Archive for December, 2009

Opinions on the eternal nature of the psyche vary, depending upon the strength of your religious leanings. You either believe in it or you do not, or if you’re like me you try to be clever about it and say the nature of the psyche probably transcends our current understanding of things, and so we try to put off any awkward explanation of what it is we actually think.

We can only say for sure that nothing on earth lasts for ever. Change happens, sometimes slow – over a generation say, or sometimes fast, like in a city  – always changing, nothing certain, nothing sure, nothing ever the same.

The metaverse is like that too.

It’s not long since I blogged about my little patch of the metaverse, namely the offices of the Rivendale Review, in the online role playing game Second Life. But I logged in today to check up on things, only to find my rental had been “locked”, that I had three days to run and no means of extending my lease. Things had changed. The landlord had vanished, some of his holdings had been taken over, others hadn’t. There was no explanation. I was simply out on my ear with nowhere to go. It must be like this in real life, in a market dominated by rentals, where no one actually owns their own property. Pray to God it’s never universally the case!

Those people who might have visited the Rivendale Review before will now return to find a lone tree and a giant beach ball in place of my offices – at least for the next few days (a little parting joke). After that it’s anyone’s guess.

It can be so interesting in here sometimes but, it has to be said, also so trivial and so impermanent as to be absolutely meaningless.

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We’re enjoying a lovely cold spell here in the UK  – or I should say I’m enjoying it because I’m on holiday and I have neither the desire nor the need to be anywhere other than at home. The rest of the country however seems pretty miserable about the whole thing, if this evening’s news broadcast is anything to go by. For instance, there’s a terrible fuss about our cross-channel trains at the moment – they keep breaking down in the tunnel between the UK and France, stranding thousands of people and leaving their travel plans in disarray. I feel sorry for them, I really do, but the last thing I want to do at this time of year is travel. The season is against it. The world is not a village. The village is , well,… the village, and I never step out of it – well not far. Mere Sands Wood nature reserve yesterday, and Rivington today – both of these places  no more than twenty minutes drive and both bedecked with snow and frozen hard.

It’s so rare an occurence, this deep chill, I met only with smiling faces today – people enjoying it, exhilarated by it. The pattern for previous years has been only one or two days of sudden snowfall, enough to cause early morning chaos, but which has all gone again by tea-time. By contrast, this year, the snow came down last Thursday, and looks set to continue more or less up to Christmas. It’s rare, and lovely. The news reader bemoaned the fact that planes were slow getting out of a frozen Manchester Airport this morning, while I bemoaned the fact that we live in a world that actually demands we shuttle people thousands of miles, in a season when nature is trying to tell us to stay at home.

I’d have to go back to 1978 if I wanted to recall so prolonged a cold spell as this – plenty of snow, and overnight temperatures consistently below freezing, sometimes dipping down to minus five.

If this is global warming, I say: bring it on.

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I’ve just come across this term: “Indie Author” and I think I might be one, which is very exciting because it sounds so “hip”, so “wikid”, so “anarchic”, so “sticking it to the man”, and I’ve never been any of those things before so well done me! Except of course “Indie Author” is just a label and utterly meaningless. What I am is simply someone who likes to write, and will explore any means of  disseminating my work. The natural endgame of all writing is not necessarily publication, but I think for most of us it is, so others can read what we’ve written. So, if you like to write you’re going to have an interest in publication. But publication, as you’ll soon find out,  is a tricky business. Editors might not want to print your stuff. It’s a mystery. It might be that it’s crap – but you’ll never know because they won’t tell you. It might be because they don’t publish that sort of thing. Whatever the reason, if you try to figure it out you’ll only end up tied in knots, with years and years lost when you could have been doing something else, like,… well,… just writing.

So, you stick your short story up on Feedbooks, you publish your well travelled novels on Lulu. And they get read. Maybe that makes me an Indie Author, I don’t know, but if Random House offered me a generous advance for, say,  “Push Hands”, tomorrow, trust me, I wouldn’t be an Indie Author for very long.

I am what I am, and what I am I do not know, and in the words of the blessed John Clare: what I am none cares or knows.

Sure, I know that.

Self publishing online? Why not? Publish and be damned – just don’t expect to make anything out of it. But that’s okay, because you’re not that sort of writer, right?

