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Winter on Brinscall Moor

It feels good when a novel comes together. If the reader agrees with my closing lines or not is another matter, but “Winter on the Hill” is finished. It has served its purpose, being, by and large, a quirky romance, but also a way of coming to terms with the rout of Leftist politics in the 2019 General Election.

From about 2016 onwards, I’d been certain the Left was building a momentum for positive change, as a reaction to years of austerity economics, but it turns out we weren’t, and all the country really wanted was to get BREXIT done. It all seems such a long time ago now, but those of us still on the Left must answer the questions: what happened, and what comes next? In the writing of “Winter on the Hill”, I have meditated on it all year, and found, if not answers exactly, then at least a peaceful rapprochement that allows me to move forward, personally. The story is now live on Smashwords. My thanks to those who read the first draft on Wattpad, and who commented (you know who you are).


As for this morning, I find myself in the hamlet where one of the protagonists of “Winter on the Hill” lives: Big Al. This is White Coppice, a gem of a place on the edge of the Western Pennines. It’s a greyed out morning, and I’m crack-of-dawn early, to beat the Covid crowds. But the place is already busy, and the bumpy track to the cricket field is churned to something dire. There are only a couple of parking places left, and all of this on a bleak winter’s morning, one of those in which the dawn begins to break, then changes its mind.


My main protagonist, Rick, lives on the other side of the moor. That’s where I’m heading, to Piccadilly on the Belmont road. Then it’s through the Roddlesworth plantations and a return over Brinscsall moor, a circuit of about ten miles, and fourteen hundred feet of ascent. This is something of a challenge, especially since I’ve not done more than five miles on the flat all year, and the weather’s not exactly looking kind, but we’ll see how we go.

The track to Great Hill


The forecast is optimistic, but wrong, the moor impressively bleak and cold, the climb up to Great Hill being in the teeth of a sapping wind and rain. The trail’s a waste of mud, too many boots on the ground now – runners, walkers, bikers, all trampling and slewing a dark, wide path. In the summer I saw bikers slicing fresh trails across the moor up to Spitler’s Edge. The land is still bleeding from the cuts they left in their wake. This is such a delicate environment, I wonder if it can survive the stress. No doubt, come spring, there will be fires again.

The trails through Roddleworth are busy – bikes, horses, hikers. Large groups straddle the route, chatting, seemingly unaware of you, forcing you into the ditch as they come at you. By contrast Brinscall moor is empty, granting the first real sense of solitude I’ve had all day. I’m hitting it late in the walk though, when I’m tired, and not sure of my way. I’ve been carrying the Lumix, but not used it much yet, preferring to keep it out of the rain. Its fast lens always makes the best of bleak winter conditions, finding colour where my eyes see only grey. Only now is the unfamiliar piquing my interest and I try a half dozen shots of bare trees and gaunt ruins against a glowering sky. The header picture, is the only one that makes the cut. The rest are burred. My fault, and no surprise.

For weeks my head has been elsewhere, pondering the conundrum of occupational pension options, to be posted off ASAP, in order to fund my early retirement at the year’s end. Then it’s planning my last week of work, and how best to leave behind a tidy ship, this after forty years as a professional engineer. I stand on the cusp of becoming a full time writer now – either that or just another grey old man pushing a trolley round Tescos. It’s what I wanted to do in my twenties – defining myself as a writer – and better late than never. At least now I won’t starve following my dreams.

Perhaps that’s also why I get lost in Brinscall woods, find myself dead-ended in a darkening vale. Suddenly, above me is the sound of water and, through the mist and gloom, comes the awesome spectacle of a gargantuan waterfall. Okay, I know where I am, now. This is the elusive Hatch Brook Falls, and there seems no way around it. I’m so surprised I forget to take a photograph, but the light’s so poor now, I doubt even Ansel Adams would have made much sense of it.


