Saturday 22 December 2018

Authorsinterviews - My Interview With Blogger Fiona McVie

Book enthusiast Fiona McVie (left) has been interviewing authors for many years. Her blog Authorsinterviews is a rich resource for anybody who wants to learn a bit more about the people behind the stories, so it was my great pleasure to respond to her questions when we communicated last week.

The full text of my interview with Fiona can be found here.

Friday 7 December 2018

The Summer Of '76 by Ray Burston - Review

To begin with this book was an easy sell to me because I find myself enchanted by the seventies in general and by anything to do with 1976 in particular. So a simple glance at the title made it a must-buy. When I discovered that it was set on the Isle of Wight, not only in a town but actually around a street with which I am very familiar (for it has been the venue of countless family holidays in more recent years), my complete and undivided attention was assured.

But mere familiarity of setting and nostalgic indulgence would not have been enough to retain my interest throughout a full-length novel were it not for a captivating storyline. And The Summer Of '76 does its work beautifully and with consummate skill by calmly setting a scene which is idyllic as well as ever so slightly twee, and then rousing the reader from that comfort zone by increments but in a way which is nonetheless quite relentless.


I am reluctant to relate too much of the storyline as much of the magic of this wonderful book rests on the unexpected twists and turns that it quite cleverly drip-feeds to us. In essence it is about a young man from the Midlands, in his late teens, who visits his aunt and uncle at their seaside home in Sandown and discovers a whole lot more about himself than he could possibly have bargained for. In the process of so doing he encounters a pretty young American student who for a while becomes his love interest, but events and cruel fate inevitably come between them.

From the beginning the seemingly disparate characters who happen upon one another by chance find they have much more in common than any of them could have expected. Eventually it is the sheer improbability of these relationships and interactions, like a soap opera on steroids, which makes the story so special, and so difficult for the reader to disengage from.

As the tale unfolds many themes remain constant, such as the Christian faith shared by many of the characters which conflicts them all the more as they wrestle with questionable events from their dim and distant pasts, and the helpful - and to some of us evocative – contemporary news bulletins and musical and topical by-lines which appear with apposite regularity.


Perhaps inevitably I found myself making comparisons with my own debut novel The Best Year Of Our Lives, not in a competitive way but rather in an intrigued and constructive quest for any similarities or differences between the writer's recollections of that glorious summer and my own. What became clear was that whilst The Summer Of '76 has a unique and profound vibe all of its own, there is a commonality of spirit which is shared by so many of us whose adolescence was defined by that era.

The writer has a flair for melodrama and for thematic writing which cannot be overstated. I am really glad I purchased this book, and feel doubly blessed that what I had expected to be a mere harmless foray into my own formative years turned out to be such a whole lot more. It would be good as a film, and I hope that one day it is picked up by somebody with the connections to visit upon it the recognition it deserves.

The Summer Of '76 by Ray Burston is available from Amazon in both paperbook and e-book format.

Thursday 6 December 2018

My Top 10 Online Survey Companies

According to somebody who knows about these things, there are an estimated 62,000 authors presently "in some sort of employment" in the United Kingdom.

What must be straight away obvious is that not all of these people can be living in the lap of luxury as a consequence of their literary efforts. Indeed for every J.K. Rowling it is reasonable to assume that there will be, well, at least 61,000 "professional" authors at the opposite end of the income scale, having sold their self-published magnum opus to their mother and her mate, and to very few others. By comparison, my own four-figure sales tally (at time of writing) may strike one as a veritable success story. But it still doesn't pay the bills.

Which means that, like most other writers, I find myself doing other "jobs" to plug the wage gap, and one of my many income streams is paid online surveys – assisting market researchers in undertaking demographic profiling for the extremely modest payment which they all offer.

There are literally hundreds of survey providers, some of which are better to work with than others. Below I have listed ten of my favourites:

Provides intelligent research and informed insight for clients in the worlds of business, culture and politics. On balance probably my first choice for surveys due to its generous payments.

PROS: Amongst the highest payers, PopulusLive surveys generally command around £1 for every five minutes' work undertaken. Surveys tend to come in clusters, with two or three some days and nothing for several days at other times. Screen-outs (an irritating occupational hazard for survey enthusiasts in which participants are advised that they are unsuitable and do not qualify) are infrequent by comparison with some others, and occur – as they should – early into the process. The interface is nearly always the same, making for an unflustered and easy-to-follow experience. Payment is by cheque in increments of £50, sent out the month after the target has been reached.

CONS: Customer service can be erratic. On the one solitary occasion when I've had to report the non-arrival of a cheque I had to threaten the company with the regulator before it felt the need to respond to any of my e-mails, and then the reply was perfunctory and unapologetic. Take care when completing surveys to enter accurate information as failure to do so usually results in instant disqualification with no second chances.

Formerly called Mintvine, this US-facing company provides a whole bunch of surveys each and every day, some of which command very generous payment and others which certainly do not. Each day at 3pm (UK time) a new mini-poll appears on the home page which pays $0.05 for a single question answered. Not much I know, but you'll be surprised how much it adds up!

