The Book of My Face

So, Facebook is ten. And they made a little movie of me, for me, to celebrate. It seems to have lots of pictures of Mum and my cat and my first pic seems to be of my knees. Fair enough, they are two of my best features.

I had two goes at joining Facebook. The first time I was freaked out by the public nature of it and the fact that friends commented on my status. On reflection, what did I think was going to happen? Then when I needed all the help I could find to publicise my career as a self-published author, I braved it again. Now it is part of every day life and a source of continuous amusement.

“William Shakespeare shared a link.” How clever is that! It is usually a quote from a play and a picture of an actor playing that role.

The ads on the side bar are, apparently, tailored for me. Is that why they have become ads for travel insurance and airlines and television programme pages to like? But why do I keep being told that Ellen Degeneres is keeping a shocking secret from me? And for a long time I was under the impression that millions of shingles awaited me, until I put my glasses on and realised there was no ‘h’.

I’ve been hacked twice recently. An ‘imposter’ created a page that looked exactly like mine and asked my ‘friends’ to accept a second friend request, then sent them a spam message about some lottery scheme. I changed passwords and ran a six hour scan of my PC to uncover a ‘serious’ piece of malicious spywear. Whoever said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? In this case it is nothing but a sincere pain in the rear end.

And I learn things from Facebook, where else would I have found the perfect birthday cake?

drunk cake

Or found my personality so accurately described?

personality duck

So Happy Birthday Facebook. Are you a waste of time? Not always. I deleted all the games I played after I was hacked and I don’t miss them, well maybe I miss the Majong a little bit. But I love the connection to people and the opportunity to share. And most of all I love the 485 Spitfire Squadron page that sometimes posts pictures of my darling Dad, pictures I had never seen before. THAT makes all the other stuff worthwhile.

Dad flying gear

The Buried Treasure of War, literally.

Several news reports have taken my eye in recent weeks. According to British newspapers there are crates buried in the ground in Burma that contain Spitfire planes. They were shipped to Burma towards the end of the war, with the wings separate and to be assembled on arrival. But when the atomic bombs were dropped and the war ended, the crates were buried instead of being destroyed.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has just been to Burma and discussed the excavation and restoration of the planes with the ruling military Junta there. It appears this may happen. Who knows what condition they’ll be in, but it helps that they had been prepared for transport and all the rivets and bolts would’ve been covered in preservative oil.

Whilst following discussion on this fascinating subject on aviation history forums I’ve discovered comments from people with fathers who served in the Navy in WW2. Apparently, with the end of the war declared, crates of brand new planes and tanks and goodness knows what else were dumped off ships into the ocean. They didn’t want it returned to the States where it would depress the manufacturing industry and the need to replace equipment lost in war.

Just today I found an article in the Los Angeles Times about an Italian painting returned to the heirs of the original owner. “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged By A Rascal,” was created by Italian artist Girolamo Romani around 1538.

Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, an Italian Jew who lived in Paris, owned the painting. He died in 1940 and his sizable collection of art was sold by the collaborationist Vichy government. His descendants have been trying to reclaim his art since the late 1990s. This painting has hung in the Pinacoteca di Brera museum in Milan and was loaned to the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Florida in 2011. It was seized by US Officials and has been returned to the descendants, who intend to sell it at Christies auction house in June. It’s reported to be worth over $3million US. I’m delighted for his descendants and well done to the officials for acting on the opportunity to get the painting back.

This led me to an even more exciting article, also in the LA Times. Apparently there’s a chance that there is a whole collection of art in an old silver mine on what was the Czech-Hungarian border. The collection belonged to Baron Ferenc Hatvany, an Hungarian-Jewish industrialist, and was ‘confiscated’ by Eichmann late in WW2. It may contain works by Monet, Manet and Cezanne and is estimated to be worth over 500 million pounds. They’re going to explore the mine in May.

How exciting! Terrible wrongs are starting to be righted and that fills me with joy. You’d think the world wars of the 20th century were consigned to the history books, but that’s not the case. This coming Wednesday is ANZAC Day here and in Australia. It’s the day when we remember the brave ANZAC soldiers (New Zealanders and Australians) who invaded Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915. It was a disaster and so many glorious young men were killed, both ours and the Turkish men, and yet, it’s remembered here as the day we came of age as a fighting nation. My Great-Uncle was at Gallipoli and he survived, and then he went on to fight on the Somme and survived that too. He was killed about 10 days before the war ended in 1918, having fought since 1914.