I read a very sniffy piece today about self publishing online. It suggested that not all those ebooks out there amounted to very much and that a great many might indeed be very badly written, and not even worth a free download. It was the biggest statement of the obvious I’ve heard in a long while. If anyone can publish anything, then of course there’ll be a lot of  rubbish out there. But the  public are actually quite smart when it comes to judging a piece of writing. You don’t need to be a literary critic to decide if you basically liked something or not.  It might be corny, clichéd, of no recognisable genre, a mish-mash of styles that the educated guardian of “taste” would demonize on the spot, but I think people just like to read, and if a story touches them it doesn’t matter if it has literary merit or not, so long as it is reasonably well written. The theme of the story might have been done to death a thousand times by better authors than you, but Joe-public might never have heard of them, and on that one day they were simply fated to download your story – so you can forget about the rest. I’ve read a lot of stuff on Feedbooks, and some of it is very cringeworthy indeed, but some of it was well written and entertaining, and some of it made me think. Is that not the whole point?

A writer posting a badly written piece isn’t going to do himself any favours. Sloppy grammar, poor spelling and eccentric punctuation will all reflect badly upon him, and the next time his name crops up, the ebook-downloading Joe-public’s going to think twice. Quality control in the indie ebook market is built-in and self-regulating. Joe public might forgive an author once if they paid nothing, but if there was a price to download, that author can expect a lot of instant and universally negative feedback, which means they’re dead in the water.  Mud sticks. You have to take special care as an indie author because there’s no pernickerty editor  at the back of you cleaning up your grammatical howlers. Your only defence is to respect the intelligence of your mysterious reader. You also have to be sincere. If you mean well in what you write, I think that will come across,  then you might be forgiven the odd typo, but don’t push your luck.

Are you an Indie Author? My advice? Don’t think about it for too long. Better ask yourself instead what did I write today? What were my impressions? What did I feel?

Maybe John Clare is right, what we are none cares or knows. But that doesn’t mean the view of the world from the inside of your head  doesn’t matter.

And that’s reason enough to write.


I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and live with shadows tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest -that I loved the best –
Are strange -nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie, –
The grass below -above the vaulted sky.

John Clare 1793-1864

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Southport was cold and grey and wet this morning, and yet more shops had been boarded up. The massive Woolworths store they cleared out a year ago is still empty, still carrying its cheery red Woolworths logo, but there was little to be cheerful about and in one of the half empty malls there was a character with oiled hair handing out cash in exchange for gold,.. and he had plenty of customers offering their unwanted trinkets for him to squint at.

I’m lucky. I still have a job and can gaze upon this awful spectacle with the air of a detached observer. I wear only two pieces of gold: my wedding ring on my left hand and my father’s wedding ring on my right, and it’s easy for me to say that the oily haired man could go $@#£ himself, if he thought he’d ever be getting his hands on those. But how about when the rent’s due and there’s no money coming in and there’s a bully boy collector at the door?

There but for the grace of God, and all that.

I tried to buy a coffee and was offered more choice than I could cope with: Latte, Mocha, Americano, blah di blah di blah. For some reason this business of “choice” really irritates me now and I long for simpler days when I could just have one bloody thing that actually worked. I hear my politicians speaking of “choice” as if it were the holy grail, and yet I detect a curious hollowness in their words as if they don’t really believe it either and are simply reciting a mantra presented to them by a legion of obscenely highly remunerated political consultants.  Anyway,… I listened to the girl reeling them all off,…. all these varieties of highly desireable choice, coffee-wise,  and to be honest, I hadn’t a clue what any of them were. Feeling a little tired and confused I asked if  I could just have an ordinary filter coffee.  She sighed at my ignorance before replying with practiced patience that they were all filter coffee’s sir.  I apologise dear reader – urbane I am not. I like my coffee plain and strong. It does not come with a label.

I received an infinitely friendlier reception at the Atkinson gallery, where a group of handicapped kids (can I still say that?) were having a delightful sing-song, and the girl manning (can I still say that?) the reception desk  welcomed me up the stairs with a smile that instantly erased the memory of the pretentious coffee incident. Yes, this was “sanctuary”. I was safe, and looking for old friends: Dorette’s sister, the gloriously erotic Lillith of course, and a bewitching seascape by an artist called JHG Millar, whom no one seems to know anything about.

Then I ran into a major synchronicity.

