Posts Tagged ‘Indy Author’

rembrandt scholar

The online world remains the easiest outlet for creative expression, at least one that comes with an audience. I’d say it was my “preferred” option but that would be to suggest I have any other choice which, in common with many of my kind – at least those of us who have wised up – I don’t. However, I do actually “prefer” it because there’s a world of difference between writing and publishing and while writing online grants us the freedom to explore stories in a direction of our own choosing, publishing does not. Publishing just wants more of the same. Publishing wants what sells.

This is not to say I don’t still toy now and then with at least the idea of flirting with the printed press again, but the essentials there haven’t changed in forty years which means if long-form fiction’s your thing, you need an insider’s contacts to avoid the slush pile and to deliver your musings with an auspicious whack, directly to a commissioning editor’s desk. Without that advantage, you’re going nowhere my friend.

There’s self-publishing online for money of course, but for all its blather, writers should be wary of its over-hyped promise because this won’t make you rich and famous either. Kurt Vonnegut nailed it when he said the arts were no way to make a living, only to grow some soul. What does that mean? It means we have to buckle down and a get ourselves a proper job first. Anything will do, so long as it leaves us time and energy at the end of the day to write. The trouble is, being an amateur hack, we’re likely to be as unknown in our sixties as we were in our twenties. Is that a failure of ourselves as writers? Well, it depends how much you grow your soul in the mean time, and none of us are best placed to be the judge of that anyway.

I suspect it’s a journey we must all make as individuals, so nothing I say here is going to make sense to anyone just starting out, and they’ll still likely believe against the odds they can change the world with their story, if only the world would wise up and recognise their genius. But trust me, it wont.

It’s a funny old business, growing soul. I mean, if writing or any other form of art were truly integral to that process, one might think thrashing out the most perfect story or poem, then unceremoniously deleting it wouldn’t matter, that if anyone read it or not would be irrelevant, that growing one’s soul is a purely private matter, no audience required. Except to me it does seem important, this exchange from one mind to another, writer to reader, that unless we writers complete that particular end of the bargain, the muse or the genii or the daemons who gave us this stuff in the first place won’t be happy until they’ve goaded us into finding an audience for it. Or this may just be a sign of residual vanity in me, that forty years of writing has left my soul the same button-mushroom size it was when I was ten.

In the bad old days this primeval urge to find an audience would deliver us into the hands of the vanity press. You could tell them apart by the fact they accepted your manuscript in glowing terms, while the other lot simply returned it unread. Yes, the vanity press would butter you up no end, appeal to your – well – vanity, then print your novel and deliver you a crate of the things, leaving the rest to you, which is to say high and dry and probably skint. Beware, vanity is a terrible thing and can lead you into all kinds of trouble.

They’re still around, those shysters, moved mostly online now, offering also their worthless authoring services like reading and editing, all of which still leave the writer out of pocket and no nearer publication than when they started. So don’t be tempted, or at least if you are don’t be surprised when you get shafted.

I look to the online world then as a means of pacifying that particular whim of the muse who seems curiously untroubled by giving the work away. And it has to be said there’s something quietly subversive about it that I enjoy. Yes, you can charge for it on Amazon and Smashwords, but then the downloads shrivel to nothing, because everyone online is after free-stuff and the value of a work is, after all, in its scarcity, and regardless of the fact you spent a year writing it, your novel can be copied and pirated in a nanosecond, rendering it essentially worthless – at least in money terms – anyway.

The downside is that while the Internet has the advantage of a potentially global reach, for readers actually hitting upon one’s work it’s a bit like sitting on a needle in a haystack – an entirely chance and unlikely event. So, building even a humble readership can be rather a slow business. Why bother then?

Well, perhaps the truth is if we were wealthy enough we might spin our musings from the psychiatrist’s couch, whittle down to the nub of things that way, but instead we write for the mysterious “other”. The “other” understands us perfectly; they just never write back to say so, and that’s fine because if they did, we’d know it wasn’t them anyway.

Is that growing some soul? I don’t know, but I’m still writing, always looking for the next story, the next tumble down the wormholes of my dizzy head.

And that has to count for something.

