Archive for the ‘Feedbooks’ Category

It’s nineteen eighty five, October, a Tuesday evening, and I’m in the Library of the Bolton Institute of Technology, as was. It’s been a long day; ten hours of lectures so far, and another two to go. It’s pitch black outside and raining, and I’m reading something up on the mathematics pertaining to electrochemical erosion. My diary tells me this much. It also tells me that across from me there’s a bunch of girl students in their teens, and at twenty four, I’m already feeling like an old man.

It’s hard to say what attracts a man to a woman other than, like I’ve said elsewhere it’s the reflection of something as yet unknown within himself, though I understand this makes little sense when you play it back. But there’s this one girl in particular and I don’t know why she stands out but she does. She has long, dark hair, wears a denim jump suit with a small enamel teddy bear in her lapel. She speaks to her friends with a soft, Scottish accent, never looks my way, never notices me at all.

Twenty years later she becomes a character in a short story I’ve hawked about pointlessly before sticking it up on Feedbooks – The Man Who Could Not Forget. And, like the man who could not forget, and with a little help from my diary, I have not forgotten her, but it’s not her I want to talk about tonight.

There’s this other girl in the library that night, a psychology student. She’s gorgeous, as all girls seemed to be back then, or maybe, like sunny days, I only remember the pretty ones. I’m up at the book shelves now seeking out another reference, and she comes up to me with a piece of card.

“I want you look at this,” she says. “It’s a picture of two people arguing.”

Thus primed, she flashes this card at me. It shows a cartoon of a black man and a white man. Their arms are out, as if gesticulating. Right. So, these guys are arguing.

She covers the card and asks me: “Which one had the knife?”

There’s something of a challenge in her tone, like she already knows the answer I’m going to give.

I’m confused for a moment, and want to see the picture again, because for the life of me I don’t remember either of the guys having a knife, but I understand this will defeat the point of the exercise. Yet, if there’s no knife, she’s forcing an answer to a false choice. Why would she be doing that? There must have been a knife. I must have missed it. By the way, did I tell you I’m basically this young white guy, and she’s this beautiful Asian girl, with long shiny hair and glittery eyes?

Then it clicks. There was no knife, and yes, she is forcing a false choice on me. I can read her mind, and I’m a bit upset by it. I’m supposed to say it was the black guy who had the knife, because I’m a white guy, and all white guys are supposed to have these prejudices about black guys, or any other guys not the same colour as myself, so even if I’m not sure there was a knife, if I’m forced to admit there was, because she’s saying there was, then I reveal my racism by saying it’s the black guy who had it.

At the end of her survey she expects to count up all the ticks and show a graph that most white guys like me are basically racist. But even in Bolton, in 1985, if racism was an issue, I was unaware of it, but then I had my head in things like Electrochemical Erosion, so maybe it was. I don’t know.

Perhaps I should reverse it, I’m thinking, say it was the white guy who had the knife. Then maybe the girl will think I’m not a racist and might be more inclined to like me, because the goddess is strong in this one and I really want her to like me. But this is too deep, and a pointless application of reverse psychology anyway, one than can only screw up her experiment. The inside of my head is strange sometimes. People think they are sealed up, secret from others, when by the slightest thing they render themselves nakedly transparent.

“I didn’t see a knife. Sorry.”

Her expression gives nothing away. She does not thank me for my participation. I think she’s beautiful and I wish we could talk some more. I manage a smile. It is not returned. I think the experiment was flawed anyway – a definite experimenter effect. I do not ask her if she fancies a coffee sometime. And not because it would be a crass and desperate thing to do in that situation, nor yet because she’s the daughter of another culture and I’m a white guy, because really I’m too naive to take such things into consideration. It’s more that she’s beautiful, and I’m afraid she will reject me.

There was a time when I saw the goddess in all women. She has many aspects, sometimes alluring, sometimes scornful, sometimes challenging. She is the thing that animates a man, but projecting her into the material world renders him vulnerable to the fallacy that women are something other than human. It’s a fallacy that fades with age and experience. A fallacy also that in trying to understand the goddess within ourselves, a man should expect women to know anything about it at all, like expecting the canvas to understand the painting. More likely she will look at him blank, or suggest he goes to see the doctor.

I muddled through my final exams that coming summer – mostly an average student on that course, having reached the limit of my mathematical and technical ability by then. But over the years I’ve found little use for mathematics anyway, that intuition is a surer guide when it comes to the oftimes shady byways of the daemon haunted world I live in now. I rest assured neither aspect of the goddess in the library that night remembers me, and it’s puzzling I should remember them, when there are other human beings I have more reason to remember but do not.

