Google’s Picasa: Great Photo Editing Software

I’m pretty much new to the digital scene, but rarely does a month go by without me discovering more fascinating opportunities, unavailable to the average person ten years ago.  Digital photography.  Music.  Videos.  E-books and magazines.  Open Source software.  Web 2.0.  Today, anyone can publish their work and interests online, usually for free.   People then pay for upgrades if they wish to.

Although I’m still finding my way round Picasa, I must say I’m seriously impressed with what I’ve already seen.  Picasa belongs to Google, which means people need to create an account first.  (Also check out Google Docs, a free online word processing suite that includes document creation, spreadsheets and presentations.)  Users download Picasa to their hard drive, then upload photos to Picasa web albums. 

On my computer, the Picasa 3 shortcut appears on the desktop.  When I click on the icon, Picasa opens and I can do a number of things – let Picasa search my hard drive for photos, edit photos already there, or upload albums to my web albums.  The layout is impressive, almost like a snazzy colour version of negatives.  The editing tools include a great feature – I’m Feeling Lucky – that brings photographs into sharper focus.  I’ve used this quite a lot recently.

The web album offers a lot of space.  The 135 photographs I’ve already uploaded have only taken up a small amount of megabytes, leaving room for many more photographs. Admittedly, I haven’t used Picasa for long – two weeks at the most – but I can imagine using it on a long term basis, along with the other excellent photo sharing site Flickr.


Novel Writing: Is The Story Believable?

A question I often ask myself – does a particular section ring true? 

Sometimes it does, but not always.  I think it boils down to the relationship between the writer and their story – i.e. does the writer fully believe in the story they’re telling?  Or do they suspect that a story question doesn’t really work (but continue with it anyway)?

One way of testing an idea is to see how clearly you can visualise the details, especially in relation to the timing and the characters involved.   Events have to occur in a logical framework, even those that arise from spontaneity or rash decision making.   Character (individual motives, aspirations and fears) always determines plot, even when the overall emphasis is on plot.  After all, a plot can’t exist without the characters driving the story forward.

Another issue concerns theme and purpose.  What is the purpose of the scene in question?  What point am I trying to make by including this section in the drama?  Would the story work without the scene?

As a writer who writes every day, I ask myself these questions on a regular basis. I have found that writer’s block usually affects me when I don’t fully understand why I’m working on a scene.  

Just a few of my thoughts.

Novel Writing: A Question of Focus

About a year and a half ago, a friend read my second novel – a psychological thriller – and gave me a good deal of constructive criticism, all gratefully received. 

‘I almost feel there’s several novels here,’ she told me over coffee. ‘I think you need to find a way of bringing the various streams together.’

A huge challenge.  At the time, the streams included:

  • The central character’s back story
  • Friendship between central character and his best friend from childhood following a reunion after many years
  • A complex history between the best friend and the central character’s sister
  • A growing sense of menace originating in the three main characters’ shared pasts
  • Shady caricatures of criminals in a bland town

There was little distinct scene setting, and most of the novel revolved around back story and endless dialogue.  At times, I found the writing unbearably frustrating.  The story tended to meander, a problem since its first tentative draft.

Ideally, I wanted to concentrate on the central character, in particular his psychology and confused memories of childhood, but I couldn’t, as I didn’t actually know what had happened to him during his childhood, so I concentrated instead on the on-off romantic relationship between his sister and his best friend.   For some reason, the material didn’t always ring true in places.  I guess that if a writer isn’t passionate about the story, readers will quickly notice.  

Most writers, I would imagine, don’t like cutting material, especially well written material, but pruning seems to be an essential part of the process. I’m now concentrating primarily on the central character with a view to developing the forensic aspects of the story.  Instead of relying solely on memory flashbacks and countless back story sections (both potential clichés), I’m allowing a number of viewpoint characters to establish the forensic elements, along with a simple First Person narrative in present tense that includes occasional brief hazy recollections of a childhood event that is not entirely clear at first.   There is no reason why memory uncertainty shouldn’t play some role in the story.

The back story question itself is far more complex than originally sketched out, now allowing for a richer unfolding of events.  For the first time since resuming this project, I feel a greater degree of confidence and interest in the story.

More Online Storage Stuff: Photography, Writing and Music

In previous posts, I described my methods of backing up writing, music and photographs.  As I pointed out in those posts, I’m fanatical about backing up work, using a mixture of cloud storage and portable devices such as USB memory sticks and Recordable CDs. 

Here’s the original list:

I forgot to mention the excellent photo sharing site Flickr, which is free like the others.  I’ve also starting using Google’s Picasa, another free photo sharing site. 

Online storage is great, of course, but it’s still important to back up work to portable devices.  Recently, I’ve taken this a step further.  Instead of simply uploading a photo or document, I create monthly folders and rename documents so I can keep all my work. 

For instance, my portable devices contain my novel writing files, along with folders for my photographs and the classical piano pieces I recorded last year.  One of the sub folders is titled New Folder. This contains back ups of my blog posts.  New Folder 2 contains all the writing files, along with copies of my photographs, blog posts, piano pieces and additional photo files.

