Will your story cross international borders?

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This will be the last daily post from me for a while. Why – because I am now in full-time writing mode once more. In fact I’m about to begin writing Chapter Two in the first draft of a new Science Fiction novel in my successful ‘Age’ series of eBooks. 

Unlike Captain Lawrence, Edward, Grace (“Titus”) Oates, a member of the ill-fated British Terra Nova expedition of 1912 to the South Pole, who famously walked into oblivion saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time,” I will be back from time to time to annoy some and intrigue the rest of you dear people who read my posts.

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When writing your latest story, have you even considered that you may be subconsciously writing with a specific geographical reading public in mind, or has the idea never occurred to you?

Quite a while back before I went independent, I was involved in a discussion on this very subject with my former editor. In particular we were talking about one specific book written by an American in the same writing stable as myself at the time. It involved its main character living in nineteen fifties America with a sci-fi element thrown in for good measure.

I put forward the argument that while I could see it doing very well within the borders of the US, whether its success there meant it would travel into the world at large was debatable. Undoubtedly it would sell some copies in Australia. It may even sell a few in New Zealand. Why – because both countries share similar outlooks and way of life to the US. Needless to say the other party in the discussion agreed with me.

I have a Facebook friend who sets his stories here in the UK. Given the title of this post it will come as no surprise when I tell you that his UK sales far outweigh his overseas ones.

Love stories, thrillers, espionage and murder, even pure science fiction, find acceptance across the world always providing they are universal in appeal, in other words non country specific. But if your story has some kind of geographical connotation peculiar to where you the writer lives, will it automatically appeal beyond the borders of the country it is centered on? Sadly, in a lot of cases the chances are that it will only be purchased and read by your fellow countrymen.

Fantasy appeals across the world, it knows no boundaries – think of J.R.R Tolkien’s highly readable novels. The same goes for tales like the Harry Potter books (J.K. Rowling), historical epics based upon ancient Egypt (Christian Jacq and Wilbur Smith). Stories set in previous centuries like the highly successful Hornblower (C.S Forester) and Sharp (Bernard Cornwell) series sell well, no matter which country they were written in.

Very occasionally a work transcends all geographical barriers, finding readers throughout the world, but these are few and far between – think Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code”. Love or loath his style of writing, there is no denying that Dan hit on a magical formula with the series of novels featuring his eponymous hero Robert Langdon. Of course success like his guarantees unwelcome attention from the acid tongued.

Personally I love his books…

It is a fact that the average reader is still consciously or unconsciously parochial in their literary tastes, preferring to read works by their own country’s authors, written in their own specific form of language, to the detriment of countless others worldwide.

To illustrate this point, while Amazon advertise my books written in English in the combined US/ India market, which also includes sales to countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc, plus from their outlets here in the UK and in Canada, they also persist in advertising them in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan and Brazil. None of these markets are predominantly English speaking countries, therefore it will come as no surprise to most people that a book written in English fails to sell in them – something that Amazon simply fails to comprehend.

While I choose to publish my books only in the Kindle format, they do not appeal to my own countrymen as they do elsewhere. Most Brits still prefer to hold a real book in their hands rather than read the same thing on any kind of electronic reader (a subject for a future post). My countrymen and women, like our Canadian cousins seem loath to adopt anything modern when it comes to books…

To give you an example, this month, one of my sci-fi adventure novels has sold two hundred copies so far, while the UK and Canadian sales are zero. Thank god for the enlightened electronic reading public in the US and beyond! Without them I would hardly sell anything. After the US, India is the next major market for my books, coming a close second. Occasionally an American will complain because of my use of UK English. If that is all they have to object to, I can live with it.

So take a moment from your current work in progress to consider what I have just said. Will your story cross international borders? If you want your sales to build, universal appeal is essential.

If you can’t compete fairly…

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Several months ago, for a few days various highly inflammatory articles appeared across the internet voicing differing opinions regarding independent writers, claiming that they were not professional in their approach – whatever that means.

Certain commentators delivered vitriolic attacks accusing independent writers of being nothing more than an editor’s worst nightmare and a monumental pain to deal with. When they were quite rightly challenged for making such statements, they immediately went on the offensive, under the illusion that attack is always the best form of defence. By reacting the way they did, they instantly lost the argument. Apart from venting their spleen, what was the point? I suspected when I read the articles at the time that the attackers were probably jealous of the sales success of some independents. Of course I couldn’t prove it.

