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by fall of night cover smallAt last, I’ve nailed the final sentence of the final draft of my latest novel, By Fall of Night. It’s been a hard one to crack, hard to explore these esoteric and speculative concepts of mind and meaning, and present them as a story anyone would want to read. So I’ll call it a romance and hope for the best.

What’s it about? Well, an asteroid is about to strike the North of England and usher in a second mass extinction like the Cambrian event, the one that wiped out all the dinosaurs – only this will probably take the humans with it. You can forget sending nuclear missiles to deflect it. It’s too late for that. There’s nothing we can do and it looks like the lucky ones will be those sitting right under it when it hits. For newly met lovers Tim and Rebecca this looks like a serious case of bad timing, but it turns out the end of the world may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Dreaming, visions, Shamanism, Christianity, mass surveillance, tick box culture, teaching, dancing, tai chi, meaning of life, the multi-dimensional nature of reality, time travel, muse psychology – I touch on a lot of stuff in here, but something’s changing – age perhaps. I’ve felt it coming on as I wrote the story, that although the concepts I deal with here are of vital interest to me, I’m aware very few people really give a damn about this stuff any more. Those black Friday scenes of fights over TV sets are still haunting me, and are a humbling reminder of a battle for the soul of man, one that seems all but lost now.

Huxley cautioned us that the most successful form of prison is one in which the inmates already believe they are free. They are happy to incarcerate themselves in a frame of mind that is void of depth, robbed even of an innate spiritual awareness. We no longer look at the world and question it, no longer bother to seek enchantment – only entertainment, sex and more and more stuff.

By now you may be getting a rough idea of what By Fall of Night is about. It’s a small oasis in the wilderness of popular thinking, and not much on its own, possibly even ridiculous, but I remain hopeful that if enough of us make a stand, things cannot help but change. As a wise lady once said: it is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. It’s live now on Smashwords, and like all my other stuff it’s free. You’ll find it in the margin on the right, also here.

I won’t be writing another novel of this kind for long time because it’s bent my head out of shape, and I need some breathing space to straighten it out again. It’s lifted me to a level of personal mythology that’s hard to back-track from and, as far as my own journey goes, it’s been more than worthwhile. But I’m going to rest the heavy stuff here for a bit, and maybe tackle something more light hearted next time.

Thanks for listening.

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Unusual one this. What do you get when you mix a stormy Sunday, a digital camera, Microsoft’s unbelievably flaky “Movie Maker”, and a newly minted You-tube channel:

Hours of fun and, for want of a better word, a kind of visual poem,… or something.

Welcome to the Rivendale Review, 2014:

 

 

Set gently down to rest

Wet Sunday,
Hours leaking,
To the sterile void.

Reading, writing,
Doggedly seeking direction,
From calamity,
For freedom’s sake.

Puzzle of Pilgrims old,
Long coded;
How diligently I fail,
With these false starts.

How rare the vital flow,
Where water falls,
And feels the surer shape,
Of All that’s true.

How neat then turns,
That beguiling beauty,
Twisting in my fingers,
Its vital heart!
Beating true.

Or is it only time, ticking?
Black wings of flight?
If I could arrest its motion,
Now!
This code,
I’d grasp it true.

Meanwhile the hours rotate.
Imprison,
Clang-shut in time.
This fool,
Still frantic with the puzzle,
Making haste,
And Blind,

He forgets,
How the mind opens best,
With eyes closed,
And the pen,
Set gently down,
To rest.

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Lavender and the Rose CoverMy sincere thanks go to all of you who have written to me over the years, or commented on my novel The Lavender and the Rose. First published in 2008, I’ve been revising it this last few weeks, with a view to putting it up on Smashwords. As always, it’s been a pleasure hooking up with these characters again, and reminding myself of what we got up to back then. The Lavender and the Rose is a special story for me, being also the record of a shift in my personal, psychological outlook – no longer hanging on, but letting go; no longer maintaining a tight grip on who and what I thought I was, or wanted to be; no longer afraid of revealing what I might actually be, underneath. Instead I record in this story, a gloriously mad splitting apart into all the varied fragments of myself – bits I vaguely suspected were in there, and bits I was entirely unaware of.

