My good friend the award winning Flemish writer Bob Van Laerhoven has a new book out. It is a collection of five dark short stories. Here is my review and one other:
28 January 2018
20 January 2018
My good friend the award winning Flemish writer Bob Van Laerhoven has a new book out. It is a collection of five dark short stories. Here is my review and one other:
28 January 2018
20 January 2018
…or, the book that contributed to a total mental breakdown on my part!
Back in the late nineties I was happy and financially secure, or so I thought. I had begun dabbling with writing in nineteen-ninety five. I worked in the same job at the University of Waikato in the city of Hamilton in New Zealand’s North Island for twenty-one days shy of a quarter of a century, naively believing I had a job for life. And then things started to go wrong. All these years later I realize now that events in my life were conspiring against me, and that I was heading for some kind of mental breakdown, after waking up in hospital having collapsed at work from stress.
First of all, my old departmental boss bowed out and a much younger academic was placed in charge. The more I had to do with him, the less I liked him. It got to the point where in late nineteen ninety-nine, in a fit of pique I finally handed in my notice, not knowing or caring what I would do for a job. I just had to get out of there before I did something physically painful to the young Turk. He was, and probably still is an arrogant so and so. Because of him, madness in the form of pent up frustration and anger had crept into my existence. Anyone who really knows me will tell you that what I did next was completely out of character.
I didn’t just quit my job, I also quit the country I love the most. I had no close family anymore. Both my parents were dead. I had no siblings. I was single. And so in 2000 at the age of fifty-two I left New Zealand for good, heading back to England, the land of my birth. For two years the only work I could get was as a labourer on a building site; a tough existence when you consider I had been in a sedentary job for two and a half decades.
In 2002 I took a much needed break and spent a glorious month in magical Malta. But like all good things, the holiday soon ended and I returned to the building sites. I continued to put up with not knowing where I was going to be sent each week until the following year. By now I had become totally obsessed with writing in my room in my aged cousin Christopher’s house in Horndean, Hampshire. To my way of thinking, working for a living simply got in the way of creativity.
I had a storyline totally occupying my mind. I could think of nothing else. So having renewed my passport and my New Zealand resident’s permit, I headed back there. I’m ashamed to say I foisted myself on my good friend and his wife for far longer than I should have. But that damned story now ruled my every waking moment. Over the several months I stayed with them my first published science fiction novel Onet’s Tale slowly took shape. Disaster struck when I spilt a mug of hot coffee on my laptop, ending my marathon writing session.
Saying goodbye to my friends and New Zealand once more, I flew back here. Now things really hit an all-time low. With no job and no income my prospects were dire to say the least. For a while I was truly homeless, sleeping rough on the streets of the Suffolk port of Lowestoft. Eventually I was directed to a hostel where at least I would have a roof over my head. I stayed there for two years until I was finally re-housed here in Beccles, my home town. In the meantime I was diagnosed as having suffered a total mental breakdown. Combine that with my age and as far as the UK was concerned I was officially unemployable. The route I had taken was hardly a desirable one and definitely not to be recommended, but at long last I could concentrate all of my time on writing, once I’d spent a year saving up what was left of my unemployment benefit after the weekly outlay to buy a new laptop.
Since parting with the Australian small press who took me on, to self-publish, I now enjoy a modicum of success. Thankfully since retiring all that angst and misery has finally left me. I’m currently thinking about what my twelfth book will be about.
Having a complete mental breakdown (the first of several as it happens) combined with rough sleeping, are not necessary prerequisites to becoming a fulltime writer. But in my case they certainly helped…
As a reader have you ever thought where the books you love fit in the great scheme of things? Reading tastes are constantly changing. It would require a brave person indeed, willing to predict what the next bestselling book will be.
As a reader, it may not matter to you. But if you are a writer, how your books will be received is always at the back of your mind. Every genre has multiple compartments within it, where discerning readers, critics, reviewers and publishers like to place your work. People are people after all, they can’t help themselves. They must pigeonhole things to make sense of everything, including books, at least in their own minds.
