Hello iA Writer

One of the constant preoccupations of the procrastinating writer using technology, is finding he perfect writing program.

It’s been a long time since I gave up on the souped-up MS Word to be that tool, and moved to applications that focused on distraction-free, minimalist approaches.

I also didn’t want to end up with all my writing in a proprietary format, even one so seemingly ubiquitous as .docx. For example, I’ve had my poems all archived in a FileMaker Pro database for a long time, but it’s been crashing a bit lately and I began to worry again about having all that writing in a format I couldn’t access easily, and through a variety of software. Hence, the argument for plain .txt files for poems that can be opened by a wide variety of programs. Text is unlikely to go away.

For a while I was recommending the text editor Ulysses, but then it jumped the shark and wanted to start charging on a subscription basis (I’m even reluctant to use that model for huge,complex software bundles like Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office let alone a text editor), so I started looking around again for a writing tool that had to have the following essential qualities:

  • Writes and saves in plain text (.txt) format
  • Can use simple markdown text commands (I know it’s a bit esoteric, but great if you prefer keyboard command typing and hands off the mouse)
  • Can output to standard file types: PDF, Word, etc.
  • Can output to my standard blog system (WordPress.com)
  • Can be used on iPad, Mac and iPhone using some sort of cloud-based architecture (iCloud, Dropbox) with the main aim being I want to be able to pick up my writing on any device and just take up where I left off.
  • Has a kind of distraction-free mode so that I can focus on just the text on the page and not tons of tool-bars, windows, pop-ups and buttons.

There’s a few that do most of these things, including Byword, but in the end I opted to go back to iA Writer, an app I’d enjoyed a while ago, and has come a long way since I last looked at it closely.

iA Writer is simple to use and good to look at. It doesn’t paralyse you with a thousand typographical choices and can be driven with some simple keyboard commands giving you access to other files and folders (Ctl-E) and a preview of the markdown (Ctl-R) It saves in plain text and you can use markdown commands. All your files are synced in the background and accessible via iCloud syncing that seems to just work. There is some syntax highlighting which I only find vaguely useful (highlight adverbs in the current document and delete them all!) and quickly outputs to Word, PDF, and WordPress.

For longer pieces, iA Writer isn’t perfect, and for those things, and particularly for the creation of Epub files, I’ve recommended Scrivener for a while now. Scrivener seems to be designed primarily for novelists and playwrights, and is a bit over-powered for writing individual poems, but ideal for putting together collections. I’ve used it to create ebook anthologies really successfully.

But for most of my daily writing: poetry especially, but articles and reviews and long prose as well, I’ve settled on iA Writer as that well designed application that does what you want it to do, then stays the background and doesn’t demand your attention.

Writing is always challenging, so anything that can help make the process more natural feeling, and more fluent, is welcome.

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Goodbye Ulysses

Goodbye Ulysses

When some favourite turns on you it always seems worse somehow. So, very annoyed to learn that my favourite text editor, and go-to writing tool, Ulysses, has moved to a subscription model.

So, a product I’ve paid for on the iPad, iPhone and Mac, and tweeted about positively for ages, now wants to charge me monthly to keep using it. I pay subscriptions now for Apple Music and even software like Adobe’s Creative Cloud and Office 365, and they’re decisions I didn’t make lightly, but a monthly fee for a text editor, even if it’s probably the best text editor I’ve seen? No. When my favourite text shortcut utility Text Expander did the same thing a while ago, I gave up on it, and went to Type it for Me and haven’t looked back.

So, dont’ spurn me! Last night I dug back into some old favourites like Ia Writer and Byword looking for something that will allow me to write quickly, distraction-free on any device I have with me, and sync across the platforms in the background.

It took me about an hour but I’ve moved my writing out of Ulysses into iAWriter and I’ll keep that for poetry and creative stuff and use Byword for my blogging and work-related stuff. I’m hurt, but I’m bouncing back.

Goodbye Ulysses.

GoodBye

Remembering Liam Davison

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My great friend Liam Davison (right) would have been 60 today. That’s us, in Vietnam I think.

I don’t want to talk about the senseless loss of life, that took him and his wife Francesca that was MH17, and one day I’ll be ready to write in a lot more detail about Liam and his writing, and what they both meant to me.  Liam was an extraordinary person and writer.

Today, I’m just remembering the friend I met at teacher’s college in 1975, who I taught with, wrote with,  travelled, socialised, rode and and talked with for nearly forty years.

Recently, Gavin Duffy, the graphics editor of Peninsula Writing, shared some photos he’d re-discovered of Gavin, Liam and myself on the radio set of Radio Port Phillip where we did a weekly radio show on local writing for a while, and also trying to sell our little magazine at a publisher’s event in the mid 1980s.  They were fun times, excited about writing and where it all might lead. I love our Peninsula Writing wind-cheaters and that sense that we were doing something fun and important.

I miss him pretty much every day.

Today, I’ll be celebrating his 60th with family and friends

Below: Promoting local writing on Radio Port Phillip. From left: Liam, Debbie Batt, me.

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Below: On the Small Publishers stand at a book fair. From left: Liam, unknown, me.

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Below: Liam, Gavin Duffy and unknown, Book Fair.

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Peninsula Writing 1983-1985

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Issue #1 – 1983. $3.75

Doing some Autumn cleaning over the holidays I found lots of photos that I’d not originally considered good enough to make it into a photo album, but I wanted to keep.

