Videos, Blog posts and the Search for Content.

It doesn’t get any easier, the search for words and ideas for a weekly blog post. And it just goes on and on, just like marketing. You write a book, self publish it on Amazon, then realise that if you want to sell a few copies you need to promote your book more and more on social media. After all, before people can make a decision about whether to buy or not, they need to know more about your product, and if they’ve never heard of it at all there is only you who can tell them about it.

One of the ways in which I have worked is to show the public something interesting through either my blog posts or videos and hope people may think, ‘hey that was interesting. Wonder what this guy’s book is like? That’s the theory anyway. In practice coming up with varied content week after week is hard work. Sometimes I have to cheat a little. Cheat did he say? Well a little bit. Sometimes I take an old blog post and liven it up a little, rewrite it and add some new images and graphics and hey presto, new blog post!

Sometimes I’ll take content from a stalled project and use it for something else, like another blog post. Back in 2017 I was in Manchester, the location of the events in my book, Floating in Space, and shot some video of the town as it looks these days. I had a vague idea of talking about the city and how it has changed during the last 40 odd years and looking at some of the pubs and bars I used to frequent. Back home I saw that my footage wasn’t brilliant and there didn’t seem to be enough useable video to work with. One big problem for me is that when I visit Manchester, the lure of my old pubs and haunts is just too great and I tend to have to go and visit them and of course, have a pint or two in them too. Then there are new venues that need to be tried out and evaluated. This process of evaluating is very important, especially to a top blogger and chronicler of Manchester, like me! The thing is, after a few pints, which of course are essential to the evaulating process, I’m not necessarily in the mood, or the state, for shooting video!

Making a documentary film, even the short ones I make is pretty hard. I started off putting a rough cut together then working out a narration but things just wouldn’t come together. A better way, I found, was to sit down and write something and then try to select images that fit together with my words. Editing, especially the way I work, can be a slow process. After that particular video project stalled for the umpteenth time I realised my Saturday blog deadline was fast approaching and that I had little worth publishing. That’s when I decided to take my narration and re-purpose it into, yes, you’ve guessed it, another blog post.

My post Manchester 41 Years On, was a nostalgic look back down memory lane and a sort of appreciative look at present day Manchester. It combined a lot of text from Floating in Space, written quite a few years back now with some new fresh words inspired by my recent visit to the old home town. I liked it so much that I determined to get back into the editor’s chair and sort out that video!

After numerous re-edits I finally got things in some sort of order. I did have a version with some background music but it was annoying so that had to be removed. My narration wasn’t perfect but after a session with the old sound mixer and the snipping out of those many errs and ahhs, things seem a little better. Not Oscar nomination material I suppose, but a pretty reasonable short video. Take a look and see what you think!

By the way, this post came direct from French mobile internet hell! Stay tuned and illI tell you more next week!


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Another Slice of My Life

A while ago I published a post called ‘A Slice of my Life‘ which was in fact a homage to a similar post by one of my favourite bloggers, a fellow from the USA. You might be thinking OK, Steve’s run out of ideas, he’s got to pinch something from some other blogger. Well you’re free to think that if you want but I’m sticking to my version, that I was so impressed by that rival blog I produced a ‘homage’. In music terms we could say I ‘sampled’ his post which is when you get a great record that has pinched something from a much better original. (Did he say ‘pinched’ I hear you asking?)

Anyway, as I’m a little short of ideas, I though I’d revisit that theme again, this time, no pizza involved.

This week Liz and I visited a psychic event. It was some kind of charity function and consisted of three mediums who demonstrated their psychic powers to a small audience. Liz and I and another couple arrived early and grabbed front row seats although sadly the bar was closed for the duration of the event. Pity because I quite fancied a pint of lager, however it was thought that activity at the bar might disturb the vibrations from the ‘other side’. Oh well.

The event kicked off with the first medium. Unfortunately this particular lady looked very like a character from a short-lived sit com that Liz and I both loved. It was called Early Doors and revolves around a small public house in Manchester called the Grapes and the group of regulars who drink there. Two of the characters are Eddie and Joan who always sit in the corner and discuss issues like temporary traffic lights, Joan’s mother’s cats and ‘chippy’ teas. Joan was the absolute spitting image of our first medium and it was all I could do to keep a straight face. Anyway, this lady started off by picking up vibrations from a lady who had passed over to the other side. No one seemed to recognise this lady until our medium focussed on a lady in the audience who she was ‘drawn’ to. Eventually the lady in the audience recognised her father from the vague descriptions given and seemed pretty impressed with the information given from the other side.

The next lady started off with another vague description but no one wanted to be a part of it. No one had relations overseas or knew a stocky gentleman who had passed over with throat issues so that one really died the death, if you know what I mean. Everything then stopped for a tea break. Now, you might get the idea from these remarks that perhaps I’m not a believer in psychic or mediums or indeed the afterlife. No, not true. I do believe the human spirit survives death but when the psychic looks like a character from your favourite sit-com, her credibility goes right out of the window.

One of the great things about my current semi-retired status is that I only work three shifts and then can look forward to six lovely days off. This weekend my three days on centred over the bank holiday weekend, which in one way was a bit of a pain, in others not so. It’s great to have time off like other people but when the whole country gets the same day off and the roads are crammed with traffic and when you get to your destination and that is crammed with people I sometimes think, what the heck, I’d rather be working and have time off on some quieter day when everyone else is at work.

The bit that was the pain was the fact that it was the Monaco Grand Prix weekend which was live on terrestrial TV’s channel 4. The Monaco Grand Prix is a sort of leftover from the days of classic motor sport. It is really rather wonderful to see Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso race on what is  essentially the same track as Fangio, Moss and Clark drove on many years ago. F1 race tracks today are frankly rather boring and the tracks that are pretty exciting are few and far between. Years ago the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Brands is a twisty up and down track and Silverstone, being a former airfield, is flat and full of long straights. In recent years the owners have added a number of twists and turns so Silverstone is not really the track it used to be, perhaps they are trying to make it more like Brands Hatch! Here’s a radical idea: Why not alternate with Brands just like we used to do?

