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Old Ground

in martindale

You don’t mind if I talk to myself a little this evening, do you? I seem to be going over a lot of old ground at the moment. First of all I’m revisiting my novel Push Hands and putting it up on Wattpad. I’m doing this primarily for myself, but it’s attracting a few new readers, and that’s always a plus. Push hands was first published in 2008 on Feedbooks. It’s since seen many revisions – by this I mean a periodic sweep for typos and other glitches. You’d think in all that time I would have captured every mistake, groomed and polished the text to a pristine print quality, but I haven’t. I’m still finding typos.

I’ve redesigned the cover-pic, which is always fun, and I’m putting up a couple of chapters at a time. It gives me the opportunity to make a leisurely run through the text, to enjoy it again, revisiting the characters, and to make corrections of course. I suppose the danger comes when I decide to add stuff, when I decide I don’t really like the way I said a thing back then, or if a fresh thought strikes me as apposite, and fits at the end of that paragraph, and away we go, adding in more typos along with the fresh insights.

My story Sunita was picked up by a reviewer who said generally kind things about it, though adding that the story was more riddled with typos than usual, even for a self published text. I’m not surprised. I only put that one up last year. I’ve decades of revision ahead of me yet with Sunita, but it gives me the opportunity to revisit her too, and to fall in love with her all over again. I suppose that’s it, more than anything, as a romantic writer, I enjoy revisiting my muses, seeing if I’ve missed anything they wanted to tell me the first time around.

Other old ground comes with my “new” work – Sea of Words, also on Wattpad – being a collection of thoughts on writing that I’ve snatched from my blog. And in similar vein I’ve put up a short work on men’s mental health, a subject I can speak with some experience on. All of this allows me time to back pedal on the subject of actually writing fresh stuff, of making new routes through the still largely undiscovered country that is my fifty five year old vintage self.

The Sea View Cafe, my current work in progress, is steering its way into dangerous and muddy territory. The two main female protagonists have begun flirting around the edges of a love affair – with each other – while the villain is squelching off through the quagmire of his own murky business, a business that seems now increasingly tangential to the plot. I trust he’ll surprise me in the end and help me pull off a rounded and plausible denouement. Meanwhile the hero is burning his bridges somewhere else, possibly to return to find himself betrayed in love by the two women who mean most to him, when they get it on together instead of one of them with him.

But will this really work? I don’t know yet.

Any of these developments can drive the story onto the treacherous rocks of improbaility, and I must decide whether to trust in the writing process and give the unconscious free rein to plot a course wherever the hell it likes, or to consciously intervene and say: Woa,… hang on a minute!

I’ve had trouble with my women before in this respect. (Lavender and the Rose) I don’t think it’s prurience on my part (think girl on girl porn). When I identify strongly with a female character I inevitably do so as a man and therefore introduce by default a bi-sexuality into the mix. I am drawn romantically, and sexually to women, therefore my heroines run the risk of being drawn the same. Maybe I’m just no good at writing a convincing female character, and my challenge is to have one fall plausibly in love with a man and tell me why.

The female protagonists in Lavender and the Rose fell for one another. I resisted it for a long time, pulling the plug on the story again and again, but the story had a momentum of its own and wanted its conclusion in that direction, so I finally let them get on with it. I have no objection to women falling in love with women of course, my only concern is that a male writer attempting to portray such a thing with nothing but his imagination to go on had better be very careful, and I didn’t want to run the risk a second time.

The Sea View seems to be about healing through love and trust and friendship, and the quest for enlightenment through a return to simplicity. They are, admittedly, things I, as a lone misanthrope in thrall to consumerism and flighty little open top roadsters, have little experience of, and probably much to learn from. It’s wish fulfilment then, this old ground, and my stories are a path worn into a deep groove, one I am unable to climb out of, thus I am bound to revisit the same themes, the same plot twists over and over, until I find one that allows me to transcend my decades old paradigm.

Perhaps I should be less self-analytical in my stories – try a simple Werewolf fan-fic next? But then I am not familiar with such territory, and a writer had better stick to the labyrinth he knows, hoping to one day pick up on that passage he’s overlooked. Then he can finally level up and move on.

Thanks for listening.

