Saturday, 30 July 2016

Google Maps, Google Street View and Google Photospheres

Dear all,

I’ve been without a smartphone for over two months now and as much as I am enjoying having a nice chunk of my life back (I’m guilty as anyone of wasting far too much time on social media instead of keeping my head up looking at real life all around me) in terms of keeping my company social media accounts active it has made an impact. For one, I haven’t used Instagram all that time and it’s a shame because I actually really enjoyed it. I have tweeted less and although I’m active on my laptop, it’s just not the same. I’ll be getting a replacement phone soon, probably within the next few weeks and coincidentally I received an email from Google Maps saying my photospheres have been viewed over a million times and that I am eligible to join Google Local Guides.


I really enjoyed taking photospheres on my iPhone even though it never really stitched them together properly, and the more battered my phone became the worse the images  came out. I was considering upgrading to the iPhone 6 or even waiting a few months and seeing what options there were on the 7 as the camera will be so much better than the 5 but it pains me because it’s so much money a month and I’m finding it harder and harder to justify (I wasn’t the UK person who won the £61 million pound lottery Friday night unfortunately) but what is even harder to justify is buying a £200 360 camera…The thing is… I WANT IT! You can take really amazing images and it's become a fun hobby for me. There are lots to choose from and the range in price is vast but here’s the one I’m interested in, especially as it links directly with Google Street View:

Google Local Guides

There are a number of things you can do when you contribute to Google Maps and being a local guide is simply an official recognition of people who do so regularly and to a high quality, although the higher level you reach the more benefits and special offers you are eligible for. You can find out more here:

The reason I find it a compelling thing to be part of, is that I find  it interesting to share the research I undertake for my stories. (I should qualify the term ‘research’ here. I simply mean anything I do that helps me visualize the story I want to tell and with regards this blog, I specifically mean when I take walks or trips to locations I want to use.) I may use the locations I visit in my stories by referencing them by name and explaining where they are, or I may just use it as a template, or source idea, for a made up location. Either way, I think it’s a nice idea to share with people where these real locations are. I enjoy taking photos and I think 360s are fun so why not? It’s a good way of networking and sharing places that mean something to me with people over the world and to a far lesser extent (i.e. just to me) referencing my stories and the inspirations behind them. I have loads of places to share and that is why it is so tempting. It seems quite a nice project to link in all these things together and I think in some small way it will help my online presence. And think of all the possibilities with 360 video, which I've not even touched upon yet!

But, it’s still £200!

Time for a long think… I’ll let you know what I end up doing (and how I managed to steal the money as you know I’m getting it… )

R.G Rankine

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Word Counts & Competitions

I’m happy with my efforts this year to enter competitions as I feel I’ve got quite a lot out of it. As ever, I could have done more, I could have worked harder, I could have been more disciplined, but it was a decent enough start and importantly, it’s given me a good structure to work to over the next few years.

At the start of the year I made a note of 85 different competitions that may be suitable for me to enter, and up to today passed deadlines  cover 66, of which I have entered 20. Some of them had very short word limits of maybe 500 whereas some went up to 10k. From a quick look it seems my combined word count from the 20 I entered comes to just over 30,000. (That doesn’t seem much for six months work when a professional writer could blast through two thousand words a day for example, that puts things in perspective a bit.) I am only going to enter one more this year, I have a longer short story, or rather a novella (up to 18k words for this particular competition) in mind. This is because I think I have got as much as I can out of it so far and I really want to return to working on my first novel before it rots. I set it aside as I wasn’t able to split my week (and my brain) into two periods, one day or one half of the week working on the novel, while the other on the shorts, I’m just not capable of doing two things at the same time, but that’s fine because I wanted to try and see if I could and it’s good that I have learnt I can’t! I think the practice and focus I have had this year working on competitions will help me when I return to the novel.

Aside from giving me the idea of how to timetable my year to allow for a novel and competitions, which I think I may blog about separately another time, working to deadlines and word counts has helped me improve my ruthlessness. It is something I have been conscious of for a long time but this year, for the first time, I feel I have actually improved. The need to cut down in order to qualify for a competition has been great, it’s been very difficult and frustrating also, but in terms of improving my overall writing, it has been beneficial.

