Okay, so this is another long (and boring) title for a post.
But you know what? I have found oblique or inferred titles do not get the views, irrespective of how well thought out those titles may be, and regardless of the quality of the post’s content.
Possibly, this is because many readers just ‘don’t get’ them? Or it maybe it is because people think the writer is being ‘a bit too clever’?
So, here I am with a plain statement for a blog post title. At least this way you get the gist of what the article is about… or do you?
Read on to find out…
I am a regular listener of the radio. I don’t just mean music radio, the odd quiz show or sport. I am referring to ‘talk’ radio, interviews, articles and in-depth discussions.
Serious radio, if you like to call it that.
I got hooked on listening to this sort or broadcast some years back when I did a lot of driving. Sometimes music becomes monotonous; there are times when even your favourite and most loved tracks won’t cut the mustard.
Then you have the ‘Radio Presenters’, we used to call them DJ’s back in the day.
But that was when DJ’s were star celebrities, when everyone and, I mean everyone, knew their names because they were bloody good at entertaining and engaging all who were tuned in.
Unlike the inane, immature, crass drivel which spouts from the mouths of the current drove of unprofessional, clearly uneducated people who host many a radio shows, both on national and local stations.
Okay, rant over. Back to the article…
When you have many miles to drive, listening to intelligent and informative conversation, presentation and debated opinions is often welcome company.
I have found many a premise for a new story, or a character base, or a situation to set my tales within, by listening to such programmes. Some of those inspirations are still with me, unused. Some are notes, other simply bullet points, an aide memoir waiting to be built upon at some future date.
Others have found homes, they are now part of my story worlds awaiting the next reader to uncover their being.
Yes, one’s muse may be triggered by many things. All writers, I am sure, gain inspiration from a million stimuli each and every day; films, TV, magazines, social media, overheard conversation, observed actions… the list is limitless.
For me listening to the radio has become a prime source for stimulating my creative juices.
I think this is because when one listens exclusively, that is without accompanying visual input, the mind can focus more accurately, its subconscious, or semi-conscious, concentration allowed to fix, to centre on the words alone without distraction.
Yes, when driving the main emphasis and attention is clearly applied to controlling the car and reacting to all which is around you. However, your cognitive ability allows another part of your mind to absorb and assimilate the information you hear, clearly and precisely, without conflicting with the prime task in hand, that is your driving.
When I hear something of interest, I take a mental note of the time, channel and programme name, so when I am home, I can go to the broadcaster’s website and re-run the article I heard earlier. It is then I make my written notes and detailed memos.
Allow me to give a couple of examples by way of explanation.
A few days ago, while driving home I tuned into a programme which was delving into the issue of female autism. This report was enlightening enough regarding the subject itself. I found it full of stimulating information which I could, and still can, use in my future writings.
However, one statement touched my heart to such a degree I knew I had found a wonderful gem of inspiration.
One of the experts discussing this condition told of his interview with a young sufferer who, upon being diagnosed, said to her doctor, with much relief;
“For all my life it felt as if I had a black spot inside of me. I thought it would never go away”.
That one simple sentence was, for me, like finding a pot of gold at the bottom of the rainbow. Those of you who are artistically minded will, for certain, understand the enormity of such a stimulus.
Another example, which I have already taken advantage of, by writing a poem called ‘My heart’, was during a play where one of the lines was about skeletons ‘kissing with their skulls’.
I wrote the following poem shortly after arriving home that evening.
Here is that poem.
My heart is a grave for lovers
Where skeletons embrace ever crumbling lust,
And skulls kiss in breathless anguish.
Scarlet blood long soaked into the ashes,
Forgotten passions abandon, the cast-off flesh,
Sensuous agonies of the soul
Haunt faded moments embezzled by time.
Rise up from the earth,
Stand upon your tombstone,
Seek your absent self, your withered spirit
Wandering aimlessly in immortal eternity.
But look not within my heart,
For it is but a grave for lovers.
This poem and many others can be found in my book Shadows of Emotion.
How often do you struggle for something to ‘write about’? or face the so-called writer’s block because you cannot find a topic for your next piece?
I know many writers frequently struggle with finding subject matter. It is something I hear often via author groups and writing associations.
I am a prolific writer, yet have never suffered from either of the above.
Most often, I can be found tapping away on my keyboard as I continue my ‘works in progress’.
I usually have a few of these on the go at once; non-fiction, a novel, some short stories, a compilation, it is pretty much par for the course.
I have files called ‘stuff & stories to read’; ‘story Ideas & notes’; ‘more writing notes’; ‘other stuff’, and so forth. Each file has sub-files, documents, snipped pages, images, sticky notes and a plethora of summaries, transcripts, annotations, memoranda, footnotes and odd bits I am unsure what to call.
The overriding connection is, they are all my Aide-mémoires to moments.