Knowing nothing

philosophersWhat do we really know for sure? When it comes to defining the nature of reality there’s actually very little we can be sure of at all. I can even view my surroundings right now, and my presence in them as a dream, indeed I might as well for it’s impossible to prove things are otherwise. Even when I suffer I might be dreaming my suffering, and in the presence of others, I might be dreaming their presence. And the facts of the world, the laws by which it is governed may simply be the facts as I have invented them in the dream of the world, from the rising and the setting of the sun, to the swirl of atoms. As for the laws of physics not yet discovered, perhaps I merely invent them as I go along.

We learn from dreaming how malleable facts can be. The preposterous becomes true, not merely because we allow ourselves to believe it is so, but because the entire dream paradigm endorses it as such and so it becomes, at least within the bounding conditions of the dream, a verifiable fact. Often I will dream I have dreamed a dream before and only on waking realise the deceit, that I have not dreamed it before, that it was only a fact of the dream and only upon attaining an external perspective, by waking, do I realise the dream’s false nature.

Similarly in order to realise our false perceptions of the waking world, we must gain an external perspective, for only then might we know it for the illusion it either is, or is not. You might think this is impossible, that we are too firmly embedded in life in order to see our life in the third person. However, by a process of contemplation we can loosen our grip and achieve a somewhat abstract focus upon the world, sufficient to realise the only thing we can be certain of is the fact of our consciousness.

We are conscious.

There,… it’s a start.

And having realised it, there is a stage further we can go, already implied by the realisation, and this involves the realisation we are conscious of our consciousness, that we are self aware, and self reflective, and then it is only one more step to the realisation we can observe our thoughts as we think them, that we can become aware of ourselves thinking, that we are not in fact our thoughts, that another presence altogether is responsible for that sense of self awareness.

And this is who we really are.

This is a pivotal realisation for a human being, one that marks a separation of the true self, this sense of self awareness, from the thinking or the false self.

That we are not our thoughts.

Thinking does not reveal the underlying truth of anything. On those occasions when the mind approaches an axiomatic truth, it is noted how sophistication falls away, that insight is achieved
more by observation without judgement, and in stillness. In such moments truth is revealed as plain as a key, and truth is what lies behind the door it spontaneously unlocks, and is felt in the feeling tones of the experience.

In this way we come to realise there can be more truth in the fall of light upon a pebble than in the liturgy of all religions, and in the whole of poetry; it depends how you view it and where your heart is at the time. At all other times it’s just a pebble. Purple prose will not convey its essence, for the longer a name and the more adjectives and metaphor we deploy in its description, the less resemblance it bears to any truth we might have felt. Nor does the truth bear with it any sense of urgency. It does not hurry us along to some imagined goal. It does not speak of time running out. It does not measure or judge, but possess instead a spaciousness and a love in which to rest, unquestioning in the peacefulness of true insight.

Anything else is just the noise of the world.

So, what do we know for sure? Not much. But then we don’t need to know much to be certain of the single most important thing in the world. Indeed for that we don’t need to know anything at all.

Loving your villains

the sea view cafe - smallIn most matters Squinty Mulligan took the view it was the substance of one’s life that mattered, rather than appearances. The Mercedes on his tail that morning, he decided, was not paid for. It was a leased car, brand new. It was the epitome of ‘appearances’. Were the driver, a slickly coiffured and besuited gent, to lose his job, he would lose his car, his rented home, everything. The man was a slave to his debt, and could not see it. There was no substance to him at all. He was no more than a credit rating.

As for Squinty? He could buy a car like that outright, a fancy wrist-watch, a nice home, no problem. That he chose not to, that he chose instead to rumble about in his old Landrover, trailing a cloud of diesel fumes was a question of his personal credo, one of not showing off, or pretending to be something you were not. The old man had taught him that. But it went deeper. Squinty had the money, had the substance – all be it gained by questionable means – but was averse to showing it off. All right, the truth was people might ask questions about the source of his ‘substance’, but Squinty was happy to overlook this fact and wilfully mislabel it as humility. Whatever, Squinty was not boastful.

In love it was different though. Squinty was lonely, but it was pride that would not allow him to show it. He had splashed a bit of money out on nice clothes and a haircut and a hot shave, and for a moment that time in the supermarket, he was sure Hermione had warmed to him, or at least paused long enough to ask herself the question. But it had backfired on account of his impetuosity, and after much thought, he now blamed Maureen for that.

The traffic was thick and sluggish heading into Manchester and the Merc was hanging really close to his bumper, so close he couldn’t even make out its lights or its number plate. It was pushing him, even though there was nowhere to go, and he was getting annoyed with it.

