Wise words from one of my literary heroes

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Vain, selfish and lazy? Those sentiments Eric Blair aka George Orwell stated still apply for some within the writing community. Fortunately most writers I know are none of those things. These days the only people you will come across like that are certain editors and literary agents as well as some writers and literary critics. The latter category, especially the odd one or two who write for newspapers and literary magazines here in the UK, can definitely be said to be vain and selfish. To those two unsavoury qualities I would add a few others – condescending, snobbish, scathing and vicious, particularly when it comes to one leading newspaper’s literary critic and his deep loathing of Indies. Compared to him, internet trolls are rank amateurs.

As for the rest of what Eric is quoted as saying – writing is a long exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness, he’s perfectly correct. It still is. With a few exceptions, I seriously doubt that anyone who reads books has the faintest notion of what we go through when writing one. Blair was also right when he said that – one would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist, nor understand.

In my own case, what drives me to write is not so much a demon as the burning desire to share a story with you the reader. So the next time you read any book, whether you liked it or not, ask yourself what kind of hell did the author of this book put themselves through when he or she wrote this? How many sleepless nights did they suffer to bring the story to me? How many times were they afflicted with the one problem all writers suffer from time to time – writer’s block?

As if all of that wasn’t enough for the writer to contend with, there are the endless attacks by internet trolls, once published. In some cases they are actually disgruntled fellow writers who are seriously annoyed that people buy, like, and praise your work while shunning their own. As writers we all know at least one of these often angry individuals.

Some trolls are nothing more than malicious individuals hiding behind pseudonyms, thriving on hate while hoping that you will react, judging by their often incomprehensible one star reviews.

Do I still want to write? Hell yes, even though it often drives me to distraction. Once you have been bitten by the writing bug, everything else in your life apart from writing posts like this, and chatting to readers, writers and friends on Facebook, rapidly vanishes into the distance.

You heard it here first folks. It helps if you are completely bonkers with a masochistic streak when it comes to writing.

😉

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Pseudo-experts and other lunatics

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Here’s another post about some of the sharks waiting to pounce on the unwary writer…

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As a published writer, sooner or later you will encounter one or more of the following!

Once you have published a book or books, it is inevitable that you will attract the attention of individuals with a doctorate obtained via the internet specializing in incomprehensibly stupid!

The day when Amazon opened the can of worms by giving everyone and their dog the privilege of being able to offer their opinion on your work on their sites worldwide, was the day the age of the internet troll and other non-entities was born.

Today, not only Indie writers, but also traditionally published ones find themselves on the receiving end of what can only be described as complete hokum by pseudo-experts. For the latter its bad enough that their editors are imposing their often misguided personal opinions on how a book should be written, often to the detriment of the story, instead of sticking to correcting grammar and punctuation. But now all writers are endlessly being bombarded by totally baffling comments by some other published writers, who quite frankly should know better than to openly criticise someone elses work in public.

What you and they have to realise is that they are expert in only one thing – destroying their own reputation just for the sake of pouring scorn on a fellow writer’s work. Not everyone can write a story worthy of being read, let alone be published. Which is why so many who entertained the idea of fame and fortune by writing the definitive novel of the age fail and soon resurface as literary experts and critics. Or worse, offer their services as editors, always for a fee of course!!!

What none of them are willing to accept is that first of all your story is yours not theirs. Secondly, who better than you to know its ins and outs, plot and counter plot?

If you are lucky, people will find it among the millions of books on offer and read it. Some will like it. Others not, so they do their damnedest to convince the public to stay away, which begs the question why? In the case of failed writers, it has to be that they are quite literally green with envy. More than likely, they’re angry that they didn’t come up with the best seller first. What other reason could there possibly be for all the bile and invective showered on successful writers that we see on most social media sites on a daily basis?

What about what the literary snobs, pedants, anal retentives, pretentious poseurs, grammar nazis and other self-important armchair critics who inhabit the internet these days say? If you will take some advice from an old campaigner – JUST LIKE THE TROLLS, IGNORE THEM ALL LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Having read this, you will now know that I have zero tolerance for any of the above types. Guess what, neither have any of my published writing colleagues either…

😉

My message may be unpalatable to some…

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…certain individuals don’t like plain speaking, preferring to bury their heads in the sand.

