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Posts Tagged ‘Smashwords’

book thief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be well.

Graeme out.

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iateol cover third small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possibly.

Or not.

As the case may be.

 

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man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885Publishing a novel? Well, it’s easy. Anyone can publish a novel these days. You write it, then you put it on the Internet. You do it yourself through a blog, serving it out of a Dropbox account, or use the likes of Smashwords, Wattpad, FreeEbooks, Amazon, and sundry others I’ve yet to make the acquaintance of, who serve it out for you. Your work gets published for free and people will read it. Guaranteed. Simple. Amazon and Smashwords even let you set a fee, so you can actually make money at it. The downside? Unless you go viral, don’t expect to make more than pocket-money, and your chances of going viral are about the same as coming up on the lottery. People come up on the lottery all the time, but the chances are it won’t be you, so don’t bank on it. Most likely you’ll make nothing at all.

I can feel your disappointment right there, because money’s the thing, isn’t it? What you really want to know is how to make serious money at it, or maybe even just enough to quit the day job and write full time. So, let’s go there. You write your novel and, if you don’t fancy online self-publishing, or it just doesn’t seem real to you, then send it to a traditional publisher or a literary agent. But this route is even more like a lottery. Someone always wins, but the chances are you won’t. In fact, the odds are so stacked against you doing it this way, it makes more sense not to bother, and only a fool would waste years filling out their ticket anyway.

There are exceptions, not to be cynical, but you need an edge. Your name needs to be widely known for some other reason, either by fair means or foul, because publishing’s about selling and names sell. Or you need an influential contact in the industry, someone who can sing your praises to a commissioning editor. Or you can enter your novel for a prestigious literary prize, but that’s an even bigger lottery. Either way, without your invite to the party, you’re not getting in, and that’s just the way it is. Always has been.

Persistence pays? Yes, I’ve heard that too, mostly from published literary types selling tips to writers who can’t get published, and maybe it’s true, worth a dabble perhaps, but don’t waste your life trying . Don’t spend decades hawking that novel, constantly raking back over old ground with rewrites, moving commas this way and that and coming up with yet one more killer submission, then beating yourself up when it’s rejected. Again. Don’t lie awake at night grinding your teeth, wondering what’s wrong with you, wondering why no one wants to publish your story. Chances are you’ll never know. So let it go, it’s done. Now write another.

What is a writer for? Do they create purely in order to give pleasure to others? Or do they do it for the money? Do they crave critical acclaim? Or is it more simply to satisfy a need in themselves? Why does anyone create anything that serves no practical purpose? I mean, come on, it’s just a story after all.

In my own writing I explore things, ideas that interest me. I enjoy painting and drawing too, but it’s the writing that gets me down to the nitty gritty, writing that is the true melting pot of thought, the alchemists alembic through which I attempt a kind of self-sublimation, a transformation from older, less skilful ways of thinking, and through which I try to make sense of a largely unintelligible world. The finished product, the novel, the story, the poem or whatever, is almost incidental, but until it’s finished the conundrum, the puzzle I’ve set myself isn’t complete. Completion is the last piece of the jigsaw, the moment of “Aha!” – or more often a wordless understanding that signifies a shift in consciousness, hopefully one in the right direction.

I know this isn’t what writing’s about for others. But most likely those others are a good deal younger than I am, and not as well acquainted with the realities of hawking the written word in exchange for a living. I’ve been writing for fifty years, never made a bean, haven’t even tried since ’98.  This is just the way it’s evolved for me, but don’t let that put you off. You do what you want. You may get lucky, or die trying.

How to get a novel published? Other than giving it away online, who knows? It’s always been a mystery to me, but in one sense persistence does indeed pay, in that it eventually yields a little known secret about getting yourself published, and I’ll share it with you now: when it comes to the art of writing, getting yourself published isn’t really the most important thing.

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the master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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durleston wood cover smallIt was Mark Twain who said: “Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

I disagree, but then I would – having been writing willingly without pay for considerably longer than three years. Indeed I write these days without actively seeking any pay at all. As a round rebuttal of Mark Twain’s opinion on the matter, I offer instead the five rules of contemporary independent authorship:

 

 

1) Writers write.

2) If you can’t get anyone to pay, it’s okay to write for nothing, for as long as you want.

3) Publishers pay writers. (Sometimes).

4) Writers never pay publishers. Anything. (Ever).

5) Writers need not saw wood.

Most of us who write online for free are doing more than avoiding sawing wood. What we’re doing is bypassing a system that stands in our way. We’re seeking readers without having to negotiate the quaint arcana of the commercial publishing world. We write for free because experience has taught us that to seek payment from others is to close the door on our self expression, that to persist we might as well slide our work to the bottom of a drawer where it will remain for ever unread. Perhaps we lack the necessary persistence, perhaps we lack the talent. But neither of these cautionaries matter. We do it because we can. And in doing it we will find readers.