I need to rewind here and explain  I’d just booked 2010’s summer holiday, on the  Northumberland coast. I have a memory of my last night there in August 2003, coming off the beach at Bamburgh after flying kites with my boys. The east coast beaches have a special charm.  The sea was lively and there was a mist overhanging everything. I paused for a second, just to look back  and take it all in. There was something bewitching about it. Then, six years later, I walk into the Atkinson, the day after booking my return trip, and I’m staring at a picture of the same scene, painted from the same spot!

Take no notice of the skeptics, nor the smug statisticians: Synchronicities are important. They are like a glitch in “the matrix” – if you’re into movies – if not then never mind. They indicate a change – that something is changing, that something in the mind is manoeuvering. But you will never understand a synchronicity in literal terms – try too hard to look for the meaning in them and they just smile at you, inscrutable as Alice’s Cheshire cat. The best you can do is feel the current tugging at you, and surrender to it.

After the Atkinson it was Broadhursts bookshop and a browse through the second-hand titles. I trust every major town in the UK still possesses a die hard establishment like Broadhursts. If books, real books, are your bag, then you know the sort of place I mean – they cleared out of the smaller county towns decades ago, to make way for the publisher’s clearance outlets – who really aren’t the same thing at all.  Anyway,… I found myself smiling when I noticed works by Richard Dawkins side by side with those of Derek Ankora here. It was a marvellous irony. But it was Carl Jung who drew my eye, and for a few pounds I came away with a second hand copy of  “Psychological Reflections”, an anthology edited by Jolande Jacobi. It’s a  while since I studied Jung and maybe the memory of that earlier synchronicity forced my hand.

Reading it later on in bed, I found myself a little too tired to do it justice, but one quote struck me between the eyes so hard, I had to write it down: All the true things must change and only that which changes remains true. It could easily have been a line from the Tao te Ching!

Those of us who tread the spiritual path away from the mainstream would do well to remember it. There is no clear definition for what it is we seek. It does not have a name. To define it is to kill it, to make it old and grey and useless. Therefore we hold no clear convictions, no unassailable beliefs, and we are not afraid to change, not afraid to say: I was wrong, not afraid to say: I don’t know.

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Mysterious things – verrucas: painful and, according to some doctors best left alone, which is odd. Even more odd is some doctors will tell you you most likely didn’t pick that verruca up at the public  swimming pool like you thought. They’re not infectious you see? They’re caused by a virus that gets into your skin, and they’ll go away on their own if you leave them alone, though it might take them a couple of years.  A Chiropodist, will tell you a different story though: they’re highly infectious, spread like wild fire, and swimming pools are excellent breeding places for them.

Confused? Me too!

When my kids were regularly visiting the public swimming pool, they had them all the time. When they stopped, they stopped getting them. Coincidence? I don’t know. What I do know however, is if you leave them alone they get bigger, and they hurt more. That’s not my imagination – they really do.

If you go to the chemist you’ll be able to pick up a kind of  acid based gel. You dab it on and it takes the top layer of skin off. Then you scrape at the thing with a nail file – Yuk! It also hurts, as my offspring will tell you. After mucking about with this gel for the first few verrucas, I read up on natural remedies and decided to try a dab of tea-tree oil instead. The oil is an extract from the Australian Narrow Leaved Paperbark tree, and is a powerful antiseptic, horribly expensive, but worth every penny.

It worked a treat.

I just a dabbed the verruca every night with a cotton bud soaked in neat Tea Tree oil, then covered it with a small plaster.  I could usually get rid of the thing in a couple of  weeks – but you have to put the work in. So far as I’m concerned every parent’s emergency tin should contain a nit-comb, a bottle of malt vinegar (see previous post) and  some Tea Tree oil.

The last verruca I dealt with though was a monster and pushed me into the realms of homeopathy. My son had discovered a huge verucca that I’d thought beyond the help of Tea Tree, so he was dispatched to the local sawbones who tried to freeze it off with liquid nitrogen. Yuck! And ouch! This didn’t work. Understandably my son was a reluctant to bother the sawbones again, so we started with the Tea Tree. Then I heard of a homeopathic remedy called Thuja!

