Scrivener tip – Synopsis sneak peak

Here’s a useful little Scrivener tip…

To see what’s in the Synopsis pane of a particular document without opening the Inspector, simply rest your cursor over the document’s icon in the Binder.

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Scrivener tip: editing auto-complete character list in scriptwriting mode

In scriptwriting mode, Scrivener automatically adds character names to the auto-complete list as you write. While this is for the most part convenient, it can be a pain if you decide to change a character’s name, or accidentally type something formatted as Character & Dialogue instead of, for example, Technical Directions, as this will still be added to the list and appear as an option every time.

If this happens, and you’re like me and want to keep things neat, you might feel the need to prune your auto-correct list.

To do this in Scrivener 3, access the list can be via the Menubar, and Project/Project Settings. Simply select the entries you want to get rid of, click the minus button, then OK.


I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Wake Up and Dream by Ian R MacLeod – review

Wake Up and Dream by Ian R MacLeod is a gripping film noire SF mystery/thriller set in the Hollywood of 1940.

In the movie business the “feelies” have replaced the talkies in the same way that the talkies replaced silent movies. The protagonist of Wake Up and Dream is none other than Clarke Gable. Having been unable to work with the technology used to generate feelie movies – contraptions of glass and wire and valves that capture actors’ emotions, to be conveyed to audiences in special feelie cinemas – Gable has seen his acting career fade. While occasionally recognised by ladies of a certain age, Gable has become a low-end private detective in order to keep the wolf from the door.

Enter April Lamotte, the wife and agent of Daniel Lamotte – one of Hollywood’s top screenwriters. It transpires that Mr Lamotte suffers mental health problems and is currently on retreat. With a contract waiting to be signed on the lucrative deal for the feelie script of the novel’s title, and with an expensive lifestyle to fund, Mrs Lamotte can’t afford to delay. As a result she asks Gable to impersonate Daniel Lamotte for the purposes of signing, claiming that with a little Brylcreem and fake glasses Gable could pass for her husband.

Despite the obvious illegalities associated with the proposal, Gable is struggling financially and agrees to dust off his old acting skills for this unusual role. Having taken on the persona of Daniel Lamotte, however, Gable soon finds himself embroiled in a chain of sinister events, and a mystery rapidly unfolds that seems to permeate the entire Hollywood film industry.

I read Wake Up and Dream in two sittings. Admittedly I was on holiday, but I can assure you that this just doesn’t happen. I can think of only two other books that have held me with such a firm grip from the get-go: Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Stamping Butterflies and Christopher Priest’s The Prestige. Like the latter title, the period setting is to some extent dictated by the technology at the heart of the story, and use of Clarke Gable as the protagonist is a stroke of genius that gives the reader an immediate relationship and familiarity with the novel.

One of the most striking aspects of Wake Up and Dream is its authentic feel. MacLeod has clearly conducted extensive research of the period and utilised much of this information while maintaining the easy flow of reading: there are no info-dumps or dense passages of composition, with the book subtly seducing the reader in the way of many successful thrillers before it.

Issues such as the racism and bigotry as well as the political background of the period are all handled with great skill. The characters are wonderful, too, particularly those in less prominent roles. Take Roger, for example – a street-wise kid who hangs around near the small apartment in the gritty downtown area of Hollywood that Daniel Lamotte uses to write his screenplays. With knowledge well beyond his years, Roger’s brief appearances through the novel are a delight. Similarly, private detective Abe Penn is a marvellous demonstration of economy in character building, skilfully drawn over the course of what amounts to just a few sentences. Then there’s the youthful exuberance and Hollywood ridiculousness of Timmy Townsend – senior production executive at Senserama.

While at least one question is left unanswered at the end of Wake Up and Dream, for me this is MacLeod’s finest work to date. Liberally sprinkled with clues, cliffhangers and cameos, this gripping novel takes this author’s already exceptional writing to another level.

Wake Up and Dream is available from PS Publishing in both hard cover and ebook formats. Buy it.
UPDATE: Wake Up and Dream has won the 2012 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

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Scrivener tip – adding annotations in plain text files

If you use the sync with external folder feature to edit your Scriv project as plain text files in another editor – in my case iA Writer on the iPad – and want to add annotations, simply enclose the text you wish to annotate in double brackets, thus:

((annotation example here))

When next opening the project in Scrivener, this text magically appears in a red annotation bubble.

