Windmills in February

Mid-February already, and in fine weather the windmills alongside the canal along the Quai des Charbonnages in Molenbeek are spinning in the wind. High time for an update to this blog and an overview of developments and progress at TheSupercargo.

I missed writing anything in January partly because my 2015 stocktaking came so late in December. Since then a number of developments I wrote about have moved forward. My participation in the NYCMidnight Short Story Challenge is underway, and my effort for Round 1, “Tala’s Story”, has helped me reanimate my poetry and prose website at Articulations. I hope to publish a few more things there as the year rolls on.

Participating in the challenge also got me to look at other writing competitions. There are an awful lot of them. I’ve decided to try this year to participate in a new one every month. For February I have submitted a story to the Writers’ and Artists’ short story competition. I’m not sure whether I will be sharing that for a while though. If it doesn’t win anything in the February contest, I may submit it elsewhere. (I think it’s a particularly good story, you see. 🙂 )

If I get through to Round 2 of the NYCMidnight challenge, that will be another deadline in mid-March, but I’m also looking at some other competitions with end-of-March deadlines. I think I shall be trying to write a series of stories (for different competitions) during the year, all within a unifying framework so I might be able to publish them together as an anthology. It’s a thought at least.

Meanwhile the scriptwriting course is trudging on through the mud (slowly, but definitely getting somewhere). I have now written up the story from the perspectives of four different characters – about 10,000 words in total. Currently I am trying to assemble the story into a filmic framework. A minute by minute breakdown of the story as it might be filmed.

Meanwhile, plans are afoot to visit Africa this year (or maybe next). In preparation for that I am renewing my innoculations, as reported on Stops and Stories. Unfortunately, I am also looking at maybe taking some enforced hospital time for an operation. I’ve had an inguinal hernia diagnosed for about three years, and it has just come back to remind me that it’s still there. My Belgian doctor is an enthusiast for an operation (while my Swedish doctor didn’t think there was any point). It’s obviously very small and not uncomfortable as long as it doesn’t press on a nerve, but that’s just what it’s doing at present. I don’t know what I did to cause the present flare up. I did think losing weight was supposed to help.

Moving on from last year’s improvements in my reading (see here), I’m still keeping up my New Year’s resolution to read even more. I got through three and a half books in January and I’m half way through another book now mid-February. I feel I’m doing OK on that front, not least because the book that overlapped January and February was the 425 page Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. (A good read!) The current book is the even thicker Lanark by Alasdair Gray, a book I’ve long wanted to read. (I’m enjoying it.)

Finally a word about themes and conflicts and website coding.

As you may be aware, this and all my sub-domain websites are constructed using the WordPress framework. I’ve been using WP for several years and I am very satisfied with it. WordPress allows you to use different themes to make your websites look and feel appropriate to their purpose and subject matter. Many, perhaps most of these themes are free, while some cost money. For example, both At the Quill and Stops and Stories use the free WP theme called Twenty Fifteen while GBG365 uses a paid-for theme from Photocrati. You can tweak the themes with plug-ins – extra software packages that do something specific. Or you can write code yourself – if you dare. (I dare now more often than I did when I started.)

The difference between free and paid-for themes is often not very obvious until something goes wrong, or when you find yourself wanting to do something with a theme that it wasn’t specifically designed for. The free themes have a wonderful resource in the WP forums where coding enthusiasts swap ideas and tips and often will be pleased to answer cries for help. Though sometimes not. The paid-for themes often include support (that’s really what it is you are paying for), but the eagerness of the theme builders to help can vary considerably.

When I set up GBG365 I struggled for months trying to find an appropriate free theme, until a Twitter contact recommended Photocrati. I bought the theme and subscribed to a two year support package and found the people at Photocrati very helpful while I was setting up the site. They were also quick to respond when I ran into problems later. But there weren’t many problems and, in fact, the construction was so good that I ended up needing their help less and less. Eventually, when the subscription expired, I chose not to renew and so far the site has continued to work satisfactorily with minimal maintenace. Though of course I’m not adding to it (much) at present. If I revive it, or if I start another dedicated photosite, I will certainly go back to Photocrati again.

However, while I’ve had really good advice and practical help from some paid-for services, I have been very disappointed by others. In general, for sites that are not photography sites, I echo WordPress and recommend people to go for the free themes.

There is a conundrum, though. Some free themes (often, but not always, with the word “lite” in their titles) are pared-down versions of a paid-for theme (where the word “lite” gets swapped for “pro” or “premium”), and these can be a nightmare. Especially if you have a theme that does more or less what you want, and you put some effort in, to tweak it a bit and get it looking really nice, and then an update comes along – either from WP or to a key plug-in – that breaks the theme. The creators can be very difficult to get help from because you have chosen their “lite” theme. They may even tell you they can’t help until you buy the “pro” version. This doesn’t happen always, but it’s happened to me enough now so I am increasingly cautious of any themes that are not WP defaults – however wonderful they may look.

But obviously not cautious enough. The theme I’m using on this, my main site, at present – Sydney – seems to be in conflict with an important plug-in (Yoast’s SEO) and I can’t find a way to overcome the problem. I’ve only used Sydney since the beginnning of 2015, but now I’m looking, once again, for a replacement.

Watch this space!