Among them were some photos of Liam Davison and Gavin Duffy printing Peninsula Writing in the 1980s.

Peninsula Writing was a quartely local literary magazine that Liam, Gavin and I founded in 1983 to promote and foster creative writing on the Mornington Peninsula. Liam edited the prose, Gavin created the artwork, graphics and design, including five terrific coves and I edited the poetry. We all typed, stapled and folded. The little magazine featured poetry, prose and reviews and lasted five issues.

In some ways it was the very worst time to try to publish a magazine. No desktop publishing or laser printers, or internet, we typed the whole thing out by hand, made offset masters and printed it ourselves on an offset machine borrowed from the local church. Very hands on! We struggled with all the usual stuff; distribution, advertising, sponsorship and getting the damn type black enough! If only we’d waited a few short years …

I was a bit surprised that nothing much exists about this short-lived little magazine now. Not one image on Google Search, and no article anywhere I can find. It wasn’t ground-breaking historical stuff, but it was part of a little local movement and I think it deserves a little better than nothing.

So, I intend putting together a series of blog posts, one on each issue, with some scans, lists of contributors etc., just to put the record out there. For I feel it was something worthwhile.

Below: a break in the printing. Liam Davison, Gavin Duffy and Jackie Davison (Liam’s mum, who had access to the church offset printer)

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Below: Liam working the offset printer. We always struggled to get the print black enough.

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Below: Me with the first copy of ‘Peninsula Writing’

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Remembering Liam and Frankie Davison

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I was shattered at the news last Friday of the death of our closest friends, Liam and Frankie Davison in the Malaysian Airlines disaster in the Ukraine. He was a fine novelist and short story writer, and a wonderful human being. We were friends for over forty years, since Teacher’s College. He was my mentor, my listening post, my fellow editor at Peninsula Writing, cycling friend, just friend. At some time, when I’m a bit stronger, I intend putting up something more substantial online to honour his writing and try to bring together various pieces of writing. Meanwhile, you can read an obituary by Nat O’Neill HERE, read some of Liam’s writing at his Gillhaney blog HERE or read his most recent piece in The Griffith Review HERE.

There was also a piece about Liam’s writing in the Sydney Morning Herald by Gregory Day HERE.

Some details about the memorial service on Sunday are below:

Sam and Milly, along with their extended family, invite friends to gather at Toorak College on the upper playing field overlooking Port Phillip Bay on Sunday 27 July 2014 at 2:30pm, to pay tribute and share our love for Liam and Frankie.

Liam and Frankie’s family’s have been extremely touched by the love and support received over the past week. In 2011 Frankie and Liam visited The Annapurna Self-Sustaining Orphan Home in Pokhara, Nepal, where they were both touched by the incredible work being done there. These efforts rely largely on donations, in which the Davisons were instrumental over the last few years.

A trust has been set up for the Orphan Home in Liam and Frankie’s memory. Rather than flowers, we ask that those wishing to continue their support to the Davison family make donations to this fund.

With much love and thanks.

Annapurna Self-Sustaining Orphan Home, Pokhara, Nepal

Account Name: Amelia Davison Annapurna Orphanage

BSB: 06 3550

Account Number: 1036 2702

 

My 2012 Books of the Year

Just in time for Christmas shopping, my books of the  year awards!

Fiction

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Non-Fiction

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Christopher Ricks – Dylan’s Vision of Sin

Poetry

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Fire Diary – Mark Tredinnick

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Christmas shopping list.

Take this to Readings or Collected Works

Fiction
Richard Ford – Canada*
Gerald Murnane – A History of Books

Non-Fiction
Christopher Ricks – Dylan’s Vision of Sin*
Iain Sinclair – London Orbital
Robert Penn – It’s All about the Bike
Michael Langley – Journals
Tony Taylor – Fishing the River of Time
James Boyce – 1835
Paul Carter – Ground Truthing
Austin Kleon – Steal like an Artist
May Ward – The Comfort of Water
Geoff Nicholson – The Lost Art of Walking

Poetry
Mark Tredinnick – Fire Diary (Puncher and Wattmann)
Robert Adamson – The Golden Bird
John Tranter – Starlight (UQP)
Lisa Jacobson – The Sunlit Zone (Five Islands)
Michael Sharkey – Another Fine Morning in Paradise (Five Islands)
Brook Emery – Collusion
John Tranter (ed) – Best Australian Poems 2012 (BlackInc)

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You can read the full list, and past winners on my website here as well

Surprise in the late light

Sometimes, you get surprised. I went for a walk along the beach tonight, at the end of the day, just about the shortest day of the year. I was interested to see what ‘my creek’ looked like after a week of rain. It was nice: brimming full and mixing with the bay in a kind of oily mix back and forth between the bay and the brown creek.  I took some photos and a couple of videos of the beach and the waves with my iPhone; nothing special, but a nice light. But, fiddling with my phone I must  have somehow taken this shot, which was my favourite of the set. A blurry, dark, brooding evocative kind of piece with a glimpse of light in the eye of the wave washing along the sand.

It’s harder to get those kinds of surprises in writing. The conscious-ness of it I suppose. Maybe that’s why so many writers (and other artists) took to drugs at some stages? To get out of the rational a little bit, and to discover something else under the surface.  It’s nice to have surprises sometimes. And, you might not even think the photo is any good. You can see the rest of the set here and make a comparison. But, for me, there is something in that shot that I hadn’t seen, hadn’t even been looking for, but found somehow.

Nice to find that, right at the end of the week.