A ha’porth of tar.

Another day, another…cloud. But wait. Another cloud another silver lining – perhaps.

Over the weekend I found the time and motivation to have a go at formatting my Microsoft Word document into something that Amazon’s Kindle will display. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I thought that it might get a bit technical. However, it was pleasantly and surprisingly really simple and within a minute of pinging my novel over the internet to Amazon it came back, formatted, on to my Kindle e-book reader. This provided me with two sensations. The first was one of astonished amazement at yet another example of just how flipping amazing the technology is today. I mean I live now. I grew up with this stuff. I’m used to it. But technology still has the ability to utterly baffle and bewilder me. How does all this work? There aren’t even any cables involved. It’s all wireless. I wonder sometimes how a great innovator of centuries long gone would react to it all if he/she could be resurrected and shown a few examples. Could they cope with it?

The second feeling that I got was a bit warm and gooey down there. No, not down there. Just in the pit of my stomach. My book was on a Kindle and I could read it. And of course I should. I must. To ensure that there are no errors thrown up by the formatting, or otherwise, I must read the book again on the device that it is intended for. What a chore that sounds. I’ve read the damn thing three times in two weeks. I like it, and I’m exceptionally egotistical where my own ‘art’ is concerned, but I can’t face reading that thing again just yet. Actually, I won’t have to because I have a fly in my self-publishing ointment that is the new cloud in my life. (I apologise to myself for mixing my metaphors.)

A little while ago those of me who have been paying close attention to my blog posts will have seen me boasting about how I nailed my evocative and enticing e-book covers in a matter of hours and at no expense at all. How clever I was. And yet how conceited and possibly stupid too.

I’m a bibliophile. I collect books. I can spend a hundred pounds on a book and not bat an eye, if I really want it. I love everything about books: the smell (new or old – unlike people books actually smell better with age), the feel, the reading, the look of a superbly crafted and atmospheric dust-jacket….yes the dust-jacket. I always judge a book by its cover. I think that dust-jackets are as important to the book as, as, as…well they’re bloody important, I know that much. It’s often the first thing that people see and people do make a judgement of the book based on that first impression. So why oh why did I think that the dust-jackets of my e-books weren’t important enough in my grand scheme of self-publishing to warrant some investment in some professionalism? I’m going to put my books out into the big wide world where they are going to compete with all sorts of professional and brilliant artwork. I have to give them the best start that I can, the best chance that I can, to get them noticed by the casual browser with thousands of titles to choose from. Don’t I? If I get noticed maybe a few people will linger long enough to press download and then read me.

Back to my problem. When it came to downloading my e-book cover to Kindle Amazon would not accept the file because it wasn’t up to pixel standards. In fact it was humiliatingly short of pixels. Nothing to be done about it. I must abandon them. And after I’d stopped crying I started thinking about what I could do. I’ve ended up back on that dilemma’s horns again – invest in some software that will enable me to create industry standard e-book covers or bite the bullet and pay a pro to come up with something?

Naturally, I turned to my best friend – I had a scout around the internet, like you do, and found a couple of graphic designers offering this service (how much? I’m definitely in the wrong job). I also found this website http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/10/e-book-cover-design-awards-september-2012/

This was an eye-opener. It’s really worth a look if one has an interest in cover art. Every month the guy who runs the site judges the dozens of submissions that people send in for someone to be singled out as that month’s best. He has several months of e-book covers archived and it makes really fascinating viewing. The guy who runs it is a pro designer himself and he provides feedback on a lot of the entries and I learned a lot just from considering his comments with the artwork. He is good.

I’ve learned from this experience to appreciate even more the importance of, and impact of, a really well crafted and appropriate book jacket. What I’m thinking now is that I should find myself a professional e-book cover designer and start talking about deals for a three-jacket-order. It’s going to cost me (and realistically I can’t ever see me making any money out of my books to compensate for this outlay), but a) I think that my books are worth it b) they could give me the edge that I need to get noticed and c) I like the idea of having professionally and sympathetically created jackets for my series. OK it’s going to be considerably more than a ha’porth of tar but so what? I die a few hundred pounds poorer. Big deal.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

 

 

Actually, I have the silver linings of two clouds to report to myself and celebrate and neither is the result of detonations of atomic weapons.

