Thursday, December 13, 2007
I sailed through your novel with pleasure, the pleasure of reading a well-written, carefully plotted story with a logical, intelligent ending.
In my notes to myself about A HALF LIFE OF ONE, I wrote: This was a well-written, smoothly moving, stinging portrait of a seeming everyman, who is decent and willing to work hard, but within himself lurks a self-centered selfishness that enables him to be startlingly cruel. At the same time, there is an element of guilt and the fear of being caught that is his sentence to a torturous life.
Your ending was as unforgettable as Edgar Allan Poe’s THE CAST OF AMONTILLADO.
Thank God for the internet so that works like yours can be made available to readers.
All the best,
This struck me as an interesting take on the book so I asked Mr Crowe to tell me a little more about himself. Here's his biography:
Kenneth C. Crowe’s latest book is the free on-line novel, THE DREAM DANCER, which may be accessed at www.kennethccrowe.com.
Crowe was a labor reporter at Newsday and New York Newsday from 1976 to 1999. He is the author of COLLISION/HOW THE RANK AND FILE TOOK BACK THE TEAMSTERS. Published by Scribner's in 1993, COLLISION tells the story of the Teamsters' rank and file reform movement, culminating in the election of Ron Carey as president of the union.
Crowe won an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship in 1974 to study foreign investment in the United States. In 1978, Doubleday published AMERICA FOR SALE, Crowe's book on foreign investment in the United States.
Crowe was a member of the Newsday investigative team whose work won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal.
Definitely an interesting guy. Certainly enough to make me want to pop over and take a look at his online novel. Oh, and Scribner's were Scott Fitzgerald's publishers too, a connection which sent a little shiver down my spine.
Amazing who you meet on the web, isn't it? So much better than being stuck alone at home in the Pundyhouse without any kind of access to the outside world.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
As a kid I was a big library user. But it's nice to own books. So I started buying paperback books big time in 1964 when I was sixteen. I can't remember now but I must have suddenly become affluent - maybe I got a paper round - because I used to buy half a dozen books or more a month right up until the time I went to university in 1966.
The first book I ever bought was called something like "Kennedy: the first 100 days, a skeptical analysis" from the Paperback Bookshop in Edinburgh. I still have it although - because we have the builders in - I can't put my hands on it right now.
Next, in July 1964 I bought Henry James' "Washington Square". It cost 3/6 in old money which is 17.5 pence today or roughly 35 cents. Now, amortising that over 43 years and taking into account the fact that I've read it twice that equates to a written down value of around 0.00056 pence for the price of the book. In other words, that's what the book has really cost me given the length of time I've owned it. Since the book has around 60000 words that's a download equivalent to 10cc of fresh air per word (my calculator just can't handle such a small amount). Or half that already infinitesimal amount if I read it again within the next six months. Even less if my wife reads it too since she didn't buy it in the first place (we hadn't met back in 1964), and assuming I hire it to her at the going rate based on the current replacement value (which is standard practice in the hire business). I wouldn't hire it to my son though, because I wouldn't get it back from him.
Now, I've never met Jeff Bezos but I know he's a formidable businessman who must have done his sums on this venture. Even so, I'm prepared to take him on. If he can convince me that I can buy his little gizmo and download novels for less than the price I've been paying up to now, then I promise I'll go online right away and give him all my credit card numbers and he can take them up to their limits and beyond. Which, unfortunately for Jeff, is not very far. That is to say, I'll never buy another book.
Don't know what I'll put on my bookshelves in future though.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Production values this year were high. The costumes in particular - all made by Ms Pat Jennings, who also wrote, produced and directed the show - were magnificent. The plot - after numerous scary twists and turns - had a suitably happy ending. This was the first night of a three night run and I have no doubt that by Saturday everyone will reliably know their lines, or even whether they have lines or not. The backstage side of the operation was supported by fourteen people, while over twenty-five actors brought the plot - and the audience -to life.
Acting honours were shared equally by Neil Thomson as the thoroughly Wicked Wizard and a troup of under-fives as the Northern Lights Fairies. The biggest laughs of the evening were garnered by the veteran performer Robbie Marshall - who must be at least sixty- playing the parts of the Tyrone Turtle Dove and Basil the Tattie Bogle, although not at the same time. A Tattie Bogle is an old-fashioned Scots word for a scarecrow. Robbie Marshall is Scots for an old-fashioned farmer.
And it was the laughs that Robbie Marshall got that set me thinking.
Mr Marshall looks like Fred Flintstone after a rough night. Dressed in the full plumage of a turtle dove he looked deliciously ridiculous, notwithstanding a pair of fine-turned calves. The sheepish expression on his face added to the effect. His very appearance, then, raised a smile. But what made people really laugh out loud was whenever he opened his mouth. Mr Marshall you see speaks Doric. Doric is an old dialect native to the North-East of Scotland which is a sort of cross between Gaelic and Scots and it can be pretty impenetrable. Thirty years ago everyone round here spoke Doric, especially the farming community. Anglified Scots was their second language. Now the dialect is a rarity, especially amongst the young. Even young farming lads don't talk like that now. That's not the way they're taught, nor indeed the way the world works.
Of course the world has changed. Farming now employs many fewer people. The village itself is full of commuters. There are many more incomers. Many are English. Thanks to the motor car, and televison and the internet we are no longer isolated. People come and go all the time, especially the young. On the whole this is a good thing, this is progress. But not entirely. Something has been lost.
When you take away a man's language you take away part of his soul. Mr Marhall's grandsons and grandaughters are educated in a foreign language: Scots. They don't talk the way he does. I was born English - working-class English - and I too was educated in a foreign language: Middle-class English. I didn't talk the way my parents did. And of course with the imposition of a foreign language comes the adoption of foreign values and an alien culture. But it's not just the Education System that is foreign to indigenous minorities. The legal system, government, the BBC, most of the Establishment in fact belong to another culture.
I used to get pretty worked up about this state of affairs, what I saw as a massive injustice, this oppression of the minority by the majority, this denial of statehood.
Maybe that's the wrong reaction. Like everyone else in the audience last night I laughed loudly at Robbie's anachronistic accent. Even Robbie laughed good-naturedly at the way he sounded, albeit somewhat sheepishly. I guess he's had sixty years to get used to other people's reactions.
Either that, or he's been educated well in the new ways. Or weel learnt, as they still say up here.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
"What?" I muttered defensively.
"Haven't you got enough dictionaries already?"
It was a good question. I already own The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (Revised Edition), Bloomsbury Dictionary, Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, The Oxter English Dictionary and several others which I can never find when I need them. Like now. Oh, and there's half a dozen Encyclopedias as well, but they don't really count.
My all-time favourite dictionary though is called - I think - The Penguin Paperback Dictionary. It's about five years old. It's full of words , just like the others, but what distinguishes it is the excellent way it illustrates how they should be used. Or it did. Unfortunately, because it's a paperback I managed to break its spine in two. My wife took it away to get it re-bound. That was a year ago and I haven't seen it since. I really loved that book. Unfortunately, so does she. I can't seem to locate a replacement and I suspect it is now out of print. This latest purchase is okay, but it's not perfect so I guess the hunt will continue.
The new dictionary isn't completely useless though. Later that same night my wife was leafing through some notes pertaining to her Contract Of Employment. Her employers have been looking at the way their organisation is managed and have decided they need to implement some fairly radical structural changes. As a result they intend to "Allocate staff from departments to new divisions and issue proleptic contract changes to take effect 31 July 2008." Now, I've been in management for over thirty years and I've studied its workings in some considerable depth but this word is a new one on me. I hauled out the newly-purchased dictionary. "Proleptic: The representation of a thing as existing before it actually does or did so."
Wow. I can't decide in this instance whether the use of this word is Orwellian or more like something out of Alice In Wonderland. Either way, I'm glad I've got enough dictionaries to build a stout defence around me against this sort of management gobbledegook.
