I have issues with advertising…

I have no objection to companies like Google advertising to me. If that’s their model for providing a free email service and all the rest of it, fine. I don’t need to click on the adverts. Ever so occasionally, I do, and have even been known to buy something. Similarly, I don’t mind seeing ads on friends’ posts and hope they don’t mind seeing them on mine. My LiveJournal is a permanent account which is ad-free. My Dreamwidth account is ad-free anyway. My WordPress account is free and may have advertising. I really don’t care. Facebook doesn’t bother me, either; I just scroll on by. I don’t mind having to wait till the end of an ad to access YouTube content.

However, I do have some serious issues with online advertising. My main problems occur on sites where I have paid for my content, like my daily online copy of The Guardian. I accept that to provide me with good journalism, sites like The Guardian need more than my annual subscription. In printed newspapers I am used to seeing adverts and as with social media I can choose whether or not to read or take any notice.

But…

I have some slight visual problems. I have a ‘frozen’ eye that gives me two somewhat irritating issues. My pupil doesn’t contract, and I find it impossible to re-focus quickly, so I am badly affected by both bright lights and flickering and rapid scrolling. As a result, some adverts are a nightmare and actually prevent me from reading the page I am visiting. The use of these ads strikes me as discriminatory. I object quite strongly. The ones I object to most are the ones that are at the side of an article, and cannot therefore be ignored. They have changing images – scrolling or flickering. They are almost painful, and I feel intense resentment towards the advertisers. . I have written to The Guardian stating my feelings. I did not get a reply.

The very worst online ads, for me, are the ones that open a video, with sound, as I scroll down the page. This happens more often on American media sites where friends have linked me to articles of interest – it can be for goods that are not available in UK or it can be linked articles or new video. I use my laptop in our lounge, where other family members might be watching TV, listening to music, or simply talking. I might be alone, but then I will probably have music playing. Unexpected and unwanted sound is, for me, a total invasion of privacy and usually results in closing down the page altogether in a knee-jerk reaction. Even when I manage to see that there is a small discreet close button and I just get the ad/vid switched off, I still feel offended.

I also have a sense of annoyance at the ads that interrupt Spotify. I listen to radio programmes (especially in the car) which have the inevitable ads before the news, and I just sigh and ignore most of them (except when they include a sound like a car horn or other car sound, which is to my mind dangerous). Just occasionally they are interesting and I will Google the company when I get home. I accept that Spotify, like the radio programmes, needs advertising to fund the service. Not a problem. But sometimes the ads interrupt a track, or interrupt me while I am trying to save something. That annoys me big time and is quite counterproductive because whatever the ad is for, I can guarantee I will not follow it up.

Another set of adverts I hate are those on DVDs. Invariably, they are for films I have already seen or do not wish to see. They try to tell me something is ‘coming soon’ when actually, it came a few years ago. I would almost prefer cinema-type ads for luxury goods and services. At least I could just ignore those and not get so irritated.
Note that all the above applies whatever the ads are for. In fact, I’m usually so affronted I don’t even notice what they’re trying to sell me. Indeed, all these are likely to be a turn off. So why do they do it??

You’d think advertising would be designed to attract the reader…

April Thoughts

With apologies to Browning who probably wouldn’t recognise our current weather patterns. I wrote this last week and thought I’d better post it before the forecast weather improvements make nonsense of it!

Cherry trees made an altogether glorious parade
And a magnolia cast a huge upside-down-umbrella shade.
Forsythia was golden.
The violets were out
But the taller trees determined
That Spring was not about.

There were daffodils in the breeze, dancing
While the glossy bluebell leaves were thrusting.
A lilac sprouted leaf buds.
A willow wept yellow-green.
Still the taller trees determined
That Spring had not been seen.

The sycamore was one that made a start
Wearing tight furled leaves to look the part
Though the other woodland giants
Were resolutely bare.
For the taller trees determined
That Spring truly wasn’t there.

The elm-tree boles that might have wished to please
Were all just memories through Dutch disease.
The chaffinches were nesting
(Though not on any orchard bow)
And the taller trees determined
It was too cold for Spring right now.

Magpies chased off last year’s offspring.
Aconites were this month’s bling.
Some ducks were building nests
And the geese honked, full of cheer,
While the taller trees determined
That Spring might just be near.

The branches raised to greet the driving rain
Were uniformly black without a stain
Of green. Beneath them flowers
And birds (and lambs) told all of England how
Despite the taller trees’ determination
It was April now.

Female characters

There was a meme going round that asked for your favourite female characters in books and films and perhaps in your own work. I thought I’d expand that to talk about female characters in general.

I always loved the Shakespeare female characters who stepped out of the ‘normal’ roles for their time, either by their work (Portia as a lawyer) or by cross-dressing (Viola in Twelfth Night). I was less invested in the ones like Miranda in The Tempest who seemed to conform to all the stereotypes of daughter, girlfriend, etc. As a child, I wallowed in Tales from Shakespeare and was taken to the theatre well before I could really get to grips with the scripts of the plays. I think Viola, in particular, had quite a strong effect on me.

