the different versions have different faces.  I tried to watch a couple of episodes one night when I was tired, and found I couldn't keep track of it.  I'll watch the second season when it comes out, if I can remember what was going on.
4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Film: Deadwood The Movie 

I liked the Deadwood series, though it wasn't one of my favourites.  This is a good film, and I am sure anyone who loves the series will enjoy it very much; it's a continuation.

3.5 stars (3 stars for how much I enjoyed it, but 4 stars from an objective viewpoint!) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Monday, 3 June 2019

Lately I've Been Watching....

TV and film recommendations—if you would like to see more, click the 'Lately I've Been Watching' tag at the end. 😎

Four part series: When They See Us

An injustice so great that any words would sound tritethis is the true story about the Central Park Five, five boys aged between 14 and 16 who, in 1989, were coerced and bullied by the police into confessinging to (and incriminating each other in) a particularly vicious rape, in which they had played no part. There was no other evidence against them, yet they all suffered jail terms of between 6 and 14 years.  Heartbreaking, brilliantly written and acted—and, although a dramatic re-creation, shows actual footage of the young Donald Trump's vile comments and demands for the death penalty for the five of them.  It's a 'must watch', for sure.

5 stars plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Series: The Society

I didn't think I was going to like this much as it's 'teen' orientated, but I thought it was great, even though some of the characters are seriously irritating.  A large group of schoolkids (age about 16-18, I believe) go off on a trip, only to have to return because of bad weather.  When they get home, though, everyone else in the town has disappeared - and the town is surrounded by thick woodland, leading nowhere.  Have they landed in a different dimension?  Season 1 takes us through the first six months or so, as they try to create a new society.  Dark, sinister, and promises great things in Season 2, which I am really looking forward to.

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Comedy series: Fleabag

I wasn't sure about this at first, because it seemed to be determinedly 'look at me, I can get laughs by saying 'vagina' every twenty minutes and being open about anal sex', but it grew on me.  I liked the second season much more, as it seemed less shocking-for-the-sake-of-shocking; it settled in, somehow.  Olivia Colman is terrific as 'Fleabag's revolting step-mother, and 'Fleabag' herself, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who created and wrote it, too, is a total star. The 'fourth wall' element, as 'Fleabag' describes what's going on to the audience, absolutely made it.

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Series: Game of Thrones, Season 8

I've written my thoughts on this HERE.

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Comedy series: Barry

Crack shot assassin-for-hire stumbles into the world of acting classes, and finds a new passion in life.  Can he keep the two worlds apart?  Not very often.... the incongruity between the two is hilarious.  Bill Hader is brilliant as the reluctant assassin; Henry Winckler stars at the failed actor/acting coach.  I recommend!  Two seasons so far.

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Film: Watchmen

Malin Akerman (Billions), Billy Crudup, and Jeffery Dean Morgan - excellent produced superhero film based on comics and series of the same name.  Not totally my thing, as I'm not really into superhero stuff, but it's very good of its type, and I did enjoy it. JDM is great as The Comedian - almost like the practice run for Negan!

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Comedy Series: The Good Place

Ted Danson stars as a demon sent to find new ways of mentally torturing humans who have just died, i.e., by letting them think they are in 'the Good Place' rather than the 'bad' one.  I wasn't so keen at first, but then I started to like it, and Danson's every scene is a gem, as is usual with him.  A couple of the other characters were pretty irritating, though, and the plot gets a bit repetitive. 

3.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Comedy Series: Good Omens 

David Tennant as the demon, involved in a long-running battle with an angel.  Jon Hamm is great as the Angel Gabriel.  Had some very funny moments and I quite liked it, but it was one of those shows that made me think, 'yeah, this is quite good, but I'm not bothered whether I watch it or not', if you know what I mean; a bit too silly in parts. I thought it was going to be a gem at first, but soon found my mind drifting.

3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Series: The Rain

This is, ostensibly, right up my street: an epidemic that wipes out a whole bunch of people, a group who try to survive, a government conspiracy.  I did like it, but the trouble was that I didn't like any of the characters enough to care what happened to them.  Knocked half a star off for the main female character, Simone, calling out to her brother ('Rasmus!  Rasmus!') every five minutes in every episode.  You'll understand if you've watched it.  Danish, dubbed in a rather flat fashion.

