Writing a Book: Characters

A few months ago I started writing my first ever book. So far the experience has been both enjoyable and exciting, but one element of book writing is harder for me than the rest: Keeping track of characters. I have problems remembering stuff and fictional stuff is even harder to remember, which is why I’m a terrible liar.

To help keep track of characters as the book progresses I came up with a “template” character profile. The template contains the information on a single character, which I copy to a separate note in the MacOS notes app for each character and password protect to save them from prying eyes. So far this system has worked well for me, but I imagine it would fall on its face if I wasn’t continuously updating each note as the book progresses.

I thought I would share the template I use to profile each character in case anybody else finds it useful. So here it is.

  • Name – An obvious one really…
  • Age – Again pretty obvious
  • Description – A description of a character is helpful, for example, homeless man or police officer.
  • Aliases – Characters aren’t always known by their full name. Bill instead of William for example.
  • Physical Appearance – I find it helpful to help visualisation of the characters I’m writing about to jot down what they look like. Hair style and colour, height, eye colour, build, etc.
  • Skills – Handy for reminding me of which character might be able to pick a lock, or cook beans.
  • Relationships – The relationships a character has to other characters is a valuable piece of information to know, even if the relationship isn’t mentioned once in the book. Knowing that two brothers had the same upbringing might help build in common traits.
  • Book Appearances – A list of chapters that the character appears in within the book is helpful for referencing back to previous chapters.
  • Book Mentions – I list of chapters that a character is mentioned in but doesn’t appear in.

As always, I’m always happy to take advice on ways to improve my work, so if any authors out there have any tips on managing characters consistently throughout a book they’d be greatly appreciated.

ShoreTel LLDP Followup

A while ago I wrote a post about the experience I had setting up LLDP on Cisco switches with ShoreTel phones. Since then I have learned a trick or two and though I’d give a little update.

In the post I mentioned changing the configuration files for the phones on the ShoreTel server in order to correctly set the language and country, thus making the dial tone etc sound correct to end users. Unfortunately, this approach is broken. While it works to start with, we found that ShoreTel overwrites the configuration files periodically and removes the custom settings enter, which is a pain un the UK when the default country for ShoreTel is USA.

To get around this, there are some other configuration files which I was made aware of by our ShoreTel partner. Fortunately though ShoreTel provide some custom configuration files for each phone which are included in the main configuration file. The table below shows which custom configuration file you need for each model of phone.

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So within the c:\inetpub\ftproot\sevgcustom.txt file for the IP 230g phones we use, all we have to do is add the following to the file.

# Please consult Shoreline support before editing or deleting this file

Include “Country_7.txt”
Include “Language_4.txt”

And done. If you reboot a phone, you will see it downloads the sevgcustom.txt file from the server and the language and country settings are all correct.

Don’t forget to change the configuration files for any other model phones you have!

Reading a Friend’s Book

Recently a colleague of mine published a short book which he mentioned in passing. I think he was angling for a review. Or maybe it’s a few quid out of my wallet he wanted via Amazon. Either way, the idea of reading a friend or colleagues book got me thinking.

What if I read the book and think it’s shit? Do I tell him to save him the time and energy of writing another book? Or do I spare his feelings and tell him I liked it regardless?

And then there’s the method of obtaining a copy of the book. He obviously has a printed copy of the book for himself. Can’t I just borrow that? That’s what friends and colleagues do with books isn’t it? Or am I expected to go and purchase the book from Amazon at full price to help a budding author on his way to fame? Then is the Kindle edition the right choice being more than half the cost of the paperback? Or will I be considered a cheap skate?

All of these things take time to process before making a decision of whether to read the damned book or not. Maybe I could write a short book about the thought process behind reading a friend’s book.

Did J.K. Rowling mention that she was writing a book about a wizard to friends and family in passing. Did she expect them to buy a copy of the book? Or to review it and tell her it’s shit? If she had, and they had, would one of the most iconic book series of modern society have ever hit the shelves? Would Daniel Radcliffe be on the dole? Would Emma Watson be lusted after by hundreds and thousands of men around the world?

The predicament goes on. Is it really fair to mention things like a book to friends and family and colleagues? Or am I being stupid?

In the end I borrowed the book using the Kindle Owners Lending Library I get access to through my Kindle and Amazon Prime subscription. Oh well Peter, I’m sure Amazon will give you something for the inconvenience. Sorry mate.

As it turns out I though the book was funny and well written and I enjoyed reading it. Although knowing the author is weird. It was almost as if a miniature Peter was in my head reading the book to me. That probably added to the witty nature of the book though. I may suggest an audio book…

If anybody fancies reading about the misfortune of the bloke who is married to a horse lover, the book is called So, The Other Half Wants a Horse… and can be “acquired” from Amazon here.

Why I Like Monzo

I don’t usually like “trendy” companies. I’m not averse to modern upbeat companies in the slightest, it’s more their marketing strategies that I sometimes find obnoxious.

Monzo (Formerly Mondo) is a different kettle of fish though, if you can see past all the emote’s in every single communication released by the company. For anybody that doesn’t know who Monzo are, they are a new banking startup here in the UK looking to revolutionise the was people do banking. You can find more information at their website if you are interested, but I’m going to go through my favourite bits right here.