Monday, December 03, 2007
The first one was A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Somewhere recently in my wanderings around the blogosphere I'd stumbled on a review of the book on one of Maxine's many blogs and it made me wonder why I'd never read the book. Forty years ago when I was still at school I was addicted to Hemingway but I stopped reading him, mainly, I guess, for two reasons. Firstly, I felt I was being somewhat disloyal to my great hero (and Hemingway's occasional friend) Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway's reputation at that time was huge and growing. Fitzgerald, while popular, was somewhat in decline. I knew Hemingway was good, but not that good. To tell the truth I hadn't really enjoyed the last two books of his that I had read: For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. The latter, in fact, I rather disliked. It seemed contrived and stagey. False, even.
But the real reason I stopped reading Papa was that his style was so infectious, like typhoid. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Vigorous. Masculine. And frequently portentous. You couldn't read Hemingway and not write like him. Or at least a feeble parody. That voice was so hard to get out of your head. Fatal for a young writer.
Fortunately the voice is subdued in A Moveable Feast, barely a whisper in fact. It's an interesting memoir of his time in Paris as a penniless writer in the Twenties. It's well-written and atmospheric. It's plain how much his art - especially the search for truth - means to him. That search - about which he wrote extensively over the years - was the one that inspired me as a young man. As a writer he was a powerful role model, someone to look up to. As a person, less so. In the book he's kind and generous in his portrayal of Fitzgerald and praises The Great Gatsby highly which I found rather touching. Especially since he had long before fallen out with Fitzgerald big time.
I read A Farewell To Arms again a couple of years ago and I thought it stood up pretty well. Very well in fact. Indeed, I'd say it was one of the great novels of the twentieth century. Despite his apparent bravado and manliness Hemingway suffered terribly from depression. He died at the age of sixty-one on July 2, 1961 in Ketchum, Idaho when he blew his brains out with a shotgun. Reading about it at the time it seemed a shocking ending to an extraordinary career.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Michael Allen stood head and shoulders above his peers in the world of book blogging. Witty, informative, opinionated and original. Productive too. He reckons he's pumped out more than a million words on his blog since he started. That's a formidable achievement, almost a full-time job. I don't know when we'll see his like again.
I was lucky enough to conduct several e-mail coversations with him over the past couple of years. I was shamelessly plugging my blog and my book A Half Life Of One. I knew it. He knew it. And he knew that I knew it. It didn't matter. He always responded to the bait with good-natured kindness and plugged the blog and the book on several occasions. It was with mixed feelings that I realised that my book was the final subject on his final proper post. On this occasion I hadn't even asked for his help. Kind and generous to the end.
I hope he still inhabits the blogosphere and not just in spirit. If he does, and drops by here and reads this I'd like him to know just how grateful I am for all his advice, kindness and tacit encouragement over the years.
Gone maybe, forgotten, definitely not. Not for a long time.
Monday, November 26, 2007
There was confusion the following day at the hotel when Pundy discovered that his Press Conference had been double-booked with the Australian Society Of Sewage Engineers. The issue was resolved when the two bodies agreed to share the hall and alternate questions. The Conference Room on the fourth floor of the prestigious Rits Hotel was consequently packed at the appointed hour with financial analysts, agents, booksellers, TV executives and sewage engineers. Wally Ackerman, the Australian-born Director of the Society Of Sewage Engineers agreed to chair the meeting. A handout was given to each attendee explaining that because some delegates at a previous presentation had had trouble understanding the mellifluous tones of Mr Pundy, a translator would be employed to convert the publisher’s thick Scottish brogue into Received English.
At a little after 11.00am Mr Pundy and his assistant entered onto the stage and the excited hubbub in the room immediately died down. Mr Ackerman rose to greet the speakers.
“G’day,” he intoned with a smile, extending his hand in greeting to the rapidly advancing figure of Ms Malyszbienczy.
“Gdansk,” she corrected him coldly, brushing past.
Mr Pundy wore a large salmagundi-patterned bonnet with a plaid scarf wrapped round his face as protection against the Autumn chill, leaving only his eyes visible which gave the somewhat disconcerting impression that he was wearing a tartan burka. Ms Malyszbienczy for her part wore a black corduroy suit with a skirt so brief one delegate later described its virtual non-appearance as “a salutary and deeply-moving experience”. All eyes followed her as she took a seat on the podium beside her boss.
Mr Pundy wasted no time in launching into his speech. “Weel lads, it’s guid tae see sae mony weel-kent faces,” he tintinabulated through his scarf.
“Well boys, eez goot to zee zo meny well-knowed faeces,” translated Ms Malyszbienczy, smiling sweetly at the audience as she spoke, a number of whom felt quite faint at this point.
“Ony questions?” continued Pundy.
Ms Malyszbienczy stared at her boss for several seconds with a puzzled expression on her face. “’Ee is aksing you eef yew ‘ave eny questions,” she announced eventually, a look of triumph on her face.
“How are sales of A Half Life Of One holding up?” enquired a pin-striped analyst.
“Guid, laddie. Aye, canny complain.”
Every eye turned expectantly upon Ms Malyszbienczy. The auditorium was so quiet you could have heard a toilet flush in the adjoining Gent’s lavatory, especially if you had a trained ear like many of those present. “’Ee says ‘Goot’,” Ms Malyszbienczy explained eventually.
“Any new marketing initiatives?” enquired one of the Sewage Engineers, a young man in his late twenties who appeared particularly keen to catch Ms Malyszbienczy’s eye.
“Weel, chappie ye ken aboot ‘Buy One Get One Free’,” responded Pundy, “Weel, wer gonna blast that scheme richt oot the watter. From Monday wir launching ‘Buy one get five free’. Sales will gang through the roof” He turned to Ms Malyszbienczy and awaited her translation.
Ms Malyszbienczy’s eyes widened as she struggled to make sense of her employer’s speech. She shifted uneasily in her seat, swivelling her long, unsheathed legs from one side of her chair to the other. Two hundred pairs of eyes on the floor below swivelled in unison.
At that moment there was a commotion outside the doors of the conference hall. A stream of newly arrived sewage engineers was flooding into the atrium outside. Pressure quickly built up as the engineers jostled for space. Suddenly the doors to the hall burst asunder and a tsunami of cloacal experts surged into the room like effluent bursting out of a blocked storm drain.
As he disappeared beneath the seething, flocculating mass of humanity Pundy was heard to scream out, “Help ma boab!”
“Dobry wieczor,” translated Ms Malyszbienczy, on this occasion incorrectly.
Friday, November 23, 2007
I always hated exams. I am, as a result, sympathetic to the plight of the hapless students who will shortly be racking their brains for something intelligent to say about my masterpiece. I have therefore prepared the following crib sheet to help them in their scramble for exam points. Anyone who hasn't read the book (Note: I've seen the sales figures and that means you) should look away now in case the following revelations spoil their enjoyment of this literary tour de force.
1 The title A Half Life Of One is a reference to the radioactive decay of an organism as well as a pun on someone who, through their own fecklessness, only has half a life. (Note to examiner: A correct answer here is worth ten points. Anyone who compares the title to the sci-fi shooter computer game Half Life should automatically get half their marks deducted).
2 The book is a faint allegory of life under an occupying force such as existed in Vichy France during the Second World War. In the same way that ordinary people behaved badly then under enormous pressure so does the main character in AHLOO. (Note to examiner: This answer is worth 15 points provided the examinee does not stretch the allegory too far. Comparisons to Animal Farm should be marked down).
3 The main character in AHLOO is called Nick Dowty. Originally he was called Nick Doughty with his surname being ironic - he is anything but brave and persistent. The revised surname is a double pun - on both doughty and doubt (he is forever questioning the rightness of everything he does). The Christian name Nick is an homage to Hemingway's character Nick Adams. (Note to examiner: Award 5 marks for each correct part of this answer).
4 Reviewers have compared this work to The Bonfire Of The Vanities, Lord Of The Flies and unspecified works by Kafka. (Note to examiner: 3 marks for each apposite citation).
5 In the novel when the woman is kidnapped she is made to run to the car at the point of a gun. The author here echoes the way deportees to the concentration camps were made to run everywhere both to disorient them and to dehumanise them (they were treated as cattle). In the penultimate draft Nick Dowty actually screams at the woman in German but this was considered too unsubtle and revised into English. (Note to examiner: the examinee cannot possibly know this. Suspect cheating if this answer is given.)