Some of these notes were transferred from my notebooks. I tend to carry at least one notebook with me at any time, generally, a small flip-type book. If I am leaving the house for any length of time. On long journeys and holidays, I take several, so I always have one to hand.
The jottings in these books can be about a place, a view, something said to me, part of an overheard conversation, or an observation. I even have notes about signposts I find amusing or incoherent.
Other items have been stored from browsing the net, finding ‘stuff’ while researching something entirely different. Some are from messages, spam, sales emails and so forth.
Occasionally reading another’s story sets my mind racing along parallel paths, so I need to scribble down my thoughts of the moment. The result of the stories which develop from these are a far cry to the original stimulus, but sometimes one needs the initial jolt to send the imaginings down a certain pathway.
These files also include part stories of various lengths. They are from a single sentence or paragraph through to several thousands of words… unfinished works if you wish.
Some are my deletions and edits of other work. The bits I cut out. The parts which did not make the final manuscript or published book. Waste not, want not. They can all be used again in one form or another.
But, the point of this post, each and every one of the notes in those files have come from a ‘moment’, a single moment I have experienced during my life.
After all, life is simply a matter of moments, one after another, after another, like the single frames of a cinematic film they whirr past us in a seemingly continues unbroken stream.
I believe great writing is having the ability to capture any one, or more, of those given moments and revealing its secrets, sharing them with all who will read your words.
Even the longest of novels is created by producing a string of ‘scenes’. Each scene depicting a moment.
Personally, I have a fondness for creating shorter stories, anywhere from about 250 words to, say, twenty or thirty thousand. My favourite though is around 2,500 to 6,000.
This proposes the challenge of making a captivating tale, one with a ‘proper’ beginning, middle and end, with so few words.
I feel the main test of writing such a short story is to examine the writer’s skill, in not only having a complete story but one which burns its presence, its being, into the mind of those reading it. A great story should ask questions, probe the beliefs, principles and convictions of the reader.
Which leads me back to the start of this post where I asked,
“How often do you struggle for something to ‘write about’? or face the so-called writer’s block because you cannot settle on a topic for your next story?”
My belief is you may be overthinking the issue.
Do not try and think of an entire story, of a whole scenario, before you put pen to paper. Just take one moment, one seemingly insignificant moment of your life and write about that.
Think about today. What has happened to you, with you, so far today?
It does not have to be anything exciting.
Not all stories need to have a romantic outcome or bloodshed, murder and mayhem splattered across their pages. The characters do not have to be heroes or superhuman, to have suffered or survived.
Ordinary people, people like you and I have stories to tell too. Try telling one or two of those. Stories and tales regular, normal people can relate to and understand.
What did you think of the moment you awoke today… write about that?
Expand on that.
Why were you thinking it, what does it relate to, who was involved, what will be the outcome, can you change it? Do you want to change it? Can you stop it changing? and so forth.
Become your character. Believe you are they. Wholly, totally convince your muse you are.
Open your heart, let your soul pour forth. Be honest with yourself. Don’t force it.
Your story will come and it just may be the best thing you have ever written.
Grab the moment, grab the moment of the muse.
I’ll leave you with an instant.
A while ago, I read a social status in which a young lady was distressed regarding her writing.
It seems her family, particularly her father, not taking her wish to write seriously, held little interest in what she was writing about, suggesting it would be better if she wrote about him.
Of course, this is not what this young lady wanted to write about. She did not want to write about her father. She wanted to write about something she knew, something she understood.
But everything she had written so far was slighted by her own father. Not very supportive, encouraging or helpful.
This made it extremely problematic for her to choose a topic or subject which would not amplify the situation further.
I shall not repeat the derogatory remarks made or the well-meaning, but pathetic and ultimately unhelpful, words of comfort offered on social. But all the responses took this young ladies post on its surface merits.
The deeper conflict was her relationship with her family, particularly her father and the anxiety it created within her.
This stress was heightened by her desire to write something meaningful while not adding to the household turmoil. Yes, she could have written in secret, but it was obvious she wanted, even desperately needed the encouragement and backing of her family.
All this young girl was looking for was some reassurance. She needed positive reinforcement from her family.
I suggested she write exactly what she posted about. The conflict with her father, why she wished to write and why she wanted to write the things she did. How hurtful her fathers’ remarks were and how the lack of support was so dispiriting.
I proposed she then gave her family the manuscript to read and await a response.
She now has a new laptop her father bought for her writing and a small desk in the corner of the room where she can work uninterrupted.
This is a true story.
As I said above, my advice is;
Open your heart, let your soul pour forth. Be honest with yourself. Don’t force it.
Your story will come and it just may be the best thing you have ever written.
Grab the moment, grab the moment of the muse.
If you want to see my books, find out what I am working on or contact me, then visit my website, HERE
It is a while since I have written a post focusing on the process of creative writing.
