Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Blogs worth a writer's visit

I've met some very interesting people, all round the world, via books and blogs, so if you're in the mood to browse, here's a few for you...

My Life, one story at a time
Donna McBroom Theriot lives in Louisiana, likes Sweet Tea and says, 'All my life I have loved books; so it was a natural progression to merge that love of books with book reviewing. I also love to write, and dispersed between the many book reviews you will find on my blog, are my stories, my memories, my memoir. I invite you along for the journey, through laughter and tears, and the ups and downs that make up my life'.

Donna's Blog 'My life; one story at a time' delivers what it promises - a mix of interviews, reviews, features, giveaways and some of the author's work. The blog changes frequently, with input from top writers (and I don't mean me!)

I was asked to do a guest post 'something personal, about how you managed to combine writing with  working and being a mother.' That really got me thinking back to the old days.

How to be a not-perfect writing-working-mother

I am lucky. The children are grown up, I no longer have to go out to work, and I can write or take photos whenever I want. But it wasn’t always like this…

Twelve books ago, I was forty, with a nine year old son, an adopted eighteen year-old daughter, two dogs, seven cats and occasional kittens. They all lived with my husband and me. I also had three stepdaughters, a bit older than my adopted daughter, who came over from time to time. As if that wasn’t enough, my husband and I had demanding full-time jobs too.  

In fact, I’d just been appointed Headteacher (Principal) of a school for 11-16 year-olds, to see the school through its last two years to closure. Parents don’t like to send their children to a closing school. This meant that we had a high number of disadvantaged youngsters in our school and teachers didn’t stay long. It was a tough job.

So that was the year I decided I’d write a novel. 

Read the rest on Donna's blog (after the details of 'Song at Dawn')

The Queen's Quill Review

If you like  HISTORICAL NOVELS, check out The Queen's Quill Review. Andrea Connell's site is serious and professional. No distractions here but the reviews are wham-bam to the heart of some very interesting books. A great site to find your next historical read. She's a busy lady but each update is well worth waiting for.

Lindsay's Romantics

You have a heart of mush and love ROMANCE? Check out Lindsay's Romantics - pink, pink and more pink, with plenty of reviews. Again, this is someone who writes herself and reviews the genre she loves.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Top 12 music videos

Christmas music - Jean Gill

My Top 12 Music Videos

This is my selection.  What's yours? How's about sharing, as a Christmas present to everyone who reads this. The rules are that you have to choose a video because it's a special video, not just because it's your favourite song or your favourite singer, and not just because the star is so desirable - or wearing so little clothing - you can't take your eyes off him/her!

1. Bryan Adams - Please forgive me
He had me from the moment he scratched at the door to join in. I just love this dog! I love the way he potters about on set, part of the band. I love the way Adams caresses him so naturally while recording. Great camera-work.This has to be the best behind-the-scenes video ever. I like the song too; love songs sung by scruffy, macho rock stars always appeal :)

2. Sade - Soldier of Love 
High drama and stunning images, with Sade's physical elegance and smooth voice. She has a poise and a presence that grabs attention. I find her beautiful and this video really appeals to me as a photographer, the landscapes, the movement, the silhouettes - and the horse. Isn't that the horse of your dreams?

3. Patrick Swayze - She's like the wind 
The combination of Swayze's beauty, with the romantic lyrics and the clips from 'Dirty Dancing' turn me into adolescent mush every time. I love Swayze's looks and the way he moves. Somehow the video hooks into a mix of nostalgia and romance, and knowing that Swayze's talent lives now only on screen makes it even more of a tear-jerker.

4. Aerosmith/RUN DMC - Walk this way
Makes me smile every time. Turning the competition between differing musical styles into a comic on-stage battle between the two bands was genius as a concept. I love rock, love Aerosmith but most of all I love the combination of great performances with play-acting in this video.

5. Shania Twain - That don't impress me much

She's gorgeous. I would love to photograph her. Drama, elegance, surreal juxtaposition of that desert landscape with the furry outfit. I want a furry outfit like that. But then I'd look like a pretentious muskrat, not like a fantasy queen.

6. Francis Cabrel - Je t'aimais, je t'aime et je t'aimerai

The opening image of the blue layered hills captures our landscape perfectly. Cabrel, one of my favourite singers, comes from the south of France and there is something quintessentially southern French in this video, right down to the old-fashioned touring circus that disappears into the distance at the end. A classic love song - sing it to your partner.

