Saturday, 26 May 2012

If...

If you're self-employed, you do things for a number of reasons:

- It creates income.
- It promotes your business.
- It develops your products and services.
- It develops you and your skills.
- It's fun.
- It's connected with your core values.
- It only uses resources you can commit freely (time, money or effort).


If something you're doing doesn't fall into at least one of those categories, you might want to ask yourself why you're doing it.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?

I know what you're thinking - don't tell me Derek's ranting on again about trying to get one of his novels published. You can relax - that rant is coming, but it's for another time. Today, my blog guest is writer and humorist Ben Hatch. Comments in blue are mine.

1. When did you first realise you were writing a book like this?

I am very slow-witted really. Incredibly thick. It wasn't actually my idea to write a book about our trip. Basically I’d been commissioned to write a guidebook for an American publisher called Frommers. I’d never written one before. My background was in novels. The impulse to tell a story was difficult to shake though. There was so much that had happened to us during the five months we were on the road - physically and emotionally - I kept trying to crowbar it into the guidebook. I’d be reviewing Lincoln Castle say as a family friendly attraction and suddenly I'd slip in a reference to my having a kidney stone diagnosed the week before. Basically I wanted to write this unique guidebook that could be read also as a sort of travelogue. I had this fantasy that people wouldn't just use it as a guidebook but would read it from cover to cover as a story as well. Of course nobody would have done and my editor quite rightly cut out a lot of the personal stories. It was a bit heartbreaking and he didn't like doing this either because he liked the personal bits too. So in the end, after firing me from writing guidebooks (he did it very nicely) he put me on touch with my current editor at Summersdale. She liked the idea of a travelogue/memoir about our 8000 mile journey round Britain. So that’s how it came about.

2. Did you experience any difficulties with writing something so personal?

Yes. There was a terrible moment just before I handed it over to my editor. I couldn’t sleep the night before. In a way, throughout writing the book, I’d sort of seen myself as a character, someone apart from me. That had allowed me to be completely honest about my feelings about my dad who is sick during the course of the book and about what had happened to us; all the trails and tribulations. But that night I woke up in this terrible cold sweat about it. I’d never written non-fiction before and I was very worried because it was about my family and I. I’d given so much away. I had no idea what people would make of us all, and of me. They might hate us, or think I was a complete arsehole.

3. Describe your book for us if you would.

Tim Brooke-Taylor described it as “Outnumbered on wheels.” Although a lovely twitter follower summed it up better than I ever could. It's a memoir, disguised as a travelogue that reads like a novel. The book’s about an 8000 mile road-trip round Britain that I went on with my family. Our kids were 1 and 4 at the time and the title has a double meaning – it’s what they say all the time, but it’s also a statement about like in general. Basically it’s a book about being in a family. Being a kid in a family and being a parent in a family. Hopefully it's moving but also funny. The book’s available in Waterstones, on Amazon, and on Kindle for £1.99. 

4. Are you affected by negative reviews?

No, not really. I don’t think too much about it. Not at all, no. It is a little upsetting to get a bad review, of course, especially from someone you admire or respect. I’ve been very lucky not to get too many bad ones. When you do, which is inevitable, it helps to imagine the person who’s written it is either a bitter, jealous rival or someone with warped and malign hang ups that have made them incapable of seeing the true worth of your writing. Perhaps they might even be classed as mentally ill. I also secretly hope that one day those who give me bad reviews, having been magically restored and righted as human beings by some religious miracle or touch of love, suddenly become hugely regretful for what they’ve done. They might then track me down, and humbly apologise in tears for having been so crass and disturbed. They could give me gifts. Presents. Cheese hampers. Crackers in tins, and wine. Like I say, I don’t think about it that much

5. Do you plan to write more directly autobiographical material?

Yes, I am working on a sequel to the next book called Road to Rouen. It’s about a 10,000 road-trip around France. Let’s just say there are quite a few tortoises in France.

6. What are your social tips for writers?

Social media tips or social tips? (Curse my typing skills!)

My social tips would mainly be to be pleasant wherever possible, try and bathe every now and again, don’t be late for appointments and if you’re meeting literary types wear a lot of bottle green and sleeves with leather patches.* Social media tips? Who knows! Facebook people, get on twitter, start up a blog. If you’re on twitter try not to boast too much about your book. Some writers go on and on about their books with links to Amazon etc. It’s very boring for others. I, of course, almost never do this as anyone who follows me on twitter knows. Right, guys!

(I first 'met' Ben on Twitter and I can vouch for his painful shyness. His handle is  )

7. Are there any books or writers that have had a profound impact upon you?

Lots of books. Mainly Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Growing up, I wanted to be Holden Caulfield so much. It was the book that made me want to become a writer. Other books that have influenced me: Adrian Mole (genius), Lucky Jim, Billy Liar, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Everything by Bret Easton Ellis, Douglas Coupland. Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Patrick Hamilton, Dave Eggers, Anne Tyler, Barbara Trapido. I’m also a big fan of Geoff Dyer and Richard Yates.