These days, whether editors like it or not, how a writer chooses to publish their work is entirely up to them. If they are taken up by a publishing house – good luck to them. If not, going it alone is fine. Getting sniffy with a writer simply because they choose independent publishing over traditional doesn’t mean they are any less professional in their approach if they are serious about their writing. To say that the whole sorry saga did more to polarise the entire writing community at the time is an understatement.

On one side of the argument sit those who firmly believe that the only way to produce a worthwhile book requires it first be written by a known writer before being processed by what one article’s author refers to as professional editors and gatekeepers, an extremely elitist point of view. In the other camp sit those who prefer to go it alone, some employing an editor, some not.

While deliberately choosing not to be drawn into the argument, I was bemused when reading the often heated debate. It was plain to see that both sides were entrenched in their personal beliefs regarding professionalism. Whose argument was right? Whose was wrong? What all participants in the often extremely heated argument failed to appreciate was that publically lambasting the opposition serves no useful purpose other than to expose their own lack of professionalism, in the context of the argument.

In this particular war of words there were no winners. Both sides believed they were right. While those involved in the argument continue to name call or throw insults at each other from time to time, the rest of us are far too busy writing, and watching our bank balances improve each month.

Whether or not your work was made available to the reading public via a known publisher, or by using one of the many software packages available to independent writers, doesn’t matter in the least. All that does are your sales figures. If your book isn’t selling, don’t take your frustration and anger out on everyone else. It’s not their fault – they didn’t write, edit and publish it!

If you consider yourself to be a professional simply because you are a writer working through a publishing house, you really need to get out your copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and look up the accepted definition of the word professional in the context of writing.

Its not that long ago since two so-called professional writers, Stephen Leather, a successful thriller writer, and the established crime writer R.J Ellory, both employed by a prominent publishing house, were publically exposed for using a particularly low self-promotion technique known as sock puppeting. For those who don’t know, it involves writing glowing reviews of your own work while at the same time writing derogatory ones involving your opposition, using aliases on various internet social media sites and book outlets.

If that is an example of what some within the snobby traditional publishing world consider to be a professional approach, I want no part of it. I’ll remain an independent thank you very much.

If like me your only goal in life is to write and be read, whatever label people use when talking about you doesn’t matter one iota. In the world of the written word there is no room for the social climber plagued with an enormous ego, or unbridled jealousy. The whole argument over whether or not a writer is a professional is a complete nonsense these days. To be classed as a professional writer means that you receive regular payments in the form of royalties. If you don’t believe me, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a professional as being engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur. Nowhere is there any mention of approach. It’s got damn all to do with whether or not you publish independently, or are under contract in one of the traditional publishing stables.

If you can’t compete fairly in the marketplace, maybe its time for you to do something else. After all, the world of words does not need this kind of petty, childish nonsense.

Very unprofessional…

Between Realities

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“Is the Einstein Rosen Bridge prepared?” Dalton asked as he perused the myriad of dials and computer screens within the control room aboard the orbiting International Space Station high above the Earth.

“Affirmative,” Jake Sollenson. Dalton’s second in command replied almost absentmindedly while making minute adjustments from his pilot’s position aboard the exploratory craft. The tiny ship was dwarfed by the sheer size of the massively large wormhole entrance it floated in front of in preparation for the very first jump through time and space by man. If the whole magnificent structure could have been physically weighed, in effect it would be the equivalent of 100 million solar masses.

“Casimir energy levels appear nominal Jake, er sorry, I mean captain. The wormhole is about as stable as its ever going to be.” Lieutenant Becky Rawlins, the tiny ship’s other crewmember and the ISS’s chief scientific technician, briefly forgot the proper command protocol before reporting in her familiar matter of fact, automaton like voice from where she sat behind Jake’s piloting position.

The sound of Dalton’s voice echoed within the cramped confines of the tiny ship’s cabin courtesy of the loudspeaker above their heads in a metallic tone. “Countdown to jump in 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – execute!” Jake fired the engines for the three second burst needed to achieve forward momentum.

The theoretical scientists back at JPL had calculated, or rather surmised, that the wormhole itself would take care of the rest of their trip within its relatively unstable interior as it propelled them along its entire length like an animal ridding its intestines of a troublesome blockage.

