Another Stupid Promo Thread

I’m too cowardly to put this one up on Amazon, I’ll admit. I had it all written out and then I just cancelled it. I’m not a glutton for punishment. I know how easily people can get offended over there and I figured it would be just too simple to take this wrongly and decide it was in bad taste. And then I’d have to point out I donated all proceeds to charity last month and was almost certainly going to do it again this month, and I’d end up talking myself into a corner and looking like even more of an idiot.

I’ve written it now though, and as I mentioned before – I’m a frugal bastard. So I’m going to put it up here in relative safety…

The title would have been “Please help the writers”:

Every day in the UK there’s a writer who gets no sales. For these poor souls, the endless hours linger on with nothing to break the monotony but the futile, compulsive checking of Amazon reports. Neil is one such writer. He was thirty six when he self-published his book and it went out into a world of hardship and indifference. Nobody cared. He craved the love and support that people like you could have helped provide.

But it’s not too late. For just seventy pence, you could help people like Neil. Help them put their lives back together and repair their shattered self-esteem.

Seventy pence is all it would take to buy a copy of Oblivious. For one pound forty you could ease further pain with a copy of The Haiku Diary too.

People like Neil hate asking for your money. They’re a proud group who are simply lost and confused in the chaos of the modern world. Please help them acclimatise. By working together we can reintegrate them into society, we can help them become productive members once more.

Whether it’s seventy pence, or one pound forty, or whatever you can give, you can make a difference. One click now on 0800-0b1iv0u5 and you can help give an ailing writer a chance at happiness.

Thank you.

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Pulp Idol and Interview

I’ve just received my heat notification for Pulp Idol. At sometime between 6.30 and 8.30 on 5th May I’ll have three minutes apparently to read from the first chapter of my novel to a panel of judges, and two minutes to answer any questions they want to throw at me. The submissions had to be single spaced, and even so my first chapter came in at six pages. I’ve just timed myself and in three minutes I can read page one and the first couple of sentences of page two. Hmmm. Obviously, everyone else will be in the same boat but I’m not sure I can sell the idea in that short a space of time. With five minutes I’d be able to read the full first section (which in reality is more of a prologue). With six minutes I’d be into the narrative proper and I might stand a better chance. Three minutes is just a bit too meagre I think…

Ah well, I wasn’t pinning much hope on it anyway. If I get the chance to tell the judges about Oblivious, it might lead to a sale from someone in the room I guess. At the very least it will give me some experience of reading to a room of people I don’t know. I’ve been reading each week in my writing group and have already become much more confident in doing that than I was at first. So we’ll see what happens. Some of the competitors may be really good too so I might manage to make some more local contacts. I just hope there is a Simon Cowell type judge who comes out with something completely random so I can turn it into an anecdote…

Also, I’ve done another interview on Iain Manson’s No-Hoper Blog. So you can see that by clicking on the Blog link. I was a bit more succinct in this one. But while you’re there, please do check out the rest of the Blog, it really is excellent.

My name’s Neil and I’m a manic depressive

You know, I’m really not. It’s fair to say I’m drawn to the more melancholic books and music and art, but I’m really not that depressed a person in general. Most of the people I’ve worked with will probably attest to the fact that I’m always on the look out for a bit of a laugh about something. My sense of humour might be a bit sarcastic at times, a bit cynical even, but I can pretty much see the funny side of almost anything. I laugh at myself constantly – retelling embarrassing things that have happened to me is one of my favourite pastimes. My daughter makes me laugh, and somehow I manage to make her laugh pretty much every day. I’m not a happy-go-lucky type of person, I do worry at things a little too much, but in general I do find life wryly amusing. And more than a bit absurd.

Why am I going on about this? Well, I thought I’d share some comments about Oblivious that have come my way recently:

“I found the stories a bit gloomy, but that might just be because I was tired.” Well, no, it wasn’t because this reader was tired, they ARE gloomy and bleak.

