23 November, 2013

Changes, changes

I have been a customer of Lloyds Bank for longer than I care to remember. When I first signed up at the tender age of sixteen and deposited my first few pounds, it was just Lloyds pure and simple. No association with any other banks. And the logo was the good old fashioned black horse. The Lloyds black horse looked, back then, like a 'proper' horse with a long, flowing mane and tail. It had nothing remotely in common looks-wise with the prehistoric white horse at Uffington. And, indeed, the television advertising featured a beautiful, galloping, jet black horse.

Some ten years later, Lloyds Bank merged with the TSB and became Lloyds TSB -- although I still, determinedly, continued to refer to it by its old name of Lloyds. At around the same time, the logo underwent a transformation. The 'real' black horse morphed into a mere representation of a horse, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the white horse at Uffington. And, of course, the television advertising no longer featured the beautiful, galloping specimen.

Now, in 2013, it appears that we have come full circle. Lloyds Bank and the TSB have disentangled themselves once more. The old fashioned Lloyds black horse has been reinstated (I wonder how much the advertising company charged for that stroke of genius?). And, what's really funny is that all of this is being marketed as if it's completely novel and has never been thought of before.

But I remember back to pre-1995 when the situation was exactly as it is now in 2013 -- and I'm not that old, so I'm sure plenty of others remember too. Funny old world...

17 November, 2013

Changes to GCSEs

The government recently announced changes to the GCSE examinations in England -- the biggest overhaul "for a generation", to coin their words.

Some of the basic changes are as follows:
  • A new grading system based on numbers (1-9) rather than the current system based on letters (A*-G).
  • Modular assessments to be replaced by full exams taken at the end of the two years of study.
  • In English literature students will study texts in detail and these will include high-quality works by authors such as Shakespeare and the Romantic poets.
  • There will be more marks awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  • The new maths exam will cover more topics and be more challenging.
For those of us who took the old O' level exams at sixteen--over "a generation" ago, I suppose--these changes sound very familiar. O' levels had no course work whatsoever and one final exam was taken for each subject at the end of the two years of study. Correct spelling, grammar and punctuation were regarded as very important and marks awarded accordingly. Some of the maths questions that were set in the O' level exam were genuinely hard, even for those people who were good mathematicians. And we certainly studied "high-quality" literature--always a Shakespeare play and a selection of other classics. In fact, I wonder what English literature is all about if students don't study (at least some) "high-quality" texts.

So, it's not so much a major change to GCSEs, rather a major reversion to the old system of a generation ago. Plus รงa change...

08 November, 2013

Fireworks -- now and then

We went to see a fireworks display at the weekend. It was great fun -- lots of food stalls, activities for the kids, live music, a laser light show, and a bonfire. And, yes, the fireworks were good too. A really professional display with lots of impressive fireworks set off in very quick succession, creating quite a picture.

My only complaint about fireworks these days is that they're over so quickly. When I was a kid, there were very few professional displays, so it was usually a case of going round to a friend's house where there was a big garden and intrepid parents. There was a bonfire (often barely under control), hot chocolate and undercooked jacket potatoes, and sparklers. But the fireworks display always took an inordinate amount of time because the fireworks were set off very slowly one at a time by adults who didn't know what they were doing. And, of course, many of the fireworks that you could buy in those days simply didn't go off at all. But it all added to the atmosphere.

There was a bit of a health and safety issue back in those days, of course. Uncontrolled fire, incompetent people in charge of fireworks, children running around unchecked. It wasn't so great, after all, but it's always interesting to compare now with then, particularly where health and safety is concerned.

03 November, 2013

Very successful free promotion!

My first free promotion for my novel "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" finished at eight o'clock this morning, and it was a good one.

I had over 3,000 downloads, the book stormed into the Amazon.com free charts at #2 in the Family Life genre, and someone who had downloaded the book during its free period read it immediately and gave it a five star review! Throughout the free period, "Travels" fluctuated between #2 and #5 in Family Life, and #7 and #18 in Women's Fiction. Result!

Having been sceptical at first, I have to say that I now really enjoy the whole independent publishing scene. I have two books independently published so far and am working on a third. I love the freedom that you have to design your book how you want to, to price it as you wish, to decide whether and how to run free promotions. And I love the speed of the whole process -- once you've decided to publish, you can just go ahead and do it.

Despite the success of this promotion, there is one thing that I do find frustrating.You can never quite work out why your promotion has gone well. So, this book did really well in the US during its promotional period, but less well in the UK, whereas my other book, "A Matter of Degree", did much better in the UK in its free promotional period. Why? I don't know.

But maybe that's a perennial marketing problem, rather than an independent publishing one. Maybe its never that clear why one approach goes well and another less well. Still, if the formula works, stick to it -- and that's what I intend to do!