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In Durelston Wood

durleston wood cover smallI left this place twenty years ago, left the old pit village of Marsden in the grey English North, exchanged it for the sunshine of California, tanned my skin, and brought up children on the beaches of the Pacific coast. I built a life with a blonde haired, long-legged woman who, after all of our time together, decided we should call it a day, and apparently for no other reason, she said, than that I bored her. So, I have come home now, to my father.

He’s not looking bad today. He sits upright in a tweed jacket. It’s threadbare now, but the care-workers know he is fond of it, and they have tied his tie nicely. There is a chessboard between us, though it’s months now since he’s had the energy to apply himself to a game, but the carers have explained to me there is something in the way the pieces are arranged that pleases him – that even though he rarely speaks now, and his tempers can make him difficult to manage, the simple array of a chess game calms him. It’s as if he remembers a fragment of his former self in it, as I remember a fragment of my former self in Durleston Wood.

The pieces are not lined up in their beginning positions; there is always a game in play. One of the carers has set this up by copying positions from a little book of classic games she found in a charity shop. Any attempt to randomly array the pieces, something that might for example result in the illogicality of two white bishops – is enough to set my father grumbling. Even in his old age, and his confusion, he cannot be placated by pretence.

He is still lucid at times, and sensible, but even on those treasured occasions we do not talk of certain things. I think he knows his home has gone. I sold it to pay for his care, but we do not mention this. It still exists in his mind, and also in my dreams, as a place he will return to, just as soon as he starts to feel a little brighter in himself. It was the place he brought his wife home to fifty years ago, the place he raised his child in, the place he would have liked to leave his child when he finally shuffles off, but like I said: we do not mention it.

He’s quite chatty today, remembering a walk by the Rye, when I was twelve. My memory of this event is clear enough to know it is not an illusion on his part, but he is remembering it in such detail I wonder if the past can possibly be embellished in this way; his memories have such a brightness to them, while mine are dull, tarnished by the abrasive dross of all that has filled my life since. But I like his picture of things, so borrow from a mind that may be manufacturing fantasy-frilled edges, and I accept it all unflinchingly as the truth, for no other reason than it has a brightness about it, when everything else in the world these days is unbearably dull.

He’s speaking of the path around the horseshoe of the Rye, and of the season when the ramsons and the bluebells and the wood anemones bloom together to create an impossibly beautiful carpet beneath the overarching boughs of beech and oak and sycamore.

We have the gun, and we are ratting along the banks of the Rye, close by the Willet place, the curious, lonely old house in Durleston Wood. I am away from school – some mysterious illness of the spirit that has laid me low, and which is somehow soothed now by the warm blanket gloom of Durleston, and the peaty smell of the Rye.

The rats are not rats but water voles, the Ratty-Rats of Tales of Toad and Badger, and homely Mole – harmless voles twisted by ignorance into carriers of plague and shot almost to extinction. And when he talks about the starry heads of the ramsons, I am with him, their garlic scent overwhelming me in hot waves as we lie prone for hours, the gun lined up on a likely looking hole in the sandy bank of the Rye.

Bumble bees buzz, ducking in and out of the shade of our hats, but we bide them patiently, and when my father mentions this, I am amazed he can have recalled the scene so vividly, and I am drawn into it – not just the pictures and the scent, but the “feel” of it – to have my belly against the soft earth, and to have it soothe my fear, soothe the feeling of that twelve year old boy that he is entering a life he surely was not meant for.

Did I tell you my wife’s name is Faye?

It’s three years since I last saw her, now, but we died a long time before that. I know this because I tell myself I think of her so little, and that when I do there is neither hate nor fondness in it. She is not like the first girl I fell in love with, whom I think of still with a wistful tenderness, the girl whose love my father’s story of that walk reminds me I had already betrayed as I lay there that day with the gun. Her name was Lillian.

Lillian and I are kneeling in the school hall, at Marsden C. of E. Primary School. I am eleven, she is on the cusp of her tenth birthday, and there is something about her face, something about her eyes, and in the way the light falls upon her long blonde hair that pleases me, though in a way I do not understand. And while I am looking at her, taking pleasure in this thing I do not understand, I become aware that she has looked up, is looking at me, and on seeing or sensing my pleasure, she is smiling at me, smiling because my pleasure gives her pleasure. And the more pleasure we are each aware of inspiring in the other, the greater becomes our pleasure, so the feeling is like a flowering, like a swelling of spiritual bliss. And we blossom into the unexpected enlightenment of first-love.