The reason being, I have said much about other ‘stuff’ associated with authoring and publishing. Stuff I felt important enough to warrant writing about.
However, doing so led me away from the core value of this blog, which is to give, in my usual rambling and rather haphazard way, tips, advice and suggestions on improving one’s writing skills and understanding of authorship.
Those of you who follow me will know I do not write in a scholarly constructive fashion, because I do not consider myself a teacher or an authority of literary genius.
I prefer to allow indefinite abstract descriptions to suggest and evoke one’s own perceptions and introspection to convey the messages in each of these Ramblings.
In my heart of hearts, I believe the soul of the writer, the artist that lays within, is the greatest asset of all. No one can learn to write unwillingly; the writer must have love and passion above teaching and education.
A writer must want to write, above all else.
So, with those matters cleared away, I guess it is time to reveal what this article is about.
As a mass noun, the definition of this word, according to the Oxford English dictionary is, ‘The action of making a mental connection’.
Regarding fiction writing, I would take this two steps further and say it is, ‘The action of making a mental, sensory and emotional connection within one’s imagination’.
However, to create such a powerful, multi-sensory consanguinity within a reader’s mind, requires the writer’s understanding and needs them to be adept at wordsmithing.
To me, the word ‘wordsmith’ is a wondrous, self-describing noun.
Imagine standing before a blazing forge, gauntlet covered hands, leather apron, large metal tongs holding a glowing red-hot bar of iron. The other hand wielding a heavy hammer.
Smell the fire, the heat, hearing the Smithy as he pounds the almost molten metal into the shape of his choosing. Not an easy task, one which takes many re-heatings and coolings of the metal. One which takes countless strikes with the hammer against the solid block of the anvil before anything recognisable is formed from the raw metal.
This is what I envisage when thinking of the word ‘wordsmith’.
My ‘association’ is with the hours of sweat and toil it takes to form a loose jumble of letters and scattered words into a coherent and meaningful sentence. To mould and form each word so it fits seamlessly with the next, so they all flow in a smooth, well-paced fashion to complete the paragraph.
The result of a Blacksmiths work is more than just flattened and twisted metal, it is a product purposely shaped into a functional object, decorated to enhance its appearance, creating an article of both beauty and reason.
Such should be our undertaking as writers. Our words should not only serve the functionality of revelation but create a pathway of beauty and intrigue for our readers to follow. Our tales should hold within their very form the pure essence of captivation, of fantastical fiction.
To do this we must weave that very essence, the distillate tincture of association within our words.
“That’s fine for you to say,” I hear you mutter.“But how do we do that?”
My answer is to consider the word this post is about, consider ‘association’. The association of words.
Now, many of you will be thinking ‘thesaurus’ because that is what a thesaurus is all about, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no.
You see, when I talk of word association I am not merely speaking of functional words you may find within dictionaries and thesaurus. Neither am I considering which words may be grammatically correct. I am talking about creativity, of creative writing. Of breaking the rules when it lends to better or even great storytelling.
Those among you who write poetry may, or at least should, have a greater understanding of the flexibility of words, how they can be moulded to convey more than their basic meanings. Particularly when two or more are used in conjunction, oblique, ambiguous or both.
Wordsmithing in fiction writing utilises what is learnt through the poetic principle, includes and encompasses it within the whole wordsmithing process.
As a way of explanation, I’ll take an excerpt from one of my short stories, ‘The Bridge‘, taken from volume three of my short stories collection, ‘Tales of Crime & Violence’.
Out of context, I think this is a rather unremarkable excerpt. Even so, once studied while holding the concept of association in mind, its secrets are revealed.
The Humber Bridge is monumental. It is suspended by a mass of giant pythons, twisted metal cables one hundred feet above the sludge brown of the river. From tower to tower it is one mile and the road continues to reach out from there, grabbing the riverbanks with blackened tarmac and concrete fingers.
Yet, for all the earth destroying steel and concrete construction, the bridge has an illusion of beauty that is enhanced by nature itself. Somehow the two blend, even complement each other, an amalgamation of converse contraries.
Firstly, the suggested size of the bridge is stated, in an emotional way, by using the word monumental.
It is then revealed to the reader this is a suspension bridge.
Using the term ‘mass of giant pythons’ is suggestive of and leads into the next sentence ‘twisted metal cables…’
Here are the first wordsmithing associations.
Most people know what a suspension bridge looks like. The story could be told by simply stating this bridge is a vast suspension bridge.
The following words about metal cables could have been just that ‘metal cables’. But the addition of ‘twisted’ is used specifically because of its association with the commonly held image of snakes.
We have now created an image in the reader’s mind of ‘giant twisted pythons holding up a bridge’. Which is a far better read than say, “a large bridge held up by steel suspension cables”.
To continue, the height of the roadway on the bridge is given, one hundred feet, so is the fact the bridge is above a river.
