Paperchains

21 May

Six months ago, almost to the day, I was pissed off. As I’ve said before, I’m not really a depressive kind of person, but like everyone I’m prone to being a bit down about things at times.

It’s December 2010 and I’m working in a job that’s irritating me a bit (as jobs are prone to do). I’m 36 years old and in the last six years I’ve gotten substantially ill for the first time in my life, gotten divorced, been through a few other personal things that I won’t go into, and just emerged from a mini-financial crisis triggered by the fact that my partner had to finally admit her disability had gotten the better of her and stop working (which, of course, brought its own problems for her – I don’t mean to trivialise it at all, just to comment on one of the many effects it had on our lives).

Don’t get me wrong, to counteract all these things, my daughter was also born in that six year period and she is something else entirely. I know most parents think their kids are special, but you’ll have to take my word for it that this one is a force of nature. She’s either going to change the world or become some kind of super villain – it’s too early yet to tell. She’s beautiful (obviously doesn’t get that from me), intelligent, witty, quirky and one of the most unique personalities I’ve ever encountered. But I digress, the point is that despite this, in December 2010 I’m not particularly happy. If I’m being honest, and more than a little selfish and self-centered, it just feels like things are running away from the masterplan I’ve always had for what I wanted to do with myself.

Even though we can’t afford it, my missus buys me a second hand Kindle from eBay as a present. She thinks it might cheer me up. With her own problems, that’s quite amazing isn’t it? It’s really sweet of her and I appreciate it a lot. The reason I mention it is because it starts the chain of events that follow. As a result of having the Kindle, I start poking around online looking for cheap, or free, ebooks and stumble upon a couple of blogs talking about self-publishing on Amazon. Because I’m a bit dim, it takes a couple of weeks for that information to process in my brain and collide with another bit of information in there – the fact that I have a collection of short stories written than nobody is interested in publishing. My eureka moment is, inevitably, that I could stick them out myself. So I do. I don’t have any great expectations, I don’t really care what happens, I just do it and sit back to watch with a sort of morbid fascination.

Anyway, it starts selling, a bit. So I figure I’ll check out the books of some other people who are doing the same thing, to kind of benchmark myself. The first two I try are really good – James Everington and Larry Harrison. In the back of Larry’s book is a cryptic mention of this group of writers called Year Zero. Who on earth are they? I check them out. On their website is listed a bloke called Dan Holloway, so I read his book Songs from the Other Side of the Wall and really like it. I leave him a review.

I also find Dan’s Eight Cuts site and gallery press and read Charcoal by Oli Johns which is promoted on there and is another truly great book.

A couple of weeks later I’m poking around on Amazon forums and I bump into Dan Holloway. We get chatting a bit and I’m struck by how enthusiastic this guy is about writing, about putting out interesting work – stuff that is unashamedly non-mainstream, and about performing. So I start looking around Liverpool for opportunities to read my stuff out somewhere, anywhere. I find a writing group and join it – but it kind of doesn’t really get off the ground and I get a bit despondent about it…

But then I’m moaning about it a bit on forums when I bump into another bloke, Mark Porter, who also lives in Liverpool. He mentions he’s reading from his novel Dogs Chase Cars at a local writing group and asks if I want to come along. I do, so I make the short trip across the river to hear him. He reads very well and the guys who run the writing group assume that I want to join. It’s not that I don’t, I just hadn’t really considered it, so I’m more than happy to go along with their assumption and sign up. This group is not only off the ground, it’s great, I go every week.

Tommy, who runs the group, also runs an annual writing competition so I figure what the hell and enter a short story into it. I don’t know what happens next on this one yet – the results aren’t in for another month – but entering this gets me thinking I should do more of that sort of thing, regardless of the outcome. So I find and enter this other competition – Pulp Idol as part of the Writing on the Wall festival. I go to the heat and get through to the final – again, not sure what happens next here as the final is next Saturday. (This is very much a story in progress). But at the very least I am now going to be in the competition anthology which I’m really happy about.

