Tag Archives: author choices

What am I doing here?

Do you ever have the feeling you’ve slipped into a different version of the universe by mistake? Sometime I feel as if I’m living another MTM’s life where the basic essentials are the same but some of the bits around the edges are… not what I thought. I can’t quite explain this but it’s usually at times when I look at the zeitgeist around me and then at what I do and think… ‘ah.’

This cropped up in two respects this week. First, because as a fairly avid reader of Chuck Wendig’s blog (you really should check it out) I read his post about 10 books that had stayed with him and took up his invitation, at the end, to list the ten books that stayed with me. You can check out the post and read everyone’s comments (including  mine) here. What interested me was that the books that had stayed with people were all pretty heavyweight, barring one person, who, like I did, listed Green Eggs and Ham. But basically, the mood is academic. And serious. And then I turn up.

Here are ten of the books that have had the biggest effect on me:

THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, CS Lewis. My parents read all the Narnia books to me and my brother as kids. I thought all books were like that. I didn’t realise there was a special pariah genre for them all.

FAIR STOOD THE WIND FOR FRANCE H E Bates. H E Bates can describe a summers day and just put you right there. This is just a wonderfully uplifting story and I loved it.

THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST Frederick Mayerat. Another fantastic book which my parents read to me as a kid. It has people with big hats and swords in it. What more could you want?

A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE, Stanley Weyman. More hats and swords, in France this time.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS Alexander Dumas. Cracking historical novel. More Swords and big hats, with the odd heaving bosom thrown in for good measure.

THE ASTERIX BOOKS by Goschinny and Uderzo. Yes. All of them. I first read them when I was about five. After that, each year I grew I got more of the jokes. Multi-layered masterful humour. And silly names.

THE HITCH HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY Douglas Adams. Because that’s how you do brainy comedy.

GREEN EGGS AND HAM Dr Seuss. The world of Dr Seuss – particularly Tweetle beetles from Fox in Sox has me completely hooked. That’s where my own fantasy world building started. With the weirder offerings of Dr Deuss. But I like green eggs and ham best.

WYRD SISTERS and THE NIGHT WATCH by Terry Pratchett. Because Terry writes the most fantastic stuff and I love it.

ABOUT A BOY Nick Hornby. Poignant, intelligent and laugh out loud funny.

A SPOT OF BOTHER, Mark Haddon. Ditto.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Bill Bryson. Bryson makes a history funny. It’s densely written. You can’t read too much at a time because it’s the literary equivalent of an enormous cream cake. Little and often is the way to read this. But it is absolutely fab. Actually, anything Bryson writes is a scream.

Looking at it now, I missed out, PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING BY GRAHAM GREENE (whose name I can’t remember how to spell) and PRACTICALLY EVERYTHING BY OSCAR WILDE. If I could write one piece of work like The Importance of Being Earnest I would consider my work as an author done.

Looking at my list compared to the books on the others it struck me how very out of step with the popular zeitgeist I am. Lots very serious books by people like Melville, Poe, Atwood, Hosseni… A fair bit of GRRM, CS Lewis, Herbert and King. Nobody mentioned Pratchett as far as I recall although I think someone mentioned Douglas Adams.

Find a forum about books and the authors everyone bangs on about seem to be the likes of Steinback, Hemingway, Poe, King, Herbert, Melville, Hemingway, GRRM….  American authors. Always American. No-one mentions HE Bates, no-one mentions Greene. Perhaps, most Americans – and we have to face it, the English speaking internet has a very strong US bias even though there are more of us, from other nations, than them – haven’t heard of Bates or Greene, or other greats like George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde or Sir John Betjamin, just as I haven’t read Steinback or Melville (yet). But going back to the blog post, the onus of that set of comments does seem to be on cutting edge, horror or high brow.

It made me realise how inept I am at trying to be edgy.

It also highlighted the career decision that lies ahead of me now; heart or head. Let me explain. I started out with a budget that would cover six books. But due to the requirement to edit K’Barthan 1 again and again and the need for a proof edit after the copy edit I’ve blown that budget on four books. I thought six was a good buffer but to be honest I expected to earn enough to produce a low budget book once I’d published two or three. I’ve published four and that may yet happen. It may but it’s not looking too hopeful.

So what now?