Only one of my books sold well. The one I still prefer, which has earned nine straight five star reviews on Amazon, did not. Why – because its subject has become a shrinking market. If I had written it forty years earlier it might have enjoyed a modicum of success. While folk like it, not many are actually buying it. It fits into a small niche market which is currently out of fashion – traditional fantasy.
In its particular case, all I can hope for is a wholesale rediscovery of fantasy tales about goblins sometime in the future. At the moment people don’t necessarily want to read an anthology like ‘Goblin Tales,’ no matter that I made them friendly. Perhaps that very fact is why Goblin Tales is not popular. Traditionally goblins are always seen as evil in the extreme – think Tolkien. And yet people are willing to read about a rebellious young archaeologist out to save the world before the deadline to destruction for the Earth and the entire Solar System of December 21st, 2012, according to the various interpretations of the Mayan calendar, in my book ‘Race Against Time’, which sold well. Who knew it would appeal to so many people – certainly not me.
With the never ending changes within the literary world, some would say unnecessary upheaval; at least the ebook versions of our work are always available over the internet and therefore in the public eye, unlike their physical cousins who have a short shelf life in the bookshops of this world before they are remaindered and forgotten for all time.
Knowing this still doesn’t answer my question – does it matter which market I write for? In my opinion – no! I would suggest that you all change your approach. Write the kinds of books you love to read. Chances are if you love them, others will too – one day…
How good are you at guessing what people do merely by looking at them? For instance, could you spot the writer in the queue of people at your local supermarket checkout, or buying something in your neighbourhood convenience store? How about on the crowded commuter train or bus you use each day? Come to that, have you ever thought about what the people you see walking along the street outside your door every day may do for a living?
For the vast majority of the population of any country you care to name, if you saw a highly recognisable and successful writer signing copies of their latest work in a bookshop near you, most would simply not realise that they probably had a writer of their very own living in their midst.
If you were asked to describe what you believe a writer looks like, what would you say? In reality, anyone encountering me on the street would probably do their level best to avoid contact because of my often dishevelled appearance. What can I tell you, I love wearing well worn but comfortable clothes!!!
The person they would see before them is a bearded, balding old man with a limp in his seventy-first year, who prefers to wear old jeans (usually torn) and equally old T-shirts – not that I go outside the house much these days.
Truth be told, people make completely incorrect assumptions about one another. In my case I would be automatically pigeonholed as a sad old loser, judging by the way I look. Boy oh boy you couldn’t be more wrong! Mostly all I want is to be left alone to do what I love – writing books. How a person looks is immaterial to my way of thinking. What counts is what’s inside them!!!
I hardly fit the stereotype of what the English public perceives a writer should look like, and that suits me just fine. It means I can get on with that next novel, apart from the odd interruption to my daily work schedule, like the postman, paperboy, or my grocery delivery once a week.
Out of the nine thousand plus people living alongside me in the small English market town of Beccles here in North Suffolk, less than ten of them know that I write. It always makes me laugh when people find out that fact about me. The look on their faces is always priceless – yet another totally misguided assumption of theirs, blown to hell…
The really weird thing is that in the world of ebooks I’m known to thousands across the planet, granted they are mostly in the US. Yet if I was to walk past them would they realise who I was – probably not. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining – far from it. Most of us crave anonymity, and I’m no exception. Just so long as I’m left alone to get on with it, I’ll keep on cranking out a novel, roughly one a year, or every two years depending on the writing flow.
Most writers I know are reclusive by nature. We have to be. How else would we be able to write that book you’re hopefully enjoying at the moment? Unlike most other people, as writers if we’re serious about what we do we work a seven day week over many months, always unpaid. Ask yourselves – would you work for your boss for nothing? We only get paid (receive royalties) when you buy a copy of one of our books. We get nothing if you got yourselves a free copy!!
So, the next time you’re in town, or taking a walk in your own neighbourhood, don’t just dismiss people out of hand by the way they look. Instead, see if you can spot your local writer among them.
