My Journey into Code…

#Feminist Hacker Barbie

At the beginning of November I had the joy of attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference, and one of the things I quickly learned is that I need to be better at my internet game. Sure, I can do twitter and Facebook, I’ve been doing those for years, but having a definitive web presence is now an essential part of being a writer in the modern age, especially when your audience is likely to be made up predominantly of young adults.

“It’s ok, I’m bright, and I like challenges, I can definitely do this!” I thought, setting up my basic WordPress site. It looked pretty cool – it took me a whole weekend to get right, and I liked it.

However.

I quickly realised that it wasn’t going to be the right kind of website for what I wanted to do. A tiny private blog that was never really going to get read by anyone other than my Mum? Sure, basic WordPress is great! But to handle anything a teeny weeny bit more sophisticated? It just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. Because I would need things called ‘plugins’ that would allow my site to be indexed better and found easier, and I wanted to change little things about the way the site looked, which would require even more scary sounding things.

I’ve written this post mainly for those of you who might be in a similar situation to me, or want to know what I’m doing, and the how and why.

So the first thing I should say is that if you can afford to get someone to set up and manage your website for you – DO IT. If not, and you’re up for a challenge, then listen closely…

Computers have changed a little bit from when I had to learn about them in school. I remember secondary school IT lessons teaching me how to put a Word document together, and how to make images in Paint. But now, its really useful to know something called Code. Code is the language of websites. It is what they are built on, in the same way that songs are built on sheet music. Code is the sheet music of the internet. And even if you want to do tiny things (like change the font size of your name on your website front page – my personal pain) you will first need to know how to read code, and then how to manipulate it.

When I was in school and desperate to keep up with all my musician friends who could read music and sight-sing (we were all in choir together), I bought myself a recorder and learnt how to read music too. What I am doing now is essentially the same. I’m not about to give a concert any time soon (if ever!) but I am learning about the notes, and how they work, and what things sound like when I change my finger positioning.

I have bought my own web domain (the site you are on now!) – for any newbie author this is ESSENTIAL (yes, you will have to spend a little bit of money, but for authors this will count as a tax deductible expense) – and I have a host (Godaddy) that gives me the props and support that I need. They are rather lovely on the phone when I get myself into muddles! Then I decided, because I really liked my basic WordPress site, to use WordPress as the building blocks for my own site. Building the site itself – still a little tricky. WordPress doesn’t give you all the easy functions to change appearance like it does on its own basic service. You have to do stuff yourself. Which means you have to learn to code.

You too can learn to read the matrix…

I’m using a free online course called Code Academy. So far, they’re pretty great! I’m being gently taken through the basics, and hopefully at the end of it I should be able to change the darned size of my website heading!!! I feel exactly the same as I did when I learnt my first tune on that recorder.

To be honest, it’s a little fun. I’m spending a couple of hours each morning going through the exercises, and I’m slowly learning the language (it really is just like learning how to speak a new language!). This is a new skill I can put on my CV! And it keeps the cogs in my brain oiled! And the satisfaction when you can see your work right in front of you is brilliant.

I’ll keep you posted on how its all going (tbh, you should be able to see how I’m doing from how my website changes and improves!) and if you want to ask me any questions, please do! For members of the SCBWI gang, go hunt down the wonderful Candy Gourlay – she is amazing and inspiring and it’s basically because of her that I’m on this journey in the first place.

One final note for those that are terrified by the prospect of this journey – it’s ok. It really is. Find a way to learn that you’re comfortable with, find out which of your friends can help you if you get into a jam, and just play around. You don’t have to be a brainiac, or a nerd, and these are skills that will be useful as the world changes. Have a go! If you pick up that recorder and hit a few duff notes, don’t worry! Just spend a bit more time with it, and soon enough you’ll be playing the song along with the rest of us.

Introducing Batgirl!

I make no secret of staying away from DC comics. For a variety of reasons, I just feel more attuned to the Marvel Universe, and broaching an entirely different (and competing!) universe was always far too daunting. Then I saw this post about the Batgirl redesign, and basically, I knew I needed to get involved in that.