The K’Barthan Series was completely self indulgent. I wrote exactly what I wanted to write, and I wrote it with a passion. In an ideal world that’s what I’ll do. But I’m beginning to realise that K’Barth is quite… out there. But… in the wrong way. It’s up front but not edgy enough, it’s weird but not scary enough. It’s not normal. It’s a book syndrome. It’s a bit socially lumpy.

Mwahahahahargh! I’ve produced the literary equivalent of myself!

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Then I swing back the other way and convince myself it’s fine. Comfort myself with stories of people like Anne Magill, who studied fine art at Liverpool and then went to London (St Martin’s) where she met solid resistance from her tutors to her style. She stayed true to it, though, and is now a hugely successful painter selling works to people like Russell Crowe.

Nice.

She says (Anne Magill, I mean):

“I ended up going into commercial design because figurative traditional work was frowned upon,” but, she added, “If I’m damned I’m damned. I can only do what’s in my head.”

She followed her heart and now she’s doing OK.

Then there’s Kate Bush. Look at the pop scene in the late 1970s and early 80s. You’ve got punk, two tone, mods doing the usual do and then the odd M.O.R. hangover from the disco era. Where in the name of all that’s holy to you put our Kate Bush among all that? Her output is completely crazy, it’s quirky, her voice is weird, her choices of subject for her songs is esoteric, at best, and at worst barking loola. But people liked it anyway because it’s so honest and genuine, oh and it’s also good.

That’s what I want. For my stuff to be honest and genuine and good. And for me to be right in believing.

But am I? Or am I just being a self-indulgent, jumped-up twat? Someone called me a hack in a review the other day. It was oblique, as in ‘hack habits’ but it smarted. A lot. And the worst thing. It’s probably true.

When I wrote the K’Barthan Series, I wanted to show myself and all the naysayers that I can write like this and succeed. I reasoned that, if I liked it, other people would. And some do. And I am beyond grateful to each and every one of you who has bought it, read it, reviewed it. But it is a hard sell. And I’m realising that all the publishing people who said the names were stupid, the plot too involved, the level of intellect I assumed for my readers too high… I’m realising that unfortunately, if I want to make enough money to pay for another book, they might be right.

That’s probably why the big self publishing sites like Big Al’s Books and Pals and Bookbub won’t touch Few Are Chosen. Because when it comes down to it, even in self published author land, the big fish want the same commercial criteria that publishers want. And it’s all very well trying to prove something actually does work, but for that to happen, readers have to know it’s there. And it’s almost impossible to get it in front of them. Except off line, in the real world, where you need stock that costs money I don’t have. It’s a bit chicken and egg to be honest.

So the nub of it all is that I’m suffering a bit of a conundrum as to what I should write next.

Because I want to write stuff that is honest and true, that is me on paper, which means more stuff like the K’Barthan Series. But if I’m going to write more K’Barthan style madness, I need to do something alongside that sells, to fund it. Or something that will, at least, be mainstream enough for the big indie sites, with thousands of followers, to risk actually putting it in front of them. That’s tricky, because I wouldn’t know what commercial was if it stood up and smacked me in the face with a haddock. Universal appeal, yeh, I can do that, but nobody wants that, it makes selling the books too difficult. They want the next big thing. Before it happens. They want stuff that sells. And I don’t know what that is.

Oh dear.

So it’s back to the brick wall. That’s right, the one I was hoping I could sidestep by self publishing my books and proving to the world… yada, yada, yada.

Because my stuff didn’t fit with publishers, but it doesn’t fit in with the indie gatekeepers either – except for Awesome Indies, who I, therefore, think are awesome.

So here’s my three step plan:

STEP 1: Find out what, exactly, is ‘wrong’ with the K’Barthan Series, somehow. I.E. find out why a publisher would say ‘no’ so I can avoid making the same mistakes in the next book.

STEP 2: Applying what I’ve learned, I need to write the most commercial novel of which I am capable and use it to fund any subsequent pieces of unmarketable whimsy.

STEP 3: Stick £10 a month away in my building society account. For all my hand-to-mouthness (yes I know, I spent everything I had on a car. It’s definitely my fault) I won’t notice it’s gone. I have discalculia, for heaven’s sake! And in a year’s time, when I’ve written my next book, there might be enough cash to publish it at the usual loss and eventually there might be so many books that the sales income they generate can fund another one, anyway.

STEP 4: Write some shorts and experiment with putting 20,000 novellas into things like KDP Select on a rolling basis, which, hopefully, will introduce my work to a whole new bunch of readers who have no access to it now, and who will buy all my other books (and then music will play and there’ll be smeary shots of me dancing, crying with joy, through falling rose petals-) Sorry. Got a bit carried away there.