6 The field of skulls is a parody of magic realism but also serves to highlight the strangeness of the landscape into which the woman is abducted (5 points).
7 The author has stated that he does not know what the buzzing sound is that emanates from the cottage in which the woman is kept. He maintains that not everything written in a novel is necessarily a "known known". However, accounts from the death camps report that after the poisoned gas was dropped into the gas chambers, prison guards outside would hear a sound like bees swarming which lasted for several seconds (0 points for this - it is simply something that everyone should know. About the death camps that is, the book does not matter).
8 The final chapter contains a parody of the end of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (5 points).
That's it. It simply remains for me to wish every candidate the best of luck. Your time starts now...
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
I've been working sporadically for about a year on a novel called "Mummy's Boy". This is very much a work-in-progress and I haven't really thought through the whole plot. It starts off telling the story of a boy from the age of five up until he's eleven in a fairly conventional way. The boy - you won't be surprised to hear - is really me at this stage. The child has a happy childhood despite the fact that his mother is a developing schizophrenic. His father is poor and increasingly given a hard time by the boy's mother. At this point I should say that the book is emphatically not a "misery memoir". These are the happiest days of the child's life and he easily copes with his mother's illness and the family's relative poverty.
At the age of eleven however the boy's life takes a dramatic turn for the worse when his father dies in fairly horrific circumstances and his mother is hospitalised. The next few years are difficult to say the least. In the end - at around about the age of twenty-five - everything works out all right. All right that is, in terms of the fucked-up world in which we live. I suppose it's another modern horror story, just like A Half Life Of One.
And that's the problem. I'm fed up writing about myself. I'm fed up writing about about things I know too well. I need to stretch myself artistically. Explore new subjects. Free up my imagination. Take chances.
So right now I'm considering two other options. The first is an historical drama set during World War Two in Vichy France. I can't say too much because it'll give the plot away but let's say it turns conventional morality on its head. It will be a serious book requiring quite a lot of research. The subject matter will be controversial.
My other option is completely different. It's a modern thriller with lots of black humour. To give you the flavour here's how it starts:
There are only two ways to double-cross someone successfully. The easy way is to kill the sucker straight after the con. The hard way is to dupe the mark so that he doesn't know he's been had. Mostly I prefer doing it the hard way because it is more professional. Tommy Bilsborrow on the other hand was such a schmuck I decided the only truly satisfying way to shake him down would be to combine the two techniques, preferably slowly.
I'm keen to get started but I don't want to dive in precipitately and find I've made the wrong choice. Maybe you can help me here. Based on the limited evidence above - which is about the same as you would get on the average dust jacket - which of these three books would you prefer to read?
Minx and I go back a long way in blogging terms. Seems like we've been reading each other's blogs since day one really. It's something of an asymmetrical relationship though. She gives and I take. In fact, if it wasn't for her encouragement - and judicious use of her infamous pointy stick - I would have given up blogging long ago. Whether you want to thank her for that or not, only you can say.
Minx's review isn't the only one that has surprised me recently. A lady calling herself Prairie Mary, who apparently hails from the plains of Montana, offered to review the book a few weeks back and I duly airmailed off a copy and thought no more about it. You can read the subsequent review here. I have to admit - somewhat shamefacedly - that following the review I didn't give Mary much more thought or even have the decency to put up a link to her blog (since rectified). More fool me. Turns out Mary is quite a person. She's just published a biography of her late - and rather famous - husband which sounds like a fascinating, not to say daring, piece of work. Being married to a famous sculptor isn't her only claim to fame by any means. Go visit her blog and discover more about a rather remarkable lady.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I didn't know it at the time but what I was trying to convey was my hatred of the consumer society, which back then was in its infancy, a slumbering giant waiting to embrace us all. Forty years on that prospect has grown until the shadow of the giant towers over us all.
I was in town the other day and the streets were heaving with shoppers. As the crowds elbowed past me, their grim fun-filled faces fixed on a far horizon, I felt like a visitor from another age. I caught sight of my refection in a shop window. I saw an alien, lost in space.
The crowd swarmed over the shopping centre like locusts. Shopping as therapy. Shopping as pastime. Shopping as fucking. Shopping as religion. Shopping as living. Shopping. Shopping. Shopping.
Everybody was buying except me. I was selling. I was selling my book A Half Life Of One. Selling as therapy. Selling as pastime. Selling as fucking. Selling as religion. Selling as living. Selling. Selling. Selling.
Selling to the locusts.
Well, I'm not going to do it anymore. I've had enough. I wrote the book and that's the end. The book is done and dusted. The finished article. Here and now. I'm proud of it. I gave it my best shot. It's not going away.
The time has come to move on. My work-in-progress, Mummy's Boy, languishes on my computer. I can't wait to return to it. Get that first draft slapped down. The endless, exquisite hours of re-writes that will follow. A world of my own creation. No crowds. No shopping. No selling.
I'll be in Heaven.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
I immediately recognised the grating burr that normally belonged to Jock Pundy, the florid Scottish-born Marketing Vice-President of my publishers, Pundyhouse Publishing International Inc. I zipped up my trousers. “Don’t tell me. You’ve sold another copy?”
“Got it in one, sonny. Some deluded wee soul sent in a cheque for the full amount this morning. Maybe she didnae read the reviews. Hell, maybe the poor lassie canna read.”
It is always hard to tell with Jock Pundy whether he is joking or not, since much of what he says is unintelligible. I decided that, on this occasion, he wasn’t. “Well, that’s good. Better than last week anyway.”
“Foo’s your wife?”
“How’s my wife?” I repeated, unsure if I had heard him right.
“Aye. Has she read it yet?”
“Well, she’s still here so I guess the answer is no.”
“Dinna worry, ye can always……….” The rest of the sentence was totally incomprehensible.
I didn’t argue. I couldn’t. I didn’t know what he had said. “I wish sales were a bit better,” I said eventually, when I thought he had finished speaking.
“We’re working on it, son. Ye need tae remember most book buyers are weemin. You’re no connectin’ wie them. They want tae mither ye but yer no lettin’ them. Ye need tae get in touch wie yer feminine side an' project that.”
“My feminine side?”
“That’s right, laddie.”
“You don't understand. I’m an engineer.”
He said something which might have been a Scottish expletive. Or he might, just possibly, have been cracking a joke. “How am I going to do that,” I said, disconsolately. I could just picture the guys out on the rig if I started walking round in a funny way and letting my hair grow long. I wouldn’t be safe.
“Leave it tae me,” said Jock. At least I think that’s what he said. “We need tae do a makeover job on ye. I ken this photographer guy. John Ahearn. I’ll get him tae do some new publicity shots tae send oot. Softer focus, kinder, prettier, all that sort of rubbish.”
“When do I have to meet him?”
“I’ll arrange it.”
He did and I received the first of the new publicity shots today. To my surprise I was rather impressed. They definitely showed a side of me that I hadn’t seen before. Maybe I had misjudged Jock Pundy after all. I’ve reproduced one of the stills below for your appreciation. Let me know what you think.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
In the end I was left with the following list of potential victims:
Crockett & Powell
The Pan Bookshop
London Review Bookshop
The Book Depository
The Bookseller Crow
And several more who should probably remain anonymous.
Then I hit my next problem. When I checked out their websites several of them appeared to be rather serious organisations with absolutely no sense of humour whatsoever. To understand the problem you have to bear in mind that my marketing assault was going to be led by the following e-mail teaser (a sophisticated variation on my previous effort):
"Subject: Cheer yourself up
Hi Mr Bookseller Smith
It's always heartening to come across someone who is worse off than yourself. If you ever get depressed by the current state of the bookselling/publishing industry take a look here and marvel at the efforts of a self-pubbed delusionist as he attempts to market a novel that may well be rubbish.
Don't bother if you're busy tho' - it isn't that funny. Or that clever, sadly.
View From The Pundyhouse (blog)"
And the label to look here referenced my blog post titled "***Press Release*** Onanist Publisher announces..."