But human love brings also human folly, and in the days to come Lillian will ask me if I will come to the front of the school assembly to tug her hair when it’s her birthday – ten tugs – as is the tradition, one for each year of her life. Of course there will be uproar among our friends. Hers will be jealous I did not pick them to love, while mine will be merciless in their teasing that I could ever like a girl.

I lie awake for days, dreading this event so much that on the dreaded morning I invent a tummy ache, and when Lillian stands up proudly on the school stage to proclaim her love by calling out my name, I am not there. She’s embarrassed then, let down by love, and quickly chooses one of her smug school-chums, and the pair of them make fun of me on my return – rejecting as ludicrous my tales of tummy ache, and Lillian, her heart bleeding throws my love back in my face.

My father is quiet now, his tale hanging mid-sentence, attenuated by the heat of the lounge here in Marsden Hall, and by the enigma of the frozen chess game. The memory of Lillian remains like a splinter in my brain. It’s strange; I have not thought of this for a long time now, have not thought of my betrayal of her love in such vivid terms before. I am forty five and find myself overflowing with guilt for something I did as a boy, and cannot possible atone for.

What is it telling me, this thing, this serendipitous serpent from the darker layers of my unconscious? It is reminding me, I think, how often I have been seduced by the idea, and by the loveliness of love, but when love demands a test, I am unwilling to allow myself to be transformed by it and to trust in the sureness of its direction.

Perhaps then, I have never truly been in love.

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s-port cafeSouthport, Easter Saturday afternoon. I’m crossing the square in front of the Town Hall, thinking of lunch, when a woman steps out of the crowd and offers to pray for me. I thank her kindly, but tell her I couldn’t possibly put her to so much trouble.  She hands me a leaflet which I fold and pocket with a parting smile.

The town looks poor still, nearly a decade after the crash. There is an eerie Parisian beauty about Lord Street, but it is long past that time when people dressed up for Saturdays in town. Some make the effort but they stand out now, look ridiculous even in their finery, like peacocks strutting among pigeons. Or perhaps it’s me. Perhaps I only notice the haggard expressions and poor pigeon-clothing we wrap ourselves in. Or is it a myth, this hankering after a nostalgic vision of an England that never existed – and really we have always looked and dressed this way?

In Chapel Street, the air is lively, cut by the jangle of buskers. And there’s this wizened beardy guy shouting passages from the Old Testament – the end is nigh, that sort of thing. I note he has a bigger crowd than the buskers. But he sounds angry. It’s our stupidity perhaps he takes issue with, our refusal to be saved? Whatever that means.

It’s unkind to make rash judgements of course but I have an instinctive aversion towards angry, shouty people. And I’m only here for the cash machine, so I can pay for lunch.

Lunch is a ham and cheese and mushroom toastie. They put it in fancy bread and call it a Fungi Pannini. It grants it a certain altitude, but it’s as well not to get too carried away with these things. Obviously, I am not a gastronome. Still, it’s flavoursome, and nicely filling, and the coffee is deliciously aromatic. This is my reward after a week of six-thirty get ups, and long days that are leaving me increasingly knackered. It’s worth the wait, and the sheer quiet pleasure of it revives my spirits.

I take out the ‘droid for company. Out with it comes the leaflet from the lady who offered to pray for me. She’s wanting me to join her Evangelical Church, but it’s not really my scene. They’re heavy on the healing stuff – a long list of things they can cure by faith, but the small print cautions me to seek medical advice as a first recourse. The legal escape hatch is somewhat deflating. Even the religious fear litigation it seems. Does this mean that for all of  their assertiveness this afternoon, they lack the courage of their convictions?

I flick through the headlines on the ‘droid. The Times and The Mirror seem excited by the possibility of nuclear war. Meanwhile the Guardian has its knife in the guts of the leader of the opposition. The collective subliminal message here is that we can forget any realistic prospect of a return to calmer, more reasoned discourse. Instead we shall be distracted from ongoing economic and political turmoil by increasing talk of war. There are historical precedents for this phenomenon and we should not be surprised. These are ancient daemons, hard to outwit, filled with an infectious loathing.