A man is walking alone at dusk in the remote hills of Westmorland, an ancient county in the North of England. Coming down to a quiet mountain tarn, he discovers a woman, dressed entirely in Victorian costume, apparently waiting for him:

“Are you real?” I breathed, half expecting she would turn to smoke and disappear.

I remember she focused upon me with one eyebrow slightly raised, querying, challenging, inquisitive: “What would you do if I said not?”

She sounded real enough. “I don’t know. Are you telling me you’re not real?”

She lowered her gaze to the waters of the tarn. “Not at the moment,” she said.

“Then I’m seeing things?”

“Yes, I’m pure fantasy.”

I’m not sure what the remaining two hundred thousand words will read like to anyone who has not lived this story, as I have lived it. It will be compellingly mysterious I hope. Most commentators have said kind things about it, and it’s from this I take comfort that I am not imposing something on the world that is merely self indulgent. That said, it is a literary novel, not a thriller; if you’re expecting guns and fast cars and globe trotting assassins, you’ll probably find it a bit turgid.

It is a story in the Romantic tradition, and an explanation to myself why it is I feel and think and see things the way I do. Its genesis marks also the point at which two distinct personalities emerged from my psyche – the day-job Michael, and the other, the one who writes and who is gradually taking over the primary host personality. I am becoming him, as the characters in the Lavender and Rose also became something other than their host personalities. Or perhaps these were the people we were meant to grow into anyway, but something stopped us along the way.

The day-job Michael lives his regular sort of life, a nine to five, modern sort of life, a life spent mostly fitting in with the world of forms, which means doing things that are incomprehensible to him. This used to make him ill. He was sure he wasn’t meant to live that way, and aspire to nothing greater than what the material world seemed to offer. In tackling the Lavender and the Rose, the Michael who writes escaped, and began to live the kind of life the day-job Michael needed him to in order for them both to survive. Balance was duly restored, but only by adopting a view of life that was distinctly old fashioned and Romantic.

Romanticism is a very long essay with only vague conclusions. But it contains within it a spiritual philosophy, loosely defined and having no real interest in belief, nor evangelism. I am a mystic. I sense a connection between an essentially immortal part of myself and the universe, and I choose to both explore and express that connection in ways that are distinctly off-piste. I find clues to it in Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, also neo-paganism, and Hermeticism. But I find it too in art and in the natural world, its pulse running through all things. But it is a presence realised only when the world is viewed through the lens of the Romantic imagination.

The grand old age of Romanticism was officially declared over in 1850, coinciding with the passing of William Wordsworth. But nobody informed the Romantics, and there are still a lot of us around.

The Lavender and the Rose was a great pleasure to write and has been a great pleasure to revisit. It’s available for free in various formats at Feedbooks, or in its newly revised edition – containing fewer typos, I hope – at Smashwords.

 

Michael Graeme

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DSCF3061In a recent article for the BBC, the playwright Mark Ravenhill lamented the steep decline in funding for the Arts. He warned that under the current paradigm of austerity economics, funding could disappear altogether over the present decade and that it didn’t matter who won the next general election here in the UK, that all parties were equally committed to the “ideology, and plain wrong mathematics, of austerity”. He then went on to argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for “Art”.

If an artist wants to make a living by their art, they rely on someone paying them for their work – obviously – a publisher, a gallery, a wealthy patron, or an art’s council grant. The danger in this is that the artist will stop being truthful to themselves and their vision, and instead begin to produce work they know they can simply sell. They start writing for “the market” and are less likely to produce work they know is going to suffer an endless round of rejection, or worse actually offend the people holding the purse strings.

It might be said then that only the artist with nothing to lose can be trusted to tell the truth about the world as he sees it. As funding becomes more difficult to obtain, so artists will have less difficulty in being critical of “the system”. Austerity = integrity, and that’s a good thing.