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the sea view cafe - smallIn the morning the sun shone, but only in Finn’s head. It was actually just another grey Carrickbar morning, the sea flat and grey, slopping listlessly against the harbour wall as Finn looked out. Still, he saw the wonder in it, and the freshness, and in it also he imagined the sunshine. It felt like the morning the after the first time, with a girl whose name he could no longer remember, the first time, about a hundred years ago.

He’d forgotten the willing vulnerability of rendering oneself shyly naked to a woman. Hermione had undressed hastily last night, almost comically, tugging off her underwear and apologising for its lack of allure, an apology that was neither necessary, nor even registered by Finn, who was at once spellbound by her extraordinary beauty. Of course a man might find allure in any undressed woman, but Finn found it to a dry mouthed excess in Hermione.

He had forgotten too the stages of that first essential loving, and relived them now with a wide-eyed joy – the shock of that first feather touch embrace, warm flesh on flesh, and the impossible smoothness of a woman’s skin. Then it was his head dipped gently to her breast, and held there lightly with a nurturing hand upon his cheek, the same hand that then familiarised itself with his,….

Well okay,… so on and so on and then,..

it was him finally venturing a familiarity with her, and finding her like a hot quicksand – firm and unyielding, but only for a moment, then opening to a moistness that drew him so deep and so sudden, and her hand still upon him that he,…

Yes,… yes,… yes,… you get the idea. And then,…

…..shot it out like a hair triggered teenager and with a force unknown in years.

(blushing!!! Maybe not.)

“Oh, God Finn, I hope that’s not it.”

(Typical of Hermione)

He laughed, lay back against the bedpost, and her at the opposite corner, dressed only in darkness. A lone car passed by and painted her in a slow dynamic of light and shade.

“Give me a moment,” he said. But he didn’t want it. Not the moment anyway. What he wanted was the feel of her like a wave beneath him and around him, and him stretched out and surfing so deep it was a painful joy even to breathe. And with each breath each intentioned,…. well, you know,… he wanted to communicate the depth of his awe, his joy, his love,…. for this woman who was,… Hermione Watts.

But what he got when he came near was her manoeuvring herself atop, and coming slow to a serene revelation, eyes open, upturned and dreamy, lips parted, and a brief smile illuminating when he,…. thing-a-ma-bobbed,…. once more inside of her.

It was by now one a.m.

“Not bad, first time, Finn Finucane,” she said, and with that she passed out face down upon the pillow beside him, and began to snore,…

Okay , first draft, sex scene. Work in progress. The Sea View Cafe. Censored in places.

Apologies to anyone reading this before breakfast, but it was about time Finn and Hermione  got that out of the way.  Now things can get really interesting!

As with my previous novel, Sunita, I’m minded to begin posting this story in serialised form on Wattpad soon. Never heard of Wattpad? Want free fiction? Check it out.





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Mazda under coverA wet day yesterday, plans for an Autumn outing scuppered by weather, so the car stayed under cover. I spent the day also in refuge, whiling away the time looking at blogs, and thinking about blogs, and making the mistake of trying to understand my own blog in relation to the blogs of others. It doesn’t work.

But anyway, I followed the trails of tags that I tend to tag my own work by. “Writing” and “Self Publishing” led me to aspiring writers touting their wares, like me, though I note most other writers and self publishers are still doing it for the money, or at least trying to, still desperately following the tired old model of chasing the money, and “recognition” of their own self worth, so I find little resonance there.

Other tags lead to blogs offering ten-step programs on how to turn your life around, be it mentally, spiritually or materially. And I note, slipped into the small print, there is usually a way of charging money – for a book or a prop – so little resonance there either.

The “spiritual” tag brings forth an evangelical fire and brimstone, while “blogging” itself hooks up all the so called life-style blogs, a well known phenomenon and oft encountered; they’re low on words, while rich in photography, a photography that depicts a romantically affluent “aspirational” life, of beautiful people wearing fashionable clothes, living in fashionable houses, doing fashionable things with a wide circle of beautiful friends who never say embarrassing things. They are the latter day equivalent of the life-style magazine, basically selling décor, and designer shoes to the unwary, equating worth with stuff. They do have a certain fragile, fictional beauty to them, but we do well to remember life is always messy out of shot, and even beautiful, designer clothed people go to the toilet like everyone else.