Bob’s yer uncle.

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The day I almost gotten decluttered

A while ago, while consulting one of those American websites that has all the answers about productivity, life, the universe and everything, the internet gave me the following advice:

If you’ve got a pile of clutter on your desk, put it in a box and set it to one side. You’ll find out what’s important when you need to dig it out. When you’ve done with it, put it back and keep a clean desk. This will increase your productivity ten-fold, and make you a Better Person.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing. And possibly exaggerating slightly. But that was the gist. For authenticity I could have included the word “gotten” in the above paragraph, but I’m afraid I can’t see that word without feeling like I’m going to vomit.

Any road, I looked at my desk and realised it was a considerable mess, so this seemed like a good idea. I duly took all the crap from said desk and put it in a box. This variety of items included a stapler, staples (wrong size), cables, half a packet of batteries, some rawl plugs, a blank DVD (or it might be a CD and it might not be blank…) and miscellaneous other items too tedious to name here. I put the box on the floor where I couldn’t see it and had myself a nice clear desk. Great, I thought. Let the enhanced productivity begin.

The thing is, now there’s another pile of detritus on my desk: a component from the car my wife recently sold, a yellow tape measure, some post-its, £1.15 in loose change, miscellaneous pens and pencils, bits of paper that presumably have something important on them, a pile of mail that I need to deal with and the elastic band that held the mail together until the last time I looked at it, as well as numerous other items.

Having considered whether to put all this stuff in the box, get another box, or get a bigger box, I’ve decided that, well, quite frankly it can all stay just where it is. The study of every half-decent writer I’ve ever seen has been chaotic, so I’ll satisfy myself with the possibly delusional notion that this indicates potential on my part.

The previous box remains on the floor. It’s hidden under a roadmap, a couple of Jiffy bags, an empty DVD cakebox, a sleeping bag in a stuff sac, a two-thirds used ream of printer paper…

I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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Scrivener, Dropbox and backups

Edit: Scrivener allows you to store your backups anywhere; creating a specific folder in Dropbox offers a nice, convenient remote location.

If like me you keep your Scrivener projects in Dropbox because you alternate between machines – in my case an iMac running Lion and a MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard – when you switch from one machine to the other, make sure Dropbox has synced before opening your current Scrivener project, otherwise you’ll need to dig out a backup.

Scrivener’s automatic backup feature means that your recent files are always available to restore should you be a bit of a pillock and forget to do this – as I did last night. Twice.

Say, what?

Here’s the scenario: you’re working on your desktop machine on a Scrivener project that you keep in your Dropbox folder. You close this at 5:00pm, at which point Scrivener saves the project to Dropbox and automatically makes a local backup on the desktop computer. All good.

At 7:00pm you decide want to work on the same project on your laptop. You open your Dropbox folder on the machine, but being particularly enthusiastic (or forgetful) you open the file in the local Dropbox folder before Dropbox has synced with the web-based folder. This can happen, because Dropbox often doesn’t sync immediately – sometimes it’s very quick, but on other occasions it can take a few minutes, depending on connection speed or other factors.

As a result the file you now have open on the laptop will be the one Scrivener saved the last time you worked on the project on that machine; it could be a day old, it could be a week old, who knows? But even if it’s only a few hours, the chances are that you’ve made more changes than you really want to have to make again because of your… enthusiasm. For the purposes of this post let’s say you last saved the file on the laptop the previous day at 3:00pm.

What this means is that Scrivener will now automatically make a backup of the file you currently have open on the laptop – the one from 3:00pm yesterday – to Dropbox when it does sync, thereby overwriting the more recent file you saved at 5:00pm today on the desktop machine. Even if you close the file or quit Scrivener now it will automatically overwrite the work saved at 5:00pm today with the version from 3:00pm yesterday. Not so good.

Hey Presto!

It is in just such circumstances that Scrivener comes to the rescue. What you need to do is retrieve the back-up of the project that Scrivener saved locally on the desktop machine when you closed it at 5:00pm. On a Mac (don’t ask me about Windows…) you’ll find this in the following location:

Library/Application Support/Scrivener/Backups

If you sort the file list by Date Modified your most recent file will be at the top. Open this file, double-check to make sure it’s the correct one, then save it to Dropbox. This will overwrite the version from 3:00pm yesterday that Scrivener saved from the laptop when you closed it at 7:00pm. Boom, as the late Steve Jobs would say, your work is restored, and you should be thankful to Scrivener for holding the safety net for you.