Maureen you say?

Sure, it had been grand for a while, a bit of a laugh, and there was no doubt she was fun to be with when she’d had a few, and very obliging afterwards in bed, though often too drunk to remember any of it in the morning, so in a sense it was like the first time with her every time. They’d tried to do it sober, but it hadn’t felt the same, and Squinty was getting to be of an age when he could no longer do it drunk.

And Maureen’s story was one of depression, of a son dead in a foreign war, and a husband making money on a rig in the Irish Sea, a man who’d not been home in years and most likely would not be coming home again and all because his wife was impossible to live with.

It had begun because he’d felt sorry for her, felt it would perk her up a bit, a bit of casual loving, like – her husband away and all that. And it had, but Maureen was an addict: booze and,… well,… you know,… and none of it satisfying her for very long, and he wasn’t such a fool as to think he was the only one she was doing it with.

Her house was a tip of course, the bedsheets unchanged, bottles of cheap booze in the kitchen cupboards, the sink piled with mucky pots. Okay, his place wasn’t much to look at either, but even Squinty had his standards. Sure a man would be a fool to expect anything but ruin in the arms of Maureen.

Now Hermione, on the other hand,… it was the sheer cleanliness of the girl, and the kindness, and the warmth of her. That she disapproved of his banter he took for a feisty spirit, and it excited him, but she was soft enough too and he’d soon have her in her place if he could only find a way of connecting with her first. But he’d never been good with that sort of thing, I mean playing a woman for keeps.

But aren’t you forgetting the small matter of a broken window, Squinty – not to mention other transgressions?

Sure, but he’d apologise for that, offer to pay for the damage, and she’d be sweet about it.

You’ll see.

It was a twisty road, still busy in both directions. The Merc wanted to go faster or squeeze past but since the traffic and the twistiness was against overtaking, the only thing it could do was nudge ever closer to Squinty’s tail in the hope of getting a few more miles per hour out of him. Squinty grew tired of it and slammed on the brakes.

It had always been a good stopper, that old Landrover – not much to look at of course, but it was built like a tank.

The front of the Merc was crumpled, because that’s the way with cars these days. There was steam and the scent of oil and antifreeze. Nice smell, thought Squinty as he stepped down – for a mechanic you couldn’t beat it. As for the back end of the Landrover it was hard to tell. It might have been missing a bit of paint, but it could have been like that for a while – Squinty wasn’t sure.

The dog was barking with the shock of it, but Squinty cowed it with a simple: “QUIET”

The driver of the Merc stepped out, pale and shaken, mistook Squinty for a dishevelled old fart and became uppity.

“But didn’t you see the fox?”said Squinty, innocent as you like.

“Fox?”

“Fox ran in front of me. Had to brake hard. Pity you were so close.” He couldn’t resist the curl of a smile. F@$%ing city slicker – he didn’t look so corporate and cool now, did he?

Sqinty wrote down his details, handed them over, all legal, like. “Your fault, mate.” he said. He tapped the back window of the Landrover. Got you on my dashcam, right up my arse for the past half hour. Was just thinking to myself I hope I don’t have to pull up sharp.”

He was smiling as he drove away. It was going to be a good day.

***

Squinty is the “villain”, for want of another word, of my work in progress: The Sea View Cafe. He has many a trait that makes me wince, and he treats the heroine appallingly, but there are bits of him that have me cheering him on. When you can love your villains, I think you stand a chance of pulling it off.

I’ve begun serialising The Sea View on Wattpad, even though I’ve still no idea where it’s going, but I’m just loving getting to know these characters. I can’t wait to find out what they’re going to do next. They’re in charge – I just take notes.

The Sea of Words

The Writing Master Small.jpgThoughts on writing for the internet age

I write a lot about writing here on the blog. My pieces appear sporadically, usually when my fiction falters and I lose confidence in myself. The purpose of these pieces is not entirely altruistic then. I write about writing – how to keep yourself writing, how to deal with rejection, how writing is changing, how the Internet is the future of writing – be it fiction or journalism – and how there was never any money in writing anyway, that the readership one reaches is more important, and that anyone can now gain a readership by self publishing online.