3.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Friday, 31 May 2019

Amazon Exclusivity (KDP Select) or Publishing 'Wide' ~ which works best? #SelfPublishing

Recently I've been talking to a couple of authors unsure whether to take books off Amazon KDP Select and go 'wide' (ie, publish across many retailers), or whether to move from 'wide' back to KDP Select.  

In the interests of research, I ran a poll on Twitter to see how other authors felt about the two options.  I also invited comments; see lower down for the results.

For new writers not in the know: one massive advantage of publishing exclusively to Amazon is that your books can be made available on Kindle Unlimited.  This works, for the reader, like a library; they pay £8/$10 a month to read any books on KU, free of charge.  The author gets paid per pages read; the royalties for a whole book are roughly equivalent to one sale.
  • Advantage for author: it's a great way for new readers to discover you, at almost no cost to them.
  • Disadvantage: if they don't like it, and abandon it early, you will earn little, or nothing (you get paid for any pages read after 10%).
The other advantage of KDP Select is that you can do 5 day free promotions once every 90 days, or Kindle Countdown promotions - you can price your book as cheaply as 99p for a whole 7 days, but still get the 70% royalty.

I couldn't vote as it's my poll, but I've always been Amazon KDP Select only.  I make more in royalties via Kindle Unlimited that I do with actual sales, and have had some very successful free promotions and Kindle Countdown offers.

The advantages of going 'wide' probably speak for themselves - i.e., reaching readers who don't use Amazon Kindle.  I don't know anything about this but I hear Draft2Digital is the best and easiest way to go.  Read FAQs about this HERE 

Writer Georgia Rose (see below), who has chosen and been most happy with this option, told me:  

'D2D is a distributor.  You load up your files to them and they can distribute to sites such as Barnes & Noble, Apple, Playster and Scribd, including libraries.  The will distribute to Amazon, though this is not recommended.  The advice from those in the know suggest you go DIY to Amazon, Kobo and Google (if you can get in there - it can be tricky), and let D2D cover the rest.  On their dashboard it is easy to deselect the platforms to which you don't want them to distribute.'

Well, not quite...

Poll results 

86 writers voted

Amazon KDP Select: 55%

'Wide': 33%

Tried both, not much difference: 12%


Here are comments from some who responded:

In favour of KDP Select

'Tried both (only with 1 book, so pretty limited) but have come down on the side of KDP - the KU promo side of it seems unbeatable at the moment.'

'Have got one on KDP and one wide, most of sales for both are on Amazon...have only recently moved onto KU, sales have dropped off, but pages read seem to be doing well. My first book was on lots of platforms, but the vast majority of sales were on Amazon. Made it a no-brainer to put next book on amazon only.'

'KDP. Kindle Unlimited makes me more than sales.  I think if you write bigger historicals like I do, it's a no-brainer. And so much easier to just push your marketing to one avenue than eight or ten.'

'Kindle Unlimited seems, at the moment, the best way for me to reach readers.

'I think Kindle Unlimited seems to work on my Indie books.'

'As to your question, I used to be wide but the tried KDP Select on one book and saw how much better that did with the page reads, so I’m off wide now completely. About half my income comes from page reads.'

'I have done much better by staying exclusively with Amazon in the past, with all of my books.'

..and a last comment'I didn't see this in time, but I'd have voted for KU too'


In favour of 'wide'

'I’m wide. Have been for a while. I don’t like exclusivity and can still do all sorts of promos, including free ones if I want to...I think a good idea is to keep a first book in Select then once you put the next one out make the first one wide, and so on.

'...what I do is distribute direct to Amazon, Kobo and Google then to all the others via the magnificent Draft2Digital, and PublishDrive (early days there!) D2D provide a universal link to all sites (incl. The Zon) so just the one link needed...I do very little promo as I don’t have time. But via distributors like Draft2Digital you load up your files once, they distribute for you.

'.... but you are totally beholden to Amazon. All your eggs in one basket as it were, when they could change anything at any time.'