I once received an email from the minions working for my publisher, Kindle Direct Publishing. The following is the email’s text:-
We’re writing to let you know that at least one of your readers has reported some problems within your book, and we have confirmed the issue. Potential errors have been identified: for example, “alter stone at Stonehenge’s centre.” should be “altar stone at Stonehenge’s centre.(loc: 52), “that surrounded the ancient alter.” should be “that surrounded the ancient altar.” (loc: 1311) Please check them and look for others.
While I accepted the error at the time, and that it may have been pointed out to them by a genuine reader, given that KDP along with Goodreads and CreateSpace are wholly owned subsidiaries of Amazon.com where all kinds of literary malcontents currently lurk, the chances are that it was one of them who pointed out the spelling error, hoping to get an irate reaction from me.
Well they got a response, but not necessarily the one they were hoping for…
The person from KDP who sent me the email may be genuine also. But you will pardon me for being overly cautious in this instance, having been caught out once several years back in a similar situation, which led to my being targeted for months by a particularly nasty individual.
If it was a genuine comment made by a genuine reader, then I would point out one thing to them – there is no such thing as an error free book. Even the most fastidious editor within the world of conventional publishing is human. Face it folks, errors like this minor one on my part get missed every day during the editing process. What did I do with the email? I merely filed it.
Within the world of literature, while companies like Amazon take the side of the troll over that of the writer and genuine reader citing ‘free speech’ as their reason for doing so, any writer who ‘bites’ when receiving something like this in his or her email tray is in for a nasty surprise if in all good faith they attempt to publically defend themselves. These days they can, and sometimes are banned from Amazon. Hows that for unjust!
Like most writers I know, I have nothing whatsoever to do with the act of engaging with people not known to me. Trust me when I say that in instances like this it is far better to err on the side of caution rather than react in any way shape or form…
PS – I forgot to mention that at the time of the infamous misspelt word back in 2012, the book in question had sold well over five thousand copies in its first month. I wonder if the same people who go out of their way to trash an Indie book via the online review system, do the same to traditionally published books. After all you sad people, if you look as carefully as you obviously do in an ebook, mistakes can also be found in their pages as well…
Ever wondered what is the toughest occupation? Brick layer, Lumberjack or Roustabout maybe? It’s none of these.
While there is no doubt that the aforementioned occupations are physically dangerous, writing leaves all others in its wake. To be a writer you need a hide thicker than a rhinoceros, mixed with a grim determination to carry on despite being constantly attacked by individuals out to destroy you. Very few of us actually make a living out of it. Most of us consider ourselves fortunate indeed if just a handful of inquisitive readers sample our work by actually buying a copy rather than going down the cheapskate route, getting their hands on a free one, then not bothering to read it. Or worse – getting a free copy, then lambasting it, hoping to turn potential reader’s attention away from it, as happened recently to one of mine!
There is no magic formulae for success in the writing game, unless of course, you are a so-called celebrity. Then the public will lap up anything with your name on it, no matter how vacuous you may be, which says it all about the public’s current taste in reading matter. Sadly these days well written works of fiction sit on the shelves, be they physical or electronic, all of them largely unread.
The only way things will ever change is when the reading public grow tired of celebrities, and want to read something worthwhile. I have more chance of becoming a multimillionaire on the Peoples Postcode Lottery – and thats not a chance in Hades!
At the moment it makes little difference what genre you write in. If you are largely unknown, given the current mania for ‘shallow/vacuous’, you will remain unread. If you have an uncontrollable urge to write, do so. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that taking up writing will bring you fame and fortune, instant or otherwise. It won’t unless you are the next Dan Brown or J.K Rowling in waiting. What it will do however, is boost your own sense of self worth. It will give you an enormous amount of satisfaction, especially when you see the product of all your hard work finally in print.
Want my advice? Never give up. Go for it…
In a recent blog post of mine “Books and Literary Snobs”, I began it by saying the following:
Since the emergence of the internet, and with it, online publishing and the plethora of books now available to us, a disturbing breed of individual has emerged – the literary snob. While thanks to small press and self-publishing, it is true that the vast majority of published authors these days far outweigh the fortunate few, chosen by establishment publishing, rarely if ever will any of the former become successful.”