After so much loss and so much inhumanity it is lovely to know that precious things are beginning to surface from their hiding places and see the light of peace again.

Secrets and Celebrations

Life, today, is a mixture of happy and sad, excited and reflective and personal and part of a wider community.

It’s six months today since I posted my first book on Amazon. From there it’s spread to Smashwords and itunes, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Diesel and others I don’t even know about. There are four books up, over thirty reviews and around 25,500 ‘sales’. I’ve had lots of lovely comments from people who’ve been moved by my words, by my Dad’s words and have enjoyed reading something I wrote. I hope I never take that experience for granted, I hope it is always thrilling.

Last night I watched a programme on Prime called “The Secret War”. It was the first in a series and this one was about a group of secret commandos in the North African Desert. They were mainly German Jewish refugees who had joined the British Army and they trained them to go behind enemy lines, with the newly formed SAS, and sabotage German military bases and operations. They posed as German officers and the SAS posed as their prisoners and that got them past German checkpoints. It was genuinely fascinating. At one point they were involved in a failed attempt to take Tobruk and I knew that my Dad was flying fighter cover to the bombers that were bombing the city. He was also involved in the original fall of Tobruk and helped fly Spitfires out of the city so that they didn’t fall into German and Italian hands. If it hadn’t been for the letters and writings he left behind I’d never have known about his Middle East war, he never talked about it. Again, the power of the written word. It made me reflect on all the brave men who have fought in the Middle East over the years…including the six British soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan this week.   

A great New Zealander is nearing the end of his battle with cancer. Jock Hobbs was an All Black and he headed the campaign to bring the Rugby World Cup to New Zealand last year. It was a huge success and many people saw our beautiful country and we all enjoyed some spectacular rugby and we won! My thoughts are with his family and all his friends today. Especially his children, I know what it’s like to lose a Dad to cancer and may they know that he will always be with them in a special way.

Another cool thing happened this morning. I have sent out some friend requests on Facebook because I decided I should broaden my circle of friends. One of them was to a woman called Deb Filler. She’s a New Zealand born comedian and she does one woman shows. Several years ago I went to a show she did in Auckland about her late father, Sol Filler. He was a Holocaust survivor. I have never forgotten that brilliant show, it made me laugh and cry and marvel at the power of humour to make a searing point. And today I got the chance to post on her Facebook wall and tell her that.

Yesterday I went to lunch with a publisher. He found me through the article in the Cambridge Edition. He wanted to ‘pick my brains’ about ebooks. It’s a very steep learning curve and if I can help some others, as people helped me, than I am happy to do so.

And I guess it wouldn’t be an early autumn blog without some mention of cooking or preserving! I stewed some plums yesterday because they weren’t very nice eating, and guess what? They’re not very nice as cooked plums either. So thinking cap on…maybe a plum loaf or plum muffins. They definitely need to be reincarnated as something.

Ramin Karimloo, John Owen Jones, Nicole Scherzinger, Tony Bennett and other famous singers

Just this morning we were watching the rain falling and discussing that most people go on holiday at the wrong time of the year here. Businesses have to close over Christmas and New Year so the bulk of people take their holidays to coincide with the statutory days off. Late December through to early January…and often the weather is as it is today, wet, windy and unsettled. About mid January it settles down to a hot summer and is gorgeous through to early March. Could we start a petition to move Christmas and New Year?  I do so love tilting at windmills.

The 2011 Royal Variety Performance was on telly the other night. A few too many comics who didn’t make me laugh, a couple who seriously did and some interesting musical acts. The two gymnasts were amazing, the drummers who opened the show were cool and many of the singers were too ‘screachy’ for me. Tony Bennett is a force of nature, Barry Manilow is so unwrinkled it was hard to concentrate on his song and I kept wishing he’d sung something of his I loved more….but there was one-act that blew my socks off, metaphorically speaking. Earlier in the evening we had seen Nicole Scherzinger sing. All I knew was that she used to be in a girl band and she is Lewis Hamilton’s girlfriend. Apart from that we had the sound on mute. THEN they had Phantom of the Opera with four Phantoms and she was Christine. Two of the phantoms were Ramin Karimloo and John Owen Jones, two of my very favourites of all time. Wish we could have had more of them, much much much more of them. Nicole Scherzinger was sublime as Christine and we sat there with our mouths open. Who would have thought it?

