Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Sign of the Times



I believe it was the Roman philosopher, Tacitus Bloggas, who decreed that the 31st of December (or whatever they called it back then) should be marked with a blog reflecting on the year that has been. Also, let's face it, list pieces are easy on the eye.

Like many writes I start each year with a set of goals - some are carefully considered SMART goals, while others are the equivalent of me shouting up at the starry night sky in the hope that the Universe is listening.

So, this year, my list included these gems (with additional, helpful commentary after the fact in blue):

1. Write a certain number of articles and, equally importantly, get a certain amount publishers. Ideally, those two amounts will match. Although I wrote the pieces and although I had no direct control over their publication I did meet my quota by and large. Some articles are still in outline, ready for next year.

2. Get a book contracted. At the time of writing, I am awaiting feedback on a book proposal I was invited to submit (after I pitched something). It's a different kind of book and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

3. Experiment with Amazon's giveaway and price reduction functionality on Kindle Select. I had a play around with the pricing - which I written about elsewhere on this blog - and learned more about marketing and the value of Twitter. Sales went up a little, freebies were taken in their hundreds and I got one new review.

4. Complete the first draft of new novel-in-progress, The Caretaker. I have to report [solemn, Churchillian voice] that I only reached 38,000 words. I'm disappointed - and so is my champion beta reader, Sarah Campbell, probably, but it was hard to commit fully to book three in a series while still trying to place book one. Plus, I was also trying to work as a freelance writer and find a home for transatlantic comedy drama, Scars & Stripes.

5. Write more gags and sketches for performance. I had some comedy material performed this year and got paid too. In addition, one of my gags was used on BBC Radio 4 Extra's Newsjack, which was a bit of a treat.

6. Produce another 'Little Book' for publication. This one is a bit of a fudge actually because I already have four additional Little Books in development. What I did do was explore acquiring the rights to the original Little Book of Cynics and look at branding for the other little books. Chances are that I'll be creating more ebooks in 2014. Get your cash ready!

7. Decide how and where to specialise in my writing. For a long time I have struggled with the idea of branding as a freelancer. Here's a pen picture of what I write, at different times and to varying degrees:

Fiction (short and long) - sci-fi, fantasy, thrillers, children's stories, crime, comedy dramas and contemporary fiction.
Non-fiction - green living, business, human interest, Mind, Body & Spirit, and writing about writing.

I know, it's starting to look like a CV post. My point is that the lack of a brand or clear specialism troubled me. And then, just this month, I read Write. Publish. Repeat and then I had a rethink and a mini epiphany (a miniphany?).

It's hardly revolutionary, but here it is: I WRITE WHAT I WRITE, RIGHT? In fact, arguably, that very flexibility and diversity is my brand. 

Anyway, that's this year all wrapped up. I really want to thank all my readers and clients for your custom this year, especially those who left reviews or comment on freelancing sites, this blog or the Strictly Writing blog, or on sites for book reviews and sales.

Stick around - next year is going to be interesting.

Derek

Monday, 16 December 2013

One year on

It's tempting to see the world of publication - and self-publicaton especially - as purely a numbers game. That makes for a simple equation: 'n' sales = 'n' success. Likewise, using that logic, small sales = small success. But is that always the case?

It's a little over a year now since I took the plunge and self-published Covenant, my fantasy, in ebook and paperback. I was always upfront with others and myself that it was never just about the money. That didn't even register on my top five list:
1. Get Covenant out there.
2. Get reviews.
3. See whether readers got the essence of Covenant, given its mystical and magical heart.
4. Learn about marketing (another form of mysticism and magic, as far as I was concerned), and what works for a book like mine.
5. Go into a bookshop and see Covenant on the shelf.

Okay then, maybe sales / money was hovering around six or seven.

So how did I get on and what have I learned?