I’m not sure what else I’m trying to say here, except I swear I did not see a knife.

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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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bookshopcoverAs a self publishing writer willing to give his work away in exchange for establishing a readership, Feedbooks is where it all began, back in 2007. You loaded your story up to the Feedbooks site, and it became available at once to a worldwide audience, downloadable directly to smartphones, tablet computers and kindles. If free fiction was your bag, reading it or writing it, Feedbooks is where you went.

In those early days, when the web was a little more anarchic with its dreams, Feedbooks was hot stuff, and I moved a lot of stories through them. But no longer. My Aldiko and Moonreader apps now link only to Feedbook’s paid content,  or legacy works that have entered the public domain due to copyright expiry. Contemporary, free, original titles are no longer accessible from the platforms they were aimed at.

You can still get at them from the non-mobile webpage version of the site, but the graphics are winking out one by one, and there’s a sense of something falling down, falling over and being left to rot.

There has been no announcement by Feedbooks, but this is not unexpected. Their support, indeed their interest in the free stuff we’ve given them over the years has been generally poor. In the early days independent authors provided a wealth of free content that got Feedbooks on the map, got their business model off the ground, and we’ve been ignored ever since the paid stuff came online. That they’ve finally ditched us comes as no surprise – my only real surprise being it’s taken so long.

I do feel a keen disappointment in this because their penetration of the market has always been really good. If you wanted readers Feedbooks found them for you. Smashwords couldn’t match it, and Wattpad was even worse. It’ll be a chillier place I fear in the search for readers from now on. But as authors we should not despair. Readers like free stuff, and they’ll get it wherever they can. Smashwords here they come?

I hope so.

Is Feedbooks dead?

For authors of free original content, sadly, yes it is.




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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.

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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.

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the sea southportThe world of online self publishing changes year on year. First it was Lulu.com, offering a self published route to paper. But paper was a hangover from the olden days, and for the online writer the market long ago switched from paper to smartphones. Feedbooks became the happening place in this respect, fast tracking your story to an international market, to a smartphone in your pocket irrespective of where you resided in the world.

Of the stuff I first posted on Feedbooks, readers wrote back, but they don’t any more, and Feedbook’s stats are now broken, so it’s hard to know how a story is doing. I still post my final drafts on there, but expect to hear any day now Feedbooks is defunct. At any rate, so far as I’m concerned Feedbooks isn’t the happening place any more.

Smashwords was another great hope, dogged in its support for the online writer, but its reach is poor, and in five years I’ve not had a single piece of feedback from any of my works on there. In Smashwords then, I am roundly disappointed.

Which brings me back to Wattpad, forum for the teen scribbler. I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but only old people and college students still buy paper books. Against all expectation my stories, Sunita and Fall of night have done well on Wattpad, and still attract that ever valuable commodity: feedback.

Oh, sure, I’m a bit of an oddball, writing stuff and giving it away. I really don’t know if I could get it published properly in paper now, but my experience of the process leaves me cold, and I’d  rather not go there again. So, free it is, you lucky people. And my current weapon of choice is Wattpad, at least in the formative stages of a story.

I admit I don’t like Wattpad that much. It makes me uneasy,  but it’s the only place right now with a lively vibe, at least  for the freak that is the author who turns his back on the establishment. So,… up goes The Sea View Cafe, not because it’s finished, but more because it’s not and I find Wattpad’s pre-readers less shy of expressing opinions on a piece, and more likely to discover it than if I spent an age polishing it through several drafts and putting it up first anywhere else. Plus, when I know a few readers have been hooked, it renders me honour bound to find a way through the labyrinth that is the story. It adds pressure, it adds weight.

Speaking for the writer, of the first draft of any story, the only important thing is that we finish it. Wattpad helps enormously in this respect. The Sea View is not finished, and I’ve no idea where it’s going, but we’re three quarters of the way through, and that’s enough to start jamming sticks in the ground. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I respect Wattpad, and its membership.

But I am not the best of Wattpad members. I post my own stuff, but am shamefully neglectful of the works of others. Read mine, but probably won’t read yours, because all writers are prima donnas, and cruelly neglectful of our fellow scribblers. But not all readers are writers. Some people just want to read fiction without the inconvenience of (a) having to pay for it and (b) having to write their own stuff for comparison.