'I tried KDP Select back in 2013 but it just failed - I gave up after 6 months. I broke out in 2015 on Kobo Canada' 

'I prefer wide. I sell more on ibooks, followed by Barnes & Noble and Overdrive.'

'I'm wide because the opportunities for promotions with Kobo means I make about 25% of my money from there each month, sometimes more. It's my 2nd most successful site after Amazon. Also, I don't like the idea of being tied to Amazon in case anything goes wrong with KDP.'

'Personally, I’m wide. From my point of view it’s not possible to be an independent author while being entirely dependent on the whims of Amazon. My first year off self-publishing, 99% of my sales came from Amazon. Today, almost a third of my sales come from other platforms.'

'I think it's better to go wide, so you can reach more readers. Ku didn't work for me.'

 'You can also go wide by using Ingramspark publication and distribution service'

A bit of both

'I have an e-book publisher who does the work of getting my books out wide, they do print and audiobook as well so I like them. Still, most of my sales are Amazon. & I have a few indies that are KDP. Don’t want to do the going wide work myself'

'..personally I would recommend: KDP exclusive for 3 months for exposure and then go wide'

 'I’ve tried wide and it’s hard to make a dent. Even with KU pages read fluctuate a lot.'

(About doing audio books) 'My audiobooks are a 3-way contract with me, publisher & Amazon. Voice actors get same royalties as author. It’s a way for Amazon to fill their Audible catalog for the freebies. Maybe pitch to Amazon/Audible?'

And finally.... 

'There's so much to learn in this business, it really helps if others share their own experiences so you can try and avoid them and keep moving forward instead of encountering setbacks.'

Which is why I write these posts!

If you are new to the game and are looking for a bit of mentoring/support from the wise, you might like to take a look at Shelley Wilson's Writer Mentoring ProgrammeShelley is one of the most approachable people I've ever met, and is so easy to get on with, positive and practical.  


I can also recommend Georgia Rose's Three Shires Publishing - self-publishing support services that may be of use to anyone wary of going it alone.  Georgia is very helpful and really knows her stuff!

Shelley and Georgia are two of the most generous people I've met during my writer and Twitter years.  😀

I hope this has been of help to anyone not sure which way to go - as you can see, there is no 'right' way, and it seems to depend on so many issues like genre, how much work you are prepared to do where marketing is concerned, if you are willing to spend out on advertising, how many books you have, etc.  Comments welcome, of course :)

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The Park on the 28th: May - Late Spring #Trees #Nature

The park where I go for my walks, photos taken in roughly the same places on the 28th of each month, to observe the changes in seasons: the trees, the flowers, the light in the sky - and the weather!  Each month seems to have its own 'feel', no matter if it's rainy, sunny, overcast, warm or cold on that day.

A few days ago I walked this same trail and some of my favourite parts were beautifully overgrown; I really hoped that the council gardeners wouldn't come along and cut it all down in the meantime, but thankfully they didn't!  It's all so verdant now; lovely.  I admit to taking these on the 26th this month; the weather's been so awful lately that I looked at the weather forecast and saw it had big black clouds all over the 27th and 28th, so I went out on Sunday instead.  For once, the forecast was correct; I got soaked when out this morning!

Click month to see previous posts:


Lost my glasses around here; alas, I needed them to find them...

These trees were bare for so long; 
how lush they look now 😊

New this month ~ the laburnum :)

The tree that turns bright red in the autumn

 I stood under these trees in a mass of pink blossom last month!

~ love the wild flowers ~

Amazing smell walking past here; 
reminded me of childhood country walks. 😌

This is the stump of the tree that fell down in October.

Taken in roughly the same place as the pics 
of me taken in Sept and Oct - big difference.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Thoughts on the final season of #GameOfThrones #GOT

I'm a bit late to the party, I know, because I saved it to watch all at once, which I have done over a couple of nights.

I've read that many fans were extremely disappointed; yes, it did feel a bit rushed through in places and I've seen the pictures of the Starbucks cup, but I found myself pleasantly surprised, after all I had heard.  Some bits I loved, and I thought it had a satisfactory ending.  Shall we do bullet points?