1. Covenant is out there and I'm very proud of it. Both the ebook and the paperback versions benefited enormously from my having supportive friends with technical expertise of, on the one hand, formatting ebooks and negotiating the labyrinthine (to me) process of setting everything up on Lightning Source, and, on the other, turning a word doc into an actual book file. I also discovered that one more proofread is worth its way in gold (let me know how you do that). It's all fixed now, but early purchasers may find those few typos make it a collector's item in the years to come!
2. I have a clutch of reviews by people who clearly appreciate what Covenant is about. I mean the deeper stuff - the story behind the story. I can always use more though - just in case anyone is still holding back.
3. Some readers loved Covenant and wanted to discuss it with me. That was fun. Others found it too long and wordy (as opposed to numbery, which only applied to the top right of the page header). Them's the breaks, as they say.
4. What I learned about marketing and sales may be specific to me, but I'm the caring, sharing type:
a) Chain and independent bookshops are not that interested in self-published novels. You can chat for a few minutes, leave a paperback and an ebook on a disc, shake on it and still never hear from them again. They have a business to run and if you can't demonstrate the profitability of your book - or you get your timing wrong - you'd best chalk it up to experience.
b) Giveaways on Kindle help spread the word, but don't hound your Twitter followers with endless (if occasionally witty or ingenious) messages about your opus. Also, freebies do not automatically lead to reviews of any persuasion. I gave away about 300 copies and received a single review - but thanks anyway.
5. I regret to report that I'm still waiting to see Covenant on a shelf in a bookshop. I could sneak one in for effect and have someone take a photo of a delighted me, but that would just be cheating. 

So is that the end of the story then?
Not at all.

I know that Covenant will be a grower and I know that because my portfolio of books is growing. When I read about someone recently who'd written 20 books, I was envious of their productivity. And then I counted up my own books - published and unpublished, novels and others - and it totalled 13. Lucky for some. 

So, although at the moment Covenant is my only full-length novel in print and digitised, it won't be the last. And of course, at some point, there'll be the sequel.

I also know that tribe is really important and I struggled to find the ideal readership for Covenant. I didn't want fantasy readers to try it and find it too esoteric or occult, and I worried that readers of occult books would find it too lightweight to be considered a credible work on the subject.

To some extent I still have that argument in my head. I mean, is Covenant a mystical fantasy, an epic quest, a set of pathworkings, a spiritual allegory, or a book about magic?

The truth is that it's all of those things, and more. You see, that's the thing about a book - it's not just the characters that have lives of their own! It's true of any form of artwork: it is what it is. If you like it, that's genuinely brilliant for the creator. And if you don't, it's a bummer all round, so you'd best move on and find something else more to your liking.

However, if you do enjoy fantasy quests interspersed with ideas about reincarnation, the tarot, pathworkings, mythology, archetypes, magic, mysticism, allegory, the Western Mystery Tradition and the occult, Covenant could be just the thing. That also applies if you have a space in your bookshop!

You can purchase Covenant by clicking on the link: viewBook.at/Covenant 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

"It's never about the thing that it's about."


You'd think that being a writer is all about two things:

1. Writing stuff.
2. Getting that written stuff published or at least read.

However, there's much more to it than that and I'll warn you in advance that I may get arty and soulful. To begin with, it's a helluva thing to even consider calling yourself a writer, never mind actually telling other people about it. Because, when it really comes down to it, every piece of writing contains a little bit of you in it - your memories, your perspective, your experience of the people around you, your hopes and also your fears.

It can feel like an indulgence to spend quality time away from loved ones and friends, especially when you're using that time to wrestle with people and situations that you've created in your head. Reading also takes on another dimension. What used to be a leisure activity now becomes a vital part of your craft. You still read for enjoyment, but you also look closely at style, plot, characterisation and all the other elements that already give you sleepless nights.

Or try this one on for size: A writer is an artist.
You write fiction? Congrats - you're an artist.

There's also a deeper, inner level to this writing journey. Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way is a brilliant resource (among others) for getting into the soul of writing. I believe there is a part of every writer that is secretly - and sometimes overtly, on the page - grappling with the big issues - life, death, justice, purpose, love, freedom, etc. 

Sometimes we not only express who we are on the page, we also explore who we wish we were. Read between the lines and it's as powerful as therapy and as real as it gets.

So, here's the thing: when someone tell's you they've written something, or that they're working on something, treat them with kindness. When you give feedback, make it constructive - it's fine to say you didn't like it, as long as you say why. Feedback on what you enjoyed - and why - is also welcomed. However, tell the truth.

Some writers will not get the recognition they deserve. For some, the only feedback they'll receive is the snipy kind on ebook sites or forums. But wherever writers are on that endless and invisible ladder of literary success (often in the eyes of other people) they stay true to their writing. Well, you wouldn't expect anything less from a writer, would you?

Monday, 11 November 2013

Peace




"Peace is a decision, a process, a journey, a commitment. It comes from the desire for stillness within and balance without. It requires vision, to see what can be and not be trapped in what has beenWe always live in the shadow of those generations who came before us, as beneficiaries of their struggles, their generosity and also their mistakes. But we honour them - and ourselves - by the way we live now."