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One current ugly stumbling block for all writers these days to be ignored at all costs is the average inbred moron seated at his/her computer who deludes him/herself into believing that what he/she says on a public book based forum, actually matters. His/her kind set themselves up as self-styled critics, typically wittering on endlessly about subjects such as non-American spelling and grammar in books written by anyone living beyond the borders of the US for instance. Thereby clearly demonstrating their ignorance of the English language to the world at large. The aforementioned description while general, nevertheless fits the individuals currently responsible for the majority of one, two and three star reviews for any book you care to name on Amazon, to the detriment of the genuine reviewer.

Not one of them has ever written a book in their entire lives, let alone had one published, and yet they feel it is their bounden duty to harshly criticise, especially when it comes to newbies, no matter whether or not they are self-publishers or mainstream. There are also a few unscrupulous individuals who see absolutely nothing wrong in adding a link to their review of your book, to advertise their own efforts – extremely bad form!

Like most writers these days, I simply fail to understand why Amazon seemingly encourages and condones what amounts to nothing more than often vicious attacks. As a writer, for the sake of your sanity take my advice and never read the reviews. Above all refrain from entering the forums, no matter how indignant you may feel.

~~~

As a successful writer I see far more pressing issues in a lot of what today’s eBooks have to offer. The main one often being the new writer’s poor choice of genre. A lot simply jump on the bandwagon hoping to cash in on what is portrayed as popular by various advertising campaigns by publishers and so-called professional editors and book touts, such as the current trend in nauseating vampire and zombie based stories and what can only be described as badly written pornography (think Fifty Shades of Grey). While it is true to say that largely these genres appeal to the uneducated, those who write more thought provoking novels are left by the wayside, struggling to survive.

Some writers become convinced that niche markets is the way to go, which in reality means the product of their efforts will barely sell in the dozens rather than the thousands.

Face it people, the only book that will sell in its thousands is the one whose subject matter initially provokes curiosity in the mind of the often fickle reader. A growing number of writers cling desperately to the belief that by writing in a largely unpopular genre, the product of their toil will be noticed. How many times recently have I seen writers desperate to sell their wares, spend money time and effort to change a cover for instance and to produce actual paperback copies, which they then hawk around the many small time book fairs, largely at their own expense? In the end none of the aforesaid will make a damned bit of difference if your favourite genre is currently out of fashion. To my mind this kind of thinking is nothing more than an example of self induced vanity press. In other words spending money you can ill afford.

Just remember this – if you have to shell out good money after bad to get your manuscript edited by a so-called professional, you have to recover that cost as well as the cost of the cover and printing before you are in profit – something which a lot of modern day writers ignore at their peril… Remember this – if a book fails to sell in the traditional publishing world it is remaindered (pulped) and a line is drawn under your name with the words DO NOT ACCEPT ANYTHING FURTHER FROM THIS AUTHOR! Traditional publishing hates loosing money. So should you!!!

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Next comes the biggest stumbling block for a lot of writers – editing and proof reading. Many pay someone to edit for them. However, using the ‘look inside’ feature available on Amazon, it would appear that many mainstream editors let alone self-published writers simply fail to use a Spell checker, common to all writing software packages. The same goes for the humble Grammar checker – patently ignored by the majority. How many even use the Look up or Synonym features, accessed simply by right clicking over a word? Not many it would appear…

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We now arrive at colloquial language and writing in the first person. Many fall into the trap of using colloquial language when two characters are conversing within the context of a story – bad idea! The other big no-no is to write in the first person. It is not easy to do. The use of first person is chock full of pitfalls for the unsuspecting. Avoid using it if you can. Loathsome as it may be, even third person is preferable.

~~~

Finally remember this simple fact – the product of all your hard work is just one among millions currently available. If its content doesn’t stand out, especially these days where people prefer to wait until you buckle and offer it for free, (even then there is no guarantee it will be read) it is destined to sit in the literary equivalent of the doldrums for ever more. No amount of cover changes, giveaways and signed copies in an internet contest will increase its chances of becoming a best seller one iota…

Just imagine, you have all of the above to look forward to. Do you still want to publish that book?

😉

Crawling backwards and other things…

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A typical priest hole

The following is drawn from what I was told by my grandmothers, my three aunts and my mother at various times…

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When I was born on the eighth of March 1948, my parents had a jet black Cocker Spaniel barely out of puppy-hood named Rex.