So, once more, the story could read “… a large bridge held up by steel suspension cables one hundred feet above a river…’ Which factually would be correct, although it does not make a very captivating or entertaining read.
Moving on, the incorporation of the words ‘sludge brown’ is purposeful. Not only to transfer the perceived visual perception of a dark river but to almost subliminally link back to the snake imagery by suggesting colour association while taking into consideration most people visualise a river as ‘winding’ or ‘twisting’. Another correlation.
While this imagery of bridges and pythons is building in the forefront of the reader’s comprehension, there is also the fact the author is creating an atmosphere of dark foreboding; or at least the idea of something ominous germinating.
Sludge brown, twisting, python, mass, all have links with the nefarious.
The next ‘s sentences structure reinforces this unease.
The factual description of the bridge is given, but this is enhanced by a form of predicate which strengthens the sinister. “… the road continues to reach out from there, grabbing the riverbanks with blackened tarmac and concrete fingers.”
Reaching out, grabbing, blackened, fingers; all strong adjectives which focus on creating a sensory awareness of the underlying drama.
While a person may not be fully aware why, or what effect these words are having as they read, you can bet your bottom dollar their subconscious will. Personal and social belief, acquired by myth, legend and the silver screens of Hollywood has conditioned us to be susceptible to even the slightest of suggestive input.
It is also a long-proven fact when one reads, they absorb far more, far quicker than by any other method of communication.
The above example is a rather direct and implicit one. But there are stronger yet more oblique instances.
Like these, from my poem ‘Doorway’
This side or that.
In or out.
With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.
Life or death.
Simple. A wooden frame. Harsh nails, forged from iron, blood and sweat in the furnace of forgotten hopes. Spikes driven deep, driven through, splintering the flesh of being, binding into cold stone of indifference. Hanging forever, bearing the pain for an eternity.
But not so simple. A sign, a warning, a barrier. Invisible in its presence of possibilities lost, scorned, unfound, unbelieved. Open but empty, a nothingness that stops you dead in your tracks.
This side or that.
In or out.
With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.
Life or death.
Lost or gained or never had. Can you lose what was not? Can dreams die or do they fade away; decompose as out our living bodies rot with age upon our bones.
What is there, beyond the gaping opening of the way?
Future, or past repeated. Mirrored fears steeped in time, awaiting our return from where we have never been. A destination desired by myth, by greed of those who will not step this way, cowering in the shadows of mediocrity, of sallow existence, of being too far from any door to be truly known, except by repeated words, all meanings lost in the whisper of time, misinterpretations and vague comprehension.
What ifs lay as a carpet of likelihoods, a vastness of possibilities, probabilities, stretching away to the rims of risk and horizons of chance; choices to be made, taken, grasped or passed up.
Prospects scorned or lies waiting to trip the unwary traveller, to crush your skull, your hopes, your faiths until they crumble into a dust of inferiority until your knees bleed on the cold stone floor of humbleness and subservience.
Know your place.
With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck. Fertilised or barren.
Life or death.
How long the openness. How soon the slam of too late shall shut out the light from the other side, of this side or that, or the other, and so vice-versa. Versa-vice.
Sounds vanished, diminished. New hope runs down our legs, incontinent imaginings puddling beneath our feet, wasted.
There is no return. Time flows by, constant. There is only now, just then, what was. Already you are too late, it has gone. Stealing away those possibility’s which once were yours and now belong to another. Maybe not yet born. A foetus of stardust, a twinkle of forlorn wishes.
Maybe they will be the ones who shall hesitate at the gates of option and chance. Maybe they will settle for comfort and the familiar and choose not to stumble blindly into the realm of the unknown?
Or maybe they shall pass this way, step through the door and into the future of destiny without looking backwards?
This side or that.
In or out.
With, without or within. Feast on the cornucopia of having or scrabble naked in the dry dust of want. Birthright or luck? Fertilised or barren.
Life or death.
Without getting too bogged down in technicalities, (not my thing), I will just highlight a few instances from the above, and then leave you to read and re-read the above poem and find the associated words which link together to create the stories own vibrancy.
First, ‘cowering in the shadows of mediocrity’.
One may expect to read ‘Cowering in the shadows,’ I am far from the first to write those words in that order. But then consider the use of ‘mediocrity’, it is not generally expected in this framework.
What are the shadows in your story associated with? Think of an indirect but implicit word and use that or another to suggest the ‘feeling’ you wish to create. Pair words which are oblique or ambiguous to create new meaning, to create the atmosphere you intend.
Forget about those ‘rules’. Ignore the grammar check in word or Grammarly or whatever. There is no substitution for the mind.
Secondly, take ‘your knees bleed on the cold stone floor of humbleness and subservience’.
This conveys a strong message from the initial simplicity of what may be expected until the string ‘humbleness and subservience’ appear in conjunction with the rest of the sentence. Those reading are expecting something far simpler, say ‘the castle, or maybe ‘the house’. But inserting ‘humbleness and subservience’, leads the mind to immediately think of servants kneeling on the cold stone floor.