So, I do this primarily to lecture myself, to remind myself of my own lessons, my own experience. Writing is an exploration of the self, but in self exploration the by-product is an account of experience, and there’s something in human beings that wants to pass that experience on. It might be evolutionary, passing on the knowledge of the mantraps, or the lairs of the sabre toothed tigers to others of one’s clan. It ensures the survival of the clan – more so than if we learn the lessons as individuals, and keep them to ourselves. And my clan is the vast number of creative writers out there, working in isolation, who feel stymied by the opaque business of publishing and at the mercy of one existential crisis after another as the tides of our own soul ebb and flow with the moon.

Not everyone will agree with my approach to writing since it involves abandoning the idea of being paid for one’s work. It’s a myth that there’s a lot of money to be made from writing. Certainly a few high profile authors do make a fortune, but this is the exception to the rule and has distorted our expectations. In fact most can expect to make very little from writing, certainly not enough to be self sufficient, and especially from the more literary type of work I tend to favour. My advice then is to get a proper job to pay the bills and make your peace with it, because you’re going to need that job to support you while you write. This is simply the nature of it, and always has been.

Of course some of my clan are still chasing the dream of a book signing in Waterstones, believing this to be the only worthy goal in writing – that and a Booker Prize and anything else is just defeatist. It’s a worthy ambition of course, but it’s one fraught with danger for the self worth and the general well being of the tens of thousands of other writers, like me, whom no one has ever head of. It’s for us I argue there is another way of viewing ones art, that self publishing is self-enabling, that the miracle of the Internet gives us a voice and a readership when even so little as ten years ago we needed a publisher for that. Now we simply publish ourselves.

So, I’ve been rooting through the blog and gathering up all those “writing about writing” pieces and collecting them under the cover of a “book” called “The Sea of Words”, and I’ve self published it on Wattpad. I did this on the spare of the moment, while trapped during a rainstorm in my little Summer House, one evening – because you can do that with self publishing. It’ll be an ongoing series. I’ll post a few pieces every now and then, because that’s what you do on Wattpad. If the readership peaks at less than 100, I’ll delete it in order to spare myself further embarrassment, and the book will be as if it had never existed, because it works both ways and you can do that too on Wattpad.

 

roamerInhibition. Self consciousness. It makes our dancing stiff, our singing flat, faltering, subdued. We know we can do better, but the crowd or at least the suspicion of its scrutiny puts us off. It’s better then to close our eyes, to believe we’re the only person in the room. But what about writing? Do we write best when we believe no one will ever read what we’ve written? For most writers this is a distinct possibility, but what’s the point in writing anything at all if you’re the only person who’s ever going to read it?

This is an existential question. The point of writing is opaque, defiant of reason, cycling between the black dog of depression and an over-inflated self worth. Both are damaging in their way, but in particular we fear that black dog getting the drop on us, for then surely we’ll never write another word.

For whom do we write, then?

I asked this question of Google and turned up one of my own blog pieces entitled, appropriately enough: For whom do we write? I concluded we write for ourselves, that the person we imagine reading our work, the imaginary “other” is a projected version of ourselves, and who am I to argue with my own analysis? But this is not to detract from the mystery of the process. Yes, we write for ourselves, but are inspired by the belief that any revelations we uncover in the process are potentially of value to others following in our wake.

1960AviaAs I write this evening, I’m wearing an AVIA wrist watch from the sixties. It’s nearly as old as I am. Although we’ve only recently become acquainted, it means as much to me as my father’s Roamer which dates to the late forties, and as much as the Rolex I bought myself with my first month’s salary, at the outset of my dayjob, in 1982. By contrast, I bought the AVIA off Ebay, last month for £20. Why should it mean anything? It’s worthless. What puzzle does it pose? And  why should you be interested in my telling you about it?

I mean, who are you anyway?

My father’s watch tells the story of his life, a story that ended when I was fourteen. I rarely wear it, but his life and its premature ending is what I think about when I handle it. It needs a minor repair, but one I’m not yet confident enough to tackle for fear of damaging it. The metaphor in this is complex and strange and deeply personal and may only yield further revelations when I have the courage to finally take the back off the watch.rolex

The Rolex was to some extent a marker of stability, telling of a time when I had stilled the stormy seas somewhat and established a way forward in life for myself. I wear it on special occasions, but am sometimes embarrassed to be the owner of an aspirational timepiece, all be it by now a vintage one – that a part of me once thought such things were important or impressive to anyone. I would never spend that sort of money on a watch today, no matter what my disposable income, yet I could never sell it, so appear to be clinging to those old perverted values, no matter what my opinion of them.