You don't have to be a marketing genius to figure out how this bit of advertising hokum would go down in certain sections of the more strait-laced bookselling community, struggling as they are with giant bookselling chains, high rents and rates and a deluge of new titles from traditional publishers. In the end I reduced my target list to six bookshops who looked like they could take a joke.
At this point I confess I began to feel somewhat demoralised. Even if all six bookshops agreed to stock my novel it didn't really feel like I was achieving critical mass amongst the bookbuying public. Bestsellerdom seemed as far away as ever. In the end I did what every good marketing professional does in this situation. I panicked. I drew up a random list of writers, publishers, literary movers and shakers and anyone else I could think off who might just possibly attract some attention to the book. Later that day I sent out over seventy Cheer yourself up e-mails - if not a spam attack, at the very least a corned beef attack, with the emphasis firmly on the corn. Then I hunkered down in my bunker and waited.
I didn't have long to wait. A writer responded to the sentiment in my e-mail. How could I possibly know I was worse off than he was? Didn't I know he had devoted himself to a life of writing and was living off air. I was mortified. I sent off a grovelling apology. Next a bookseller sent back a rather techy e-mail saying it was plain I hadn't ever been inside his bookshop and there was absolutely no way he would stock my book. I was shaken. It was only a joke...
And then the shit really hit the fan. Someone left the following Comment on the blog:
stanley crapbook said...
Dear Mr Publisher,as a new and upcoming auther, I would like to give you the oppertunity to have a look at my manuscript,'Hot Mountain Babes' and publish it.It is the best selling story of a man what gets done over by his wife with a rolling pin. She has found out that he made a fortune from a book what he wrote and spent the lot on a herd of sheep in Scotlandshire. It is very funny and I am surprised when I see all those other rejection letters that I have - they obviously dont know what they are talking about. Your new publishing company looks like it is the one for me and I look forward to hearing the date of my publickation and please don't give me one of those crappy covers.
pee ess - Oh and sorry for approaching you in this way. I have sent over a 100 emails to you - I think you should get a new secretary, the one you have is obviously a moron.
To say I was shocked by this Comment is an understatement. I was as upset by the personal nature of the sentiments expressed as my unsolicited e-mail had obviously upset its recipient. It's said that you shouldn't dish it out if you can't also take it, and that is true. But somehow, unless I had completely misjudged the tone of my original e-mail, the viciousness of this response really hurt.
For a few seconds I was shellshocked. This guy had bothered to reply. What was the rest of the world thinking. I had made a complete fool of myself. How could I have been so unbelievably stupid. How could I.
I shut down my computer.
I needed to get out of the house at once, before I was sick. When I stopped shaking I climbed into the car and drove into the countryside to try and calm myself down. Everywhere looked grey. All I could think about was how stupid I had been. All those stupid e-mails. That stupid post. My stupid dreams. How could I be so stupid? How could I be so stupid?
I drove for an hour and returned home as it was getting dark. Reluctantly I went to my desk and switched on my computer and logged on. I didn't want to. God knows what I was going to find.
And there it was. Another e-mail waiting for me. From someone I had targetted earlier that day. A bookseller. Maybe the same one who had left that poisonous Comment. I hesitated for a long time before I opened it, my heart thumping. This is what it said:
OK - I have laughed me knackers off this morning reading through your blog. I really hope the book isn't "A HUGE PILE OF CRAP" because your blog is genius.
I run a marketing course for self-published authors, and I also deliver seminars at the Society of Authors, and I would be honoured to use this as a case study sir.
Please send me a review copy - I have someone in mind (a customer of mine) for whom this will be right up their street...
The very best of luck.
Best regards - Mark Thornton, Mostly Books
Not for the first time over the previous few days I wanted to cry. Thanks, Mark, you may never stock the book but you almost certainly saved my life.
Next post: A List of Heroes and Heroines
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Nevertheless, despite the fog in my brain, by Thursday 17th - the day after I published the post titled "Squeaky Bottom Time" - I knew that I had at least one firm offer of a book review. That was the good news. The bad news was that the offer came from Maxine Clark, a professional editor in real life and a prodigious reviewer in the literary blogosphere. Ms Clark possesses an intellect of adamantine hardness. Formidably well-read, incisive, honest and totally unafraid to call a spade a shovel I only had to picture her leafing through the pages of my book to feel my insides turning to ice. Swallowing hard, I posted her off a review copy.
By the time Friday came I was wishing I had never written the damned thing. There was no way Ms Clark could fail to see through my amateurish efforts. I was about to be exposed to the world as the literary dilettante I so obviously was. My nascent writing career would be strangled at birth. And rightly so. In publishing the book myself I had been guilty of terrible hubris. My jokey approach on this blog had only made matters worse. I had played the fool too long and only succeeded in fooling myself. She would be doing me - and the reading world - a favour when she put me out of my misery with her withering review.
For the next forty-eight hours as the weekend dragged by I felt like I was on Death Row, waiting for the fateful call. At seventeen twenty-eight on Sunday night it came. I was staring listlessly at my computer as I prepared to write my valedictory farewell to the blogosphere. Suddenly my inbox flashed. I had a new message. From Maxine Clark. My heart sank. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, possibly my last. Farewell dear world, farewell to all my dreams and aspirations. Reluctantly I opened my eyes and clicked the Read button on my inbox.
"I read it and I liked it..."
I wanted to cry. Then I wanted to laugh as I read the rest of the e-mail. Most of all I wanted to get down on my knees and kiss her feet. She liked it. She was going to give it a good review. I had done it. She had written my reprieve and I had survived.
And that's when the trouble really started.
I was so elated that night that I couldn't sleep. My head was spinning so fast I couldn't think straight. All I knew was that I had one good review in the bag. I began to plan the next stage in my marketing campaign. The next big challenge was to interest some booksellers in stocking the book. I started to compose another blog post that I could use as a hook in my bid for bestsellerdom. The result was a post on this blog titled: " ***Press Release*** Onanist publisher announces... "
How I wish I hadn't written that post.
Even at the time I didn't think it was very funny, which is always a bad sign. Its main failing though was that it sent out completely the wrong message. You simply can't promote a book by announcing to the world how few copies you are selling, no matter how witty you are. Not only that, the novel itself is completely devoid of humour. There is simply no synergy whatsoever between the book and the jokey message I was putting out. Just how stupid can a person be? Think about it - I'd just garnered a brilliant review that could have helped me launch the book with a flourish and I had discarded that precious gift from the literary Gods in favour of another dose of my own puerile sense of humour. Somebody should take me out and shoot me. It would be a kindness.
Nevertheless, being the idiot I am, I went ahead and composed the post and published it on the blog the following morning. To deafening silence. Not one single soul was out there laughing at my brilliant wit. The lines to Amazon were not buzzing with orders for the book. By lunchtime I had sunk into a deep depression. I knew I had made a mistake publishing that post. What I should have done was taken Maxine's review and used it as the basis for an information sheet which I could send out to independent publishers.
It wasn't too late. I could delete the ill-conceived post and no-one would know.
Instead I started scanning the web for the e-mail addresses of independent booksellers. Another, this time disastrous, e-mail campaign was about to begin.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
I guess I could simply have sent the book out to various literary pundits and writers and asked them to kindly review it. The trouble with that approach is that most people with any literary authority either already have a huge pile of unread review copies from traditional publishers sitting in front of them; or, they are the kind of discriminating reviewer who is likely to regard a self-pubbed novel with the same circumspection with which they would view something left behind by a dog in the children's play area of a public park.
I concluded, therefore, that my first priority was to divert attention from the book itself and instead sell the idea of reviewing the book. To do this, not for the first time, I decided to use humour as my sales vehicle. I would write a humorous Post on the blog in the hope that it might pique someone's interest enough to take on the task.
Let me say right away that this is a very dangerous marketing strategy. For a start there is the problem of writing something that is actually funny. Secondly, my idea of humour is not universally shared, especially not by the glitterati, many of whom are pretty seriously-minded intellectuals, or at least think they are. What I think is funny, other people may consider silly, banal, inappropriate or even downright offensive. In fact, adopting this strategy meant I might devalue, or even destroy, my brand before I'd even started. So why do it?