I have a flask of soup, so settle amid the moss and the mud and the multifarious fungi for lunch, and some much-needed restoration. But I’ve forgotten to microwave the soup – just poured the tin into the Thermos. Its unexpected coldness turns an empty stomach. The only other thing I have is an apple, so I munch on that instead. It’s surprising how much energy there is in an apple. It restores the spirits sufficient to get me on my feet and scrambling out of the gorge, onto a path I recognize. Then it’s a couple of miles on empty legs, back to White Coppice, and the car. There’s more rain along the way, more cold, more grey, and mud. And there are processions of slow moving people with dogs running free. They’re all slobber and muddy paws – the dogs I mean – and I could really do without the attention.


Mid-afternoon now, and at a time when I would never dream of visiting White Coppice on a Covid weekend, I find the car-park’s empty. There’s no rhyme nor reason to these strange days. I drive home on the edge of light, the dawn having skipped the day and moved straight on to dusk. I’m haunted by those shots I fluffed on Brinscall moor, the crisp shapes, and the poetry of bare trees against a deepening grey of sky.


I finish the day soaking my bones in a hot bath, and with a glass of drowned whiskey on my chest. I listen to My Bloody Valentine on the player, then Slowdive, and finally Mazzy Star. Then it’s off to bed where I dream of an evening at Wigan and District Mining and Technical College, in the summer of 1985. I’m twenty-four and I’ve won the AUEW prize for my final year’s HND in Mechanical and Production Engineering – in the dream version I cannot find my car afterwards, and have to walk home in the dark. There are bare winter trees against a moonlit sky. They look a lot like those I saw on Brinscall Moor.

I don’t know what the dream is telling me – you did okay as an engineer, perhaps; you kept it together, kept going, but you can make your own way from here without all that now. Things change their names, move on, become irrelevant in terms of our own identity – Wigan Tech, the AUEW, an HND and BS 308, all gone now or transmuted into some other form, neither of us recognising the other any more. But some things retain their potency – things like a lone tree silhouetted against a grey sky, and like Winter on the hill.

Thanks for listening

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WordPress persuaded me to sign up to a “Personal” package for a couple of quid a month. They managed it by showing me the kinds of adverts they impose upon my readers. So, yes, I pay to spare you the pile cream, and the athletes’ foot stuff. You’re welcome. But now they’re trying to sell me a domain name because they say that’s the “professional” thing to have. It’s free for the first year of course, but a bit pricey thereafter. And then there’s the “pro package”, which is even more pricey, which enables me to charge money for,… well, something.
 
Surely they know I know they’re just trying to rinse us creative types, because,… well,… let’s face it, we have no other means of expression, do we? So thanks, WordPress, no thanks. I’m grateful to a degree, but I don’t write for the reasons you’re thinking. I do not aspire to be, or even to appear to be a “pro”.
 
I wrote a novel in 2019 called “the Inn at the edge of light”. It was my tenth, or eleventh or something. It was an intimate part of my life as I wrote it, a world I carved out of nothing, and to which I returned each night with pleasure and anticipation. The characters taught me things about my self and about the world I didn’t know I knew. I decided, out of bloody mindedness, to charge $0.99 for it on Smashwords, but it sold only four copies. Clearly it was meant to mean more to me than it was ever meant to mean to others.
 
The novel before that, Saving Grace, I gave away and it’s been downloaded nearly 2500 times. The moral? If you want to make money from your writing, it’s up to you, but don’t be surprised if you never make a bean and you end up looking back with nothing but regret at the wasted years. I don’t. My novels have calmed me, centred me, kept my sails to the wind. It’s something else then, the writing I mean,… whether you pretend to be a pro or not. Indeed, the reason we write at all is a mystery, given the path to A-List celebrity is so littered with apparent failure.
 
Much of life is chaotic, meaningless and cruel. I state the obvious, of course. Enlightenment accepts the world as such, then moves on. The way I see it, human beings became conscious of themselves for a reason. Ours is the task of balancing the chaos by carving out some sort of order from the melee, also, to the degree it’s possible – as small and fragile as we are – we were meant to find ways of transcending the violent cycle of dog-eat-dog nature. We can do this because above all we are exquisitely imaginative creatures.
 