I have no particular business in town other than lunch, but I visit the bookshop while I’m here. I’m looking for something by Sebastian Barry. They have nothing in the second hand section. They might have had him among the new stuff, but I do not buy new books any more – my little contribution to Austerity and my own knife in the guts of the economy. I’ll find the book I want for a couple of quid in a charity shop, when the time is right.

sport pierMeanwhile, it’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon. The trees on Lord street are budding and there is blossom aplenty. But there are more angry voices here, more shouting about God. The words are incoherent but the tone is clear: Fess up, submit, or else!

I escape up Scarisbrick Avenue, heading towards the light and the sea, but there are drunk men here with pints of beer. They are staggering, arguing volubly, incoherently. Fuck this, fuck that. Fuckety fuck it. Fuck, fuck, fuck. It’s not yet two pm, the sun a long way from the yard arm. There is no wisdom in such heroic quantities of beer, no real escape in it from the misery of latter day working lives. Only hope and the dignity of decent wages will cure it, and both are in short supply.

Along the front, by the King’s Gardens, the greens are littered with chip cartons and cellophane wrappings. It’s my eye again, black dog stalking, showing me only the decay, the despair, the sheer hopeless void of it. The pier affords an arrow to the sea. The sandy tide is in, a scent of briny freshness at last. I walk the bouncy boards at a brisk pace, breathe in the sea, take it down deep as the only bit of the day worth holding on to.

Well, that and the coffee, and the toastie.

Small pleasures amid this talk of God and War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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thumbnailOnline social media highlights and exploits our universal human vulnerability, that we all want to be someone. We all want to be recognised, liked, admired, and generally believed to be an awesome human being because we think that, in the acceptance of our awesomeness, we’ll find escape from the horror of anonymity and obscurity in the face of inevitable death. Of course it won’t work.

We are none of us really anybody in this narrow sense. Even those admired and cow-towed to are no different to anyone else. They have their own problems, their own duel with death, one they’ll eventually lose like the rest of us. Then they’ll be forgotten, and even so little as a hundred years from now, no one will care. Many a good and talented man has gone to his grave unknown. It’s a sobering realisation, one we must face and understand why an obscure life is not necessarily a wasted one.

One of the pictures I recently put up on Instagram got forty likes. Experience tells me it’ll not get many more. It’s a about my limit, and seems to be a function of the number of people you follow and the amount of time you’re willing to spend liking other stuff, or somehow gaming the system. But it’s no big deal. It is, after all, just a picture of a hat. Sure, pictures of other people’s hats can garner tens of thousands of likes, and how they do that remains a mystery to me, but it’s still just a picture of a hat and as such will never confer immortality.

My Instagram account leaks a few clicks over to the blog, which in turn leaks a few clicks over to my fiction, which is why I’m on Instagram in the first place. It’s also why I blog. They are both subtle lures to my fiction writings, coaxing readers now and them into my fictional worlds. But my stories are not important either, at least not as influential tools to shape the zeitgeist, nor even just to trumpet my awesomeness. I leave that to others, more savvy, sassy, whatever, and dare I say, more celebrated for their craft.

My thoughts are perhaps too convoluted for a sound-bite culture to make much sense of, and I’m conscious too my outlook, though sincere, may be no more than a mushy blend of pop-philosophy sweetened by archaic Romanticism. The importance of the work then lies only in what it teaches me, and I’m coming to the conclusion what it’s teaching me is how to recognise those useless egotistical compulsions and to rise above words, that the forms of thought we pursue so doggedly throughout our lives, are just shadows of something we will never grasp. It’s not a question of lacking intellect, more that the brain is altogether the wrong shape to accommodate what it is we crave.

You don’t need to write to reach the same conclusion. You just need to live your life as it was given to you, and develop a mindful approach to it. I’m not talking about that self-help-how-to-be-a-winner-in-life kind of mindfulness either. It’s more simply an awareness of our selves in life, and the way we react to situations, and how we can tell if those reactions are the right ones or not, if they contribute to a general transcendence of this fear we have of living, or dig us more firmly into the mire of it.

It might sound as if I’m some way along the path towards nihilism, but nihilism isn’t helpful, other than as a place to bounce back from. Yes, so much of what we are capable of seeing is indeed unimportant, but the world is also rich with a transcendent beauty we are equally capable of recognising, at least in its more lavish manifestations, say in the natural world. And perhaps progress in the right direction is simply our ability to find such transcendence in smaller and smaller places. Indeed perhaps the ultimate success in life, the ultimate awesomeness, is the attainment of absolute obscurity, and the ability to sit alone, quietly, to stare closely at your thumb nail and go:

WOW!