As he attempted to keep the ship in the centre of the hole, buffeted by unseen forces, Jake’s eyes took in strange images reflected back to him by the wormhole’s inner surfaces, none of which he recognised. It was as if he was being given a glimpse of another world, either lost in time or light years away from the familiarity of the orbiting ISS and Earth.

What no one within the Earth’s scientific community knew was exactly where the other end of the wormhole was likely situated, or indeed how far away. Maybe it would bring them back to the Earth in a former time, or would it be Earth in our future? Maybe it would spit them out somewhere far across the galaxy. No one really knew for certain. Come to that no one knew why it had suddenly appeared near Earth six months earlier either. The only thing that anyone was sure of was that it had appeared either by accident or design. The wormhole offered theoretical physicists a golden opportunity to put their ideas about the, until now, highly controversial theoretical Einstein Rosen Bridge debate into practice.

The whole hazardous exercise was seen as a heaven sent opportunity given the stalled talks over the current problem of deep space propulsion. Senior members of the space programme saw it as a calculated leap of faith into the unknown, fuelled by mankind’s inability to produce some form of practical and sustainable deep space mode of transport. In terms of propulsion up until the wormhole had appeared a few months ago, the best that leading scientists across the planet could come up with was either the continued use of rocket propulsion or some form of nuclear or solar wind powered vehicle.

Jake’s mind wandered in a dreamlike state as the ship continued on its journey into the unknown. All normally accepted parameters of time and movement seem to disappear inside the wormhole. It was almost as if they were not moving at all, and yet they were. They had none of the usual indicators with which to judge motion and speed except for the constant supply of almost kaleidoscopic views of other worlds appearing on the inner walls of the wormhole from wherever their ultimate destination may be.

Both Jake and Becky had volunteered for this extremely hazardous and yet exciting exploration into the vast unknown realms of space and time, realising that in all likelihood they may never survive, or be able to return. For the meantime at least they were able to still communicate despite the perculiar properties of the wormhole’s construction. But how long that would last was anyone’s guess.

Becky continually fired transmissions of data back the way they came; hoping upon hope that Admiral Dalton and the rest of their colleagues back aboard the ISS received them.

With the recent discovery of neutrino burst technology, hailed as the communication system of the future, the old two way voice system with its inherent time delay was deemed unusable considering the dampening properties of a wormhole. Utilizing the new technology was at best a calculated risk. After all, no human had ever entered a wormhole until now. Everything they did and experienced from now on was a first for all mankind.

After what seemed like barely a few minutes, the ship reappeared somewhere in space once again. In these specific circumstances reliance on any kind of manmade timepiece was useless given the additional problem of the time altering properties of the wormhole.

Both Jake and Becky watched the rear monitor as the ship drifted slowly away from where they had just exited the other end of the wormhole. Becky suddenly gripped Jake’s head in her hands, jerking his gaze away from the rearward view and back to the screen showing the ship’s forward camera view.

“What the fuck?”

“God almighty Jake look, just look!” Becky screamed in terror as she temporarily lost her legendary self control.

Ahead of the tiny ship with its crew of two lay a wall of wormholes stretching away in all directions as far as the eye could see. “Christ Becky, take a look behind us!” Jake shouted, almost deafening her, forgetting for the moment the close physical distance between them.

Becky turned her attention to the rearward facing camera just in time to see the wormhole behind them evaporate into nothingness.

“Well there’s no way back for the moment, so which one of the wormhole bank around us do we choose?” Jake wondered quietly as he tried his darnedest to sound in control despite the gut wrenching fear knotting in his stomach.

A tear slid slowly down Becky’s cheek which she quickly wiped away before making a comment. “Hmm that one there maybe… Hell Jake how do I know!” she screamed, now sobbing uncontrollably.

“Try sending another burst communication back to the ISS Becks,” Jake suggested reaching behind him to reassure her by offering his hand.

“How for Christ sake, the wormhole has vanished remember genius –duh!  And will you quit calling me Becks!” she replied with a mixture of fear and anger.

Jake was on the point of steering the tiny craft towards the nearest wormhole entrance when Becky yelled at him again, this time with relief and sheer delight. “Jake the wormhole has reopened. Let’s head back before it closes again.”

After once again reappearing opposite the ISS, Jake eased their way towards the docking bay utilizing the small ship’s attitude boosters. Almost as soon as they had returned the wormhole closed and disappeared forever, never to be seen again in our lifetime.

***

“Come on my dear; put your experiment on standby now it’s time for bed.”

“Oh but mother I was just about to get some new friends to play with.”