Monaco though is the same as it always was but rather difficult for modern grand prix cars. They are too fast for the tight circuit and their wings and fins that seem to stretch out to hug the downforce are so vulnerable to getting knocked and bumped in close quarter racing. I have to hand it to Max Verstappen though. He started from the back of the grid after a shunt in practice but fought his way through to 9th. Pretty impressive.

Anyway, off the track Monaco is full of glitz and glamour. It’s great to see the former F1 stars who lurk in the paddock coming back to the old venue not as drivers but as visitors, lapping up the champagne, the yachts, the Michelin starred restaurants and so on. One day I will shell out some of my hard-earned cash and go to Monaco for the race and have a very expensive drink in the Tip Top bar where Graham Hill and other stars of my youth used to drink. (Nowadays it’s a glass of organic tomato juice and off to bed early for Graham’s modern counterparts.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I had to work over the weekend on the late shift so I had to avoid e-mails (numerous F1 website newsletters that might give away the race results) TV, (don’t want to see the results on the news) and friends (always ready to spill the results I don’t want to know) just so I could get home and watch the race on video without any advance knowledge spoiling the results for me.

I’ve spent some time this week as usual with my old mum. She is 89 this year and the days when she would cook my favourite tea, wash all my clothes, and make my bed with crisp fresh sheets are long gone. Now she has to put up with my cheat’s roast beef (boil in the bag beef and frozen roasties) and other meals I produce. Pity she doesn’t care for chilli because I used to make a pretty top-notch chilli.

Today my Mum and I have conversations like this:

ME: Mum, I’m off to work. I’ll see you later at about ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you back?

ME: Ten thirty.

MUM: Are you coming back here tonight?

ME: Yes, at ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you coming back?

ME: Ten thirty . .

Old age comes to us all eventually but I did find myself wondering this week if perhaps I could get one of those mediums to contact the living. My Mum for instance . .

After the bank holiday was over, Liz and I decided to head up north to Scotland for a short road trip in Liz’s motorhome. One of the great things about driving a motorhome is that other motorhome drivers always let on with a quick wave as you pass by. It’s like you’re part of a special group or fraternity, us motorhomers against the world.

The weather was gloriously hot and sunny and we motored serenely north and after a few sightseeing stops finally parked up in the car park of a welcoming pub called the Kings Arms in Ballantrae. Ballantrae is a small village and the only time I had ever heard of it before was in the Robert Louis Stevenson book, The Master of Ballantrae. I happened to mention this to my brother over the phone and being the classic movie buff he is he immediately brought up the movie version with Errol Flynn which was actually Flynn’s last film for Warner Brothers.

Motorhome life can be interesting. The next night we stopped out in the country by Loch Doon. We parked up with a rather lovely view of the Loch and set up our little barbecue and soon we were tucking into a veritable feast of steak, burger, sausage and salad. As the evening wore on and the sun began to sink behind the hills a number of midges, those tiny flies appeared. Time to pack up and settle down inside. Once inside we found midges trying to gain entry through any available area and we had to quickly lock down the vents, windows and pretty much everywhere. I don’t know if you have ever seen Hitchcock’s film The Birds where birds suddenly go on the attack but that pretty much summed up our situation and we fought off those midges with anything we could lay our hands on.

The next morning all was quiet on the loch but the midgies were gathered there on the outside of our motorhome resting before no doubt renewing their attack on us later. Time to make a quick getaway!


Enjoyed this post? Why not try my book Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977? Watch the video below for a quick taster or click the options at the top of the page for info or to buy!

Writing, Promotion and the Self published Author

Writing.

There is only one reason to be a writer and that is because you love writing.  OK, there are those whose novels regularly hit the best seller lists and get made into films and earn the writer untold millions and that is perhaps an incentive to write. Few writers however, get into the millionaire bracket so it is perhaps best to accept that writing is its own reward, just one of personal pleasure at creating something amusing, insightful, or whatever you, the writer, intended.

One of the problems of writing, for me at least is that I have two what I might call ‘situations’. One is the idea situation when I get an idea for something and long to get it down on paper, on my laptop or whatever. The second one is actual writing, that situation when I am alone, Liz has gone to work or out somewhere. She has probably left a list of things to be doing like ‘cut the grass’ or something but let’s ignore that for now. I am sitting at my laptop all ready to create a new chapter for my book, a new screenplay or whatever.

Here then, is the problem. These two states or situations rarely, if ever, meet, so a lot of the time when I am sitting quietly with my laptop nothing comes to mind. The other situation, the one where I am full of ideas, well that usually happens when I am at work and things are very busy or I am driving my car and unable to get this stuff down. Now I do have something of a solution. There is a hand-held dictation recorder in my car into which I blab various ideas, poems and stories as I speed along the M6 motorway on my way to work.

Another is an in idea I pinched from a fellow called Jack Black who wrote a motivational book called Mindstore. I used to use Mindstore quite a lot when I was trying to up my confidence for job interviews and so on. What Jack suggests is building a house entirely within your mind and designating various rooms inside for various confidence building activities.

For instance, there is a shower room where, after going through a relaxation and meditational procedure, one uses the imaginary shower room which not only cleanses but it relaxes and washes away all negative emotions and feelings. There are various meditational procedures used to build this house and its rooms in your mind and the individual is encouraged to design something outstanding. One room I added was a boxroom, in which I store all my unworked on ideas, unused blog posts and book chapters. The only problem is this, when I come to enter that room, I’m usually in situation #1, you know, the one where I’ve got time on my hands and can’t think of anything.

Promotion.

You may have spent weeks, months, even years writing and re writing and now your book is finally finished. Great, you think, pour out a glass of port, or your alcoholic beverage of choice and celebrate. It’s over, the mammoth task you set yourself ages ago is finally complete. Wait a minute, what do you do now?