Then there’s the AVIA, a curious old thing that adds it own unique twist to the story. It tells of a thing as old as I am, one that’s survived the years in good condition, and is still of use, still reliable. The previous owner is unknown to me, as are the times the watch has known, a mystery only to be guessed at, times that have ticked away oblivious to my own, yet in parallel with them, yet also now suggesting a kind of collective completeness that might be revealed in the contemplation of its feeling tones.

I may of course be stretching my metaphors to destruction here, but these things provide sufficient energy to draw my fingers to the keyboard. But  I cannot allow myself to imagine your presence, your derision, your boredom, at least not until the thing is worked out and revealed at least to me as a valid commentary on the human condition. Then, my friend, you can take it or leave it.

A telling of any kind is an exploration of the mystery of being, and the conclusion is the opening of a door, one whose threshold we arrive at by entirely abstract means. And the revelation that awaits us might similarly be expressed in abstract ways, but the writer knows when the puzzle is solved, because that’s when the story ends, whether we’re writing literature, or a murder mystery. The tale of the three watches is still seeking its conclusion, and I use it here as an illustration of the underlying psychology and both the challenge and the necessity of  writing as if no one were listening.

A story is not real life. In a story the boundaries are set as a specimen mounted under a microscope. In a romance, often the telling is of the obstacles to love, commencing with the first meeting and concluding with the marriage, or the first kiss, or the long awaited making love. The story of a life however does not end in the same way. It goes on, rich in revelatory material, at least for the writer with sufficient sensibilities. But the love story is a familiar pathway, one most of us are familiar with, and it’s pleasing to be led along it, so the writer need not feel shy or self conscious in directing his pen to such an enterprise, even under the full glare of an imaginary readership. But what of those other stories, those other questions, questions one might even be afraid to ask?

For myself I have no interest in controversy, finding, as you’ve seen here, sufficient mystery in the tale of three wrist watches, and it’s perhaps for that reason I’m content to proceed without an audience, if only because I cannot imagine anyone being held rapt by the telling of such a tale. What provides the energy to keep writing in this vein is not the arrogance  my musings are as valid as anyone else’s. To be sure they may be nonsense, but in writing the only arrogance is the belief we are in any way responsible for the creation of our own work in the first place.

The question of the three wrist watches rises from a part of me to which I have no direct access. Yet it burns, and must be given voice to or the writer in me is not complete. In this sense then the audience does not matter. So yes, although it’s a hard thing to imagine, we must write like no one’s ever going to read our words. This isn’t so difficult as the non-writer might suppose, for the words themselves, even if they lead the writer on a merry dance to nowhere, are sufficient reward, and especially if, through their telling, the writer gets to glimpse beyond the doorway of one’s liminal consciousness to an abstraction of the universal revelation of what it means to be a living, thinking, feeling human being.

Scent

rydal mount

My lawn had grown overlong since the last mow, virtue of a week of rain and heat. It felt soft and springy underfoot, and the grass released its scent as I walked, a delicious scent that mingled with that of haymaking coming from the meadows beyond the fence. It was an overcast evening, warm, with pale white clouds rising into an oppressive background of blue-grey. I sensed the approach of a thundery rain. They say you can smell the rain, or if not the rain exactly then something of the atmosphere that precedes it. And yes, that evening I fancied I could smell the approach of rain. All of this intermingled was the scent of a rural late summer evening, rich in memory, releasing images of childhood, faces and events from a past I had forgotten, long locked in the treasure chest of experience.

The remarkable thing me in all of this was that I could smell anything at all. To lose ones sense of smell for so long as I had, and have it return as strong and keen as it sometimes is now is more than a joy. It is an intimate and profoundly meaningful re-connection with the deeper world, a connection many normal scented people take for granted. Indeed I’ve seen them pull a face, overwhelmed by scents of the wrong sort. But to the recovering anosmic, even the rancid odour of organic decay is a sensual experience of incalculable value, if not exactly to be enjoyed, then at least, like all scent, appreciated for the enhanced degree of self awareness its grants for, as any anosmic will tell you, to be without scent is to be not fully in the world at all.

I can’t remember how long I was without a sense of smell – decades probably. It faded gradually, for no known reason, and doctors could not help me. My road to recovery then was one of personal experiment, and the search for useful information in a sea of online nonsense, and hear-say, and old-wives-tales. But had I cleaved solely to accepted medical opinion I might have subjected myself to painful and invasive surgery only to find, as many had before me, that it did not work. I might also have subjected myself to a life on steroids. I persevered with the medically accepted route for two years with intermittent and at best only temporary respite, before giving up on it. Instead I followed a tentative lead to a harmless common food supplement called Lipoid Acid. Six months later my sense of smell was returning. Getting on for two years now, and its sharpness can at times astonish me.