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From what mum told me Rex decided I was his responsibility. I remember seeing a black and white photo taken on dad’s Box Brownie showing me in my pram with Rex laying on top of my legs. Whenever I was on the ground, unlike most babies I crawled backwards everywhere. Better to bump into things with your bottom swathed in nappies than to bump your head. Well that’s my explanation for the way I crawled – so there! 😉

But there were times when even Rex couldn’t keep his eyes on me all the time. Apparently one day I disappeared. Mum panicked and sent one of the farm workers to get dad. Between them they searched for my throughout the house. Finding no sign of me they then went out into the back garden. During summer, mum would put me in my pram in the shade of the Oak tree in the center of the lawn. This time however apparently I had crawled out into the back garden through the opened french windows in the living room. At the bottom of the garden was a very deep pond.

Yes, you guessed it. I had crawled backwards towards the pond. When mum, Rex and dad found me I was suspended by the heel of my left thumb on one barb of the barbed wire fence at the top of the pond’s steep bank. According to what I was told I wasn’t crying. Nor was I wriggling. If it hadn’t been for the barbed wire arresting me I wouldn’t be here today! I still have the tiny arrow-head shaped scar to this day.

The next time I went missing has to do with a very small priest hole entered from the top of the stairs. The priest hole was situated beneath the stairs themselves. To one side of the stairs was my slide. It was the wooden roof of the priest hole. From about three until I turned nine or ten I loved to slide down it. Anyway, back to how Rex found me. I think I was about four or five at the time, I can’t be certain as it was such a long time ago now. I had been playing with some of my Dinky toys on the landing at the top of the stairs. It was while running them across the landing that one of them hit the skirting board in a particular place.

Before me was a partial opening in the old house’s internal wall. You guessed it, I just had to explore. So in I went. Unfortunately for me the door shut behind me, leaving me in the dark somewhere behind and below the stairs. Once again Rex, mum and dad soon missed me. According to dad, Rex spent ages going up and down the stairs, in and out of my bedroom looking for me. Then he started sniffing at the hidden door, scratching at the skirting board until he managed to open it, much to my parent’s great surprise. According to mum, when dad squeezed himself inside he found me at the bottom fast asleep. Even the farm’s owner Mrs Mather knew nothing of the priest-hole when dad told her about it! Thank goodness for barbed wire and Rex’s nose!!!

PS – Rex and I went everywhere together on the farm for several years before he sadly died long before his time after contracting distemper. Every young child needs a four-legged best friend and protector like I had way back then…

😉

The absolute terror of my early childhood

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One of my earliest memories is of dreading bedtime every night when I was a small child of two or three. I should explain that back then we lived in a four hundred year old Flemish farmhouse, which is still on the farm to this day. I know because one of the first things I did when I came back to Beccles was to cross town to walk the mile and a quarter from the town sign to touch the southern wall of the house I called home back then.

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Its only heating was from the ancient coal-fired range in the kitchen and the heavily sooted open fireplace in the living room. While it had electricity and running water, we all used to wash ourselves in a tin bath in front of the fire. As for the toilet it was a soil closet which dad used to empty every couple of days, digging its contents into the vegetable garden. Which probably accounts for my abhorrence of vegetables to this day! When the wind blew the old house positively creaked and groaned like an old sailing ship as its ancient whitewashed rammed earth walls and thatched roof were buffeted. The old place used to have a cellar back in the sixteenth century. Thank god it was filled with sand and sealed up otherwise I would probably have found my way down to it, never to be seen again!

The larger of the two windows of what used to be my bedroom is in the western wall, looking out onto the back garden. A much smaller one is high in the eastern wall above where my bed lay. It looks out on the farmyard from beneath the eaves. But it was far too high for me to climb up to back then. My bed’s headboard was closest to the door in the southern internal wall at the top of the stairs, directly opposite the priest hole. But that’s a story for another time. 😉

For me bedtime was always at seven-thirty pm, after listening to a comedy program like Hancock’s Half Hour, The Goons or Take It From Here on the radio. Then it was the climb up the stairs to bed, dreading what I knew was to come.

After mum had tucked me into bed and closed the door, I lay on my preferred side, my left. This meant that until my eyes closed I was looking across the bedroom directly at the western window. While I was still fully awake there was no problem. But when I started to drift off, sooner or later my terror would begin. To my mind the window grew in size. The more it grew, the louder I screamed.

For many months my parents took it in turns to try to comfort me when I screamed at the top of my voice, by turning me over onto my right side facing the wall. Or by holding me while reading a story in the vain hope of my falling asleep. But it was all to no avail.