Yes, exactly what do you do? Well, the first thing is to start searching for publishers which is not an easy task. If that fails you could always self publish your work, just like myself and thousands of others have done through Amazon. Floating in Space is available there as a paperback or as a Kindle download but what then? The book comes out and is perhaps one of 5,000 new titles newly available that or any day. 5,000! That is a pretty huge figure. How then do you not only get people to look at your book but actually buy it?

There is only one answer that I know, and that is to spend a great deal of your free time on social media plugging your work. That is how this whole WordPress site came about. Yes, these weekly posts are just a pawn in the game of marketing to seduce readers into buying my book. Sadly, Floating still isn’t a number one bestseller, I haven’t been able to give up my day job and the few pennies I make from book sales just about pay for my subscription to Animoto, the site where I edit most of my videos. Why video you might ask? Well, here are a few stats.

1 .In 2017 video content represented 74% of all internet traffic.

2. 37% of marketers said visual marketing was the most important form of content for their business, second only to blogging (38%)

3. 4X as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it.

4. Facebook users watch 8 billion videos per day.

5. Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text.

Well, that’s five facts gleaned from various sources on the Internet. My top Tweet on Twitter is one that links directly to my landing page here at stevehigginslive.com and that’s pretty much why I’ve got so many videos lurking about the Internet ready to extol the virtues of my writing and to convince the lucky viewer that they must buy my book! Here’s my very latest video which comes with some very exciting James Bond style music:

Videos aren’t that difficult to make but you do need a great deal of patience when it comes to the editing stage. In a number of my videos I speak directly to the camera and try to impart to the viewer why he or she should buy my book. That isn’t such an easy thing to do but it can be made easier just by a little preparation. What are you going to say? Well, work that out in advance and rehearse, take a few test shots. I tend to keep my chatter down to a few sharp and straight to the point phrases these days because in a lot of my earlier videos I tended to ramble on a bit too much. Anyway, here’s a video which shows just how I used to get it all so very wrong.

One of the great things about video, at least for me, is that I love messing about with videos, editing and adding music and sound effects. My preferred video editor is Windows Movie Maker. It’s simple, it doesn’t seem to overtax my computer memory unlike some other programs I have and it’s very easy to use. One of the problems though with computers and particularly with Microsoft is this. I’m pretty sure they know exactly what programs I use because as soon as I get pretty happy and settled with a particular one, in the next Windows upgrade, they will promptly drop it.

Windows Sound Recorder.

Windows Sound Recorder for instance. A simple program, pop in a DVD and copy some of the music and dialogue from your favourite film, mix it on my trusty magic sound mixer, burn it onto a CD and the next day I am happily hurtling down the M6 listening to wonderful old classic movies as I drive to work. Upgrade to Windows 10 and where is the sound recorder? Gone. replaced by Windows voice recorder which is a total waste of time.

Windows Movie Maker.

A few weeks back I decided it was time for a new laptop. I saw a good deal on Ebay, sent off my cash and soon my lovely HP laptop arrived. A short time later I was online only to find a message saying my laptop did not have the latest version of Windows 10. Now, and this may have been my first mistake, I clicked the ‘update’ button and began a long process of updating Windows 10. When the dust had settled and updates were installed, where was Windows Movie Maker? Gone. Consigned to the trash bin of software history! That scuppered my plans for making a few quid out of my old laptop because I still need it for my video editing.

Oh well, just call me Two Laptop Steve!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. To find out more click the links at the top of the page.

Some Hints and Tips from my Adventures on YouTube

I was checking my YouTube page the other day and noticed that I have eighty four videos there. That figure was quite a surprise to me. Eighty four videos? I have to admit, some of those are in my private file and are for production use only. (That makes me sound like a real film producer – production use only!) By that I mean some were uploaded so I could use the soundtrack on another video, some were uploaded without a soundtrack so I could add YouTube music later and some were promotional videos that use the old Floating in Space cover and were made before I introduced the newer version and rather than delete them I have just taken them offline.

By far my most popular video is this one, Trucking: The life of an HGV driver, 1980’s Style! I’d like to be able to tell you what a cracking video it is and that it is well worth watching although, in fact, it isn’t. It’s one of my first videos made before I even went on a media course at the Manchester WFA. I spent a few days with my friend Brian who was an HGV delivery driver and I made a short film about him at work.

I think people watch the film because of the nostalgia factor. I can see perhaps former HGV drivers watching it because that’s how things used to be, no sat navs or other gadgets, just get your map out and get trucking. They are certainly the ones who leave comments. Apart from that it has no particular merit. Pity I didn’t remove the title sequence, done on my old Sinclair Spectrum with music from Elton John, because if I had, the 35,917 views I’ve had at the time of writing could be making me a few quid in royalties. Instead the video is subject to a copyright claim by the owners of Elton’s music.

That’s probably the best lesson I’ve learnt from my time on YouTube; if you made a video years ago and used your favourite tracks from your record collection, replace them with royalty free music which you can download free from YouTube.

One of my favourite videos is another I made in the 1980’s, A Welsh Journey, Manchester to Porthmadoc. It’s a short documentary made about a rail trip which was inspired at the time by a documentary film presented by Michael Palin called Confessions of a Train Spotter. It was part of a Great Railway Journeys series and unlike some of the travel films made later by the former Monty Python performer, it was a great little film full of enthusiasm for the subject.

My old friend Steve and I wanted to recreate Palin’s journey but instead decided to do something cheaper and easier, a rail trip from Manchester Victoria to Porthmadoc. I did a great edit with a documentary style voice over and some top notch sound, music and effects mixing, courtesy of the new sound mixer I had just picked up. The big problem with that video, as regards YouTube, was that I used music from a great album by the Crusaders called Images. Now, that was fine in 1986 when the video was viewed just by me and my friends. Fast forward however to the 21st century digital age, upload it to YouTube and suddenly you have a whole lot of  musical rights owners who are not happy that their music is playing on my video. Result: YouTube have muted the entire soundtrack. You can still watch it but you cannot hear it.