 7. Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman - Somethin' Stupid
So stylish. All the period details, right from the opening frame, are so beautifully created and match the song. Williams and Kidman play the parts to perfection.

8. You can call me Al - Paul Simon/Chevy Chase
Funny :) I don't even know why it's so funny. There's something about Chevy Chase, his expressions and the fact you know he's miming that is just funny.

9. Jean-Jacques Goldman - La-Bas 
Another of my favourite French singers. His performances with Welsh singer/guitarist Michael Jones and American Carole Fredericks are pure magic, especially Ne en 17 a Leidenstadt, in which each of them takes a verse, wondering what he would have done if a) Jewish Goldmann had been a German in Nazi Germany b)    British Jones had been born in Belfast c) Black Fredericks had been born white and rich in Johannesburg. Powerful lyrics.

But the video I've chosen is La-Bas, because the story of an immigrant seeking work is filmed so beautifully with Goldman truly convincing in a role that had personal relevance. The sad postscript to this one is that Sirima, the beautiful girl singing in the video, was murdered by a jealous partner because she became 'too successful' after her duet with Goldman. Sirima was born in Isleworth, Middlesex UK, just like my husband. Her murderer got 4 years.

10. Queen - The show must go on 
While we've got the hankies out, here's another tear-jerker, not because of what's in the video but because of the context. This is a compilation of clips from so many great Queen videos that I could have put them all in my list. Remember Freddy as a housewife? And who'd have thunk Roger Taylor would look so good in drag! But Freddy sang 'The show must go on' when he was dying of AIDS and every word in that song is so much what he's doing that I can't believe he had the courage - or the wonderful voice - to sing it. Understatement is not a word that comes to mind with anything concerning Freddy, and this video is a tribute to an amazing performer.

11. Shakira - Objection (Tango) 
Put the hankies away and shake your bootie. I love this video! I hadn't even heard of Shakira when I saw this video and I was mesmerised. I love the way she moves, the energy, the passion. I've always loved to watch dance, any kind of dance and this video just fires me up with the desire to jump around the living-room, and kick some ass. The switch to cartoons and superheroes creates a good story in this too. I haven't got a clue what the lyrics mean - who cares!

12. Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse of the Heart (Interpreted)
Bonnie Tyler comes from the Swansea Valley in Wales and when I was visiting schools there, as an English Adviser, one of the ten year olds I spoke to told me 'Bonnie Tyler's my auntie, you know.' Everyone is very proud of her success where she comes from, a rough part of Wales. She made good. I love singing along with 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' but definitely thought the video was over the top. When I saw this version, I understood why :)

Laugh? I couldn't stop laughing when I first saw this. I can't watch the original now without smiling at just how weird it is! The cat is there so the video doesn't infringe copyright - boo to copyright laws, on this one - so ignore the cat and watch the TV screen.

Your turn. Share a music video that you think is brilliant.

Friday, December 7, 2012

An Idiot's Guide to Camera Filters

Misty morning in the Camargue
No, this isn't a guide FOR idiots; it's a guide BY an idiot. A couple of people have been asking me for advice on filters, so here it is. And that's all it is. MY advice based on personal experience this year. If my experience can help someone else, especially BEFORE you decide to spend all that money on buying a filter set, I'm happy to share.

You just want to know what to put on your list for Santa?

1. A Lee filter mount for your camera. Why Lee? Because there's a reason it's so expensive - it's well-made. This matters to me because I'm the sort of photographer who once reversed the car over my full camera bag. I only smashed a couple of cheap screw-on filters - the Nikon camera and lenses took the hit and lived to shoot another day (another two years actually, so far). Now you know why I'm sticking with Nikon. Oh, and my husband does not know about this particular test of my gear - please don't tell him.

2.  A 0.9  (-3 stops) soft graduated N.D. filter.

3. A Circular Polariser.

You've been very very good this year?

4. A Big Stopper     -10 stops Neutral Density filter

Be warned! Santa could have to go on a waiting list for your Lees as they're more popular than a Doc McStuffins 'time for your check-up' doll.

And get this great guide to shooting landscapes here 

Want to know more about the choices you make? Read on!

If you have any questions or comments after reading this, please post and I'll reply.

You want to improve your landscape photos? 

This was my aim, when I went on a joint shoot with nine other photographers in June. One of them was a very talented young photographer, Chris Hepburn,  who specialises in landscapes. Take a look at his portfolio! I was very keen to learn from him, which meant getting up at 3am to get to our chosen location before dawn. A few of us all took shots of the same place, at the same time, and then looked at the shots Chris had taken. Even allowing for his technical and artistic expertise in his specialism, there was no doubt that using filters gave Chris a range of possibilities that I didn't have without them.