As an independent, unfunded author who gives his fiction away on Feedbooks, it’s easy to see why this struck a chord with me. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary or anarchic about my own work – it’s far too other-worldly for that – but the fact I can self-publish, for nothing is actually a very powerful thing, and if it were in me to be a political or a social agitator, I wouldn’t need to worry about biting the hand that feeds me. It’s the same with blogging – so long as what we bloggers say is within the law we can say what we like. That’s why blogs are powerful – perhaps not in terms of the “celebritification” of the individual blogger, but more importantly, and collectively, as waves of comment and discourse that surge on the blogsphere and which inform general opinion.

The counter argument to this of course is that the artist giving his work away is simply the one who couldn’t find a buyer for it, which is hardly a glowing recommendation for the intellectual and artistic quality of the work. In other words it’s probably rubbish. But art doesn’t have to tell the truth or be “good”, or “clever” to be successful. The most successful art is that produced by an artist who is merely honest to themselves and sincere in what they do. It doesn’t matter then if their vision is debatable, dubious, or just plain wrong, because so long as the art is sufficiently engaging it produces a reaction in the beholder, good or bad, attractive or repulsive, it has served its purpose in inspiring the beholder, even if it’s in completely the opposite direction to the one the artist intended.

So because something is available for free online, we mustn’t assume it has no merit – it can be very open and honest and untainted by “patronage”. Conversely if the art is riding upon an ocean of dollars, like for example the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie, it should make us pause and ask the question: who provides those dollars? We also need to understand that what we’re seeing is something the dollar holder likes. We may like it too, but there may be other art we would like more, but we’ll never see it if the guardians of taste, critical acclaim, political correctness and above all funding, are the ones dictating what we see in the first place.

I don’t like austerity economics either. I think it’s laid a noxious and depressing vapour over the land these past five years. It puts me more in a mind for hunkering down and counting the pennies I’ve got than for striking out, investing those pennies and making a difference in the world. That’s not good, it’s socially destructive, and I fear it will end badly, possibly in political chaos, even in those countries that seem rich enough to avoid the devil-take-the-hindmost collapse of their poorer neighbours.

But the silver lining in this is that we all have a voice now, and nothing to lose by using it. It’s not much, I know, but it’s better than nothing.

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BTTCoverAs my latest novel nears completion I’m faced with the usual question – the one I refuse to admit to myself  I ask every time I pass this way. But I’ll let you into a secret: ask it I do. Do I give it away like all the rest? Or do I look at the alternative: do I solicit an effing publisher this time?

Hmmm. Tricky.

I’ve gone so far as to investigate the lay of the land in terms of conventional book-type publishing and find that things have at least changed since last I passed this way. The nature of the game has entered the twenty first century. Okay, publishers still won’t read unsolicited work – they’ve subcontracted this out more or less exclusively to literary agents, but you know what? Those agents have given themselves a face-lift. They accept submissions by email now! Someone must have died! They have actual faces – very attractive faces too,… gods and goddesses every one of them – at least according to their glossy websites – each of them devoted to the deliverance of your muse’s pleasure. I don’t think. They even tell you what they want, what they’ve seen too much of lately,… but most of all what they’re absolutely gagging to see  right now! Honestly! It sounds so helpful, so positively, excruciatingly,… ugghh,… unknown-author friendly. Doesn’t it?

So why do I hesitate? Is it just a subliminal resistance born of past frustrations, now sunk to the level of a Freudian inhibition? Am I denying myself the chance of published authorship and a million quid in the bank – cutting my literary nose off just to spite my face? Or am I simply so very much older now than when I first began this journey? Is is not more that I simply refuse to play the same old sterile game? My history is precious to me, unknown to nearly everyone, unfathomable,… what I’ve experienced, what I’ve felt. Valued by none, probably. Trying to make that sound important has always felt undignified, especially since it’s not actually important or significant –  my past, my  life –  only that certain observations in the course of living my life, certain events, might find resonance with others whose lives are similarly obscure. It might,… I don’t know, validate their own existence, simply by virtue of the fact that I’ve felt it too.

E mail makes it easier to submit one’s work willy-nilly, I admit, but you’re still going to wait six months for a decision on acceptance, and I could have had a couple of thousand downloads in that time which equates to a greater degree of acceptance for me. I know finances are tight at the minute, but they’re not so tight I’d want to prostitute my muse again to that glossy airbrushed machine, a machine that never gave a flying fahuka for anything I ever wrote.