The only thing to do was to take my original VHS video, slip the digitised version into my Windows Movie Maker and then re-edit and add some royalty free music provided by YouTube, in this case a little track by a guy called Kevin MacLeod called Local Forecast. I re-did some of the commentary, faded in Local Forecast in place of the Crusaders and even tidied up the video as a whole.

Some time ago videos could be edited on YouTube using their on-line video editor, hence the reason for uploading videos for ‘production use only’ as I mentioned earlier. You could trim videos, use the soundtrack from a different video and so on. Alas, the YouTube editor is no more, so it’s important to have your video all ready for viewing before you upload it.

One handy little thing on YouTube are YouTube cards. They are just that; a little card that appears in the top right hand corner in which you can add a link to other videos or even to your website.

Just going back to my Trucking video, two other reasons why that video does so well might be as follows.

a) The title is very SEO compatible. It’s straight to the point and tells you all you want to know and it also has a pretty good thumbnail or icon. That’s the image when you see when you first find a video on YouTube. If you look at the railway video above, you can see the icon has all the basics, a simple but relevant picture, the title, and a little explanation that it’s the updated version, not the one with the sound muted!

b) Thumbnails are important as a  good one can pull the viewer into watching your video.

A lot of my more recent videos were made on the Animoto web site. Animoto is a video editing website that comes with templates so you can easily upload your photos and video clips and the template will do the rest. You can even create a whole slide show video with just a collection of still images. Here’s one of my favourites, even though it’s just a little advert for my book:

Here’s another one, this time a collection of photographs of Lytham St Annes :

Right, so so far we’ve got documentaries from the 1980’s, promo videos, and slide shows. Not only that but I also have my book reviews on YouTube. Yes, I’ve always added a video version of my Book Bag series. Here’s the last one, filmed in sunny France in 2017:

Just as I’ve finished this post and pretty much finished re-editing my Airport 1986 video by adding royalty free music, I’ve had an email from YouTube advising me that because I have under a 1000 subscribers I can no longer ‘monetise’ my videos! Oh well, the Internet is a fast moving and ever changing place. Perhaps I should look at shifting my videos over to rival video channel Vimeo.com! Anyway, here’s my updated airport video, split into two parts for ease of uploading.

So, just to finish, here are three points that are key to developing your YouTube channel:

1. Use royalty free music!

2. Think carefully about your video title.

3. Add a simple but effective icon for your video; that and your video title can be the key to bringing in your viewers and subscribers!

4. People have very short attention spans these days. If they are not interested in your video in the first few seconds, they will navigate away from your video to something else so make those first few seconds count.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the short promo below.

Thoughts from a (Lanzarote) Sun Lounger

Travel.

This year’s  flight to Lanzarote wasn’t too bad at all. It was a pretty busy flight, busier than I had expected, but there seemed to me to be slightly more leg room on my flight. It was certainly better than on my previous trip, a few years back, so much so that I was actually almost comfortable. I’ve flown in January with Jet 2 in recent years and the flights have always been under subscribed which has been good, because as you know, budget airlines always try to cram as many passengers as possible into the limited confines of their aircraft and it’s nice to have a vacant seat next to you so you can stretch out a little. Happily on this rather busy aeroplane in the seat next to me was not a big non speaking, rather tubby fellow -like the guy I was stuck with a few years ago- but a pleasant, slim and quite small lady who was nice to talk to and gave me a little extra much-needed room.

Man Bag.

When I am off to European climes I tend to take my ‘man bag’ with me to carry my bits and pieces about. Much more sensible than trying to cram your wallet, phone, keys, reading specs and all sorts into your trouser pockets like we Brits do. There was some consternation at the airport when the bag went though the x-ray machine. That was due to a bullet key ring I had picked up some years ago and left in the bag. It was made using a world war one bullet, decommissioned of course but I was called to security, reprimanded and the bullet confiscated. Good job they didn’t find the Colt 45 cigarette lighter I was carrying! Seriously, airport security can be a bit of a pain but at least we are sure that we are flying safely.

Taxi.

The weather forecast for Lanzarote had predicted rain on our arrival but actually it was a lovely warm day although a little windy. We had arranged a lift from the airport to our accommodation by a Canarian fellow called James we had met some years earlier. He had claimed before we met that he spoke perfect English although the truth is actually slightly different. He actually speaks something that sounds like English, in the way a drunken Glaswegian or a speech impaired drunken Scouser speaks English. There are some familiar sounds there, even some complete English words, but most of what he says is completely unintelligible.

Numerous texts had passed forth between us detailing our time of arrival, our flight numbers and so on. James had texted back, ‘look for a Renault Kangoo van in white outside the exit’. Great, I thought, clearly his written English is better than his verbal variety. On arrival in Lanzarote we looked and waited quite a while but the van was not to be seen so I called him and he answered with a stream of unintelligible sounds, none of which were recognisable as words currently in use in the UK. One phrase did stand out, the repeated use of ‘no problem’. This of course is a new spin on that familiar phrase because there was a problem, that of getting to our villa down in Playa Blanca. Never mind, I said, we’ll get a taxi. No problem came the reply. Well, might as well delete that contact from my phone.

Lanzarote

Anyway, within a few hours we were sitting by our pool in Lanzarote, sipping wine and deliberating whether to plunge into the heated pool. A few minutes later I was regretting that decision as the pool was cold. Very cold! The villa company sent their man out to take a look and he saw that the pool had not been heated for a while and reckoned it could take a few days to get up to temperature so he cranked the heat up and by the next day the pool felt much warmer. So much so that I could actually just get straight in without having to gingerly slip in an inch at a time while I acclimatised!

Anyway, I think I think its time to throw in a picture guaranteed to make all my fellow Brits back home in the freezing cold UK totally envious. Here it is:

Yes, that’s our dining area with the pool in the background.

Spectacles.

Not long ago I got myself some new specs. They are what I call the Clark Kent type, you know black and fairly square, square in more ways than one although they are actually rather fashionable these days. Anyway, I don’t like them and much prefer my old ones which have photochromic lenses which go darker when the sun gets brighter. I love those lenses and as I am rather sensitive to bright light they are perfect for me. For reasons directly linked to my reluctance to open my wallet I didn’t add them to my new prescription and I didn’t bring the old specs but I did bring instead a pair of clip on dark shades that are so worn I can hardly see through them!