Because I had no choice. The fact is that there are so many books published each year that it is worth almost any risk in an effort to differentiate my brand and get it to stand out from the crowd. It's a shit-or-bust strategy, but when you are a self-publisher you really don't have much choice.
And so I spent a sleepless Sunday night lying in bed composing the post titled "Squeaky Bottom Time". I drafted it out on Monday and spent Monday night and a good part of Tuesday working on it. Yes, that long for that inconsequential little squib. The fact is, it's hard to overstate how important that post was to me. The first real sales initiative in my marketing campaign for the book I've spent half my life writing. To say I was nervous doesn't begin to describe how I was feeling. Worrying over the post I'd lost my appetite, suffered severe mood swings and come Wednesday morning I was living on adrenaline. I could even feel the bitter, metallic taste of the chemical on my tongue. To make matters worse I was light-headed from a potent mix of hysteria and hunger. My finger shook as it hovered over the mouse ready to activate the Publish Post button on my blog. It didn't help that by then I had no idea whether the post was funny or not. Closing my eyes, I pushed the button and prayed.
Nothing happened.The post was published all right but no-one was reading it. I checked my Stat Counter every few minutes for the next few hours. Hardly anyone was visiting and no-one was Commenting. Not for the first time I was screaming into the void.
I realised that I had to leverage my Post in order to gain some attention. I decided to send out a bunch of e-mails in a desperate attempt to attract some traffic to the blog. Now, let me say right off that I know full well that such bulk e-mails are regarded as Spam and are universally loathed. I felt like a whore for doing it but there was no way round it. I tried to ameliorate my misgivings by telling myself that every writer nowadays is selling something. It is part of the modern writing process. The days when writers like Evelyn Waugh could treat his readers with absolute disdain are long gone.
And so I spent the whole of Wednesday compiling a list of victims, hunting down literary websites, booksellers and even the national press, until my eyes ached. In the end I sent out an initial batch of sixty e-mails with a link back to my blog. Here's what they said:
Subject: How to market your novel even when it's rubbish
Hi Mr Smith
Take a look HERE for advice on how to market your novel.
Don't bother if you're busy tho' - it isn't that funny.
View From The Pundyhouse (blog)
Nervously I watched the stat counter. Within minutes the number of visitors gradually increased. Some of the people I had written to had started to respond. Then a few of my regular visitors popped round and left some friendly Comments. Dovegreyreader - one of the pre-emininent blog reviewers visited for the first time and left a Comment. Even the esteemed and formidable Jenny Diski dropped by with an encouraging word.
Behind the scenes even more was happening as I began to receive a series of encouraging e-mails. A number of distinguished people - including one very famous name in the book publishing world - offered to review the book. I began to feel mightily relieved, even elated. Even though the reviews might savage the book at least I had achieved my first objective. I could see some light at the end of the tunnel.
What I didn't realise was that it was a train hurtling towards me.
But more of that in the next post.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Pundy (59), CEO of sprawling self-publishing behemoth Pundyhouse Publishing Corp, announced to an auditorium packed with financial analysts and leading publishing luminaries that sales of A Half Life Of One were “Holding up well”.
In a generally upbeat sales report Mr Pundy informed his expectant audience that “So far the sale we made to Mrs Liversidge – the author’s present wife – remains firm. To date she has neither returned the book nor asked for her money back.”
Asked why he hadn’t yet bought a copy of the book himself the larger-than-life publisher retorted that such a move could be construed as unethical especially if it skewed the book’s Amazon sales ranking since it effectively doubled unit sales. When pressed further he revealed that he hadn’t read the book himself because he “hadn’t had time”.
Flanking him on the podium the book’s author Bill Liversidge responded in a somewhat subdued fashion to a question about what it was like having his wife read his work. “To the best of my knowledge she hasn’t read it yet,” he opined, “It just sits there on the sideboard unopened, a malevolent presence, a ticking elephant in the room.”
Jock Pundy, the company’s florid Scottish-born Marketing Vice-President further announced that talks were on track to have the book stocked in one of London’s leading independent bookshops in time for the Christmas sales bonanza. “We expect to ship a shedload truckload barrowload small box heavily discounted copy early next week,” he declared pugnaciously.
A spokesman for the bookshop contacted later said that such a shipment would be premature as no deal had actually been signed. Speaking on strict condition of anonymity the spokesman declared however that the booksellers were “Reasonably confident that we can shift a copy of this, er, interesting book over the Christmas period, when a lot of people spend money on things they wouldn’t normally buy.”
When contacted again for further clarification the spokesman declined to say whether he was referring to the book selling out by this Christmas, or the one following.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Basically, what I need to do first is generate some word-of-mouth excitement in the blogosphere. Enough to entice a few shills actually to buy a copy with their own hard-earned cash. (Note: This book is definitely NOT suitable as a present. Especially if you know - and like - the intended recipient.)
To achieve the necessary level of iPod-like desirability that will send it winging from my hallway and around the globe I'm going to send out review copies of A Half Life Of One to as many of the movers and shakers in the blogosphere and beyond as I can think of.
This is of course a high-risk strategy since the inherent problem with self-publishing - the absence of any objective quality assessment as to the book's merits - is that the book may actually be A HUGE PILE OF CRAP. However, on the off-chance that it isn't and that I'll actually attain literary immortality (as well as the pressing necessity of shifting the daunting pile of unsold books that are blocking up the hallway) it's a step I have to take. After that it's just a question of waiting nervously for the reviews to roll in. At which point it's likely to be me that's doing the moving and shaking.
If you're sadistic enough to think you want to be part of this archaic and inhumane process feel free to e-mail me for your review copy. If you haven't the stomach to pull the trigger yourself, let me know of anyone else who might be bloodyminded enough to want a copy. You need to hurry though. Once the reviews start appearing this could be the shortest book launch on record.
And to think that I entered the publishing racket thinking it might actually be fun.
Monday, October 15, 2007
I recognised the buyer immediately. It was my wife. To say I was stunned is an understatement. Somehow I never thought she would want to read the book but apparently the cover sold her. Or so she said. I suspect there was more to it than that. I could see she was a little nervous as she handed over the exact amount of cash. Not as nervous as I'm going to be waiting for her to pronounce judgement on the book though.
My anxiety is further exacerbated by the fact that she's basically a professional reviewer and a tough one at that. She spends half her life marking theses and exam papers. She also reads widely for relaxation. Jane Austen, Dickens, P D James and Ian Rankin are amongst her favourites. I'm not quite sure how I'll fare in such august company.
It doesn't help either that she's going to recognise bits of herself in the book. The wife of the central character is clearly based on her, in just the same way that I am the central character. That being the case, it doesn't help that it's not a particularly flattering portrait. The marriage, too, the catalyst for everything evil in the book, is not a happy one. In fact, it's anything but.
You may find it surprising that I almost never show her anything I've written, especially something as momentous as a novel. The fact is, like a lot of writers I suppose, I draw heavily on life and she's appeared thinly disguised in much of what I've written. Actually, that's not quite true. What I do is take a real-life character or situation and then twist it and turn it until it assumes a grotesque caricature of reality. As far as real life goes, only ghosts should survive. That's the theory anyway.
All the same, even I can see that there are faint, unpleasant echoes of the real world still lingering in the book. People and situations that will bring back unhappy memories. Truths that would normally be left unsaid. Perhaps the best I can hope for is that she finds the thing unreadable and gives up after the first few pages.
If she does I'll happily give her her money back. If she reads on, I have a sinking feeling that I'll end up still paying, one way or another.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
First off, I guess, I have to look at the world in a whole different way. Instead of writing books my main purpose in life for the next few months will be all about selling books. And that requires a whole different skills set.
I already know that the average self-pubbed novel sells no more than forty or so copies in its lifetime. So if I set myself the extravagant target of offloading, say, one hundred copies of my masterpiece on the unsuspecting public I need some sort of strategy to achieve my goal. In fact I need a Marketing Plan. Before I can compose that I need to develop my thoughts somewhat on the structure of the market and how best I can attack it. Just like any traditional publisher in fact.