Held in reserve, steps 5 and 6.

STEP 5: Find a publisher who will make me rewrite and rewrite and rewrite my next piece of unmarketable whimsy until, together, we turn it into something marketable. This is a hugely unappealing prospect because I can’t imagine a publisher thinking any differently about my books from the agents and the big hitter review sites. Which means thousands of pounds on postage and years and years of being told, politely, to fuck off and trying to put a positive spin on it. But I might manage it, and if I do, it will open many closed doors, and I’ll learn a huge amount.

STEP 6: Crowd fund the next book? Eeesh. I guess there’s Unbound, but do I have the time or charisma to undertake the social media activity required to drum up… well any votes? Let alone enough for them to publish a book.

Which brings me back round in a circle to the question ‘how do I make my work commercially viable?’ The biggest problem I face lies my answer to that question: ‘I like it the way it is.’

So that’s the nub of it. Do I attempt to be the Kate Bush of writing and try to make it on my own? Only with rather less talent and no help in the offing from any literary equivalent of David Gilmour. Do I keep on struggling and hope that somehow, one day, my work stands up? That I can find a way to walk the line between being true to myself and bang on the money. Or do I try to sing something more mainstream, in a slightly less squeaky voice, about a bog standard subject to see if the Polydors of the writing world will accept it?

Very tricky question. And one to which, right now, I have no answer.

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What makes a good bad guy?

Recently, as my thoughts turn to planning a new book, I’ve been wondering what makes a good baddie? If you see what I mean.

In my current w.i.p. the baddie is a politician, and I suspect, he will be not so much evil as morally bankrupt. To make things right, our hero will have to manipulate things so that the politician, in getting what he wants, will unwittingly deliver justice for the goodies of the book. In so far as there are any. A bit more like real life then, even if it’s set in space.

But I do want my villain to be bad. And while you can fiddle with the circumstances and the dynamics; on their own, they don’t always make the actual being evil. So I’m trying to work out if I want my latest bad guy to be greedy and selfish and incidentally evil or whether I want to go for a full on supervillian: a being who is intelligent, pointy-brained, and who plans (and revels in) his malevolence. The first is more real, the second an absolute gas to write and great fun to hate.

To get my head around concepts and ideas of ‘evil’ versus ‘bad’ or just ‘greedy’ I have turned to current affairs. I find current affairs intensely distressing if I look them directly in the face. Even so, they seem to be even worse than usual right now. There’s nothing like a bit of economic trouble to bring out the hatred in all of us it seems.

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Here we are in a modern and supposedly enlightened world and the various peoples of The Book are still trying to kill one another with gusto – and anything else that comes to hand.

We have an organisation of people pretending to be Muslims who believe half the population is shameful and valueless. It’s better to be a goat than a woman under the Taliban. After all, even their livestock can roam freely to find food. But if the male folk in a woman’s family die, the honourable thing for her to do is stay at home and starve to death rather than go out into the world unchaperoned to buy supplies. Yes that’s how much a woman is worth to them. Nothing. Because having kids and periods makes us unclean – Lord above if ever there was a bit of biblical health and safety advice that went big time wrong it’s that bit – oh and we don’t have a cock to think with, which makes us bad. And heaven help us, the Taliban seem quite moderate compared to ISIL, the Islamic State.

And then you get Israel which has had it’s foot on Palestine’s neck for years and just. Won’t. Lift. Off.  I wouldn’t pretend to be able to fathom Middle Eastern politics, there is no knowing Who Started It because the fighting there began at the dawn of time. I’ve read enough of the The Book – Old Testament/Torah/Koran – to appreciate that. But historically, countries like Britain, America and Russia have exacerbated the problems in an already volatile area for their own gain; fanning the flames of enmity, promising everyone what they wanted and delivering it to no-one: for years. And in return we get ISIL, the Islamic State. I guess it kind of serves us right.

Then… enter the ‘Christian Right’ and holy smoke, there’s an oxymoron if ever there was one – who vilify women and single mothers, not to mention the poor. They justify the hatred-filled crap they spew as the word of God when all it’s about is power and more money for them. I thought god was supposed to be a loving father – you know, ‘love they neighbour as thyself’ and all that – not a psychopathic, vengeful shit-head. Maybe I’m wrong. It would be funny if there wasn’t an actual, realistic chance of these people gaining power in America, a country which looks, from the outside, as if the political choice is between rabidly conservative and a few steps to the right of Atilla the Hun.

