Phill's Phollies

The various eclectic activities and interests of Phill Berrie.

The problem with writing contemporary characters
Just to show you how bad I am at this long-form social media stuff it seems that my main character from 'The Changeling Detective' is better at it than I am.

The following is a link to an interview he did about me on an American writer's blog.

Dropped Pebbles: the blog of Dyane Ford

But it's worse than that, because now I find out he's created a Facebook page for his detective agency and has talked other characters into contributing.


What have I created here?

Smashwords Promotion for 'The Changeling Detective'
What would you do if you could change your features to be anyone you wanted?

What would you do if you discovered you weren't the only one who could do this?

Who would you trust?

For the next week the coupon code 'UA56L' will get you my urban fantasy, 'The Changeling Detective', for half price from Smashwords. All common eBook formats supported (even the Kindle format).

Direct link to book:

Honest ratings and/or reviews very much appreciated and the want of these is why I'm only running this promotion through Smashwords because you have to purchase from their site to leave a review.

Announcing 'The Changeling Detective'
I'm a very bad blogger for a writer as a lot of what I do (as an editor) is for other people and it would be bad form telling tales out of school.

Anyway, for the first time in a long time I have some news of my own and that is the release of my first book under the Hotspur Publishing imprimatur, 'The Changeling Detective'. Many of you who know me will be thinking, WTF?

And you're right, you have heard of this book before.

This is, in fact, a revised edition of my self-published book that I put out in 2010. David Bischoff, who heads up Hotspur, has helped me immensely. You might even say he has helped me put a new face on the book — pun intended.

Anyway, after a few minor issues with ISBNs and hyperlinks, the book is now available on Amazon and Smashwords and should filter out to Smashwords' affiliated distributors over the next few weeks.

And, if you would like to find out more about the book you can click on the following link to go to the Hotspur Publishing page for the book:

What would you do if you could change your features to be anyone you wanted?

What would you do if you discovered you weren't the only one who could do this?

Who would you trust?

And finally, apologies if this get cross-posted and you have seen the announcement before.

Word Frequency Analysis: Forensic Editing - Yes, This Editor is a Computer Geek.
Was Shakespeare really Francis Bacon? Or perhaps William Shakespeare was the name Christopher Marlowe used to publish his plays after secretly escaping death and fleeing into exile. These are both serious possibilities being studied by literature scholars(*) using computers and stylometric techniques like word frequency analysis.

Now I'm thinking that your thinking: 'Yes, that's all very interesting, but what has it got to do with editing?'.

When editing, I much prefer working with electronic versions of manuscripts than hardcopy because they allow me to use one of my favourite computer utilities, the word frequency analysis tool.

'What's a word frequency analysis tool?' I hear you ask.

The quick answer is that: it is a tool that lets one see the frequency of use of specific words in a text or corpus. However, that really doesn't indicate the full power of this text analysis technique.

In fact, word frequency analysis is used quite often when dealing with electronic texts. It is one of the metrics used in the rating system for your Internet search engine of choice: Google, Bing, whatever. It can be used to determine the relative writing age and education of writers. And, as mentioned above, stylometry—which word frequency analysis is an integral part of—can be used to identify an author's unique writing style; word preference and phraseology can be as unique as a fingerprint. So, as well as being used to establish the true authorship of texts, it has also been used in criminal cases as supporting evidence to convict criminals.

Part of an editor's (and proofreader's) job is to spot the simple mistakes that authors can make through overfamiliarity with their text; they read what they believe should be on the page rather than what is actually in the text. However, being fallible humans, editors can sometimes miss the obvious as well. Especially when they are rereading a text (that overfamiliarity problem again). This is where the power of the computer, and the difference of perspective that a word frequency table gives, becomes of real use.

The image below is of some word frequency tables from the text analysis package built into my writing package of choice, Scrivener. The image has been specially constructed to show the two main writing problems that I use word frequency analysis tables to help me with while editing and proofing larger texts.

WFT Diagram

Hopefully, simple typos have been picked up by the writer with their spellchecker, but what spellcheckers can sometimes miss are variant spellings of words such as US versus British spelling. Or, the more likely, variant spellings of proper nouns such as character names. Many a time I've read manuscripts where the author has changed the spelling of a character's name and not updated all occurrences of that name in the text. The word frequency analysis table, when sorted alphabetically, shows all these variant spellings close together allowing for the easy identification of this problem.