Since writing that post I have become even more aware of another trait normally associated with internet trolls among the literary snobs – sheer arrogance! Without exception they fundamentally believe that what they say should be paid attention too. Further, that we lowly scribes should be grateful to them for tearing the product of all our hard work apart!!!
Sadly there are a number of people who will only ever read books their equally arrogant parents introduced them to. There lies a problem for all Indies. Unless they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, the literary snob will not even glance their way – need I say more? The emerging author of today will be deafened by the loud ‘tut tutting’ being uttered by these narrow minded individuals who are quick to judge.
If they had their way, the only books made available to the general public to read would have been written from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth century, or maybe in certain circumstances until the middle of the twentieth. Certainly none published by anyone other than the establishment publishing houses would be allowed into the public domain in their view.
A little further on in my previous post I added the following:
“Yesterday I read a list of best selling books that were rejected for years, in some cases – decades, before the snobs within the world of establishment publishing took notice of them. The list of titles, too numerous to mention here, astounded me. Perhaps it shouldn’t. After all, like you and I they were not from the right social class.”
One thing all of these pompous literary snobs seem incapable of comprehending is the fact that all writers, be they first timers, or old established hands, if they are at all serious about writing, continue to hone their ‘voice’ until the day they die. Writers like Dickens were panned beyond belief when they were first published; something the pompous literary snob of today conveniently ignores.
I feel exceedingly sorry for these pathetic individuals whose personal library is severely limited to a few volumes written by authors such as Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dickens, H. Rider Haggard, H.G Wells, Jules Verne, Agatha Christy, Graeme Green, or maybe even Arthur Conan Doyle. Unfortunately, they are the kind of people who firmly believe that to read anything new, is somehow beneath them. In a way, they remind me of my father’s Edwardian generation who clung to the dream that England still ruled the waves and had an Empire. Like them, today’s literary snobs are dinosaurs!
While they continue to prevail, be they private individuals posing as reviewers or British literary critics like Will Self,
(according to him he is god’s gift to journalism and literature in general) what chance do today’s emerging writers have of succeeding? Most establishment literary prizes like the ‘Booker’ here in England are almost never won by a newcomer beyond the world of the establishment publishing scene – certainly not an ‘Indie’.
While those of us who live in the real world are prepared to read something new, be it from someone like myself who self-publishes or not, the establishment publishing houses are all sadly missing out on so much promising talent by ignoring today’s plethora of new writers, or worse, dismissing them out of hand simply on the word of fully paid up members of the oldboy network who currently hold sway, or narrow minded literary agents in the pay of the establishment publishing houses.
The literary snob is easy to spot. Just take a look at the reviews for your book(s). He or she is the one who is obsessed with what kind of comma you are employing, etc, etc…
In the commercially driven world of British television today, we are given so much choice, or are we? When it comes to quality viewing and despite its many changes and internal wrangles, the BBC still sets the standard…
For those of us who do not wish, purely on principle, to contribute monthly to the wealthy bank balances of Sky or Virgin Media or any of the other ‘pay per view’ systems currently available, there is Freeview. It does what is says on the tin – it gives us free access to hundreds of Television and Radio channels. Unfortunately barely a half dozen of them are worthwhile!
In reality Freeview is nothing more than a dumping ground for channels that fail to turn a profit, or more importantly as far as their owners are concerned, attract large numbers of viewers essential to the ridiculous ratings system.
And now we come to a few examples, take channels like ‘Yesterday’, a history channel, or Film4, a channel dedicated purely to film – the clue is in the title of both.
Take Yesterday. While I applaud the idea of a channel dedicated to the subject of history, what I do not appreciate is the continuous repetition of programmes. Surely there are far more programmes of a historical nature than the two dozen or so, currently on offer. You can only watch programs like Larry Olivier’s The World at War once, maybe twice. While I’m on the subject of history, where exactly does repeating the excellent BBC programme Antiques Roadshow under the Yesterday banner fit within the category of history? As I said earlier the clue to the program is in the name you morons!!