In 1925, the psychologist Carl Jung went to Taos in New Mexico. There, the native Indians told him about their religion, and their belief that if they didn’t practice it, the sun would cease to rise. This makes no sense to a modern people dosed on rationalism. We tell ourselves a spiritual ritual can have no bearing on the real world. But I think it can, and it does, if not to the world as it is in itself, then to the way we see and touch, and feel it.
 
Writing’s like that too. It’s like walking along a beach and coming across bits of ideas washed up among the detritus on the shoreline. Individually they don’t make sense, but something about them attracts us – the shape of them, or the way they catch the light of imagination. We recognize them as pieces of something greater that once belonged together. They were a story, now broken apart by the chaos of the universe as it unfolded, and it’s our job to puzzle out a way of putting it back together, of restoring order and meaning. We don’t do this by thinking how much we can sell that idea for. We do it by joining it all back up and releasing it into the world for its own sake – even if it’s only us and our God who knows about it.
 
Of course, it’s hard to evade the side of one’s ego, the bit of us that craves reward or recognition, for such is an easy, if shallow, means of validating one’s presence in the world. I must exist, we say, and I must be right in what I think or say, because I’m known among men, and they pay me well. But this leaves little room for error. The literary life, the thinking life is an adventure. And all adventurers have wasted time following the trails that lead nowhere but right back to the beginning, or which have petered out in the waste of decades.
 
That way you go from hero to zero in a heartbeat. And, as your acolytes abandon you, and the critics sneer at the passing of yet another smart-arse, with it goes your fragile sense of meaning. But for the likes of the unknown scribbler it doesn’t matter if we get it wrong. It doesn’t matter if, now and then, we stick the tail on the donkey’s head. We have no reputation to risk, no grace from which to fall. And therefore, perhaps crucially, we do not fear to fail. Ego knows this, has learned its lesson over long years, and generally leaves me alone.
 
My stories are a trail of ideas. They have led me to places I could not have conceived of without the vehicle of imagination. Some have led me round in circles. Some have seduced me with their delights, but taught me nothing. Others have opened doors to places I have feared to go. The sun won’t cease to rise if I neglect to worship it in ritual prose. But in my own small way, and like everyone else, I face daily the chaos of the universe, and I pattern it with some semblance of order. We can do this in practical ways, like building a house to keep out the cold and the rain. Or, as writers and thinkers, we do it by beach-combing the shores of imagination and teasing back the threads of chaos into some sort of ordered meaning.
 
Thus, this little piece of pattern comes to you free of charge, free of adverts, but not I hope entirely free of purpose. Let it therefore raise some sparks in you, and set you off along the shoreline of your own imagination. And let’s see then what the tide brings in.

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book thief

Some notes on my experience of the self-publishing scene.

There may be other distribution networks for independent authors out there, but so far as I can tell the above listed are the mainstays of the self-publishing world at the moment. Amazon and Smashwords allow authors to charge money for their books. Free e-books, obviously, doesn’t.

I never discuss Amazon much as a platform, other than to warn writers you’ll probably find your stories (like my Sea View Café) appearing on there as pirated versions. Yes Ethelyn Purvines, I mean you, you shameless little bastard! All independent authors are vulnerable in this regard and, though galling, there’s little point making a fuss about it. But neither do I wish to spend time promoting a platform where it’s hard for a reader to tell the difference if they’re paying money to a genuine author or a dubious doppelgänger. They seem to operate a strictly hands off policy at Amazon, so anyone can publish anything and get away with it, thus e-book piracy thrives. Use Amazon if you like, but I don’t and never will. If you find a book on there that looks like mine, it’s pirated. I also find it near impossible to get stuff like this taken down.

Smashwords on the other hand perform some basic checks on your uploaded work. Their formatting requirements can seem fussy at first but are not unreasonable, and the fact the author has to put some effort in does tend to discourage the pirates who’d rather not do any work beyond cut and paste. Unlike Amazon the Smashwords team also do random searches on snippets of text from your uploaded manuscripts to check you’re not merely ripping off someone else’s work. This level of diligence enables them to court distribution arrangements with other “premium” e-book sites like Apple’s iStore, Barnes and Noble and WH Smith. That said, although those big names do carry my books, I’ve never had a download from any of them, so they’re not worth bragging about.