8. Is there anything you dislike about being a writer?

Lots of things. In particular the looks you get in the early days when you tell your friends you've given up your job to write a book. It’s like telling someone you've quit a promising career to try and turn mature cheddar** into gold. Also I am quite a sociable person, but being a writer is largely anti-social which is why twitter is so great. It’s like having an office where you can chat to people by the coffee machine, only you have an incredibly frightening boss who’ll only allow you to do this in very short sentences of 140 characters.

9. Are there any questions you did not want to be asked?

I'm very glad you didn’t ask me about that embarrassing incident involving the toothbrush in the book that I included at the last minute when my editor wasn’t looking and which still causes me lots of problems with relatives who can’t understand, WHAT I THOUGHT I WAS DOING.

Many thanks for the interview Derek. It’s been fun!



* So that's where I've been going wrong! 
** Second cheese reference. Just thought I'd mention it.


Friday, 18 May 2012

Spit it out

It's better to light a candle...
than pay for electricity.

William Shakespeare said: "Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honour, I lose myself." That, of course, was back in the days when we didn't have honour sat-nav.

The problem with honesty is that it can disengage an audience faster than the phrase emotional rollercoaster. And when it relates to the practice of writing, well, I don't want to burst anybody's bubble...


Oh, go on then, you've twisted my arm. 


Writers, as a bunch of people, are:
- Superstitious (favourite notebook, anyone?).
- Obsessive (just one more edit and then I'm done).
- Prone to fits of frustration, depression, and utter, bloody bewilderment.
- Incredible optimists and terrible pessimists.


And why is this? Well, in my opinion, it's because we have set ourselves goals that we have no overall control of. This is true of most of life's ambitions, but cut me a little slack please for the promise of a good tale in a minute or so. We write, we edit and we craft away like a happy elf, only to hand over our precious literary progeny to strangers. And then we wait.


Okay, story time. Make yourself uncomfortable, blanket at the ready. Then let us begin...


30th June 2011 - The sun shone and the birds sang like angels. Why? Because an independent publisher whispered those magical words though my inbox: We are happy to receive submissions. I sent off material from my Brit thriller, Standpoint, the next day.


13th October 2011 - I ping the editor and a few days later receive this tantalising morsel: We are due to discuss at next editorial board meeting. Holy criminy, this could be the one!


23rd December 2011 - I ping the editor again. Yes, I know it's a bit pingy, but two months is a long time to grip your tenterhooks and my fingers were beginning to ache.


10th January 2012 (Happy New Year, anyone?) - Apologies for the delay but Christmas crept up on us quicker than we expected. We are not now due to meet until the end of January but we will be discussing 'Standpoint' at that time. And the song that's playing in my head is this one


17th April 2012 - I not only ping the editor, I also use the word 'ping' in my email. Light hearted desperation, that's me! The next day (at least the ping replies are coming quicker) I receive this: Sorry for the delay. We are actually due to discuss Standpoint next week. Will get back to you as soon as...


16th May 2012 (I think it was Spike Milligan who wrote: The milk of human kindness hasn't dried up, but oh Christ, it's in short supply.) I write to the editor, explaining that it's been a month since the last reply and a whisker under 11 months since I first submitted to them. 


I also say that I appreciate, as an indie publisher, they've probably got a ton of other activities to attend to, as well as day jobs. This is true, because I know from my own experience with A Word with You Press, that indie publishing is as much as labour of love as it is a business enterprise. I also suggest, perhaps radically, that I'd like to have a quick chat on the phone. I figure that my NVQ in Customer Service ought to cut both ways. And, mindful that there is a story here about the challenges of being an indie publisher, I ask if they'd be interested in being interviewed for either this blog or Strictly Writing, so we can all get an insight into the view from their desk.


17th May 2012 (In the wee, small hours - say what you like about them, but their turnaround time for emails has really come to good), I receive this: Firstly many apologies for the ridiculous amount of time it has taken us to come to a decision. I'm afraid that at this point we will not be taking our interest any further. Best of luck with your search for a suitable publisher and once again sorry it has taken so long to come up with this response. 


The letters that came to mind were W, T and F. 


And so, on the basis that I have nothing to lose, and that I'm now like a terrier with a rancid bone, I have asked them: when they actually came to a decision and what factors were involved, whether they can provide me with any feedback, and why the wheels came off this experience to the point where the go-kart actually became just a large box with a piece of rope tied on the front. 