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girl with green eyesThe meaning of things isn’t to be found in studying them, said Carina, nor in thinking about them at all, but more in attaining a state of non-judgemental awareness. Then we see there is no meaning in things themselves, that in seeking their meaning we obscure the formless beauty in them, and through analysis, through over-thinking, we fail to experience love.

“Then there is no meaning?” asked Finn.

“To what?”

“To life. My life. Your life.”

“Of course there is.”

“Then what?”

Carina looked a little dishevelled – her hair uncombed, more voluminous and more fiery red than Finn remembered from when she was working, from those long budget meetings whose only redeeming feature for Finn had been the presence of Carina herself, the knowledge of her kindness, and that she did not hate him.

Her blouse was creased and she wore no bra. Her cream suit looked business-like but too well worn and lived-in comfortable for a hundred quid a head restaurant. Finn had baulked at the idea of dinner in such a place as this, but she’d insisted, claiming her resurrection from the dead, at least in Finn’s eyes, was worth splashing out a little on dinner, and she would pay.

“Love,” she said.

“Love?”

“We find meaning, redemption, salvation, whatever you want to call it,… in love. Not just the kind you’re thinking. I mean not the one-person-bonking-the-other kind. Sometimes we think that’s all there is to love, that it’s merely the permission to bonk. But that’s Eros. I’m meaning more simply love – you know? Kindness, compassion. Agape.”

“Agape?”

“The love of God, Finn. The grace of God. I mean,… without being religious about it. Can you do it? Can you find a way of loving even these tossers in here? Look at them. Given the state of the economy and the number slaving below subsistence levels for tyrannical bastards, many of whom probably frequent pretentious pig troughs like this, there’s much in this well polished porcine crowd to hate. But in doing so, do you not also feel also,… a little cut off? A little less than human? A little diminished?”

“I,…”

Carina had not been drinking, had drunk nothing since the mother of all hangovers some weeks ago. This was Carina sober, incisive, cynical and – for all of her apparent languor – intellectually terrifying.

“I mean, how do we find the love of God in these people, Finn?”

Finn wasn’t sure he wanted to. He found their braying and their preening obnoxious, but felt he had to try, if only because Carina had challenged him to do it, and it was always a pleasure to please Carina.

“Em,… I can make a start, I suppose, by understanding their folly, and forgiving it? After all, I used to be one of them.”

Carina, smiled indulgently, nodded. “Yes, it’s a start. Every couple of generations we make the mistake of worshipping affluence, don’t we? But they’re just people like anybody else – frail, feeble, stupid. They make mistakes. By the way, you were never one of them, Finn,… or I would have seen no point in rescuing you. I’d’ve been doing humanity a service by allowing evolution to take it’s toll on you.”

“That doesn’t sound very,… loving?”

“Didn’t say I was perfect.”

“So, at the risk of fishing for compliments, which is always a dangerous thing where you’re concerned, what was my redeeming feature – the one that spared me from your indifference?”

“Oh,… it’s hard to say. A mixture of things. Compassion. Humility. And clear signs of distress.”

“Well, distress for sure.”

Finn scanned the dining crowds. He noted men did not wear ties to dinner any more, unlike Finn who remained always a decade behind fashion. He noted instead they wore hideously pretentious timepieces with designer names, timepieces that would no doubt be thrown away when their batteries ran down. There would be no future niche market on Ebay for such things, unless future generations rediscovered a sense of irony.

Carina watched him watching: “So, what are you thinking?”

But never mind what Finn’s thinking, Carina, what am I thinking? This is an interesting chapter and a turning point,  a little overlong perhaps, a little talky, you and Finn batting ideas across the table like tennis players, and I can barely keep up with you, just as the rules of tennis, so obvious to others have long remained a mystery to me. I can only ask you play the game wisely, Carina, and don’t hurt anyone – especially me. We’re in too deep by now. Your next moves can either make or break the story.

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Hartsop old wayThe source of our creative energies is a mystery. All I know for sure is it’s not a physical thing. Provided we have sufficient strength at least to draw breath, stay awake and sit down at the work desk, it’s simply a question of opening the valve inside our heads for the creative steam to come gushing out with a vigour untempered even by age and infirmity.