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Living with PTSD - a UK exhibition


Creativity serves many purposes. It can take us on journeys of the imagination, enable us to present new and interesting ideas to others, and even allow us to begin to heal. 

My friend, Villayat 'SnowMoon Wolf' Sunkmanitu, uses photography and poetry as a coping mechanism for living with PTSD and also as a way of raising awareness about PTSD and the therapeutic benefits of creativity.

Having produced Words of a Wolf, The Way of the Wolf and Soul of a Wolf, he has created an exhibition, Living with PTSD, which shares his work along with insights he has gained from the spiritual traditions of the Native American Lakota tribe. 

The exhibition will be housed at various locations across the UK and is showing from 5th - 30th November 2013 at Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery, 2 Wellington Street, Leicester LE1 6HL.


There will be a chance to meet Villayat on the opening night from 6:30pm – 9pm on Tuesday 5th November 2013.  You can find out more about his work by visiting his website: www.wolf-photography.com

He would also be happy to hear from you if you have a suitable UK venue for hosting the exhibition. Please contact him via his website.


VILLAYAT ‘Wolf ’ Sunkmanitu has gone to extreme lengths to cope with the daily struggles of post traumatic stress disorder. The former RAF policeman, who was stationed in Northern Ireland in the mid 1980s, has been down the conventional route of NHS therapy and private counselling sessions and tried less orthodox methods by spending time with Native American tribes who practise healing ‘Earth Medicine’.  Staying mainly with the Lakota tribe of the Great Plains in North America helped him explore the root of his PTSD.

The 49-year-old, who grew up in Highfields, Leicester, says: “When you’re learning about ‘medicine tools’ from teachers of this path, you’re learning about working on your spirit – your soul – and it’s a holistic form of medicine that affects your mind and body too.”

Numerous visits to indigenous tribes also enabled him to explore an affinity he feels with wolves and is where the name ‘Snow Moon Wolf’ was bestowed on him by one of the teachers, White Eagle. There, in the wilderness, he was able to photograph wolves and for once, away from the rat race, he felt at peace.

Photography is not the only coping mechanism he has found to handle PTSD, which has wrecked his opportunities to work and forced him to retire on health grounds.  Poetry is also a form of creative therapy – although his poems don’t make comfortable reading.  Titles such as Inner Turmoil, Survivor and Demons in my Soul clearly expose the torment, alienation and stigma he feels.

Villayat, who was born to Indian parents in the UK, says: “PTSD can be very debilitating. When you have a physical injury that people can see, they seem to be more comfortable with you than dealing with an invisible wound.

Villayat went undiagnosed for 12 years – a time he refers to as “hell.” As well as his own emotional difficulties, there’s a sense of injustice and anger about the way he believes many veterans of the Armed Forces have been let down by politicians.

It is 30 years since Villayat left the RAF. He was 19 when he was sent to County Down, Northern Ireland, for a two-year tour in 1983, assisting the RUC and other units engaged in counter terrorist activities. He attributes the mental scars to suppressing his fear during incidents he was involved in as part of his duties and an explosion in Belfast. Anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression, forgetfulness, disturbed sleep and flashbacks became part of his everyday life and it wasn’t until 1995 that he was officially diagnosed with PTSD after a serious road accident.

Even after diagnosis and treatment, he still can’t cope with busy places or potentially troublesome places so he avoids pubs and concerts and would rather be in the wilderness than walk down a city street.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Long and Winding Road


Name that song...


This blog post is a combination of three of my favourite things (no...not that...and not that either...) - serendipity, The Beatles and writing.

As you'll have read on this blog - and many others - a modern assumption, aided and abetted by the Internet and social media, is that you can gameplan your way to writing success. Masterclasses, editorial consultants, workshops, agents, publishers, street teams, and comprehensive strategies - all these and more, we are told, will assure you of eventual success. 

Now, before we get into a hoo-ha, let me state for the record that I have no issue with any of the aforementioned in themselves. Why would I when I can personally tick them off my own list (apart from a masterclass, which I couldn't afford!).

But...I'm acutely aware of the role that serendipity has in creative success, and I think it's so often underplayed. To illustrate my point, here is an extremely potted history of The Beatles.