This is an extract from the needles of the coniferous Thuja Occidentalis tree, or White Cedar. Native Canadian Indians were in the habit of drinking the extract which was unusually high in vitamin C and found to ward off all manner of skin complaints, including the dreaded scurvy. Now, I’m not well up on homeopathy and you must forgive my ignorance here but my understanding is that it’s based upon the idea of taking something that will cause a specific kind of harm – like boils, for example, if imbibed in its undiluted form. Then you dilute it over and over until there’s basically nothing left but water- and this is the homeopathic remedy for curing that specific ailment – i.e. getting rid of your boils. It sounds a bit odd to me, but lots of people swear by it and I have a fairly open mind, so we tried a homeopathic preparation of Thuja which we purchased over the counter from our local Holland and Barret store.

The verruca had gone in a week.

Naturally I’m not qualified here, beyond having had to deal with the blasted things for the best part of a decade, and we must all approach them in a way that seems right to us, which means that if you’re in any doubt consult a doctor. Speaking for myself,  I had good results with the natural remedies. They were fuss-free, pain free, and and they’d be my first response if I ever came across a verruca again.



My special thanks to Belinda and Ava for their comments below and their excellent photographic record of a poor verruca blighted foot returned to happiness by tea tree and thuja. You can view the pictures here:

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Verruca Diary

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What the?… Okay, this is turning into a bit of an eclectic blog, but it keeps me writing so what the heck?

The simple answer – in my experience is yes.

Perhaps it’s me but head lice seem to be more of a problem these days than they used to be. I went through the school system like everyone else and I never caught them, which suggests they simply weren’t as prevalent in the sixties and the seventies. Both my kids, educated in a supposedly more enlightened age, have had them, though they won’t forgive me for saying so of course.

In the olden times we had regular visits from the school nurse and I remember full assembly hall inspections, waiting your turn in front of “nitty-nora”, a severe, matronly woman who could probably tell just by the look of you if you had them or not. Anyone suffering from lice would be duly identified, and letters dispatched to parents. This would probably be classed as abuse now,  either that or it’s just too expensive to carry out and the nurse has more pressing things to do with her time. Either way, they don’t do itany more  and parents are left to cope with both the diagnosis and the cure on their own.

Of course, this isn’t a problem that afflicts school-children alone – as any teacher will tell you, it’s an occupational hazard. It doesn’t matter what sort of area the school draws from – either rich or poor: head-lice are no respecter of social background nor income bracket. You just brush heads with someone who’s got them, a playmate, or a partner, and you’ve got them too. You don’t have to be a grubby kind of person to catch them either, but there is a stigma that comes with them and that’s why they can be so distressing.

Being married to a teacher, and the father of school-aged children, I’m no stranger to head-lice. I’ve used pesticidal shampoos on my offspring in the past, but found them ineffective and, to be honest, a pain to use – also reading the labels of these substances used to frighten the life out of me.

Then I remembered the tales of my grandmother delousing her own offspring and any other children who happened to be in the house at the time. She used malt vinegar, a fine-toothed comb and an attitude of Edwardian common sense. This use of vinegar is generally quite well-known but, reading the various web-postings, there also seems to be some confusion about the best way of going about it. I’m sure there’s more than one way, but here’s what I do:

Before we proceed I have to remind you I’m not  medically qualified in any way, and therefore haven’t a clue what I’m talking about. If in doubt, go and see a “medical healthcare professional”  who will probably prescribe some pesticidal shampoo. If you’re interested in the old wives method then read on:

Get yourself a bottle of ordinary table vinegar. Malt vinegar is common and cheap here in the UK, so that’s what I use. You’ll also need a fine toothed comb, what is more commonly called a nit comb – the chemist will have one.  An ordinary comb is no good because it’s not fine enough.

Take a saucer and pour some vinegar into it – you don’t need much – you’re just going to be dipping the comb into it. Now fill the bathroom sink with warm water and thoroughly wet your hair, as if you were going to wash it.

Take the nit-comb, dip it in the vinegar and run it through your wet hair, then swish the comb out under the water. You’ll soon be able to tell if you’ve got head-lice, because they’ll end up in the water. Sometimes you think you’ve got them but you’re not sure and it turns out to be just an itchy scalp because you’ve been using that cheap shampoo from the discount store again, right? But believe me there’s nothing subtle about head-lice; if you’ve got them, you’ll know for sure at this stage.