UPDATE 26 May - Despite a second ping, no response from the editor. All agents and editors have an absolute right to accept or reject work as they see fit, and they're under no obligation to justify themselves. But it's not unreasonable to expect them to behave with professionalism and some common decency. Why wait 11 months and only respond when I prompt them? 


FINALE 31 May - I received something more concrete from the editor. The overriding reason for deciding against 'Standpoint' was the feeling that it did not fit with the rest of our portfolio. We're looking to explore outsider culture and ultimately 'Standpoint' does not reflect that. It is a solid idea and with a good editor will be a sellable book. However, I'm afraid we're are not in the right place to do that for you

Monday, 14 May 2012

Flash Fiction that speaks for itself

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a kindly editor - by the name of Rachel Carter - brought together a disparate bunch of writers in the West Country to create a flash fiction anthology.


Fortunately, my off-colour comments didn't put her off any and five of my shortest pieces have been added to the pot. (I should point out here that, as far as I know, I'm the only writer who noticed the loophole that didn't specify a limit on entries.) 


Kissing Frankenstein & Other Stories, which takes its title from an entry by prize-winning writer Tania Hershman, is packed to the gills with intelligent, diverse and surprising flash fiction. Think of it as the bonsai of literature.


The anthology of 53 pieces, by writers from all over the West Country, was produced in celebration of National Flash-Fiction Day, which is on May 16th this year.


Along with all the other writers involved, I'd like to thank Rachel Carter and her team of word elves who made it all possible.


It's a great little read that loses nothing in its brevity and can be purchased here.
















Saturday, 5 May 2012

One more thing - found in a notebook


I suppose you're wondering why this note has been left for you on the mantelpiece. Don't worry, all will become clear by the time you get to the end. First off, I've left you. I can't say I'm leaving you, as that has been happening, by degrees, ever since you had that affair at work. Oh, I know we went to counselling and both worked on our issues. I know we said we'd both try harder. But all my soul searching has led me to one irrefutable conclusion: I can't be with you any more. That doesn't mean that I don't care about your well-being. Fifteen years of what was once a happy marriage can't all be undone, even by your infidelity. I want you to be happy, but I want me to be happier more than that.

You're probably wondering what did it, whether there was something you said or did that finally pushed me over the precipice? Well, it wasn't the second affair - the one you thought I didn't know about, with one of your sales reps, even though the scent of her perfume on you after those conferences used to make me want to retch. But, for the sake of everything we'd worked for, I tried to get beyond it. 

No, my light bulb moment, when I got wise to the fact that it was always going to be like this from now on, was when you suggested we didn't need to go see someone anymore and air our dirty laundry in front of a stranger. Because, you see, I kept on seeing him. And, over time, I started to see a pattern, going all the way back to my first boyfriend - the one I told you about when you accused me of being insecure. You were right - I did have a problem after all. And now I've decided to fix it.

It's important that you don't misunderstand me when I say that I don't want you to come and find me. I know exactly what I'm doing, perhaps for the first time in a very long while. We'll need to sort out all the details - house, savings and so on - but my new solicitor will be in touch with you after the weekend.

I know this must come as a shock to you. You were probably expecting to return home with a suitcase of washing and some improbable tales about sales projections and what Mr Latimer said in the bar. The only thing is, I've seen the photos of the two of you cosying up together - you and Joanne, I think her name is? I also know that she's married, for the time being anyway.

Do some thinking over the weekend about what you want to do with the house. I don't mind if you want to buy me out; otherwise we can sell it. And please don't ring my mobile. If you do I'll just change the number. One more thing, don't forget to put the rubbish out Sunday night. Take care and all the best for the future.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

It all started a couple of weeks ago.

I don't know whether there was finally enough sunlight in the morning to adjust my circadian rhythm, if it was because I was able to set Scars and Stripes aside with something approximating a smile, or even if I'd just managed to write a few decent jokes for greetings cards. But whatever that thing was, I woke up with a sense of well-being.

Everything was okay. The books would get published, or they would not. The sitcoms would live to see daylight again, or I'd charge them rent for living on my hard drive. I felt as if, in some indescribable way, that I'd arrived at a point of stillness.

Life still flicked dried peas in my direction, of course. Writing rejections, temping shenanigans, and the curious incident of the non-appearing garden waste bin, to name but three. Even today, someone thinks it's perfectly acceptable to offer me £0.007 per word for copywriting. I, naturally, gave them my £0.112's worth of polite decline. But in the balance, when I weigh everything up, it's all okay.

Anyway, I really just popped in to say that today I am joining the Strictly Writing blog which I have followed avidly for some time. As the new boy, I've been grilled and toasted, and will be served with a vinaigrette salad. You can read the introduction here.

Whether you're celebrating May Day, Beltane, Labour Day, Labor Day or even the anniversary of the birth of the Duke of Wellington, have a good one.