I was presented, at the same time, with the opportunity to read my way through all the Anne of Avonlea books by LM Montgomery, and loved Anne, with her fiery temper and ambitions. I never really put myself in her place; my best friend was a redhead and I think I envisaged Anne as her, with myself in some kind of supporting role. Again, a strong influence. The same people who lent me the Anne books introduced me to Little Women but that was never one of my favourites.

Later, at boarding school, the Brontë sisters were rather shoved down our throats, since Charlotte attended the same school. I disliked Jane Eyre, and thought the heroine allowed herself to be manipulated by events and by other people. I did not find a man who kept his mad wife in the attic a particularly romantic proposition, either. As for the characters in Wuthering Heights, I simply found them tiresome.

I really love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels and my favourite characters are Granny Weatherwax and the werewolf Angua. Both seem to epitomise independent women with sensible attitudes to almost everything. The Discworld novels are ‘comfort’ reading for me (along with other series that don’t have especially memorable female protagonists). I also love Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances and like best the ones where the heroine is compelled to use cross-dressing to survive. This harks back to my feelings for Viola, I suppose, and is odd, because I have never felt even vaguely inclined to masquerade as the opposite gender in my real life.

I have always enjoyed cop buddy TV series and particularly liked the female detectives in NYPD Blue and in Cagney and Lacey. Recently, I enjoyed Kono’s role in Hawaii 5.O. My favourite shows at the moment are Spiral (French cop show Engrenages) with the lead detective Laure, and The Bridge, with the Swedish detective Saga, who appeals to me on another level because of my interest in autism.

I adored The West Wing and liked CJ, Alison Janney’s role, best of all the characters. I was also fascinated by Donna.

My own female characters are a mixed bunch.

The heroine of my elf detective series, Genef, is quite dear to my heart. She sprang to life when I wanted a story that combined some of my favourite themes and tropes: fantasy, crime, strong female lead, mm romance, and dragons (which are a sub-genre of fantasy, yes). Genef’s mother and sister play little part in the stories but the twins Jinna and Janna, with their own secret language, and Loriela, a young girl, confined to a wheelchair, who is Genef’s brother’s pupil, are all prominent in some sections, as is Princess Briana, a friend to Genef and a licensed pirate.

My fae saga, Living Fae, has two males as the major characters but Harlequin’s sister Moth was actually the trigger for the whole series. She came into being in answer to a child’s letters to the fairies at the bottom of the garden, letters I was asked to answer. Moth generated an entire series about her family (as well as giving her name to my friends-locked social media) and whilst she is not one of the main ‘players’ I feel a great deal of affection for her. Her sisters, Columbine and Peasblossom, have larger roles and are both, I hope, interesting characters. The same goes for their mother, Flame; although I dislike her intensely, I love writing her.

There. That’s over twenty female characters introduced as having affected me in one way or another. Obviously there are others, in the books and shows mentioned above and in my own writing. None of my own are, I hope, any kind of Mary Sue. I have never wanted to be a detective. (If anything, I identify with Fel, Genef’s teacher brother.) Nor are any of them without flaws. Even Genef doesn’t find a solution to everything and has to rely on her brother, her mentor and her dragon in most cases.

I do enjoy reading, viewing and writing strong female characters, and it is interesting to look back at those that have perhaps influenced me over the course of my life.

March Reviews

    Films etc.

Given that Game of Thrones is seven episodes, I watched ten things this month apart from my normal diet of politics and nature documentaries.

I, Daniel Blake*****
Excellent story that shows how people are affected by benefit cuts and the ways Social Services are obliged to deal with them. Sad, horribly true (despite being fiction) and hopefully influential in much the same way as Cathy Come Home was for earlier generations of politicians.

Game of Thrones Season 7 *****
What can I say? Apparently Season 8, which will be the last, will not be aired until 2019 and may have fewer episodes (though some might be feature length). And presumably the final book will not be available till after that. Whilst I deplore the marketing and production decisions, I love the story so much that I will just have to find a way to cope until 2019.

12 Dogs of Christmas 2****
I expected to be bored but it was a pleasant film with some good underlying messages. The dogs, of course, helped. A young woman who returns to her home town for a funeral is caught up in an effort to save the dog rescue centre owned by the person who died.

Mama Mia***
The Abba Music was nice. Other than that, I thought it was rubbish. Poor plot and dialogue. The actors did a valiant job with the material they were given.

    Books

I seem to have been reading non-stop this month (blame the weather?) and a lot of what I read was excellent. Remember five stars means highly recommended!

So let’s start with the excellent:

Jingo by Terry Pratchett *****
I thought I’d read this and it turned out I hadn’t. I really enjoyed it, but I can say that about all Pratchett’s books. This is the one that looks at war, particularly the beginnings.

