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Posts Tagged ‘indie’

the sea southportI began my last piece with the intention of waxing lyrical on the notion of loneliness, of isolation, and the apparent meaninglessness of life. But I ended up putting the world to rights on several tangential fronts sparked by the current political situation, and the picture of a gold plated motor car that somehow tipped me over the edge, puncturing what was left of my magnanimity. This is still relevant, but what I’d hoped to touch upon also was a way of seeing the world in which our current preoccupations with the state of it becomeĀ in fact unimportant.

What I wanted to talk about was Between the Tides.

This was a book I wrote some years ago now, a novel, a story about two strangers, stranded on an imaginary island off the coast of Lancashire. Both protagonists have been damaged by life, both feel isolated, lost and alone. Phil likes to draw, likes to put his pictures up on Flikr. Adrienne writes poetry, keeps a literary blog but both have come to understand how futile such things are at least in so far as they reflect the Facebook generation’s fallacy, that the undocumented life is a life not worth living, that we are only as successful a human being as the number of followers we can boast.

between the tidesWe pass a stranger in the street. They are of infinite worth to themselves, occupy the central role in the drama of their own life, a life that is in each case a miracle of creation. Yet when we pass them by, only rarely do we remember them for long afterwards. As an individual then we are worth little to others, our lives irrelevant them. So what’s the point of being alive if no one really knows we’re there? This is the nihilistic end-game of the material world view. And we know it’s not true. Phil’s drawings and Adrienne’s poetry are important, but not in the way they originally believed.

What makes each of us important, and how can we return to that realisation, and rest easy in it, even if no one else knows we’re alive?

Both Phil and Adrienne are visionaries in that their lives are haunted, literally, by visions. Phil sees things out of the corner of his eye, overlays imaginary entities on reality like Pokemon Go, and receives intimations from them, suggestive of another, hidden dimension to the world. Adrienne has suffered a life changing accident, one that triggered a near death experience so profound she is confident of the reality of the continuation of her life after death, though what that means is no less confusing. She is also developing as a neopagan witch.

Both, in their separate ways are colouring the world through the lens of their imaginations. They see patterns where others see nothing. They can view a landscape, both seeing it, visually, and feeling it, emotionally. In the brief time they are stranded together, each learns not to fear their visionary experience, more to trust in it, and to take it forward. Phil and Adrienne are extreem examples, but we can each follow their lead, since we all possess the faculty of imagination.

In the material world we try to describe the meaning of the universe, but in a language that is entirely inadequate, a language lacking the vital dimension of insight. Contrary to belief, however, through the visionary experience, the world makes even less sense, descends into a kind of incoherent anarchy. But we lose also the childish need to make sense of it. Instead, embracing the ambiguity, we realise at once each our own meaning and our importance. This is our true and real celebrity.

So forget Facebook. It’s doing your head in and those mysteriously appositeĀ little adverts will one day have you dropping your trousers in public. Instead, like Phil and Adrienne, try seeing the world through the lens of your imagination a little more, and don’t be afraid of where it takes you.

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man writingRows keep breaking out between Amazon and the world of corporate publishing. It goes like this: Amazon squeezes the publisher’s profit margin by insisting on lower prices, the publisher bends as much as they can, keen for access to Amazon’s awesome distributive power, while trying to maintain a decent cut for themselves. And if Amazon’s not happy with the deal they switch off the “buy” button. If the reader wants that publisher’s titles, they have to get them from somewhere else, they’ll be harder to find, and more expensive. None of this is personal; it’s just business.

From my perspective the struggles going on in contemporary publishing are merely symptoms of a near extinct business model, and its inevitable demise at the hands of a scary new predator. Amazon has sharp teeth and is using them to reshape the way we buy books – or indeed anything else for that matter. The big publishing houses may yet find their balance and survive in some new shape or form, I don’t know, and I find it hard to care. What interests me more is what all this means for the aspiring writer.

Traditionally, a writer plugged away in obscurity for years in order to finish “the novel”, then they spent even more years debasing themselves in search of the beneficence of the notoriously mercurial literary agent. The agent then fixed it so a publisher would read their work. If the publisher liked it, then began the writer’s slow rise from obscurity to mid-list mediocrity – except in rare cases, where a chosen few were invited to the top table of celebrity authorship. Here, in exchange for getting their teeth fixed, they might at last sup from the publisher’s golden chalice.

For the aspiring writer, at the bottom of the money chain, this system left much to be desired. To be a writer, and happy, you had to be either pathologically deluded or well connected. For the publishers and the agents though, it worked very well, enabling them to exploit a limitless ocean of creativity on which they floated their luxury liners. When they were low on talent to stoke the boilers, they just reached down and pulled another one on board. It was obvious anyone who came along and threatened this centuries old system was going to be viewed in a dim light. But unless you’ve been living on another planet this past ten years, it’s impossible to miss the fact that something is changing. Many of the smaller luxury liners have now been torpedoed. The ones that remain have become overloaded with hangers on and are sailing pretty low in the water.

There’s no shortage of writers to stoke the boilers of course, but to stretch the nautical metaphor to destruction, there’s now a problem in the engine room, and it’s this: the route from writer to reader is no longer controlled by the gatekeeper of traditional publishing. That you’re even reading this is proof that anyone can publish anything now, for nothing and find an audience. Surf over to Amazon or Smashwords and you’ll find novels by unknown writers for free, or for a couple of quid. Most of them look and sound crap, as most blogs are also meaningless crap, but this new age does shed rather a clinical light on the traditionally published stuff, a light that strips these expensively marketed and slickly edited works of their mystique, and you know what? A lot of them are crap too.

So, anyone can publish anything? Isn’t that great? Well, on the one hand, yes, but on the other,whether anyone notices you or not is a matter of luck, unless you’re prepared commit some heinous act on the basis there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But by the same token, there’s been many a traditionally published book pulped long before the public has had time to wake up to it. As any aspiring writer with more than ten years experience will tell you, traditional publishing is no guarantee of making any money at all, let alone fame and fortune – neither is the fact of getting that novel miraculously published. So you’re published, so what? We’re still turning up obscure Victorian authors and lauding them as undiscovered geniuses, but who died penniless, believing themselves failures in their own time.

So, the question is this: does the “Amazon” way of doing things, torpedoing those fuddy duddy publishers and bursting the market wide open, make it any easier for your average unknown person to take up the pen and make a decent living at it? The answer of course is a resounding no – indeed, you still have to be slightly mad even to try it. Really, don’t do it. Get yourself a proper job and, write in your spare time.

I can shift a few hundred of my titles on Feedbooks and Smashwords each week, by giving them away, and that’s fine, I seem to be happy with that, but if I were to charge so much as pennies for them, that hit-rate would dwindle to a trickle that was hardly worth logging in to check. True, some authors have done well, financially, by self-publishing, and good luck to them, but then some authors always do make it big – it just doesn’t happen very often and the likes of Amazon won’t change that.

Publishing will always be about celebrity and the shifting of large numbers of catchy titles, crap or otherwise, at a tenner each. As profit margins are squeezed, those writers in the “paid but mediocre” bracket will find themselves squeezed out too as a bigger slice of the marketing cake is reserved for those authors with the perfect teeth. More and more writers will be joining the scruffy ranks of the indy scene, self-publishing for peanuts, while scratching a living doing minimum wage type jobs. It’s not a rosy picture, but then it never was. Creative individuals will always be at the mercy of patronage, wherever it comes from. Yes, things are changing drastically at the money end of the book business, but for your average aspiring writer, it looks pretty much like business as usual to me.

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