Then one night the problem was solved. As usual within a few minutes of being tucked up in bed, the window began to grow in size and I began to scream. On hearing me, both mum and dad burst into the room just as a heavy truck passed by the house. Every time this happened the old house shook because it was built directly on oak floor beams set in troughs on the ground, just as Anglo-Saxon houses had been, thousands of years earlier. Combine the house shaking with the fact that because of its great age, its internal upper storey floor beams had warped, meant that whenever a heavy vehicle passed close to the thick southern wall, my bed slid gently downhill on the bare oak floorboards towards the western window.

After dad had stuck wedges under the bed’s legs to counter the problem, I slept the sleep of the innocent from then on, until my tenth year when we said goodbye to the farm and emigrated to another farm in New Zealand.

I’ve often wondered why my parents didn’t make the connection earlier between the nightly passing of an HGV and my bed being vibrated across the floor, making the window appear to grow, scaring the living daylights out of me?

🙂

 

 

Remembering a childhood friend and protector

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Back in the early nineteen-fifties, I was a small boy living on a mixed arable farm a mile to the west of the town where I live here in Suffolk. My father was the farm foreman. World War II ended three years before I was born, and yet rationing and the Home Guard was still in existence. The brick-clad place I now call home was originally one of the wooden prefabs built at the end of the war, used to house the POW’s here in Beccles while they were working on local farms.

Besides growing wheat, barley, oats and sugar beet, plus several varieties of apples, the farm had a thousand pigs, bred for bacon. Dad had hired a short tempered Belgian former Foreign Legionnaire to look after the latter.

Besides the two local lads who cycled the mile from Beccles each day to work on the farm, there were Italian POW’s.

There was one other foreign farm worker – a white Russian Cossack. Every man on the farm was loath to approach him. In short he terrified them. But not me and the pigman’s kids. Every day mum sent us out to the fields with the worker’s lunch. Young kids have a knack of knowing who to trust when it comes to adults. We loved our big Russian Bear, and he was always happy to see us. Whenever we were in his company we knew we were safe, especially if we’d done something to anger our fathers. When I was four years old, after I had been given a severe walloping for some minor infraction of dad’s rules, I told him with an air of indignation that if he ever beat me again I’d tell my big Russian friend. Needless to say it never happened again. To this day I still don’t know what made dad stop…

For years I had a small keepsake from him. He had carved several small representations of our village church out of a piece of apple wood with his knife, which he gave to me and the other kids when it was time for him to go. I mislaid it several years back in one of my trips back and forth between the UK and New Zealand.

While we could not speak Russian and he could not speak English, it made no difference, we understood and cared for each other.

Until I read Nikolai Tolstoy’s book Victims of Yalta years later, I had no idea what had happened to the Cossacks like him who fought against the Communists on Germany’s side in World War II.

To this day I still don’t know whether or not he survived the purges carried out by the murderous NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, once the Cossacks were forcibly repatriated beyond what was the Iron Curtain as per an agreement by the then British government to appease Stalin. I will never ever forget him for as long as I live. Paticularly those wonderful moments when he burst into song in his rich base baritone voice, often with a tear in his eye, as we kids sat with him completely spellbound…

Пока мы не встретимся снова 
(until we meet again tovarich)

😉

 

Bravo Joanne

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On BBC television, thanks to J.K Rowling, we have another brilliant private detective – Cormoran Strike. I have just finished watching the two part second story – Silkworm. This time Rowling delves into the often bitchy, certainly murky world of publishing, here in the UK.

While unpublished writers and the general public will think it’s just another fictional scenario. In actual fact Rowling has hit the nail on the head! Everything she reveals about the literary world in Silkworm is painfully true as most published authors will privately acknowledge.

UK publishing is full of narcissists, failed writers turned literary agents and editors, not forgetting the greedy publishers they work for as gate keepers. All of them have an inflated opinion of themselves and their position in society, thanks to their massive egos, combined with an air of superiority and an almost pathological hatred of all wannabe writers!

I enjoyed the first story she came up with. In this instance as a published author, I can tell you that everything she alludes to in Silkworm rings true. At one time or another as a writer you will try to get your manuscript seen, first by a literary agent. Then hopefully by a chief editor prepared to consider your work for publishing.

I recommend ‘Silkworm’ as compulsory viewing to all writers and potential writers worldwide, published or not. In the US it will probably be found on PBS. For writers in the UK click on the link below:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b095blsk

I take my hat off to her for finding a way to make public the UK literary world as it really is. Had she ever dared to say anything publically, she would now be persona non grata, just like the rest of us who now inhabit the self-publishing world.

Bravo Joanne…

😉 x

 

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