Smashwords also allows a writer the flexibility to set their work as free, or to experiment with a range of price-points. If you make your books free, you can expect on average three or four downloads per day – more when a work is new. If you set a price, you won’t download as many. “The Inn at the Edge of Light” went up in December 2019, priced $0.99, and as of now has been downloaded four times, which is hardly a living, so don’t kid yourself, but all in all I do recommend Smashwords for its integrity and its service to self-publishing.

If you’re happy to give your books away, Free Ebooks have a much higher download rate, but sadly I note those titles I put up on Free Ebooks started appearing on Amazon in pirate versions. Ethelyn Purvines pirate version of my Sea View Café was lifted directly from Free Ebooks. I’ve now closed my account with them and had them pull all my books from their circulation lists. If you’re sensitive about the possibility of your work being stolen, I really can’t recommend them.

There is another distribution network called Wattpad but that’s a bit of a wilderness and I can’t recommend that either, not if you’re ambitious to find readers. I do post on there when drafting a new work, but for reasons that are more to do with setting the pace of writing a story, than for self-publishing it. For example, my current work in progress “Winter on the Hill” I’m posting on Wattpad at a rate of roughly one chapter per week. I find this deadline, though imaginary, adds a little energy to things. When the story’s complete, it’ll disappear and go to Smashwords.

Writers write for many reasons. For some it’s vanity, but they tend to last only so long as it takes for reality to kick in. Others write for their friends, others for themselves, others because it’s in their blood, and they have no choice. For critical acclaim and money you still need to find your way into conventional publishing with its distribution and marketing machinery. Without that, if the Booker prize is still your aim, you’re dead in the water.

Until someone comes up with a coveted prize for self-published e-book fiction, the literary talent willing to sit on a judging panel for free, and a sponsor willing to stump up some serious prize money, self-publishing’s always going to be for the outsiders who can’t get a look in any other way, and that means writing mostly for nothing.

Is writing for nothing worth it? Well, “Saving Grace” went up on Smashwords for free about a year ago and to date it’s been downloaded 2166 times, so plenty of people have read it and some have written back to tell me they enjoyed it. Am I pleased by that, even though it’s not made me a dime? Yes I am. By contrast just four people have downloaded “The Inn at the Edge of Light” for which I’m charging $0.99. Am I as pleased by that? Well, grateful as I am to those readers who took a punt, the money gained from self-publishing is clearly never going be sufficient incentive to write your next book is it?

But then writers write. If it doesn’t suit you, or it makes you unhappy, then don’t.

Be well.

Graeme out.

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WOTH cover smallA quick look at Smashwords’ “trending” titles has me wondering about the company I’m keeping these days. Many book covers on there feature a “ripped” male torso, often tattooed and with titles that imply the illustrated man is a real bad-un who treats his wife/girlfriend/lover appallingly. The implication is that muscles and maltreatment are attractive to females, that Alpha male culture is alive and well, that if a man wants a svelte, blonde haired, blue eyed mate with a peachy bottom, he’d be better leaving off his cerebral development to spend more time at the gym, pumping iron or whatever else it is black hearted cads are supposed do.

I’m sorry girls, if I was never that way for you, that I was sensitive and somewhat flimsy, to say nothing of concave in the pectoral region, though, thinking back, it might explain a lot, and worse that I have been badly letting down the present Mrs Graeme by my lack of aspiration to the more simian levels of impolite society. She says not, but I fear she’s just being polite.

So it hardly seems worthwhile my putting pen to paper on yet one more story featuring an ordinary, if somwhat eccentric, oppressed guy, and a girl who rewards his kindness, to say nothing of his angsty, halting advances with her love. It hardly seems worthwhile putting out a title as vague and sexless as say: “Winter on the Hill” when there’s a chance it’ll appear on the same shelves as: “Bad boy punishes his b*&ch” and “Bullied by her Man”. It seems I’m niche, and my niche is getting narrower.

