April 25, 2012

"Atlantic Heaven"

My main aim for Copley Hill is to eventually be able to run and showcase a decent stock of locomotives, which portray as accurate as possible (or within the realms of my fantasy) locomotive classes which would have been found at Copley Hill. This means - as the shed was in the West Riding in Yorkshire - that I need a whole host of Great Central and Great Northern Railway classes, included, but limited to, N1s, N5s, C1s, C12s, C14s, J6s, and so on and so forth.

I decided that this year would be the year of the "Pacific and the Atlantic" in terms of filling the gaps in my stocklist for these locomotive wheelbases.

So this portion of stocklist filling began about a month ago. An acquaintance of mine handed me a list. "A friend is breaking up his collection - anything you quite like the look of on there?"

I took some time to look through the list - totalling well over a hundred locomotives. This was, apparentally, a tenth of the collection.

It had engines from almost every region, most in pre-grouping, or grouping, liveries.

Then I got to a section where there were a few engines beginning with the letter C. Castle, City, Coronation, and then...C1, C12.

I emailed him back straight away, asking for photographs. He said it would be a few weeks, and so I waited patiently. Then one day,

"They need some work. Been sitting on the layout for some time".

And that was that. I had to have them. I paid up, and soon enough, two beautiful pre-grouping Atlantic locomotives of Great Northern heritage were sitting on Copley Hill.

I can't remember the last time a purchase made me genuinely happy to be a modeller. I am genuinely happy to have two more restoration projects, to add to the workload. Particularly when so little needs to be done to bring the models up to scratch.

The first, is a C1 Atlantic. I have always loved the look of these engines: genuinely brilliant and beautiful machines, which, like the Stirling Single, grabbed my interest at a young age, and have stayed there ever since. This is a DJH kit, I believe, and is it perfectly built? No, it needs some work to bring it up to scratch, but the mechanism has been built beautifully. There is a wonderful smoothness to its motion.

To my surprise, rather than having flanged cartazzi wheels, it has flangeless ones. This meant it could negotiate my severe curvature with no problems - and it has done so, continuously, for hours on end this week. It's such a brilliant runner, I am over the moon with this second hand purchase.

It will eventually become 62822, in the unlined locomotive and lined tender combination of 1949/50 when it became the last working ex-LNER Atlantic.

Next, we have a pair of C12s...which was originally supposed to be just the one! My purchase, from the same collection as the C1, is in front, but behind that C12 is another which a group of friends got together to purchase for me. I was rendered rather last speechless week - I have been going on about building a C12 kit for about a year for my Copley Hill stocklist, and along comes two at once! To say I was moved by their gesture is an understatement.

I am very grateful - it is an excellent runner and, like its compatriot, will be repainted in early 1949 British Railways unlined black livery to suit my layout's intended period. So I have ended up, somehow, over the last month, with a gorgeous and beautifully built C1, two nicely built and decent running C12s, and two more C12s...albeit, not built as yet (bought second hand, cheap, as kits! Like the two before them, they are South East Finecast kits).

So I think these, coupled with my A2/2 and A4 conversion projects, will give me enough to do until the summer, don't you?

And on that bombshell...time to get some sleep. Goodnight.

April 16, 2012

"A Reflection on the London Book Fair"

Before I go into the main reason for my post this evening, I want to make one thing explicitly clear: I thoroughly enjoyed myself, learned a great deal, and there were very many helpful and lovely individuals there to guide me on my way.

The problem with the London Book Fair is that it's a trade fair. Okay, let me rephrase that. The problem - for me - is that it's a trade fair. It's not for individuals to go round and try to ply their trade, sell their books, and so on and so forth. Therefore anyone turning up and expecting to find an agent or a publisher is laughable. You just don't it, it's madness.

So why was I there? I turned up simply on the off chance, to try and learn a bit more about the book world in general. The trends in eBooks, what publishers and booksellers are looking at and developing, and what perhaps I have missed with the development of my own "brand", so to speak.

What I came away with was both very enlightening, and worrying in the same breath.

None of the big publishing houses take on unsolicited work anymore. This much I already knew, but for the uninitiated, it basically means that if you don't have an agent, you can't get far with publishing your work, unless you go down the self-publishing route.

What was even more apparent was that agents simply don't want to know. I spoke to a few agents there and was rather taken aback at the dismissive nature being portrayed. "If it doesn't interest me, I won't take it on", "if it doesn't offer anything never been seen before, I won't take it on", or, the absolute winner of the day, "I don't take anyone on, it's a waste of my time reading new scripts. I have all the authors I need to keep going and there's not really any decent young talent coming though".

Now this was just aimed at Children's Publishing. I was rendered utterly speechless by this. I was later told, on the quiet, by an employee of one of the big publishing firms there, that this is a more general view held by many agents in general.

The biggest publishing firms share it to some extent: all they want are blockbusters, every single time, so aren't interested in taking new people on, but just how much they can flog the current horse until it keels over and stops making them money.

Example: New Horowitz book (Alex Rider author), Oblivion. Front cover looks good, not much else known about it my end. What I came away with was that between it, and The Hobbit, they were grabbing a lot of attention and most of the interest.

So what about the smaller publishing firms? Well, it's a case of risk management. They can't afford to risk large sums of money they don't have, so print runs are normally smaller and the investment with authors equally small.

So with that in mind, you have to either be lucky enough to get an agent, and one passionate about your work, or turn directly to self publishing in some respects. I found one man who did, and I thoroughly recommend going and reading his website, www.gussytheicecreamman.com

A really nice chap, Gus, and I thoroughly recommend buying his books. I had a chance to look them over today and they are fabulous. Plus, he's a Gooner which isn't a bad thing in my books (I live with three of them, after all!)