No resonance there either then. So what am I doing? Am I mad? Should I be chasing the money, the recognition, the mythical lifestyle too?

I think of basic linguistics, the analysis of which reveals when we speak to others the ordinary human being is doing one of three things: we are asking a question, we are answering a question, or we are making a statement. But the blogsphere, like the rest of the online world is not the real world, obviously. It is a medium through which pictures of life are presented in varying degrees of authenticity; it is a partial fiction, which makes it open to a more recent and peculiarly materialistic form of communication: selling a myth, or in other words: advertising, so people will buy stuff they would not buy ordinarily.

It wasn’t always this way. Online I mean.

I still have a website – http://www.rivendalereview.co.uk. I keep it for sentimental reasons, but it’s looking old fashioned and amateurish now, and has not been updated since 2011. It began life in 1999, so I’ve been writing online now for 16 years, which pre-dates the birth of many of today’s social media users, for whom this cheap myth-manufacturing medium is now such a given, they do not even know with each click they are being analysed and served advertisements. And perhaps it is my memories of life before the internet that so colours my own approach to it. Adverts were once anathema to the pioneers of the medium. We wanted it to be kept clean of the tawdry salesman. The internet was for the tech-savvy, for the engineers, the artists, the liberal anarchists who were going to change the world with openness and honesty and fellowship. I set up the Rivendale Review to be ad free. Now, like commercial TV, we just accept it. We accept the lie, and we all shop on-line, our wildest dreams just an idle click from never coming true.

I remember writing in the 80’s, sending stories off to publishers and magazines – and even the ones that didn’t pay wouldn’t touch my stuff. It was a poor state of affairs for an aspiring hack, but if you wanted anyone other than your wife or your mum to read your work, you had no choice but to do battle with it. So the internet was a miracle, that I could put words on-line, self publish them from my living room, and they would stay there, for ever, and anyone could see them, all over the world. I lost interest in the battle after that and began to really enjoy my writing. Self publishing for me has always meant something quite different to other online writers.

I suppose I’m still too caught up on that early vibe of liberation to care much for how the medium has developed, how it can now be controlled, analysed and exploited by the corporate net-savvy to turn the mega-bucks from our pockets, to read our thoughts and serve us ads even about the things we’re not yet thinking. But it keeps the internet running, I suppose, so people like me can free-load our non-commercial writings on the glossy, user friendly services of Google or WordPress, or wherever, so I’d be wise not to get too uptight about it.

My blogging is a little old fashioned – still about posing that question, then trying to answer it, or it’s about giving information, say if I’m talking about experiences, travels, places, books I’ve read. I do this for myself, condensing an experience into a more pleasingly crafted shape for future reminiscence. My blog is mostly fact with just a light sheen of anonymising fiction.

Our reasons for blogging are many and personal. I still don’t know why I blog, or why I even think what I have to say is going to be interesting to others. It’s certainly no more important than the thoughts or opinions of anyone else, and I’m hardly in a position to pedal an aspirational lifestyle. I prefer to keep mine private, as anything else just seems undignified, but I can at least assure you, both out and in shot, my life is a chaotic, designerless, unfashionable muddle. I suppose the thing is that we all think, we all have thoughts and opinions, but not everyone writes. So it falls to the writers to say what we think, whoever we are, whatever it is, and through whatever medium is open to us, and we must do it whether we believe anyone is interested, or even listening or not.

And we do it because it’s what we’ve always done.

It rained today as well.

The world is turning to water.

wet leaf

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Walking on the Sunny Side  blog picMy thanks to Drawmeasmile for prompting me into action on this one. It’s a collection of my short stories, going back to 1999, which seems an awfully long time ago now – indeed, how positively twentieth century! They’re all available as individual downloads from Feedbooks here, but this collection gathers them together in their most up to date form – hopefully with fewer typos. I put it up on Lulu a couple of years ago, but then suspended it following the mysterious pirating of many of my works on there. I’m not sure why Lulu should have been vulnerable to this when my stuff on Feedbooks and Smashwords has been overlooked, (famous last words) but that’s one of the reasons I’m no longer active on Lulu – the other reason being that Lulu seems to have embedded itself firmly in the print-on-demand world for authors who are stuck on the idea of paper-books. Personally, I no longer think that’s the way to go. I believe the future of the form – at least for writers looking for readers – is in the clouds. I imagine the biggest demand for indy titles is from people reading on their ‘phones – stuck waiting for trains, stuck commuting on trains, stuck waiting in the dentist’s waiting room – wanting a quick, cheap – hopefully even free- download. Imagine all those 3G devices sitting in pockets all over the world – millions and millions of them – and people just wanting something to pass the time? As a writer, how can one resist? It’s what popular writing used to be about – the Victorian penny dreadful era – and now it’s going back to its roots, but in a new way, and this time the writer – not the publisher – is in charge.