What I liked:
  • Jon's reunion with Ghost.  Can't beat a tear-jerking dog scene!
  • The Long Night: the final battle with the White Walkers.  Thrilling, and I loved that Arya killed the Night King, though I do have some reservations about this episode (see below).
  • That Daenerys was shown to be every bit as tyrannical as Cersei and Joffrey, if not more so; I started to go off her quite early on, back as far as Slavers' Bay; power seemed to be all that mattered to her.  I love that her true colours began to show as soon as she arrived at Winterfell, and discovered that no one in the North gave much of a stuff who she was, or were any more willing to bend the knee than they had been to the Lannisters.  I thought it was a great bit of character development, how she became increasingly ruthless and delusional about her 'destiny'.  And how she killed Varys - he had been the one who kept her safe, since she was a child.  She deserved to die for that alone!
  • The ending; it was perfect.  Sansa as Queen of the newly independent North (how proud Ned would have been!), Arya the adventurer setting off again.... and Jon back to the wall, as though he never left.  Perhaps there might be another Ygritte, one day....
  • That right back at the start of Season 1, when Jon parted from Ned for the last time and asked him who his mother was, I said, 'I bet he's really a Targaryen.'  Smug, not. 
  • How we heard an echo of Viserys's 'Don't wake the dragon' at the beginning of Daenerys's fiery rampage... 
  • The genuine good feeling between Sansa and Tyrion. 
  • What the White Walkers did to Lord Umber.  Horrendous, but.... crikey. 
  • How Bran said to Jaime that if he had not pushed him off the tower, he would not have become the better man he did...and what Sansa said to the Hound about still being the 'little bird' if all the terrible things had not happened to her.  Love that domino effect/alternate possible lives stuff.

What surprised me:
  • That Jon didn't turn against Daenerys the moment she murdered the population of Kings Landing.  I thought he was less of a wuss than that.
  • That he wasn't more perturbed at having shagged his auntie. 😆
  • Bran as King.  A lovely development :)
  • Jaime and Cersei's deaths.  I thought there would have been more drama, rather than just seeing them alive one minute, together again as they had been since the womb, and dead the next.  I thought Arya would get to 'do' the last one on her 'list'! (see Georgia's comment, below - exactly!)
  • That not everyone found out about Jon's true identity.
  • Sandor Clegane's death.  I hoped he might find some peace.

What I was a bit 'hmm' about:
  • The swift conclusion of the whole White Walkers storyline.  It's been with us since the prologue of the first episode, then one quick stab, and it's over.  And now that that the people of Westeros are pals with the Wildlings, what are the Night's Watch going to actually do all day?
  • Only a few weeks after the devastation of Kings Landing, we saw Jon standing on the beach, with a backdrop of the Red Keep looking decidedly un-devastated....
  • The way Grey Worm accepted Tyrion's words so quickly, and left without further ado.
  • I would have liked to see more memories of those they had lost, like Robb, Caitlin, Rickon, Stannis, etc; the two dead Stark brothers were never even mentioned.

What made me sad:
  • Varys's death.  One of my favourite characters; he knew, everything.
  • Jorah's death.
  • Theon's death (but lovely that he redeemed himself)
  • Beric Dondarrion's death.
  • Jaime leaving Brienne (though, really, it was never going to happen....)
  • Oddly, Jaime and Cersei's death. 
  • That the Starks will not be seeing very much of each other now....

What I didn't like
  • That it got a bit schmaltzy in places.  The characters and situations are emotive enough without any help; they don't need to become gooey.
  • That during The Long Night, not much use seemed to be made of the dragonstone or the dragons' fire, after all that preparation.  And it was too dark and cloudy, all the time; it was hard to see what was going on.
  • Not much else, really... yes, if felt a bit raced through, but I really enjoyed it.  One day I will watch the whole thing again, from the beginning!


To sum up, I like this, by Vox's Andrew Prokop:

 "If Game of Thrones ended with a triumphant Daenerys Targaryen heroically taking the Iron Throne, it wouldn't be Game of Thrones. This is the show of Ned Stark's death. This is the show of the Red Wedding. This is the ending it was headed toward all along."