Out! by JL Merrow*****
This is the third in the Shamwell series. A workaholic accountant gets custody of his rebellious teenage daughter and ‘retires’ to the country where he meets a charity worker who doesn’t approve of his work in high finance. Lovely writing, the teenagers are brilliantly drawn, and the main protagonists are well developed. I am beginning to wonder if this and one or two other series are realistic – I’m not sure how many successful gay romances one location can sustain. However, it makes good escapist fiction and it’s nice spotting characters from the previous books.

Forest Dancer by Susan Roebuck*****
Probably my favourite book of the month. Reviewed separately at https://jaymountney.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/forest-dancer-a-review/

Heart Trouble by DJ Jamison*****
Vol 1 of Hearts and Health series
A nurse who is still recovering from a broken relationship meets a patient who he mistakenly thinks is a biker, an adrenaline junkie. The guy is in fact a teacher, trying out some extreme sports for a work assignment. The story has Ben and Gage at cross purposes for most of the time but eventually all is explained.

The Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury*****
An account of the work of nineteenth century geologists to establish the concept of dinosaurs. I intend to review this (and other books on the same topic) in a separate post so won’t go into too much detail, but can say that this one comes highly recommended.

Crossfire by Jackie Keswick*****
A new boyfriend (this is an mm romance) turns out to be threatened by his (female) ex from a mafia family. The plot is gripping and the action is all the more interesting because of the central theme of the relationship between the boyfriend and his sister who helps save the day.

2018 State of Hate by Hope not Hate*****
I hesitated to class this as a book as it has a semi-magazine format but it’s long, with in-depth articles about the rise of, and current state of, right wing groups in UK and Europe. I knew most of the general information but there were details that were fascinating (especially about Eastern Europe) and it will make a good reference work on the subject.

A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers ***** Porthkennack series
This is an interesting historical story in the series where various authors set their stories in the same fictional Cornish town. A physicist has become fascinated by the occult and is researching the idea of contacting spirits using electricity. He is laughed out of Oxford and London and retreats to Porthkennack where he meets a land agent who has Romany ancestry but is nevertheless not a believer in any kind of spiritualism. The pair get off to a bad start and the slow growth of trust and an appreciation of each other’s beliefs and work form a fascinating tale.

English Place Names by AD Mills*****
(an Oxford dictionary spin-off)
Well, obviously I haven’t read it cover to cover. The introduction is fascinating and shows just how much of what we think we know about place names can often be wrong. Once I’d read that, I turned to various places known to me, and found I could get lost for hours, just as I can in an atlas or a dictionary. If you’ve ever wondered how various strange names turned up on UK signposts, you will enjoy this book!

The Dragon’s Tale by Harper Fox *****
Book 2 of the Arthur trilogy.
This follows When First I Met My King. Lance is summoned to a northern castle where Arthur lies injured. The book deals with the royal negotiations with the local tribes, old (British) and new (Anglo-Saxon) and in the course of this various legends are tweaked and brilliantly retold to bring about the arrival of Guinevere. Exquisite writing (as always) and wonderful world-building. The story of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot is given a totally new twist in this series and I am really looking forward to the last in the trilogy.

Then the good:

10X10 Digital rights in the next decade by openrightsgroup.org ****
I think they sent me this because I signed up and subscribed to them. It was a really interesting read with articles by a variety of people covering disparate aspects of online rights, privacy, etc. As with most multi-author works, there were some sections better than others. Overall, recommended.

Pretty in Pink and Helping Hand by Jay Northcote ****
The Housemates series.
These are pleasant and well written mm romances set among students and recent graduates in Plymouth. They’re predictable and not really memorable but the quality of the writing plus the UK location means they are a cut above the usual offerings in the college romance genre.

The mediocre.

Discern by Andrea Pearson***
Vol 1 of Mosaic Chronicles.
This story was simply not to my taste. It’s reasonably well written but there is too much horror (and stupidity on the part of the students who experience it), too little magic for what purports to be a magic university, and a lack of real archaeology on a field trip. If you like that kind of thing, it’s the start of a series. I wouldn’t personally recommend it.

I was lucky this month – there was nothing poor or dire!

    Fanfiction

I read a lot of excellent fanfic this month but most of it required a knowledge of the ‘canon’ (the original book or show) for true enjoyment. However, I’m going to recommend one story with not just one but two canons.

Who Wakes As The World Sleeps by nagi_schwarz*****
The story is what is known as a crossover. The protagonists of Stargate Atlantis meet the concept of Westworld. So, two sci-fi stories collide. It’s an interesting story on various levels. It’s a perfect example of a crossover which is about as transformative as fanfic can be. It addresses questions about reality, what it means to be human, and how people express their feelings. It’s an mm romance but is not explicit. I think most of it is accessible to the reader who is not in either fandom though I suspect you might need to know the basic idea of Westworld before reading. Altogether highly recommended. It’s just over 31k words long so think in terms of a long novella.
https://archiveofourown.org/works/13037208