Employment.

On this holiday I’ve decided to start looking and see what jobs are out there for an ancient four O’ level former comprehensive school boy like me. Looking for jobs in this digital age is a tad different from what I’m used to. No need to buy lots of newspapers and troll through the situations vacant columns, yes now you can subscribe to special job seeking websites which search available jobs for you. You can upload your CV and the site will pass any likely looking situations on to you via your inbox. Here are some recommended jobs that were sent to me recently

Strategic Insights Executive

Quality Control Executive

Care Home Deputy Manager

PHP Developer (What’s that about?)

Here’s a great one from an e-mail titled:  26 jobs available in Lytham St Annes, (1)  Driving Instructor, Liverpool (!)

Yes, perhaps I might have to put up with my current job for a while longer.

Laptop.

My Toshiba laptop is not one of the best. Perhaps it’s time to put my hand in my pocket and get myself a top of the range one and make my writing and video editing life a little easier. Just in time for this holiday I took my laptop in to be repaired as a lot of the keys, particularly the ‘o’ were sticking. A new keyboard is what is needed, the guy in the shop told me. They sent off for the part and the day before departing the UK I got my laptop back. Everything seemed in order, the culprit keys were all working and I was fully prepared to bang out my new book and churn out numerous blog posts. Now I find, a week into my holiday, the r and y keys are not working! A writer’s life is not easy . . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

Video and Recycling the Re-edit

The video of today is very much a tool of social media. Attention spans are short so documentaries are out and very much in is a short, straight to the point video. In fact, social media videos today have a lot in common with music videos which started life in the 1980’s when the idea of a short film or video to promote a music single evolved. Since then, a whole generation of MTV style cable and satellite channels have emerged showing nothing but music videos. No intros, titles or credits, just straight in with the song.

Video.

Michael Jackson’s video Thriller was a highlight of the music video genre. It won an award for best short film if I remember but my favourite video was the one where each paving stone lights up as Jackson, doing his wholly personal trademark style of dancing, steps on each one. Billie Jean, I do love that song.

On social media a video needs to have a quick impact: So quick you wouldn’t believe it. According to statistics, a viewer has to be hooked by a video in the first ten seconds, otherwise they are off. There are more videos to watch and better content to be found elsewhere.  Here are a few more stats from http://www.wordstream.com

  • 82% of Twitter users watch video content on Twitter
  • YouTube has over a billion users, almost one-third of total internet users.
  • 45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week.
  • More than 500 million hours of videos are watched on YouTube each day.
  • More video content is uploaded in 30 days than the major U.S. television networks have created in 30 years.
  • 87% of online marketers use video content.
  • 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound.
  • 72 Hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every 60 seconds.

Pretty staggering stats aren’t they? However you interpret those figures they are saying this; if you are in the business of marketing or social media, you need to be in the business of video. Happily, with today’s technology, videos are not quite as hard to make as they were a few years back. Many social media videos are made with minimal editing on tablets or even mobile phones. Most of my videos are shot either on a small hand-held Panasonic HD camera or on my newest gadget, my action cam. Technology has helped some bloggers evolve from blogging into vlogging, simply by pointing a camera at themselves and chatting away, instead of writing.

Earlier in 2017 I made a short film about cycling. I had picked up, fairly cheaply, one of those action cams you have probably seen advertised. The same style of action cam that is responsible for so many videos of stunt cycles, skiing, surfing and so on that are featured regularly on Facebook and other social media sites. I thought I could perhaps combine some sort of physical activity; in which I am severely lacking, with cameras; which I love messing about with and the result might be an entertaining film with which to pull viewers into the clutches of my web site and then, you guessed it, flog more copies of my book!

Recycling.

So, I dug out my old bike from the depths of the garage. A quick hosing down and a spray on the vital points with WD40 and the bike didn’t look so bad.  I have two action cams; they are not expensive Go-Pro cameras, just cheap copy versions. One cost about £19 from eBay, the other was £2 from a car boot sale. They come with various clamps and grabs and things to attach them to your bike. I had the cameras mounted  in various positions although the best was when I strapped one to my wrist with a Velcro strap so I could flip it around and catch shots of gear changing and braking and so on and even flip round to see me, straining somewhat as I began to get my muscles to flex again.

The big problem with these kind of cameras, at least for me is this -not only are they small, the buttons are small too, and the screen is small, and the indications on the screen -which mode you are in, battery time, record, play and so on, are even smaller, so setting things up is pretty hard especially for a man who uses reading glasses. As for setting the date and time -forget about it! Another thing is that when I switched on my camera and then set off biking, I was not always sure if I had pressed the right mode; if the two clicks for standby and then one for record actually registered so when I came back after a ride I sometimes got:
1. Nothing.
2. A short video of me messing about with the camera and then it switching off just as I ride away.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why I was filming myself, although if I’m truthful, I just like messing about with cameras and video, just as I said earlier, and pretending to be the film director I always wanted to be. Anyway, after three laps of the immediate area and about forty minutes of camera video, it was time for a cuppa. Then it was time to spend days, weeks even, fiddling about on Windows Movie Maker, cutting and splicing and so on until I managed to produce a workable edit.

Editing can be a slow process but as long as you have a clear result in mind it can be very satisfying.

I do so like photography in the digital age. No expensive films, no waiting for the film to be developed and printed. No more expensive mistakes. Today, if you take a bad picture, delete it, take another in fact, take multiple exposures and just delete or edit the bad ones later.

Digital video is pretty much the same. Delete what you don’t like and start again. Even if what you have shot isn’t good, it can be saved by cutting or effects like slow motion.

In the editing suite, build your video slowly, adding each scene and then later your soundtrack, adding layers to the original sound with effects, music and narration.