My brother has two horses racing in a big race at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day, both in the same race. The draw is made completely randomly by computer and he has drawn barrier draw 21 and 22, what are the odds of that? He’s having a good run at the moment, quite a few winners. One on Wednesday won by five lengths going away from the field. 

 One of the cool things about having books in the public domain is the people you meet along the way. A lovely 85 year old ex-RAF engineer sent me a tweet yesterday to tell me how much he enjoyed Dad’s book of letters home during WWII. He worked on Spits and loved them and much of the book touched him deeply. This morning I got a tweet from the author of the number two ranking book in Jewish fiction on Amazon, sending his greetings to the number one ranked author, me! Ha!

Today I shall spend most of my day, as I did yesterday, in the world of Vinnie and his difficult path in life. I do love having a W.I.P. I love it most of all when people don’t know that it stands for Work In Progress and you can say, “I’m just off to my WIP” and they look at you with a new respect. Well, a new something anyway.

 

 

Amazon, Smashwords and Promotion

Well, life is funny. A couple of months ago I added a third book to my catalogue on Amazon and Smashwords. It is also available through Smashwords at itunes, Sony, Barnes and Nobel, Diesel etc. If you’re a regular reader you will know that it was a book of my Dad’s letters home during the war. He was a Spitfire pilot in WWII and he wrote beautifully.

The object of the exercise was not to make money, but to spread the word and share his thoughts with interested people around the world. I could choose a zero price on Smashwords, so I did, and it has had 300 downloads in two months and one five-star review. I have been delighted with this response.

Amazon don’t let you set a zero price because they have such a large back catalogue of books they cannot charge for because they’re in the public domain. So I made it 99 cents on Amazon. It sold a few, not many, because I let everyone know they could get it for free at Smashwords. I check the ‘dashboards’ of my sites twice a day and see what the ‘hit’ stats are for the sites and sales etc. The sales for the novel goes up steadily. For the November stats “Our Father’s War” had sold 2 copies. When I checked it late last night it was at 96. What the?

So I investigated the page and discovered Amazon had discounted it to free. Fab! So I did some promotion on forums and put it on Facebook etc. Woke up this morning and the number is 506. It is now 660 and climbing. It is ranked #1 on Kindle for non-fiction, biographies and memoirs, and according to sales, sometimes #1 for military and sometimes for all memoirs. That’s quite an achievement in less than 24 hours. So go, you good thing!

 http://www.amazon.com/Our-Fathers-War-ebook/dp/B005SGYPG6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1317836632&sr=1-1#_

I decided that free is good, so I made “The Secret Keeper” free at Smashwords and downloads have gone up by about 10 overnight. I have told Amazon that both the novel and the short stories are free at Smashwords and they should match that price eventually, it takes awhile. All I want at the moment is to get my writing out there and build a readership. ‘The Secret Keeper’ has three five-star reviews on Amazon and one on Smashwords. There is an excerpt from it on the “Excerpts from my Books” page here.

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/89165

If you read any of them and want to review, please feel free. To review it on Smashwords you must have downloaded it there.

So today I feel like a ‘real’ writer, which is daft, I’ve been writing and people have been reading it in one form or another for years. But not on this scale. I love these works, they come from the heart, they are written with passion. Two very nice people on a forum read my novel and came back to tell me I write “beautifully.” And they don’t even know me!  So I feel inspired to continue and produce more, I have the stories and I have the time and, now, I have the platform. God Bless you, ebook, I salute you!!

Glasses and Forums and 123 Squadron

Forgive me if the writing is a little blurry today, it certainly is for me. This morning I went for a second visit to the ophthalmologist. The other day she gave me some eye tests and told me the pain in my eye was strain and that my eyes focus at two different distances so the $2 shop magnifying glasses don’t altogether solve the problem that my arms are not long enough anymore. Does that make sense?