Repeat the procedure until you’ve covered every inch of your hair – dipping the comb into the vinegar, running it through your hair and swishing the comb out into the water.  Be thorough. It’ll take ten minutes or so. Then wash your hair as normal to get rid of the stink of vinegar.

You won’t be free of head-lice at this stage, no matter how thorough you’ve been because you’ve still got the eggs in your hair. They’re tiny and sticky and they resist the comb. Then they hatch and you’re infected all over again. So, you’ve got to repeat the vinegar and nit-comb trick every day – sort of sweeping them up as they’re hatching out, and not giving them enough time to breed.

I prefer this method to simply tipping neat vinegar over your head, which sounds a bit drastic to me. If your hair is already wet, running a comb dipped in vinegar through it is a much gentler solution – we only want to get rid of the head-lice remember – not damage your hair.

It takes four or five days to clear them up properly. After five days, if you don’t see any head-lice in the sink when you’re swishing the comb out, it’s probably safe to say you’re clear.

Well done!

Okay the method involves some effort on your part, and you’ve got to be persistent, but I’ve found it’s a very reliable way of getting rid of them. Also, I may be a softie, but I’d rather put vinegar in my child’s hair than a pesticide.

Okay – next up, getting rid of the most mysterious childhood complaint of them all: verruca’s.

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They say nostalgia is useless, but I’m not so sure. Okay, it’s a subjective emotion, a sentimental fondness for past days – days you’re probably guilty of viewing through rose-tinted glasses. If we’re wise then, we’ll try to analyse our memories for any falseness, cut though the sentimentality and remind ourselves of the pain we might also have felt in those long gone glory days. If we can do this we realise that, if nothing else, there was at least a keeness to our feelings in decades past. I think it’s this memory of the strength of these former emotions that draws us back, and is the source of nostalgia’s formidable power.

As we grow older our emotions seem only to become ever more dull. A year is no longer an age, more the blinking of an eye. When we are young we fancy we see poetry, love, desolation and loneliness in everything. As we age, we fancy we see those things in fewer places. Indeed experience seems to grant us the dubious wisdom to conquer all the things we were once so painfully sensitive to. Consequently, our present becomes a safe, emotionless desert. It is not the olden days we hanker for then in our nostalgia, but an acuteness of feeling!

Earlier this year, I was feeling nostalgic for my time as a day-release student at Wigan Technical College. The result was a story called The Summer of ’83. I studied Mechanical and Production Engineering at Wigan, on the ONC, HNC and finally the HND courses between 1977 and 1984, what I suppose nowadays would be called NVQ’s. There was nothing particularly enjoyable about my time there – nothing easy about an engineering course. They were long days too, beginning at 9:00 am and ending at 7:00pm – admittedly just one day a week, but then we’d have a further evening to attend from 7:00pm until 9:00, and this was on top of a regular 9-5 job at the factory.

I don’t remember there being anything romantic about Differential Calculus, nor the theories of Tresca and Von-Mises, and I’m sorry guys but I’ve needed neither of you since my final exams. In the quieter moments of my studies, in the contemplative times, between classes, romance always seemed to find a way of seeping in. There would always be a girl on whom I’d betted my life’s worth of sentimental attachment – a fellow student, or sometimes little more than a lovely face on the bus-ride into town. And in the mysterious casino of my youth, it seems the house was always going to be the winner.

In the spring and summer months, when the weather permitted, I’d leave the campus at lunch times and seek solace in the greenery of Mesnes park, which was, in the 1980’s a beautiful place to visit, well planted, lush,… a place to sit yourself on a bench, eat your sandwiches and lose yourself in warm sunshine and a Thomas Hardy novel – a writer who seemed to have understood love exactly  the way I felt it.

Parks breathe life into the soul, and Mesnes park, such a short distance from the Parson’s Walk campus, became a  familiar friend and I remember it now with much fondness. Between Mesnes Park and Thomas Hardy, I survived the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, then met someone by chance and here I am twenty years later, comfortably married and thinking back upon those times with a possibly misplaced warmth. They were seven years, with nothing much to show  for them but a hard-won qualification in a discipline that’s now all but obsolete in a country that’s been de-industrialising with embarrassing haste since the day I got that HND. Seven years of romantic desolation,… but not totally wasted because then, unexpectedly, twenty years later out pops a short story called The Summer of ’83?