At the moment Monzo only offer a pre-paid MasterCard that can be topped up via the companion app on my smart phone. This is a reasonable stop-gap until they obtain their full banking license and are allowed to offer current accounts as it gives users an opportunity to explore their app and some of the features they think will change the payment card industry. It also allows them to gather feedback from the community about what they want from a bank.

Instant Transaction View

First of all, within seconds of me making a payment using my Monzo card, the transaction appears in the app. The payment also includes details of where the transaction was made on a map and gives statistics on how much has been spent in total with the retailer. In comparison, my current account with another leading UK bank doesn’t show me debit card transactions in their app for 5 days. They are quick enough to deduct it from my available balance though.

Notifications

The Monzo app sends me notifications for every transaction made using my Monzo card, wether it was in store or online. It event tells me if a transaction was declined for whatever reason, which helps to keep other accounts in order. Notifications seem to be pretty instant too, which is good.

International Usage

Using my card when I travel abroad is great. Instead of my bank charging me a percentage of all transactions plus extra charges for cash in a different currency, Monzo charge me nothing. Not only that, you get a favourable exchange rate as well. In fact, I withdrew €200 while in Amsterdam and I was told the exchange rate instantly. By the time the funds cleared though the exchange rate had fallen, so Monzo gave me the better rate without me even knowing about it. You can’t argue with that sort of service.

Card Freezing

The app allows me to instantly freeze my own card whenever I like. Wether I’ve lost my wallet or simply don’t want somebody skimming the contactless chip in my pocket. This is a very handy feature. I can also defrost my card in the same way when I want to use it.

PIN Reminders

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably forgotten your PIN for at least one card in your lifetime. Usually that involves calling the bank, waiting on hold for 45 minutes, answering your security questions which you have probably forgotten, and then waiting 5 days for a new pin to drop on your door map. It’s just not that tricky in the Monzo app. Simple login, Go to your card settings and click PIN. After presenting my fingerprint to prove it is me, my PIN is shown on-screen. I’d say biometric authentication is more secure than a peice of paper handled by hundreds of hands to get to me any day.

Magstrip Security

Everybody knows the magstrip is the least secure part of a payment card. That’s why it’s disabled by default on Monzo cards. Due to issues with international travellers not being able to use magsrtip only ATMs however, Monzo have added a cool feature in the app to enable the magstrip for 24 hours. Now that an ingenious solution to an outdated technology flaw that won’t go away because of the unwillingness of ATM owners to update their ATMs.

Location Based Security

Another cool feature to help protect users is Location Based Security, Which would help if your card was cloned. Basically, whenever a transaction is made with the card present, Monzo use the location of your smart phone to determine if it was made by you or not.

Conclusion

I think Monzo will do well in the current banking landscape. It’s about time a bank came along that didn’t rely on ancient mainframes, batch processing payments and taking days to clear funds. It’s 2017 and that just isn’t acceptable any more. I noticed some of the big banks claim to not be worried about Monzo. I’m sure Research in Motion said something similar when Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone, and look where it got them.

Personally I can’t wait for them to launch their current accounts so I can lose my legacy banks and start banking in a smarter manner. Let’s just hope they keep to their promises of reasonable charges and fair practices.

Novels: Read or Watch First?

I recently finished reading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R R Martin. The books already released anyway. Having never read any fantasy novels before I was blown aware by the first book, A Game of Thrones, which is of course also the title of the popular TV series based on the collection. I never imagined how immersive a fantasy novel could be and found myself reading for hours on end, completing the series of books in a few weeks between work and around family time.

The problem with finishing a good book, or series of books for that matter, is what to do next. Obviously there are still books to come out of the Song of Ice and Fire series yet, but I don’t want to wait for Mr Martin to pull his thumb out and finish them. Eventually I decided to start watching the TV series in the hope of filling the empty void the remaining books have left. I soon realised this was a huge mistake!

Now before all the Game of Thrones fans out there grab their pitch forks and torches and come searching for me in the quest for blood, let me explain. While I’m sure the TV series is wonderful from beginning to end, the characters and settings are nothing like the ones in my imagination. This totally spoils the experience for me. In fact, it spoiled the experience so much I had to stop watching midway through the first season so as not to squash my hunger for the new books in the series.

On the other side of the coin, however, I recently read The Hobbit after watching the movie. I found that since I’d seen the movie first I already knew what the director’s interpretation of characters and locations looked like, meaning the characters and scenes in the book were already formed in my head from the moment I started reading.

Unfortunately this order of consumption also has its problems though. Since I no longer required my imagination to form the world depicted in the text, and the events that take place during he adventures or Mr Baggins and friends, the overall reading experience isn’t as immersive as I think it could have been had I formed my own interpretations of the characters’ attributes. Then again the movie doesn’t contain nearly as much detail or dialogue as the books, leaving at least some ragged strands of meat on the bone for my imagination to pick at.

I don’t see a way to solve this dilemma of mine and I’d be interested in hearing suggestions from others. At the minute I think I’ll need to either read the book(s) or watch the movie or TV programme for each series, and not both.