And when I turn on the news and see the latest venom-filled cleric screaming spittle-flecked hatred in the name of whichever version of God they purport to believe in, I confess I feel contempt. Contempt for someone who uses their intelligence, or presence, or social standing to persuade others to maltreat people in the name of a supposedly loving god. And contempt for the brainwashed sheep who follow them.

Which is where it all starts, of course.

The minute we stop seeing extremists as human beings, we become like them. Because that’s what they’re doing to us. That’s how they can justify massacring whole towns, that’s how they can justify institutional peadophelia – selling 12 year old girls into sexual slavery because they dare to get an education: learn to read, learn to think, is peadophelia in my book. No wonder extremism is so attractive to every tinpot fuckwit with a Kalishnikov. What better excuse for violence, bullying and sexual depravity than ‘god told me to do it’? Even if it’s patently, bollocks. I really feel for the world’s quiet, moderate people of faith, who have to put up with people thinking that nutters like the Islamic State and the Christian ‘Right’ represent religion.

What the angry rationalists fail to realise is that using religion to manipulate people is a completely different from having an actual faith. I suppose that’s what a lot of the K’Barthan Series is about: that just because the extremists are in power, it doesn’t mean everyone is one. Even so, it seems that nothing is more guaranteed to make you despise and kill your neighbour than a jolly good argument as to whose philosophy you should employ to go about loving him. Weird isn’t it?

You know, I wanted to make my villain female in this next book – think Servalan out of Blake’s 7 – but, in light of the state of world affairs, I really don’t think I can. There’s enough hatred directed at us women without my making one of us a love-to-hate baddie. The saddest thing is that every time I make stuff up, on the grounds that it’s chillingly evil, I find someone, somewhere, is already doing it.

Servalan: Scary baddie from Blake’s 7 Image: from http://jasonnahrung.wordpress.com

Stepping off the soap box and dragging this back to the point, apart from depressing me profoundly what does the state of world affairs have to do with writing credible bad guys?

In a nutshell, because what current affairs show us is that contempt is the key. A good look at history is an excellent place to start if you want to analyse the subtleties of evil. All you need to do then is give your baddie a healthy dose of idealism at the expense of any practical consideration whatsoever. He doesn’t have to be all-other-beings-are-inferior-my-pawns-to-be-used-and-discarded, supervillain bad. All he has to do is believe, passionately that the ends justifies the means and forget that the populations of the nations he is playing with are actual real humans. There are many faces of evil and often one begets another. So you can have some seriously bad karma starting off with deeds done with good intent.

Hmm… for all his supercilious air I think I prefer the supervillain like Lord Vernon. At least he’s honest.

So, what are your thoughts folks? Who’s the baddest of the bad? Love-to-hate superbaddie or vainglorious politician. More to the point, which one do you most like to see in books?

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I am now, officially hybrid… I think.

That’s right I run on oil AND gas. Sorry, no. What I mean is that the good folks at a small publisher have accepted a short story from me for an anthology. In the process of this they have sent me a publishing contract to sign and there is talk of a small remuneration, depending on sales volume. I think that does officially make me, in the proper sense of the word; with publication pending.

Which brings me neatly onto the other thing. I was looking at Chuck Wendig’s excellent blog today and he was talking about keeping your writing true. Writing who you are rather than what you think people will want. It’s a fantastic post, link to come. The gist is that you can only write for yourself, from your heart because if you write to please anyone else or to follow a trend your writing can lose its conviction. I particularly liked his take on that. Writing a book about something because everyone else has achieved success with it is like being a dog chasing a car.

‘Don’t be the dog, be the car.’

But that made me think because the biggest reason I’m self published is because I write stuff that isn’t really mainstream. I believe it has mainstream appeal but only on an incremental basis with lots of time for people to get used to the idea. And I don’t believe any publisher will take a punt on it until it’s already successful.

That’s not to say I don’t experiment with writing different stuff. My accepted story at Awesome Indies Publishing is one such. And this writing what you, yourself, would like thing, I really have no choice.