Linked with the previous segment of the paragraph that mentions prospect, lies and faith the ambiguity is one of suggested religion and loss of belief or at least a trial of personal conviction.
Often when using oblique association, or creating one in such a way, it strengthens the powerfulness of the imagery formed.
If this includes creating your own metaphors or making new words do so. Shakespeare did not suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by only using the accepted words of his time.
Using this ‘sideways’ form of association, not only in poetic context but in storytelling, can produce a weighty and influential transcript that will hook the reader both openly and subliminally.
Good storytelling is not just about style and content; it is not all about narration, it is not simply getting all your words in order, it is all of this melded cohesively and working in harmony throughout the entire structure of your manuscript.
It is about modelling the words you use, moulding and melding them to conceive something new, something uniquely yours, it is about practised and proficient wordsmithing.
When editing, read, re-write and work each individual sentence. Hone it, sharpen it, until it has its own perfect edge and then move onto the next.
Never skip a word, examine each one; examine its place in the sentence and change it, one word by one word, sentence by sentence, polishing and shaping and forming each little detail until every sentence is a magical story in itself.
Do the same time again and again, until every detail shines clearly.
Only then will your tale truly deserve to be called your ‘finished’ work.
Anything less is less.
The first excerpt in this post was taken from ‘Tales of Crime & Violence, a three-book collection.
Gobsmacked is a well-known colloquial saying in the county of Yorkshire. (That’s Yorkshire, England, for all my American friends.)
Gobsmacked roughly translates as; So surprised you cannot speak. Overwhelmed with wonder, surprise, or shock. Astounded.
Liken such a surprise to that of being punched in the mouth and you are beginning to understand the word.
To break it down, ‘Smacked’ as in hit, slapped, punched, struck etc. and ‘Gob’ a slang word for mouth.
Hence, I would say it means; So surprised you are dumbfounded, unable to speak, as you would be after being ‘smacked in the gob’.
Now, on with this post.
I do not feel Gobsmacked about the general lethargy and apathy I see and sense within the indie author community of late. I have noticed it, slowly but inexorably, growing over the past year or so.
Don’t get me wrong, this dispirited indifference is not an affliction which infects every single author, but a general condition proliferating throughout our worldwide community.
It could be a reaction to the changes at Facebook, the closure of CreateSpace, Amazons ever-changing algorithms or the news G+ is soon to close to the general public.
It could be a response, a consequence of them all. A mass writers communal PTSD from the constant shock and awe of all changes on social media… doubtful, but who knows?
(Much of what has passed this year, 2018, I predicted and wrote about on this blog. Not surprisingly about a year ago.) Check it out HERE.
So, you may ask, what is it that causes me to feel Gobsmacked?
Allow me to elucidate.
I frequently, make that continually, read posts on social media where writers ask how to market their books.
I read questions that ask what is the ‘best way’ to do this or that. I see authors enquiring “who has had success with (such & such) and how did they do it?” or “what is the best book marketing platform?” and “is it worth paying Joe Bloggs ltd to market my book, they only want £10,000 a week“… okay, maybe that figure is a little exaggerated, but you get my gist.
Far too many times have I read how authors have been ‘ripped off’ or ‘scammed’ by the unscrupulous preying on writers.
I have no doubts I shall read similar accounts tomorrow of people feeling ‘robbed’ as I did yesterday and today.
Why then, when a genuine marketing method is offered do so many authors fail to grasp the opportunity?
I am speaking of a marketing organisation run by well respected, established and recognised indie authors.
No strange claims.
No get rich quick schemes.
No large sums of money required.
Just a solid method of creating awareness and establishing trust with readers.
What’s more, I am speaking of a marketing method which pays full royalties to those participating. In effect, it is a marketing which pays authors to sell their own books.
Yet this is one writers ‘cannot be bothered’ looking at or cringe about paying the small, token (once only) membership fee.
Instead, those very same authors, the ones who did not want to spend a few pounds or dollars, then post on Facebook about how they have lost a fortune on scammers and vanity promotions.
This then has the effect of pulling down the mood of the whole indie community. Something which is currently tangible. All you have to do is follow a few of the author group conversations on social and you will soon see for yourself.
That is why I get ‘Gobsmacked’.
I am the founder of Electric Eclectic, a book brand marketing programme and author co-operative.
Electric Eclectic is not a get rich quick scheme. It does not offer magical solutions for generating massive sales.
Electric Eclectic offers a dedicated promotional strategy with growing market reach. It is a long-term, slow burn plan generating loyalty and confidence within our marketplace.
Oh, and yes, authors who are part of Electric Eclectic earn royalties too… but that’s only part of being an Electric Eclectic author.
It is, as one might expect from the title, a book about publishing at the lowest possible cost.