Saturday, 18 May 2019

Lately I've Been Watching.... (TV/Film etc reviews, with trailers)

More TV/film/etc reviews recommendations.... if you would like to see more, please click on the 'Lately I've Been Watching' tag at the bottom, which will bring up the rest of the posts in this series.  Happy watching!

Documentary film: Unseen Enemy

Terrifying, fascinating and absolutely must-watch - a film showing how easily viruses spread, particularly now that the world has become such a small place, and the dangers of them more virulent than anything we have seen yet, emerging via the animal and bird population.  Seriously, if this doesn't put you off eating meat and poultry, nothing will.  Prepare to fall in love with Dr Moses, btw.

5 stars plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Animated film: American Pop

This lasts about an hour, an animated film told in the music of the time, from a Jewish boy's escape from the Russion pogroms at the turn of the 20th century, through to the late 1980s, when the film was made.  Every era is captured so beautifully and perfectly.  The 'pop' of the title isn't only about the music, though; it's also about how each of the four male main characters relates to his father, as it zips through four generations.  I loved it, and you will, too!

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

TV Series: Line of Duty (Season 5)

One of my favourite TV crime shows, this season was as good as any that came before it, as the search for 'H' continues.  Stephen Graham is terrific as an undercover cop working with an OCG who soon realises that he is on his own - will Arnott be the person to help him, or will he chicken out?

5 stars⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Film: Lawrence of Arabia (colour etc restored)

I can't believe I had never seen this epic classic before, but the other night I spent 4 hours engrossed in it.  Peter O'Toole is wonderful, the cinematography is amazing, and it's a poignant illustration of European politics in the early part of the century.  The scenes in the desert were spectacular.

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

TV Series: Silicon Valley

Very funny show about start-ups in Silicon Valley and the world of technology.  Pokes sophisticated fun at trends and hip company cultures and the ridiculous amounts of money some can have on paper, in this strange digital age - and how transient it all is.  Half hour episodes.  I liked the first two seasons the best, after which the writing seemed to change a little, and it became more 'standard sitcom' than 'clever satire'.  Best character: Bertram Gilfoyle, a satan-worshipping tech wizard.  In S5, some have become caricatures of themselves, as happens when some show producers think 'hey, these lines and jokes are getting great approval ratings.  Let's include a version of them in every episode and do them do death till they're not funny any more.' .... but it got better towards the end and I ended up really hoping there's going to be an S6!

S1/2: 5* all the way.  S/4: 4.5*  S5: 4*

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Film: Extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile

Stars Zac Efron as Ted Bundy.  I admit to being slightly disappointed by this, as it is not about his crimes but more about his relationship with girlfriend Liz, while he was living his secret life.  Efron is terrific as Bundy, and it does a great job of showing how the evil can completely disguise themselves to the world, but I was waiting for a slow reveal of what he actually did, or a shocking, hard-hitting end, that never came.  It's good, though, and well done; held my interest throughout.

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

TV Series: The Ice Cream Girls 

Adaptation of a book by Dorothy Koomson, stars Martin Compston (Line of Duty) as a slimy teacher who screws his pupils and gets violent with them.  Fast forward 17 years, and we find that he's been murdered - but by Poppy, a lonely waitress with a crush on him who was imprisoned for the crime, or Serena, the 16 year old pupil he said he was crazy about?.  Great premise, and I loved the first episode, but it went downhill, and I was disappointed by the final third.  I spotted a few glaring plot holes and highly unlikely reactions, and the end was far too HEA and swiftly wrapped up.

3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Musical Theatre: Rock of Ages

Went to see this at Derngate Theatre, Northampton.  Love story with a backdrop of the 80s LA rock scene.  I like the dancing, and some of the cast (mostly Zoe Birkett, who came 4th in the first Pop Idol) were great, but I was fairly disappointed in much of it.  It wasn't really representative of the music or the styles of the time; the 'rock' music was little of the 'hair bands' like Poison, LA Guns, Cinderella, Warrant, or heavy rock like Aerosmith or Zep, but mostly soft or pop rock type, like Journey.  Most of the men had short hair, and looked more like members of Noughties boy bands than 80s rockers.  I enjoyed some of it well enough, but I think it's more a show for people who like musicals, generally, rather than those who like rock.

3 stars ⭐⭐⭐