I know we’re talking about light entertainment here, fluff for kiddies maybe, people with the majority of their lives ahead of them, but still it’s worrying the type of stories they’re being told, to say nothing of the stories they’re telling others. And it’s no use me saying it’s not really like that, that I don’t actually know any cruel men, because for sure they do exist. It’s just that I instinctively distance myself from them and thereby defeat them by not entering into combat in the first place. I also stand so far ahead in time, at least from the perspective of life remaining to me, I’m as good as dead to the young for all the relevance I have, and maybe that’s the way it’s always been. My niche then, is people of a similar age and outlook to myself, which is what? Late middle age, middle income, and a Cappuccino socialist to boot? Yes, indeed, a narrowing niche.

My stories are about a man’s puzzlement at life, about looking at the crazy flow of events and trying to make sense of one’s self and others, and how in the end the events of life themselves are irrelevant, that it’s only in relation to others we truly discover our selves.

Sartre is a difficult philosopher for me, but it was he who said: “Hell is other people”, and I know exactly what he means – this line coming from his play “In Camera”. Three strangers, lately dead, find themselves in Hell. But Hell is a small, locked room and only themselves for company. Initially they await in dread the torture and the fire and brimstone of biblical telling, each eventually realising that while without the others their continued existence has no substance, it is equally the case there is no torture Hell can devise that is worse than “other people”. It’s a conclusion I’ve perhaps been fumbling towards myself, but the other way around, that if other people can be Hell – and they certainly can, especially to an introverted type like me – we can also find heaven in them. I don’t mean everybody of course, though we always do well to understand where others are coming from, their back-stories, their trials, their tribulations.

But is is worth spending the whole of 2020 on another novel, rambling towards that same conclusion?

Oh, well, go on then,…as if I could stop myself.

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iateol cover third small

Amazon and Smashwords allow the independent author to easily self-publish online for money. You upload your file, your cover artwork, set a price and that’s it. I’ve self-published on Smashwords for years but have kept my books free. Downloads are in the region of 1000 per year, initially, tailing off gradually to a few hundred, all of which I’m more than happy with. As for Amazon though I refuse to deal with them as they regularly feature pirated copies of my books and have made the process for getting them taken down so opaque I no longer bother. It’s just easier to tell everyone I don’t publish on Amazon, that any book appearing on there under my name is in breach of copyright. If you’re a pirate on the other hand I highly recommend the platform as it’s more than likely you’ll get away with it. But that’s another story.

The lesson thus far then, in so far as my own experience goes, is that if you want to self-publish, and you’re happy to make your book free, you are guaranteed to find readers, and plenty of them, and that’s a truly liberating experience, both for you and for your story. However, the same is not true if you set a price.

According to Smashwords’ own analysis, some authors do sell very well indeed, while others don’t sell at all. What they don’t say however, is what proportion of writers don’t sell, but I suspect it’s most of them. By far the most popular price point is free but some books, especially those priced modestly at $0.99 or $2.99 do sell, sometimes, but that doesn’t automatically mean yours will. As with conventional publishing the reasons why one book sells and another doesn’t aren’t clear. Good marketing helps of course, but there’s only so much an independent author can do to get their name and “brand” out there without breaking the bank, and my philosophy has always been that since it’s unlikely you’re going to make much money anyway, you’re better giving your books away and going for a readership. Better for a writer to be read and make nothing at it, than to aim for gold and not be read at all.

I’ve got eleven novels on Smashwords now, coming up on twelve, all free. But what would happen if I set a price for them – say $2.99? Surely I’d sell at least a few copies? Well, as an experiment, I tried it with “Between the Tides” and it killed my readership entirely. Not a single download. So I lowered the price to $0.99. Same thing. Not a single sale.

The lesson then does indeed seem to be “keep it free”, but in the end it’s up to you and there’s no harm in trying. Someone always wins the lottery. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that, so go for it and see what happens.