It is NOT a ‘how to’ book. Neither does it portend to be a step by step guide.
The Frugal Author is a book which considers indie authoring as a professional, commercial practise and, therefore, endeavours to share ideas behind the methods employed to minimise costs and maximise profits, just as any well-run, good mercantile enterprise should.
Following the publication of The Frugal Author, I am continually asked numerous questions about being an indie, small-press or hybrid author.
Many questions are common, others are those which frequently plague our minds; the ones we never openly inquire about for fear of feeling ‘foolish’ before our peers.
This has led me to create a book which gives the answers to those questions and maybe a few more? A book I have simply titled,
‘Lots of Author Stuff You Need to Know’.
I called it so because that is exactly what it contains, lots of author stuff you need to know.
This book is all about helping indie authors by sharing knowledge, like insights into book parts – which to use & where, important printing terms, best word counts for genres, formatting, the differing forms of editing and a ton of other ‘Stuff’ which is considered in this books various sections.
‘Lots of Author Stuff You Need to Know’ is produced as an easily downloadable eBook, available from most online retails including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, Baker & Taylor, Tolino, Angus & Robertson, 24Symbols, Playster, Overdrive, Bibliotheca and, of course, Amazon.
I was asked recently, by Francis de Aguilar, a writer friend, what first caused me to “Become interested in African wildlife.“
A simple question.
I told him it was after visiting South Africa, particularly the time I spent in the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve.
However, Francis’s question stayed in my mind; although I answered him, it left a nagging doubt in my mind I was wrong.
After pondering for a few days, the truth unravelled itself. I now knew the correct answer.
My interest with Africa and its diverse multitude of wildlife was first stoked by reading the novels of Wilbur Smith.
Back in the early seventies, I picked up a rather dog-eared and worn copy of ‘When the Lion Feeds’, which I devoured within two days. I followed that book by purchasing ‘The Dark of the Sun’, again read within a few days.
I was about sixteen years old and, for the first time, ‘hooked’ on a particular author.
I read all of Wilbur Smith’s books up to the 1991 publication of ‘Elephant Song’. My favourite book, (excluding any of the ‘Courtney or Ballantyne Novels’) must be ‘Eagle in the Sky’…or ‘Cry Wolf’…or ‘A Sparrow Falls’….or…
But I digress.
The real answer to the question posed to me by Francis is, it was reading these books when I was a young man that stimulated my imagination, made me think about the heat, the vastness, the veld, the bush and, of course, the animals of Africa.
For years, I carried my imaginings of the world Wilbur Smith planted in my head with his words, until one day I had the opportunity to visit Africa myself.
I was not disappointed.
The continent is mind-bogglingly vast. The scenery, the smell, the sun, the animals, the people, everything exceeded my expectations, bettered those imaginings I held onto for so long. This I find is something rare, very few places ever exceed our own imaginative conceptions.
I have returned to Africa many times, to different areas, different countries within this vast dark continent.
You may have heard it said, Africa captures, not only your heart but soul and once you have been, you can never really leave.
These are some of the most honest words ever spoken.
I am here now, but part of me will forever remain in Africa.
Now, being a writer, I cannot leave an article like this with just one conclusion when I know there are always several stories to be told about everything.
Therefore, I would like you to also consider this from Wilbur Smiths point of view; or maybe it is just my own interpretation of what I think his view may, or could, be.
Who knows? But I’ll write my thoughts out anyway.
I wonder if dear old Wilbur thought of me when he wrote his first novel?
I don’t mean me as an individual, as a single person but as a conceptual being. I wonder If Wilbur thought he may influence some young man, somewhere in the world, to fall in love with Africa as he typed out his very first paragraph of ‘When the Lion Feeds’ way back in the early 1960’s. (The book was first published in 1964).
Then, my thoughts ask the very same question of myself.
Do I have an image, a conceptual ‘personage’ in my mind who may, one day, be influenced by my own work, by my writings, by the tiny little black shapes, these strange runes of ink I scattered across countless pages?
The answer is yes, I do have such a notion, albeit a rather intangible abstract.
Which leaves you to ask yourself the same, do you?
Think about it carefully, do you?
If you would like to take part in making my rather intangible abstract notion a reality, then please start by reading ‘Within the Invisible Pentacle’ a collection of thought-provoking stories which are not quite as you may think they may be…
This is a question I asked myself while pottering about in the garden.
It may seem like a simple question, one which has a very simple answer; the likes and the things we do listed, almost ‘bullet-pointed’ as a reply.
That’s fine, for most people.
But I am an author, a writer. To me, even those simple answers have hidden depths, more meaning and a thousand stories each to be told.
Here is where my writer’s mind went after I asked myself that question…
I know what I do, but I wondered if that was ‘just me’?
You see, I love travelling. I love to explore other countries, sampling their food, their culture, being amazed at wonderful vistas, cascading waterfalls, crazy cities, wild traffic and such.