Click the pic for the download – you’ll also find it in the margin of the blog.

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Office politicsIf you want to be be taken seriously you need to be able to write clearly, use good grammar, speling, and clear up as many tpyos as you can. Easier said than done. Three errors in that one sentence alone! The occasional typo might be forgiven, but if your work is littered with them, you can’t expect to win many readers to your cause.

The main problem with self editing is this: as a writer, you know what you think you’ve written. But writers also develop a blindness to their words, so they look at a sentence and overlay what is physically written with an image of what they imagine is written.

I’ve been dipping into my novel “Between the tides”, self published last year, and I’m still finding typos. Note to self: Must do better! I’m not big on hints and tips for writers, since I’ve hardly made the bigtime, and my work is frequently riddled with editing bugs that serve only to highlight my own shortcomings in this respect. But here goes:

1) Spell checkers are useful. Turn them on. Spellcheckers won’t correct bad grammar of course. “Their” “There” and “They’re” are all correctly spelled but so often found in the wrong places.

If you’re writing in English, stick to your native version. American English is most prevalent on the internet, but UK writers shouldn’t be confused or intimidated by that. Whatever your version, stick to it. Be consistent.

2) Show your work to someone else, and give them a red pen. They don’t need to be an expert, and you’re not asking them to comment on your style, nor even how good they think your work is. They’re simply a fresh pair of eyes, unblinkered by an author’s blindness to his own errors. I guarantee they’ll find errors you’ve missed.

Having said this, I don’t do it. It’s asking a lot – fine for a few thousand words, a short story or an article, maybe, but if it’s a two hundred thousand word novel, that’s a serious favour. If you’re like me then, you end up falling back upon your own sluggish wit. So:

3) Shake things up a bit. You’re used to seeing that text laid out in a certain way on screen, so before you run your eyes through it yet again, change the font. If the text is justified, unjustify it and vice versa. Change the paper size so the lines get chopped up a different way. Change the text and and page colour. If it’s a short piece, print it out – there’s nothing like printing out for highlighting your sins.

This re-presentation of a text means it will no longer fall into the subliminal patterns your brain has already made for it, so the occasional elusive typo has has a chance of poking you in the eye. Spot the mistake there? (double has)You probably did. I only found it on the umptheenth reading – decided to leave it in.

4) Don’t make it a chore. Remember, as writers, each time we run our eyes through a piece of text, we’re breathing life into it, we’re feeling the pulse and the rhythm of it, like playing a piece of music over and over, each time finding something new. And we get to change the notes as we go along, find new harmonies, new emphases, new shapes. It’s a stage in writing, and an enjoyable one. It just happens to be a good opportunity to spot our mistakes as we go along.

5) Let it cool. Don’t be in a hurry to publish. As a speculative or self publishing writer, your deadlines are imaginary anyway. Save your work, then forget it for a bit. If it’s a blog piece, don’t publish the same night. Leave it until tomorrow or the day after, or the weekend.

Allowing the writing to cool we also allow the subliminal patterns in our mind to dissolve, so next time we pick it up we no longer overlay a piece with what we imagine it says. We see exactly what it says, and that can sometimes come as a surprise.

After all of that, at some point we have to let it go. So trust in yourself, in fate, in the good nature of your reader, and and publish!

Editing is more than just tidying up typos of course – especially when we talk about writing fiction. That’s a complex business and people write books on it – use of passive language and adverbs, continuity, homogeneity and stuff like that, all of which I’m guilty of bodging, so the least I have to say about that the better.