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, Camargue

You're wondering whether filters are worth the money?

FILTERS can be physical accessories or various Photoshop layers that modify an image. Some photographers have told me that Photoshop filters do everything they want, so they don't need physical filters. If that's your view, stop reading. You've got what you want.

If you don't want to spend the time attaching stuff and setting up your tripod, get some screw-on filters and stop reading now.

Filters, especially Lees, COST A LOT, so I had no intention of buying anything that merely replicated what I could do in Photoshop. So I ruled out all the prettifiers; coloured filters, fancy patterns, stars etc

I read books and sought advice from the pros. One problem is that if you look for a book on filters, you usually get 90% of it about Photoshop filters. I found this one helpful. The very fact that it's not recent means that it's dealing with the basics - filtering light - and gives examples shot with physical filters. link
This is what I decided filters could do for me that Photoshop couldn't:-


1. balance exposure for an extremely wide dynamic range (very bright and very dark both present), in one shot; for instance, the sky is usually bright and the land is dark, so to expose correctly for both, you need several shots at different exposures (bracketing), a right pain if clouds are moving. With a gradient filter, you can darken just the sky area. With more than one filter you can adjust more areas. It will always be fairly clumsy but it give you better raw material in to work with, in one image.

2. allow a slower shutter speed, by darkening the scene, so you can turn water milky, make speeding cars into blurs and create light trails.

3. remove glare/reflection and polarise light, resulting in more dramatic colours.

You can see where my filter choice comes from now, can't you?

1. The graduated ND filter. If you mainly shoot landscapes with a hard horizon (like sea/sky shots), choose the hard filter. If you love wide angle, the received opinion is that soft is better with a wide angle lens. If you shoot scenes with murky divide lines between light and dark, choose soft.  0.6 or 0.9? Personal preference but I have a 0.6 hard grad ND and a 0.9 soft grad ND and it's the latter that's on my lens all the time for a landscape shoot.

Here are two shots, one taken in  Life Before Lee; the other in LAL, with the 0.9 soft grad N.D. and with Photoshop processing too - it's allowed! But if the raw material isn't there (e.g. sky) you have nothing to work on. Incidentally, taken in much the same weather conditions. Obviously I went for a wider shot the second time but from the same very dangerous place on a narrow bridge with my tripod and my knees shaking every time a lorry wooshed past me.

Camares in the Causses region of France, without filter

Camares in the Causses region of France, with filter

2. The Big Stopper lets you get that shutter speed right down for the milky water shots so popular now. I want one! But I might have to get a screw-on for one of my lenses because my precious wide-angle, the Nikon 14mm-24mm, has reduced my options on the mount, unless I buy two sets... and Santa says I have not been THAT good. More later about the practical side of mounts and Nikon.

3. The circular polariser does what it says. It should be on the outside of your stack of filters if you're using more than one. Photoshop plug-in Color Efex offers a good polarising filter and I believe Lightroom does too, but you'll get more mileage from Photoshop polarisers if you start with better raw material.


I love my Nikon 14mm-24mm. Many say it is the best lens ever made. I love it. I love the drama of shooting wide. But everyone knows this is an ugly baby with a big, bulbous impossible-to-fit-filter-to-it end. Lee did it. They made a bulky, awkward contraption with extra large square glass filters just to fit my beautiful baby. So I bought it. No-one puts Baby in a corner when there's a landscape to shoot. Maybe I'm crazy but love cannot be denied so I based my Lee decisions round my impossible, lovable wide-angle.

I also bought the adaptor, and two adaptor rings, so that I can use the same over-large filters with the two other lenses I use for landscape; my 14-24mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8, 70-200mm f2.8, all Nikon

I got the 0.6 hard grad N.D as part of the kit. I bought a 0.9 soft grad N.D. and this is THE one for me. I also bought a 0.9 N.D. (i.e. all over darkening) but if I could have a Big Stopper I wouldn't bother with this. I have a screw-on Circular Polariser and (OK we're all suckers :) a fun star filter that cost me next to nothing  - it's just FUN)

I think I might ask Santa for a B&W  -10 screw-on filter seeing as Lee CAN'T make a Big Stopper for the huge wide angle mount, nor a polariser.