It’s had a decent reception on Feedbooks so far. I’m not sure if it’s a good story and perhaps the writer’s hardly the best person to say. That’s it with nostalgia, you see? You’ve really got to have been there. But I managed to relive a little of those olden times in the writing of it, and I hope I also managed to learn a little along the way about the uselessness of at least certain aspects of nostalgia, and why we should never be too hasty in dismissing the present for the mythical promise of a different version of the past.

Graeme out!

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It’s hard to make way at this time of year. The light has gone by 4:00 pm and the weather is so cold and damp and miserable I find myself reluctant to step outside the door. I remind myself we’re running down to the solstice now – all the gardens are dead and hung over with the shrivelled remains of last season’s optimism. No sense in hanging onto it. It’s gone now. We just have to weather the season, trust it will turn, and that things will pass.

Rather tired today, aching back and little patience. I’ve been growling at nothing and generally wishing myself a hundred miles from all other human beings – but that’s not easy when you’re a father and a husband.  So you end the day feeling moth-eaten and weary, like you’ve not slept properly in days.

I seem to have been shuffling around from one room to the next, looking for somewhere to settle, but there’s always been someone there, either watching TV, playing computer games, doing homework, or playing  guitar.  I’d settle out in the garage except it’s too cold and damp and smells of mice, and I’m afraid they’d prefer it if I stayed there all the time.

And all I want to do is find my muse, but she’s a fickle lady at the best of times and won’t come when it’s not quiet, or I’m out of sorts. She’s been good to me of late and I should be grateful but I do miss her when she’s not there.  So I toss some coins, split the universe into sixty four threads and ask the I Ching for it’s advice. It points me to hexagram 13. Naturally enough, this is about seeking fellowship . The changing lines tell me we doubt ourselves, that we lack the trust necessary to sustain this fickle thing we have going with our mistress, and so we have sunk back into isolation. But all is not lost, it reassures us, that the changes will see us through to hexagram 27 – to Nourishment, to that which sustains us. But not today.

So, I take my aching back and my camera and hobble off for a walk in the pale wintery sunshine, but we’ve had so much rain of late the meadows are sodden and the paths are churned to slime, and all the time there’s the sense of this oppressive darkness hanging over you.  We grit our teeth. We weather it. We carry on.

Then suddenly the clock is nudging 11:30pm and you’re aware of the day-job looming, and you don’t seem to have had more than a minute to yourself all day. You know it’s time to tiptoe off to bed and you’re wondering if you might dream interestingly tonight, except you’ve not remembered a single dream in weeks.

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I was surprised  when I noticed the above question popping up in my internet search results recently, and I wondered if people were talking about some other Lulu.com to the one I’ve been using. But no, it’s the same one, and it seems there’s a problem – not with Lulu.com, but I think with the unrealistic expectations of some very naive writers, with dreams of stardom.

I’ve now got six books on their server( actually this is no longer true – update below), and I’ve never had any problems, either with the website or with the quality of the books they’ve delivered. Of the half-dozen proof copies of my own books I’ve purchased, the quality has always been top notch, both in paper-back and hardback – the equal of any conventionally published book. As for the cover design, what you see on-screen is pretty much what you get. You follow the template, upload your design at a decent resolution and the quality of reproduction has always been spot on. Perhaps I’m one of the lucky ones, I don’t know – I can only speak from my own experience – but everything Lulu promised me it could deliver, it has done so, consistently, many times.

So, is Lulu a scam? No. It’s exactly what it says it is: a print on demand publisher.  This is a new era. You need to forget the old way of doing things.

Some of the comments I’ve read are regarding late payment of royalties, and if that’s true then, okay, there’s a problem there that needs sorting out. I can’t offer anything on that debate because I’ve set my royalties to zero and am consequently not making any money from my books at all. To be frank, I’d rather shift copies than optimistically charge the earth for them  and have them sitting there doing nothing. This means the e-book versions cost nothing, while the print copies are the cheapest they can possibly be, and every penny paid by my customers goes to the printer. I’ve managed to “sell” about 40 print copies to complete strangers, even one book of poetry, which was the last thing I was expecting, while my free downloads are currently in the region of about 8000 all told.

Perhaps I’m odd, but I’m actually very happy with this. Perhaps my expectations are pessimistically low, but I’ve been writing stories and sending them to commercial publishers for thirty years now and I don’t think they are.