Graeme Out

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BTTCover Well, goodbye to another one. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Phil and Adrienne, but they’ve reached their conclusion now and wanted to be set free. I put it up on Feedbooks this evening and will be watching with interest to see how it does in the coming weeks. My thanks to all those who have mailed me to say you’ve read my stories – it really does mean a lot. I hope you enjoy reading this one as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

The blurb:

Phil Sampson gets more than he bargained for when he finds himself being driven out to view a house by the chilly, taciturn estate agent, Adrienne Divine. There’s something about her that unsettles him, something unsettling about the house too. As for the effect he has on Adreinne,… well, least said the better.

Both bearing scars from past traumas, both apparently drowning in the obscurity of their small lives, little do they know they’re about to a discover a truth about themselves that proves there’s no such thing as a small life at all,… if you only know how to live it properly.

A bit of shameless self publicity, I know – but hey, it’s not like I’m selling anything.

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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.


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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adrienneAllow me to introduce you. This is Adrienne Divine. She’s thirty five, British, and a former university lecturer now working as an estate agent in Carnforth, Lancs. Two years ago she had a serious car accident which left her in a coma. When she came round some weeks later, she discovered her husband – whom she’d not been getting along with for a while – had decamped to his native America, taking their two children with him.

In the movies, she would have flown over there straight away, engaged a ruggedly handsome lawyer and, after a dramatic legal battle, plus a threadbare sub-plot involving lots of guns, drug dealers and high speed car chases, she would have taken her husband to the cleaners, had her sweet revenge on him, rescued her children and brought them safely back to Blighty. She would also probably have fallen in lust with the lawyer enabling the inclusion of a  fairly tame boobs and butt love-scene – her stretchmarks and his bald-spot being expertly fuzzed out by CGI of course.

But this isn’t the movies, and Adrienne’s broke. She’s currently moving from one low paid job to another, barely able to cover the rent, let alone jet off to the States for an uspecified period of time and pay a lawyer thousands of dollars by the hour in order to untangle a messy affair, none of which is her fault. So she does what most ordinary people would do – they absorb the devastating hurt, and just get on, day to day, as best they can while hoping for a miracle.

Then Adrienne meets Phil, who’s not exactly the miracle she was hoping for, but it’s just possible he could be the next best thing. He’s a prospective buyer for a house her agency is trying hard to flog, but it’s a flat market and there’s something about the house that makes it even harder to sell. It’s remote, stuck out on a tidal island where it gets cut off by the sea for twelve hours out of twenty four. No one in their right mind, other than a hermit or a recluse, would ever consider buying it.

Phil is an oil and gas-industry geologist, struggling to adjust to a mainly desk-bound job in Manchester. A decade ago, he was involved in an accident flying out to a rig in the Atlantic which left six of his colleagues dead. Still suffering from PTSD, discontented by his bureucratic post, and perhaps even a little menopausal by now, he’s looking to buy somewhere really cheap, then quit the job and live frugally off his savings until the company pension kicks in. He doesn’t care what he does, so long as it’s different and he doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone while he’s doing it.

Phil and Adrienne meet when he turns up at the office and she’s delegated, against her will, to drive him out to the house. He falls in love with her at once – well, who wouldn’t? But he also finds her cold, prickly and remote. She thinks he’s a boring, faceless corporate drone who talks too much. Plus he’s ten years older than she and her life’s complicated enough as it is without getting involved with another man.
They aren’t the most likely of lovers then.

The house doesn’t really suit him. It’s too close to the sea for a start which has a habit of irritating his neuroses, and he’s decided too much solitude wouldn’t be good for him anyway, that living out on a tidal island would be like casting himself adrift. But he goes along with Adreinne to view the place because he doesn’t want to come across as a prat and a time-waster. There something listless about him – he’s ambivalent about the house, confused, and looking like a man becalmed, waiting for a stiff wind to fill his sails.

As unlikely as it seems, these two will become lovers at some point – indeed their unfolding story seems contrived by fate in such a way as to make it almost inevitable; while they’re out on the island, the tide comes in earlier than predicted, on account of a  storm surge, trapping them there overnight. They’ve no choice then but to find a way  of getting along and after a shaky start, by morning both have got more than they bargained for. Less inevitable however, is the degree to which Phil and Adrienne discover in each other the catalyst for triggering a shift in mental perspective, enabling them to suddenly transcend their personal demons, and kindle fresh meaning for their lives.