They say writers are like busses. Publisher/Agents  never need to chase them because there’ll be another one along in a minute. So be my guest, please step ahead of me in that infinitely long queue of wannabes because  I don’t wanna be. I’m off the bus route – always have been. I’m going nowhere perhaps, but always loving the journey for the indescribable beauty of the scenery.  And then again, I remember sitting in the library in my little northern village copying the addresses of agents and publishers from the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook I couldn’t afford to buy. I was nineteen, didn’t stand a chance, yet was so sure I was on the cusp of greatness, looking for the one magical address to send my recently returned manuscript off to yet again.

I take pity on that young man. I send him my blessings, and keep faith with him. He wanted to be able call himself a writer, not realising that by the simple act of writing, he had already fulfilled that ambition.  What I sought over and above that was independence and immortality. But those were childish dreams. Meanwhile fate granted me a means of earning a living. It put a roof over my head, and gas enough to warm away the winter chill while I tapped out my muse’s desire. And it granted me the internet as a means of delivering my words directly to others. No pay of course, but then I am not a professional and do not prostitute my muse.

So,…

Dear angel-faced literary agents, whispering your sweet nothings on your newly minted websites,…

Between the Tides will not be appearing on your slush-pile, no matter how much you assure me you’re gagging for it. It’s finished. I draw a line under it. Now. Not in six months, or two years time of frustrated self examination, waiting on your glib replies.

I move on.

Graeme Out.

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I have a problem with my memory. It isn’t that it ever fails me – quite the opposite in fact. Indeed, my recall of events from all but the earliest years of my life is truly photographic, so there was little doubt in my mind the woman before me now was the one who had stolen the book….

So opens my short story, The Man Who Could Not Forget. It was an early foray into the so called speculative genre and began doing the rounds of the print markets shortly before the turn of the century, but without luck. I eventually gave up on it and put it on my website in 2002, then as an ebook on Feedbooks in 2008. The reason I mention it now is it’s coming up to a bit of a milestone and will at some point this week achieve 100,000 downloads. I just wanted to take time out and celebrate that fact, to thank all those readers who have made this possible, and to dwell a little on what it means both to me as a writer, and potentially to you as well, if you write fiction, but despair of ever seeing it published in a proper magazine.

Those proper magazines I submitted the story to were generally obscure with limited circulation figures.  As a rule they paid little, indeed usually nothing at all beyond a free copy of the magazine itself, and though it might have bolstered my ego a little to have seen “The man who” as a featured story in one of them, none would have carried my words very far or for very long, so I wonder at my obsession with trying to gain their favour now. Indeed, with the clock about to click over those 100,000 downloads, I look back upon it as a kind of madness. Regardless of their supposed merit as bastions of literary taste, and learned guides to what is currently “hot”, as simple vehicles for the distribution of any kind of written word, good or bad, let’s face it, they were actually quite poor.

The editorial staffers on all those “proper” magazines passed my story by without comment, but in spite of their discouraging indifference, thanks to the internet, a lot of people have now read it, at least a hundred thousand of them, and some of them have been kind enough to say nice things about it. The story has still not achieved “printed” fame, it’s not won any competitions, and it’s never been reviewed in literary magazines. But apart from that, it has been read lots of times – not because it’s any good (I’m hardly the one to judge) but because the number one distribution medium nowadays is the internet. It’s global by default.

It’s this sense of having “connected” with an audience that’s made all the difference to my writing. I write to suit myself now, to express myself, to entertain myself, to explore myself, and to heal myself. I’m free to do this, but you can’t do it if you’re constantly distracted by thoughts of trying to gain the approval of an editor, before your work can see the light of day. That’s when writing becomes less of an art and more of a chore.

Which is a pity.

In writing to suit our selves we are free to indulge our selves. We don’t need to worry about writing like someone else in the mistaken belief it will make our work more “marketable”. Our most important asset is our individuality, indeed some might say we possess nothing else of any real value, so it’s important we’re free to express ourselves in a way that reflects our essential selves, whether that makes us a marketable commodity or not.