Cloud One:

Four days ago I posted on here severely criticizing the writing of Clive Cussler. I was a good hundred pages into one of his books and not impressed would put it mildly. I wondered whether I should persevere. In the end I decided not to. I like reading too much and don’t seem to have enough time for it to waste cherished hours on books where the prose regularly grates and irritates with its banality.

Serendipitously, I stumbled across a copy of a book by Gerald Seymour called ‘Field of Blood’. I was waiting for a meeting to start and to kill a few minutes snatched it off the members’ lending shelf in the staffroom of Istanbul City Zoo, where I work part-time in the monkey house.  The book is about the troubles in Northern Ireland and dates from the eighties. Within a couple of pages I was gripped and hooked and it was all because of the quality of the man’s writing.

One of the big differences that I noticed – or perhaps I should qualify that by saying the difference that had the greatest impact on me as a writer – between Cussler’s and Seymour’s writing is how they report the dialogue. Reading Seymour reminded me of one of the ten rules of writing from one of the masters of writing dialogue: Elmore ‘Dutch’ Leonard. Leonard says that one should never use anything other than ‘said’ to qualify what a character has spoken. And only use ‘said’ if you have to use something. (I don’t know if he added that last bit or that’s me, but it sounds like him.) Seymour hardly uses any words to qualify the speech in this book. It’s just raw dialogue and he doesn’t inflict himself on the reading, or insult the reader’s intelligence, by dictating to the reader how every utterance must be interpreted and making it painfully obvious who it is speaking (see Cussler). In consequence the writing – and reading – flows so much better, as it bloody well should.

The silver lining of cloud one that was the Cussler reading experience is that I had the lesson about qualifying speech repeated and reinforced, paradoxically, by an example of how not to write. We all need refreshers, reminders of what to do and what not to do, no matter how sorted we think we are in whatever we are turning our creative hands to.

Cloud Two:

As I know because I’ve been following my blog closely I recently claimed to have completed my final, final proof-reading of the first Romney and Marsh File that I intend to launch my literary career with (eyebrows raised, as SN1 would say). Well, I effing well effing hadn’t.

Because of the logistics of my writing I work on three different computers when I write my books (it’s a long story about work and home). What I do is email myself the latest version/work that I’ve managed to spend an hour or two on wherever it happens to be. The plan is that, so long as I have internet access, I always have the latest version at my fingertips wherever I’m being forced to write.

When I get to finishing the first draft of the book I print it off, get it fitted with spiral thingy up the spine and plastic covers at the local stationers for a couple of Turkish lira and then I go to work with red pen on creating the next draft. I might do this three or four times until I’m happy with it. Now, because I’m going to go the e-book self-publishing route I now have to return to the computerised form of the book to update it with the editing that I did on the latest and final hard-copy. With me?

Well I did this with Enough Rope the first Romney and Marsh File and then discovered that the computerised copy that I had spent two days updating from the hard-copy revisions was not the latest computerised copy of the book that I thought it was. It was not the computerised copy of the hard-copy that I’d printed off and been working on. If I haven’t lost myself here that means that I understand that I swore a fucking lot when I twigged. And then I fucking swore a-fucking-gain. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! (Elmore also says don’t use exclamation marks. He doesn’t mind profanity.)

So, I had to go back to the latest updated-computerised-edited-version and edit that again by reading the whole effing book again thoroughly and with full effing attention on the effing computer. Not my favourite effing thing to read on. I was so effing cross with myself.

But now I’m not. I’m not cross now because it gave me another run through on the final, final, final, draft that I’m glad to have had the opportunity of despite the anguish that the realisation of it cost me. This is because of the lesson that I got from Cussler and Seymour. I had neglected to adhere strictly to Elmore’s writing rule – something that I believe strongly in – and I had let myself get involved in the reader’s interpretation of my writing.

The silver lining from cloud two is that this extra work that I gave myself has made me much, much happier with the finished article in which I found myself editing out phrases like …said Romney, enigmatically, and …answered Sergeant Marsh and …replied Romney and … questioned Marsh. All unnecessary because it was so obvious from the writing that they were replying, answering, questioning and being enigmatic.

I also learnt a really good lesson about dialogue writing and something that I am going to stick to religiously. In future drafts and writings I will only use ‘said’ to establish at the beginning of a stream of dialogue who is speaking and then, providing it’s obvious that those speakers carry on, don’t use any qualifying words at all. They get in the way and they are unnecessary. Thank you Mr Seymour.