Let’s back up a little bit. James Everington, who I mentioned earlier, leaves me my first review for Oblivious and it’s a positive one. I’m truly thrilled by this and think, hey, let’s put it out as a paperback through CreateSpace. It probably won’t sell, but at least I’ll have a physical copy of it to put on my own bookshelf. Because I have a physical copy I send it to Book Pleasures to see if I can get them to review it. It makes its way to reviewer Maria Savva who gives me some really generous comments. Maria mentions a site she is a featured author on – Bestseller Bound – so I go over there and chat to a few people, and somehow manage to get a story of mine included in an anthology a few writers are putting together.

Also, I get an email from a guy who is anxiously waiting for Maria to review his book. Mark McKenna, from New York state, who turns out to be a really nice guy. We swap Amazon files and I read his novel The Word Gang and really like it. Mark gives me the idea to print a t-shirt with the slogan ‘I read Oblivious…and didn’t drink bleach’.

At the same time I notice a forum post that piques my interest and follow its author back to his blog. Iain Manson, aka The No-Hoper, has this great online persona of a grumpy, frustrated writer with a lot of well informed opinions on the world of publishing and writing. I check his blog out every day as it is absolutely great. And somehow I manage to convince him to read Richard Brautigan… I’m also checking out his book The Lion and the Eagle which seems, from what I’ve read so far, a really great factual book about the world’s first world championship boxing match.

But hang on, how did I find Larry Harrison? Well, he was recommended to me by Marion Stein on Amazon forums. Marion’s book Loisaida is not only one of the best self-published books I’ve read so far, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in years. And James Everington? Great bloke flying the flag for short stories who’s let me put some nonsense on his blog this week about shorts – thanks James. (He also has a new collection out – The Other Room – which you should check out).

Rewind again. I’m poking about on forums and start chatting with another self-published writer Stella Deleuze. She’s giving all the proceeds for her book to charity – relief efforts in Japan. I think this is a great idea and do the same for a month. Stella also mentions an anthology on writing themed around Japan which is also geared towards raising money for relief efforts. I submit a couple of Haiku and forget about it, then get an email yesterday saying that they’d like to use three of them in the book.

This brings me pretty much up to date – to today in fact. And I find myself not at all pissed off anymore. I’m actually quite happy. I’ve met some great people, have read some great books. And I haven’t even mentioned the laughs I’ve had on forums with people like Gingerlily, Oracle, Caainsworth, Hippocratia. Am I on a bestseller list? No. Have I been shortlisted for a literary prize? Of course not, but it hardly matters. They say great oaks from small acorns grow. Yeah, but little stunted weedy looking oaks from small (misshapen) acorns also grow. I don’t care which way it goes. I’m happy, actually fucking happy. I used to write because I felt compelled to. If anyone wants to know why I write now, the answer is all of the above. Thanks are due to everyone who has made this last six months much more satisfying than the previous six… Serendipity, you’ve gotta love it.

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6 Responses to “Paperchains”

  1. Marion May 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    Thanks for another shout-out, Neil. I love the way everyone is connecting! Don’t know if you caught it, but in this week’s NY Times Book Review, there’s a piece by mid-list author Neal Pollack who is joining the independent league. Isn’t it great to be ahead of the curve?

    • Marion May 21, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

      But, you could spell my book title correctly!!! Loisaida!

  2. Neil Schiller May 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Marion, hahahahah, my apologies. I did it again didn’t I? I’ve been spelling it wrong right the way through. I checked it about six times when I wrote the review to make sure I got it right. Will correct it in the post now 🙂

  3. James Everington May 21, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    Great post Neil. I guess I’ve had a similar experience to you, with an interconnected but slightly different set of people… It’s been a positive experience so far, and it’s nice to know that at some people out there are listening.

  4. Mark Porter November 16, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    Neil, ‘Oblivious’ is still my favourite read of 2011. Original, fantastic prose and so atmospheric.

    • Neil Schiller November 30, 2012 at 12:00 am #

      Thanks Mark. Going to be a while before the next one I think…

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