But we can weaken it,…

I’m weakening it now by talking about it. It builds pressure over time and we can either nurture it, then let it out in a sustained, calculated burst and achieve something significant with it – a novel say, or a painting, or an epic poem, or we can be constantly leaking it off in short squeaks until there’s nothing left and we are reduced to a state of creative barrenness.

Bear in mind, once upon a time, words like these would have had no outlet beyond the private diary. In so keeping them within the bounds of a closed personal awareness, they would not deplete the source. Indeed quite the opposite, for maintaining an intimacy with one’s self is both to respect one’s self and also the daemonic forces within us. But now our heads are stuck inside this box and we’re venting words the hyperspatial vacuum, which does nothing but empty us of our creativity.

Listen, we can either do a thing, or we can explain to an imagined audience why we’re doing it – explain it through our blogs, our tweets, our Instagrams. But in explaining it, in chattering about it, and self justifying, we lose the point, the point being the thing itself, rather than the describing of it.

I have talked a lot about Tai Chi on this blog, why I do it, only lately to realise, actually, I don’t do it any more. Meditation – ditto. I talk about it, but I don’t do it. And if I’m talking about writing, I’m not writing. So I guess what I’m thinking about at the moment, what I’m exploring tonight, is the perennial problem of self-justification, of explaining ourselves to the imaginary “other”, when what we’re really doing is comforting our own egos.

We cannot help our insecurities. It’s human nature, this feeling some of us have of being pulled away from the tit too soon, and we assume the other person wasn’t. We assume the other person has no insecurities at all, that they are not the same lost child we feel ourselves to be when we close the door at night and face our selves, alone. Well guess what? They do. The problem then is one of self assurance, of reassurance that what we are is all right, that we need not explain ourselves, nor less try to impress others with how successful, interesting, cool, sexy or even just how extra-specially normal we are. To this end we wear a mask.

Everyone born has ample reason to simply be. It’s just that we aspire to be more than we are. More than what? Well, more than anyone else, perhaps – more cool, more insightful, more intelligent,… and just well,… more! This is what the mask conveys. But if we forget the mask, forget the usual external appearances, the difference between me and you is nothing much. We both arise from the same collective milieu of unconscious potential, like periscopes, each to pierce the surface of this, a somewhat denser and less yielding reality. Our uniqueness lies only in this individual perspective, our singular view of the world.

Knowing what that view is, is one thing, sharing it with others is only useful to point. We are all of us on a personal voyage of discovery, and it’s ultimately our own vision, our own private view that is the essential thing. It is the picture postcard we gift back to the consciousness from which we arise. It’s not important then to capture every thought we’ve ever had, to write it down and self publish it – just because we can do it now, doesn’t mean we should. The importance of the moment has already been captured by the inner eye.

It’s more important then we notice when the sun is shining, important we do not feel the need to take its picture all the time. It’s beautiful, yes, but there’s a limit to the intimacy with which the essence of such beauty can be shared, because beauty is a thing with our unique perception at the centre of it. The urge to share it is the writer’s bane of course, but one should always be mindful that in sharing anything, the essence is always lost, and no matter what our skill with words, no one can ever truly know or see the world the way we do.

So go easy on the media. Take a break from the Blog now and then, don’t feel the need to post on Instagram every day, and don’t you ever go tweeting to the world what you had for breakfast.

Save a little something for yourself. And keep it safe.

Think outside the box from time to time.

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capsocEven a casual observer of current affairs cannot fail to be impressed by the spectacular tragedy that was 2016. The year was a litany of violence, hatred and political upheaval, proudly presented across all media as infotainment – this in formerly stable, western democracies. Coupled with these calamitous events there is the growing realisation that even though Capitalism has been hanging on by its fingernails since 2008, it’s essentially dead. However, since no one has a clue what to replace it with, there’s a fear we’ll be suffering the stench of its rotting corpse for a long time.

Indeed the times do little to reassure me we’re tending towards a more peaceful and prosperous co-existence – quite the opposite. The impression is one of a world totally out of control, one in which destructive archetypal daemons have breached in force the liminal defences of reasonable thinking, and are now wreaking havoc on several fronts, ushering in a zeitgeist that wears a face permanently distorted by a snarling hatred of all things “other”.

The response from that more compassionate brand of politics, the politics of the progressive (i.e. old) left, seems muted, as if they’ve been so long in the shadows the daylight burns their skin. I’m more pessimistic now than I was in the Summer about their chances of making a difference. All the forces of evil, news-media, and even public opinion are arrayed against them, while the alt-right seeps unmolested into the cracks. The prospect therefore of passing the remains of this century tossed by an ever escalating reign of chaos does not sound implausible.