This is how my final draft of Enough Rope is now and it’s so much better for it. It’s made such a difference. I was dreading that unnecessary extra draft that I’d created for myself with my mistake but I so enjoyed the paring down of the writing and getting myself out of the reader’s face. I enjoyed it because every single word that I ditched made me happy and the book better. I’ll say it again because I want to and it’s my blog – the book is so much better for it.

So two clouds, but valuable lessons learned, as they always seem to say after another terrible and costly tragedy – not that I’m considering the forthcoming e-publishing of my book ‘another terrible and costly tragedy’.

As for the Seymour book, I tucked it under my jumper when the meeting was over – I don’t have a library card – I’m half-way through and I think Mr Seymour is bloody good. So, I have more good news for myself: I now have another fine writer to ferret around for the output of. Bonus.

Hope springs eternal.

 

I’ve recently finished reading something factual about chemical and biological warfare. I’m looking for ideas for my next Patrick Sansom book in which he will have to travel in clandestine fashion to Iran on a humanitarian mission. Crikey!

Anyway, after that depressing venture into Man’s darkest hour I felt that I needed something ‘light’, a bit of swashbuckling adventure to cheer me up. That is how I found myself reading ‘Treasure of Khan’ by Clive Cussler. It was a book that I picked up off the staff table at work where it looked like it had been placed having been read and was being passed on in a sort of unofficial lending library fashion. Either that or I stole it from someone who inadvertently left it there after their tea-break. We don’t get many English language books in the staffroom at Istanbul City Zoo, so you don’t ask questions if you see one lying around.

I’ve only read one other Cussler. That was ‘Raise The Titanic’ and it was many years ago. Many, many years ago. However, I will never forget something that I read in that book that I still believe is one of the most absurd descriptions that I’ve ever come across. The hero of the book ends up shagging the woman, naturally, and when the dirty deed is done replies to her enquiry after her performance that she made love like a ‘spastic tiger’. I still have no idea whether he meant it as a compliment or not. Cussler must like the word spastic because I came across it again in this book. Maybe that’s what reminded me of that quote from RTT.

So, what’s this got to do with hope springing eternal? Well, I’m on page 124 and I can’t actually believe how appallingly this man writes. There’s a long way to go – nearly 700 pages if I can tough it out – but to be honest I’m beginning to wonder if life might just be too short to persevere with it and that battered copy of ‘Brighton Rock’ keeps winking at me from my bedside table. But it might turn into one of those reading experiences where one just keeps going because a) it can’t really be that bad all the way through, can it? and b) I have to find something of merit in it somewhere and c) every awful page that I read makes me more optimistic about my own writing.

Cussler has over two dozen titles to his name – some are collaborative efforts, admittedly – and he is so famous that he must be a multi-zillionaire. He has legions of fans. Some of his books have been made into films. But if the writing in this particular book is characteristic of his writing generally then he is dire. Honestly, I found myself thinking that if I was reading this as a first draft of something that I had written I’d have pressed select all and delete and gone and mowed the lawn.

Everything about the writing is just so bad. The descriptions of people are so bad, the ‘quality’ of the writing is so bad, the plot, such as it is so far, is so bad, the dialogue is atrociously bad. It’s just all-round bad. And I know that any one of my five books is better than this rubbish. I am not exaggerating when I say that when I was an English teacher I marked stories of ten year-olds who had a more engaging writing style than what I’ve read so far.

So, hope springs eternal. If this crap can get published surely I can. Can’t I? Bodrum mansion here I come.

By the way if you’re still wondering what the hell a picture of a golfer is doing in this post the answer is: Tiger Woods putting a bit spastically, as Mr Cussler might be tempted to pen.

The horns of a dilemma

Yesterday I finished the final, final proof-reading of my first Romney and Marsh book, Enough Rope. Today I have begun the process of editing the computerised version of the book to match my corrections/alterations. Next step will be formatting for an e-book. It all takes time, but then so does everything else like working and eating and commuting and being a father of a one-year-old and sleeping. And there are only so many hours in the day.

On the whole I am fairly pleased with the book still. If I had to write it again I don’t think that I would change anything. I don’t think that it can be improved by me. I freely admit that I’m no Booker winner (I wouldn’t even make the so-long list) but I know that I have given this book my best; the best as the writer that I was when I wrote it. This was my second attempt at writing a full-length novel.