If you’re a writer and you’re struggling to connect, be aware the readers are there online. If you’re happy to work for nothing and can forgo the debilitating ego trip of seeing your work in print, then I think it will open a lot of doors for you if you can simply make your peace with the day job, and start giving your creative work away. I know it’s hard. You’ve invested a lot of time in it. It’s the best of you. It means a lot to you. But what good does it do gathering dust in that bottom drawer? You can kiss goodbye of course to becoming an international bestselling author, but on the upside it means you no longer need to chase your tail studying the so called market ever again, and trying to second guess what will make an editor’s eyes light up.

Really, life’s too short for that.

As an interesting aside, since going up on Feedbooks, “The Man Who” was picked up by Adrian Ionita of the webzine Egophobia, and translated into Romanian. If your Romanian is up to scratch you can read it here. My thanks again to Adrian  for making this possible. “The Man Who” and “Rosemary’s Eyes” make me a translated author, and that feels really cool.

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Always on the lookout for any new catch free self-publishing avenues I’ve just discovered this outfit called BookieJar. They’ve been around since 2011 and deal only with ebooks. You can offer your work for free, or set a download price from which BookieJar will take their cut. I loaded my short story The Man Who Talked to Machines on there yesterday by way of an experiment and found the whole process to be very simple indeed. You just need a copy of your story in MS Word format, and away you go. Signup was very simple and the whole process took no more than ten minutes.

The one niggle I have with BookieJar is they don’t seem to offer their authors any stats, so it’s impossible to tell how successful their site is in reaching an audience for your work. I’m the slightly eccentric kind of indie who’d sooner reach a thousand readers by giving his work away than charge a fee and only attract the interest of half a dozen. But it’s impossible to know when or if I’ll ever reach a thousand readers with BookieJar, and that makes me hesitate before putting more of my work on there. Maybe I’m just a shameless stats voyeur but I like to know how many readers I’m getting – if I’m ramping up, reaching market saturation, tailing off or bumping along the bottom.***

On the plus side the site encourages social-media type interaction between readers and writers. If you’re active in reading and commenting on other BookieJar titles, you’ll find your profile appearing more frequently on the home-page, which in turn should raise the profile of your work, so to some extent you get out whatever you’re willing to put in. This is different and interesting, and fair.

Anyway, if you’re a writer exploring the self publishing options available online, then do check out BookieJar. And if you’ve not discovered them yet, check out Feedbooks, Smashwords and Lulu as well.

Respects and stay safe.

Graeme Out.

 

*** Update 26/08/12 ***

I’m wrong here. Bookiejar’s download stats are available on the author’s account page – my thanks to fellow writer and blogger Paul Samael for pointing this out. From this I was able to see that “The Man Who Talked to Machines” achieved just one download in the space of a week. By comparison, it’s been up on Feedbooks since 2010, and is still achieving around 5 downloads per day. Bookiejar’s not exactly set my world alight then, but it was worth a shot.

I don’t know how Feedbooks manage such an impressive download rate for their authors – it may be because they don’t require you to sign up, like other sites do, before you can download – you just click on the story, select your format and you’re reading it in seconds. I’m speculating, but the business of signing up which other self publishing sites insist on, may be deterring casual browsing, and thus eliminating a lot of potential readers.

So, BookieJar or Feedebooks? Well, obviously Feedbooks will deliver you the most impressive download rates, but any self publishing outlet is better than none, especially if it’s free, and you never know. Well done to BookiJar, anyway.

 

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Back in 2009, I wrote a piece about the Print on Demand (POD) outfit known as Lulu.com. Judging by my web-searches back then, a lot of people were thinking Lulu was a scam, but I couldn’t agree because that hadn’t been my experience. Instead I felt many aspiring writers had misunderstood what Lulu was about and consequently had unrealistic expectations of the service. I probably came across as a bit of a Lulu salesperson, which was not my intention, but I think my enthusiasm was justified at the time.