Any M T attempt at erotica would be the literary equivalent of this. Thank you http://2makeyoulaugh.blogspot.co.uk

Can I just go off on a tangent here for a minute? Do you ever wonder what writing is like for authors in other genres? I mean, say you write erotica. If you write decent erotica, presumably it turns you on – I mean, that’s what erotica is supposed to do, right? So what do you do about being in a permanent state of arousal, I mean, does it cloud your judgement? Do you end up needing a cold shower to view your work objectively. Or, when you’ve finished a scene do you just have a quick wank, while the cat looks on disapprovingly, and then move onto the next one? It’s not a question that’ll be troubling me. I quite like reading good erotica from time to time, so I did try writing it once. It was one of the funniest things I have ever written but, unfortunately, in absolutely the wrong way.

So for the moment, I’ll carry on writing Bond meets Adams (but without the spies) and see what happens.

Right now, I see what I’m doing as positioning12052012068.

It’s as if I’m leaving my stuff, with artful, care on the bank of the mainstream. To start with there’s just one corner in the water. I imagine the paper waving about in the passing current but each papery wave represents a minuscule tug towards the water. Slowly but surely (I hope) the current pulls it down the bank, tiny, tiny nth of an inch at a time. There’ll be more of it floating in the water now, semi submerged, gently slipping further out into the stream as the current draws it in. Then, it’ll be hanging there for a few seconds, with nothing more than a fraction of the corner stuck to the side until… oops yes it’s floating away and everyone’s a bit surprised because although it’s waterlogged and moving a bit slowly, and shouldn’t really be there, it hasn’t sunk.

Er yeh… That’s the way I see my books inveigling themselves into popular culture. But no-one is going to risk picking up my work and chucking it in until at least some of it has been proved to float on its own. So getting the mini-est publishing deal feels as if well… it’s probably not sliding down the bank yet but maybe a couple more pages have gone in.

Sure, one answer to this question might be to write something that has broader appeal. Perhaps one day I’ll manage it. But if I want to write with conviction I have to write what I write. I know there are many multi-genre authors who would regard that as unprofessional of me, so it is a huge relief to find the particular approach I use endorsed by Mr Wendig. You can find his post, which really puts it very well, here.

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Hybrid. Not just for cars.

This post, on Chuck Wendig’s blog, got me thinking today. (BTW I can thoroughly recommend Chuck Wendig’s blog, unless you’re sensitive to swearing but then, if you’re sensitive to swearing I doubt you’ll be here either).

He was talking about hybrid authors. That is, those of us who self publish their work and also have a trad deal. Apparently, these folk earn more.

You know what. I’m not surprised at that.

Frankly, I would kill for a trad deal, so I could do both. Unfortunately it’s never going to happen. I used to have a reasonably high end business job, and I know how business works. I’m a really crap proposition. It won’t always be that way, but right now it is. A stay at home mum who takes two years to write each book. Even if I managed to pen a query letter covered with just the right amount of fairy dust and unicorn pooh to score that magic read (yes even with an ‘in’ I failed to the point where they sent me a letter back with comments that showed, quite clearly that one of the readers hadn’t even read the book). Even if an agent or a publisher, absolutely loved my stuff, there would be somebody who could churn out a book every 6 months, whose work they loved just as much, who’d get the deal. Geesh! I mean seriously, I wouldn’t touch me with a barge pole, so I don’t expect them to.

If I want trad, I’ve got to have a ‘proven track record’ – ugh I loathe and detest that phrase – and to get one of those, I’ve got to make it the hard way; as a self published author.

However, at least with self publishing, I do have the option to get my books out there and, possibly, succeed. It will be much harder – although not as hard as getting someone to read my query letter – and if I do succeed it will happen in slow motion. But the opportunity IS there.

This is what I love about self publishing.

What I hate is that anyone would bung their first attempt at a novel out there unedited, unrested, without thought. It absolutely amazes me – and gets me into a bit of a frothy mouthed rage, to be honest – because they’ve turned the only route to market for many of us into a slush pile that no-one will touch.

Thanks you bunch of complete and utter bastards.

The K’Barthan Trilogy (actually it’s four books so I’ll have to call it something else, ideas on a post card please) took me 25 years to write.  That’s if I count them from the first attempt. Although I admit I’ve done the donkey work in the last few, between 2008 and now. A lot of people, who would probably enjoy it will never will never find out about it, and others will never touch it because I’ve committed the terrible sin of publishing it myself.

Whatever people say, the prejudice has not gone away, with good reason (cf the complete and utter bastards mentioned above).

That is pretty galling.

Which brings me neatly onto hybrids and why I think they do better.