Gus is a pathfinder and an inspiration. You only have to see how much thought, effort, blood, sweat and tears had gone into his and his daughter's creation, to understand why. For anyone looking to self publish their own books, look him up please.

Back to the rest of the book fair; and to be frank, the UK looked utterly out of place next to the giant section for China and ePublishing. In fact, the UK's publishing houses looked archaic next to the electronic publishing firms and devices on offer, and the frankly sensational stands the Chinese delegates had put on.

Where other countries are embracing the eBook and all that goes with it, the UK is slow on the uptake, I was told, by someone from Simon & Schuster, early on. They were one of the few big publishers there who do eBooks quite markedly, but they are (surely?) far behind Amazon and the rest in terms of getting their eBook formats out there.

And on that point, eBook formats. My god. I thought it was hard when I was catering for literally two devices; iBooks and Kindle. Thankfully a few chaps from Amazon have offered to help me with the full formatting of my book, so that's not a problem. But the overriding feeling I had was that the sheer number of devices on offer actually made it more difficult for any author looking to self publish to make any return on his book.

You really have to launch a book simultaneously across platforms, and it's not always possible with the terms and conditions you sign up to with, for example, the Kindle Direct Publishing program, nor is your book file - lovingly made in Open Office, Word, iBooks Author or whatever, going to necessarily format itself perfectly for each device. I already knew and had been working on, in parallel, two versions of Tale of the Unnamed Engine for the iPad and Kindle, but I don't think I realized just how difficult it is to create all the alternate formats you need if you want it sold elsewhere.

And that's half the problem - there's no set standard for eBooks, all of the devices have different strengths and weaknesses - portrait, landscape, colour or grayscale, they take different file types (Mobi, PDF, EPUB, etc etc), and no one device takes exactly the same file in the same format.

In short, I can't see how I am going to get the book out on all of these devices without professional help, which I am looking to hire in the next few weeks once I've been paid!

So the conclusion I took away from the book fair was simple. I need to work on Tale of the Unnamed Engine a little more and I need help getting it ready for a release across a variety of eBook devices, not one or two. So the 23rd April release is off - 5th May too - and I will endeavour to get the book ready for release, early this summer.

This might in all honesty sound like a setback. Actually, it's a much needed wake up call - because the good news for those who have been waiting patiently, is that I am now more likely to be selling a printed copy of the book by the end of the year than I was this morning. I was put in contact with several printing firms and am looking over my options. Rest assured - it's coming this time.

But I need everyone to support the series and the eBook as best they can, as without the sales and support, this one won't go to print, and there certainly won't be a second one if this fails.

That's a bit of a downer to end on, so I'll finish up by saying, firmly, that the future looks bright for The British Railway Stories - and "these are the stories we tell" and will keep on telling.


April 15, 2012

"The London Book Fair"

If anyone is going to be at the London Book Fair tomorrow - don't be a stranger, if you see me out and about and have any questions on the book or the Youtube series, just ask! I will even have promotional postcards to hand out to anyone who wants them.

Until next time, ta ta for now!

April 01, 2012

'Why "The Last Run" is not the last...'

This year will mark the fifth year of The British Railway Stories on Youtube. In five years, we've seen eighteen episodes, and as you may have guessed by the title and end sequences of the episode last week, that was the “final” episode...of the model incarnation of this series.

After five years, I've put the models to bed. There were such restrictions with the set: I couldn't take the engines away from Copley Hill enough. There has not been enough space, or time, money and talent to produce a way of making the OO scale models compete in an increasingly crowded Youtube scene. I want this series to go above and beyond “what can be done” elsewhere, and if that means moving into CGI – so be it. It is the characters, their story-lines and my direction which makes them what they are, not necessarily the medium.

I mean, in the last three years we saw four episodes in the model format. FOUR. Two episodes a year. It was clearly not good enough. Development became painful. Yes, I had certain things understandably get in the way. The English degree had to come first, as did my health at one point, and now, with a full time and then some, job, the series was taking a back seat.

It has been disheartening. I have had all of these scripts - and yes, there were 30 episodes written, ready, planned, storyboarded, even lines recorded - but none of the last twelve were film-able in the time, space, and energy that I had.

Moving the series to CGI (as is quite likely at this point in time) will offer up a new dimension. Episodes can be made in batches more easily. I have experimented, quietly, in Trainz (but the final software is likely to be a mix of Train Simulator 2012 software and purpose built models to function within that game's basic framework), and the possibilities of CGI are enormous. Imagine Copley Hill, Leeds Central, many of the stations in-between and King's Cross and top shed, recreated in CGI...the possibilities are endless.

Particularly when added into the mix, I can adapt the software to run a specific graphics engine and colour palette, thereby tying in the films much more closely to the artwork of the upcoming first book (and hopefully, future instalments).

Will we see old episodes return? Yes. We will see the original Episodes 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17 return in the new format, in various forms. The others are not good enough and will be replaced by the original intended scripts in a few cases, and all new story-lines in others.

New characters are planned, new and specific historical locations which were not possible in the model format, and perhaps the thing which has me jumping for joy, faces which can be much more animated than their white clay alternatives.

Above all, I am making The British Railway Stories for 2012, not 2007, as it was when it first appeared on Youtube. The models have served us well, but the characters and their story-lines will be better served in a new, less restrictive format.

So once again, I say, firmly - “this is not the end. This is the end, of the beginning”.

These are the stories we tell...