We need to remember that prior to Lulu, and other POD outfits, there was no such thing as an Independent author. The only way for a writer to acquire even the most modest readership was through the conventional press, an ambition realised by the few, rather than the many. Indeed, to put it bluntly, for the majority of aspiring authors, chasing the favours of a publisher was a pain the arse. It was also undignified, and I was glad to abandon it when the online world began offering some viable alternatives. But it really wasn’t until the advent of Lulu that the landscape of writing changed completely for me, because people suddenly started mailing me to say they’d read my stuff. It wasn’t Lulu’s print services that won me a small readership, though. It was the e-book downloads, something I’d not considered relevant at the time, a time when ebook readers were still rare, expensive and butt ugly.

Another important thing to remember here is that Lulu and its ilk eliminated the so called vanity press, who for too long had preyed on vulnerable authors. But the critics seemed to be implying those vanity press shysters had now morphed into POD outfits and were tempting those same vulnerable authors with paid distribution packages and guarantees of bestsellerdom, things which did not materialise.

Hence the bad press.

Speaking for myself, I was under no illusions. I resisted the paid promotional packages and, from the outset, did not expect to make anything from my work at all. I was happy instead to simply discover a readership through this new, experimental and at times delightfully anarchic medium.

To make real money from writing, you will always need a staggeringly vast and opaquely professional distribution network, also a manic publicity machine pronouncing you the best writer in the world. In other words you will always need to court the man. But the man cannot bestow his blessings upon everyone with talent. It’s always going to be a lottery – the odds of winning are probably about the same, the only difference being that with the lottery, you don’t spend several years filling out your ticket – i.e. your manuscript.

For an unknown writer, without a publisher’s publicity machine behind you, you’re either going to have to resign yourself to obscurity, or you’re going to have to pay for someone to publicise you, and that’s always going to be risky unless you know them personally and would trust them with your mother’s life.

So here’s where Indy writers split into two camps: those who’ll pay to publish/promote their work, and those who won’t. Me? I won’t, under any circumstances. I’m a sworn follower of the muse’s golden rules for writing, number one of which states that you should never ever pay anyone anything to have your work published*. The muse’s second golden rule of writing is that if no one will pay for your stuff, then it’s okay to give it away. The former is exploitation, and not to be encouraged, the latter is artistic self preservation, which is sometimes necessary.

Perhaps it’s on account of this rather more circumspect approach I have no reason to complain about the free aspects of Lulu’s service, and I stand by everything I wrote in that earlier piece. However, it’s important we recognise that things are moving on now. 2012 is not 2009, and four years is a very long time. My later novels have not appeared on Lulu. They were written purely as ebooks, because it’s just so much easier if you can eliminate the obsession with producing a paper book.

For the few Lulu paper editions I managed to shift, it really wasn’t worth the effort of all that pernickerty formatting when compared with the sheer distributive power of the Feedbooks website – which takes text in a much simpler form and formats it automatically for a wide range of reading devices. As for Lulu’s ebooks, my only complaint with them is that if you’re not charging for your work, Lulu deems it unnecessary to supply you with any stats, so I’ve no idea how well my stories are doing. I think they’re missing a trick there and they could learn a lot from Feedbooks and Smashwords in that respect.

If you’re writing for nothing, you’re motivated by something else, obviously, by the love of writing perhaps, or by the desire of all story tellers to communicate the worlds inside your head to as many other people as possible. There’s no sense therefore putting your stories where no one will find them, whether that be a bottom drawer at home, or a website where no one clicks on your thumbnail. You have to go where the audience is.

Which would you prefer? One person to buy a copy of your book, or a thousand people to read it for free? Me? I’ll take the thousand readers every time, thanks. You don’t need “sales” to call yourself a writer. You need words, that’s all. Readers are a bonus of course. I understand that “sales” can sometimes equate to self-confidence, that you have what it takes, that you’re a good writer, hip, wikkid, cosmic, and all those other stock phrases, but in chasing such reassurances for too long, be aware that you also run the risk of shredding any self confidence you already possess.