Adrienne once wrote poetry, lectured in English Lit, also Psychology and Philosophy. As a girl she also dabbled in bedroom witchcraft, a practice through which she finds increasing comfort now as means of self empowerment in a world that appears to have otherwise stripped her of everything else. And Phil’s not the corporate drone he appears in his plain grey suit and plain grey rep-mobile of a car. He sees things, hears things, imagines things that inform his intuition in a way that goes beyond the rational.

He also draws pictures like the one he did of Adrienne, and posts them on Flickr,…

Having grown up in a society that frowns on the “irrational”, the emotional, and the intuitive, they’re both embarrassed  to admit this side of themselves in public, yet both begin to see their salvation depends not only on admitting their true inner natures, but embracing them – that only when envisoned through the lens of a romantic, mystical and even a magical perspective, can the world begin to mean anything again.


I’m writing this down in precis form because I want to get at the essence of what their story is about, and sometimes you need to get outside of it to do that, just like you can’t always see where you’re going for the lay of the land. And it’s beginning to make sense, what Phil and Adrienne have been telling me.

I’ve been trying to solve the puzzle of their story for about a year now, since they first came to see me with their unlikely opening scenario and persuaded me it would be worthwhile running with it. Sure, there’ll be several more drafts to go before I’ve wrung every last drop of meaning out of it, but the majority of the work is done. I can sit back and enjoy the ride now, without the worry of not knowing where we’re going any more.

Just because I talk to ghosts, it doesn’t make me insane, and I’m no longer ashamed to admit it. They dictate my stories for me, and I learn a lot from them. And Adrienne, a very particular ghost on this occasion, is telling me there’s no such thing as a small life, that we’re all heroes because to paraphrase the song, our skins are so soft and even supposedly ordinary lives can sometimes be very, very hard.

Thanks for listening.


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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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Censored! Navigating the rules on obscenity.

There’s an interesting thing going on at the moment between Smashwords – the online seller of independently authored ebooks, and the payment facilitating company, Paypal. Paypal, themselves under pressure from the major credit card companies who underpin Paypal’s business, have asked Smashwords to pull every title from its files that contains anything they (Paypal) consider to be obscene. In particular they’re talking about (deep breath and close one’s eyes) bestiality, incest, rape or underaged sex.

If Smashwords doesn’t comply then Paypal will sever all links with Smashwords. Smashwords uses Paypal as a means of paying its authors their download royalties. Smashwords is understandably concerned by this as it will mean they can no longer process payments to any authors – even the ones who don’t write the smutty stuff. It’s argued by Smashwords that while the topics highlighted are unpleasant and socially unacceptable, this is effectively a form of censorship, and to be honest, though it troubles me that such material is available through outlets like Smashwords, it’s difficult to see it any other way.

Credit card companies, and Paypal are privately owned financial institutions and have, in modern times, risen to become the life-blood of online international commerce. But that doesn’t mean they, and their shareholders, are qualified to decide what is obscene. That’s for elected governments and their legislators. Every country has its local laws defining what you can and cannot write, and it is these legal standards that should be our guidelines. However obscenity laws are always open to interpretation, and also seem increasingly ineffective in our globalised online world. But we cannot allow corporate culture to become the guardians of human culture, or we forfeit our souls. The difficulty is that what constitutes “obscene” changes with the times and the shifting social mores – which are arguably shaped by what people see, hear and read in the first place. It’s a complex equation, iterative and probably non-linear, verging on the chaotic – definitely not the sort of thing that can be modelled by the simplistic algorithms of the business world.

D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s lover was famously banned for obscenity in 1928, and only released in 1960 after a landmark trial in which one of one of the prosecution’s arguments was: would you like your wife or servants to read such a book? The implication was that a reading of Lady Chatterly would encourage wives and servants to cross the social divide and make love to each other more often – clearly something that was unacceptable in those days, but a little outdated now. If you read it now, you’ll perhaps agree that the language and the sexual acts depicted in this story were certainly daring for the times, but those acts were between consenting adults involved in a powerfully emotional relationship, and wouldn’t cause any problems with the censor now.