Anyway she held lots of glass circles in front of my eyes and got me to read letters etc. And I chose some tortoiseshell frames with a tiny bit of bling on the side. Bill Bass made in Italy, which sounds way too flash. Today I went back for some more tests and to be fitted with my glasses. The peripheral vision test involves watching for tiny lights and clicking a button when you see one. They test each eye individually and the test is really tiring. They dilute your pupils with drops and everything stays blurry for a while, being outside is particularly unpleasant and it’s not a bright, sunny day here. Then she took a photo of each eye and checked for retinal bleeding. Pleased to say the eyes are great, no sign of anything sinister at all.

And I have my new glasses. I look studious and a lot less whimsical than I did in my white plastic $2 ones. But the letters on the computer screen are going to be wonderfully clear when my eyes get over the drops.

I am getting a particular kick out of a forum on a site called Good Reads at the moment. They have chosen “The Secret Keeper” for their book of the month for November. So next Tuesday they all start reading it and asking me questions etc. I am already corresponding with some of them via the forum and it is very interesting.

Talking of forums, a very nice guy in England read Dad’s book and went to Kew and photographed all the operational records for 123 squadron in the Western desert for the time that Dad was there and emailed them to me. I became deeply fascinated yesterday reading about the social activities noted there. Dad’s flight won the spelling bee and the literature/general knowledge bee. They had movie nights which were extremely popular. I’d love to know which movies they saw. And Dad took his Spit to Benin to be fixed and they said they couldn’t do it because it was a holiday. He said he would sit in the plane and wait and they relented and fixed it on the spot. The Squadron Leader was impressed enough to record all about it in the operational records. On another occasion he chased a plane in and out of cloud for over two hours and the SL writes about what a jolly time P/O Thomas had writing up his intelligence report about the incident.  Little insights into a young man I wish I had known.

The country is still in celebratory mode, thousands and thousands at victory parades and the team seem to be welded to the little gold cup. Can you blame them? They must be totally exhausted and ready for a  week-long sleep. Our sweet princes. Our heroes.

Amazon, Smashwords, publishing and backs

I promise you this blog will not turn into an hour by hour relay of the success of “Our Fathers War”, but you will have to be a little patient whilst I am a touch indulgent. I uploaded this latest work to Smashwords at 11pm on Tuesday October 4th (NZ time). As of 8.30am Thursday October 6th (NZ time and rubbish day if anyone’s keeping count) 81 copies have been downloaded. Compare that with “Stirred Not Shaken” (which I suspect has it’s nose well and truly out of joint) and it has been downloaded 53 times in 21 days. Both are free so to some extent it is apples with apples, although for the most part the content is very different.

This morning I checked the Amazon site and my ‘book shelf’ still said ‘publishing’, which, theoretically, means it is not live yet. And yet my sales indicated that a copy had been sold and when I went there it had a 5 star review! Already. I felt guilty about someone buying it when they could have got it for free, but maybe they needed a Kindle copy. Anyway, I am delighted. Not only for my own sake, but for Dad’s sake. Mum said yesterday, ‘imagine how proud he would be.’ 

Then I get an email from a Jay Slater at historypress.co.uk and he wants to know if I have more wordage and images and am I interested in publishing it as a book? The words I left out all related to Dad meeting people from Auckland who meant something to Nan and Pop, but would mean nothing to 99.9% of the world’s population. But I do have many other letters that start when he was 13 and Nan and Pop went to South Africa and go through to the late 1950′s, many of them letters back to him. Maybe a broader look at his life through letters?

And I am after the sympathy vote. My back is sore. Too much typing and time spent hunched over a computer and too much rugby and “lone ranger” on Lucas’s front lawn. I am Tonto and I find myself being shot at by ‘rootin’ tootin’ evil cowboys a great deal of the time.  However we do eventually win, except when the dinosaurs sneak up and eat us.

Smashwords and War letters!