I also like to travel around Britain, the place I live. So far, my favourite areas are the Highlands & Western Isles of Scotland.
The Llyn peninsular in Wales gets better and better the further west you travel. The very best being Aberdaron and Bardsey Island.
I reside in Yorkshire, the county known as ‘Gods Country’ for its stunning landscapes.
I originate from the south and was lucky enough to have lived in Kent, called the ‘Garden of England’, which kind of speaks for itself.
All in all, I love nature; landscapes, coastal areas, animals, plants, and grand views. I like red wine, cold beer, fine whiskey, food and some good company.
To my mind this is what home is all about, making a comfortable place with hints, reminders and touches of all the things you love. Pictures and photographs of loved ones, trinkets and ‘tat’ from all those places you have visited; be it a foreign country or the local park, it’s those little inconsequential, yet sentimental items, like a shell collected from a beach, a pebble from a mountain path or a serviette from ‘that’ café.
In a way that is what our homes are for, storing and sharing all those little things which bring back the memories from a life well lived.
We can also make our homes reflect the things which make us… us. Especially, at least for me, in the garden, the garden in which I was pottering when I first asked myself the question I am writing about now.
In this instance, I have ninety per cent completed a project I started about three weeks ago.
In one corner of my garden was a derelict, rotted and neglected raised ‘deck’. I built the deck about ten years or so ago from reclaimed scaffolders boards and, I must admit, was proud of the outcome.
The said deck, (holding tables, chairs, potted plants and lighting), hosted many ‘al fresco’ lunches and dinners, served as a ‘buffet’ table during garden parties and barbecues it even became an improvised office for my writing on the days the sun shone and the rains held off.
But, as many structures constantly exposed to all weathers, it slowly degenerated, until it was little more than a rickety load of planks balancing precariously on a few rotten cross-members.
After laying unused and unloved for so long I decided to rip it up, replacing it with raised-bed vegetable plots and a small seating area.
Partly this decision was to do with the ‘stuff’ I wrote about earlier, the travelling to places, the sampling of food and wine and such like.
You will see in the following photographs I have placed my potted vines along the wall. These have never produced any edible grapes or enough to make even a single glass of wine, not here in England, not with our weather. But they do grow some large and tender leaves which are perfect for making dolmades, one of those foods I first ‘found’ on my travels many years ago.
I have made one deep growing bed and two shallow beds. The idea is to grow ‘root’ vegetables, such as carrots, parsnip, onion and sweeds in the deep one, leaving the shallow beds for the vegetables that grow ‘upwards’; beans, peas, sprouts, lettuce and so forth… once the soil has been delivered, which is about all I need now to complete my task, hence it is only ninety per cent complete.
I already have an area for soft fruits and yesterday harvested a bumper crop of particularly sweet and sticky Gooseberries, the ‘Brambles’ (Blackberries) are beginning to set fruits and so still have many flowers.
This then, is my answer to my own question, “what do writers do when they are not writing?”
For me it is often gardening, but not simply for gardening’s sake.
Its for relaxation, creativity, frugality, satisfaction and for good food, healthy unadulterated food which I and or my wife will turn into some amazing dishes or preserves; some that will bring memories of a time, a trip or a place, flooding back, or maybe excite us, as we look forward to the next travel experience we have planned.
These are the sort of things I do when not sitting alone, isolated, eyes glued to the screen and scribbling away like a manic… I’ll let you finish that line!
However, I am curious to know what you do when you are not writing, please, let me know so I can be sure it is not ‘Just me’.
Keep Happy, Paul.
Don’t forget to visit my website,http://bit.ly/paulswebsitewhere you can find my latest books, including my Electric Eclectic Novelettes.
Does this title sound stupid? (Don’t answer that.)
I was trying to come up with a fancy, clever, literary genius of a title, one which would give an undeniable clue to the content of this post.
I got a few good ones lined up and then re-read them. Most were so oblique even I forgot the connection. Others read more like popular newspaper headings than a serious post about writing.
In the end, I settled for what you have above. Which cannot be too bad because here you are, reading me waffling on about something inane.
Okay, on with my post.
Many of my indie author friends, especially those who tend to write in a specific genre, have one or more series of books.
I know writing a book series is no new thing, but it is one which has become resurgent in popularity over recent years. This is partly because of a shift in reading habits, which in turn is partly influenced by film and television ‘franchises’. (I shall not go into the reading trends and patterns regarding general social psychology of the masses here… albeit a subject I love.)
The ideal is to have someone buy a copy of one of your books and like it so much they rush out and by the whole series… or nowadays go to an online bookstore; not so much fun as browsing a ‘real’ shops shelves but quite practical, especially for social hermits.
Anyway… I seem to be digressing.
The problem, it seems, lays with having ‘that someone’ buy the first book of your series.
