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One unfortunate consequence of switching to this shiny new website: the rss feed for blog posts has changed, so it’s time to subscribe to a new feed, folks! www.brianruckley.com/feed/ is what you’re looking for.  Please subscribe!  Even if you’ve never used an rss feed before, make mine your first!  (In fact, if you’ve never used an rss feed before – seriously, this is stuff that will make your life better.  Seriously.  Go forth and become an rss feed junkie like the rest of us.  You can thank me later.)

So, this blog is about to go into hopefully very brief hibernation. Blogger, in their wisdom (I’m not sure wisdom is quite the right word, but they’ve evidently got their reasons and I guess they’re entitled to do what they want with their own product) are switching off their support for the particular means of blog publishing upon which this here site relies. Thus, even if I wanted to, as of May 1st, no further posts will be possible. Tragic, I’m sure you’ll agree.

On the plus side, we’ve known about the impending shutdown for a while, and its provided the impetus for some long-discussed and hopefully thoroughly positive changes to brianruckley.com. So we (we is me and my invaluable Orbit web guru, by the way) will, with any luck, be bringing you a nice new website very soon. Thank you and good night.

An entirely pointless and idle detour into the backstreets of randomville. Further to my last post, I was vaguely curious about what googling ‘crushing the frantic penguins’ would reveal. (I’ve no idea why. Just because I can, I suppose. Which could be the defining slogan of our internet-enabled world, I suppose).

Not a lot, is the answer, but as always where the internet’s concerned, a couple of interesting snippets. Especially the last one, though I’m not sure ‘interesting’ is really quite the right word for it.

Lovecraftian graffiti

A photo of some ridiculously big starfish

Clearing a giant fatberg from the London sewers. Yeuuch.

And now I’m off to do something slightly less futile than googling phrases culled from horror fiction masterworks.

I’ve just been initiated into one of the more obscure financial rituals of the writing business: got my first statement of income under the Public Lending Right scheme. Under PLR, each time a book is borrowed from a UK library, the author (assuming they’ve registered for the scheme), gets a little bit of cash. ‘Little’ is the operative word here: the rate is currently just under 6p per loan. Unless you’re a bit of an exceptional case (of which more later, complete with facts and figures), PLR isn’t going to be paying for many holidays. Still, it’s a welcome token. Another minor way of tracking your book’s journey out into the big wide world.

The income for the author would be much higher, of course, if all those library loans had been book purchases instead. You can hope some of those borrowers might become buyers in the future, or that they’ll tell their buying friends about this great book they’ve just read, but at the end of the day helping writers sell books is not why libraries exist. Shocking, I know, but it’s true apparently. Their purposes are rather nobler, and having a well-used library system is an inherently good thing for a country and a society. So I’ll just take my PLR payment as a sign that I’ve become a tiny little cog in the wheels of A Good Thing and be grateful that people are reading the book anywhere and anyhow.

The PLR people have also put out a booklet in which ‘writers comment on the PLR scheme, its future priorities and the broader context of authors’ rights.’ Sounds dull as ditchwater, right? Well, probably. You can judge for yourself if you like, since this is the pdf of the booklet, but in case you’re not so inspired, here’s a few things that caught my eye:

There are 37,000 authors (I think they might be including some illustrators, translators etc. in that figure too, but I’m not sure) registered for the PLR scheme, with around 1,400 new ones joining each year. Wow. That seems … quite a lot.

The number of visits to libraries each year is increasing, but the number of book loans and the number of books bought by libraries are both decreasing. People are obviously finding things to do in libraries that don’t involve actually borrowing printed books. Does suggest a slight disconnect developing, though, since as far as I’m aware the number of new titles published each year has been going up, so if the libraries are buying less of them, does that mean the proportion of titles that are available through libraries (in printed form, at least) is declining?

No surprise to anyone, I imagine, but writing is a top heavy business. Some recent research says the top 10% of authors now accrue 50% of all income earned by writing. The bottom 50% get just 10% of the riches. That’ll be the ‘death of the midlist’ everyone keeps talking about, I guess, but if anything those figures seem less extreme than I would have expected them to be. Still, in recent years the figures for wealth distribution in the UK as a whole have shown a very similar pattern, to within a couple of percentage points. Maybe under the British version of capitalism, the top 10% of every category just naturally get 50% of everything. Law of Nature or something.

According to the same research, the average income from writing for UK authors is declining and is now down to £4,000 p.a. Treasure that day job. Really. Maybe even get another one, just to be on the safe side.

Also available is the PLR’s annual newsletter, which is even less interesting to a non-writer on the whole (although if you’ve got masochistic tendencies, or just like to know how things work, here’s the pdf of that, too). But it does have some more of those facts and figures I so enjoy:

Approximate total number of book loans from UK libraries per year: 323 million (down from 330 million the previous year).

