Richard T. Burke Author Blog

Thrillers with a twist

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Can anyone see the colour of a soul?

In my latest book, The Colour of the Soul, the main female protagonist wakes from an eleven month coma with the ability to sense auras. But how common is this condition? Can anyone really see the colour of a soul? In this short article, I’m going to explore the science behind auras.

The first question to answer is what is meant by the term aura? Definitions vary, but an aura is generally described as a subtle field of energy surrounding the body of a living creature that is regarded as an essential part of the individual. Auras are often associated with spirituality and reflect the mental or emotional state of the emitter.

Artists’s impression of an aura

The most common explanation for people who claim to be able to see auras is that they are suffering from synaesthesia. According to Wikipedia, synaesthesia (or synesthesia in the US) is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. In layman’s terms, this means one sensory organ is cross-wired in the brain and affects other senses. Examples include people who can hear colours or see sounds.

The proportion of the general population suffering from synaesthesia is unknown, but it is estimated to be around 3%. That’s a HUGE number. If the figure is correct, that means as many as 200 million people in the world experience the condition in one form or another. Of course, not all will see auras, and for many, the symptoms will be very mild.

If we consider the five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste), there are twenty ways in which a synaesthete might experience an unusual sensation.

Senses and stimuli

What about seeing a flavour? How about tasting a sound? Even smelling a texture? Scientists have studied the way the senses combine and have found that even in non-synaesthetes, one sense can have a strong impact on another. For example, a study conducted by Oxford University concluded that users perceived the taste of crisps differently depending upon the sound of the crunch.

Going back to the original topic, do some people have the ability to see the colour of a soul? Based on the evidence, in my opinion the majority who claim to possess this skill are probably experiencing synaesthesia.

So what exactly was Annalise seeing in The Colour of the Soul? In the first chapter, she has been in a coma for eleven months when a mysterious woman injects a dangerous drug into her drip. The nurses use a defibrillator to restart her heart and she wakes with the ability to sense auras.

When I wrote the book, I envisioned that during the resuscitation, the areas of her brain associated with picking up subliminal clues from the way a person behaves became mixed up with her sense of sight. Effectively, her subconscious was informing her conscious mind about somebody’s persona by overlaying colours on her vision.

But why is her mother’s aura dark? And why can’t she see an aura around her boyfriend?

To get the answers to those questions and more, you will have to read the book!

You can buy a copy on Amazon as an eBook here, or as a printed book here.

I can see the colour of your soul.

Writing About the Future

This is a copy of an article I wrote for Emma The Little Bookworm’s blog.

It’s May 2017. A deadly new virus has emerged. Within weeks it will sweep across the globe and infect every living person. The true horror of the pandemic will only become evident when pregnant women start dying moments after giving birth. This will have a catastrophic effect on the global population and in less than twelve months the birth-rate will reduce to practically zero. For the next seventeen years, scientists will strive to develop a cure. They will be unsuccessful.

Welcome to the world of Decimation: The Girl Who Survived.

The book is set between 2033 and 2034 and follows the lives of the last children to be born before the outbreak, all now aged sixteen. The world is a very different place and I spent a lot of time thinking through how it would differ from today. One way to do this is to extrapolate from the past. What was changed since the year 2000? Can we use that to determine what will life be like seventeen years in the future?

I’ve broken this article down into a number of areas.

Transportation

In 1828, Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian, became the first man to build an electric car. In those days the rechargeable battery was still a distant dream, so it was never a practical proposition. By the end of the twentieth century, car manufacturers were putting serious investment into electric vehicles, prompted largely by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Even so, the only mainstream options were the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight hybrids, both of which first went on sale in 1999. Whilst the market in pure electric and hybrid vehicles is rising, in 2016 they still only accounted for less than 1% of global car sales.

First iteration of the Toyota Prius (courtesy Gnsin)

Battery energy densities are improving all the time and Tesla has proved that an electric car can perform just as well as any petrol vehicle. The efficiency improvements gained by converting braking forces back into electrical current provide another persuasive argument for electric powertrains. By the time 2034 comes around, I predict that petroleum-based vehicles will be a rarity.