We can do it in a number of ways:

In the first instance, we can pedal our wares from the margins of our blogs. Click the cover-pic and you get a download from the public folder of our Dropbox thing. Simple. This way our work is completely independent and virtually immortal. Our stuff stays online until the sun goes supernova. The downside is unless you can game the system to achieve a monumental blog following, downloads are likely to be small. I manage a few per week. Not great, but who cares?

For more readers, you sign up to websites who grant a bigger exposure in exchange for plastering your stuff with advertising, or by tempting you into paying for “author services” like editing, proof reading, or marketing. Need I repeat my advice not to pay anyone anything in order to publish your work? It’s one thing to write for nothing, quite another for it to cost you money. The other thing to bear in mind when considering such sites is how many downloads you’re likely to achieve. There’s no point in signing up if their download rates are no better than your self served blog.

I use Feedbooks, Smashwords, and Wattpad. Feedbooks was always the best for downloads – even stuff I’ve had on there for years was still getting ten or fifteen downloads a week. I say “was” because it looks like Feedbooks is now dead so far as indys are concerned. Smashwords is less successful, but still garners a steady, if more modest exposure to potential readers. Wattpad,… well, Wattpad is a strange one. Put a novel on there in one lump and you’ll be lucky to get a single hit, ever. Put it up a chapter at a time over a period of months and you’ll do much better, at least until that final chapter goes up and then you’ll get not a dickie bird again. There’s a social media angle to Wattpad of course. Virtual networking. You like theirs,and they like yours. You need to use it to get the best from it, but I’m usually too busy with other stuff, like writing. I’m also an unreformed introvert who finds anything “social” a bit awkward.

Just recently I’ve been looking at other avenues, namely Free eBooks.net, putting my novel “In Dureleston Wood” on there by way of an experiment. The Free eBooks’ business model requires both writers and readers to sign-up. Readers are limited to five downloads per month unless they pay for VIP membership. Writers who contribute get VIP membership automatically, which suggests to me this may end up being a writer’s only hangout.

But anyway,..

Unlike Smashwords, there’s no option to charge for your work, but that doesn’t bother me. You can add a donate button so readers can tip you via your Paypal Account, should they feel so inclined, but let’s not fool ourselves over the potential of that. The site is heavy on advertising and it’s keen to sign us up for a premium marketing package, but again that violates my principles, so we won’t be going there.

Upload is simple, requiring a .doc formatted manuscript and a cover pic. Then you fill out your blurb and it’s done. Publication isn’t immediate – the info says it can take up to three working days for a submission to be “considered”, but a quick scan of what’s already on offer reveals there’s a lot of crap on there so I wouldn’t worry too much about being rejected. I wasn’t overly optimistic regarding my potential for downloads. I’ve tired various sites like this before and managed no more than a dozen hits in a year – but I achieved my dozen here after the first day. The rate will probably dwindle over time, but so far it looks like Free eBooks and I can do business without violating too many of my principles.

And without sawing any wood.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

I hope so.

Is Feedbooks dead?

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

 

 

 

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350178bced2740617291e725a0b2159fresNet9_n7So,..

He led me into the wood, along the tunnelled path through which we could see the garden gate. Beyond it was the blue grey slate of the house itself, and the green front door – images first seen one clear spring morning a decade ago. It was coming back now, memories I thought I’d laid to rest, but I felt a terrible pressure in my chest, something trying to burst free, and I hung back, afraid I could not bring myself to cross the threshold into that strange world again.

Lamarr prattled pompously, not yet aware I was shrinking ever further behind. “It needs an awful lot of work to bring it up to standard of course,” he was saying. “It must be freezing here in Winter. And of course the road, such as it is, gets blocked at the first hint of bad weather.”

Incongruous in his suit, he produced an impressive bunch of keys and proceeded to try the lock, but to his surprise found the door already open. He walked in, and I followed, half closing my eyes as the breath of the place took me. Then I nearly ran into the back of him when he pulled up sharp. I was confused at first and thoroughly self absorbed, so I did not immediately register what he was staring at. Slowly, I followed his gaze and it was then I saw her: a woman, standing at the foot of the stairs, one hand on the banister rail.

She was in her early thirties perhaps, dressed in the long tweed skirt and the blouse I remembered Beatrice wearing that first night long ago. She even wore the little silver clasp at her throat, a string of pearls hanging over the jut of an ample bosom. Her hair was long and dark, and tied up in the Edwardian fashion, exactly as Beatrice’s had been. The look of her, the feel, the mood of the woman in this house,… it was startling and for an instant my heart leaped to an inevitable conclusion. It had all been a mistake! Beatrice was alive! She was there, waiting to welcome me back, about to smile in greeting,… except Beatrice would have been much older now,… like me.