Perhaps that’s the safest way forward then: only write about what’s legal, according to your local laws. If in doubt, check it out, or leave it out. But is that good enough?

No, it’s not.

Many books rely on a crime being committed in order to kick start the plot – like detective fiction for example. Murder is a nasty business and not something we’d want to encourage, but it’s depicted all the time in seemingly ever more grizzly detail – both the act of killing itself and the subsequent probing analysis on the mortuary slab. Yuk! If you’re watching TV tonight – count how many murders there are.

Clearly the test of criminality is insufficient.

Is it just a question of sexual crimes then?


Themes of rape are unfortunately also a regular feature of even pre-watershed soap opera. The writers of these dramas claim they wish to depict real life issues, of which sadly, rape is one. But why don’t soap operas also deal regularly with themes of bestiality, incest or underage non-consensual sex – which are also real life issues? Why should these be hidden away in a dark cupboard?

Is it a question of how they’re portrayed then? Must the perpetrator always get their come-uppance? Is it the apparent glorification of bad things that’s the problem?

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere.

There’s clearly a social dynamic here – certain things are still on the back burner, waiting their time before people are generally comfortable discussing them. Rape is in the open, but the other taboos are not. And if you’re an independent author who wants to push these things into the public eye, then it’s how you treat them that’s the important thing in determining the kind of reception you’ll get.

I think the key phrase here is “prurient interest”. Is your treatment of the subject matter aimed solely at sexually arousing the reader? If this is the case then it might be said you’re trying to convert someone to your way of thinking by engaging their emotions. And if your way of thinking is to condone illegal acts by making them look in any way pleasurable, or acceptable, you’re straying into dangerous territory and you should think very seriously about what you’re doing.

In the UK the law on obscenity is covered by the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. This is the same act that was used to challenge Penguin books, who were determined to publish the unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterly in 1960. The Act isn’t an easy one to read. It speaks in a convoluted legalese about the likelihood of a reader being corrupted, and balances this against the literary merit of the work. To a layman it seems very much open to interpretation. It does however try to focus on the intent of the work and its likely effect, then leaves it to a jury to decide. I have to say though, for a writer trying to explore what he can or cannot write, it’s not very helpful.

What then are we poor indies, intent on pushing the edgy boundaries, to do?

Well, in America there’s a legal mechanism called the Miller Test. This is a test applied in three parts and asks: Is the material aimed solely at the prurient interest? Does the material contain anything that a normal person is likely to find offensive? And finally, is the work without any literary or artistic merit? Material answering “yes” to all three parts is considered obscene and you can probably be burned for it. If it answers “no” to any one of the three parts, then you’ll probably get away with it. Although a little easier to follow than the UK law, in practice the Miller Test is still open to interpretation, and relies on a jury at the end of the day to provide the input on what is and is not socially acceptable.

I sometimes find my own stories listed on Feedbooks, side by side with books whose covers depict nude ladies in provocative poses. Their titles are unambiguously pornographic. Now, I’m not a prude and my only real concern here is they probably make my own work look lame and tame and uninteresting. But how does this material get past the Miller Test? And what about my own work? How does that compare? What about that final love scene in the Lavender and the Rose? Gulp!

All right – so I had to download and read one of Feedbook’s free “erotic” titles for research purposes. Let’s call it Young Ladies in Love, by Tessa Tuttle – it being an account of the seduction of a straight girl by a Lesbian girl, both contemporary consenting American adults in their twenties. The plot consisted of a series of loosely linked and explicitly depicted encounters between the protagonists and ended, somewhat abruptly, with a message from the author directing you to their paid website where you could download the full story for a fee. (I didn’t bother) There wasn’t any character development to speak of, other than the straight girl becoming more Sapphically inclined.

On the other hand, in the Lavender and the Rose – well, it’s a complicated story,… some might say incomprehensible,… but there are some love scenes in it – of the consenting heterosexual kind, also some Tantric stuff, and a climactic (is that the best word?) bisexual denouement between the three main characters – two women and a guy. Strewth!

Okay – to the Miller test: Michael Graeme and Tessa Tuttle in the dock.