Which brings me to the shameless self-publicity bit about my latest novel which, as of this evening, is now complete. As is my habit I’ve been serialising it for free on Wattpad first, even though Wattpad is a simply dreadful platform for downloads, but I still find it useful as part of the drafting process, even if that only means getting the chapter numbers right. But how’s this: once it’s done, I’m going to pull it from Wattpad, then publish the final draft exclusively on Smashwords for $0.99. I’ve even filled in a US tax form and everything in anticipation of making a killing. After all, this book’s been a year in the writing and I’ve burned some serious midnight oil on it. Why should I give it away?

Well, for one thing, I’ve already had my money’s worth from it. It may be fresh to the reader but I’ve lived and breathed it for a long time and, even though no one else may be able to decipher what it is I’m trying to say in it, I do, and I’ve already moved on, psychologically, to thinking about the next project.

Still,… it’s tempting. So perhaps you should catch up with it on Wattpad, just in case I change my mind. Go on, I’ll give you until midnight December 31’st. Then, come January 2020, I’m turning over a new leaf, becoming a paid author no one will ever read again. And then like all New Year resolutions, once I’ve sobered up, normal service will probably be resumed, and the Inn at the Edge of Light will finally,… be set free.

Possibly.

Or not.

As the case may be.

 

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Lavender and the Rose Cover

Another in the occasional series, looking at the themes expressed in my various works of fiction. 

Moving on, getting on, forgetting the past, embracing change, living in the present moment – and all that. It’s good stuff, stuff I tried to get at in the Road from Langholm Avenue. And to be sure, all these things are attainable, the material world navigated safely as needs be without falling over in despair at the pointlessness of existence. At least for a time.

But as we get older, something else happens, some call it an existential crisis, others simply the menopause. But as I see it, youth, inexperience, and just plain ignorance has us accepting without question the allure of an essentially material life, rendering us blind to the fallacy that it is entirely sufficient for our needs – the pursuit of money, lifestyle, the bigger house, the bigger car, the exotic travel destinations. It isn’t.

If we’re lucky we wake up and realise material things don’t satisfy us for very long, that we can live an extravagant lifestyle, a life all the adverts would have us aspire to, and still be as miserable as sin, still craving the next big thing. But you can’t go on for ever like that. Clearly something is missing. We need a bigger story if our lives are to mean anything.

Some find that bigger story ready made in the various world religions – usually a story about a supreme being and an afterlife to help make sense of the suffering we endure in this one. We can then explain our lives as a trial imposed upon us, the reward for which will be riches in the next life. Or we can explain it as a preparation for a higher level of existence, again in some non-material hereafter. And all that’s fine for the faithful, because religions do provide comfort in times of need, but what if you’re not faithful? What if all of that sounds ridiculous to you? What if the logical inconsistencies of such a set-up cause you to take out that barge pole and prod all religions and their scary religiosity safely out of sight. Life simply is what it is, and then you die. Right?

Well, maybe.

But what if you sit down one day in an existential funk, and something happens? Let’s say the doors to perception are flung wide open – just for a moment – and you’re given an utterly convincing glimpse of a universe that’s somehow greatly expanded compared with the narrow way you normally perceive it? How so? Hard to describe except lets say, for example, time drops out of the equation and you’re given the impression of an infinite continuum in which there is no difference between you and whatever you perceive, that your mind is independent of both the physical body and the physical world, that indeed your mind is a subset of a greater mind that is both you and not you at the same time.

How would you deal with that?

Well, you’d probably think you were ill, or just coming out of a semi swoon or a waking dream where we all know the most outrageous nonsense can be made to feel true. So we come back to our senses and carry on as normal. Except we find our perspective on life is subtly altered. We are drawn to ideas that might explain our experience. We explore it first through psychology, because it was a kind of mind-thing we experienced. So down the rabbit hole we go,…

And there sitting at the mad hatter’s table we discover Carl Jung, sipping tea and reading a book called the Yijing, which he lends to us, saying that if we are not pleased by it, we don’t need to use it, and we’d worry about that except he also tells us famous quantum physicists have used it too, though they don’t like to admit it. Then this Oriental connection takes us to ancient China and another book called the Tao Te Ching, then to religions that aren’t like other religions, to Daoism and Buddhism which are kind of hard to get your head around. But while everything you learn explains some small part of what you experienced, nothing explains the whole of it.