The early line-up was John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. Stuart left the band to concentrate on his art studies. Brian Epstein saw the band at the Cavern Club, liked them and became their manager in 1962. The same year, Decca Records rejected the group, commenting that: "Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein." Despite that sage advice, George Martin subsequently signed them up for EMI's Parlophone label. Stuart Sutcliffe died tragically, aged 22. Ringo Starr (who'd previously been part of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes) replaced Pete Best, a move not universally popular with fans. A total of 12 original UK albums were released between 1963 and 1970, along with over 50 singles. After the band separated in 1970, all four Beatles went on to have solo careers, along with Paul McCartney creating Wings and George Harrison being part of The Travelling Wilburys. John Lennon was murdered in 1980 and George Harrison died in 2001.

Beatle related controversies include:
1. Pete Best being ousted from the band.
2. The original 'butcher' cover on the compilation album Yesterday and Today. 3. John Lennon's oft-quoted (usually out of context) comment about The Beatles being 'bigger than Jesus'.
4. Their time with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
5. More recently, Paul McCartney asking for some songs to now be credited to McCartney / Lennon rather than the other way around.
6. A lawsuit against George Harrison's My Sweet Lord brought by Bright Tunes for alleged copyright infringement of the Ronnie Mack song 'He's So Fine'.

I know, all too brief and not enough detail. Buy some books instead!

My point, other than to stimulate your Beatles-related curiosity, is to remind all us writers that fate, chance, or circumstance - call to what you will - has its part to play. Hindsight can make the improbable seem inevitable, and we never fully appreciate all the factors that contribute to success.

They can include:
- Inspiration and influences
- Talent
- Meeting the 'right' people for something to happen
- Making connections
- Timing
- What's going on in the world outside your creative endeavours
- Motivation
- Who's backing you and what influence they have
- What came before you
- What you encounter once you've generated some momentum
- Any controversy you become embroiled with
- How people feel towards you and your creative output
- How long it takes to reach sustainability
- Economics - yours, the business's and the marketplace


Or, as the Fab Four might have put it themselves: I Don't Want to Spoil the Party - What Goes On - All You Need is Love - I Should Have Known Better - We Can Work It Out - With a Little Help from My Friends - Misery - Revolution - Paperback Writer.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Momentum



 
See overleaf
It's long been said that the journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step. Well, that or the wrong destination. For writers - and especially in these social media saturated times - there are two gears whirring in the creative machine.

On the one hand, we're merrily (sometimes wearily, dejectedly, or triumphantly, depending on what else is going on) working on our current literary creation. While, on the other, we have a distant eye, like Chulainn himself, trained on the far horizon of future possibilities. Thus, one book becomes a series, a short story becomes an anthology, or a working writer becomes a brand.

A mixture of aspiration, inspiration, perspiration and belligerence powers this engine. Whenever a writer has faced that first blank page she or he is pursuing their very own questing beast - a nameless, indescribable creature that stalks the forests of their imagination, leaving clues and occasionally bestowing bounty.

Like many writers, I am occasionally asked to comment on other people's work. Nowadays, I'm much more guarded with my comments because I know how little it can take to bring the whole machine crashing to the ground in a tangle of twisted machinery and tears. Writers care about their work because their writing matters to them, which is just as it should be given the amount of time and toil it will take to get the job done.

So, how does one stay motivated?
- Be healthy
- Commit to developing your craft
- Have realistic goals (typically, time or chapters)
- Write regularly so that the muse knows where and when to find you
- Track your progress

Sustaining momentum on a piece of work is a tricky thing to pin down. Sometimes losing the thread (or the plot) is a great opportunity to re-evaluate the piece and see where it isn't working. There's also the real possibility that it isn't working because your heart's not in it anymore.

It has taken me months to get to 21,000 words of my latest novel. Novel number five, in case you were wondering. The critic and doubter in me has asked 'why bother?' if books one and two of the series have yet to be contracted. And yet, that very lack of external validation (there's still time, dear agent) is also a liberator. I'm once again writing for me - not a market, not an imagined face behind a desk, and most certainly not for a targeted audience. If ever there was a test for motivation and momentum, this is surely it.

My plan is to complete the first draft by the end of the year - somewhere around 100,000 words. NaNoWriMo should help with that focus.

It's important to recognise that we can give up writing at any time. No one would blame us - certainly not other writers. In fact, I recommend it.

Petulantly or otherwise, down tools for a week or so and lose your pen. Do you feel better for it? If not, then that's the very itch your pen scratches. That's why you do what you do - because:
a) It fulfils some creative part of you.
b) The stories want you to bring them to life on the page.