I find myself, however, in a bit of a dilemma with these three books. I think that the second book is better than the first and the third is better than both of the first two. I don’t know why exactly. It could be because the characters have grown in the books and in my mind and become more real and familiar that I feel this way. It could be that I prefer the storylines in the second and third books. It could also be because I found myself enjoying the writing of the second and third more than the first.

I like humour. I try to be funny sometimes. It doesn’t always work, of course. People have different tastes in these things. In the first Romney and Marsh book the subject material did not lend itself to any attempt at humour – there isn’t much to laugh at in a brutal rape – and I wasn’t thinking about trying to be funny. In the second book I found myself looking for opportunities to make light of a few things and I like to think that I succeeded once or twice – I still find the idea of Detective Inspector Romney deliberately walking dog-shit up the length of the expensive white carpet of someone’s hallway that he didn’t much like amusing. In the third book I was deliberately fabricating opportunities to include humour. Consequently, there are several passages that still make me laugh even now.

When I started writing these Romney and Marsh books I had no intention of trying to make passages or the characters humorous in any way. They were going to be serious crime fiction. Now, I like the fact that they are leaning that way more and more. It amuses me. I’m considering my audience more: me.

So, my dilemma is this: my aim is to release the first book in the series and then hope for some positive reviews on Amazon, for example, and – not least because the book will be free to download – a good number of take-ups. Then I want people to be interested enough to pay a little something for the second book and the third. That’s the plan. But if I consider the best book is the third shouldn’t I be starting with that? But I can’t really because it’s a series. But I could, maybe, because they don’t rely on each other. One doesn’t need to have read the first and second to understand or appreciate the third. But I want to release them in the order that they were written and, come to think of it, there are strands of the three that are drawn out in a chronological order. It’s awkward. If no one likes the first much they won’t be tempted to pay for the second and third. Shouldn’t I be putting my best foot (book) forward? I don’t need this.

Creativity ‘closely entwined with mental illness’

 

“Creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible, according to a study of more than a million people.

Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, the Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found.”

Well that explains a lot.

These are the opening two paragraphs of an online article by Michelle Roberts, Health editor, BBC News online. Here is the link for the full picture of how and why you – only creative people are following my blog – are crazy…actually, no, I’ll tack it on the end of this post because if, like me – a perspiring author – you recognised something in those six little words that make up the title of this post and Ms Roberts’ article that struck a chord somewhere deep within your subconscious (something like an Fsharp minor7 – think smashing a clenched fist down on the keyboard of an out of tune piano with your eyes closed) you’ll hurry straight over to read the rest of it for an explanation of those voices, those strange imaginings, those impulses that spring up unbidden to strangle the person next to you on the bus simply because their breathing is too heavy, or they won’t move over, or they’re just there, annoying you, sucking the energy out of you and the rest of my post would have been (more) wasted time for me. (At least being a sufferer of a multiple personality disorder I can say that at least four people read every post I post.)

The weblink was sent to me by a ‘concerned’ friend. He sent no comforting message with it, no words of encouragement, no, ‘Saw this and thought of you. Chin up, mate’.  It was just a weblink. He likes to pretend that he’s concerned for me, but I can see right through him. He’s hoping to push me over the edge. He’s always been jealous of my creative output despite the cross I bear that is my fragile mental state. He phones me up at odd hours of the night – when he knows that I’m at my most vulnerable – to ask me if I’ve thought any more about suicide? He won’t leave it.

Well this has back-fired on him because rather than creating further feelings of anxiety and concern to push me deeper into the abyss, the research findings have served to explain something of the way I feel different to most of the people I meet. I only really feel that I’m in the company of kindred spirits when I do my hour a week voluntary work at the local mental institution (The magistrate called it voluntary work, but that’s not the way I see. It was part of my sentencing. How can it be voluntary work if you have to do it or go to prison?) However, sometimes I don’t want to leave. Sometimes they don’t want to let me.

So thanks, mate. You brightened my day. More than that. You got my creative juices flowing. And when I’d sponged them off my trousers – can’t get rid of the smell though – I sat down to compose some song lyrics inspired by recent allegations in the British press that one of our national-media-treasures who died last year, a man who had unrestricted and regular contact with physically disabled, mentally disabled and healthy children, was in fact a serial paedophile. A rapist. A molester of little children. A pervert. And …..a BBC employee! His campaign of terror and child abuse is said to have spanned decades. What the fuck! What a shame that he died without being brought to account. There is nothing funny at all in this revelation (and I’ll laugh at just about anything) but I take one small crumb of satisfaction from the knowledge that he was a frequent visitor to the prime-ministerial weekend residence of Margaret ‘iron cunt’ Thatcher at Christmas. No wonder her son Mark is such a fuck-up. Jimmy probably fixed him good in Santa’s grotto.