Here's my initial thoughts on the challenge:
First of all I need to look at how the supply chain of the publishing industry works. In my case, it seems to me, there are three main routes to market:
1 Direct online selling via my website
2 Indirect online selling via Amazon
3 Indirect selling via Bookshops
In addition there might be some subsidiary routes to market, for example:
a Direct sales to Reading Groups
b Selling Book Tokens
c Via trade and magazine advertising
It seems to me that main routes (1) and (2) require the oxygen of publicity to make them work. This might be generated in various ways such as:
i Book reviews from key opinion formers. This is a pretty fundamental first step, it seems to me, upon which the rest of my marketing strategy depends. These people exist in outlets such as blogs, newspapers and trade (financial? entrepreneurial?) magazines. Let's say I set myself the target of getting 10 reviews over the next three months. And let's say too that most of them will be favourable (maybe a big assumption).
ii Carefully targeted Press Releases built round the story of the book leading to interviews or plugs for the book.
iii Paid advertising. I need to set a Sales and Marketing budget here just like any proper publisher. Ignoring the cost of the free copies I will give away let's say £500 for now. This will wipe out any profit I'll make on sales but that's not the point. The point is to sell as many copies as possible and thus build up a platform - my brand - for future leverage when my next book comes out. In other words I'm investing in my brand - me, the writer.
iv Word of mouth. I don't know exactly how this will work but I am aware that this is what drives real success in books and music and films, especially online. I need to get a buzz going in the media, including the blogosphere. I have some ideas about how I'll do this but this area definitely needs a lot more development work.
Finally, there's route 3 - selling via Bookshops. This is a very tough nut indeed for a self-pubber to crack. Hopefully, some authoritative reviews, a brilliant AI sheet sent out as a mailshot, some favourable publicity and the odd kind-hearted bookseller or two will get me into a few of the nation's independent bookshops. Oh, that and a no-quibble sale or return policy and a generous discount to help ease open the door.
Well, that's the plan so far. It should be fun even if (as I suspect) I sell no copies at all. In any event I'll let you know how I get on and I'll undertake to publish the Sales Figures on a regular basis.
Incidentally, if anyone out there has any experience of going down the self-publishing route I'd be delighted to hear from you about the joys and pitfalls that no doubt await me.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
I wrote another chapter of Mummy's Boy. Just a short, first draft. Nothing much. I know it's not very good but at least it's something I can work on. And I've broken the logjam. Let's hope the river flows in spate, at least for a while. Actually, even a trickle will do.
We can't live without water after all.
It's 10.30 and Bruce is on the iPod singing "Dancing in the Dark". I know just what he means. I'm not dancing, I'm shuffling. But at least I'm moving.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Lately though it's got even worse, and now I'm having trouble forcing myself to read things I know I'll enjoy. I don't know why this is happening. Even blogs I that I normally read with pleasure, my hand hovers over the mouse, unable to click through to a site that I know will cheer me up, if only momentarily. This especially applies to sites where I know I will meet an online friend, someone who has been kind to me in the past. Maybe I don't want to be reminded of the good times I've enjoyed in the past, the emotions that are unavailable to me right now.
Or maybe it's just because their verbal fecundity reminds me so forcibly of my own tongue-tied desuetude.
I guess the only answer is to start writing again. Throw myself a lifeline. Write the next chapter of Mummy's Boy and become human again.
Yes, that is the only answer. But then I've know that for weeks.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Nervously I ring the bell in the porch beneath the sign "Arbeit Macht Frei", a language with which I am not, sadly, familiar although I suspect it may be Spanish. Mr Pundy answers in person. I can see at once that the signs do not look propitious. Mr Pundy, to be frank, looks like seven miles of rough road. He is unshaven. His hair is tousled. His eyes are bloodshot. He is dressed in stained and crumpled pajamas held up by string. Neither does he smell too good. Although it is only eleven in the morning he appears to be unsteady on his feet. Nervously I invite myself in. The interview begins in the kitchen, after Mr Pundy has cleared away most of the empty beer and wine bottles to allow me to place my tape recorder between us.
Me: Good morning. Mr Pundy - may I call you that? - many critics have detected a strong religious element running through much of your writing. In particular, you seem to be preoccupied with the state of your characters' souls. Do you yourself believe in God?
Pundy (looking bemused): Which one?
Me: Er, any one. You were brought up a Catholic I believe?
Pundy: Is God a Catholic? The Pope is, I know that (Ha ha). By and large me old cock I don't believe in anything.
Me: You're an atheist?
Pundy: No, I don't believe in that neither.
Me: All those references to the soul? Surely if you believe a man has a soul...
Pundy: It's a metaphor, innit, mate. A figure of speech. Something like that anyway. I had mumps when they did figures of speech at school.
Me: But if the soul lives on after death... Perhaps your philosophy at least encompasses the concept of the afterlife?
Pundy: I bleedin' hope not. This one's been bad enough as it is. Besides, there's a lot of people I wouldn't want to meet second time around. You for example.
Me: Perhaps we should move on. May I ask where you get your ideas from? Do you, as I suspect, work out the plot first, creating, so to speak, the skelton from which you can hang your wonderful themes of good combating evil?
Pundy: I never know how it's going to work out to tell you the truth, squire. Mostly I start with a character - which is obviously me and since I don't have a fucking clue what I'm doing now never mind when I become fictitious. I'm a bleedin' mystery I am and that's a fact. I ain't got the foggiest how it's going to turn out, no word of a lie. Wif any luck the characters start to take on a life of their own and Bob's your uncle. All I got to do is write it down as it happens in me 'ead, if it happens that is and I ain't rat-arsed which is more than likely. That's where I'm at with Mummy's Boy, ain't I - the characters are just about to shoot off on their own, God knows where, dragging me with them, the cheeky little bleeders.
Me: That sounds thrilling.
Pundy: Nah. It's more scary than exciting. They're just as likely to run up a blind alley as do something interesting. There's no knowing with characters. If I had my way I'd do without 'em altogether and write science books. Except I don't know nuffink about science neither. 'Ere, want a drink? (Pundy reaches for the half empty bottle of Laphroaig and pours himself a tumbler full). Christ, I've got a mouth like the inside of a Turkish wrestler's jockstrap. Not that I've ever tasted a Turkish wrestler's jockstrap, you understand. It's another one of them figures of speech innit. Interesting things, figures of speech. Must find out more about 'em sometime.
Me: The joys of education.
Pundy: Don't talk to me about education. All it ever did for me was teach me to want things I couldn't have. Gave me ideas above my station, didn't it. I tell yer I sometimes wish I was thick I do. Like most of me mates. Don't know no better and happy with their lot. Lucky bleeders. Nah, don't talk to me about education, mate. Ere' what about that drink? Yes or no?
Me: No thanks, it's a bit early for me. Tell me about blogging. Are the same processes involved in the production of your ethereal bon mots or is it perhaps more cerebral as you develop each idea to its logical, and sometimes surprising, conclusion?
Pundy: Blogging? What about it? It's just words flying around the ether innit. Most of them...er, how would you say....most of them.....
Pundy: Shit. Flying shit. Shit hitting the fan. Shit flying off a shovel. Shit.....
At this point, as darkness descends and gloom grows all around I make my excuses and leave, deeply troubled by the spectacle I am leaving behind, the erstwhile literary Colossus once spoken of in the same breath as Hardy and Georgette Heyer reduced to the role of a mumbling idiot. I can still hear the great man muttering away to himself as I pull shut the huge door to Pundy Mansions behind me, a crumbling, gothic pile haunted by broken dreams and unfulfilled expectations.
I fear this may be my last visit. The experience is simply too painful.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Me: Mr Pundy, when did you first start blogging and why?
Pundy: You're the first person to ask me that question. I guess because I wanted to publicise my unpublished online novel A Half Life of One and become a famous and widely-admired writer.
Me: Did it work out that way?
Pundy: Not entirely. I never became famous. Or widely admired. Apart from that, and the lack of readers, yeah it worked out pretty well.
Me: Tell me about your early life. Did you have a difficult childhood? Is that what made you become a writer?
Pundy: Well, I was younger then. For a while at least. Then I grew older right up until the age I am now. As I got older shit happened - a lot of shit - and I wanted to tell the world about it. Hence the novels. I wrote a load of shit.