So what else will be new? Flying cars may come one day, but they are unlikely to become mainstream transport within the next seventeen years. Self-driving cars are another matter. The likes of Google and Uber are currently trialling the technology, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that driver involvement could disappear altogether. In one chapter of my book, a character who is a passenger in a twenty-year-old petrol vehicle, asks whether manual control isn’t a bit dangerous. A computer driver will have far quicker reaction times than a human and won’t be distracted by phones or other gadgets. We better just hope they don’t suffer from the “blue screen of death”.

Google self-driving car (courtesy Michael Shick)

Phone Technology

In 2000, the Nokia 3310 entered the market. It was to become one of the most popular mobile phones of all time and would go on to sell over 126 million units. I even remember having one myself. It had state of the art features including a calculator and a stopwatch and even came with four games. The first device with mobile Internet was still two years away.

The original Nokia 3310

So what will devices look like seventeen years from now? Voice-activated command is commonplace today, and I expect the technology to grow in sophistication to the extent that you will be able to talk to your phone as the default method of data entry. Three-dimensional displays will become more prevalent and I predict that iris recognition will develop into the main form of user identification. Where keypads are required, I forecast that haptic devices will lead the market. This clever technique uses ultrasonics to create tactile feedback for virtual objects. In fact, it’s already in use in a relatively crude implementation on the iPhone 7.

The Birth-rate Problem

I thought long and hard about the implications of the virus in Decimation. Pregnancy is a death sentence, so very few women would willingly have children. Artificial wombs are one way of avoiding the problem and have been in the news recently. Scientists have grown lamb foetuses up to four weeks. I suspect there will be major issues bringing a human baby to term and I would be surprised if it’s possible by 2034.

In one of the early chapters, the Prime Minister asks for suggestions to raise the birth-rate. For every son that is born, a mother dies, thereby reducing the overall proportion of women to men. One of the characters suggests adding drugs to the water supply both to boost the ratio of female to male babies and also to increase the chances of multiple births in those who are unfortunate enough to fall pregnant. As she says, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” You’ll have to read the book to see whether the members of the cabinet go along with the proposal.

Declining UK population in Decimation

Fashion

I want to end this article on a lighter note, so my final topic is fashion. I find it hard to remember how clothing tastes have changed since 2000. Lace-up jeans and velour sweatsuits were apparently popular, as were Uggs (those hideous furry boots). Britney Spears was at the height of her fame and Hip Hop dominated the music charts.

So what will be fashionable a third of the way into the twenty-first century? I like gadgets so I came up with three technology-related ideas for my book. First up is the trainer with an illuminated red pulse that sweeps along the stripe on the side of each shoe. The energy is derived from the wearer’s movement.

My second idea was a T-shirt with a miniature camera on the back and a wearable screen on the front. The display makes it seem like there is a hole through the user’s midriff, complete with a gory representation of the owner’s internal organs.

Artist’s impression of the hole in the stomach T-shirt

My final creation is the Marilyn skirt. I imagine everybody has seen the iconic photograph of Marilyn Monroe holding her skirt down while standing above a subway grate. They’ve even commemorated the scene with a twenty-six-foot high statue which is currently touring California and Australia. My fashion statement of the future is a skirt that will move up and down in a simulation of that famous moment. The computers controlling the smart materials will ensure that the wearer’s modesty is preserved at all times.

26-foot-high Marilyn statue

I hope you have enjoyed my predictions. Seventeen years from now, we’ll know whether I was correct. In the words of Mattie Stepanek, even though the future seems far away, it is actually beginning right now.

Decimation is available as an eBook from Amazon at a price of £0.99 / $0.99. It can also be bought as a paperback.

Using Animated GIFs in Facebook Posts

Decimation: The Girl Who Survived. Buy at Kindle UK Kindle US

This post is just a quick tip about how to put an animated GIF onto a Facebook post. See how the tear in the above picture is flashing on and off? It doesn’t go into how to create an animated GIF – more on that in a later article.

Firstly, you need to upload your animated GIF to another site – your WordPress site for example! You can use any website you like. If you don’t have your own site, you can easily create a WordPress blog at https://wordpress.com/.