So, if you’re still with me here are the lyrics. But first some necessary background. Jimmy Saville had a BBC television programme called Jim’ll Fix It. The theme tune was such a catchy little number that even today, what thirty years later?, I have no problem recalling it. If you can’t or you aren’t old enough to know it then why not check it out on Youtube. The words for my song are designed to go with the tune.

 

Jimmy Saville RIP

A Bm7 E A F G C F G A D E

Your letter was only the start of it

Now Jimmy knows you you’re gonna be part of it

His reign of terror and molestation

How’s about that then?

Cigar smoke, tracksuits and jewellery

Here’s Jimmy for more tom-foolery

Goodness gracious watch out guys and gals

For Jimmy and his pals.

His popularity and all that running for charity

Let him rape with impunity let’s hear it for Sir Jimmy, OBE.

A sexual predator abusing trust and him and her

Who are the people that let him work

With the young and the vulnerable? It’s too horrible.

The disabled and mentally retarded

Are in trouble if left unguarded

The young and healthy are in danger too

From you know who

The devil’s coming, celebrity royalty

A kiddy-fıddler with the BBC

Jim’ll fix it and then he’ll fix you

And he can’t be sued

His popularity and all that running for charity

Let him rape with impunity let’s hear it for Sir Jimmy, OBE.

A sexual predator abusing trust and him and her

Who are the people that let him work

With the young and the vulnerable? It’s too horrible.

There. I’m done for today. Here’s that weblink. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19959565

What am I?

Although my blog is essentially about my self-publishing venture I have decided to open up the scope of the content to include (when I have the time and energy to do so) other writing genres that I have dipped my toe in the water of – a couple of poems and short-stories. Why not? To this end I have created a couple of extra and appropriate pages into which I will place my offerings.

Below is a short-short-story. Actually, it seems like more of a riddle, so with that in mind I’ll pose the riddley question – what am I?

I Am Forever

I was nothing more than different among my kith and kin; a freak, perhaps, biding time, maturing, blossoming under my mother’s pure and natural love; ignorant of the effect I would grow to exercise. Unaware. Undemanding.

Attracted by my difference, men came. Uncontrolled, they raped. Unregulated, they pillaged. They wrenched me from my home in a display of wanton devastation; unconcerned for the havoc they wrought, the destruction they brought.

They all wanted me: the rich the poor; the old the young; the smart the stupid. I was worshipped, fought over, exchanged, sold, stolen, gifted. The lucky shared themselves with me for a while, fondling, caressing. I was helpless to their will; at the mercy of their whims. I made dreams. I ended lives.

Eventually, I was married in a show of strength and ceremony, and then, as was the custom, presented to the king for his pleasure. At first he loved me, but like all love his dwindled.

Still I am coveted, but my position and Royal protection are absolute. I am not to be relinquished, banished instead to an existence of confinement and occasionally eventful solitude.

Be careful what you wish for.

 

Well, I was right about one thing. Inserting prurient keywords into my most recent blog-post heading certainly ensured that my post attracted a wider audience. Who’d have thought that so many would be interested in the term, ‘female ejaculation’ ?

Inundated, swamped, teeming, flooded, none of these words seems to adequately describe the tsunami of responses, comments and hits that my inbox is struggling with. It is truly staggering.

Admittedly most of those who were attracted to my experimental post expressed their bitter disappointment at the lack of images and video clips depicting the subject matter. (To be clear, there are none.) I have had to suffer a considerable amount of abuse, two broken (cyber) windows and a death threat.

The site moderator asked me to review my post title and my position. The Turkish authorities have expressed a concern at my online activity (I didn’t think that through did I?). My employer (how did they find it?) is demanding a written explanation and apology (for what, they didn’t say.)

At the last count my blog hits had actually trebled when compared with hits received for earlier posts. Typically, my initial forays into the world of blogging were averaging one hit each (I have to admit that this was me checking up on myself). Including a smutty phrase in the title saw me reach the dizzying heights of three blog hits and a whole load of trouble. Live and learn.

Seriously – what the hell do I have to do around here to get noticed?