Me: Do you think humour is important and how does it manifest itself in your novels?
Pundy: I used to have a great sense of humour until life started getting me down, about fifteen years ago, but even then a lot of people remarked that it was tinged with a wistful, almost sardonic edge. Now I'm mostly just bitter. All this shit isn't so funny anymore.
Me: And in your novels?
Pundy: Fuck, haven't you done any research at all? Positively not. Those books are unremittingly bleak, downbeat, almost suicidal.
Me: A lot of people talk about it but have you ever considered suicide yourself?
Pundy: Sure, hundreds of times. I'm considering it right now with all these stupid questions an' all. Life is just a sick joke anyway. Get it over with.
Me: So why haven't you done it?
Pundy: I can't afford to until the mortgage is paid off. That's got three years to go.
Me: And then?
Pundy: Sayonara, baby.
Me: Is that Chinese?
Pundy: Korean, I think.
Me: So in your books you take a long hard look at the human condition in all its manifest guises?
Pundy: I don't give a fuck about the human condition. The books are about me and what a rough deal I've had.
Me: How would you describe the creative process as it applies to you?
Pundy (scratches his ear thoughtfully): I'm not sure the creative process does apply to me. I just sit here at the keyboard and prod away. Mostly it's just crap that comes out.
Me: Do you re-write much?
Pundy: Sure. About seven times. But it's still just crap.
Me: More elegant crap surely?
Pundy: No. Shorter crap, usually. More concentrated crap. Crappier crap.
Me: As you look back on a long and largely unfulfilled life do you have any regrets?
Pundy (glaring): You shitting me?
Me: If you had your time again what would you have done differently?
Me: Thank you, Mr Pundy, that was a fascinating interview. I'll turn off this tape recorder for now and then we'll resume the interview tomorrow when we'll talk about your influence upon the blogosphere.
Pundy: 'Scuse me? You sure you got the right person here?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Except that the very opposite is true. I'm brimming over with ideas, my mind is in a state of constant creative ferment, I'm drowning in a fomenting cauldron of witty and original thoughts. Where it's all going wrong is that bit between thinking up an idea and then committing it to paper. Or in this case, to computer. Somewhere during my mental re-writes - and I need all my ideas at least half-formed before I can even think of committing them to paper -the flashes of inspiration are rapidly losing their lustre, the wit becomes tarnished, the original becomes commonplace.
I don't know why this is happening. The process is self-defeating. The more I think about things the less I have to say. Silence hovers over the vacuum, the arid universe expands inexorably, screams are strangled, life flickers and dies in the arid landscape.
Occasionally one half-formed idea, more of a sigh than a statement, does stagger onto the page, blinking in the harsh light of the blogosphere. At times like these I feel like one of those fabled idiot savants, astonished by my unexpected sagacity, startled by the strange, gutteral sound of my own voice.
Except that when I read my words of wisdom I discover to my dismay that I am 90% idiot and only 10% savant.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
If, like me, you hang around this mortal coil long enough you get to stand on one side and watch that handsome young man metamorphose into a lugubrious old git. I've even got a picture to prove it. That's the one portrayed in the photo alongside this post, peering out myopically into the blogosphere. More importantly, if you live long enough you get to find out whether or not all those callow hopes and aspirations you once cherished were actually fulfilled. You can see from my expression how I thought it turned out for me.
Armed with this knowledge of the future I've been looking back into my past and turning it into a new novel, called Mummy's Boy. The odd thing is, though, that despite my proven powers of clairvoyancy, I don't yet know how the novel is going to end.
Not with a death-bed scene I hope.
Monday, July 30, 2007
I was playing golf with my eldest son David at Tarland Golf Club, a beautiful rural course not far from where we live. Christopher was caddying for me and up to that point had never swung a golf club in anger. We reached the short par three eighth which is hidden in the trees well out of sight of the clubhouse. Christopher begged me to let him have a go. I looked around. The course was deserted and there was no-one coming up behind.
"Okay," I agreed with a somewhat condescending smile on my face, "I'll tee the ball up for you as long as you give me time to stand well clear."
I handed Christopher a seven iron and he addressed the ball. Well, he didn't so much address it as send it a very long letter written in an extremely shaky hand. Eventually the club tottered high above his head and he wound himself up to take a mighty slash at the ball. Somewhat to our surprise as the club descended with an audible swoosh he actually managed to strike the ball a glancing blow and it shot off to the right, ricochetting about twenty yards down the fairway. He looked downcast.
I suddenly felt sorry for him. Golf looks such an easy game but of course it's anything but. "It's okay, Christopher. Don't worry about it. Just slow your swing down a bit and you'll be okay."
David and I played our shots but neither of us found the green. Together we walked up to Christopher's ball and this time I handed him a nine iron. He took another mighty swipe and the ball rolled forward thirty yards as he fell over backwards.
"You're still swinging too fast," I muttered as I gently picked him up and brushed the mud off his back.
David and I played our second shots and this time we both found the green, albeit neither of us was close to the pin.
"What will I hit this time?" asked Christopher, as he peered down at his ball nestling in the rough about twenty yards from the green.
"I'm not sure it matters," I replied, looking at the nasty lie, "Here, try this." I handed him a sand wedge but it could equally have been a driver for all the difference it would have made to his control over the shot. Even at this early stage in his career I could see that finesse wasn't going to be a major part of his golfing armoury.
We watched with some trepidation as he took another mighty swipe at the half-hidden ball. To our surprise the ball jumped cleanly out of the rough and curved gracefully towards the green where it bounced twice then trickled along somewhat erratically for several yards before tumbling into the hole.
"Good God," said David, "That's unbelievable."
I was too stunned to speak as the realisation of what my son had just achieved began to dawn on me. If he stopped now his record would be unique. The list of his achievements ran through my mind like wildfire. In his golfing career my son had parred every hole he had ever played. He had never had a bogey. He had never taken more than three on any hole he had ever played. He had never missed a put. In fact, he was so good with his irons that he had never even needed to put. If he stopped now his average score on any round would be fifty-four, way better than anyone who has ever lived. If...well, the list seemed endless. A marketeer's dream. Pound signs began to flash in front of my eyes and I suddenly felt faint. For a moment I even believed that there actually was a God.
As we made our way to the next tee - David and I both having bogied the hole - I tried to convey to Chris the momentous import of what he had just achieved. I begged him never to lift another golf club again. I promised him sporting immortality, his own entry in the Guinness Book of Records, untold wealth and fame (which I, naturally, as his manager, would share).
He was having none of it. Buoyed up by his success he insisted on playing the next hole. Reluctantly I handed him a three wood. Twenty-three stokes later he finally cajoled the ball into the hole. In the space of two holes he had gone from being the best player who had ever lived to one of the worst. Again I begged him to stop. The Rolls Royce was rapidly disappearing over the horizon but the manager in me figured we could still make a modest living peddling the story of his precipitous descent into ignominy.
Again he was having nothing of it. He insisted on playing the next hole and the one after that. Even worse he subsequently took up golf as an enthusiastic amateur becoming, as the years passed, a pretty decent player.
Which is why neither you, nor anybody else, has ever heard of him and Tiger Woods sleeps soundly in his four-poster bed at night, safe in the knowledge that HE, and not my son, is the greatest golfer who has ever lived.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The interviewer asked her if, as well as writing about them, she had ever actually been to an orgy.
"Oh yes, I've been to several."
"Really? And, er, did you indulge?"
"I see. You write about these things but you don't actually approve of them."
"Oh I approve all right. But the trouble with orgies is that people are only interested in the youngest ones there."
I pictured her sitting alone on a couch at the orgy dressed only in her faded pink underwear, a fag dangling forlornly from her lips, her fleshy knees knocking in the draught. She is gazing across to the far corner of the room where a slavering scrum has formed over the giggling, wriggling body of the hosts' youngest daughter.
Maybe there's something to be said for leading a sheltered life after all.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
At the moment I've got a lot more web-based research to do - about three month's solid - before I will be in a position to green light the project. However, if anyone out there has any academic or first-hand knowledge of the subject which they think might be relevant please don't hesitate to get in touch. I'm particularly interested in ancient Greek and contemporary examples of deviant behaviour.