That was true before social media, writing masterclasses and strategies came along. Just you, your incredible imagination and the page. That's all you need to keep up the momentum.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The gravity of the situation

Our Rainwater Hub - water, water, everywhere!

I nearly titled this piece 'When in Rome' but I've never actually been there. Gravity, however, is a longstanding friend and helps me keep my feet on the ground. It's also the inspiration behind this post and its three different angles: Inspiration, the Practice of Writing, and The Garden.


The Garden

The image above is of a Rainwater Hub, which transformed our garden over the summer from a British Sahara to somewhere self-sufficient in water, thanks to its ability to gravity feed other water butts up to 150 feet away from the Hub.

It was great for us and we now have four butts linked by hoses. Here's the website, which also contains clips on how to set everything up and other useful information: http://www.rainwaterhub.co.uk/. So if you're tired of dragging a hose from the tap, or lugging watering cans around, this could be the Christmas present to drop hints about. The principle behind the Rainwater Hub is the same one that the Romans used to transport water over great distances. 

Got that? Okay, let's move on with the theme.


The Practice of Writing

My take on the gravity principle for writing is that everything you write builds momentum in your writing practice. You learn something, you develop your craft and - perhaps most importantly of all - you have more material to promote yourself, sell, or get contracted. It can help to stick with a genre of subject, so that each piece, story or novel has a connection with the next piece you write, and so on. Every success lays firmer foundations for the future by building up your confidence and your portfolio. Each success also owes a debt to the past, to all the writing time you put in when nothing appeared to be happening. On the basis, it's never too late to start!

It's easier to secure writing jobs when you can share portfolio work, both as an example of what you've had printed / published and as a way of demonstrating your subject knowledge. It helps to know where you want to end up in terms of the type of writing you want to do. That can mean saying no to some opportunities, or being clear at the outset which paths you intend to follow. 

To give an example, I love short stories and will happily participate in competitions and submit material to anthologies. However, I'm selective about what I commit to because I know the types of story I prefer to write (plus the word count and tone). I don't write literary fiction per se, because it's not a genre I'm overly familiar with. Time and experience have taught me that suspense stories, sci-fi and what I'll call urban tales seem to form most easily in my brain. 

All that said, gravity and momentum can sometimes take you to strange places. Expertise built up in one area or genre can also give you tools and techniques that are themselves transferrable. A filler magazine column I currently write is directly linked to some website writing I did a few years back, which itself came about because of joke writing* and sketch writing experience with The Treason Show and the News Revue. And all of that humour writing has many of its roots in As Above So Below magazine (see elsewhere on this blog).

The techniques you might pick up and transport to pastures new include mind-mapping (which I used to call cross-referencing until someone pointed out the error of my ways), working to a deadline, identifying key themes and developing an overall concept, and how to research effectively. 


Inspiration

Sometimes, like the rainwater butt by our front gate, the end result can seem a hell of a long way from our starting point and our (drain) pipe dreams. It's easy to forget that we have everything to draw inspiration from, and that our role as writers is to narrow things down in a piece of writing, to specialise and refine until we meet a brief (even if it's one that we have imposed). Similarly, half a rooftop's worth of rain goes into the gutter, down a drain and out to the garden where we want it to be. 

When it comes to inspiration you can't control when it will come or if there will be sufficient momentum for it to go anywhere. But you can increase your chances of success by being prepared, by being clear about the sort of writing you want to do, and by committing to develop yourself as a writer. I submit to you that no piece of writing is an end in itself, unless we choose to make it so. 



* By way of illustration, I recently had a gag performed on Radio 4 Extra's Newsjack. I knew which website to check and I knew how to put something together based on topical news.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Themes of The Manhattan Puzzle


I'm delighted to present a guest post about author Laurence O'Bryan, who writes modern day mystery-thrillers with a twist or three. First there was The Istanbul Puzzle, which necessitated six visits to Istanbul for research (now that's commitment!). Then came The Jerusalem Puzzle, which continued the story and features the same characters. And now, there's the third book in the series, The Manhattan Puzzle, which launches October 10, 2013.


Interesting facts about Laurence in his own words (with additional comments from me in italics).