They’ve sidestepped the prejudice.

Those who ‘don’t read self published books’ will read the self published work of a traditional published author. They’ll pick up that author’s work in the first place. Those book shops who ‘don’t stock self published books’ will stock the self published work of someone with a trad record. It really is all about the brand. It’s the same road; getting to the point where there are enough people out there who trust you to write a good book, who will be confident giving them to their friends to read.

Hybrid is win-win. Hybrid authors have the endorsement of the establishment, they have fans from the normal off line world and they bring them with them. Those fans give the author the momentum to get their books up the listing past the glass ceiling of other authors, amazon book police and jaded, indie author loathing forumites, into the light where the ‘normals’ who are just looking for a book to read, see them. Their trad pub background gives them the golden key onto the review sites and into magazines that ‘won’t accept self published work’ but will from someone with a trad pub background. It’s definitely where I want to be.

In short, the way I see it is this.

If you’re a hybrid, you get to keep the cash and sell without the prejudice.
If you’re trad published you get to sell without the prejudice but there’s less cash to keep.
If you self publish you get to keep the cash but you earn less because until you’re seriously established, everyone you approach will assume that your work is sub standard, poorly edited crap.

It’s a conundrum. Hmm… would knowing what I look like help?

Well, you asked...
See how trustworthy I am.

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Why Slow is Good for E-Publishing

As the length of time between releases deepens I always begin to get twitchy. As I face the fact that K’Barthan 3 will not be out for Christmas, indeed, is unlikely to be out by Christmas NEXT year, I am close to a major freak.

Reading this and the reblogged post it contained made me feel better. Hats off to Mr Vernon for sharing some heartening stats and some sage advice. I may put the brakes on and start writing other stuff alongside my big stuff. Because I’m not really a one trick pony, which is one of the things that is making it so hard.

Why Slow is Good for E-Publishing.

And on the back of that, this one, too…. Bottom-Dwelling E-book Authors RISE UP!!!.  Oh how I aspire to sales like Frank’s.

So at last I’ve got the message. And the message is: chill. Quite easy that, today, here. It’s brass monkey’s.*

Sorry everyone, but One Man: No Plan is not going to happen in a hurry. But that’s because I want it to be good. And I’m sure both of you (and the dog) would rather wait and read something that’s the best thing I can write, rather than the quickest.

Yeh, I’ve just binned an entire plotline: 50,000 words, which is what I mean about it taking a while. Phnark.

Onwards and upwards.

 

* Yeh, I know, it looks odd but that apostrophe is right because the full phrase is cold enough to freeze a brass monkey’s balls off.

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Women writing sci-fi? Disgraceful!

OK, a controversial one today. I’m going to talk about Mad Americans.

Sorry my American friends but when your compatriots turn barking they really go for it, you guys do mad better than any nation on earth. Not even we British can touch you. And that’s saying something.

Have you heard the latest? Science Fiction Writers of America, an organisation which, by all accounts, makes… well… even Republicans look open-minded has been in the news this week. Some of its members have expressed a view that women shouldn’t write sci-fi. This is, apparently, because they think that too many of the Sci-fi novels written by women have – gasp – romance in them! Mwah ha hahargh. I do ‘get’ that, I loathe and detest sparkly vampires but they’re just a trend, a fad and they’ll go away. They’re not caused by women! However, members of the SFWA are putting forward women sce-fi writers as the reason for this. Are you hearing a teeny bit of Sheldon Cooper on this one? Are you?

So, that’s the basic gist. Because of a passing trend for intergalactic bonk busters and the odd instance of characters falling in love in recent sci-fi, the SFWA has decided this:

Women authors = too much coitus. Phnark.

Well, they didn’t decide the ‘phnark’ bit I said that.

Well of course! That’s it, it’s our fault because we all know that Sci-fi, like D.I.Y. is serious hard-core man work that should not be attempted by women. Snortle!

Well, I got most of my info from Cora Buhlert’s excellent blog here. One of the articles she links to is a cracker here. I can recommend checking this site, it features sci-fi stories from around the world, properly around the world. It’s interesting, definitely worth a look.