The colour had completely drained from Lamarr’s face and I guessed he was thinking the same. The woman, for a moment, seemed similarly transfixed by us, but then she let out a startling growl, cat like, primitive, and she sprang at us, bowling us aside like skittles before making her escape through the open door. As she passed, I felt a tremendous strength and a heat, and I caught the scent of soap, of lavender. My God – the scent of Beatrice! But above all, even in the violence of the moment, I had felt the cool, starchy smoothness of her blouse upon my skin and then my heart had folded upon itself, leaving me numb with a shock that ran far deeper than Lamarr could ever have guessed.

I was too shaken by it to even think of chasing her, always supposing I could have run more than a hundred yards in the first place. Instead I gazed out as she tore down the path, the heavy skirt held high, her legs bare and efficiently muscular, like a hill runner’s, like a wild animal’s. She looked back once, as her hair fell, and a single beam of sunlight cut clean through the dross of decades to illuminate her face, to still my heart.

I wanted to say that I knew this woman, that I had known her all my life, known her for many lives, but clearly I did not know her at all.

***

More old ground this week, dipping in and out of this story. First published in 2007, I still worry about it. I worry about my future possible grandchildren and great grandchildren reading it and saying: “What? Grandad Graeme wrote that.” And then they’ll look at this dribbly old guy in his worn out Harris Tweeds, smelling of mint imperials and wee and they’ll go “EWWW!”

But then every generation has the problem of thinking it invented sex. As for the rest of it,  all two hundred thousand words of it, it’s far from perfect, but at least when I read it I still know where I’m coming from, and where in the long run I’m probably heading.

The picture is adapted from a photograph of the great American Silent Acress Lillian Gish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep well.

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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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detail - girl writing by daniel garber 1917There’s a lot of ignorance regarding the kind of people who self publish (losers) and those who have conventional publishing contracts, and sign their books in Waterstones (proper writers and gurus of all things literary). If I were ever to make the mistake of bragging about my writing to strangers, the first question to come back at me would be “are you published?” and by published we mean the glossy paperback in Waterstones. The answer would be no, and the conclusion would be that I was not a proper writer, just a “yakker and a bragger”, as a famous American writer recently opined.

But my figures for the past three years tell me my books have been downloaded around a quarter of a million times, so I think I can safely say that, although I’m not published in the conventional sense, my work has reached a wide audience. It also receives generally positive feedback from readers. So, perhaps it’s our definitions that need to change. Perhaps it’s those who insist on conventionally published glory at any price who are the yakkers and the braggers – they who are responsible for perpetuating the myth that the conventionally published form confers upon its neophytes a greatness that self publishing does not.

The publishing industry has now congealed into just a handful of big companies. Like the rest of commerce, it’s all gone very slick and corporate and image-conscious. Books and their authors are cosmetically modified into marketable brands – even those authors who speak out against such things. When we buy a conventionally published book from the highstreet, we are buying into the myth of the author and their brand, but like with those toothpastes that slowly dissolve your teeth, we can sometimes be disappointed, even with what we thought were household names.

Writing is of course the perfect medium for the shy, the introspective, the wall-flowers and the pathological limelight dodgers of this world – but I’m not describing your typical branded author here. The type of personality who takes well to writing is not necessarily the type who takes well to publishing. I recognise, in my case, it’s more of a blessing I was never invited to join in with that world, that indeed self-publishing is exactly my sort of medium. But we self publishers must also grow up, shed our insecurities and accept we’ve as much idea what constitutes proper writing as anyone else.

Through self-publishing or blogging or even tweeting, the process of publishing has become – for want of a better word – democratised; anyone can do it, anyone can add their voice to the cultural milieu. Indeed, I think talented writers who were formerly denied their voice have now begun to move writing on, through self publishing and blogging. They are shaping the milieu, and wrestling the lead away from that quaint old system that used to dictate what was considered proper writing in the first place.

Perhaps it’s not surprising the world of corporate publishing and their branded authors are busy demonising the online world, trying to make out that it’s content is so puerile it will rot our brains. But don’t listen. The internet does not have a monopoly on poor material, just as the corporate publishing world does not have a monopoly on intelligent debate.

One of the greatest strengths of self-publishing is its interactivity. You put something out, people comment, you learn from it, form new ideas or reinforce old ones, and you comment on their stuff. This is how ideas grow and flow, and shape the world. That has to be better than having a handful of branded authors and critics dictate what is and is not best practice, or best thought. That just seems old fashioned.

I do not possess a sexy publicity photo, and I have yet to be shortlisted for the Man-Booker prize. My ideas and my themes may not resonate, and they might never feature in the firmament of collective human thought, but as ideas go they’re as good as anyone else’s. And so are yours. How to be an independent author?

Sit down. Read. Think. Write. Self-publish.

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