Writing is a hobby for me. The odds of making it big as a writer are actually rather small and most of us just labour on in obscurity. We have to grow up and be accepting of this. My novels are never going to top the best seller list. Commercial publishers won’t look twice at my stuff because I’m an unknown scribbler, possibly crap, and unlikely to make them much money.

Lulu is a print on demand publisher. They’re different. They are not in the business of making you rich and famous. They will take anything – even if it’s a load of gibberish – and “publish” it for you. What they make out of it is what you pay them for your own copy of the book – there’s no obligation for you to buy it, but I think most writers will want to. Any more copies you sell to strangers is a bonus for them. If they can sell you an ISBN number, a marketing package and a listing on Amazon, then fine, it’s not expensive, but you’re straying a little deeper into vanity publishing territory there, and you really shouldn’t expect miracles. Now, multiply all of this by the million writers who have used Lulu, and you get an idea of their business model. It works for them. It works for us. But it’s not a scam.

If you want to be rich and famous, then study the market, as they say, write your novel, send it off to a big name publisher and good luck to you. The writers who follow this route and make it are the ones who can still keep their heads together when their manuscript has been returned for the fifteenth time unread, and so many years have passed they can barely remember what their own story is about any more. I’m not one of them. I admit I can’t handle it. It depresses me. It takes my love of writing and turns it into a three-by-two that others can  use to hit me with.

I’m done with that. I didn’t want to waste my whole life negotiating the literary path to published authordom, finally to drop dead and with not a single person in the world having ever read a story by Michael Graeme. So, I’ve got a day job to pay the bills, and I’m currently writing like there’s no tomorrow. I’m also thoroughly enjoying it. That’s entirely thanks to Lulu.com and other free to upload sites like Feedbooks.

Use them wisely, and be under no illusions. If you want your writing to make you rich and famous, then okay, Lulu is probably not for you. If you want your story to be read by people all over the world, tomorrow, then go for it. You’ve really nothing to lose.


Updated Jan 2016

This piece is becoming rather dated now (2009) but it’s still a popular read and reading it through again I realise it’s mostly still relevant, so I’ve left it unchanged for writers who might be searching for answers to the question it poses. In 2016, the only thing I would add is that from the writer’s point of view things have moved on a lot in the DIY self-publishing world. In my opinion paper books are looking a bit old fashioned – harking back to the olden days of print publishing and what it means to be a proper “published” writer. So, I no longer have any books on Lulu’s server, and have moved them all to the likes of Feedbooks and Smashwords, where the download rates are better. I no longer think of paper when I write.

Certainly for the unknown, independent author, I think ebooks are the best and most progressive option, offering you the potential of delivering your work to everyone’s pocket via their smartphones. There’s still no money in it, but if it’s readers you’re after that’s where you’ll find them for now. Is Lulu a scam? No, it’s still a print on demand publisher offering some paid “author services”. It’s up to you, the writer, to understand exactly what that means before you fall into the trap of nurturing unrealistic expectations about what they’re capable of delivering.


1) A writer is a person who writes.

2) A publisher publishes.

3) Publishers pay writers.

4) Writers never pay publishers. Anything!

Michael Graeme January 2016


Michael Graeme is an Indie Author currently self publishing on Feedbooks and Smashwords.

If you’ve used Lulu.com, you might like to help other writers who are still exploring the issue by voting in the simple poll below:

I have used Lulu.com to publish my writings and I was:Market Research

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I recently put this one up on Feedbooks, also my website. It’s a sort of time-travel story, the mere mention of which is apparently enough to make editors want to throw up, so if you’re thinking of writing one yourself, I’d hesitate if you were intending to send it out, because they’re apparently considered to be so corny and uncool you’re actually not even allowed to talk about them any more.

Now, I may be corny and uncool, and shamelessly unsophisticated when it comes to fiction, but I really like time-bending stories – especially the ones that have a ring of “truth” about them – no fantastic machines or other weirdness (except for the time-bending of course). They offer a lot of room for exploring issues of psyche and spirit, and the nature of reality. Mix that metaphysical mish mash up with the sweetness of a romance and you have a story I’m sure people will want to read.

Well – I’d read it.


You can get this one as a PDF for your iPod, Kindle or whatever, here. Or you can simply read it online at The Rivendale Review, here. Like all my stories, it’s free.

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