Saturday, 22 October 2011

My Other Blog is a LAM

Yes, the chances are that you already know this, since I imagine that the main, if not the only way that people find their way to Londinius Unbound is through the link on Life After Mastermind. Still, the great thing about my first blog is that it gave me the opportunity to indulge two passions – quizzing and writing. Basically by writing about quizzing.

So , anyway, I thought that would be that. I’d write for a while, nobody would read it, and eventually I’d get bored with it and stop. For the first month of two, that was pretty much how it went. Then people started reading it. I knew this because they started commenting on it as well. which just encouraged me all the more. To put it into perspective, in the three years of Life After Mastermind’s existence, there have been almost 200,000 page views. I’ve never sat down to do any serious analysis about why people like it – I’m too scared that I’d end up losing whatever it is. Still, even though a lot of those views will be the same people coming back again regularly, the fact is that there does seem to be a sizeable audience out there for it.

When I started publishing on kindle, I always planned to try to tap into this market. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing anyway. I love the process of it, and I would do it anyway, whether it was to be sold, whether there was any chance of anyone reading it or not. However the fact is that there is nothing like knowing that people are reading what you’ve written. With a ready made audience in the regular readers of the blog, writing the book of the blog seemed like an obvious step to take.

What do you put in it, though ? Well, in my case, some of it was about life BEFORE Mastermind – how I became a quizzer, and my experiences in quizzing leading up to winning Mastermind. Then , living up to the title, my quiz experiences since winning the show. I’ve also tried to comment on some of the issues that have concerned me , and also cast an eye over some of the trends in quiz shows recently.

As a tactic for raising sales ? Well, all I can say is that it sold its first copy within hours of being advertised on Life After Mastermind, so we can but hope. Here’s a little teaser from it : -

1) “Playing Along at Home

Television probably has everything to do with it. I was born in 1964, and this places me firmly within the TV generation. I honestly believe that TV will never play as important a part in the lives of any generation as it has done for those of us born in the 60s and 70s. Although television existed in our parents’ childhood, even those lucky enough to have access to television found that there was only ever a couple of hours’ programming a day so they had to find other ways of amusing themselves for the majority of the time. As for today, DVDs, the Internet, mobiles, Sony and Nintendo games consoles compete for our kids’ attention. It just wasn’t like that in our day. It came down to a choice between Blue Peter, Top of The Pops and Ask Aspel, or doing your Maths homework, and there’s no prizes for guessing which won. So TV was important to us. No, I’ll rephrase that. TV was IMPORTANT to us.

If you go to a lot of social quizzes, you‘ll notice that far more quiz questions are about Television of the 70s and early 80s than there are about television of the 1990s and later. That’s because for many of the people doing quizzes today, when we were young, that’s what we were doing, watching telly. I’m not saying that television was the most dominant influence in turning us into the adults we have become – but I’m saying that it definitely played its part.

If you’re not sure whether you’re one of us or not, try this little 5 part quiz to see if you belong to the TV generation. Write your answers down on a piece of paper, then check out your answers against the answers in brackets underneath.

1) Which one word completes this phrase – Its Friday, its 5 o’clock, and its –
2) Which dance group on Top of the Pops came between the short lived Ruby Flipper, and Zoo ?
3) What number was Dick Dastardly’s car in Whacky Races ?
4) Which department did Bodie and Doyle work for in “The Professionals “ ?
5) The Black and White Minstrel Show. What was that all about ?


1) Correct answer – Crackerjack ( 10 points ) – any other answer – 0
2) Correct answer – Legs and Co. ( 10 points) – other answers – Pan’s People – sorry, they were before Ruby Flipper, but 5 points for a decent guess. The Tiller Girls/ The Vernon Girls – minus 5 points. Any other answer – 0
3) Correct answer – Double Zero. ( 10 points ) Single Zero – (5 points ). Bonus points awarded for the following irrelevant information : -
Dick Dastardly never won a stage in Wacky Races, even though he had a car which was clearly faster than all the others since it always allowed him to get to the crossroads and change the roadsigns before any of the other cars. ( 5 points )
There were 2 spin offs to Wacky Races – Dastardly and Muttley and their Flying Machines was one, and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop was the other. ( 5 points )
The villain in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop was her guardian Sylvester Sneakley, aka The Hooded Claw. In Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 3rd consecutive number 1 – The Power of Love, one line of the lyric goes,
“I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw “ In the space of 12 months three different songs, all with the title “The Power of Love “ went to number 1 in the UK singles charts. The other two were by Huey Lewis and the News ( used in the film Back to the Future ) and Jennifer Rush ( 50 bonus points – don’t even bother answering the rest – you’re definitely one of us. )
Any other answer to original question – 0 points.
4) Correct answer –The Professionals worked for Department C.I.5 ( 10 points ) . Other answers – D.I.6. It was The New Avengers that actually worked for D.I.6 , but that’s a far more difficult answer , so you get 15 bonus points for that one. Any other answer – 0 points.
5) Correct answer – God only knows – but it was on a Saturday night and the oldies loved it. ( 10 points ) Other answers – no answer at all – 5 points . Any answer which actually does manage to explain what the show was all about – instant disqualification .

