Asciidoc: Markdown on steroids.

I used to write my stuff in Word.

Then I started writing my stuff in Scrivener.

Then I split my writing between Scrivener (novels) and Ulysses (everything else).

But I’ve always had a slight problem with both of them: it was the markup.

Ulysses uses Markdown – or rather its own subset of Markdown. It can handle basics like bold and italics, and at punch, it does a fairly good job with stuff like footnotes (pretty useful if you’re writing academic papers). Table support has been a weak spot as old as Ulysses itself: it just can’t do ‘em, even though every other Markdown editor supports them. Still, most novels don’t need tables, so it’s hardly a dealbreaker if you’re writing the next great American novel. What’s important is that it saves your work in the Markdown format: it’s purely text-based so is portable, a good fit for collaborative work, and is great for version control systems.

On the other lawn, we have Scrivener, which stores everything in RTF format.

Now, the problem I have with RTF is probably just my own ageism: RTF is old. It’s the format Microsoft used for word processing when the world was a twinkle in the eye of the cosmos. Things have moved on; Microsoft certainly has. So while there is nothing lacking with RTF, I don’t like keeping stuff in a dead format, especially one that’s kind of … opaque.

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Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

This is an odd one, and when I started I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it. The book’s written as a collection of interviews, messages and conversations in Chinese restaurants. It begins with the discovery of an ancient alien weapon that’s been disassembled and buried in different locations across the globe. From discovery, we move quickly to assembly, but the trouble starts when the scientists and military try to make it work. …

Now, I’ve read a couple of books like this, and I haven’t always enjoyed them. Unless you can do it well, then comes across as a bit of a cop-out. Unless you can do it well, then it gets pretty tedious very quickly.

Luckily, the writer pretty much nails it. The whole book is dialogue basically, and it’s written so well that the scenes are set, the relationships defined and the suspense is … er … suspensed, all through these snippets of conversation. The characters are mostly believable, though I did feel that sometimes their behaviour came out of the blue, which demonstrates the problem with this kind of writing: because you’re getting parts of the story, you get the feeling that something’s developing in the background you might be missing. For example, I didn’t pick up that one one player had built such strong feelings for another he’d be driven to do something hideously out of character.

Still, the whole book shows great imagination and attention to detail, which makes it, like all good speculative fiction, strangely believable. A great combination of a quick read and an intensely readable page turner.

Vellum: a list of wants without the tantrum

I have a strange relationship with Vellum. It’s one of the most expensive apps I own (or rather license), and it’s the app that I probably use the least. And yet it’s one of the few apps I wouldn’t be without, because when I do get round to using it, it saves be a bucketload of time and churns out professional quality results without me pulling out what little hair I have.

So for the uninitiated, Vellum is sort of like a word-processor … though not really. You can load a file (.docx, .rtf) into it, or type your book straight in, and Vellum will churn out beautifully formatted ePubs for a handful of mobile platforms such as Apple Books, Amazon Kindle, along with PDFs that be dropped into CreateSpace or Ingram Spark.

Yes, I know that I can do the same thing in Word and Scrivener, but even Scrivener can’t deliver such a clean, well-dressed output without some fiddling afterwards. Vellum will space out your text to make sure all the pages are balanced without leaving those niggling single lines on a page before skipping off to the next chapter.

I’m not a believer in the one-stop-shop kind of an app, but Vellum is so easy to use and so well thought out, I find myself wondering what would it need so I could use it more.

So here’s is my list of wants for Vellum, based on nothing more than my own sense of entitlement (there’s a lot of it about after all).

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