“You somehow make bleakness compelling.” Obviously I’m happy someone found them compelling, but there’s that word again…

Oblivious presents the bleakest picture of human life that I’ve seen outside the work of Samuel Beckett.” Wow, I’m absolutely thrilled to be mentioned in the same sentence as Beckett, although I’m obviously aware the work isn’t being compared to Beckett in terms of quality, just in perspective. Hey, if it had said “Schiller is the worst writer in the world, nothing at all like Beckett” I would have still milked it 😀

The truth is, I don’t know why what I write is so dark. I can’t even use the excuse that the stories were written during a tough period for me. I mean, some of them were, but a lot of them were written when my life was actually going swimmingly. I’d love to be able to say I was clever enough to formulise an approach, but I didn’t. I just sat down and tried to write about authentic characters (which I hope I’ve done – my biggest fear is someone telling me there is no authenticity there) and the way they came out is just the way they came out.

To prove the point about me being relatively well adjusted I’m going to focus in on the last line of the latest review I’ve gotten which compares me to Milhouse from The Simpsons. (I was happiest of all with this reference – I would have preferred Chief Wiggum maybe, but to have The Simpsons mentioned at all was a real bonus to me). Ok, so this is actually me as a Simpson’s character:

No, I wasn’t in the show. When the movie came out a few years back they had a character creator on the official website. So I created myself. (I also created a load of colleagues I worked with at the time).

I love The Simpsons. If there is a funnier, better observed, more satirical show about the insanity of cultural existence I haven’t found it yet.

Going back to Chief Wiggum, he has absolutely my favourite lines in the show. “I’m going to tell you what I tell everyone who walks in here – the law can’t help you”. Brilliant. Or when Homer throws a bomb (disguised as a cake) into a field where it explodes – “thank god it landed in that smoking crater”.

And here’s a joke I’ve been teaching my daughter – just because I think it’ll be funny coming from a four year old. A man walks into a flagshop and asks for a green union jack. The shopkeeper says “I’m sorry mate, we only do them in red, white and blue.” To which the man says “Oh, ok, I’ll have a red one then.”

See – I’m a laugh a minute…

And for no other reason beyond the fact that I still have this one (the rest got deleted at some point) this is my friend Bob as a Simpson’s character. You don’t know Bob, of course, but believe me when I say the likeness here is uncanny. He may have lost some weight since I did this character for him, but I’m pretty sure he still wears the same pink shirts he was so fond of…

Right, now I’m off to do some work and then probably write a few more paragraphs of bleach-drinking type prose later on tonight. I’m actually working on a comedy novel right now. I’ll leave you with the opening sentence.

“Tonight, it seems, is a good night to die.”

Ok, it isn’t a comedy…

Even Lazier

This is an even lazier post than my last one. I didn’t think it was possible. But in my defence, I’ve spent Easter running around after a 4 year old in a garden centre playground, at Gulliver’s World, in a family orientated pub/restaurant (and playground), and in a woodland with her three year old friend from nursery. I’m looking forward to being back at work for a break.

Anyway, I’ve gotten a review from The No-Hoper, aka Iain Manson, whose blog I follow regularly as it is very well researched and informed, and whose comments about Oblivious I’m especially pleased with as I know his standards are usually very high. (Why he dropped them for me I’m not entirely sure :D). You can see the review here in any case. And now I’m off to make a cup of tea as I’ve just taken the dogs for a walk and am now completely parched…

Lazy lazy lazy

This is probably the laziest post I’ll ever put up, but I’m in a crappy hotel in Newport, South Wales, and have just eaten a pretty terrible, but large, dinner in the pub next door. (If that steak was medium, then well done must literally come out with laces and a shoe shine kit).

Anyway, all I’m going to do tonight, before logging off and reading a book while the traffic whistles past on the A-Road, is put a link up to the interview I did with Maria Savva, another indie writer and reviewer at Book Pleasures. If you want to read me ramble on, it’s accessible here: interview. Actually, if you do read it and post a response you could be in with a chance of winning a paperback copy of Oblivious, with free postage and a black and white silhouette of me on the back and everything…

(And if you came here from the interview, you can click the link back and lose yourself in a never ending cycle, a virtual vortex of online navigation).