But Dr Google is for sure an unreliable healer. He will tell you what you want to hear. Is my condition incurable? Yes/no, he says, depending on what you want to believe. Will this or that cure it? Yes/ no, he says, again depending on what you want to believe. Life threatening? Ditto.

There is no substitute then for a circumspect approach, one that values only the evidence of a verifiable efficacy. But here we find the skepticism of science overwhelmingly biased against the hope of myth, and old-wifery, dismissing it in its entirety as nonsense when actually there may be useful snippets to be gleaned. As a rule we must be suspicious of anything that costs us money, avoid also the inane chatter of vexatious forums and other online support groupery. Instead seek the accounts of those who have done things, who have tried this or that, and written about it in detail, and aren’t trying to sell you a cure. I found my own crock of gold in the writings at No Smell No Taste, judged it to be a reliable source and followed my nose (pun intended).

So it was partly from the sea of online myth the stories of Lipoic Acid arose. It was also a degree of faith and determination that guided their application, and eventually saw me through to a re-connection with a sensual experience I had not dared hope I’d ever know again.

The varieties of fragrance of women at a wedding is astonishing, as I had reason to notice last weekend. There are so many commercial perfumes, and I had forgotten how unique they are, and how they play upon the senses, how they tickle the emotions – some of them darkly erotic, some playfully sharp, dancing light upon the night air like the faery folk, and all obliterated now and then by the heavy sweetness of a cigarette, an unwholesome troll of a scent that can have me compressing my lungs in defence at twenty paces. Yet, but a few years ago, I would not have smelled a cigarette even had I been holding it myself.

The realisation doctors do not know everything is a salutary lesson, and something of a shock to the layman. Certainly they know much more about a thing than you or I, but to own a condition like Anosmia is an education in itself and qualifies you by default for intelligent study and comment. And it is through study we might understand it, and by understanding come either to terms with its incurability, or aid our own recovery.

With anosmia, a complicating factor is no one knows how the sense of smell works, how it takes the airborne molecules of the scented thing and reads them in a way the mind can interpret a signature of the scent of that thing. We can guess it’s something to do with the mucous membrane and the way the sensory nerves lie within it. We can look suspiciously at invasive polyps – cut them out if they are sufficient in number to actually block the nose. But I still have polyps, yet also a keen sense of smell, so polyps, although much maligned and blamed, and to be honest a flipping nuisance, I conclude, are not the cause of anosmia.

My own feeling is that inflammation of the mucous membrane is the cause, that polyps are a symptom of this as much as anosmia, that in swelling of the membrane the nerves within it are stretched and lose their ability to do whatever it is they do. Reduce the inflammation and the nerves recover their mysterious function, and the sense of smell returns.

The scent of a cupboard when you open it, the scent of shoe polish, the musky sweetness of WD40, the sharp repellent tang of petroleum, and metal polish. And in the garden, a rose, or lavender, or rosemary, the interior of an old shed containing a mad cornucopia of scented stuff. The scent of a car under a hot sun. The scent of a handful of copper coins. A newspaper. A chip shop.

All these things are to be marvelled at adding incalculable layers of meaning to the world that is also seen and felt and heard, and without which the world is not complete.

[PS the garden featured in the photo isn’t mine, but once belonged to William Wordsworth]

 

 

Noise

writer pasternakGoodreads is an online social meeting place for the bookish. You read a book and you tell the world what you thought about it. You score, you rate and pontificate to your heart’s content. You even get to list the books you’ve read, are reading, or intend to read. Thus, like all good social media, it affords one a means of showing off to people who really couldn’t care less.

As for the writers among us, you don’t have to be a proper published author to be listed. Even self published ebooks, hastily cobbled and given away, are on there too, so it’s an inclusive, impartial and non-partisan catalogue, which has to be good.

But before signing up and contributing to the heaps of unsolicited critique already on there, remember Goodreads is an advertising platform aimed at selling you stuff you probably don’t need. It also, crucially, has a business model of which we, the bookish, are an integral part, providing a vast quantity of free content, both the commentary, and (in the case of us self published authors) even the stuff that’s commented upon. In return it allows us occasionally to “share” in the success of selected famous authors by engaging in online Q and A sessions with them, but again, remember, this sharing is a means of advertising the said author’s works, or at the very least maintaining their profile at our own unpaid expense.