The other main benefit of a word frequency analysis table for me, both as a writer and editor, is brought to light when the list is sorted by the number of occurrences. Possible overuse of particular words becomes readily apparent in this view and the editor (or an author concerned about their own style) can then attempt to nip this lack of imagination in the bud by judicious rewriting and use of synonyms.

Now, I am not saying that a good editor wouldn't pick these problems up anyway, but overfamiliarity with a text can make anyone blind to certain types of writing problems. Word frequency analysis tables change the perspective of the text so greatly that this familiarity problem goes away and the unerring pattern-matching power of the computer becomes useful in highlighting aspects of a text which may be hard to spot when one is considering just the flow of words or the semantics of the writing.

Anyway, for those who have enough of the inner geek to have read this far, there are online text analysis sites which you can use to generate word frequency analysis tables of your own work (e.g. as well as quite a few stand-alone applications for desktop computers that can be found online with a bit of judicious googling.

Release your inner geek and have a look. Remember, your computer is your friend (and a powerful tool).

* Go to to see a representative academic paper on this stylometric-based research.

Phill Berrie

This article originally appeared in March 2013 issue of ACTWrite, the monthly magazine of the ACT Writers Centre. Reprinted with permission.

Trialing a free period for my eBook
Hi everyone,

Following the advice of the guys from 'The Self Publishing Podcast' and Mark Coker from Smashwords I am going to make my self published book 'Transgressions' available for free for the next month or so. You can find out about the book on the following web page.

This price change should trickle through to all the usual Smashwords distributors, if you don't want to download from Smashwords, though it does support all the major eBook formats including the mobi format for the Kindle

If anyone here downloads it and reads it, I would appreciate a rating and/or an honest review of the book as raising the book's profile is the aim of the exercise.


Picking the bones of Specusphere...
Unfortunately, the Australian speculative fiction review site Specusphere is closing its doors and so all contributors are being advised to collect and repurpose their reviews.

I only delved into full-fledged reviewing the once and now limit my reviewing to comments on Goodreads. However, my one and only attempt was on Specusphere and, as it was for a piece of Australian speculative fiction history, I thought I should rescue my review and post it here to prolong the review's life.

Hopefully you will find it interesting.

Vale Specusphere and I hope it will live on in forms such as this.


'Intimate Armageddons'

Bill Congreve (ed.)

Five Island Press Associates (1992)

ISBN: 1-875604-03-0

Reviewed by Phillip Berrie (this review was first published in October 2007)

I found this book at a trash ‘n’ treasure stand and promptly paid the princely sum of 50 cents for it after seeing the list of contributors. These authors and the fact that it was an anthology edited by Bill Congreve lead me to expect some very interesting stories. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was the publication date. Printed in 1992, this thin (11 stories, 144 pages) soft cover book is well and truly out of print, though I have seen it listed in some second-hand book shops online. Still, the editor of this fine website has allowed me to indulge myself with a retrospective review of this piece of Australian Horror history.

The opening story, “Dem Bones” is by Robert Hood. I suspect he got to go first because it was his publishing company, Five Islands Press, that published the anthology. This is a revenant story, where some local, and very Australian (presumably a refreshing element of the story at the time), villains get their comeuppance for killing and disturbing the grave of a derelict named Bob Skelton, who had the prophetic nick name, Bag O’ Bones. Nothing very original here, I’m afraid, though remember we are talking 1992.

“A Sprig of Aconite”, by Sue Isle, is a story about a werewolf homicide. Bonus points for those who recognised the clue in the title, though its use, and this story, might not be as you expect. The piece involves two regular characters of the author – a pair of psychic detectives – as they investigate the death of an associate. Interesting characters, but including them and having them solve the mystery of the deaths detracted from what little horror was to be found here for this reader. This piece is a fantasy/crime cross genre story and, in my opinion, would have found a much better home as part of a larger story about these characters.