“Now God don’t try my patience it’s time for bed.”

“But mother.”

“Bed – now!”

The whole wormhole system and its pictures was nothing more than the cosmological equivalent of an underground railway system created by a childlike entity in another reality who had somehow found ours.

Little did he realise that his ideas and experiments would continue to influence the way we evolve in our own reality as they had up until now. Maybe sometime in the future his experiment would break through again, always providing his mother allowed him to continue meddling in mankind’s affairs that is…

Exactly what is it you do again?

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How many times have you been confronted by the above question from a pompous individual during your lifetime? I was reading an article posted by Jay Lake on this very subject several months ago in relation to those of us who write.

Whenever you answer by telling the usually disinterested questioner that you write, either their eyes glaze over before they move away to annoy someone else, or they start asking you inane questions like, “Will I have read anything you have written?” Or they may even say something completely self-important such as, “Oh yes I’ve wanted to write my life story for positively ages, but I simply can’t find the time.”

I leave you to imagine what my answers would be to either question. But here’s a hint for the first – a few expletives would be included. After all I’m not a damned mind reader! As for the second, I would remain silent while forcing a smile before simply moving away, silently saying thank god. The last thing we all need is yet another autobiography!

Writing is quite simply the most demanding of all the disciplines. Reading the product of our efforts is easy and relaxing, writing it is anything but. If you are serious about writing, your days are fraught with countless hours of anxiety. Your every waking moment is given over to how you constructed that last sentence, or what will happen next in the plot.

Most people still believe that writing is not a proper job, and that it is the preserve of the idle and impecunious. They could not be more wrong if they tried. Writing is certainly no nine to five occupation by any stretch of the imagination. Forget about commuting to the workplace Monday to Friday and being paid on a regular basis.

Most of us make very little if anything from the product of those thousands of hours we spend sweating blood over our current work in progress to deliver that, novel, short story or article you happily read on your way to and from work via your smartphone or laptop, or on your holidays.

So the next time you ask someone what they do and they reply “I write,” don’t ignore them or ask them inane questions, nor turn your nose up with a superior air. Think on. A writer’s existence is one of the toughest, least financially rewarding and tortuous within society today. Writing is definitely not for the faint hearted or the affected social climber. Only the brave and completely dedicated write while sacrificing a normal existence to fulfill their dreams.

As for the growing number within society who insist on using the word author as a Christian or family name on social media sites like Facebook, foolishly believing that they will impress, why not put them on the spot by using that inane question, “Will I have read anything you have written?” as a comment on the next post you see by anyone on FB using author as part of their name. I’m betting that most will simply ignore you.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word actually means someone who writes books as a profession. Those of us who actually qualify simply use the name we were given. We have no need to put on airs and graces unlike the social climbers out there…

Don’t get me wrong here folks; there are a few genuine writers on FB who thought it would be a good idea at the time when they initially set up their account, who now can’t remove the word due to the complexities of Facebook’s totally baffling system, most of whom I know. But they number in the single digits.

Flies

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What is it with flies? Why do they feel the need to want to drive you to distraction? You know the ones I’m talking about, the kind who sneak inside your home undetected. They decide to sit on you, not caring exactly which part, just so long as it is out of your immediate reach. Or, they settle on your television screens and wander back and forth, leaving those tiny spots of fly doody while distracting you from enjoying the programme. Or, they decide that your cup of coffee or sandwich looks inviting.

Every summer I have at least one who decides that it is its duty to live with me. Usually the little beggar lands on the toes of my right foot at least twice, my stomach once or twice, the sole of my left foot at least six times. Sometimes it sneaks down the inside of my chair beside me and decides that the right side of my body would benefit from being walked on.

The trouble with this little invader of my privacy is that he is the latest design in flies – the stealth model. He makes no noise when he spreads his wings. He doesn’t constantly go for your face. No, he hides, waiting patiently until you are no longer watching, then he strikes. He’s really smart. If I go and get the fly spray, he disappears from the room. The sneaky little so and so hides in the shadows with the multi lenses of his beady eyes trained on me, ready to make his next sneak attack.

With no sign of Spring as yet, even though the equinox has come and gone, at least for the moment I am fly free. Note to self: Head for the nearest pet shop while winter weather still prevails in search of the flies’ nemesis – a half starved Gecko…

Does a writer really create a story?