I never expected to win anything, let’s make that clear. I feel I have a long way to go before I am of a level that can seriously compete but there is that sense of professionalism from paying a fee to enter your work that forces you to take it seriously. Perhaps more seriously than I would have if they were free because if it wasn’t costing me anything there’s always that chance of not bothering, as terribly lazy as that sounds. It’s easier to give up. Whereas what I have done is pay the entry fee before I’ve actually finished (or even started) the story so I know that it’s totally wasted money if I don’t see it through. Which is why late Sunday nights have been occupied working to a deadline when it would have most certainly been a pint down the pub instead. The reason that has improved my writing is that there has been no time to worry. If I need to get rid of a hundred words then those words, one way or another, are gone and usually within a quick space of time. No stress about rewriting or changing the story to adapt, it is cutting and making sure the rest of the words still make sense. Honestly, I know it’s such a basic thing, but it has really helped. This won’t be news to anyone who has attempted regular writing but it wasn’t so much a technical lesson I was after, it was more an emotional one. I feel I am braver and more concise in my first drafts now, and certainly more confident when it comes to rewriting or editing, I can take the knife to the page with far less horror than before.

All in all, the first half of the year has been okay. I’ll be thirty seven years old in a few months and with every passing day my attitude to writing is hardening, I’m so fed up of my lack of discipline and knowing I am capable of producing a lot more, that the thought of getting older and still allowing myself the same old excuses is wearing very, very thin. At the same time of course, I am not in any rush. I know that this is a very long journey I am on and I don’t have any delusions beyond my ability, but that shouldn’t stop me trying to pass important milestones. It’s a bit like the gym, you know you can’t become Arnold Schwarzenegger in a day but if you keep telling yourself that year after year you’ll never get anywhere, there are times when you have to shift gears, hurt yourself, put yourself through pain, anguish and outright terrorize yourself, stop saying tomorrow, tomorrow, else the difference between amateur and professional will never lessen.

Anyway, let’s see how the rest of the year goes. I think I have another two months or so working on this last novella, then another month to edit and so on. That should mean I still have a couple of months to get back to the novel and work solidly on that until the middle of next year when I’ll then see if I can get back to some short story competitions, but I’ll blog about the reasons I want to do that, and why I feel it is worthwhile, another time.

Have a great weekend,

R.G Rankine

Saturday, 9 July 2016

SHORT STORY ENTRY: Creative Competitor

Dear all,

Here is another short story entry I can now blog. Check out the competition, and the winner, on the link below. The maximum word count was 700 and the given title was "No Way Out" (there was also a photo prompt, although that was optional). 


You have to leave madam… no, no. No. No! No more phone calls.

Ajeet’s mobile phone flashes a luminescent pearl white glow into the room. His form emerges from the blackness, his features cut into strips as if a flare has been ignited at sea and his fragmented form a momentary apparition floating in the nothingness. He slams the screen against his quadriceps in a panic. A line of sweat breaks out across his forehead. What was worse? The light or the sound? The impact of glass-on-jean or the pop of light through the eyehole? Ajeet dares not move.

No. No more wait. Time up. You have to go. You go. You go. You must leave. We take keys. These. Keys. We take keys.

The sweat cools and dries. They did not hear. They did not see.

No cry. No more. No more. We have been through everything. Rules. We follow rules. Law, yes. The law.

They’ll be gone soon. This is how it ends.

Ajeet feels a tap on his chest. It’s impossible to see in the blackness. He keeps his phone pressed painfully against his leg, terrified of the faintest escape of light and slowly raises his other hand to feel his shirt. A small circle, no larger than a postage stamp, is damp. Ajeet’s face contorts, confused and fearful of anything unexpected. He keeps his eyes fixed on the hole. He must make sure they are gone.

Yes. Go now. Go. No more here. No more stay. Go see friends. Go see family. Don’t come back. Go to council. Council. Council.

Ajeet hears the men lock the room and counts their steps. He waits to hear the heavy front door slam shut. They have all gone. Now he can breathe. He peels the phone off his leg and looks at the screen. A text message reads: Safe? He blinks and feels further taps on his chest. The damp is from his tears. He presses the buttons as quietly as he can: Yes. I LOVE YOU.

Ajeet keeps his room darkened. He has survived another week. He knows they may come for him next but there are plenty of people in the building and he will pray they pick others. He listens for movement and feels the vibrations of the others creeping from their hiding places. There is no noise, only dull tremors. Somewhere a door creaks and the building silences itself as if plucked from existence. There are no people if there is no sound. Ajeet knows this. He knows the risks. He fixes his gaze on the floor. He imagines he can see his feet in the depthless black. Memories rush him. Pictures of a desperately dreamed future rush him. How long before she finds a way to him?

Have a great weekend,

R.G Rankine