What about Film4? What about it indeed? This channel is even worse when it comes to endless repeats of the same twenty or thirty films in their archives which quite frankly where so bad when they were originally screened that mercifully they simply disappeared from view, both on the silver screen and on television. Oh no wait a minute here they are alive and well, resurrected from the film graveyard!
Ahah I hear you cry, but other Freeview channels offer films to. I agree with you, yes they do. But if you bother to check the titles instead of merely sitting in front of your television with your brain switched off, you will find that all of the television channels simply pass around the same films amongst themselves under the subheading ‘New to this Channel’.
I mean really, how many times can you watch a film like Doctor Doolittle, starring Rex Harrison (circa 1967), or maybe Independence Day starring Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum (circa 1996) before you cry “Enough already!”
While I’m on the subject, who in their right mind wants to watch channels like ‘bid tv’, or ‘Ideal World’, or maybe how about mindless drivel like QVC? I know the system is called Freeview folks, supposedly offering us over seven hundred channels to choose from. But if you eliminate all barring BBC 1,2 and Four together with ITV, Channel 4 and 5, the rest is not worth watching. As for the radio channels BBC Radio 3, 4 and 4Extra along with Classic FM are the only ones worth listening too…
At least with digital technology having replaced analogue, I can now settle down in the evening to watch quality BBC programmes on the Beeb’s best channel BBC4, or on BBCIPlayer. Sadly both have stepped aboard the repeat bandwagon of late.Heres hoping that it is only a blip in an otherwise excellent record.
Time to turn the television off and read my favourite book, or play a game of solo chess before bed with maybe BBC Radio 3 playing some soothing classical music in the background. That’s my idea of repetition. I can always catch up in the early hours of the morning with something I wanted to see on BBCIPlayer, which I intend to do now.
Signing off at 01.43AM
I asked myself this question back in December 2011. I’ve yet to find the answer…
In today’s literary marketplace, while a tiny minority of books become million sellers, most do not. There comes a time when most of us who are committed to writing have to ask ourselves a fundamental question – why do we bother to do it?
We spend months, years even, agonising over, and getting a storyline out of our systems onto paper, or computer screen, sacrificing a normal existence and suffering sleepless nights. And then when we are relatively happy with it, we send it off to our publisher like a proud parent watching their offspring going to school for the first time.
Like all proud parents, we wish nothing but the very best for our ‘child’, and yet that moment of final separation is when doubt and extreme anxiety enter our souls. Will our ‘child’ be alright? Will it be treated in the best possible way once it is out of our hands?
Nothing within the world of books and publishing is an absolute given. As the doting parent of that literary ‘child’, deep down we want nothing less than a one hundred percent assurance that it will be nurtured by the publisher we send it to, and its readers.
To write a book which grabs the reader’s attention is not an easy task. The whole thing is largely down to pure luck. Coming up with a concept that no other writer has used before is difficult in the extreme, especially these days when the market is flooded with millions of new titles.
If you want your ‘child’ to be seen bobbing around amongst the rest currently available, it simply has to appeal to a wide audience. After all, the days of people having the time, or indeed the inclination, to want to search out a book the old fashioned way and then sit down to read it, and to hell with everything else, are sadly gone forever…
To put it another way, your intelligently written ‘child’ has to compete in today’s marketplace designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, saturated as it is with endless numbers of mind numbing biographies ghost written for so-called celebrities, or the plethora of cook books, Mills & Boon style romances etal. Not an easy task when you take the time to think about it.
And so I say – why do we bother to do it? especially these days when literary assassins aka Trolls, are chomping at the bit, ready to pounce on your child and tear it to bits to dissuade potential readers from even considering your child in the first place! My extremely short novella Autumn 1066 suffered one the other day…
For this writer it is simply because I have an overwhelming desire to write. Which means I have a tendency to inflict completely unnecessary mental torture upon myself. As for the rest of the writers in this world, if you are acquainted with some of them, not just myself, you will have to ask them why, bearing in mind the anxiety we all face when finally letting go of our cherished ‘child’.