The next story “They Found The Angry Moon” is by Terry Dowling. It is another ‘just rewards’ story, where a pair of villains get what’s coming to them because they mess with the occult. Dowling’s prose in this story is very dense and this is the only piece in the anthology where I saw typos that slipped passed the editorial eye. I will leave thinking about that as an exercise for the reader and just mention that this story ends with a lovely little take on the ‘just rewards’ idea.

Rosaleen Love wrote the next story, which is entitled “Holiness”. Set in a remote part of China, the main character – a priest, who is also a paleontologist – has come looking for evidence of Peking Man. Strange occurrences, which are interpreted as slippages in time, have him thinking about the nature of time itself and he comes to a ‘timely’ end when he lets his scientific zeal get the better of him. To my mind, it is evident that Love is not a horror writer, she is too much the scientist, and for me there is too much philosophy about the nature of time in her story. And it is not the dark philosophy of time spoken of by Lovecraft (e.g. “That is not dead which can eternal lie and with strange eons even death may die”, from The Nameless City) – I hesitate to say it, but I can’t resist … she lacks his ‘craft’- instead her philosophy shows more of the abstract and uncaring nature of space-time which is the purview of the scientist. And whereas her story is sometimes thought provoking, it is hardly horrific.

Geoffrey Maloney’s “Meat Puppets” is a truly chilling story (pun intended) about the sins and horrors that can be hidden behind the facade of day-to-day life and the local butcher. He leads us from temptations of the flesh to adultery and then to retribution and greed in a thoroughly modern manner of which Shylock would have been proud.

The next story, “Porphyric Plague”, is another that I would not truly call horror except in the realisation that through the chain of logic and events that Sean McMullen weaves it can be seen that one of the evilest of supernatural creatures could actually exist. However, the author then recants his sins and, in my opinion, lessens the horror aspect of the story by relating how the main protagonist is engineering his own cure through the intervention of modern biology.

The original Sirens lured sailors to their deaths by shipwreck with alluring promises of sex. A. G. Clarke’s story, “Sirensong”, brings this legend into the current day and, in an interesting twist, entangles it with the concept of road rage. An interesting premise, but in my opinion, the author doesn’t bring it off.

Steven Proposch’s “Maggie’s Place” seems to be a small piece of something much larger; the title and Maggie are not really relevant to the story. The horror aspect of the piece is dependent on a common phobia, one that this reviewer is not afflicted by, so was left unaffected and slightly frustrated, wondering what all the rest of the back story was for and whether it was actually ever published.

The editor’s own story, “Dream”, is a better representative of the horror genre, in my opinion. It appealed to and affected me on several levels. Congreve writes with authority about an author straying beyond the realms of fiction into the real world of the serial killer through the agency of an old typewriter with an incredible power. For me, the horror in this story comes from the descent into madness of the main character as his prose becomes reality. That, and the helplessness of the people afflicted by the muse of the main character when they are forced to do things that are abhorrent to them. This helplessness is nicely reinforced by the anticlimactic ending of the story where reality reasserts itself and the guy doesn’t get the girl.

To my mind the penultimate story, “Bit Parts”, by Peter Corris, should not have been included in this anthology. The subject matter has already been explored far better in Geoff Maloney’s, “Meat Puppets” and this attempt lacks even the connection to carnal temptation and retribution that the previous story had, instead replacing it with an uninteresting character, commerce and disinterested criminals.

The anthology finishes with Sean Williams’ piece called “Going Nowhere”, set on the highway that crosses the Nullabor. An apt name in that there are so many elements to this story that do just that. However, I suspect given the title that this was the goal of the author. At the end of the piece, the reader is brought full circle back to a similar situation to the one that started the story without really having had any of the questions the story raises answered. I was even left wondering about the genre of this piece: ghost story, aliens, time travel; all were hinted at. For this review, the important question to ask though is, was it horror? Is fear of the unknown enough?

This slim volume seemed to hold so much promise when I first picked it up; all those well known authors. A look through the Locus bibliographical indices or the author’s respective websites will show you the reasons why most of these authors are currently household names in the Australian speculative fiction scene. However, looking at the anthology as a whole, I was unimpressed.

Apart from a few notable exceptions – Dowling’s twisted just reward, Maloney’s pound of flesh and Congreve’s serial vicariousness – there was little horror here. Certainly there was cleverness: McMullen’s scientific inventiveness, Clarke’s repackaging of an old myth and William’s circularity, all show the author’s story crafting abilities, but you will note that the two more famous of these authors are not writing horror these days.