How did you do ? When you have added up your score, check out what it means here : -

90 – Why on Earth did you write down all of that extra information about Wacky Races ? Stop cheating and add up your real score.
35-50 - No doubt about it. You’re one of us, a fully paid up member of the TV generation.
15-35 - You don’t qualify, and may well be the type of person who complains about that young whippersnapper Michael Aspel taking over the Antiques Roadshow.
0-15 Shouldn’t you be doing your homework, or your paper round ?
Minus score – See 15-35

So now you know. If you belong to this generation, then everything I have said so far will come as no surprise to you. If you haven’t, then look and learn. * ( see note at end of the chapter )

I’m delighted to say that my parents had a mostly pretty laissez faire attitude to the television. We had a strict bedtime, but apart from that, almost anything on the telly was fair game. It was a kind of wallpaper really. My father was an expert at this kind of undiscerning viewing. When I was young and he was still working he would sit down in front of it the moment he walked into the front room, and watch everything until he went to bed. When he finally packed in working because he didn’t like it very much, then it came to life the same time that he did in the morning, and he watched everything until closedown. Schools’ programmes – Good Afternoon with Judith Chalmers, the whole lot. So it would have been a bit hypocritical if he’d tried to ration our viewing. There was none of this nonsense about how many hours was good for us to watch during the week. No, the telly went on as soon as you got home from school, it stayed on while you were eating your tea, and then doing your homework in the living room in front of it, and it was still going strong when you were sent to bed. Any program in between was fair game, and we would watch almost anything, as long as there was likely to be NO SWEARING and NO NAUGHTY BITS. The naughty bits rule was strictly enforced, so that I wasn’t allowed to watch my mate Alfonso , who’d been to stage school, playing one of the kids in “I, Claudius “.

Even at the weekends , telly ensured that we were well looked after. We were kids when they invented “Swap Shop “ and “Tiswas “. In those heady days you could crawl out of your bed in time for the start of Swap Shop, then sit through Grandstand, follow up Final Score with Basil Brush and Dr. Who, Brucie’s Generation Game, Dixon of Dock Green, and if you were quiet, round it all off with Match of the Day before going back to bed.

I'm not sure exactly when it would have been that I watched "Mastermind" for the first time. It was probably during one of the early series in the mid 70s. In these days when there are literally hundreds of TV channels available on satellite and cable, its probably difficult for younger people to imagine just how many arguments you could have about what you were going to watch on an evening when there were only three channels to choose from. Well, today tellies are so cheap that you could probably afford to have one in every room if you wanted to, but in those days most families just had the one. As it happens, we had two, but that was not an extravagance. We had to have two tellies because it was my Nan's house, and we had the downstairs, while she had the upstairs. She had her own telly, but ours was rented. Does anybody still rent their television ? More to the point, does anyone’s ever break down any more ? I don’t remember any telly I’ve had in my married life ever breaking down before we decided to replace it. When I was a kid , the repairman from Ketts rentals in West Ealing spent so much time round our house I used to think he was another relative.

Another thing which seems funny to recall it is that there were no video recorders then. I'm not sure exactly when they were invented, but I never knew anyone who had one until the late 70s, and we never had one until I had started at university. So if you missed a programme you wanted to see, or if it clashed with something else, then that was it - you missed it. There were plenty of repeats on, but these were six months down the line, not later the same week or even the same evening. I think that it may well have been Eastenders which pioneered that particular practice, and it was about 1985 when that came onto our screens. As I said, there were arguments, but then also there was a hard core of programmes which we never argued about , and we just always watched by an unspoken consensus. Comedies like “Porridge” and “The Good Life “ , and other things like “Blue Peter “ , “Top of the Pops “ “ Tomorrow’s World “ and others were all highlights of the week’s viewing. Mastermind was one of these.”

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Forgive me

For I have sinned. It has been a full week since my last post. Partly this is because I have been posting on LAM, and partly because I've been working very hard at work. However its also because I've been working on a new quiz book. I know - when will I ever learn ?

Still, coming back to Ermine Stone and the Iron Spider, you'll remember that I said that there was another ingredient which I needed to add. This was the dragon, Gylfi. I wanted to create the feeling that there is this other world beyond the everyday , common world of our own, human experience, and I used my dragon, Gylfi, as an interface between the two worlds, a place where the two worlds meet.