There are a couple of potential problems you should be aware of. The first is the possibility that you don’t realise you’ve opened an older version of the file before making changes aplenty. In this case you’re just going to have to repeat some work, because you’ll have conflicting files with different changes. The other problem will be if you save the file on your desktop, then go out on the road with your laptop, because you won’t have access to the backup that Scrivener saved locally on the desktop computer. I was lucky: I was at home.

Ideally, wait until the local Dropbox folder on the machine you’re working on has synced with the online folder; a good idea is to set Growl to issue a notification when this has occurred.

I’m a writer, editor, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow.
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The best of cons, the worst of cons

The approach of BristolCon has me thinking back to previous cons I’ve attended. There have been good and bad, and many in-between. But which was my best?

Was it Jersey in 2002? Possibly. At this con I had a meeting with John Jarrold, then editor at Earthlight (Simon & Schuster) during which he told me a deal for my novels was pretty much on the table. A 3-book deal. This was on the Friday, about an hour after my arrival. I went to a party or two. There were huge chocolate bars in the hotel shop. I flew on a plane (y’know, like, twice!). I went to the beach. It was sunny! The only downside was the man who snored in the bedroom next door.

Or was it the Glasgow WorldCon in 2005, where I hung out with Lou Anders, who was to publish my books in the US. An absolutely wonderful guy, Lou’s enthusiasm was hugely encouraging, particularly given the difficulties that had transpired in the UK since that con in Jersey. The only downside to this con was my experience with taxi drivers. (Taxi drivers, you are often the first point of contact for visitors; make a good impression.) Oh, and the fact that the bed in my hotel room broke. And the fact that for 24 hours I lived on only M&M’s* from the mini bar. * – apostrophiles please note M&M’s is correct.

Or was it the World Fantasy Con in Washington in 2003?  This was a big deal. It cost a small fortune, but I considered the trip to be an investment in my career. I flew to America alone – like some kind of jet-setter. It was an adventure. I stayed in hotels, met editors and authors and agents, lunched and dinnered and partied. And I was more tired than ever before or since.

Or was it my first con: Liverpool, the Adelphi, 1997. Here I met the lovely David Garnett (where are you, Dave?) who introduced me to loads of people I’d heard about and who also wrote stuff, and told me to send him something for New Worlds, which he was then editing. (I did, and although he didn’t buy it he did give me some useful snippets of advice.)

Or was it the 2011 Eastercon near Birmingham? This was my kids’ first con. They loved the relaxed atmosphere and general hub-ub. Furthermore, I was able to introduce my very excited daughter to Keith Brooke – all round good egg and author of her favourite novel The Unlikely World of Faraway Frankie.

And my worst con?

Perhaps it was Blackpool, (2004). This should have been so great as my first book was just out. But no one from the publisher was there, there were no copies of the book, and the con membership packs were DIY jobbies, pick ‘n’ mix leaflets. There was something for my novel among them, but I think I was the only one who picked it and mixed it. There was no actual convention hotel. The hotel in which we stayed wasn’t great, and Blackpool’s a dump (sorry if you happen to live there – no offence or anything). It’s also a 4-hour hour drive from Birmingham. No thanks. My best memory of this con is the great Peter Lavery’s delight at picking up a Best of Blackpool Trams DVD. A great guy who I’m sorry not to see any more.

Or was it Manchester in 98, where I had pleurisy, felt RAF and spoke to hardly anyone the whole weekend.

Or Fantasycon (2007?) at which I asked Conrad Williams to sign a book he hadn’t written. (This ranks as one of my Most Embarrasing Moments – up there with the time I sneezed into an ashtray in a pub and blew its contents all over a girl I really fancied…) The highlight of this con was seeing the wonderful Hal Duncan stagger back to the hotel in the morning from God knows where looking like the living dead. (What? Oh, apparently Hal is the living dead. Fair enough.)

I’ve met loads of great people at cons over the years, many of whom – if not most – are on my wavelength. I’ve met authors I’d read and admired, many becoming friends. At a recent Eastercon at Heathrow my wife spotted a man we both recognised. It turned out he lives next door but one.

So, while cons vary, it’s clear having written this that even the least enjoyable have high points. And who knows, maybe the best of them all is yet to come…

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