Is this the reason why this anthology is not as chilling as later Australian horror anthologies? Technically, it was the first, preceding Terror Australis (Coronet, 1993) by a year. To me it has the feel of a group of Australian authors looking for a venue rather than a true theme and genre-based anthology.

So, in the end, we can but look at this anthology as a first attempt. And in that light I can, with 20/20 hindsight, say that it shows lots of potential. After all everyone has to start somewhere, as I am with this review, so let’s end up giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.

I shot my first handgun today...
I shot my first handgun today... and no this is not a dragonborn diary entry, I still haven't had the chance to play any more Skyrim since my last entry.

My current WIP, a rewriting of my novella 'The Changeling Detective', has a contemporary setting and involves gunplay. And, although I have fired rifles in the past I have never fired a pistol before. So, I thought I should address this deficiency so I could write with some authority about them.

Note: This is probably going to be of more interest to my Australian and English readers where gun ownership is highly restricted.

The local chapter of the Sports Shooters Association of Australia had their open day today so I, my daughter and a fellow writer friend, Gillian Polack, took the opportunity to go for a quick visit to the club (we only had a couple of hours free) and get some hands-on experience with firearms, Gillian more so that the rest of us (more on this later). What follows are my observations on firing a handgun.

1 (the obvious): Firearms of all types are loud, so having any sort of conversation with guns being discharged anywhere close is going to be extremely difficult. However, unless you are subjected to the noise many times over during a short period, or a gun goes off unexpectedly right next to your ear, you are not going to lose your hearing. After all, even combat soldiers don't wear earmuffs going into battle.

2: Modern guns don't really smell of gun powder after they are fired. The main character of my novella has an extremely good sense of smell, so I took a good sniff of the pistol I fired both before and after my five round shoot. Both times the main scents were of the metal of the gun and the oil used to service the weapon and this from a gun that had probably had at least fifty bullets fired from it over the course of a couple of hours.

3: An automatic pistol ejects its spent shells to clear the barrel for the next bullet. With the small .22 calibre pistols we were firing these shells were flying 2-3 metres. And not only that, but the ejected shells were not only ejected at speed, but they are very hot. One of the club members told us that his daughter received a shell-shaped burn on her chest when an ejected shell went down her top and she couldn't get it out fast enough.

4: Pistols are hard to aim, even over short distances. Of my five practice shots, the first three were with a two-handed grip and face-on stance and the final two were with a single-handed grip and a side-on stance. With such a small gun the recoil was not noticeable and though I did have to re-aim between shots this was not due to the kickback but more due to the difficulty of aiming the pistol in the first place.

Of the two, the two-handed grip is by far the more accurate. We were only firing over about ten metres at a target about 50 cm across and yet with the single-handed grip the sight at the end of the barrel was deviating wildly in my view. I did manage to hit the target with all five shots, but whereas the first three were a 9 and two 8s (i.e. the inner part of the target), the last two were a 5 and a 6. The member who was supervising said that was still pretty good because of the quick change of stance I had to do part way through the shoot. However, the pistol range is a twenty-five metre range, so I suspect the results would have been a lot different over that larger range.

Anyway, I hope these observations of my shooting are useful to my writer friends out there. We learnt lots of other things-too many to go into now-through talking with members of the club who were only too eager to talk about their hobby. And, if I go again, I will definitely set aside more time because there was far too much to do for the small time we had available.

And finally there is Gillian's extra special experience.

Doctor Doctor Polack (who really does have two PhDs and is a medieval historian) took the opportunity to fire a modern day replica of an arquebus, which is a big brutish type of a matchlock rifle, that were also meant to be able to be used as clubs. They are very primitive firearms and use a surprisingly small amount of black powder to fire a large lead ball with a flash, a very loud noise and large puff of pungent smoke.

Gillian really appreciated the hands-on experience of something she has only dealt with academically in the past and got the added extra bonus of getting actual powder burns to her clothes as a souvenir.

The Dragonborn's Diary #11: Skyrim Mysteries
I am sitting writing this under a tree beside a mysterious body of water called "Mara's Eye Pond" somewhere vaguely to the south of Winterhold.