Creating Gylfi gave me a small problem. On the one hand you have this incredibly powerful being - powerful physically, and powerful magically. Yet on the other hand it was important to make him vulnerable somehow. This is why I came up with the idea of his manifestation within our world as just a very large lizard, not unlike a Komodo Dragon. He can transcend this , and appear in his full glory as a true dragon, but only for brief periods. I also had to give in to what might be called "The Superman Syndrome". This is that after DC comics created Superman, and he took on his full range of powers, it became increasingly hard to believe that any villain could ever pose a realistic threat to him. Hence the invention of Kryptonite. This is why I came up with the idea of dragons being vulnerable to silver - a plot device which actually came in handy in another part of the story as well. The next two extracts is from quotations at the start of 2 chapters from the second part of the story. The first is from chapter three : -

"Chapter Three – Gylfi

“There are also among the wise ones of this land some who do say that , unbeknownst to Noah, a nameless servant of the Devil also built an ark, concealing his purpose from everyone save the Lord God. And within this second, secret ark, were borne, two by two, the creatures of light and darkness which the Lord God had forbidden Noah to carry, the basilisks and gryphons, dragons and wyverns, unicorns and ogres, and those creatures whose very names are never to be mentioned. And , in His wrath, the Lord God sent fierce winds to blow the evil ark far to the west, until the waters receded, and it came to rest upon the Isle of HyBrasil. And there the creatures of light and darkness turned upon the nameless one, and devoured him, and fought amongst themselves, and many perished. Yet some survived, and multiplied, and their progeny spread throughout the extremities of the world. “

From “The Book of Things Forgotten “ by Rhodri ap Deheubarth

This next is from the start of Chapter 4

"Chapter Four – Honey and Vitriol

“ Dragons is difficult creatures. Difficult to find, even more difficult to catch and well-nigh impossible to keep for any length of time. And ware ye well, my masters, that dragons is not like other beasts. What’s good for one ain’t necessarily going to be good for nothers. No doubt about it, dragons is difficult creatures.

There’s no use trying to catch a dragon in England as there’s none lyvyng in the wyld. Nor in Wales, not the mainland of Albany neither. The Scots do boast of a colony among the Shet-Lands, but then the Scots do boast of a great many things when they been a-drinking of their malts.

By reputation there’s one thing a dragon is mindful of as a rule, and that’s silver. When you find one – if you find one – a fine silver ring will catch his yellow eye, and the finer worked the better. Them old worms, they like the moon silver as comes from the sky rocks best, but them’s as rare, they do say, as hen’s teeth. When he’s close then bind his jaws with fine silver wire which has been wound around the hair of a maiden which has been cut from her hair at sunrise on Midsummer Morn. He’ll snort and wriggle and make like’s he’s going to fly away, but he’ll do nowt while you have his jaws bound, and he’ll have to follow you.

Silver cages is best for dragons, but silver cages don’t come cheap to my way of thinking. So keep him out of the light. Keep the old worm in the deepest, darkest , nastiest stone dungeon. He expects it that way. Unbind his jaws when he is secure in his new home. He may talk to you, but don’t look into his yellow eyes, as wise men say that there is a deep well of evil trickery in a dragon’s eye. Feed him meat, bloody as you like and lots of it. He’ll probably die soon, but then, dragons is difficult creatures.
Their breath is the foulest smell on God’s clean earth. “

From “The Catchynge and Carynge for of Magickal Creatures” by Nerojin Fallowhide"


Finally this is from one of the meetings between the hero ermine, and Gylfi, who has allowed himself to be captured, and locked in the Tower of London Menagerie, in order that he may get to meet Ermine. This is right after the start of Chapter Four -

"Ermine stared down at the dragon from his ledge, his mind consumed by disbelief. The dragon had just spoken to him. More than that, it knew his name as well, the name that Harold Halfdan had given him, which was the closest thing to a real name that he had ever known. Not it was just waiting, staring at him, sending gusts of its foul breath up to the ledge. It still looked like a large lizard, although its eyes now seemed more orange in hue than yellow. Ermine began to doubt the evidence of his own eyes.
“If you don’t want to talk to me Ermine Stone, then I can’t stop you leaving. Come back when you are ready to talk with me. “
“ I . . . I do not understand. “
“I am well aware of that. “ The dragon’s head lowered, and it circled the filth ridden floor of the well three times, slowly, before speaking again, “ But it is a good thing that we speak now. A good thing for you.”