So you put some rules to it yourself, create a quasi-logical structure for this strange new universe you alone have apparently discovered. Before you know it, you’ve invented your own religion and it all falls apart again, victim to the inconsistencies you’ve imposed upon it yourself. It seems the moment you put words to things you limit their potential to within the bounds of your own perception, and what you perceive actually isn’t that much when compared with what’s really out there, or to be more precise in there, because it’s an inner experience that leads us to this taste of the infinite where there’s no such thing as or in or out anyway.

The Lavender and the Rose comes out of this shift in perception, but without structure it would make no sense to anyone else – just two hundred thousand words of mindless drivel that would bore anyone to tears, so we accept the vagueness and the mystery, and we weave a story around it instead, a love story, several love stories, blur the boundaries, throw in some visions, some Jungian psychology, basically a lot of muse-stuff and conquering of the ego, that sort of thing. Add in a bit of Victorian costume drama, play about with characters having more than one identity, play the story out at different points in history, play it out in alternative universes where even the present moments can pan out differently, and then try to make it all hang together as an interesting story – about what can happen when you start living magically, and with others who are similarly inclined. Then explore ways the mystery can be coaxed to your aid, and discover how, if you get it wrong it will shun you for a decade. Learn how to navigate its endless ambiguities, how to see the world as no one else sees it, and still get by without getting yourself sectioned.

Such is the irresistible allure of something other.

And as with all my stuff, if you are not pleased by it, at least it hasn’t cost you anything!

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the master

Things move on. Gone are the days of Feedbooks when any old noob indy could self publish on there for free and have a hundred downloads by morning. Feedbooks is still going but for the self publishing indy it died ages ago. Stats suggest very few readers find their way to my stuff any more so I do’t bother with it – might as well stuff it in a drawer for all the good it will do.  But all is not lost: there’s always Free Ebooks.

This is another of those sites you can load your fiction onto. The model is a simple one – thousands of writers provide free content around which the site owners serve advertising and marketing packages which pay for site’s upkeep. Like Smashwords they want your manuscripts in MS word format, but don’t seem as fussy over the formatting – or it may be that I’m submitting stuff that’s already passed the Smashword’s meat-grinder test.

Downloads are encouraging – quite a spike early on, levelling off to a few clicks per day thereafter. I suspect it’ll be like Smashwords in the longer term, eventually flat-lining at a thousand clicks or so with only the occasional flutter thereafter. Yes, they want you to sign up for their marketing packages and all that, but I’m not going to advise you to ignore them because you know it’s a cardinal rule writers never pay publishers anything, don’t you? As for Free Ebooks paying you, well, there is an option for readers to donate through Paypal, but I wouldn’t expect more than the price of a cup of coffee now and then, and it’s certainly not worth giving up the day job.

Smashwords is still very much alive and well of course, and well worth submitting to if only for the free ISBN, and Wattpad is picking up in a strange kind of way too, though it requires a bit of engagement on your part, being more of a community thing, but that’s cute and I’m finding it has a nice feedback vibe for stuff you put on there piecemeal. I’ve been trying out the Sea View Cafe on it for a while now – at least up to the point where it got quagmired in my usual three-way polyamory trap – more on that in the next blog. I can recommend it for early drafts, but again it’s not going to change your life much. And once a story’s done on there, well,… it’s done and you might as well delete it.

So yes, things move on, but they’re not dying out. Online and digital are still the only way to go for the majority of unaffiliated wannabe writers. I predict the only bookshops in a decade’s time will be charity shops selling increasingly dog eared and spine busted samples of that old paper-tech, that actual books will have become an upmarket thing, paperbacks costing thirty quid a go. And us ordinary folk will have no recourse to libraries anymore, so this mad bagatelle of free online stuff will be our daily fayre.

So don’t despair, you young uns might have robots to contend with for your day-jobs by then, but at the end of it you’ll still be able to kick back of a night inside your cosy plastic nano-pod, with whatever passes for a mobile phone, and read, and think how: quaint, those days of paper. Hopefully some my stuff will still be around, scraped up by the content farming sites. And maybe amongst my writings you’ll discover a lost world where people fell in love face to face rather than dialling partners up via an app, a world where our dreams still meant something and we used to laugh at the idea of cars driving themselves.