Part one: Does the work cater purely to the prurient interest? Tessa Tuttle’s Young Ladies in Love? Self evidently, yes.

Michael Graeme, how plead you regarding the Lavender and the Rose? Not guilty your honour. Explain? The Lavender and the Rose is two hundred thousand words long, the descriptive sexual content less than five percent. My readers would most likely nod off between love scenes.

Michael Graeme you are released. Phew.

Tessa Tuttle you remain in the dock.

Tessa Tuttle. Does your work contain scenes that a normal person would find offensive? Chief witness for the prosecution: Michael Graeme – well, em,.. no your honour. I found nothing offensive – just frank descriptions of girls making love. Counsel for the prosecution: But what makes you think you’re normal, Michael Graeme? It sounds pretty filthy to me. Are you not simply a dangerous libertarian? I’m sure some people would find the thought of two ladies making love repulsive.


Tessa Tuttle, you’re not out of the woods yet, and remain in the dock. We’d better move on to test three in order to settle the matter.

Tessa Tuttle, is your work entirely without literary merit? Witness for the prosecution, Michael Graeme: Absolutely without any merit whatsoever, your honour. Tessa Tuttle protests: Michael Graeme, you’re a highbrow snob. I claim my work is very artistic. Is the act of any form of imaginative creation not in itself artistic?


Tessa Tuttle,… you argue your case very well. And you’ve convinced the jury of your artistic integrity. You are released.

So, my own work doesn’t disturb the ripples on the Miller Test pond very much, thank goodness. Even Tessa Tuttle, purveyor of charmingly low grade prurient smut escapes. But clearly there are other works that wouldn’t. Test two would be most open to interpretation by a jury, representing a cross section of society, who would be capable of reaching a consensus on what was considered obscene. I think Paypal’s proscribed bestiality, rape, incest and underage sex would all fare very badly here, especially if the overall work also catered solely to the prurient interest. But test three, the question of what constitutes art is still troubling. It’s like asking someone the meaning of life? Can any one of us reasonably answer?

Having said that, I quite like the Miller Test, but obviously most of us would rather not end up in court in order to be subjected to its rigour, or to have our rude scenes read out to our faces, in public. Blush!

My advice to independent authors then is not to write anything you’d be ashamed to let your mother read. That goes for your blogs as well as your books. But since I don’t follow my own advice on this I have to go a stage further. When writing your love scenes make sure that what your fictional protagonists get up to is within the law in your local area, and if it isn’t, make sure any sex and violence you depict isn’t glorified, and isn’t the raison d’etre of your whole book – thereby appealing purely to the prurient interest of your reader. If you want to write prurient stuff – and many do – then that’s okay too, but definitely don’t have your characters doing anything you could get arrested for in real life – according to your local laws.

But to return to the question: should we indys or even bloggers not be allowed to write what we want online? The answer has to be no. The online world twenty years ago was anarchic, and peopled by bright techy characters who generally knew what they were doing, policed by people who didn’t and were running to catch up. That’s changing now. We’re trying to connect the entire world. It’s a social experiment, and some of that anarchy is going to get smoothed out in the cause of the greater good. No matter what we feel as individual authors, we have to subordinate ourselves to the law, and stop thinking we can hide behind the apparent anonymity of the internet. Because we can’t. Write something that fails the Miller Test, or which the Crown Proscution Service thinks it can successfully challenge under the Obscene Publications Act, and they will find you, and they will drag you before a jury of your peers.

Jung tells us we all have a darker side, dark corners of the unconscious wherin we hide all those things we’d perhaps be ashamed of airing in public. Jung tells us it’s better to have those things in the light, where we can look them in the eye and acknowledge them as part of ourselves. That way they lose their power to make us act in socially unacceptable ways. But he wasn’t talking about publishing our demons for all the world to see. If you’re plagued by dark demons doing unspeakable things to animals or non-consenting human beings, then by all means write about them, but keep your musings private. Don’t put them online where your demons might damage someone else. Obscenity is like a penis. (Michael blushes) We all know that half the population has one, but it’s socially unacceptable to go waving it about in public. If it’s something you feel you really must do in order to preserve your creative integrity, then seriously, you have to be very careful who you show it to.

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