Good night, and good luck.

Throw Ed Reardon from the Train

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s books about writers. William Golding’s The Paper Men, Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson – my god, excrutiating stuff.

If there’s one thing I LOVE, however, it’s comedy about writers. I haven’t come across much, but what I have stumbled upon has been hilarious.

I used to have quite a big commute to work and I used to listen to Radio 4 on the way home so I could catch up with the news for the day. At half 6 they always had some comedy on and Ed Reardon’s Week was one of the things they played. I thought it was brilliant. For those uninitiated with it, each episode is essentially a day in the life of a pretentious, slightly egoistical, and generally overlooked writer. He spends a lot of his time compulsively checking his Amazon sales rankings and moaning about his overlooked genius, then usually attempts some sort of self promotion or new highbrow project which ultimately fails and results in him getting drunk. It kind of strikes a chord with me really, because checking Amazon every 45 minutes and getting drunk when self promotion just starts to seem like a fool’s errand are two of the realities I’m facing these days.

I initially saw Throw Momma from the Train when I was a teenager (and in the middle of a serious Billy Crystal phase), but there are bits of this film I still love. I’ve tried to insert the writing class scene in below, but you may have to click the link to watch it directly on Youtube (unfortunately).
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I like a bit of satire – as the promo thread I swear I’m never going to mention again after today attests – and I think it’s healthy to have a bit of a laugh at yourself from time to time. I’d like to think I’m a bit more well adjusted than Ed Reardon, and I’d like to think I can come up with better book ideas than 100 Girls I’d Like to Pork, but ultimately there is always a vestige of taking yourself too seriously when it comes to writing. A tutor I had at university once floated the idea that “writing is intrinsically pretentious”. I say she floated the idea as she’d heard it somewhere else and wasn’t sure whether she agreed with the statement or not. I do agree with it. I don’t have a problem with it, but I do believe that in order to produce anything that requires a sustained effort you have to be a bit self-delusional and have to buy into the worthiness of it all. There are very few writers (if any) who have changed the world for the better. As far as I know there aren’t any instances where a work of fiction has saved someone’s life.
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I’ve just done an interview – it’s due out tomorrow – and I had great fun in pondering my answers in my best authoritative tone. It was the textual version of those author photos where the subject puts their thumb on their chin and stares longingly off into the middle distance. But ultimately it’s all nonsense isn’t it? I read because it broadens my horizons a little bit, it makes me take on board different perspectives and opinions and makes me a more rounded person (I’d like to think anyway). I write because it helps me rationalise those ideas and concepts that have been sparked off by the things I’ve read, and then by extension the things I’ve experienced. Which is all noble enough, but seriously, who else should care about me wanting to do that? It doesn’t make me a better person than the bloke next door who watches reality TV, plays on his x-box 12 hours a day and doesn’t give much of a thought about anything other than his own entertainment. It just makes me a different person.
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I’ll be honest, I do get annoyed when people deride my interest in literature or further education or arty subjects because I never deride their lack of interest in them. To take an analogy, I was vegetarian for about 5 years. Not for any real moral reason, just because I’ve never eaten a lot of meat as I don’t like it so much. Every time I went for a meal with people I had the same discussion, and it always went along the lines of them asking, no DEMANDING, to know why I didn’t eat meat, did I think they were inferior to me for eating meat, was I morally outraged by their choice, why are vegetarians so up themselves with their superiority complexes? Remember, I never commented on any of these things, I just ordered the mushroom risotto and then suddenly found myself faced with an argument that wasn’t even there. It reminds me of the line by Bill Hicks where he’s reading a novel in a diner and the waitress asks “why are you reading?” Not WHAT are you reading, WHY are you reading?
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I’ve wandered off the topic of satire a bit haven’t I? Well, maybe not. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that it’s good to laugh at the stereotypes because there’s more than a grain of truth in them, and perhaps recognising that will stop people assuming I think I’m better than they are. I don’t. If I could play more than six chords on my guitar I’d probably be into music more than literature. If I could kick a ball in a straight line I’d probably be more into playing football than I am into writing stuff. We have the capacities we have and the interests we’re inclined to, that’s all. Now shut up and leave me alone. I have a novel to write about a submarine. Dive, DIVE it’s called. “So the man who makes it dive pressed a button, or something, and it dove, and the enemy was foiled again.” 😀

