Finding My Way Around GIMP

I downloaded the photo editing software GIMP a couple of evenings ago and am getting used to it after a frustrating start.  The software’s open source and doesn’t cost a thing.  Personally, I think it has some powerful features, in particularly those to do with manipulating colour. 

Originally, I took the photo below in automatic mode last year (although I never use automatic now).   Using GIMP, I went into Color Channels and selected Monochrome.   With the first photo, I brought the black and white image, chose colorize and altered the hue and saturation.

Queen’s Wood, North London

Queen's Wood, North London

Queen's Wood, North London

Busy With GIMP And Other Things

A pretty busy week.   I’ve been working steadily on my second novel, a crime thriller set in a rundown town on the coast in North East England.  I’ve also downloaded the photo editing software GIMP and am finding my way around it.  GIMP’s open source and free to download, and I hear that it has many of the features of Photoshop.   Meanwhile, my first novel, Secrets by Lawrence Estrey, continues to sell on Amazon. 

Another busy week…


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.

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.

My Second Novel

I recently finished the revision of my first novel and hope to send it back to the editor next month.   But the second novel is in a bad shape, I think.  I read about two thirds of it this evening and found I didn’t want to continue reading  – a very bad sign for a writer.

The story, a psychological thriller set in the UK, addresses what happens when two adults meet for the first time in twenty-five years.  As children, both characters ran from a murder.  The central character, a web designer recently separated from his American wife, has no recollection of the events in his past.  As he renews his friendship with his childhood friend, flashbacks of the murder return to haunt him, leading to confusion and danger.

Sounds like a good story, so what has gone wrong?   Too much cut and pasting scenes, I think.  The potential for truly spine chilling drama is never really developed, although a couple of the scenes scared me a bit. Attempts to improve on some of the previous drafts have had the opposite effect and interrupted the original flow of the story, causing it to become  disjointed.   Neither the present nor the past is ever really developed.  Nor is any viewpoint – a serious sign.

Maybe I’m judging the manuscript too harshly, but I plan to work on the novel away from the main computer file, concentrating on scenes rather than chapters.  I still think the overall story and plot could work. Like before, I will use the open source free novel writing software, Storybook.

Themes And Viewpoint In Novel Writing

I have finished revising my first novel, a psychological thriller set in the English countryside, and am waiting to hear when I can send it back to the editor.   The revision process took just under three months and proved less difficult than I’d anticipated.

The novel complete, I now have some time on my hands, but I can rarely go through a day without doing some creative writing, so this evening I took a look at the first twelve chapters of my third novel, another psychological thriller.  A few months ago, a local novelist group read some of the chapters of the third novel and commented favourably on the writing style but not the plot.  Having carefully read through the material this evening and made notes, I would say that the writing style and plot are not yet up to standard, although a couple of the scenes really chilled me.  The plot itself doesn’t ring true at this stage.

As I read, I concentrated on themes and story questions, composing a basic structure that I think could work, especially with rotating viewpoints to develop atmosphere.   I’ve always liked working with more than one viewpoint to allow one perspective to complement another.   Recording the relevant story questions is crucial too, as having a clear list of areas to address helps the draft stay focused.  I recommend the novel writing software Storybook, an open source package that can be downloaded for free. Storybook enables writers to work in scenes with various theme strand charts, crucial for the novel’s structure.

The Novel:The Halfway Point

Once more, I’m approaching that critical halfway point in the revision of my first novel, a psychological thriller set in the countryside.   Many of the problematic sections have gone.  In their place, I’ve brought in different viewpoints and new story questions.   Cutting troublesome sections often enables writers to produce fresh material. 

I have found the novel writing software Storybook  extremely helpful in the planning and management of chapters and scenes.  The programme encourages people to think laterally, which is crucial for getting the structure right.  Storybook is open source, meaning people can download it for free.  

In all, I’m enjoying the revision process.

Dreams in Fiction?

When I first started writing a novel, a psychological thriller, I relied heavily on italicized dreams because it seemed the right thing to do. Over the years, however, I’ve cut most of the dreams and concentrated on the central character in real time. As a member of a novelist group once said to me, “if you’re going to use dreams, then at least reveal something new in the dreams.”

Now, I’ve had to ditch that one important opening dream that acts as a kind of prologue to the action. At a recent meeting, an editor told me that opening dreams are clichés. The editor asked whether I would read a prologue in italics in someone else’s book and I replied that I probably wouldn’t. So I’ve had to get rid of the dream.


The rewrite of the novel seems to be going all right. I’m concentrating a lot more on all the senses and atmosphere.

I’m using a fantastic programme, Storybook, that enables users to plan and organize scenes. Storybook is an open source programme and doesn’t cost a penny (or cent).

Storybook: Open Source Programme for Writers

I suppose I’ve always been sceptical of novel writing software…after all, how can a programme possibly understand a story?

Of course, programmes don’t, and novel writing software generally concentrates on something else – organising the various elements of the novel.  Programmes like Storybook are actually similar to manually recording notes on pieces of card and placing the cards next to each other  – except the programmes are easier and have a lot more to offer.

Storybook is open source, meaning its free.  With Storybook, you can

  • Keep records of all scenes by date
  • Make notes on each location, character and theme
  • View the progress of  the novel in a number of ways
  • View various progress charts
  • Export programme generated reports to PDF, Rich Text and others.

I particularly like the strand feature.  This enables writers to attach a theme label to the scene in question.  People can link scene themes and include more than one theme per scene.  It’s fascinating to see the charts afterwards, the way one theme relates to another.   I tend to use the strand feature to include story questions and observations.  For instance,I have:

  • Dream, psychology
  • Life in the village
  • Central character’s marriage
  • Family background
  • Complex plot
  • Scene setting
  • Chill factor
  • Immediacy