I wish I had a pound for every submission I've made to Jonathan Cape, Harvill Secker, Chatto and Windus and Vintage over the years. If I did I'd have enough money to start my own publishing company. All I've actually got is enough form rejection slips to line the walls of my study so that it is now fully compliant with building insulation standard BS 5422:2001. At least I won't freeze this winter as I toil over my next masterpiece.
All these publishing companies are members of the giant Random House group. And the curious thing is, although they don't think I'm a good enough writer to be published by any of their imprints, they do think I'm good enough to review the books they actually do publish. I know this because some of their publicists have taken to writing to the Pundy House and offering me free books to review on this blog.
Sadly I'm too busy with my next magnum opus to take up their offers. Too busy also to explain my refusal in detail.
So whenever I receive a request for a review I've started sending them form rejection slips. On headed notepaper. Their headed notepaper.
I might freeze to death as a result but at least I'll die with a smile on my face.
I planned to begin my exigesis by explaining, in the starkest possible terms, that the best any ingenue with literary aspirations can hope to achieve in this medium is to reach out to a small circle of similarly unrequited, slightly desperate, albeit desperately nice, publishing virgins.
And just as I was about to begin my assault on my readers' senses my fingers froze above the keyboard.
Two things happened to undermine the certainty of my proposition.
Firstly, I found myself wondering why I appeared to dislike nice people so much.
Was it because, I wondered, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, this seething mass of niceness is to a woman a body of such relentless optimism, repeatedly taking issue in the Comments section of my blog, with my own easy pessimism? Could it possibly be the case, in other words, that I was wrong in my enduring negativity?
And that thought led me to question exactly why was I so reluctant to be drawn into the circle of aspiring writers that has gradually evolved into a sort self-sustaining life-support sytem, a double helix safety net woven out of the DNA of all those nice-but-unpublished would-be JK Rowlings drifting hopefully around the blogosphere?
In search of an answer I looked back on my own long and undistinguished career as an unpublished author whose literary achievement reached its apogee with a mildly encouraging rejection slip from Secker & Warburg circa 1973.
Nostalgically I recalled my long-forgotten youthful determination to dedicate myself to my muse. My naive resolve to remain unrecognised and neglected for as long as it took, a lonely genius starving in a garret, a martyr to my art, bravely churning out manuscripts that no-one would read until after my death, when my brilliance would finally be recognised by a remorseful, not to say repentant, world. Never mind the fact that in all the years since I have never once set foot inside a garret. And the nearest I've ever come to starving is on those rare occasions when I've been late home for a meal.
No. Reluctantly I have been forced to conclude that my dislike of nice people has a less idealistic cause. Envy. Because I have looked into my heart and I know, despite the facade, I am not one of them. Ah well. No-one's perfect I suppose and some of us are more imperfect than others.
So on reflection, if you are an aspiring writer looking for help with your vocation my advice to you would be to seek out the comfort of like-minded strangers. There's a load of them listed on the blogroll beside this post. They're without exception a nice bunch and their support may be just what you need to clear the next hurdle in your writing career.
I said at the beginning of this post that there were two things that gave me pause for thought. While I was vacillating over what I was going to say at the beginning of this post I wandered off into the blogosphere in search of inspiration. And I found it too - right here. Not for the first time the estimable L Lee Lowe stopped me right in my tracks. Lee has recently published online her YA fantasy novel "Mortal Ghost" and already it's been downloaded more than a thousand times. A thousand times! That's incredible.
In fact, it's more than incredible - it's truly inspirational. What it means is that at long last the internet is delivering on its early promise and that anyone can become a real, proper, widely-read writer without being forced to find a traditional publisher.
So if you have the talent and are prepared to work hard - and maybe use your blog to get some invaluable feedback and support - there really are no barriers left any more.
And that should give you a nice warm feeling. Just like it gives me.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
And that's dangerous. Because ideas are dangerous. They always have been of course, but in the past they were a little harder to disseminate.
It goes without saying that ideas come from people. Imagine how different the world would be if Hitler, Lenin, Pol Pot, George Bush, Jesus or Muhammad, to take a few random examples, had kept their ideas to themselves. Of course, demagogues by their very nature never do keep ideas to themselves. It's only well-bred, reasonable people like me who have the decency to keep their more outlandish thoughts to themselves, being seen and not heard, refraining from making waves, impeccably not scaring the horses.
I guess Hitler, a master of propaganda, would have been a brilliant blogger. George Bush, well, maybe his grasp of the English language has prevented him from using this means of attack. He is obliged to use more direct action. Soldiers with guns are more loquacious, though not necessarily more persuasive, especially when they don't speak the language, in any sense of the word, of the people they are trying to convert.
The ironic thing is, although I am a firm believer in freedom of speech - I will defend to the death your right to express the most repulsive of views - when it comes to blogging I actually practice a rigid form of self-censorship. That's because it seems to me that that the vast majority of my readers are in fact bloggers who are nice, middle-class people, and I for one have no wish to offend them gratuitously. To do so would be like farting aloud in church. And, oh, I do so want to be one of them. A nice, middle-class blogger. Or at least that part of me that remains that little working-class boy from Tilbury, Essex does.
The irony is, of course, that the "nice" middle-classes certainly don't need protection from any puny thoughts or ideas I may propound. The "nice" middle-classes are far more robust than that. The reality is that "nice" is a supremely dangerous characteristic and not at all the same as "good". Indeed, the nice middle-classes in this country have ruthlessly managed to annexe all the important levers of power - like Parliament, the BBC, and the judiciary - largely through their very "niceness". Amazingly, even though I am well aware that the middle classes are indeed the masters now and pretty much impregnable, I still go out of my way not to offend them. As a result I pick the subjects of my posts, and the way I treat them, extremely fastidiously and thereby tamely yield to my readers' niceness. And just in case I should ever think of straying outspokenly out of line and causing offence to the status quo there exists a vociferous minority of bloggers who are much less reticent in their criticism but equally effective in their restraining influence. A rough, rowdy, ill-spoken bunch of self-appointed policemen armed with flamethrowers. And since I have no wish to be burnt at my posts, so to speak, I remain politely uncontroversial. This capitulation on my part I would characterize as abject moral cowardice, and I am not proud of what I have done. None of my writing heroes would have acted so spinelessly.
So, for me at least, in the past freedom of thought on this blog has not been not quite the same thing as freedom of speech. The main casualty of this conflict has been, as in any war, the truth.
All that, though, is about to change.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
1 Excavating the perfect verb from the barren wasteland of my brain
2 Igniting the perfect sentence from the arid dross that blankets my thoughts
3 Dragging the perfect paragraph from the wreckage of my tangled sentences
4 Building the perfect chapter from the rubble of my misshapen paragraphs
5 Knitting the perfect first draft from the patchwork of my chapters
6 Throttling the adverbs in my re-writes as I unknot my tortured plot
7 Watching golf on the telly
Monday, June 25, 2007
Anyway, I'm not really back. This is not a cause for celebration. I'm still sick of the sound of my own voice. My problems haven't gone away. I don't have anything to say. There is no purpose behind this blog. It won't be regular. It ain't aimed at any readers.
This time round I'm not going to try and build up a regular readership. So, I won't be obsessively checking my stats nor fretting over all those occasional visitors who can't be bothered to link to me. Especially, I won't be replying to Comments, if there are any. Not that I did before.
What I will be doing is recycling all the old stuff I wrote about before. In other words me. So the blog will be boring but at least it will be green. And no egos will be killed in the making of this monologue - I'm too vain to really hurt myself.. Don't expect any surprises either. All the old favourites will be there - depression, failure, hopelessness, feeble gags, navel-gazing, self-loathing and doubt. If you're a like-minded blogger welcome aboard. If you're a normal person, look away now.
It's just me trying to get a few thoughts together in public as I work on my next novel, Mummy's Boy.
No big deal. Nothing to get excited about. In fact, I'd rather you kept it quiet. Just between you and me.
Our dirty little secret.