I remember the feeling of seeing my first novel “The Singing Loch” fresh back from Lulu’s printers. It looked great. Just like a proper novel. I slid it proudly between all the other proper novels on my bookshelf, and then I thought, what now? Well,… skip forward several years and now it gathers dust, languishing several editions out of date, and resembles more a curiosity from a bygone age, while the current ebook edition on Feedbooks has recently topped 2000 downloads. If I want to skim “The Singing Loch”, with a view to possibly updating it and sweeping up yet more typos, I turn to my ereader, not to the paper copy on my bookshelf.

There’s nothing magical or godlike about publishing. It’s just distribution. It’s a means of putting your words into other people’s hands. And it’s changing. So is writing. I’ve not used a typewriter in twenty years, nor do I possess the stereotypical private study, lined with leather-bound books, and neither do I use a desk-hogging, steam driven PC with a printer attached. I have a laptop, and an ereader, and I work peripatetic fashion, wherever others are not. So long as I’m in range of that ubiquitous WiFi connection, I’m in touch with my “publisher”, who lives in the clouds and no longer deals with paper. I can “publish” anything in seconds, and people all over the world will be reading it. Instantly.

There’s a moral debate about the rise of the ebook, and many of us older folks are looking on with tears in our eyes as the bookshops close, and publishers tighten their grip on the printed word, attacking the second hand book market with their built-in digital rights management software. But it’s coming, and we just have to prepare for it. Ebook readers are everywhere now. The rate of uptake of ebooks has outstripped all industry forecasts. Publishers have realised there are no material costs whatsoever, no printing presses to maintain, and they can still get away with charging as much as they would for a paper book – sometimes more! No wonder they’re pushing ebooks! Indeed, have they any choice in the current economic climate?

Of course the debate rages between Romantics, still hoarding and sniffing paper books, and Progressives, drooling over the spec of the latest e-reader. As a reader I mostly straddle the fence between these two extremes, but as a writer, it’s the words that count, and the means of delivering them must always come down to whatever is the most efficient technology of the day. Right now, that’s digital. It’s also where a great many readers are now turning.

To date, there are around 45 people in the world who have read a paper book by Michael Graeme. But my Feedbooks stats tell me there are around 150,000 people who have had one of my stories on their reader – and most of those readers are Android smartphones, sitting in pockets, and handbags, which is a very good place for any author to be.

I’m not blowing my own trumpet here. Anyone can do this. If you’re a writer, lying prone and demoralised under a mountain of publishers’ rejection slips, you could be doing it too. You could be published now, for free, and readers will write to you and tell you what they think of your story. Instead of spending time tidying up your manuscript yet again and redrafting your pitch, you could be doing what you actually love, doing what you really need to be doing, which is writing stories.

So to come back to my opening question, is Lulu still relevant? Well, it depends. For an independent author, paper seems very dated now and I think you should be looking more at the ebook services Lulu offers, as well as outfits like Feedbooks, Smashwords, Wattpad and the Kindle Marketplace.

Paper’s for the big boys and girls who sit at the exclusive high table of best-selling authorship. Unknown, independent authors who insist on paper are missing out on a potentially wide distribution of their work in favour of a glossy cover and the smell of printing ink.The only circumstances under which POD services make sense are if you have a small guranteed audience for your work, say members of your family, or your club who’d really like a professionally printed copy of something you’ve written, and they’re just not into ebooks.

But I reiterate the message contained in all my other writings on the subject of self-publishing online, whatever route you take, (E L James’ bondage bonkbusters excepted), it’s unlikely to win you a place at that high table of best-selling authorship. You’re an Indy. You do it because you can’t stop yourself. There’s no glory in it for you my friend. For that you’re still going to have to tackle the conventional printed press at some point, which means convincing a publisher, and an agent how wonderful you are. You’ll spend as much time on your pitch as on your story, and still longer hawking it round from one outfit to the next, with no guarantee anyone will even read your work.

Bah!

No thanks. I don’t do that any more.

Got something to say? Go free. Go e. For your muse’s sake, just get it out there.

But whatever you do, don’t pay to publish!