So, anyway, if you’re a writer looking to share some ideas, some stories, do check out Free Ebooks! It’s like Smashwords, and a bit of a dead-zone as far as feedback’s concerned, though I have picked up a couple of four-stars. But if you want people to talk to you about what you write as you write it, go to Wattpad. Whatever you do though don’t get hung up on the mechanics of self publishing, on the clicks and stats at the expense of,… well,… writing. Just get your stuff on the Internet any which way you can and whoever was meant to read it will find it.

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The Lavender and the Rose book coverOdd,.. one tries to live in the present, but as a writer I am often called back to visit with previous parts of myself, to revise my more obvious errors and of course to explain,…

Now, it’s a strange thing for an author to say, I suppose, but I don’t know what to make of the Lavender and the Rose, even a decade after publication, and a decade before that in the writing, but there it is. The sexual stuff, the eroticism, the menage a trois, the tantric thing – really I should no longer be troubled by it, being now rather more mature in years, but I still am, because on the surface at least I’m a regular kind of guy, unused to channelling that kind of thing.

The whole mad tome of it went up on Smashwords in 2013, and with hardly a peep  from them until just recently when they’ve begun nagging me over the chapter numbers – two chapter fours, no chapter three,.. blush! Self editing can be a nightmare can’t it? But what the hell, who cares? It’s not exactly as if I’m up for the Booker is it?

Anyway,… I made the changes, resubmitted to their meatgrinder thing, because, well, even though the download rate is poor on Smashwords, I still have a great respect for the ethos of the site. And in making the changes I came across the postscript I added after the last revision which I’d forgotten about, and quote in full here:

Thank you for reading this story.

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Although a work of fiction, the Lavender and the Rose charts a long period of deep reflection and psychological change for its author. The ideas expressed here were an exploration of the potential of human imagination, as told through the eyes of the main protagonists, who either were or became Romantic and mystical in their outlook – as did its author. A decade in the writing, the person who penned the opening chapters was not the same person who now writes this postscript. In revising the story for this new Smashwords edition, I have been able to remind myself of the turning points and the key ideas I now hold to, but which would have been incomprehensible or even preposterous before I began this journey.

Romanticism does not sit well in the modern materialistic world. The former abhors the latter, and the latter does not take the former at all seriously. But while materialism is a philosophy that well suits the simplistic machinery of world trade, it steals from human beings the simple magic of living. It is therefore a philosophy that cannot help but be ultimately pessimistic in its outlook, that human beings, human hopes and aspirations be viewed as perishable and meaningless concepts.

But, like the old Romantics, I suggest the world cannot be properly revealed unless it be through the lens of the imagination. It is imagination alone that colours the world, personalises it, opens it up for a more intimate dialogue. It restores our spirit, and reveals an optimistic and benign undercurrent which propels us more certainly along the course of our lives. More, it reconnects the individual life to its sense of purpose in an otherwise overwhelming and seemingly unknowable world. Through the Romantic eye, the world becomes, if not knowable, then at least sensed at a more vital level than that revealed by a knowledge of its materials alone, for materials are dead things. Through the Romantic eye, however, the world lives and breathes, and smiles at the wonder of it all.

Without it, the world frowns and suffocates in a self imposed insignificance.

Michael Graeme

Autumn 2013the sea view cafe - small

It’s a reminder, not just to me, but to all of us who write that in the broader dissemination of our work, no matter how much we desire it and strive towards it, it is always secondary to the simple fact that primarily the person most important in the writing, the person most satisfied, and most healed is always gong to be our selves. This alone is sufficient reason for our persistence.

Four years ago? Is that right? And did I really begin the Lavender and the Rose a quarter of a century ago? Sure I did, but equally I find everything I said still stands, even though the author is now a stranger to me, and that’s a relief. Time then I returned to the present – to where I really am, lost in the continuing mystery of my life, as expressed in the mystery of  the Sea View Cafe.

 

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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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