In short, Goodreads is pure genius.

But it doesn’t quite work for me, and the main reason is this: I’ve never been comfortable critiquing the work of another author. True, I do have a Goodreads account and have “reviewed” books I’ve enjoyed, but it’s rare I’ll take out the hatchet, because I don’t feel qualified, and would rather not say anything if I cannot say something positive. To say a work is rubbish, as Goodreads’ army of unpaid reviewers often do, tells us more about the reviewer than the book. This is perhaps the reviewer’s intention anyway, though with the reviewer perhaps hoping it will make them appear more intelligent, when actually all it reveals is their ignorance.

There’s something crass about denigrating creativity, be it from the pen of a master, or a teenage amateur just starting out in college romances on Wattpad. We all have it in us to be creative, but it takes courage to expose one’s self to public scrutiny. Many are put off by fear of the snide intellect tearing their work to shreds, pointing out spelling mistakes, poor grasp of grammar, or generally berating them as a shrivelling worthless fraud.

My English teacher used to do it with great panache; but it was his job. His caustic red pen and his tartly encircled “see me’s” were intended (I hope) to raise my game, but we needn’t take criticism from anywhere else at all seriously, especially amateur criticism from the likes of Goodreads or Amazon, or any other public bookish forum where people basically think out loud without a care for who they hurt in the process. This is just noise. People like to moan, and the angrier and the more depressed they are by life, the more they will moan about everything else.

The creative sphere, becoming as it is, increasingly de-monetised, need no longer be a battle of Egos for market share. De-monetised – literally writing for free – it has become more a sea of ideas, reflective of the collective turmoil of human thought in which anyone with a genuine and sincerely felt point of view is of equal worth and quite frankly beyond criticism. What creatives are about is the expression of the deeper human condition, feeding a hunger that comes from so far beyond the usual pedestrian measure of these things as to be almost paranormal. To create is the finest and most satisfying thing a we can do. To sneer at another’s work is not, especially when you’ve not paid for that work, and your opinion has not been asked for.

I have no reason to complain of my ratings on Goodreads since my average is 3.5 out of 5, which I take to be the sunnier side of middling, but I also note my early works score more highly than my later ones – my later ones scoring nothing at all. Is this a question of advancing apathy on the reader’s part regarding the time-line of my bibliography, or is it more an advancing senility on my own? Am I, in short, losing it? I’d begun to wonder about that, especially as I struggle to find my way with the current work in progress, but there is no worthwhile analysis to be had from the noise, and for the writer such a plethora of opinion can only be, at best, distracting, at worst discouraging. And anything discouraging for the writer is best avoided altogether because we’ve got enough to worry about as it is.

Writing for free, we must not allow amateur “ratings” or even the lack of them to guide our hand, and we should remember at all times the only person we need to keep on board is our selves. Trust only that if we have connected deeply enough with a piece of our own work – sufficient at least to finish it – the chances are others will connect with it too – not everyone for sure, indeed probably very few, but enough to make it worth our efforts. By all means chatter away on Goodreads, list the books you’ve read to show your friends how bookish you are, but remember, at the end of the day, like all social media, it’s basically meaningless to those it purports to serve, and of tangible importance only to those who control it.

I have been a creator of things all my life, and in that time have noticed also how non-creatives are quick to assume positions of power over us, finding ways to exploit the creatives for gains they are unwilling to share, treating us as second class citizens, milking us as unpaid cash cows. Goodreads and its ilk are the product of two decades of internetification – an evolution of sorts. This goes for my work too, though we come from opposing ideologies. Goodreads is about making something out of nothing, while I and others like me, in all our nothingess, rise powerfully from something the non-creative critic or self styled amateur marketing copywriter has any concept of.

So remember, dear un(der)paid writer, if you’re still smarting after that last semi-literate review of your heart-felt autobiography, or the novel you were sure would change the world, but which has yet to score anything at all on Goodreads review system, or indeed anywhere else, write on regardless because it’s always been that way. Have faith only in what inspires you and never mind the rest. It’s not much encouragement, but it’s all you’re going to get, and as any writer of experience will tell you, looking for encouragement beyond oneself is to take the world of idle chatter far more seriously than it deserves.

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