PROS: Nearly always a wide range of surveys to choose from, for which notification is sent (if you so choose) by e-mail. Some can offer up to $4 a time, but the beauty is that the survey value is always provided so you can choose which ones you think are worth doing (although quite often the high-value surveys become unavailable very quickly). Low payout threshold of just $10 cleared funds, which can be achieved in a matter of a couple of days.

CONS: The US focus means some of the surveys can be arcane and irrelevant to UK participants. Screen-out can sometimes occur some way into the process and a formal complaint will usually, even if successful, result in a meagre amount of compensation being awarded.

London-based market research and insight consultancy. Surveys tend to pay 25p, 50p or 75p, depending upon length.

PROS: A consistent interface and relatively few screen-outs. Although payments are modest surveys tend to be of an acceptable duration, with unpleasant surprises a rare occurrence. Payouts are made promptly once an account balance of £25 is reached.

CONS: The website can be very hit and miss, with error messages aplenty. Surveys are not usually affected, but such things as checking one's balance are a luxury best taken advantage of when everything is working.

One of the original and best-known survey providers, YouGov specialises in providing polling data for political purposes but it also does a whole lot besides. Its easy-to-use format and generous referral bonus makes it something of a favourite for many.

PROS: Screen-outs are almost unheard of as potential customers are screened before invitations are sent out (most other survey companies are appallingly lazy in this regard). A regular interface and impressively interactive website make for an enjoyable survey experience.

CONS: Rewards are modest (usually 50p) and surveys can be few and far between, meaning it can take some months to hit the £50 threshold for a payout. A good account to have in the portfolio but don't be depending on it to feed the family.

An online and app-based mobile community asking questions about the products and services you use and places you visit every day.

PROS: A handy app enables participants to take surveys on the go without having to negotiate the torturous web links and awkward screens not properly configured for mobiles which can be the experience offered by many of its rivals. Although most pay 25p, 50p or 75p higher value surveys up to £3.50 are not unusual. Payout is at £25, which can be reached relatively quickly.

CONS: Screen-outs occur more frequently than would be ideal, sometimes some way in to the survey. Customer service can sometimes be erratic when this is complained about.

Australia-based but UK-facing provider which provides a handy feed containing surveys roughly matched to your profile. Surveys are usually valued according to length and rewards are reasonable.

PROS: Easy-to-use feed and a good proportion of valid surveys which enable you to complete the process and claim your reward. Where screen-out occurs a compensation payment of 5p is made, making the disappointment a little more bearable. Payout is at £25 and arrives promptly.

CONS: Very few, other than at times viable surveys can be frustratingly few whilst at others they can be plentiful.

A favourite to many survey enthusiasts but a source of some frustration to others, Panelbase is one of the fastest-growing and most popular online research communities on the web. Also provides occasional focus groups by invitation.

PROS: Alerts are sent by e-mail and rewards are usually generous when measured against time taken. Any surveys under £1 are pleasingly concise and a low threshold of just £10 means frequent prompt payouts. By popular consent one of the best-paying and most well-liked providers out there.

CONS: Screen-outs are frequent and would appear to have become more so of late, to the point where they now seem to be the norm rather than the exception. Sometimes they appear random and arbitrary, whilst at others they can occur well into the survey rather than during the first few screens as is supposed to happen. Complaints are sometimes addressed promptly – if you reach the right person. I tend to avoid their third-party surveys as some of them seem a tad unscrupulous and Panelbase seem to exert little control over them.

Wants to hear what you think about the very latest products and big issues affecting you. Offers surveys, discussions and polls.

PROS: Generous rewards for surveys which are of a reasonable length. Sometimes provides online communities by invitation which can pay at a rate of up to £15-£30 per hour. £20 threshold for payouts.

CONS: Surveys are infrequent and can sometimes be on very similar topics, meaning that participants who are screened out of one are likely to be screened out of all of them. Unless I have been unlucky, payouts seem to arrive some very considerable time after they have been claimed.

A very popular and quirky survey company which provides a large number of very short, low-value and often "fun" polls, as well as the occasional outdoor video project.

PROS: Lots of short polls – by the time the participant has gone through the list there will probably have been another one appear. Fun topics make them a pleasure to take part in.

CONS: Low rewards mean a lot of effort has to be put in to reach the £40 payout threshold (although loyal customers are sometimes rewarded with their own personal lower limit – mine is currently down to £25!).

I have included this because it is "different" in so many ways. Participants who have opted in to receive them are sent notices of each new survey (literally dozens each and every day). Priced in dollars and with a US slant, it might just be possible to use up every waking hour only attending to surveys from this company. Some I know do just that.

PROS: With an almost unlimited supply of surveys, the $30 minimum payout is not difficult to reach in a relatively short space of time. Some, although certainly by no means all, pay quite generously.

CONS: A high proportion of screen-outs, and many surveys are priced at "Up to….." - so one never really knows how much they are paying out until the money is in one's account. And that doesn't happen until a week later.