To be honest, would anyone outside the United States see SFWA as the flagship organisation of the sci-fi genre? In Britain, perhaps, although I wouldn’t but then, I think that the ‘special relationship’ was made up by Winston Churchill to salvage some semblance of dignity after Yalta. History is always skewed by the perspective of those who write it; he wrote it, after everyone else was dead. But other English speakers/readers? I don’t know. The SFWA speaks for Americans, which is great but that’s not the English-speaking planet. From outside the US we foreigners can get the impression that, to an awful lot of Americans, their country IS the world which is fine so long as they don’t treat us as if, by being beyond their receptive parameters, we have no right to exist.

However, the thing that strikes me most forcefully about all of this is that if the SFWA wasn’t an American organisation, there probably wouldn’t even be a debate raging at all. How can a country be so forward and yet so backward at the same time? How do the nutter Americans get so het up and more to the point make so much noise? Zero tolerance or what? Some parts of the States must be stifling to live in. Check this! Mwah ha ha hargh, it’s absolutely hilarious but the sad thing is, it’s real. Do they not see the comedy in what they’re saying? Who stole their sense of humour, their sense of fair play? Then again, I’m British when we go to ‘protest’ on racial or religious grounds this happens http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/may/27/york-mosque-protest-tea-biscuits

See? Muslims aren’t bad people even if some bad people happen to be Musilms.

Sorry, tangent there. What I’m saying is that more and more people are learning to speak English every day. Right now the US represents just under half the English speakers on this planet – but that’s in countries where English is the national language, totted up by me looking at the population figures. It doesn’t count the people in other nations, where English is not the national language, but lots of people speak and read it. So the US is the noisiest market and it’s the biggest single market but it probably represents a lot less than half the population reading in English.

This also raises a broader question: What choice for a non American sci-fi author? You can address the US market, but it’s pretty conservative so you need to tailor your books specifically and then they may not fit so well elsewhere. You may well need to spell your book in American, write about American people and use American settings. If you’re writing sci-fi your protagonists, if they originate from Earth, will have to be very American in their outlook and culture, no-one will ever be allowed to wear a jumper or a jersey, the word will always have to be ‘sweater’. No-one will be allowed to use the interesting swear words because the Americans only know two; all in all, a bit dull.

Alternatively, you can write in your own voice, accept that the scary Americans won’t listen – but do you want them to anyway – welcome those who do, and speak to the other English-speakers of the world; Africa, Australasia and Eurasia. Places where there are millions of people who are willing and far more readily able to enjoy a story written from a differing cultural viewpoint. People who see English as a global language so understand that a faucet and a tap are the same thing. Also, BONUS, these are emerging economies where people have money to spend on books, unlike the US whose economy looks, from the outside, as if it’s almost as far down the lavatory (or the John) as ours.

I loved the quote from the South African writer along the lines of why would I join the Science Fiction Writers of America, it has nothing to do with me? Do you think the worm might finally be turning? It really is time organisations like the SFWA and more broadly, certain sectors of the US began to try and understand other cultures  – and more importantly were educated to do so – the way we understand theirs.

Could it be that, if the SFWA becomes more of an anachronism, and remains US-centric, it will come to realise that it is only the representative organisation of bigoted, male American sci-fi writers? It could be a world player but not without a change of attitude. Otherwise, it will be marginalised as the rest of us get bored of doing everything a certain way ‘so the Americans can understand it’ and another more outward-looking, inclusive organisation will step up and become the world ‘voice’ of the genre.

Homework: Read that ‘vox popoli’ post again and try and list the differences in attitude between that and the comedy skit shown below.

Answer: There are no differences.

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Note to self: Must buy fairy dust.

A slightly dodgy post tonight because my life is officially like pushing a rock up hill. I’m not sure what’s going on but the chaos gremlins won’t leave me alone… and I seem to be waiting… for everything. (sings, ‘the waiting is the hardest part… one more day sees one more yard’)

For example, I decided to put a thing on my bike and McMini’s bike that means the two are attached like a tag along.

In the whole container there was only one screw that was bespoke, that I couldn’t have replaced if I’d lost it. So after I’d put the rest of the contraption onto both bikes, which screw did I discover was missing? That’s right. And to be honest, while I know how to do some fairly comprehensively mechanical stuff to an engine, I couldn’t for the life of me work it out. I gave up. McMini has decided he likes the seat anyway, so we’ll stick with it.

My car. No fascia. No dash, no petrol gauge. The 50 mile journey to the garage down a road bristling with speed cameras… interesting. The solution, discovered by the garage, disconnect the battery. Doh! Why didn’t I think of that? Then again, if I had, I’d have only broken the alarm.

Other areas of life… Flat.