The best month ever…

Ok, not literally. The sun may be shining but I still have all the old problems I had before. Why is my job so demoralising? Why do I leave my parents’ house after every visit feeling like I want to hit someone? Will I ever finish this goddamn thesis? Will one of my dogs ever stop howling when she doesn’t get walked eight times a day?

It’s been my best month so far for SALES – that’s all. As a result of the stupid promo thread I stuck up on Amazon and the exposure I got on Book Pleasures I shifted 18 copies of Oblivious in just over 2 days. For me, that’s pretty phenomenal. As of this moment in time, I have 36 combined sales for the month. Last month was my previous best with 35 for the whole of March. I’ve surpassed that by one and we’re only on 18th April. So it’s looking like this will be a pretty decent month.

Look, here’s a graphic to break up the monotony of my text only Blog posts:

I’m even starting to entertain the vague notion that I’m not that bad a writer after all. I’ve had some good feedback from reviewers and from the writing group I’ve been going to. Who would have thought it? Determined to ride the crest of the wave, I’m entering two competitions. TWO. I’ve done it before and got nowhere – even being told on one occasion that the bad language in the stories ruled me out right away. But what the hell, Spring is here and I think I’ll do it just for the hell of it. The first is the short story competition I posted about the other day. The second is ‘Pulp Idol’ which is a novel competition (part of the Liverpool ‘Writing on the Wall’ festival) – you send in chapter 1 and then, if selected, perform it in a heat to see if you get to the final. First prize is a contract with a small press publisher. Do I want to win that? Not particularly, but hey, I’m probably nowhere near what they’re looking for anyway so it might just give me a bit of exposure if nothing else.

At this point in time I have 36 hours in which to write something on hedonism for tomorrow night. I did intend to work the theme into the story I’m writing now, but I suspect it isn’t going to happen in time. So I’m going to cheat. I have a story that’s in Oblivious that’s kind of about the after-effects of hedonism. I’m going to take that along instead I think. The story as a whole is one of the ones I’m least happy with, it feels disjointed to me. But it was quoted in one of my reviews and the middle section seems to hang together ok, so I’ll give it a go.

What else is new? Not much really. Same old nonsense, different date on the calendar. I started reading a new book last night. I took 3 of them upstairs with me (my Kindle needed charging so I had to pick a tree book from the bookshelves in my office) and tried the first few pages of all of them. I settled on one I need to review for Amazon Vine, but it made me wonder about my selection process. Am I really astute enough to know whether I want to read a book in 3 or 4 pages? Well, no, of course I’m not. The other two I will come back to. But when choosing what I want to read NOW those couple of pages have to draw me in. If they don’t, the book is likely to keep getting bumped until I’m out of options. The one I selected is Greyhound by Steffan Piper.

Look, here’s another graphic:

It seems interesting enough at this point. Not outstanding, not something I’ll be counting off the hours through work to get back to, but promising enough in the first chapter. It occurs to me that the absolute minimum for a book for me has to be ‘promising enough’ in the first 10-15 pages. I wonder if everyone else is the same, or whether people soldier on through a lot of rubbish? I used to try and finish everything I ever started – with books as with life. Now I’m circling in on 40 I think I realised life is too short. Quite a few things now get left by the wayside as I get bored with them. Maybe I’m just losing my tenacity…