So,.. the Sea View Cafe is my own current preoccupation. I am in love with the characters, and I want to do right by them. I’m using Wattpad, and I’m using you, dear reader to help in fashioning it to a decent conclusion. So ignore all other stories on there and read The Sea View Cafe.

You don’t have to read it of course. You don’t have to feed me back. Few do, actually. But those who do, do make a difference.

I thank you.

Graeme out.

The Sea View Cafe on Wattpad


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durleston wood cover smallThere are millions of free stories on the Internet now. Take a look at Feedbooks and Smashwords sometime. And yes, they’re really free. Their authors write them and give them away, happy to get a kick from the fact someone is reading them. Perhaps they’ve tried to get them paper-published the traditional way, but failed. No problem. Offering them online is a good alternative to leaving them hidden in a folder on a hard-drive, eventually to be deleted or lost when the machine breaks down. If you can’t get anyone to pay you for your work, really, it’s okay to give it away.

The problem is with so many free books out there, how does a writer get his stories noticed? Well, it’s a bit of a lottery and the system, such as it is, is hard to game, unless you’re going to spend money on a marketing campaign. But if we’re not making anything out of our writing, it makes no sense to pay to make nothing out of it either. I’m writing, and publishing – of a sort, and I’m happy with that.

But let’s be honest, my blogging motives aren’t as altruistic as they seem. I began the blog with the aim of advertising myself. Simple. I write articles on here, thinking to attract the blogging audience, and hopefully draw attention to my fiction that sits in the margin. I also have an Instagram account, the purpose of which is to attract other Instagrammers to this blog, and from there to my fiction. I hope the pictures I post on Instagram are interesting, that they say something about where I’m coming from, and I like to think the blog carries good and interesting content too, but my aim, my purpose, if you like, is always the “the work”. The Fiction. The Novels.

I get about a hundred visitors a day now, and the stats show I get a few clicks out to my novels most days too. It’s not much, but it’s working, and adds to the clicks from visitors who find my works directly on Feedbooks and Smashwords. It’ll do. Whether I get a few clicks or a hundred, I’m making the same amount of money anyway. Zero. It’s the readers that count.

So if you’re a writer of free stories, this is something to be thinking about. If you’re passing by and a potential reader of one of Michael Graeme’s novels, don’t let me distract you. Pick one from the margin because that’s why I’ve lured you here.

If you’re reading on a tablet or a phone of the Apple variety, it should be a seamless operation, from clicking the link, to the book opening up on your device. You may be given a choice of format – stick with the epub version and you’ll be fine.

With tablets and phones of the Android variety you’ll need to make sure you have an ebook reading app onboard first, so to be sure visit the app store – I use Aldiko and Moonreader. Both are superb. Aldiko is the most popular, and free. Again, when clicking the link you may be given a choice of format – pick the epub version.

Windows 8 and 10 devices come with ebook readers installed, so no worries there. With Kindles you need to click the mobi version. Sorry, Amazon, but I don’t get many readers with Kindles. It’s mostly readers with ‘Droids using Aldiko.

Reading on laptops isn’t a great experience, worse on desktops – these devices are really for content creation, not consumption. You can do it of course. Download as PDF and use the Adobe reader.

Fed up with my stuff? Go to Smashwords’ or Feedbooks’ websites and start browsing. Get reading. You may be surprised. Wish you’d read the classics in your youth? They’re all there – the whole of Victorian literature, famous and obscure, all free, plus a wide shimmering sea of contemporary amateur fiction from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the corny to the caustic.

Why waste your time with amateur fiction, spelling mistakes, bad grammar and all? Well honestly, it’s sometimes better than the stuff you’ve been paying for. Of course three quarters of anything is rubbish, and there’s no one online to tell you what’s good and what’s not. You have to decide for yourself, but that’s part of the fun.

A good writer treats his reader with respect, like a companion along the way, and you want to see them through to the end. I’m not sure to what extent I’ve been successful in this, but why not read one my novels and let me know? I may not change my ways, but I’m always interested in hearing what you have to say about it.

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sunita coverIndependent, self publishing authors fall into two camps – those who are trying to make money and a name for themselves, and those who aren’t. I’m firmly in the latter camp these days, though I wasted a lot of time and youth trying to erect a tent in the former. Metaphor exhausted, we move on to consider the differences and similarities. Similarities first: both camps are trying to be taken seriously.

If you’re wanting to make money you need a piece of work that’s worthy of being read, but the same applies if you’re giving stuff away. A book is a piece of who you are, a snapshot of the inside of your head and we all like to present the best of ourselves, not because we’re fake and trying to pass off rubbish, but because we’re trying to be sincere, while at the same time fearing we might be coming across as gibbering idiots. So, the work needs to be well presented, because gibbering idiots do not present well. This equates to good grammar, spelling, and a complete absence of typos.

