T-Shirt Giveaway

I got a review on Goodreads the other day and it got me thinking. These immortal lines are from that review:

“The book was bleak, dismal. It’s characters were simmering in a stew of doomed sexual passion; they were buried in meaningless work; it was always raining, or about to rain… I didn’t really like the book. But I couldn’t stop reading it.”

Believe it or not, this is a positive review. I know, this is just what my book does to people…

There is a now a growing, but still rather exclusive, club of people who have read Oblivious and survived. So in honour of this fact I’m running a competition. If you’ve read Oblivious, or have bought it and are about to read it, YOU can win a t-shirt. No, seriously. This is it here:

This high quality cotton item is available in one colour only – grey, obviously – and features the slogan “I read Oblivious…and didn’t drink bleach”. I said to someone earlier as a joke that I should print a t-shirt with this slogan on, and I must suffer from some sort of compulsive disorder or something because I then just HAD to do it. It’s sitting in my basket ready for order on a printing website so will be available in whatever size the lucky winner happens to be. All you have to do to enter is to post a comment on this Amazon Forum thread – can be anything at all you want, a joke, some abuse directed towards me, maybe something bleak and dismal, whatever. And the only rule is, you have to own Oblivious. On Monday next week I’ll pick one person at random, and I’ll ask them a question about the book that they have to answer correctly in order to receive this most unique and covetable of prizes. (It’ll be an easy question, something like what’s the first sentence of a particular story – it’s only to sort the true survivors from the pretenders)…

So if you need something to wear for decorating in, if you rent your last t-shirt in two with the sheer angst of reading my short stories, then I might be able to help you.

I know there are some of you out there – Amazon sales reports tell me so.


In the interests of fairness

I’ve spent some time interrogating search engines this weekend looking for fellow Pulp Idol competitors, trying to see if they’ve posted extracts of their work, trying to work out what I’m up against. I know that sounds sinister, but it isn’t really, I’m just interested. It’s a competition, sure, but I’m a big supporter of new, unpublished and self-published writers. After all, I am one. I intend to go there on 28th May and have a bit of a laugh and chat to a few people in the same boat as I am. I’m interested in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Anyway, I found a few examples (not many, but a few). The quality is good. Very good. Then I thought, maybe I’m being a bit unfair. My sample isn’t up anywhere. Ok, so now it is: Hinterland (link now removed). If you are here poking around as I’ve been doing, good luck, I’m looking forward to hearing you read and I hope the experience goes well for you. If you beat me I’ll shake your hand and buy you a pint. See you on the 28th.

Oh, and here’s a clue as to what I’ll be doing. I’m not reading from the top. I’m starting with the last paragraph of section one. Why? Because that segment fits better in 3 minutes and I think it gives a better indication of the structure of the novel, the narrative voice and the narrative thrust. How about that for transparency? Well, you know, we’re all in this together – our extracts are in already so what difference does it make? I was talking to my good (but virtual – as in we’ve only ever conversed online) friend Dan Holloway about it on Friday night. He has a lot of experience of readings and performance, much much more than I do. And he agreed that starting at the beginning is not necessarily the best idea. I tried that at home before the heat and at the three minute mark I was nowhere in particular. I like the first couple of sentences but in trying to second guess the judges I figured they were probably looking for more than a couple of nice sentences. What about the structure? Does my idea have longevity? Can I make a novel out of it? This way I figure I’m demonstrating more than just style. And the ending comes at the conclusion of a paragraph, the conclusion of a piece of imagery, at a natural break in the narrative proper which (hopefully) gives a little cliff hanger for the audience. And what am I mulling over in the next three weeks? What genre this is, why I’m writing in the first person, why the narrative voice is located outside of the story in terms of time and location. Etc. etc.

Self Publishing v Traditional Publishing

I follow a lot of blogs and forums about writing and have received a lot of second hand information about the publishing world. I have experience myself of self-publishing, but it occurred to me last night that I have no idea what it’s like to work through publication with a registered house. Would I want to? Would I enjoy the process?

On the one hand, I have always written with an eye on publication as the prize. On the other, I want to write what I want to write. I mentioned Pulp Idol previously on the blog. If I had been published before I wouldn’t have been able to enter.

Competition Rule 3: Writers must not have been published by a recognised/registered publisher other than self-published, in hard copy or on the internet.

I’m self-published so that’s obviously ok. I entered the competition for experience and exposure. If I win I’ll be ecstatic, but I’m genuinely not that bothered about it. Best case scenario? I win, it attracts publishing interest, I get my book out there in an official manner and it’s all wonderful. Worst case scenario? I win, it attracts publishing interest, I get my book out there in an official manner but it’s a horrible experience and the book that comes out the other end isn’t the one I wanted to write. And then I’m excluded from competitions like this one in future.

Dan Holloway, who I’ve reviewed on this site before and who I speak to quite regularly (as he’s a great bloke) writes ultra gritty, underground literary fiction. It’s marvellous, but it isn’t for your average bookshop browser. He’s said to me on more than one occasion that he has no interest in mainstream publishing as he doesn’t think it will allow him to write the work he is compelled to write. Do I agree with him? I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s much point him beating at the doors of Faber & Faber (which is a criminal shame as his work is much better than a lot of other people that are under that imprint, and other imprints) but I do secretly hope one day that a major publisher will emerge that specialises in edgy writers. If that day comes I would love to see Dan spearheading that kind of thing as a major list writer. It’s not for me to decide, of course, it’s his work and his career and he certainly doesn’t need any advice given the progress he’s made and the incredible writing he’s produced. And at the moment that publisher doesn’t exist anyway. But if given the chance, would I snatch at a contract on offer? I said in my last interview I would; in all honesty, I’m not so sure. I’d be very cautious.