I was first published by a school newspaper when I was ten. (Start young if you can.)
The Istanbul Puzzle was shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award 2012. (Get your work out there.)
My roots go back to a small estate deep in the Mountains of Mourne, near the Silent Valley, in County Down, Northern Ireland. (Recognise your own history and heritage.)
I went to school in Dublin, drank way too much, studied English and history, then business, then IT at Oxford University. While a student, I worked as a kitchen porter in a club near the Bank of England. (Live a full life and incorporate it into your writing along the way.)
I have also published a guide to social media called, Social Media is Dynamite. (Diversify!)

Laurence's top tip for writers

"Don't expect easy success, it's an illusion, and don't expect to find a short cut, there's only the long way, but do expect to become a writer through the torment and toil that will make you one."

The Themes of The Manhattan Puzzle
By Laurence O’Bryan

What has been hidden in Manhattan by the most powerful people on earth?
What would you do to a Manhattan banker who treated ordinary people like slaves?
What magic is buried under Manhattan that allows it to rise again from anything the world throws at it?
The BXH Bank Building NYC
BXH Bank building, Manhattan, vehicle entrance visible under the arch.
Image © LP O’Bryan

These are the themes of The Manhattan Puzzle. The story sees Sean and Isabel (my characters from The Istanbul Puzzle and The Jerusalem Puzzle) reunited in Manhattan at the headquarters of one of the world’s largest banks, BXH. There’s been some grisly murders, and now the plot takes a new twist. The contents of the book they found in Istanbul are revealed.
My personal journey with this story grew out of my disgust at the financial crisis that has brought many so low. I am interested in the myths and the beliefs of those who value money above everything.
But The Manhattan Puzzle is about other things too. For instance, what would you do if your partner didn’t come home one night? And what would you think if the police turned up at your door the next day looking for him?
Relationships are under stress everywhere, because of the demands placed on us by our jobs, but few of us will face what Isabel has to face when Sean goes missing. 
There is violence from the start in The Manhattan Puzzle too, but the opening has a woman inflicting it on a man. I am tired of reading about men inflicting sexual violence on women. I think it’s time for the handcuffs to swop wrists. And they certainly do in The Manhattan Puzzle. You can download the first chapter here as a pdf.  
But don’t get me wrong. I love Manhattan. It’s a city in a snow globe of dollar bills. So look in your bookstore and on your E-readers and order it too, if you want. 
To order The Manhattan Puzzle click here.
Or to visit my website click here.
And thanks for reading this and for buying The Manhattan Puzzle, if you do. I hope you find it entertaining and the themes interesting.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Online magazines - reincarnation for paper copies

I write a couple of columns for a magazine and I was recently checking out my work on the net (what can I say, I'm a big fan of my own writing). And then, like an idea faery flicking my earlobe, it came to me.

What if I took one of the much-loved but rarely seen copies of As Above So Below magazine, co-written with David French, and put it online for a new generation of readers?

We had talked about it in the past, but shied away from the idea because of technical issues with the files and, frankly, wondering what the point was. Plus, that ideas faery probably wasn't flicking my ear hard enough.

But now, thanks to www.issuu.com, it was as easy as uploading a massive PDF file. 

You can read one of the mags online here:
http://issuu.com/aasb/docs/


The other thing that inspired me to do this was the excellent BBC4 programme about The Wipers Times, written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman. The programme dramatised the events and people that contributed to the creation of a satirical magazine, produced on the front line in WWI Ypres. 

Not that I'm making comparisons, just drawing inspiration. 

We started As Above So Below because we felt there was a niche (and a desperate need) for satire in the alt lifestyle arena. It was also a way to showcase our own writing and to stretch ourselves as writers. With the mag we learned about deadlines, formatting, writing around a theme and the challenges of distribution when you are also responsible for publication.

Now, as I look at that first proper issue online (we never talk about issues 1 to 4...), I can see so much that I came to take for granted. The inventiveness, the playfulness and, at times, the vitriol for what we saw as values and ideals often chopped up into buy-it-sized pieces. It was all there at the beginning - characters, recurring motifs and an almost desperate desire to be heard and read (which was hopefully tempered over subsequent issues). 

What I also like is the way we didn't care what people thought. Remember when your writing was last like that? Writing because it's what you want to write. Mostly, I think, I love the magazine because we made it happen all by ourselves and because, for a time, we had a cult following (albeit a small cult). It's funny too. 

So we're thinking about releasing more mags online, if there's sufficient interest, and seeing where it takes us. Incidentally, the magazine's claim to fame is that, thanks to our friends and stockists, Geraldine and Bali, at The Atlantis Bookshop, a mag cover appears briefly in a More 4 TV programme: A Very British Witchcraft.