I remember editing in the VHS days, juggling different tracks on my sound mixer, having to cue each track and fade in when ready, keeping an eye on the monitor all the time. Once, in one of my airport videos I had to do a narration, fade down the original video soundtrack, pause while a helicopter flew into the shot, fade in a helicopter sound effect, fade in the next section of original sound while I narrated the next paragraph and finally, cue and fade in the music and then fade out the original sound.

Today, with digital, all that is a step by step process.

The Re-edit.

Since my original version of my cycle ride, I seem to have finally mastered (perhaps not quite the word) my sound technology and have produced a number of short films featuring me, chattering away about various things. On A French Journey I added a narration that was done extemporaneously (I like that word) meaning basically that I started talking off the top of my head armed only with a few notes about the history of the M6 and the channel tunnel. I think I did about three takes, took away the soundtrack to my sound mixer, cut out a lot of er and ahs and returned it successfully to the video. For my cycling re-edit I tried to do a similar off the cuff piece but it didn’t work out so I sat down, wrote a short essay linking cycling, photography and editing and read it over the video. Again after a few cuts here and there it doesn’t seem so bad. Is it the sort of content that will pull the viewers in to stevehigginslive.com?

Only time will tell . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

My 10 Best Posts of 2017

Well that’s it, Christmas over for another year. Time to relax, take stock and perhaps muse over the last twelve months. If you are a blogger, then it’s always good to reflect on your previous posts.

For me personally, it’s not been a bad year. I opted to go semi-retired which was a good choice I think, working three shifts on and six off. Still not happy about the three on but I like the six off!

Did I write the follow up to Floating in Space? Well, I have to admit I didn’t quite get stuck into that, still there’s always 2018!

I always tend to showcase my favourite posts in these ‘best of’ year end posts but I thought I’d start by taking a look at my stats and see what were my best performing posts.

My all time top performing post  is one about the JFK assassination, a tragic event wrapped in mystery and misinformation that has interested me since childhood. It always rates highly with google searches and that’s probably the reason for the high hit rate for this post. Interestingly, I reblogged it on the 22nd November, the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination but on the previous day, the 21st, David Cassidy died and so on the 22nd, many people were typing David Cassidy into their search engines and many of those people may have been surprised to find my second most read post ‘David Cassidy and a Haircut in 1977′ in their results. Maybe it’s a good one, well, I like to think so but then, maybe it’s just SEO compatible.

Earlier on this year, in case you didn’t know, Donald Trump was elected, surprisingly, as the new President of the USA. A lot of people were not happy about it but that is the nature of democracy; the people vote, the votes are counted  and the winning candidate is announced. Simple really, although a great deal of people seem to get very annoyed about it. I wasn’t too happy as I mentioned in my post Tipping Point, the Chase and Donald Trump, because rather annoyingly, my favourite quiz programmes were shelved in favour of the election coverage.

My Mother had her 88th birthday in 2017 and I wrote about her in My Mum, the Microwave and Old Age.

Talking about old age, I became semi-retired in 2017 and wrote a post about it Things to do when Semi-Retired.

In A Monkey, A French Canal Barge and a Million Pound Cheque I returned to my very first job when I had to deal with a cheque for, you guessed it, a million pounds.

I am a big classic movie fan as you probably know from my film posts and I decided to take a look at the persona of the urbane English actor in The Essential Englishman with special reference to David Niven in ‘Around the World in Eighty days’.

Although I’m not a football fan I have always rather liked George Best and in Personal Encounters with George Best I describe my fleeting encounters with the famous Manchester United player.

Going back even further in time than my George Best encounters or even my first job, Schoolday Memories is just that, a look back at my old school days.

As a major Formula One racing fan I tend to knock out an F1 post every now and again. In No Hiding Place and the Mexican Grand Prix  I combine F1 with a little humour and a quick look at a TV comedy classic.

I have spent a lot of time this year messing about with video cameras and editing and although I had some problems earlier in the year recording narrations, since then I’ve recorded quite a few including an updated version of my cycling video with narration rather than captions. Another video I made this year was one using in car footage of our trip to France in the summer. I’ve compiled this year’s video efforts together in a post entitled Adventures with an Action Cam.

Finally, in one of my later posts, I combined that classic British film Green for Danger with some thoughts about my personal work life, past and present, in Resignations, Old Friends and Green for Danger.

So, that was my year. Hope you had a good 2017 and all the best for 2018!


Thanks for looking in and if you liked this post, why not consider buying my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Metrics and the Art of Social Media.

You might think having been a blogger for over three years now I’d be an expert in the art of social media? Think so? Really? Forget it!

For the past three years I have concentrated my social media promotions on Twitter. OK, I have a Facebook writer page and a Pinterest account and  Google+ account but it’s Twitter where I have really pushed myself. So much so that I am the proud possessor of over 5,000 followers. Sounds good doesn’t it? If every one of those 5,000 people were fans of my blog and each and every one bought a copy of Floating in Space I’d be quids in. The fact is, out of those 5,000, I’d say only a handful are genuine fans. The rest want to be friends with me for one reason -because I have 5,000 followers and every time someone Tweets one of my Tweets I am honour bound by the unwritten Twitter users code to Tweet them back, Tweet them to my 5,000+ followers.

Yes, I feel good with that power; 5,000 followers. Wow, that’s power. Of course, if you have ever read the Spiderman comics or indeed seen the film you will know that with great power comes great responsibility.

Not so long ago I made a video, a spoof of Woody Allen’s opening to the movie Manhattan. It was good, I thought. I made the video over on Animoto and exported the result to everywhere I could think of: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Then I sat back and waited for the results to come in. Next day I had four views on YouTube. Yes, I have to admit I was kind of disappointed. The thing is, everything I have ever written, particularly on WordPress, that I personally thought was really good has never had such a great reaction. Conversely also, those things I have just knocked out quickly because my Saturday deadline was looming have actually done pretty well with lots of hits and comments.