Next, copy the link to the GIF file (from whatever website you have uploaded it to) and paste into your Facebook post. The easiest way is to right click the picture and copy the image address. This is a screenshot from the Chrome browser.

In my case, the link is https://www.rjne.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Decimation-animated-tear-small.gif.  When you post to Facebook, just make sure it’s the first link in the post. Facebook will follow the link and embed the picture, together with its animation.

That’s all there is to it.

A review of automated editing tools

You’re a self-published author and you’d really like to hire an editor but the thought of spending thousands of pounds puts you off.

I suspect this is a common problem for writers but there are automated solutions that are relatively cheap and can provide useful analysis and advice. In this article I’m going to review Autocrit and ProWritingAid.

I should start by saying that I bought a one year license for Autocrit Platinum at $8 per month and a two year license for ProWritingAid Premium, normally priced at $55 (I managed to pick it up in a special offer for the one year price of $35).

Both tools provide broadly similar functions: they analyse text and provide a variety of reports highlighting issues in a number of different areas. But more on that later.

ROUND 1 – Platform and Price

The first aspect of this review deals with the platform that the tools run on. Autocrit is web-based only whereas ProWritingAid runs in a browser, as a Word plugin and as a standalone (beta version) Windows desktop application. If you use a Mac you can of course use the browser version but there is also an earlier beta version of the desktop application My understanding is that there is no Word plugin for Mac. The different versions of ProWritingAid provide the same basic functions but present the information in slightly different ways. It’s worth mentioning that all versions require an internet connection to work.

At this stage I should point out that you can use the basic features of ProWritingAid for free once you register, up to a limit of 3000 words. That’s probably enough for most things but can be annoying if you exceed the limit. The Platinum version of Autocrit allows 8000 words to be uploaded but the cheaper Gold version at $5 a months is limited to a paltry 1000 words.

I’m going to allow 1 mark for range of platforms and another for price. ProWritingAid wins on both fronts so the score for this round is:

ProWritingAid 2-0 Autocrit

ROUND 2 – Range of Reports

Both these tools provide more reports than you can shake a stick at. If you ran all of them it would take years to address every issue in an average-sized book. I’m therefore going to concentrate on two or three reports that are common to both tools and then highlight one from each tool that is not covered in the same way by the other.

To evaluate these tools I’ve used an extract from Hemingway’s “A Call To Arms”. Amongst other things it goes to show that you don’t need to address every issue to be a successful author!

The first report is the overused words report. The screenshot is from the ProWritingAid Word plugin but the online version provides the same information. This analysis counts the number of common words in a piece of text and suggests where they are used too often. In this case the tool is suggesting that there are too many occurrences of the words “were” and “was” and about three of them should be removed.

ProWritingAid overused words

ProWritingAid overused words

This is the equivalent Autocrit report:

Autocrit overused words

Autocrit overused words

The results are similar but Autocrit is also complaining about the number of instances of “that” and “there”. A useful feature not offered by ProWritingAid is the ability to turn on or off the highlighted words [Correction: this is available in the beta desktop application].

The next report is the repeated words report. The tools are looking for words that are repeated close together, within a paragraph or two of each other. ProWritingAid shows all the words together making it hard to see where the duplicates are. The colour coding helps a little but it still feels a bit like a game of Happy Families (you remember the card game, right?).

ProWritingAid repeated words

ProWritingAid repeated words

Autocrit’s approach is better. Here it’s possible to turn individual words on or off one at a time with a single click, making it far easier to see how close together the multiple occurrences are.

Autocrit repetition report

Autocrit repetition report

Finally, some of the more unusual reports. I quite like the ProWritingAid sticky sentences check. This highlights sentences containing a high proportion of glue words such as “in”, “of”, “that” and so on. As with most automated reports, you need to evaluate whether it’s really an issue.

ProWritingAid sticky sentences

ProWritingAid sticky sentences

An interesting analysis from Autocrit is the showing versus telling report. This highlights words that might be an indication of the writer telling the reader what’s going on rather than showing it. Again, take the analysis with a pinch of salt.