Grammar and spelling come down to education and experience. Typos,… well, there’s not a lot we can do about those by ourselves. In the self publishing world, typos are here to stay. Get used to it.

My own grammar follows the rules I learned for English O level circa 1975, which makes it perhaps a little staid, though tempered and influenced by the more daring examples set by my own reading experience, and what other authors seem to have got away with in the name of their art. The language I use comes from the voices in my head and I know when something really jangles there’s a problem with the grammar. Typos are a a different matter. Notice that? Notice what? Go back and read it again.

Typos are impossible to spot at spot at times, especially for the person committing the typo. The mind thinks it knows what should be there. It interprets, it simplifies information in order to give you the impression of what is there, rather than what is actually there.  This is interesting to anyone with a penchant for psychology and the nature of reality. Other than that it just makes us a target for pedants.

The best way of dealing with typos is to get someone else to read everything you’ve written before you post it. But I write about two hundred thousand words a year, and nobody loves me that much. You can pay for it, but if you’re not making money out of your writing why should you?

My last novel “The Price of Being With Sunita” picked up a generally complementary review recently, though this was attenuated somewhat by the comment that I’d managed to commit an even higher than average typo count for your average self published novel. This doesn’t surprise me as I’m still sweeping up typos from books I wrote a decade ago, and which I’ve already been through dozens of times. Fact: there’ll be fewer typos in Sunita ten years from now, but there’ll still be typos.

I know,… as writers we do the best we can, but as readers the experience of reading is best not jarred by typos. They cause a narrative pause, rather like a log-jam, or sometimes even a poke in the the eye. The reader thinks: what was that? Is that really what he meant? Have I missed something? Oh, it’s just a typo.

And of course none of the fatal errors thus far committed in this piece would be swept up by the red underlines of spelling checkers, so the writer is very much on his own. I don’t know what the solution to typos is, other than some form of cognitive re-wiring, but I do know what the solution isn’t:

The world of publishing has changed, with many self published books now becoming mainstream, thus teasing the rest of us with the possibilities of riches. And with these changes has grown up a new branch of the industry, one for want of a better phrase I shall call: “paid author services”. These services are offered by people who take money in exchange for work on presentation. They create nothing, but they’ll root out the typos in your manuscript, even offer you a marketing package, for a fee. But in all cases the money is flowing the wrong way, so far as the author is concerned, and my advice to my fellow independent authors is to be careful. The people offering paid author services now are the same people who worked in “vanity publishing” in last century, but whose aim is the same – to target the vulnerable and to part them from their money.

The author still trying to make money and a name might be tempted by those adverts for author services. They might think it a worthwhile investment in a brighter future and godlike recognition for their labours, when what in fact they are is a potential victim. The author in the other camp need not worry so much – we just do the best we can.

Remember, whatever kind of writing you do the three immutable laws of writing remain:

1) People pay you, the author, for your work.

2) If you can’t get people to pay for your work, it’s okay to give it away in exchange for a readership – no matter how small.

3) You, the author, never pay anyone anything. Ever. Period.

It’s particularly embarrassing to be picked up on my typos, having written in the past on how best to remove typos from your work. But, hey, nobody’s perfect. In a proper published book or even a newspaper article there’s this poor, underpaid minion called a sub-editor whose job it is to spear all those typos and make the author look good, look brilliant. But the self published independent doesn’t have that luxury. And if he’s giving his work away he’s not obliged to be able to afford that luxury either. All he has is his wits, and his sincerity. Self published works will contain typos. Guaranteed. It’s a pain in the arse, I know, but get over it.

In return what you get is a work straight from the author’s keyboard. You also get it cheap.

Sometimes you don’t pay for it at all.








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maisondulacAnyway,… there she was, centre-stage, hemmed in between a pair of frightful old waxworks – namely her parents, Monsieur and Madame Lafayette. Madame was one of those jowly old dames who appear permanently displeased, while her husband had the dry, superior air of an old-school academic. Madame had just noticed something on her dessert spoon and, with one eyebrow arched in disapproval, was tipping the spoon towards her husband for him to inspect and share in her low opinion of the standards they were having to endure. I caught the word, ‘sale’,.. dirty! He shook his head and tutted in dutiful dismay. Personally, I’ve never known a better presented hotel than La Maison, and since it so clearly failed to measure up to their expectations I supposed nothing ever would.