Anyway, not to be daunted I added the video to one of my WordPress posts and hoped I might get more hits that way. A few days later I checked YouTube again. 17 hits. Not bad I suppose. So, next move: check my Twitter analytics. I took a look and saw this:

Yes right in the middle there as you can see, there is a big spike. What was it? Well it was a Tweet created by Vimeo, a sort of automatic Tweet that is created when you post something there. The Tweet had over 12,000 impressions and 411 engagements, which is people actually clicking on the video and watching it. It looks like, in this case at least, that despite Vimeo being the poor cousin to YouTube, or so I thought, it was actually Vimeo that was performing for me!
Why?
How should I know? I’m still just an amateur!

Anyway, over on YouTube I not only have numerous videos encouraging the world to buy my book or subscribe to my web page, I also have various other non-marketing videos available.

My top watched video is this one below with, at the time of writing, over 30,899 views. You might be thinking hey, bet he makes a tidy little sum out of that video. However, if you did you’d be wrong because that video, which I made back in 1986 or 1987 is enhanced by an Elton John album track and all the royalties goes to Elton’s music company, despite my hours and weeks of filming and editing.

The video was one of my early video efforts, filmed using a JVC VHS-Compact camera, similar to the one Marty McFly uses in Back to the Future. One day I must get around to deleting Elton and adding some royalty free music.

Next in my video chart is this one about Manchester Airport;

Manchester Airport 1986 was such a long video I had to split it into two parts to upload it and strangely, part one has 6,839 views while poor old Part Two only has 4,762! Once again no royalties are forthcoming from either video as I used music from the pop charts of 1986.

Anyway, time to take another look at my Twitter account and schedule some tweets for this weekend. Should I do the usual stuff plugging my videos and blog posts or perhaps I should Tweet something a little more thoughtful to my 5,000 plus followers? Something about saving the environment or some heartwarming stuff about love and relationships?

After all, with great power comes great responsibility!


Now the nights are drawing in, why not settle down with a good book? Floating in Space is available from amazon as a paperback or Kindle download! Click here to buy!

More about James Bond 007, and Me.

I spoke briefly about James Bond in a previous blog and thought I might write a little more about the UK’s most famous secret agent.

I started reading the Bond books when I was a schoolboy and unfortunately the very first one I read was the only one they had in our local library: ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, one of writer Ian Fleming’s worst Bond books. Fleming used to write his initial drafts of the novels and then write a second one, adding in all the details which make the Bond books so interesting. Things like details of Bond’s clothes, (the Sea Island cotton shirts) his food, (Bond always had scrambled eggs for breakfast) his cars, his cigarettes (the special handmade ones with the triple gold band) and all that sort of stuff. ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was published after Fleming had died and sadly he had not revised his original draft. I persevered though, did some research, found the proper order of the books and began to read ‘Casino Royale’, the first in the series. I have loved the books, and the films ever since.

004I didn’t see the Bond films until 1969 when I saw probably my favourite Bond film ever, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, at the cinema. It was everything I had imagined it would be and what I liked about George Lazenby, who played 007 in the film, was that he looked pretty much as I had imagined Bond. He had the authentic ‘comma of black hair’ as Fleming had always described Bond having and not only that, Diana Rigg was probably my favourite Bond girl too.

The Bond films were not then a staple of UK TV but there was always a Bond documentary, usually on TV at Christmas time which built up, as it was supposed to do, the public interest in Bond. It certainly built up mine. There was one documentary I remember which showed the viewer how Ian Fleming suffered with back pain and was sent to recuperate at a rest home where they put him on a back stretching machine which he later incorporated into ‘Thunderball’. Aha, I thought, this is how writers think!

Sean Connery was the first movie Bond and he did a great job in setting out the 007 ‘stall.’ The Bond movies are as much about Bond’s colleagues as they are about Bond and in the original films we had some great supporting actors, Miss Moneypenny, played by Lois Maxwell, ‘M’ played by Bernard Lee, and the long serving ‘Q’, played by Desmond Llewellyn. CIA man Felix Leiter was always played by a different actor in each of the movies, which never ceases to surprise me. A good Leiter would have been a pretty good idea for US cinema goers, surely.

George Lazenby was selected to play Bond when Connery tired of the role. However, he was new to the industry and advisers told him that the Bond movies were on the way out. Friction occurred with his movie bosses when he grew his hair long and sported a beard and eventually Lazenby was sacked. Connery returned to the Bond role in ‘Diamonds are Forever’. With Lazenby that would have been such a good movie but Connery played a tired and lacklustre Bond and after the serious and fast moving ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, ‘Diamonds’ perhaps appears a little tame. Worse was to follow however when Roger Moore was selected to play Bond. Moore plays Bond as a sort of smooth talking fashion icon and some dreadful Bond films were produced in the 1980s.

Timothy Dalton took over for two movies, ‘The Living Daylights’ and ‘License To Kill,’ and after that the film franchise was in limbo until it re started with ‘Goldeneye,’ which after OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie. Brosnan doesn’t overdo the comedy unlike Connery and Moore. He seems like a pretty tough customer yet looks good in a finely tailored suit and, like Sean Connery, he has a wonderful troupe of supporting actors to help him. Judi Dench plays a female ‘M,’ Samantha Bond plays the faithful Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Lewellyn once again plays ‘Q.’

I was sorry to see Peirce Brosnan go because I can’t really say I’m keen on the latest Bond films although I have seen them all at the cinema except for the latest offering. The aim of the producers was to re-introduce Bond to 21st century moviegoers and to show Bond as the hard man he must really be. My feeling is that they have succeeded too well and the films have a hard edge that I don’t really care for. Let’s have another villain like Goldfinger or Doctor No. Not trying to take over the world perhaps but with a really clever criminal scheme for Bond to sort out. And give me some good espionage gadgets, please! Yes, I’m sorry to say that Daniel Craig isn’t my idea of James Bond. Fleming himself reckoned that Hoagy Carmichael was how he imagined Bond and he wanted David Niven to play the part, which he did although it was in the spoof version of Casino Royale back in 1967. And it’s my considered opinon that Bond was based on one man, yes, none other than Commander Ian Fleming of Naval Intelligence in World war II.

