Saturday, 31 May 2014

Underground Writer

Maybe Snaresbrook?
Of all of Rudyard Kipling's six serving men (you don't need a link - you can search for it on the web if you don't already know them), I think the most powerful is what - especially when it's followed by if. And yes, that is another Rudyard Kipling reference - well spotted. 

What if enables us to bring together entirely unrelated ideas and subjects, just for the curiosity of seeing what would happen. It can helps us write fiction, or comedy, or fill a blog post when we hadn't had time to put one together and a self-imposed deadline is looming. But enough talk of me.

Two of my favourite things (yes, I can hear the tune too) are advertising and the London Underground. The first fascinates me because it uses concepts to sell products through a variety of techniques, among them: word play and association. The London Underground forever has a place in my heart because I grew up in London. Anne even bought me a book of disused tube stations for my birthday. Now that is commitment. 

What the flip has any of this to do with a rushed blog post I hear you thinking. (I have exceptionally good hearing in that respect.) Well, what if tube stations were renamed to take advantage of brand sponsorship? Where would that leave us? Round about here...

Alpen-ton
Angel Delight
Argos Grove
Barbican Lager
Burnt Oak Smoked Sausages
Debdenhams
East Ham & Cheese Toast Toppers
Eustone's Ginger Wine
Abercrombie & Fitchley Road
Terry's All Goldhawk Road
Old Holborn
Costerley Cutters
Theydon Bois Own Paper
Victoria Sponge
Wat-Ford Focus

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Schtick


My As Above So Below magazine co-creator, and former sketch writing partner, David French, came up with the following gag: Two heads are better than one, but it's hard to find a hat that fits. He has a point.

Even as a writer of fiction (itself one of my writing heads), I jump from genre to genre as the mood or the muse takes me. Long fiction or short fiction, I can usually pick out the influences - and influencers - of a story. Sometimes it's the style of writing; sometimes it's the voice or setting. It can be direct inspiration, such as Raymond Carver's voice in my head when I wrote Saturday Night and other tales after reading Will You Please Be Quiet, 
Please? Harlan Coben's pacing, Raymond Chandler's dry humour and a dash of Mark Billingham's grittiness seeped into Standpoint and the other Bladen novels. Sci-fi story Rogue owes a debt to Asimov and Perfect Circle quietly nods to Huxley.

I used to worry that my own voice would sometimes be lost in the chorus, as if the process of trying on different hats might rob me of the opportunity to speak for myself. The truth is more complex, I think. I am all those voices and I quite like the multiplicity. I suspect that's why some of my favourite freelancing jobs have been those that required writing in character.

I used to call it cross-referencing when I was younger - the way that anything and everything led to something else. I think I'm wired that way, taking on personae or linking things together even if they appear disparate at face value. It might also explain why I enjoy the process of comedy writing so much - the collision of ideas and inversions.

Perhaps the two stories that are most demonstrably me are fantasy Covenant, my first novel (we don't count the teen novel that went into the flames), and Scars & Stripes, a semi-autobiographical comedy drama, even though the narrator - to my ears - sounds a little like Clive James at his most sanguine.

The moral of this ramble is that your duty as a writer is to find out who you are on the page and away from it. A good sign that you're getting somewhere, however many hats you end up wearing, is when people have a strong response to your words. When readers care enough about what you write to review your work - whatever they think - you know you're on to something.

I'm several voices, across several genres, across several types of writing. That's my schtick. What's yours?

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Change Please - Part 1

Magnolia needn't be dull.
No, not a promo for one of my excellent and delightfully affordable ebooks; instead, a pause for reflection. If writing teaches us anything, it's that change is inevitable. The blank page, if worked upon, becomes a tentative piece of writing and then develops into something. (Even disillusionment is something!)

The same is true of writers themselves. When we stick with the practice of writing, we develop - on the page and off it. We learn as we go, playing to our strengths and, hopefully, working on our weaknesses.

Sometimes what becomes a strength isn't what we were naturally good at; we were simply motivated enough to become proficient. Proficiency in a subject or a skill can be absolutely fine and needn't take 10,000 hours to get there. Sometimes you reach a destination only to find, although you've enjoyed the journey, you never want to go there again.