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I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those e-readers out there who have downloaded “The Man Who” to their iPhones, iPods, Kindles,… or whatever, and especially to those who have left messages for me on Feedbooks. For anyone writing independently of the mainstream, readers really are our life’s blood because we have no publisher or agent to polish our egos or bolster our bank balances, so to know you’re out there is a vitally important thing. If you’re an e-reader, and you have something to say about a piece of work you’ve read from the cloud, then don’t be shy: say what you liked or what you didn’t. We indy authors listen. I’m not saying we dance to your tune, because we don’t. We write what we like, but we also need to keep our fingers on the pulse and we’d be stupid to ignore you.

If an Indy author’s not writing for money then why is he/she writing? Is it for adulation? Hardly. The psychology of it is complex and any attempt at an answer is going to be simplistic, but I think the knowledge that our work is being read forms a large part of it. We write, you read, you think, you puzzle and you form an opinion of our work, good or bad. Perhaps there’s also a sense of insecurity – that we’re not right in the head for having the thoughts we do, and that if we can share them, and those we share them with appear to gain something from our thoughts, be it pleasure ot the genesis of their own forays into the imaginative realm, then we aren’t as uselessly strange as we perhaps worried we might be.

“The man who ” was born in 1985. Its genesis was a chance encounter with a girl in the library of the Bolton Institute of Technology, as it was known then. At the time I was blundering through the obscure Engineering Council Part 2 course, which I subsequently managed to pass, but only just, and now, twenty five years later, in a post industrial England, “The man who” remains the more enduring reminder of my time there.

The girl in question didn’t register  me at all back then. I glanced at her and something about her had my mind, my soul soaking up the details of her like a temporal sponge, a time machine with the ability to transport me back to that moment even from this immense distance. I recall her in vivid detail, pretty much as I describe her in this story, though I’ve no idea if her name was Clarissa or not of course, because I didn’t speak to her.

A romantic anecdote to be sure,… and we all have similar tales to tell. These are the stories behind the stories. A verbatim telling of the years I spent at college would be a bit of a drag, even for the most patient of readers, and it’s the writer’s responsibility to distill from his or her experience the pertinent human detail, and use it to set fire to some idea that will warm the heart or engage the mind of another person.

That simple encounter in the college library was the seed for a story that wasn’t to be written until decades later. As a writer you don’t plan these things. You simply mine the strata of  your life’s experience for whatever precious minerals you can find. I once read that a writer is a person who keeps a notebook under their pillow on their wedding night.  Only a writer would recognise the truth in that. I’m not saying a writer would produce verbatim an account of their wedding night, but on a subliminal level all experience is dissolved into the great crucible of being, it is transformed into the language of dreams, so that when we sit down to write we do not always recognise from whence our words are derived. A snatch of dialogue in a story I’m currently working on came from an encounter in a discothèque (such a quaint word) back in 1978! I see her face, her words spoken then in innocence above the sound of  ABBA’s Dancing Queen, being only now, to me,  profound and mysteriously transposed from that 70’s disco to a post apocalyptic lakeside in the Swiss Alps.

Only now do I realise that to write you do not need to have led an extraordinary existence. You need only to have lived, and to have looked at the world through your own eyes, and be able to tell it to us as you see it. Your experience of this world is unique and therefore priceless. If you feel the urge to write the story of your life, then do so and pay no heed to those who might scoff and tell you your life is worthless. All right, the story of your life might not be commercially viable and if you knock at the door of commercial publication, your enthusiasm may in all likelihood go unanswered, but in human terms the simple fact that you felt compelled to set pen to paper, or keyboard to cloud, is ample qualification of your fitness to write, and to tell us your story. 

But who will listen?

As little as ten years ago, you were lost, you were a voice in the wilderness, you were an ordinary person bursting with the extraordinariness of your experience, but with no organ, no means of communication, no means of connection with your fellow human beings, your potential readers. It’s different now. Now you have a platform called cyberspace. You can blog, become webmaster of your own domain, or you can self-publish on any number of free-to-upload cyber-emporea. You will never make a living from it, but you will always have a voice. So get connected, get hacking, and tell the world your story.

Your recognition may only come centuries after you’ve gone, but is that not always the way with writers? Most of us are failures while we live. It is posterity that judges us. Posterity that decides. So be it. Welcome to the club.

Keep the faith.

Endure.

Graeme out.

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