About 83% of resgistered authors received less than £100 as their PLR payment this year. See what I mean about it not paying for many holidays? This includes 35% who received nothing at all. You don’t get paid anything if your earnings are under £1, I think, plus there’s probably some registered authors with no books in-print.

Just over 4% have a PLR income in excess of £1,000 this year. That includes 242 lucky souls (less than 1%), who qualify for the maximum allowable payment of £6,600. In order to get that, your books have to be borrowed a very impressive 110,000+ times. I did actually go onto the PLR website to see how many sf/f/h authors are on their lists of most borrowed writers, but to be honest there’re hardly any and you could guess who they are with a moment’s thought: JK Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, that kind of thing.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Winterbirth was borrowed rather a lot less than 110,000 times. Still, it’s always good to have something to aim for.

Findings

A few items encountered in the wilds of the internet recently that took my fancy, and might take yours. Or not. Who knows?

A nice little (very little) story from The Daily Cabal (where all the stories are very little).

A good little podcast about the Inuit, that beneath an easy-to-listen-to exterior is about a big and complicated subject: the ways language, environment and culture interact and merge. It’s that worldbuilding stuff sf/f writers and readers go on about, only in the real world. From Nature Stories.

A stunning gallery of underwater sculptures, discovered via the palace of cool that is Notcot, which was in turn discovered via the livejournal of Ian McDonald, who wrote the wholly excellent River of Gods.

And not strictly internet-related (except that it was rented via the net) but watched The Host recently, and enjoyed it. Korean sf-horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite being quite dark and nasty in places, and is, in ways both subtle and not-so-subtle, unlike anything Hollywood would come up with given the same basic material to work with. Plus it has a monster that swallows people whole and vomits them back up. Nice.

Oddz n Endz

1. Should you happen to be a US resident over the age of 18, you might want to enter the competition Orbit US are running: win a book a month for a year.

2. DARPA is the ‘way out there’ research body for the US military, busily pushing the boundaries of the plausible and practical in search of cutting edge military technology. Their website sometimes has some interesting little nuggets of info, but this one fell into the category of ‘read it twice to make sure you got the right end of the stick’: DARPA seeks innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect-hybrids, possibly enabled by intimately integrating microsystems within insects, during their early stages of metamorphosis.

3. Tintin Movie! Cool.

4. My main conclusions from watching the film below, showing the evacuation of one of those new superjumbo thingies Airbus is building: (a) an ability to put the fear of God into your passengers is evidently part of the job description for the stewardesses, and (b) if you’re old, infirm or disabled, I don’t much fancy your chances …

The event on May 12th has been cancelled, alas. At least now I won’t have to fret about what to read, I suppose …

A few more snippets of info about the event me and Alan Campbell and Deborah J Miller are doing on Saturday May 12th: ‘Dark Fantasies’, part of the Writers With Bite series of events.

The exact location is ‘The Celtic Lodge’ in Brodie’s Close just off Edinburgh’s High Street. Starts 7.30pm, should all be comfortably done and dusted by 9.30. Apparently, tickets will be for sale on the door on the night, and I’m told that ticket-holders are entitled to a 50% discount on one of Edinburgh’s famous/infamous ghost tours. Bargain! How can you resist?

We’ll be reading stuff, of course, but there might well be a certain amount of mingling, Q&Aing, perhaps even signing going on too … Being new to this kind of thing, I’m still not absolutely sure what to read. At the moment I’m inclining towards reading a little from Winterbirth and then something from Book 2. Since it’s meant to be a ‘dark’ event, it’s safe to assume that whatever extracts I end up choosing, they’ll involve some form of violence, bloodshed and/or general gruesomeness.

Further info available by calling 0131 225 9044 or e-mailing info(at)blackhart(dot)uk(dot)com

I’m pretty sure Edinburgh has more festivals per head of population than anywhere else on the planet. This is the first time I get to take part in one, though. GhostFest 2007 includes a strand of events called ‘Writers With Bite’, and in the midst of it can be found: Dark Fantasies, 7.30pm on Saturday 12th May, featuring Alan Campbell, Deborah J. Miller and me.

Should be fun – and none of us actually bite, so should be reasonably safe too. If you fancy seeing (and hearing) us in the flesh, tickets are very reasonably priced: details are on the website, or you can e-mail info(at)blackhart(dot)uk(dot)com or call 0131 225 9044. Come along and say hello!

Summer is Here!

Well, maybe not technically, but it sure feels like it. Heat, almost cloudless blue skies, not a breath of wind, butterflies, six buzzards drifting in big circles way, way up above the house. Each winter, I half-forget just how much nicer, how much easier on the spirit, the summer is. It’s good to be reminded. And if summers are going to start in April from now on, they’re going to be looong.

On a whole other subject: you didn’t think Superman’s Fortress of Solitude was imaginary, did you? Oh no. Here’s the photographic proof.

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