Why am I here?

To cut a long story short I have to fetch a staff for Enthir—a student of dubious reputation at the magic college in Winterhold—so that he will give Onmund—my rival for Brelyna's affections—back his family heirloom and by so doing I hope that Onmund will feel honour bound to live the two of us alone.

Why is the pond mysterious?

Well first off, Mara's Eye Pond is a small tarn on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, yet moored to a tiny island in the middle of it is a large row boat. How the boat got there is a real mystery because Brelyna and I had to trek cross country to get here and I see no obvious road into this remote spot.

The second mystery is that while the boat appears to be currently in use—I can see at least one crate in the boat—there is no one visible on the island and nowhere apparently that they can be hiding.

And the final mystery, and the biggest mystery of all, has to do with the clairvoyance spell that I used to find our way here.

It is possibly one of the most impressive spells I have ever had any experience with.

My current casting of the spell is apparently tied to the magical staff I am to recover. A staff that I have never seen or heard of before. In fact, I only know of its existence through the word of Enthir. And yet, this spell has led us here to "Mara's Eye Pond" and the mysterious boatman-less boat without once having to consult me about what I wanted.

I have used this spell before with more concrete goals in mind and have found it useful. I cast it this time purely to redress the fact that I could find no mention of "Mara's Eye Pond" on the map that I carry. And yet, here we are at the pond and it is still directing me to a specific spot on (or perhaps beneath?) the island.

How does the spell know what I want, when I don't really know that myself?

It has just dawned on me that there must be some sort of intelligence at work here. An intelligence that read not only my mind to ascertain my goal, but also presumably Enthir's mind as well to find out where the pond was and the details of the staff he wants recovered.

Which is all rather creepy, if you think about it. I don't really want some unseen being rummaging around in my mind to find out what I want, good intentioned or not.

I have just broken the spell. And I don't think I will cast it again, just in case it is the means by which an unknown creature can gain access to my mind. For if it can do that, what is to stop it from controlling me or hurting me in some way.

Must remember to bring up these reservations with the Illusion master when we get back to the college.

Oops! Have to go now. Brelyna has just told me there are some sort of crab creatures in the water.

More soon.

Author's notes:

Despite my saying that I would be writing more soon, it has been nine days since my last update. Apologies for that, but I have been so busy I haven't been even able to play Skyrim let alone keep this diary going. SIGH...

The clairvoyance spell is in reality an extra game aide built into Skyrim to help magic-using players complete quests. When activated it indicates a path that can help a player progress along the storyline of their chosen quest and can be quite useful, especially if you've gotten lost or can't find a person you are supposed to be dealing with. Consequently, for this to work, there must be a lot of game knowledge and awareness built into the operation of this spell.

My take for this post was to look at this knowledge and awareness from the point of view of the character. To my mind it would look to them like the manifestation of some unseen intelligence.

If the game aide had been presented in the form of some sort of religious miracle or gift, then it could have been explained away as some sort of guiding spirit where omniscience is expected and respected. But as a magic user spell, that makes no reference to dealing with higher beings, then it leaves a lot of questions unanswered, in my opinion.

The Seven Line Challenge
A big thanks to Chris Andrews for giving me the opportunity for this, sorry about the wait, mate.

And for those who have been paying attention, I have done this before on Facebook but I'll be using the alternate set of lines this time.

The 7 Line Challenge works a bit like The Next Big Thing, but instead of a Q&A you go to page 7 or 77 of your manuscript, find line 7, and grab the next 7 lines of text and paste them in your blog.

You then tag seven new people to do the same.

My 7 Line Challenge comes from page 7 of 'The Changeling Detective', the novella I am currently rewriting under editorial direction. The text below is based on the seven lines from a compilation of the MS in standard manuscript format (Courier 12 point) output from my writing platform of choice, Scrivener for the Mac, which doesn't natively support pages. I added the last two words to make the last sentence, and the paragraph, complete.

Hmmm. Considering the scene, perhaps this could be considered toilet humour, although the punchline is yet to come.