Gabrielle had the look of a child that night, and she was so quiet, so undemonstrative, she went unnoticed between her more animated parents. She was pale, looked even a little sickly, and was dressed in an unflattering blouse and an unfashionable skirt that would have better suited someone her mother’s age. This was in stark contrast to the Italian girls on the neighbouring table who were dressed, shall we say, less modestly but considerably more in vogue. However, like the Italian girls, Gabrielle was hardly a child – she must have been in her early thirties – yet she appeared shrunken, the full bloom of her womanhood arrested, and she had become instead a flower rendered papery thin and transparent for want of sunshine.

The only hint that all was not lost was her hair, which had the colour and the fertile sheen of a freshly opened chestnut. It would have been voluminous, I thought, except for now it was severely fastened up. Surely if there was any spirit left in Gabrielle, it had fled her body years ago, and resided now exclusively in those lovely chestnut tresses. What a pleasure it would be, I thought, to see her let that hair down, and let the spirit of her secret self flow back into those sickly bones.
Her eyes never left the table – not even when her parents spoke to her, and I noticed Madame had the habit of fussing with Gabrielle’s table setting, as if the girl could not be trusted to leave things tidy. I found this deeply irritating, though I don’t know why because these people were nothing to me. All the same I wondered how she managed to bear it so patiently.

After dinner I lingered over coffee, watching as she left the dining room, still captured safe between them, noting also how she walked with a pronounced stoop, as if wary of low ceilings, that she was embarrassed by her height, afraid to rise up to the stature of which she was surely capable. And beneath the rather ill fitting clothes, I’m ashamed to say I joined the dots and reconstructed the outline of an attractive figure, generously curved,… curiously desirable,…

Actually, although it might read like a story, this incident is taken pretty much from the observations of a lone man in the dining room of an hotel. Namely me. It also forms the opening of my novel “The Last Guests of La Maison Du Lac”, written decades later, and by which it becomes more of a half-truth, before blurring out altogether into the realms of a purer form of fiction.

Her name was probably not Gabrielle, nor did I see her again after she left the dining room that evening. But the impression of her lingered subliminally, and she was to provide a powder keg of inspiration for a further two hundred thousand words, much later in life. It was an English hotel in reality, but I moved it to Switzerland, fashioned it roughly along the lines of another place I’d stayed in on Lake Lucerne. I did this because the dining room of that Swiss establishment had a view of the lake and a snow capped Pilatus, which I renamed because location wasn’t important in the geographical sense – only a dramatic and mysterious remoteness.

Then in April 2010, as I penned this opening, an Icelandic volcano, the Eyjafjallajökull, erupted and for a period of 6 days, grounded every aircraft in northern and western Europe. This bit is also true, but if I’d made that bit up – I mean about the eruption – no one would have believed me because it was too fantastic. It was the first time since Bleriot the skies were empty of flying machines – a sudden and extraordinary thing that caused chaos. This gave me permission to try other unsettling ideas, like how about an X class solar flare which combines with the outfall of that volcano to produce an electromagnetic pulse, one that that wipes out every microchip in the northern hemisphere? Cars, planes, computers, memory cards, watches, everything electronic,… gone! Overnight.

And then again I was thinking about buying an old car, an MGB, a vehicle that predates just about every modern convenience. In the end I didn’t buy it, but it got me thinking how such a vehicle would be unaffected by  electromagnetic pulses, and I’d find myself being the only visitor to La Maison not now stranded. But what kind of Europe would I find outside the calm oasis of La Maison, and with a thousand miles of uncertain roads to drive between me and Blighty? And what if the peculiarly oppressed Gabrielle came to me and asked that, when I leave, will I take her with me, because she wants to escape her monstrous parents?

What kind of story would that then be, I wonder? And how much stranger could I make it?

Writing is a melting pot of seemingly unconnected ideas, encounters, events. They all go into the pot. Life and memory stir them. Reflection over the keyboard produces strange, sometimes alchemical effects as these disjointed things, sometimes decades apart, join to form an unexpectedly coherent and informative narrative. It’s as if our lives are not played out solely in linear time – that what happens today might not make sense right now, but only later when tacked onto something else that happens twenty years later. Truth or fiction? Well, it’s a bit of both usually, the boundaries blurred, smeared out across time and space, and the writer doesn’t care. It’s just a story after all.

You can link to the novel from the right of the page. It’s free. No sweat. I had a great time writing it. On the Richter scale of fictional strangeness, I put La Maison at around a nine. And boy that Gabrielle,… she really was something else.