I also rename my writing files to avoid overwriting previous files – e.g. First Novel.doc might become First Novel Scene in Pub.doc or Email Disclosure.doc

Admittedly, I find the repetition confusing at times, but like I said earlier – I’m fanatical about backing up work.

Novel Writing and Crime Genre: A Not-So-Nice Plot

After nearly two months of revision on the first third of my second novel, a crime/psychological thriller, I’ve come to an uncomfortable conclusion – that the crime in the story must be particularly shocking in order for  the novel to work.   I’ve tended to shy away from this and resort to more old-fashioned or “otherworldly” plots, but none of those plots have convinced me yet.  I think the first eight chapters as they currently stand read well; my struggles revolve around what happens next.  Future chapters, I feel, will need a back story plot that reflects the seriousness of the issues raised in earlier chapters.

Gloomy Election Weather

We had a General Election the other day and the Tories won more seats than any other party, though not enough seats to secure a majority. This leaves Britain with a hung parliament and an uncertain future, along with a huge economic problem.

The weather is gloomy all round and constantly humid.

Here’s a couple of photos I took in today’s gloom.

Gloomy Weather Again: Highgate Wood May 2010Gloomy Weather Again: Highgate Wood May 2010

What I Like Most About The Internet

Initially, I took an immediate dislike to the Internet.  Like many people brought up on a diet of pens, pencils and typewriters, I was suspicious of what I probably regarded as another trend.  Then, in 1998, someone told me they might have a spare typewriter I could have, but the typewriter never materialised, so a friend lent me her word processor.

Imagine the excitement and fascination…I could already touch type, but the machine in front of me offered a lot more.  It allowed me to save work to a disk and copy/move sections of writing, and it also checked for spelling errors.  And there were plenty of those at first.  As I writer, I believed that I’d found the most valuable tool for writing.

At around the same time, one of my friends bought his first computer and we often had friendly arguments about which was better – a PC or a standard word processor?  To cut a very long story short, my friend created a Hotmail account for me that I still use today for email and storing documents, although I couldn’t see any point of having the account at first.  Within a few months, however, I’d brought my own computer and gone on an IT course.   I’ve never looked back.  Over the coming years, I studied HTML and CSS and learnt how to design basic websites.  I even enjoy reading books on Troubleshooting!

I still, of course, value life away from the computer.  Equally, I can’t imagine life without the computer or the Internet.  So why do I like the Internet so much? 

  • People with access to the Internet (they don’t even need to have a connection at home) can publish almost anything on the Web, usually for free.   Photographs. Pieces of music. Books and articles. Magazines.  Digital radio shows.  Films.  And a lot more.
  • People can download fully functioning programs (Open Source) for free, including website builders, word processing facilities, spreadsheets, digital photography and sound editing.  A few years ago, these programs would have cost a lot of money.
  • The average citizen can start a blog and engage in journalism.
  • Elderly people have an opportunity to record their memoirs for future generations. (I particularly like this.)
  • Artists, musicians and writers can showcase their work for free.
  • People can track down old friends and keep up with present friends without needing to go out and buy stamps.
  • Web 2.0 sites enable the average person to create the media content of their own choice.  The Internet revolution of the last few years is, quite literally, a revolution.

Just a few of my reasons.

From My Second Novel…

Secrets, A Psychological Thriller Set in Lancashire, UK


Alan is a web designer, living in London and married to Lana.  But when Lana disappears, abandoning their eight-year-old son, Alan’s nightmare is just beginning.  Forced to move to his sister’s country cottage, he struggles to rebuild his life.  But on the eve of the move, he receives an email from someone in his past. The events that follow trigger a series of flashbacks, dragging Alan deeper into the past and danger.


I disregard Mel’s advice and head over to Burrington where Gordon Day’s gym is located.  Burrington is full of coffee houses and arts and crafts shops. Morning shoppers amble towards the market square. I still haven’t got used to the slow pace of life and doubt I ever will; in London, everyone rushes everywhere. I spot a natural health centre tucked away in a mews with dried herbs hanging in the window. The surrounding hill countryside is steeped in folklore and a history of locals engaging in strange rituals. It sounds too weird to me. I take in the crisp morning air and gear myself up to seeing Gordon. Perhaps I should make a speedy exit while I still can.

I’m standing in front of a bookshop opposite the gym now, watching a young receptionist with henna dyed hair answer the phone. She has the handset placed between her face and her shoulder while she talks – a bad postural habit to get into. She ends her conversation and replaces the handset, a smile playing on her lips. A slim man about my height, wearing a light blue t-shirt and jeans, swaggers over to the desk to talk to her. He looks to be in his late twenties, early thirties.

Gordon Day, although nothing like the Gordon I remember. Back then, he was ruddy faced and broad shouldered with a mop of reddish-brown hair and moody eyes, the most volatile of our group of friends, always quick to wade in with his fists when he thought our other friends were teasing. The man at the desk in the gym is tall like myself, with rich chestnut hair swept back. Yet, I’m sure it’s him.

The man stops talking to the henna hair receptionist and turns to face me, frowning. His eyes widen in recognition. I turn to go, but too late. He comes out. ‘Holmsey,’ he calls. My old nickname, so it has to be Gordon.  He crosses the cobbled street. ‘How’s it going? I saw Mel a few weeks back and she said you were living in London.’