I mean, look how great the first issue of the redesign is:

IMG_3787Batgirl looks SWEEEEEET!!!

If, like me, you’re a little new to DC, or to the comics world in general, then don’t be put off by this being issue 35. It’s a brand new creative team and a great place to start. All the DC comics started back at issue 1 a few years ago, as part of a reboot known as the New 52. So this is issue 35 in that new run, and even though I did feel a little left out in places, I wasn’t overwhelmed by my lack of bat-knowledge.

The basics is this: remember Police Commissioner Gordon? The one with the moustache and access to the bat signal (currently being played by Ryan from the OC in Gotham)? Well this is his daughter, Barbara! She’s got a photographic memory, the drive to do-good, and some pretty nifty sewing skills. She’s also doing her PhD at Gotham university and has a really fun roommate.

In this issue, our Babs gets a little drunk and has to go get coffee with a hangover, which is made extra annoying by some guy stealing another guy’s laptop right in front of her.

IMG_3788Seriously? Now? *SIGH* Okay. I’ve been there girl. I’ve got you.

IMG_3789

Oh Babs, heaving like a chunder-bus has only made me love you more! Mostly because you don’t let it get in the way of your good work. Defeat the baddies first, vom your guts out second.

What follows is a descent to the dark world of online dating, private data, and this dude:

IMG_3796EUGH, right?

But have no fear, our Babs saves the day. No spoilers, but lets just say that maybe QR codes aren’t quite as bad as we all think they are.

A quick glance at issue 36 (or the second issue in this fantastic new run) sees Babs confronting a couple of cosplay twins from your nightmares:

IMG_3791Also, it features a cool kawaii shop called Robot Pony:

IMG_3793ROBOT PONY!!!

Plus we get to see Babs do her best #FeministHackerBarbie impression:

IMG_3792So, in conclusion, Batgirl is SUCH FUN. She’s sweet, geeky and goofy, I adore her, and want to see her go on many, many adventures. If you’re looking for a way into the DC universe, plus want to show your allegiance to the many awesome ladies in the superhero multiverse, then this is a great place to start.

On Negative Reviews

So here’s the thing: I haven’t had a one star review yet. A few lucky people have read my book, and the feedback I’ve had so far is great, but it hasn’t gone out to bloggers, booksellers or reviewers. That will happen soon, and I hope that everyone likes it. Then the book will go on sale in April, and then I pray that the whole world will like it. But the reality is that some people won’t, and that’s ok.