Keep well.

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eleanorThe thing with self publishing online is that, unlike the traditionally published stuff, the manuscript – if you can still call it that – is never actually finished; it’s always open to review. And from time to time one of my stories will draw me back for another look. This week it’s been The Road From Langholm Avenue, a story that predates the Internet, and came out of a much younger me.

The gist of the story is that our hero, Tom, has been cuckolded and chucked out by his wife, so he’s moved back in with his long time widower dad, who has just entered into an unusual marriage of convenience with a much younger, emotionally fragile woman called Eleanor.

Tom’s job is also on the skids, and he must choose between redundancy, or transferring to an office abroad. An easy choice one might think but Tom’s a small town boy, early middle aged and having an emotional crisis, so he sticks his head in the sand and sets out instead to find Rachel, a girl he had a crush on at school. Why? Well, he’s feeling that the fact he never asked her out has left a piece of her inside of him, and that the only way to free himself and clear his head is to find her and ask her out. Irrational? A little crazy even? Yes, but then people are like that.

The story explores Tom’s relationship with Rachel, both past and present, the story of an unrequited love that left him scarred. But the story of Rachel herself is also intriguing, revealed in glimpses as Tom’s search for her progresses, and he realises how little the real Rachel resembles the idealised image he’s held of her all these years. The obvious question though is, if he does find her, and he asks her out, what then? I mean, what if she says yes?

His friend and ally in all of this is Eleanor. Naturally supportive, nurturing and sisterly, her often surprising wisdom helps him navigate the emotional maze his life has now become. But their relationship is not without its dangers, given Eleanor’s traumatic past. Mentally scarred, horrifically abused in her youth, Eleanor’s story resembles Rachel’s in many respects, being one of courage, and a struggle for personal integrity and dignity in a world and in a period when dignity and integrity are no longer familiar concepts. Unlike Rachel though, who lives very much on the surface of her being and is rooted firmly in the world, Eleanor is a woman of secrets cast adrift on stormy seas.

I began this story long ago, when I was still in love with Rachel, looking for traces of her in my own past. I don’t know where Eleanor came from. She is symbolic in a way, consort to the Senex of Tom’s father for a while, and linked to my own quest for an unearthly wisdom. I also ended the story very much in love with her. Rachel was my beginning, a bit like Tom, but Eleanor was the one who opened up the road from Langholm Avenue, led me away from the past. It’s a journey that continues to this day.

In the process of reading, I’ve been able to sweep up yet more typos, fiddled about with commas and colons, but I’ve let the text lie. The story is stable. Mature. No sense in messing with it now. In the process of reviewing it, I began posting chapters on Wattpad to see if I could tease out a few more readers, but engagement has been disappointing. No surprises there – my characters are middle aged, and Wattpad is still predominantly a platform for Emo teens, with just the occasional bewildered adult roaming lost, as if in a desert. Elsewhere though, on Feedbooks and Smashwords, it’s done much better. It was even pirated on Amazon for a while!

I’ve had a lot of mails about this story, and that’s always welcome. There’s nothing quite beats hearing from a reader, if only because it’s evidence a real person is actually reading my stuff. I’ve been asked more than once when the sequel is coming out, but I’m sorry to say I have no immediate plans. It’s clear something about these characters has touched a nerve – in particular the ethereal Eleanor – but I would have to delve back in time some fifteen years to pick up the voice and the soul of it and I’ve come to realise the guy who wrote it is no longer there. He changed into the me that I am now.

I think when we write, one of the motivations is we want to leave something behind, a marker of our one time presence here in material reality, a kind of digital graffiti on the wall of the metaverse; a cheeky: Michael Was Here! Of course, a hundred years from now no one will be fingering dusty editions of Langholm Avenue in the back rooms of quaint second hand book shops. For one thing, there will be no second hand bookshops – but I trust searches of whatever passes for the Internet in the future will still serendipitously reveal the story to fresh eyes, that it will live on in some form.

A writer is not the best judge of his work. What he is happiest with, others might find excruciating, while what he thinks trivial and worthless, others might enjoy. Langholm Avenue is whatever others take away from it, but whatever that is I am not ashamed to admit that it still touches me, containing as it does by far the most semi-autobiographical material of all my novels.

Is it foolish to hope? It’s a long time since we spoke, but she has yet to return my key, and sometimes in life, as in love, the most we have to go on is a feeling.

Yes, Eleanor still has my key.

But the key to what?

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