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Have you ever stopped to wonder how a story makes it to the page? As a reader looking in from the outside, providing you like it, or at least are intrigued by it, you get caught up in the story and its characters, their foibles, thoughts and desires. But does the writer really create the story before your eyes, or does he go along for the ride just like you?

I firmly believe that the writer is in reality nothing more than a glorified reporter. The characters and events unfold before his eyes. All he does is record them for posterity and nudge them down a particular path to see what will happen next.

Every story has a starting point firmly fixed in the writer’s mind. But after that, it’s up to the events to take the writer along for the ride recording the adventures, disappointments, delights, apprehensions etc, etc of any characters involved.

In life we all have a fixed starting point; the time of our birth. Where you go and what you do during your lifetime is governed by a mixture of opportunities, fate, and chance meetings. The same can be said for what unfolds before the writer’s eyes.

In the story, I firmly believe that what happens next is determined by the story’s events, not by what characters say to one another while engaged in mindless chatter. The world they inhabit lays the ground rules for the way they react to it. Chance meetings within that world can and do change the way the stories’ characters relate to one another however. In this instance they may not necessarily be influenced by the events portrayed.

In reality all the writer does is be the very first person to read the story. He goes along for the ride just like you. But unlike you, at least he has some involvement in it by recording it. After all, the characters couldn’t do it for you; they were too busy living it.

I’m busy right now at the beginning of a new science fiction novel’s storyline. Where it will take me over the next several months and who it’s as yet unknown characters will be is anyone’s guess. Only time and patience on my part will tell. Equally, whether or not it will become a Space Opera is an unknown at this moment in time.

Wish me luck, not that I need it; I’ve been here before on more than one occasion…

Best Before

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If ever there was ever a term of recent times that absolutely makes my blood boil it is the title of this post – best before, or its equally nonsensical and totally misleading other incarnation – the sell by date.

How many people today throw away perfectly good food products simply because they see these words on the package, dreamt up by businesses in collusion with the EU and other controlling enterprises to maintain the turnover of stock? Sadly in the western world the answer is in the billions. Landfill sites in practically every western nation are full of unused food products, which prior to being dumped were perfectly serviceable.

Here in the UK from time to time I read about people seriously down on their luck being prosecuted as thieves for raiding the bins of supermarket chains in order to make use of perfectly good food discarded because it has gone beyond its sell by date. Bringing charges against starving homeless people for making use of the food in question boggles the mind.  After all, no one gets arrested when those self same people go to a food bank!

Now we move to a subject which I have had bitter personal experience of – being thrown on the scrap heap, made redundant in my mid fifties due to a breakdown; considered by the business world to be far too expensive to remain in their employment because of my age and experience. In other words, people like myself who had reached their own best before date. I’m happy to say that since finally reaching the legal age of retirement, I’m finally free from the endless financial worry inflicted upon me by tight fisted employers refusing to consider me for anything other than a low paid job, usually labouring on a building site.

My generation, the baby boomers born at the end of World War Two, have got our government seriously worried. So much so that they want to raise the retirement age to seventy, because according to them we cost far too much to maintain. What the ingrates conveniently forget is that we were paying taxes long before they were even a twinkle in their father’s eye.

Retirement is our reward. But judging by my own recent experience fighting with cold hearted bureaucracy in the form of the UK Department of Work and Pensions, to get them to pay me what I was owed in the form of the State Pension, official recognition for a lifetime of paying tax (granted not all of it here in the UK), really hurt them – bless.

What the tossers in the various government departments need to realize is that unlike food products, humans don’t go off until we naturally expire. We merely continue to enrich ourselves as we grow older. While my body may have now slowly but surely broken down, my mind, the thing that controls my every function, act and thought, has never been sharper. I had my first novel published when I was sixty-two. I also write short stories, blog posts like this and articles on a daily basis.

Since I retired earlier this month, I am now free from the incessant and unwarranted meddling in my daily life by the world of governmental bureaucracy. I no longer interest them thank goodness since I passed beyond my own sell by date.

In most non-western countries the older generations are venerated for their experience and knowledge gained during their lifetime. They are listened to and learned from by the younger generation, but not here in the UK.

We of the older generation have much to offer the young, despite what government bureaucracy believes. While we may no longer play any active part in the workplace we still have a lot to offer. As an OAP here in the UK, if you are lucky you will usually be ignored or barely tolerated, or at best considered a nuisance – I think you get my drift here.

That term should actually read – best after, not best before…