Of course, this is my view today. Tomorrow it will have changed. I never said I wasn’t fickle.

Photos of me needing a shave are pending

Well, good news for me, I made it through the heat for Pulp Idol and am now in the final on 28th May. I’d have to beat off the challenge of another nine people to win it outright, which will be tough, if not well nigh impossible, but I’m just happy to have made it past stage one. Inclusion in the final guarantees my first chapter will appear in the competition anthology which is a nice way to get a bit more exposure. The way I see it, at least nine other people will have a copy and will see my name…

Obviously, I was ecstatic when they read my name out (I was the second person of two to go through, so I now know the agony of seeing one spot going and hoping beyond hope the next words spoken include “Schiller”, “Hinterland” and “Neil” – not necessarily in that order). But I also felt a bit guilty because there were some other good entries. I think it’s fair to say the other winner read my favourite extract of the night, so I’m glad she got through, she deserved to. But there were another one or two that I thought would be too close to call between. One of them was by a really nice woman I spent some time talking to and having a bit of a laugh with. I felt a bit gutted that she didn’t go through as her work was really good. I hope she carries on with it because I’d love to read the whole thing one day.

So yeah, as usual with me, a bittersweet moment. But two glasses of wine into the low key celebration and I’m getting over it a bit. First time I’ve ever gotten anywhere in a competition of any kind. Except for once when I won manager of the month in a fantasy football thing at work. I had to get a goofy photo taken that time as well. And yes, I needed a shave on that one too.

Luckily the final is a Saturday night as I fully intend, whatever the result, to get a babysitter and drink myself into oblivion. Bring on the self destruction…

The strange twilight world of the internet

About a year ago, I googled myself. Apparently it’s the first sign of narcissism, but I was bored and I’d exhausted every site on the web (it felt that way anyway). I found some interesting results. There are a handful of other Neil Schillers in the world, including a professor in the US, a lawyer, a political activist in Australia, and a fictional character. Yes, a fictional character. I exist, apparently, in a novel called World Enough and Time. This is the synposis:

“For Neil Schiller, it is a moment that will forever be etched in his memory–that first tantalizing glimpse of Donna Siegel at a high school dance. Neil is so taken with the chestnut-haired beauty that he is able to overcome his gawky adolescent shyness to win over the first girl he ever wanted.

Despite their very different natures, they are drawn to each other with the irresistible sweetness and aching tenderness of first love. As they both embark on the challenge of leaving the comfort of their Long Island community to separately begin their college educations, they make an ardent commitment to one another. And, for a while, they manage to nurture their promise–but time, distance and new experiences stretch the bond that ties them to the breaking point.

Years later they meet again in New York City. Donna is now a young society matron with a glamorous career, and Neil is a neurology resident at a Manhattan hospital. They renew their friendship when Donna turns to Neil, instead of her husband, for support in confronting the ultimate test of courage. Even though she betrayed Neil in the past, he is her most steadfast and beloved friend.

In this sensitive and insightful portrait of a relationship, Allan L. Rothman has created unforgettable characters that compel us to wonder about the paths not taken in our own lives.”

I think it’s a gritty crime novel… Wow. Betrayal, enduring friendship, lost loves, neuro surgery. It’s like he had a camera trained on my life… and then wrote the opposite. The paths he goes down are certainly not the ones taken in my own life, he’s bang on there 😀

A year ago, this entry was on page one of results for Neil Schiller. I was listed twice – once by virtue of being a post-grad student at Liverpool Hope University, and once because I had contributed to an online archive of work on Richard Brautigan. Direct match entries petered out around halfway down page two. I just reran the search this morning. The first six pages of entries are mostly now me. The guys in the US and Australia still feature a bit, the fictional Neil Schiller is down to page nine. This time the results are interesting in a different way:

1. Oblivious is up for sale in Japan

2. Oblivious is for sale via a bookseller on the Australian Ebay.

3. My blog entry on typos is on someone else’s site and introduced in a Cantonese character set (!!!?!?)

How bizarre. Of course, none of this really helps in terms of publicity – these sites only show if you search for Neil Schiller. The problem I have is getting people to discover Neil Schiller whilst searching for something else. An SEO strategy it certainly ain’t. But the thing that strikes me is that I’ve heard a lot about proliferation of data across the internet and have never really seen it happen beyond deliberate attempts to make things viral. Without trying, though, my name, and some of the words I’ve thrown about, seem to have found their way into some strange little corners.

I have this Pulp Idol thing tomorrow and I got a list of competitors from the organiser. I thought I’d check them out to see who I was up against. Out of nine other people in my heat, I found (I think) four of them. Not a lot of info around on most, although one is a Merseyside crime writer who is doing something on local radio this week. I wonder if they’ll have anything like the same problem finding me? I suspect the problem will more likely be in working out if I live in Japan, Australia or Beijing…