I have long wondered if I should take a more direct approach to this collective existential emergency, and become more politically active myself. The feeling came to a head recently, after giving the meat and potato pasty I’d just bought, and was rather looking forward to, to a homeless guy. I was embarrassed, didn’t quite know what the etiquette was, only that he wore the thousand yard stare of extreme misfortune, and everyone else was ignoring him like he was a drunk, or a dope-head, or it was somehow his fault he was sitting in the cold and the wet with a blanket around his shoulders. My companion even commented, somewhat cynically that he probably drives a jaguar and lives in a docklands penthouse. But anyway, I gave the poor guy the pasty, and he was grateful for it.

We’re used to seeing down and outs in our cities, and that’s troubling enough to someone visiting from the sticks, but this was a provincial market town in the North, my town, my North, so okay: I was going to get political. I was going to kick this spectre of eternal decline right in the balls. Boy, was this Cappuccino Socialist going to whip up a storm!

However,…

Instead, I tried to join the Labour Party. It’s currently revitalising its atrophied radical roots and I thought I’d fit right in with my newly radicalised self, but my enquiries thus far have not exactly been welcomed with open arms. Indeed my online applications are repeatedly lost in cyberspace. I don’t know why this is, and I’m not going to speculate beyond saying it’s probably more a case of administrative overload than I am suspected, by dint of an all blue post-code, of being a sneaking Tory saboteur. I admit the thought of the latter does amuse me.

So,… I’m taking this rejection by the Socialist brethren in good part, and in a more transcendentally meaningful sense, that is to say the Universe is obviously telling me my contribution to the cause of a global Shang-ri-La isn’t meant to be political. I’d be rubbish at it anyway. Take me away from the keyboard and I’m tongue-tied by a log-jam of incoherent thoughts. So I’m back to chronicling the times as I see them, sipping my Cappucino between repeated rewrites, the best I can do being to urge a positive frame of mind in spite of everything that’s telling us to be afraid and to restock our millennium cupboards.

I’m writing this on January 3rd, the worst day of the year, the first day back at work after a long festive break. It is my morning of a thousand emails, evidence enough of a world drowning in obfuscating bullshit. Like those emails it has mostly to be deleted before we can get at the real issues, the things that actually need doing. Nor does it help that my holiday reading consisted of Hans Fallada’s novel, Alone in Berlin, a chilling tale that in part describes the ways and means the barking mad alt-right of Nazi Germany infiltrated every institution of state, efficiently reducing the German people to a subservience based on a blend of patriotism and fear.

In Nazi Germany the penalties for dissent were extraordinarily harsh, as with all oppressive regimes, the slightest hint resulting in torture and death. It’s not something we hear much about, how the Nazis were as cruel to their own people as to the nations they invaded. It’s an important novel and, sadly, as relevant now as it was when it was written. If we think it cannot happen in a modern western democracy any more, it does not mean it cannot happen, only that we lack the power to imagine it, and have not learned the lesson of history.

Of course things are not so bad now as in Fallada’s wartime Berlin. I can still type freely online without undue fear of my IP address leading the tech-savvy Gestapo to my door. Sure Google knows where I live, but they just want to sell me stuff. The point is we should remain mindful of the freedoms we still have, freedoms we might yet lose, and the ease with which they can indeed be lost, once the goose-stepping alt-right shadow-monsters are manifested in the crowded rally, whipping us all to hysteria, making us do cruel and degrading things to others in the name of nationalism, and security.

Yet, it’s puzzling, the vast majority of people have good hearts. This is my experience. The natural state of the human being is compassion, a desire for mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Cruelty and criminality – things that underpin the oppressive regime – are aberrations, and the rest of us must not be afraid to point them out, for our collective weakness is as ever the ease with which we can be led, either by the wiles of the charismatic populist, or in fear of the shouty man. That we so often allow ourselves to fall into the hands of vile impostors is testament enough, also a warning, for in their hands we might be condemned to languish, helpless, for generations.

But all is not lost. It’s not for everyone to stride boldly upon the world’s stage, to influence the masses with one’s wit and common sense back to a reasonable way of thinking. We cannot all write a novel like “Alone in Berlin”. We cannot all, apparently, join the Labour Party. For most of us the best we can do is sip our Cappuccinos thoughtfully, remember the difference between right and wrong and, in holding to that simplest of things, preserve our dignity. By doing so we hold a mirror to the shadow whipped crowd so it can see its own face, see how ugly it’s become of late, and maybe think twice before dragging us any further into peril.