Autocrit showing versus telling

Autocrit showing versus telling

And so to the scores for this round: I’m going to call it a draw. The ability to turn on or off individual words or issues quickly and easily in Autocrit scores a point but the wider range of analyses and (somewhat limited) configurability offered by ProWritingAid equalises.

ProWritingAid 1-1 Autocrit

Round 3 – Final Conclusions

The final score is:

ProWritingAid 3-1 Autocrit

And so for the overall conclusions. In my opinion Autocrit’s user interface is superior to ProWritingAid’s but is limited by the fact that it is web-based only. It becomes a pain to transfer work backwards and forwards between the browser and word processor. In terms of analyses, they are well-balanced. ProWritingAid seems to offer more reports but are they all useful? I suspect not. Are either of them as good as a human editor? Definitely not, but if you want a cheap alternative these tools are well worth considering.

In the basis of its free 3000 word online checker and the much cheaper price, my award goes to ProWritingAid but I have to admit to having a soft spot for Autocrit.

The mystery of the refunded sales

A few weeks ago I did a five day free give away of The Rage on Kindle. During that period there were about 2000 downloads and a steady trickle of sales thereafter. Amazon provide statistics on the Kindle Direct Publishing page including a button to download a report. I hadn’t looked at one of these reports before so I decided to check it out.

The report gives a daily breakdown of the sales by book and by region. I have only the one book at the moment so all rows were for The Rage. As I studied the report, my first reaction was I haven’t sold that many. Upon further inspection I noticed a column called “Units Refunded”. In the week after the free give-away this accounted for about 30% of total sales. So what’s going on?

I did a search on Google and discovered several articles from people who had discovered the same thing. There seemed to be three main schools of thought:

  1. People had downloaded the book thinking it was still free only to realise that it now cost them the huge amount of £1.99 and had requested a refund from Amazon. Possible, but some were a good five days after the end of the give-away so unlikely in all cases.
  2. People felt that the description did not match the product. One example might be that the book was far shorter than expected. Not applicable in my case at about 115,000 words.
  3. Dishonest people download the book, strip off the protection then ask Amazon for a refund. You would have thought Amazon would pick up on this practice as the perpetrators are likely to be repeat offenders.

So basically I have no real plausible explanation. It’s not enough sales to get excited about but if anybody can shed light on this I would be interested to hear from you.

 

There’s more than one author called Richard Burke

Many years ago (12 to be exact), my wife came across a book whilst shopping in Devizes. The book was called Frozen and the author shared my name. She wrote a message inside the cover and gave it to me for my birthday. Well yesterday I discovered the other Richard Burke’s website (www.richardburkeward.co.uk/) and decided to send him a message.

Two books

Two authors, one name

Frozen

My wife’s message

Richard responded almost immediately and offered some very interesting insights into the life of a published author. After the success of the first book, published by Orion, he struggled writing the second but eventually published Redemption through the same publisher. Interestingly his third book, Payback, was self published and Richard says that he would go down this route again for any future books. In his words, “far easier and potentially far more lucrative”.

You can find Richard’s books on Amazon here.

In a show of solidarity he also bought a copy of The Rage and offered to act as a sounding board if I wanted to bounce any ideas off him – a generous offer for which I am very grateful.

These days Richard earns a living working mostly on factual film scripting (details on his web page).

When I read Frozen all those years ago (I recall that it was very good), I never thought that I would ever write my own book and exchange emails with my namesake.

Hopefully we will now stay in touch. After all, us Richard Burkes must stick together!

Experiences with fiverr

In a previous post I mentioned that I was going to use the services of somebody on fiverr to help promote my book during my Kindle free promotional days.

First the statistics:

Kindle Free downloads 2016-02-13

Over the 5 days approximately 2000 free copies were downloaded but can you spot the days when the book was being actively promoted? They were in fact the first three days shown. Yes, Sunday the 14th was the day with the highest number of downloads but in terms of overall numbers the first day was also the lowest. It’s also interesting that there were a few free downloads on the 6th day – I assume this is something to do with different time zones.

I read somewhere that the best promotional days are Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and this is borne out by the figures although I didn’t actually include a Thursday.