Well blow me down and call me legless….I finished proofing my book of Dad’s letters yesterday and my (very cheap) proof reader (Mum) picked up a few things I’d missed. So last night I drew a deep breath and uploaded it to Smashwords. I didn’t do much publicity as it was about 11.15pm by the time I finished. However I did tweet and post on Facebook and post on two forums where people had indicated they were interested. One is a WWII forum, so you have to think they are a target audience. I noticed that in the ten minutes it took to do that, 5 copies had been downloaded. Went to bed and dreamed about massive downloads!

Woke up this morning at 6am and logged on. “Now don’t be disappointed if it is still 5 copies, it takes time and there is a lot more publicity to do.” 45 copies!! And it is now up to 48 copies in 8 hours. Good grief!! I feel very excited that Dad’s wonderful words are being read around the world. I have now put it on Amazon as well and have a lot of updating sites to do. So I can not linger, I must away and spread the word.

If you want to have a read about WWII through the eyes of a young man, it is free here..

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93757

Excerpt:

It was a perfect summer day with no cloud visible as we crossed the French coast in squadron formation, at 15,000 feet, and turned behind Boulogne on to a westerly course towards Le Touquet. I could see the countryside below us and was gripped by a feeling of exhilaration, tinged with a heightened awareness. The next turn on the patrol line was to port and I can clearly remember looking back to see Dick behind me, he was on the outside of the turning squadron at the end of the line of four aircraft. At that very moment a cloud of smoke appeared from his aircraft. He’d obviously received cannon shells in the petrol tank and cockpit. Simultaneously I heard a noise exactly like a stick dragged along a corrugated iron fence and felt my aircraft shudder heavily. There was a heavy bump behind me and I saw a ME 109 diving away inland.

My aircraft went into a steep dive and no matter what I did I couldn’t counteract the spin and regain control. My immediate thought was that I should bail out. I prepared to do so by unhooking the radio connection and opening the canopy. However at the last possible minute I managed to recover control and dived down to ground level to find myself over a small village a few miles inland from Le Touquet. I will always recall vividly the sight of a squad of German soldiers in grey uniforms standing in a village square as I approached at high speed. They all raised their rifles and fired at me but my speed saved me, although some holes were later found in the fuselage. My reaction was to fly as low as possible on a northerly course across the English Channel. We’d been told to fly right over the water if separated as this would make it difficult for an enemy fighter to fire at our aircraft. It’s necessary to depress the nose right on sea level to line up a target directly ahead. However I was vulnerable to an enemy fighter diving on me even at sea level.

Then I noticed that the port wing had been damaged by a shell and was cut off at the aileron, with about three feet having been lost. The effect of this was not apparent at high speed but I knew it would adversely affect my stalling speed and I had no option but to land at a higher speed than normal. Just as the White Cliffs of Dover appeared ahead I observed large splashes in the sea around me and looking up I saw a Spitfire climbing away. The pilot, a Pole as it turned out, had mistaken me for an enemy aircraft, probably because of the square wing effect on my port mainplane, which had been completely changed in appearance. Unless he recognised me I was in very real danger of being shot down and there was nothing I could do about it.

A reflection of war and death

Driving home from Lucas’s place this evening I heard the news on the car radio. Another New Zealand SAS soldier has been shot dead in Afghanistan. Obviously, my heart goes out to his grieving family. And the arguments will start over whether we should be there, again.

It pulled me up because I’m typing my Dad’s letters into the computer so I’m reading his thoughts as a 23-25 year old in the middle of a world war. He describes it as a “ghastly business” although readily admitting that he had some amazing experiences. He was shot up at least five times and made it home and crashed twice in the desert. One thing I have discovered by reading what others said about him was that he was a ‘damn fine pilot.’ He goes out of his way to pass tips on to youngsters, things he says saved his life many times over France.