Stay Safe, and be of good heart.

Oh, and a Happy New Year!

Graeme out.

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durleston wood cover smallIt was Mark Twain who said: “Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

I disagree, but then I would – having been writing willingly without pay for considerably longer than three years. Indeed I write these days without actively seeking any pay at all. As a round rebuttal of Mark Twain’s opinion on the matter, I offer instead the five rules of contemporary independent authorship:

 

 

1) Writers write.

2) If you can’t get anyone to pay, it’s okay to write for nothing, for as long as you want.

3) Publishers pay writers. (Sometimes).

4) Writers never pay publishers. Anything. (Ever).

5) Writers need not saw wood.

Most of us who write online for free are doing more than avoiding sawing wood. What we’re doing is bypassing a system that stands in our way. We’re seeking readers without having to negotiate the quaint arcana of the commercial publishing world. We write for free because experience has taught us that to seek payment from others is to close the door on our self expression, that to persist we might as well slide our work to the bottom of a drawer where it will remain for ever unread. Perhaps we lack the necessary persistence, perhaps we lack the talent. But neither of these cautionaries matter. We do it because we can. And in doing it we will find readers.

We can do it in a number of ways:

In the first instance, we can pedal our wares from the margins of our blogs. Click the cover-pic and you get a download from the public folder of our Dropbox thing. Simple. This way our work is completely independent and virtually immortal. Our stuff stays online until the sun goes supernova. The downside is unless you can game the system to achieve a monumental blog following, downloads are likely to be small. I manage a few per week. Not great, but who cares?

For more readers, you sign up to websites who grant a bigger exposure in exchange for plastering your stuff with advertising, or by tempting you into paying for “author services” like editing, proof reading, or marketing. Need I repeat my advice not to pay anyone anything in order to publish your work? It’s one thing to write for nothing, quite another for it to cost you money. The other thing to bear in mind when considering such sites is how many downloads you’re likely to achieve. There’s no point in signing up if their download rates are no better than your self served blog.

I use Feedbooks, Smashwords, and Wattpad. Feedbooks was always the best for downloads – even stuff I’ve had on there for years was still getting ten or fifteen downloads a week. I say “was” because it looks like Feedbooks is now dead so far as indys are concerned. Smashwords is less successful, but still garners a steady, if more modest exposure to potential readers. Wattpad,… well, Wattpad is a strange one. Put a novel on there in one lump and you’ll be lucky to get a single hit, ever. Put it up a chapter at a time over a period of months and you’ll do much better, at least until that final chapter goes up and then you’ll get not a dickie bird again. There’s a social media angle to Wattpad of course. Virtual networking. You like theirs,and they like yours. You need to use it to get the best from it, but I’m usually too busy with other stuff, like writing. I’m also an unreformed introvert who finds anything “social” a bit awkward.

Just recently I’ve been looking at other avenues, namely Free eBooks.net, putting my novel “In Dureleston Wood” on there by way of an experiment. The Free eBooks’ business model requires both writers and readers to sign-up. Readers are limited to five downloads per month unless they pay for VIP membership. Writers who contribute get VIP membership automatically, which suggests to me this may end up being a writer’s only hangout.

But anyway,..

Unlike Smashwords, there’s no option to charge for your work, but that doesn’t bother me. You can add a donate button so readers can tip you via your Paypal Account, should they feel so inclined, but let’s not fool ourselves over the potential of that. The site is heavy on advertising and it’s keen to sign us up for a premium marketing package, but again that violates my principles, so we won’t be going there.

Upload is simple, requiring a .doc formatted manuscript and a cover pic. Then you fill out your blurb and it’s done. Publication isn’t immediate – the info says it can take up to three working days for a submission to be “considered”, but a quick scan of what’s already on offer reveals there’s a lot of crap on there so I wouldn’t worry too much about being rejected. I wasn’t overly optimistic regarding my potential for downloads. I’ve tired various sites like this before and managed no more than a dozen hits in a year – but I achieved my dozen here after the first day. The rate will probably dwindle over time, but so far it looks like Free eBooks and I can do business without violating too many of my principles.

And without sawing any wood.

 

 

 

 

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