The dragon’s voice was not human. Although all of the words were clear and distinct, the sound of the voice was not a remotely human sound. If Ermine had ever had the chance to read about dragons he would have known that it was believed by many magicians that a dragon’s voice is made from the sound of a bell tolling in a graveyard at midnight, a bowstring which has just fired an arrow, and the sound that a moonbeam makes when it strikes the surface of a mirror. But he didn’t know all this. All he knew was that the sound of the voice made all of the hairs on his arms stand on their ends, and yet at the same time made him feel as if he wanted to sleep. It was a voice which had been forged from sugar and acid. It was an inhuman sound, yet behind the words there was a warm, sickly sweetness which made him want to sit down, or better still, to lie down and close his eyes.
Many questions clamoured for answers in Ermine’s mind. But the dragon was impatient, and allowed him to no time to think of any answers.

“Ermine Stone, it is very difficult for a dragon to narrow his thoughts so that they will fit into human speech. So let us be brief, and open with each other. Do you wonder why I do not look as you imagine that a dragon should look ? Little magician, why would a dragon allow you to see more of him than he thinks that you are ready to see ? “

Ermine shook his head to clear his mind a little. He couldn’t think at all while the dragon was actually speaking.
“What – are you telling me that you’ve got wings, but I just can’t see them ? “ Speaking seemed to lessen the effect that the spell of the dragon’s voice seemed to cast over his senses. Ermine began to edge closer to the rim of the ledge, his curiosity beginning to overcome the fear he had felt at the first sound of Gylfi’s voice.

“Yes, little magician, and also no. I cannot answer that question in your speech in a way that would have any meaning. “ He looked upwards into Ermine’s eyes. “ Why don’t you come down from the ledge ? We can talk more easily, eye to eye.”
Ermine knew relatively little about dragons, but he knew enough not to agree to anything quite so foolish .

“ I think I ought to stay where I am , thanks all the same, dragon. “

“You’re afraid of me. Even though you see me here, imprisoned by darkness, stone and a ring of silver. Well, Ermine Stone, even though you have me at this much of a disadvantage, I suppose that your fear of me is only fair. Because I fear you too. You must call me Gylfi.”

“ I don’t understand almost anything you say , dra – er, Gylfi. And I don’t get it why you want to talk to me and not my master, Absalom Havelock. “
The dragon seemed to wince at the mention of Absalom’s name. He had the same effect on Ermine, who realized that his master might be starting to wonder what was taking him so long.

“I must go. “ he announced, then whistled at the torches in the same way that Absalom had done earlier. Before he opened the door, Gylfi’s voice again caressed him through the darkness.

“ I would ask you not to say anything about me to . . . your master. But then I think that you will not say anything to him anyway. But you will talk with me when you are ready, Ermine Stone. It is destined. And I am not going anywhere. “

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Ah, I see

Well, whatever the problem with Kindle was seems to have been ironed out. That's the good news. The bad news is that just the one sale has appeared on my reports - and that's the test one I made ysterday. Oh dear, how unfortunate, or words to that effect.

That's the only thing about putting your work out there for all to see and hopefully buy - it isn't half discouraging when it doesn't sell. This one I did have some hopes that I might pick up some early sales of. I advertised it on my quiz blog , Life After Mastermind, and also on Facebook, where I have a lot of quiz friends. I hoped that at least a handful would be tempted, and maybe more , if I'm honest. A salutary lesson which will doubtless be good for me in the long run.

Still, look on the bright side. It does only take one sale to really make my day. Two and I'm like a dog with two tails.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Problems with Kindle

Well, I don't know whether to be over the moon, or furious. I'll probably just remain where I am - stuck between two stools. Don't worry - I will go back to telling you all about Ermine Stone and the Iron Spider in the next post.

I'm over the moon because my latest book - The Quiz Show Quiz Book - has definitely sold a copy today. It sold through my own web store, and the money is safely within my bank account - sorry to be mercenary about the whole business, but its one of the reasons why we're in the game in the first place.

What I'm annoyed about is this. I advertised the book through "Life After Mastermind", and I don't mind admitting it was not without some soul searching that first. I always said that blog wasn't going to be used for commercial purposes. Only , it being a quiz blog, and me having written a quiz book - well, you can see where I'm driving at, can't you ? My first ever book, Be A Quiz Winner I certainly didn't advertise within the blog, and even so its sold a few copies each month. Well and good. So I thought that even though I wouldn't expect every reader of the blog to buy it, surely there would be at least a few of the hundreds of people who read it every week who'd want to give it a try.

Well, according to Amazon I haven't sold one. Nor have I sold any other books for about 8 days. Which I know is complete codswallop. Ah, but how do I know this ? Well, I decided to put it to the test. I bought The Quiz Show Quiz Book myself, to test whether it would appear in my sales figures.

No. It didn't. Or at least it hasn't yet.

Amazon - come on. We have no other way of knowing how well our books are selling, and so there's no way we can tell if you're giving us accurate information about sales. So please - a few sales here or there might not make a hell of a lot of difference to you, but they sure as hell do to me. Get your flipping act together.