There are books that I’ve hated and other people have loved. There are books that I’ve adored with all my heart that some people haven’t been able to read to the end. This happens, because books are as different as people, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t like everyone. And everyone can’t always like you. I have absolutely no doubt that one day in the relatively near future I’m going to have a look on Goodreads (I use it to chronicle my own reading, so I’m not likely going to give it up once I’m published) and I’ll have a one star review. And you know what? I’m going to be a bit upset. I don’t think I’ll cry or anything, but it might put me in a mood for a few hours. And then I’ll get over it and move on. Knowing me, I’ll probably make a joke about it to a family member or something. I certainly won’t publicly admit that I know about this review, because that would be unprofessional. As far as twitter and Facebook is concerned, I’ll be pretending that it hasn’t happened. If the review is by someone who I really admire and respect, I may pay a bit of attention to it and take notes for next time, but on the whole, everything will be fine. I’ll be fine.
I think we all know what I’m referring to here. Over the weekend it transpired that a debut author managed to track down and stalk a negative reviewer, and the story was printed up in the Guardian online. I don’t want to go into the specifics of that article (you can read it here) but what has concerned me since is the number of young bloggers who have come out to say that they’re now scared about what this means for blogging in the future. Are any authors going to hunt them down if they give a bad review? Is it still safe to voice an opinion? So what I want to do right here, right now, is tell all those bloggers that what they do is absolutely fine, and that they should continue doing what they do for as long as they want to. These kind of incidents are rare, and when they happen, they are definitely not the bloggers’ fault.
I blogged about books for a time, as a side project to my work as a bookseller. It was fun. I like being analytical about what I read, and examining books from this angle helped me with my own writing. I learnt about what I like, and what I don’t, and most importantly, I was able to articulate these opinions with insight and thought. When I got my book deal, I decided that it was time to end the blogging on books, mostly because I had to acknowledge that my position in the profession had changed. I was now a player in the game, and I didn’t want to put myself in a position where I might create awkwardness among the other players with my views. Now, if I don’t like a book, I’ll either remove it from my Goodreads shelf, not review it, or choose not to give it a star rating at all. I certainly won’t publicly talk about not liking it. (For those of you now going through my Goodreads shelves looking for books I haven’t commented on as an indication of what I’ve disliked, I’m afraid that I’m not very consistent. Sometimes I’ll love a book, but not review it because I’m just too busy!) I like telling people what I’m reading, and I don’t want to stop doing that.
I’m very lucky to have an agent who has offered me great professional guidance on how to behave online. I try not to be unhappy on twitter, or put voice to my anxieties or worries. Having learnt some harsh lessons in the past, I aim to keep my online persona professional and upbeat. I try and keep the crazy to myself, although it does leak out from time to time.
The thing about book bloggers, is that you guys are nice people. You have to be. My logic is thus: you are often young, either blogging between homework stints or exam revision, or if you’re older, you’re doing it after work or on your lunch break. You don’t have to be blogging in your spare time, but you do, for no money. Even if you’re just in it to get your hands on free books, that’s still ok, because people who do stuff just to get free books are more likely than not going to be nice people. Let’s put it this way: you don’t go into book blogging because you’re a dumb, shallow, vindictive so-and-so. You’re nice, and probably pretty intelligent to boot. But just because you’re nice doesn’t mean that you have to be nice about every book. You can have whatever opinion you want. You deserve to have your opinion, because this is your hobby, that you have chosen to give up your time for, for no other benefit or reward. In my experience book people are nearly always nice people. It’s as simple as that.
Here’s another thing: a great lesson I learnt early on in my Creative Writing MA is that not everybody will be your reader. When you’re doing any Creative Writing course, a common feature of it will probably be sharing your work for workshopping. You’re gonna hear some tough stuff on a workshop. They can get pretty intense. But you learn to deal with it, because that’s one of the things you’re there to learn. You also learn that not everybody else’s opinions necessarily matter. That guy who writes dark literary detective noir fiction may not be the best person to judge your wily battle princess fantasy epic. He can criticise and be constructive all he likes, and you’ll listen and be polite about it, but you’ll keep at the back of your mind that his opinion may not be the best one to pay the most attention to. This is what we have to do with bloggers. For some of you out there, stories about YA superheroes with everyday problems just aren’t going to be your thing. And I’ll say it once again: THAT’S OK.
Seriously. If you’re a young blogger and you are feeling worried about putting personal information out there, talking to an author online, or giving your address to a publisher, please don’t be. We need you guys to keep our feet on the ground. We need you guys to get excited about books and tell your friends. We need you guys to entertain each other and us, and to keep buzz circulating, and to inspire your peers. We’re all part of the same community, and if your reviews, positive or negative, convince just one other person to read our books, then that’s all we can ever hope for. You may not all be my reader, but you’re definitely somebody else’s, and that’s all that matters.
And if you are ever concerned about an author’s behaviour, then please tell their publisher. Their editor, publicist or agent should be able to have a quiet word with them, out of the public sphere, and will no doubt keep your identity anonymous if you ask for it. This is the professional thing to do, and I’d guess that any author who goes trippy and starts doing weird things, hasn’t got a particularly good network supporting them and their career. But this is not your fault. It never is.
Thank you for sticking with this slightly rambling blog post, but I really wanted to get my thoughts out there. Never stop being lovely people, with all your opinions, no matter what they are.