"There's one little problem with being a face changer. If you want to look anywhere near human you need access to a decent-sized mirror and some privacy. As luck would have it, one of the staff preceded me in and headed for the urinal. I stepped into a cubicle. My reversible jacket and the baseball cap in its pocket would be a start, but I really needed some quality time in front of that mirror to make the changes that would matter."

I'm a bit time poor at the moment, so I'm going to open this up to anyone who reads this who is interested in being part of the meme. If you are, contact me and I'll put a link to your page at the bottom of this post.

Happy reading.


The Dragonborn's Diary #10: It's true, the girls all love a hero.
I had to kill a dragon today and Brelyna was there when I used my Voice. As a result, there is a new light in her eyes when she looks at me and I feel as though I couldn't get rid of her now, even if I wanted to. Obviously, my being Dragonborn has raised her opinion of me manifold, which actually makes me a little sad. I would have preferred she liked me for myself.

This morning I made my way painfully to an apothecary called the 'White Phial' situated in the market of Windhelm looking for the means to cure the disease which had beset me, Rockjoint I believe it is called.

As usual, the proprietor of the store tried to involve me in his petty problems. Meanwhile, there I was feeling as sick as a dog. I'm afraid I cut his ramblings off and demanded to see his wares before I heard half of what he was prattling about.

Seriously, do I have 'PATSY' written on my forehead or something? Why does everyone think that I am eager to hear their woes and solve their problems? I may be Dragonborn, but it wasn't yesterday that I was born. Sheesh.

Anyway, despite this, I can't fault him for his apothecary skills. I took the draught as soon as I could and am now feeling much more like my old self again. And this time I stocked up on the potion.

That problem having been solved, it was now time for Brelyna and I to continue on with the errand that I promised Ormund we would do... Sigh. Maybe I should change my name to 'Patsy' after all.

Brelyna was eager to leave as well. There is a lot of bad feeling towards her race in Windhelm and what with that lout last night I can't blame her for wanting to be gone. So, despite the lateness of the hour we made our way to the stables to fetch Dobbin and head off.

That's when the dragon showed up.

Initially, it flew overhead causing consternation all around; they really are magnificently terrifying beasts. Then it attacked a horse and that's when things started to go strange.

Instead of fleeing in terror and letting the beast take its prey off somewhere else to eat, the guards and local farmers all started attacking it. I have no idea why they did this. It was only a horse and the dragon was obviously just hungry. Why put your life on the line for a bloody horse?

I've just had a thought... Perhaps this had happened before... Yes, that would explain it. Having a dragon drop in regularly for dinner would definitely be something you would want to put a stop to.

Still, that doesn't explain why Brelyna immediately jumped into the fray as well. It certainly wasn't her fight. Maybe she had some new attack spells that she wanted to try.

But, because she got involved, so did I.

The poor dragon never even saw me coming. It had so many attackers about it—even rider-less horses were attacking it strangely enough—that I was able to get nice and close before letting fly with my 'Force' shout. In the end, I think the poor thing died before it even realised it was in any real danger.

Still, now my secret is out and no doubt rumours will be all over Windhelm in no time. I just hope that they don't get to Winterhold. Which reminds me. I must have a chat with Brelyna about not telling anyone at the college my secret when we returm. I much prefer being known there as William rather than 'the Dragonborn'.

That's enough for now. Brelyna is fast asleep bundled up in both our bedrolls to keep warm while I keep watch and tend the fire of our roadside camp; neither of us had wanted to spend another night in Windhelm. We are below the snow line here, but it is still very cold and I have to go and collect more wood.

More soon.

Author's notes:

It's been over a week since I last updated this blog. I have been busy and the other writing I've been doing took precedence over this. Also, I have not been able to play Skyrim, which is sort of necessary considering...

There were two weird things about the events portrayed above.

1. The horses became involved in the battle on their own, even my own horse raced off to attack the dragon. I don't understand why the game designers have done this. It seems to me that horses would be natural prey for dragons and that they would know this and run for their lives.

2. Fighting and beating the dragon (or using Voice in her presence) obviously triggered something in the Brelyna character. Because I had completed her quest I was now able to have her as a follower, but killing the dragon has obviously increased the level of commitment. When I asked her to wait for me at one point, the character almost begged me to promise that I would return for her. It will be interesting to see what else has been triggered in this support character.


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