As a freelancer I started off with a simple (one might say, naive) strategy, which was never to turn any work down. I'd left corporate-ville with a my skills and aspirations tied to a stick and I was keen to experience the wider world of writing and being a writer. Consequently, in many respects I've been something of a generalist. 

In fact, by my estimation, I've written or edited across a range of subjects, including but not limited to:


Sushi, yoga, poo, voucher discounts, weddings, sex, matchmakers, VOIP, exhibitions, technology and software, PTSD, ageism at work, surveillance, new businesses, interior design, website design, social media, branding, life-long learning, online dating, a detective agency, education, interviews, coaching, freelance writing, safeguarding, staff motivation, parental engagement, exercise, cycling, art, health, green living, green tech, television and, of course, chickens.

It's a diverse track record and, as business branding experts will tell you, it's better to establish a specialism (preferably more than one) to enable the clients you want to find their way to you.

Let's call that the horizontal change, leading us naturally to consider a vertical change.

Like I said, back in paragraph four (You remember? We had tea and cakes at the time.), my approach to freelancing was pretty simple at the outset:
1. Find clients.
2. Provide writing services for them.
3. Get paid.
4. Return to item 1, lickety split.

Even in the short time I've been freelancing the landscape has changed (some might say evolved while others prefer degenerated). So-called content farms spring up like wildflowers or weeds, depending on your perspective. There are also numerous sites out there now, offering writing work for businesses or others that host small ads. Often, several sites host links to the same small ad - and we'll come to that in a moment.

Returning to my theme of change, before you have to catch your bus, no strategy lasts forever. As you progress, you re-evalusate what works (and how effectively) and what doesn't. 

See, that didn't take long. 

I can't recall how I first found Craigslist, but ole Craig has been good to me. I used to frequent Craigslist - frequently - when I had no other writing work on the go. By trial and error, I figured out which cities offered the best prospects (some of which were not what I expected), and which to avoid. Thanks to Paypal and the letter 'z', I ploughed a satisfying furrow across North America, notching up a variety of unconnected adventures such as: selling a Volkswagen Beetle (thanks, Kyle), notching up a brief stint as a Toronto magazine columnist, helping to brand a raccoon (it's a long story) and connecting with Thorn Sully and everyone at A Word with You Press in Moscow, Idaho (an even longer and funnier story). 

Overall, Craigslist has made me several hundred pounds (more, actually, but no one likes a show-off). Also, it has to be said, I've been ripped off once or twice, which statistically is par for the course. (Yes, I know there's a Craigslist white paper in all of that somewhere - quote me a price...)

However, just as a novelist wouldn't expect their fiction to remain the same forever, so a freelancer needs to develop how they do business. More on that in Part 2, in due course.

In the meantime, Craig, we'll always be friends.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Newsclash

Often, in the frenetic pursuit of publication and plaudits, it's easy to forget why we became writers in the first place. Back in the day, when I picked up a pen and scribbled notes down in my teens, I wasn't thinking about seeing my name in lights. I was spending time alone, trying to make sense of the world and conjuring ideas for their own sake. (Dark ones, often, given that I wasn't a very jolly teen.) 

Writers I am fortunate to know, whether online or out there, periodically go through the 'Why am I doing this?' checkpoint that exists somewhere between burning enthusiasm and completed manuscript. 

We all know the well-worn answer that we write because that's what makes us writers. As well-worn as it is, there's great truth in it. The 'why' is less important than the 'whether'. If we're not writing, those ideas wither and die. The muse is a temperamental being and can quickly give up on us. For that reason alone, I court a whole bunch of them.

Writing legitimises our creativity - it gives those ideas somewhere to go. The wild, the dark and the frankly, disturbing - they're all part of us and, expressed on the page even temporarily, they give us an understanding we may not otherwise acquire. It can be fun too. 

With that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to my latest satirical ebook, composed of 100 or so adult humour gags, inspired by genuine news items. Someone asked me why I wrote this kind of material - and why I published it - and I answered thus: 
1. They're just ideas.
2. To write them, laugh at them, have other people laugh at them, and then disown them for fear of offending someone would be cowardice.



You can spend around a quid on it here.

You can read about the sister publication, Man Up!, here.

All reviews welcomed!