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EasterCon – Glasgow 2014

Glasgow Science Museum

Glasgow Science Museum

This year’s EasterCon, Satellite 4, was held by the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow over the Easter weekend. This was my first time in Glasgow and as is the way with conventions I didn’t get to see much of the city other than the area around the convention hotel. Having said that, everyone was very friendly and it would be a city I would go back to and explore without hesitation. The convention itself was well-organised and ran smoothly – clearly a lot of work had gone into the preparation and I would like to add my thanks to the many people involved in running the convention.

For me it was a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues and to meet people for the first time. It was particularly nice to meet those who have read my work and took a moment to let me know they’d enjoyed it. Writing is generally a solitary activity and to realise that your work has made a connection with someone is very rewarding – especially as they are such nice people.

View of the Clyde

View of the Clyde

In terms of programming, I participated in a panel discussion on different styles of fantasy, which was fun and interesting. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, including the panel, so that was good. I especially enjoyed the presentations of two visitors to the convention, Andy Miah from the University of the West of Scotland, and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

Andy presented on the subject of enhanced humans, either by mechanical, biological, chemical or genetic means, and what was stunning about his presentation was not how much could be done, but how much of it was current. I was expecting him to be talking about things that might happen in the future, but most of what he was presenting is perfectly possible now, and may actually already have been done. Andy clearly knows his subject well and is a gifted presenter, and his presentation was excellent.

BBC Scotland Reflection

BBC Scotland Reflection

 

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a former President of the Royal Astronomical Society and was President of the Institute of Physics. She is also lots of fun, really interesting to listen to and an inspirational speaker. Her presentation was on new developments in astronomy, a subject that until then I’d though was relatively well understood and quite static. How wrong I was. Dame Jocelyn mostly talked about transients, things which move around in the heavens and which have been difficult to study because the sensitivity to track something in the heavens that is moving around  has only recently become available. These are important not just because they enhance our understanding of our universe, but also because there is evidence that from time to time large objects crash into the Earth causing damage on a catastrophic scale.

She also talked about mysterious things called whistlers that that are intermittent and fleeting – pulses of radiation that have crossed intergalactic space. This is cutting edge astronomy and we are only beginning to theorise on what might be the cause of such intense bursts of energy. Dame Jocelyn has the gift  of making her subject accessible, understandable and inspiring. If you get the opportunity to hear her speak then I highly recommend it.

So overall Satellite 4 was a successful weekend for me personally and for the convention in general, and I hope I will get to visit the lovely City of Glasgow again soon.

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Wattpad – Reaching the Next Generation of Readers?

Today I opened my email to find this message, delivered via my website:

Wattpad

Subject: Reaching the Next Generation of Readers
 
Dear Mike,Please forgive the slightly skewed approach, but my name is Gavin and I work for Wattpad. We’re a community of readers and writers, and I work as part of their content team. As I’m responsible for Science Fiction and Fantasy on the site I wondered if I could entice you to join.Wattpad are a worldwide community of some 18 Million + readers and Writers, and we’ve attracted some great authors to the community like Brandon Sanderson, Cory Doctorow, Margaret Atwood and David Moody, who’ve posted everything from poetry and short stories to excerpts of ‘in progress’ works and full novels so their fans across the world can read them.The community is very much virtual, in that all the reading is done either online or via Mobile App, but that means that we can reach people even in the poorest parts of the world who have the odd position of having mobile devices but no books.I’d love to be able to talk more to you more about this, and if we’re able to pop up even a drabble or a short story for the community to read it would be wonderful to see.Thank you for your time, and I hope this email finds you well,Best Regards,Gavin

 The approach seemed genuine rather than a phishing attempt, which I also regularly receive, and I checked out the website and the entry on Wikipedia to see what they were about. It’s an interesting pitch because it invites me to reach out to the millions of people in the world who can’t afford books, but who are in the odd position (their words) of having an Android, Blackberry or IOS device, but no books. Still, an audience of 18 million is not to be sneezed at.

Then I started reading more carefully. Gavin says he works for Wattpad as part of the content team. He names a number of well-known authors as contributors, not least Cory Doctorow who is notable for his advocacy of free content. And then it struck me – if Gavin works for Wattpad, then he is getting paid.

I checked out the website further and discovered that not only is Gavin getting paid, but so is the HR Manager, the Business Development Manager, the Content Manager, together with a team of developers and marketing people. All these people are employees – indeed, Wattpad are recruiting if you are a talented developer and you live within reach of Toronto.

The message invites me to contribute some of my work to the Wattpad site for the benefit of the Wattpad Community, people who have joined the community for free, so they are not paying customers, and I wondered how Wattpad was paying all these employees if it’s free to join? So, I joined the site and soon found the advertising content on the search results pages. With an audience of 18 million, the advertising revenue potential must be considerable.

It was at this point that I decided to reply to Wattpad in this post, rather than send them a simple ‘not interested’ email. It seemed to me that there was a wider issue that should be aired.

The proposition from Gavin is that I provide them with a short story, part-work, novel or drabble, for free. This content is donated to Wattpad under the following conditions extracted from their Terms of Service:

6.C For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to Wattpad.com, you hereby grant Wattpad.com a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the Wattpad.com Website and its affiliates. You also hereby waive any moral rights you may have in your User Submissions and grant each user of the Wattpad.com Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website. You understand and agree, however, that Wattpad.com may retain, but not display, distribute, or perform, server copies of User Submissions that have been removed or deleted.

Not only is the license for this content royalty-free, but it is also transferrable and applies not only to the Wattpad.com site but also to its affiliates, whatever they may be.

My answer to Gavin and his colleagues at Wattpad, is no, I will not provide my work for your benefit, even if it means missing the opportunity to put my writing into the hands of people starved of books, but who are in the odd position of having an iPhone, Android device or Blackberry. By the way, countries where smartphones and tablets are in use widely tend not to be the poorest parts of the world.

Far too often authors are being asked to contribute their work for no reward other than the pleasure of pleasing others. It’s insidious, and at the base of it is the implicit assumption that an author’s work has little or no value, particularly when there is so much available for free. That leaves corporates like Wattpad, whose investors are looking for a return on shareholder capital from dividends and a rising share price, free to exploit both writers and readers.

So if you want to keep Gavin and his colleagues in work, and reward co-founders Allen Lau (Chief Technology Officer) and Ivan Yuen (CEO and winner of the Impact Infused Award, sponsored by Deloitte) with a big fat bonus, join Wattpad and contribute your efforts for nothing.

To Gavin, thanks for the offer. I know you’d love to talk to me about the benefits of contributing to a worldwide community of readers and writers, but the beauty of the Internet is that I am already doing that.

 

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Sheffield Visit 2012

On 17th November we had a very successful visit to Sheffield Central Library – a big thank you to Dan and the team, to Harland Cafe and to The Space Centre for organising and supporting the event. Hi to everyone who came along – I hope we were able to entertain you and answer your questions. A special thank you to the person who asked the question about deadlines :-)

Some pics below:

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