So I've sacrificed a fair bit to use filters on my wide angle. If I was rich, I'd probably just buy the two mounts, but I'm not. Like most of us, I can figure out ways of blu-tacking filters on top of filters. Unlike most of you, who have some manual dexterity, I no sooner had the Lee system screwed together and fixed on my lens than I turned the filter too much, the wrong way and the whole set-up came apart, fell on a rock and scratched the 0.6 hard grad N.D. I suppose it could have landed in the waterfall instead.

Anything that screws on, screws off! Watch which way you turn your filters!

This is what my wide angle does for me. Did I mention that I love it?

Dawn on Camargue marsh - catching the wind

However, if I'm going to take landscape shooting seriously, filters are the last consideration after putting the basics into place.

BASICS of landscape shooting before 'adding on' filters

Get your field guide here if you didn't pick it up earlier, and make cheat sheets from the excellent tips for each landscape type so you can take it with you and use it! There's advice on shooting the coast; woodland scenes; mountain tops; and rural areas.

My advice
1. Choose your place. Get to know your place as much as you can. If it's local, you can check it out at different times/seasons. If it's not, and it's a famous place, you can look at other people's images before you shoot - not to copy but to have pictures in your mind, ideas on 'what works', or on what's been done a zillion times, so you can have a take of your own. If you prefer to be without prejudice, fine. I sometimes do one, sometimes the other, and I'm just a beginner.

2. Find the spirit of the place. Of course it's subjective, but I personally don't relate to vivid, sunny, extreme HDR processed images of Venice. A friend who's been to Venice many times showed me his latest shots, so excited that 'November is the time for Venice!' Blues, mists, moody, ethereal - yes, that's Venice for me too. 

3. Shoot at dawn or dusk, during the 'blue hour'. If you choose a different time, CHOOSE it because of what the light does then. If you shoot at that time just because that's when you're there, don't expect pro quality shots.

4. Match lens and composition. A wide-angle needs foreground interest; a long lens compresses those layers of mountains and tree-lines. A stitched panorama captures the scope of a fifty-mile canyon. What do you want to shoot?

5. Use a tripod. Use a slow shutter speed.

6. NOW decide what a filter can to improve the shot!

the highest perched syncline in Europe - Valley of Saou, France

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas book for free

Celebration Time! Free Christmas book

Global Awards winner, historical novel ‘Song at Dawn’

ebook giveaway until 24th December

Visit Sooz says stuff

get the coupon number and use it at the smashwords checkout 

Great site for writers and readers

My short story 'Jailbait' won November's 'Paragraphs of Power' Competition - read 'Jailbait and all the other entries here. But be warned -  my story has teenage content - much worse than adult!

As someone who was teacher for many years, I've come across relationships between teachers and pupils that crossed the professional line. My own view is that a teacher is a position of trust, and it is a betrayal of that trust to initiate or to get drawn into a sexual relationship with a student. The recent example of a teacher fleeing the UK to France with his 15 year old pupil/lover raised all kinds of issues, including the differences between countries as to the age at which it's legal to have sex. My view is that the age difference between the partners is important. A 35 year old - man or woman - who has a sexual relationship with a 15 year old is, again, betraying trust. A 16 year old who has a sexual relationship with a 15 year old is hardly any different from the 'victim' - except in the eyes of the law.

Literature is full of stories where the line was crossed between adult and child, including that between teacher and pupil. All those I can think of are from the point of view of a male teacher, like in the lyrics 'Don't Stand So Close to Me' so I wanted to tell the story from the viewpoint of a fifteen year-old girl...

Paragraphs of Power

Why not enter your own story for Suzy's great competition? The next one is in January. In my winning month, November, there was an amazon book token as prize.You also get to present a book of your choice during the month you win.

Book news

It does look like I'll be able to publish 'Bladesong' early in 2013 - yay!

The verdicts on my new novel, in manuscript form, are coming in from my 'critical friends' and my editor; mostly positive (thank God!) but lots of minor corrections/tweaks. As I work through, I'll let you know the sorts of things that need to be changed. I can tell you the sorts of thing I don't want to change - the idea of any major re-organisation or plot change fills me with dread. But if it will be a better book that way, I will think seriously about every suggestion made.

comment on the Troubadours' facebook page and enter the free draw for a signed copy of 'Song at Dawn'

Dead but not silenced - one woman's true story

My other writing news is about a translation project; I'll tell you more about that when I can. If I say that it's a French autobiography that I'm translating into English,which starts with a fairytale romance, results in rape and a child custody case, and finishes with a young woman's death in suspicious circumstances, you won't believe me. But that's the truth.