But the thing that makes me think is the fact that he killed at least one man. He shared several “kills” with various wingmen (i.e. two planes were firing on one enemy aircraft and it is unclear who actually fired the bullets that ripped the plane apart) but on one occasion he found himself alone with a German ME 109 bearing down on a bomber and took the action necessary to blow the plane out of the sky and watch it hurtle to the ground with black smoke pouring out of it. I know he thought about that man, wondered who he was, where he came from, did he leave a wife? He planted a tree to honour him many years later. It reminds me of a line from a song about WWI, “at both ends of the rifle we’re the same.” Sure, he felt bitter about his friends and he watched many of them die, and they all hated “old Hitler” and it was, genuinely, kill or be killed. He expressed a desire to come home and have a ‘go at the Japs” and after the Pacific heated up at the end of 1941 he admits to thinking all the time about home and what will happen if the Japs invade….but he also talks at length about wanting to take an active role after the war to make sure this never happens again and if it does happen again in 25 years time, then that would constitute a betrayal of all those who died willingly so that those who were left could live in freedom. And it keeps happening. Mankind keeps going to war. If it were up to me I would institute a global law that we must do what the tribe in Papua New Guinea do, fight until someone draws first blood, right, you’re the winner, now let’s all go home.

On another note my book of short stories, “Stirred not Shaken” has been accepted into the Smashwords Premiere catalogue as well. That’s good news. It goes out to all the major ebook retailers in a day or two. And it will be free. Hopefully people will find it, read it and maybe want to read the novel too. I am about three days away from finishing, “Our Father’s War” and I shall upload that to Smashwords and Amazon as well, 99 cents at Amazon and free at Smashwords. I am going to print a copy for each of my three brothers and every one of Dad’s grandchildren, so one day they can share it and the knowledge of this brave man will live on. And I want them to know that there was a girl in England who called him “Halsey Palsey”, it is worth reading for that alone.

The young Spitfire pilot

 

World War II and Sweeney Todd

Collective nouns include a peep of chickens, a murder of crows and a smack of jellyfish – today’s strange thought.

I have been completely absorbed in the task at hand for the last four days. I am taking my Dad’s letters and making a book out of them. These are letters he wrote home to his Mum and Dad, his sister, Dorothy, and his brother, Bruce, while he was in England and the Middle East 1940-1944 as a Spitfire pilot and they are fascinating. Several things have struck me, the contrast between what he wrote home and the pieces that he wrote after the war, which detail what actually happened during patrols and escorts. The letters are largely written on leave and detail what he has done to relax. He’s very careful what he mentions as far as the locations of squadrons/aerodromes and day-to-day activities, not just to save his Mother worry, but also because they were read and censored. But the ones written June-December 1941 start to detail the losses, by October 1941 six men are left alive out of the 21 who graduated from his war course. His best friend is shot down behind him on their first raid over France, two of his closest friends from the course are on bombers and they are both lost, in one letter he talks about Bob’s body being returned by the Germans. Bitterness breaks through and so does the determination to make sure this never happens again. When he shoots down his first plane it affects him deeply and he is a very thoughtful young man.

And the letters came by air mail so only took three weeks to a month and he continuously thanks them for such ‘recent’ news from home, he is the envy of the mess because his parents send letters, newspapers and parcels by Clipper. Most have to wait for surface mail, take three months by sea and many are lost to enemy u boats. I ask you, how far has communication come and do we know we’re lucky?? What do the parcels contain? Chocolate, cigarettes, tobacco, socks, shaving cream and yummy cakes. And he hints that NZ butter is always a treat. When he gets home he is going to eat apples all day long.

Another thing that struck me last night was that he applied to go to the Middle East, largely to escape a second English winter and also the lull that happens in winter when there is hardly any flying, and he had the choice of Singapore or the Middle East and he chose the latter. With hindsight we know what the likely outcome would have been had he chosen Singapore, internment and most likely, death. Such are the choices we make in life.

Another interesting thing in the last couple of days is the preview opening of Sweeney Todd at the Chichester Festival in Sussex. Sweeney Todd is played by Michael Ball and Mrs Lovett by the excellent actress, Imelda Staunton. Apparently it is a very dark, gritty production with lots of blood spurting everywhere and very dramatic, draining performances. Mrs Lovett has the comedic lines and has added some modern references to evil bankers etc. It is a tale of a man driven insane by grief and rage and the need for revenge.  By all accounts the production is an excellent one and the six-week run will thoroughly exhaust all involved. 

Today is Tuesday and today the huge racehorse Zanacotti (see previous post) has a trial run somewhere in an effort to qualify for a race. Go you beautiful animal!! Stay tuned.

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