Another point of interest is where the downloads came from. Approximately 95% originated from Amazon UK but I guess this is hardly surprising since to date that is where all of my reviews have come from. Also the story is set in the UK and might not appeal so much to your average American reader.

So what are the conclusions?

  1. I need to get more good reviews on amazon.com.
  2. The guy from fiverr was totally ineffectual – I might have been unlucky but I can’t help thinking that I would get better results from adding the book to the free book websites myself. Having said that, it didn’t cost much.
  3. Sunday seems to be the best day to promote on, followed by Wednesday and Thursday.
  4. In future I would divide my promotional days into single days rather than offering five consecutive days.

Now all I need to do is wait for the deluge of sales to come rolling in!!!

 

The Rage – An update

So The Rage has been available on Amazon now for just over two months and it’s been a mixed bag. The feedback so far has been very positive – six out of six five star reviews (update – now 10 out of 10) including some from people I don’t know. I’ve sold over sixty copies in hardback and about a quarter of that in Kindle format but things have stalled a bit at the moment.

I need to promote!  KDP Select offers the option of five days of free promotion during each three month period. You might wonder how giving a book away for free can improve sales but the idea is that you promote your book on free book sites and get the numbers of downloads and reviews up. Once you pass a certain critical mass, Amazon starts promoting your book when readers are looking at details of other books in the same genre or at least that’s the idea.

There are numerous lists on the Internet of free book sites but I came across a website called fiverr where there are people who will promote your free book at the top 25 free book sites for $5. It would take me several hours to enter details on all the sites so it seems like money well spent.

The promotion runs from February 13th to 17th so I will see how it goes. If you can’t wait until then I urge you to get a copy at a very reasonable £1.99 on the Amazon Kindle store!

Lulu – you make me want to scream

You may have read my praise for Lulu in an earlier post (Lulu – you make me want to shout!). I might also have criticised CreateSpace. I now find that my opinions have changed somewhat. Having decided to self-publish, I uploaded my latest draft to Lulu and started looking at how to sell through Amazon and other outlets.

And that’s where the first shock came. The minimum – and I should say again *** minimum *** – I could sell my book for on Amazon was over £10! You’ve got to be having a laugh, Lulu. £10.76 and at that price I make precisely nothing for every book I sell. Yes, it was cheaper to buy on the Lulu website but when was the last time you heard anybody say “That book I bought on Lulu was really good”?

So back to CreateSpace. I modified the manuscript to the size that CreateSpace prefer (6″ x 9″) and uploaded it. A minor whinge about flattening transparencies, easily ignored, and CreateSpace seems happy. I spent a day or two on cover design (which I was going to do anyway) and I’m good to go. The minimum price on CreateSpace, £7.24. At this price, again zero commission on every sale but considerably better than Lulu.

So the book is currently advertised at £7.99 for the paperback and £1.99 for the Kindle edition (again really easy from CreateSpace).

In conclusion, if you don’t mind changing the format between draft and final version, use Lulu for review copies and CreateSpace for the final version.

If only CreateSpace could ship review copies from the UK.

MOOC Ow!

Note that the “Ow!” is intended in the style of Michael Jackson rather than an indication of pain.

So what is a MOOC you may well ask. Well, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. The reason I mention it on this blog is that a new course called Start Writing Fiction commences on 12th October. This free course is run by the Open University and lasts for eight weeks. Various authors have been conscripted to provide guidance and advice including Alex Garland, author of The Beach.

Even though I have completed my first book, I still have a huge amount to learn about writing so free advice is always welcome. If some of the input from the successful authors involved in the course rubs off, it will be well worth while. The details page suggests that course work will take up approximately three hours a week so it doesn’t require a huge investment in time.

I took part in a MOOC on a programming language last year (I work for a high technology start-up company during the day) and to be honest it was a bit of a mixed bag. The course started well but then lost pace after the first few weeks. I am hoping that this course will maintain my interest until the end. I intend to go into it with an open mind. If nothing else, it will make good material for a future blog!

Another good source of advice about writing is Marg McAlister’s Writing4Success site. There are literally hundreds of articles about all aspects of writing, many of them thought provoking.

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