I think it’s book sales that’s getting to me. They look terrible, going backwards, but the demographic is different so I’m clinging to the hope that when I finally come to do the figures, it’ll be the same numbers over a wider selection of platforms. If it is, that’s good, but I have to face the possibility that my books may just be bombing.

Writing the books? Well at the moment, I feel like I’m chasing a mirage, the more I write the further away the end seems to be. I would like to finish the K’Barthan trilogy before I die but I’m really beginning to wonder if it’s going to happen. Rolls eyes. Yes it’s taking that fucking long.

Actually, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a trilogy, I’m about a third into the last book and it’s already as long as the middle one but I think it best to finish it and see if there’s a neat point to halve it.

There are times, when I just have to accept that however ‘real’ writing feels to me I’m not really a ‘real’ author because the only thing I have the capacity to do full time is bring up my boy. Sometimes that’s quite hard, other times I wonder why it might possibly matter. At the moment it’s hard.

Different people have different commitments and also different capabilities – I really can’t write books unless I’m on my own in a quiet room. That does hamper me somewhat. I know other people who can sit to one side at a kid’s party and bash out a couple of chapters. I am in awe, and obviously, seething with professional envy. In any job you’re going to encounter this. There are going to be people who are more productive than you there are going to be people who succeed faster and you have to suck it up.

However, working within your limitations can be quite hard. I always knew my career was going to happen slowly but there are days when I wonder if it’s too slow. Is being an author like escaping the Earth’s gravitational field? Will it be impossible to escape the oceans of dross without rocket boosters? Will writing and producing books in slow motion render me a failure? Unless I achieve escape velocity will I be trapped here in the one sale a month club for eternity?  Only time will tell but very probably yes. Then there’s the really evil one. Am I deluded? Have I, actually, written two shit books? Is that why they are only read after prolonged begging… or at gun point?

OK, so we’ll put the maudlin, self-pity back in the box now and think about what can be learned. What are the lessons here? What have I learned that might be useful to anyone else? Hmm. Well it’s these things:

  1. Something that applies to pretty much any endeavour in life. Avoid looking at other people’s output except to learn positive things, like what works for them that might work for you, that kind of stuff. NEVER compare someone else’s output to yours. That way madness lies. Switch off the internet if you have to but don’t do it. Set your own targets. Make them realistic in the framework of your life and your abilities and then stick to them – if you can. Should you hit them feel glad and when other people produce six times as much stuff in half the time, chill. Yes you may not be achieving the standard norm but you’re achieving something and that’s better than nothing.
  2. Don’t worry about other people’s sales figures – yes I am a fool, I’ve been to kindleboards again and depressed myself reading the threads about how well everyone’s doing. There will always be people doing better than you and for many of us it will be most people. This is the way of the world, if you have less time, people who have more will write more books, faster and achieve success faster. Embarrassingly, people who are way smarter than you will use less time than you have more wisely and write their books faster.  Yes you will feel left behind. This is the harsh reality of life. Deal with it.
  3. Sometimes it will feel as if you are standing still and everyone is running past you and disappearing into the distance. Try not to think about it.
  4. Don’t start your writing career with a trilogy, or at least not unless you’re absolutely lulu. A series of stand alone books, yes, but a trilogy? No. Because a trilogy merely extends the first book angst for three books. That’s OK if you bash out a book every six months but if it takes you two years…? It’s been 16 years and counting. Mmm, I’m sure you get my point.
  5. Hard work begets success but unfortunately, so does luck and no amount of hard work will make up for that 1% of luck on top that puts you onto another level. This applies to anything. I’ve always had to make my own luck and to be honest, I’m piss poor at it! Phnark.
  6. Be patient; with your books and yourself. Yes Tom Petty was right, the waiting IS the hardest part. Aim to enjoy what you do and look upon anything else as gravy because however hard you work, the fairy dust may miss you.

So I reckon that’s some great advice, which I know and understand but seem to be pathologically unable to accept. Especially number 6. I think if I had the smallest modicum of patience, I wouldn’t be feeling quite so pessimistic. Or it could just be that it’s May and it’s sunny and although that’s absolutely lovely it does mean there’s a very high probability that it’s going to sodding tip it down for the rest of the year. If I’m not around so much it’ll be because I’m writing. I have to write because if I don’t finish my magnum opus this year, I fear I really will go crazy. After that it’s going to be short, commercially viable books. Oh yeh. No trilogies. Not ever, ever again.

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