Anyway, it was nice to see that in ‘Skyfall’, a good set of supporting actors was established and instead of one actor departing and being replaced, the introduction of the new ‘M’ was handled well and an interesting element was the story giving some background to the Moneypenny character.

Spectre is the latest Bond movie. It was released in 2016 and although I always try to see the new Bond at the cinema, I somehow managed to miss this one. I have not seen it until now as I recently managed to pick up a cheap second hand DVD version for a few pounds. It’s a very well made glossy movie although it is a little lacking in the story department. Yes, the fights scenes are great, as are the car chases although in recent years the Bond films have stepped away from reality slightly. In one scene Bond and a young lady are having dinner on a train. A Spectre assassin comes to assault Bond and a frantic fight scene ensues in which a great deal of the dining car is destroyed. Bond eventually gets the upper hand but the next morning, Bond and his companion are dropped off at the station as if nothing has happened.

One good thing was the return of Ernst Stavro Bolfeld who comes complete with a backstory linking him to Bond’s earlier life. I suspect somehow that Blofeld will return in another Bond but will Daniel Craig?

One annoying thing about Spectre was I felt that the scriptwriters had somehow confused Bond with the character Jack Bauer from the TV show 24. As you will know, if you’ve ever watched the TV show, Bauer is a sort of maverick agent who disregards any instruction or advice from his superiors, even the President, his commander in chief. He always goes off at a tangent and is a complete loose cannon. That is exactly how Bond starts out at the beginning of this film, he is at odds with ‘M’ the head of the secret service but, just like Jack Bauer, he disappears going completely his own way and later he gets colleagues within the service, like Miss Moneypenny and Q, to follow him just as Chloe O’Brian was an insider for Jack.

Hello, Bond scriptwriter! Just remember who you are writing about, it’s Bond, former English naval officer turned secret agent and not Jack Bauer!

Final result: Enjoyable, good in parts but the next Bond would benefit from a more tangible back story.

 


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page or here to go to my Amazon page.

Blogging and the Art of the Visual Image

I’ve been a blogger for a few years now and I tend to think three years is the extent of my blogging experience but thinking about it, my blogging experience goes back even further, the only difference is when I started doing it, it wasn’t called blogging.

As a schoolboy I used to publish (OK, write out on pages torn from an exercise book) a blog every week. It was called ‘The latest from the Perverted Press!’ It was mainly a spoof on the then current news stories from the late sixties and early seventies. They were things on the lines of, President Nixon issues apologies after visiting the Nuclear command centre and saying ‘time for launch’ when in fact he had really said ‘time for lunch!’

I used to bill myself as the celebrated author of that great trilogy, the ‘Master’ novels. There was the first one, ‘Master Smith’, the follow-up, ‘Master Jones’, and the one that caused a great deal of unwarranted attention to the Perverted Press, ‘Master Bates’.

I had a friend called Jeff Langdon who created a rival blog, sorry, I mean pamphlet. He decided to write about me and called his pamphlet The Steve Higgins Story, so I was forced to reply with The Jeff Langdon Story. Mine, I have to say, was far more popular and Jeff always complained that my popularity stemmed from the fact my pamphlets looked better because of the liberal use of coloured pens and drawings. Alas Jeff, art always was one of my top subjects. I suppose to a great extent things haven’t changed much. It’s still images that tend to pull in the reader to our work whether it is a pamphlet or a blog and it’s impossible to ignore the growing power and value of visual content. Just look at four of the fastest-growing social networks: Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr.

I read an article the other day that stated, amongst other things, that posts with images produce a higher reader engagement of 650% as compared to text only posts. So how do you get images for your posts?

Well, one easy way is to take them yourself. As an amateur photographer I have a big stack of pictures for use in my blogs and nowadays its even easier to produce a picture, especially with my iPad and the various apps you can get to manipulate the image however you want. https://www.picmonkey.com/ is a great site for editing your images and for adding text and there is also an iPad version. Another great one I use frequently ishttps://www.canva.com/  which has easy to use templates for Twitter, Facebook and all the main social media sites.

If you are not a photographer yourself you need to subscribe to a stock photo site such as https://pixabay.com/ or https://unsplash.com/

Another great site that I use often is http://quotescover.com/  and it’s this site I used to create the title banner you can see at the top of the post.

In Quotescover, simply add your quote or in this case, blog title, add a name or the name of your website and click create. You can choose what type of image you want, for instance for a social media post, for Pinterest, or for a Facebook cover or whatever, then you have a choice of image shape; portrait, landscape or square. After that keep clicking ‘next fonts’ until you get the font that you like.

Here’s a picture from many years ago, taken with my old Olympus OM10. It was pretty handy when I came to post an item called Adventures with A Camera. In the picture is my old Zenith TTL, my first SLR camera and the picture was taken with the camera I upgraded to, an Olympus OM10. As you can see from the picture, I was becoming more and more interested in photography, buying new lenses, experimenting with filters and reading all about photography techniques in the camera magazines of the day.

The picture below was a simple one of me posing with the statue of John Lennon in Liverpool. It was edited in Picmonkey, darkened, given a blue hue and some laser like light beams, some arcing electric lights and some text. It helped to draw in numerous readers to a post about my music loves, The Soundtrack to my Life Part 2.

Picmonkey is a really helpful site for manipulating images and adding text. For a post on my Formula One racing book collection I decided to make a few montages with cover shots of my books. To do that, go into Picmonkey and click ‘collage’. This takes you a page where you can choose from various preselected collage frames or design your own. When you are ready, it’s easy to just upload the pictures you want to create your own collage. Save the design and then you can choose edit and add text or other items.

One thing you might want to try on your blog is an animated image, a gif. It’s quite easy to make a gif using a website like http://gifmaker.me/

All you need to do is have two or three related images that can be animated together, upload them and the site does the rest. On my main page I have a number of gifs and they are all pretty simple. here’s one showing the cover of my book, Floating in Space.

Of course, there’s also video content that you can use to entertain your reader but that’s a whole other blog post!


Thanks for stopping by and if you want to find out more about Floating in Space, click the links at the top of the page!