Now, have you ever reappraised some old writing or given it a new lease of life? 


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Why the unknown is a writer's friend


Get ready guys because the sun is coming...probably.

Life is uncertainty. And I'm pretty certain about that. It's true for writing as well, of course.

Characters walk a tightrope that's fixed to idea at one end and completion at the other. Far below in those chasmy* depths lurk cliche, overworked allegory, formula and a host of other pitfalls.

Plots that start out as something of a romance-turned-sour can end up as terror or slapstick.

And hey, let's not forget what I call the Superwriting trilemma: Is it a bird (short story)? Is it a plane (novella)? No, it's Superwriting (novel)!

So, when you plan to write fiction, the only thing to be certain of is that very little is certain at the beginning. Later, as things progress, other uncertainties fill the spaces left behind.

Who do you show your work to?
When do you show them your work?
When (oh when) is the piece of writing good enough to merit 'The End'? (Which, incidentally, we never, ever write on a manuscript, only in a writing diary.)

See what I mean? Everywhere you turn there's a stack of unknowns, piled high on your plate like unclaimed waffles.

And that's a good thing.

Here's why:

1. There's a prevailing attitude that anything can be learned by rote and then a winning formula can be repeated. Now, I have a keen interest in NLP and the effectiveness of modelling (the kind that doesn't require pouting and swimwear), but while we can model behaviours and techniques, that's no guarantee of a similar outcome. You may well improve the odds of a positive outcome, but that could be another result entirely.

2. Because life is inherently uncertain, embracing that philosophy not only gives you hope, it empowers you to try things others may have done, and even, perish the thought, things they tried and failed at.

3. As nothing is guaranteed except death and taxes (even for corporates, until a tax avoidance scheme is identified), you can try anything.

A case in point. My good friend Sue ran a successful Amazon giveaway and follow-up campaign. She gave away a fair few books and sold oodles afterwards. I, on the other hand, gave away 300 freebies and sold less than a dozen afterwards. Now, there may be many reasons why there was a difference:
- Genre / niche
- Tweet messages (twessages?)
- The style of writing
- The standard of writing
- Mercury being retrograde (if I have to explain it, it won't be as funny)
- The timing of the campaign and the time of day
- Price (last, but never least)

So what do you do when things don't work out for you the way you planned?
Simple. You do something else.

If there's a message here (and I think we're all hoping), it's that you write, you do whatever you feel is appropriate with your writing, and then you write something else.

Actually, I fibbed right at the beginning. There is another certainty beyond uncertainty and it's this: If you stop writing, you stop being a writer. Hand in your badge on the way out.

*chasmy is my new word of the week - neat, huh?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

What is a blog for? Over to you.

If blogs were logs and my computer were a garage.
As some of you know, I recently experimented with a giveaway for my fantasy novel, Covenant. Around the same time, I decided I needed to review the way I use social media and evaluate what I give to it and what I get back in return.

Blogging has always been my favourite social media activity. I love the interaction between bloggers, and the generosity of those master bloggers out there who shares tips or who offer guest spots. 



http://masqueradecrew.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/b-is-for-brainstorming-atozchallenge.html 

I recently got some valuable blog feedback from Glen Long (via Jon Morrow) over at http://guestblogging.com/ and it got me thinking (some more). 

He asked what the purpose of my blog was. 

I made a list and it seems that the purpose is manifold:
- Promote my fiction?
- Sell my services as a writer / editor?
- Showcase my work?
- Engage with and entertain readers?
- Engage with and support other creatives?
- Make some money?

He suggested I make my headlines clearer and more dynamic. So, for example, based on the content, where I titled a recent post The beer essentials, he suggested I go with How to Use Action to Reveal Your Character's True Essence instead.

Glen also suggested I consider hosting a blog on my own domain

Now, this is the bit where you come in.

It's a two-part quiz.

1. How do you see this blog and why do you visit (and by the way, thanks for coming)?

2. What is your blog for and does it fulfil your intent?

3. And for a bonus point, what's your experience of hosting your blog on your own domain - benefits and drawbacks, please?

As long as you're not selling pharmaceuticals, extensions (you know the kind), money-rich schemes, writing content farms, weaponry, porn or political / religious ideologies, you're welcome to include your blog link in with your answer and state - in one short sentence - what your blog is for.