Herein lies a quandary.
Until such a person has a copy of your book in their sticky mittens, they shall never know how captivating the story is. They shall never know your carefully crafted characters, fall in love with your protagonist or hold disdain for your antagonist.
Neither will they learn how well you write, narrate or how charming a tale spinner you are. Which would all be a ‘bit of a shame’.
Oh, I hear so many of you thinking, “it’s all about promotion and marketing, that’s how you get readers.”
Well, yes and no.
Yes, it is about promoting your works, and NO… Allow me to enlighten you on my reasoning.
It is not all about promoting your books. (‘Promoting’ is a word I shall use as an ‘umbrella’ term to include marketing, advertising and such hoo-ha for the duration of this post.)
It is all about promoting you, your books, both individually and collectively, and your author brand, in a certain way.
If I were to cover all these topics, in one post, I would end up writing an entire thesis three thousand pages long, neither something I have time to write in one sitting, or, I am sure, you have time to read. So, I shall concentrate purely on one aspect and follow up, in future posts, on other relevant subjects.
As the amazingly conceived title of this post states, I shall continue discussing your book series.
It has become something of an urban legend, a myth which survives to the present day and one which far too many authors still fall prey to, that is the one which says: “if you give your first book of a series away as a freebie you will gain lots of new readers who will buy all your other books.”
That is a lie, promoted by those who generate financial gain from (often desperate) indie authors. Free may have been a viable option in the early days of the internet when Amazon was just a simple bookstore when indie authors were referred to as desktop publishers and vanity press meant having a book for sale outside of a mainstream publishing house. (See: https://wp.me/p5nj7r-1fn )
There are ways forward, none are push and go or plug and play. Each takes time and consistent effort to achieve and not all will work equally for all authors, their books or series. Book promotion is not an exact science.
Thunderclaps, Daycause, Blog hops, Tweet chains can all form part of your overall promotional strategy… You know, the carefully planned and timed schedule you have designed. The one which ensures you maximise each promotional effort… Yeh, that’s the one, your synergetic multi-arena integrated sales stratagem for the 2018/19 marketing period.
However, few authors consider writing a further book, or two or three or more to help gain and build readership and, on the face of it, with good reason. After all, writing another book is only adding to the series and that takes us back to square one… doesn’t it?
You see, this is about taking a new approach to authors promotions, in this case, Prequels… now, I know prequels are not new; way back when, we had Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’ (1874); but did you know that Jean Rhys wrote the ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ in 1966 as a prequel and response, describing the background to the marriage Jane learns about after going to work for Mr Rochester?
How about a prequel with a difference?
Let me ask you some questions…
What if… you could write a shorter book, a book especially targeted at attracting readers to your current series?
What if… a group of authors would help you promote that book?
What if… a book brand would include your book in its promotions, making it constantly visible to a global audience, online, in magazines and via social media?
What if… you became an Electric Eclectic author?
Currently, Electric Eclectic are well known for their ebook Novelettes, their short stories books which help connect readers and authors.
But now, Electric Eclectic is launching a form of book they call a ‘Proquel’
These are Prequels, Character Backstories and Parallels designed specifically to introduce readers to your book series, in fact, the name Proquel is simply an amalgamation of the words promotion and prequel. (Pretty cool, yeah?)
Now… unlike many books, an Electric Eclectic proquel is unashamedly a promotional tool. While there is no compromise regarding the quality of content or storytelling, these books do not have to be full-length novels, but novella’s, with a suggested word count of between 17K and 40K words.
Once assessed and accepted by Electric Eclectic, your book(s) benefit from all the marketing and promotional activities of Electric Eclectic and your fellow EE authors.
You will have your books on the Electric Eclectic website along with a personal author page and much more. You can check out the Electric Eclectic website HERE.
And…this is the BEST BIT… you make money on your proquels too… yep, you still earn full royalties on your book sales.
Electric Eclectic is NOT a publisher and does NOT take royalties.
You will get all the above for a minimal fee… and I mean a minimal fee.
You have nothing to lose.
So, why not find out more about becoming an Electric Eclectic author and, how writing just one other book, could help you sell your whole series?
With major ground shifts and changes occurring throughout the publishing and online worlds, becoming an Electric Eclectic author could be the best decision you make this year.
Once we have learnt about something, once we consider we understand it, think we have mastered it, we like to run with it, to keep it.
We are often loath to stop, to give it up… to alter anything.
Many of us are resistant to change, of losing the little comfort zone we made for ourselves. One can liken such to the reluctance of a child giving up a blanket, or a soother.
If we do make the move, we find it easier to be weaned, to slightly adjust, little by little, so we don’t notice the change, or at least that is how we convince ourselves.
The problem is, by the time our situation has evolved in a way which assuages our reluctance, we find we are far behind the madding crowd, so far behind we have little chance of catching up.
In these days of high tech communications and internet connectivity, it is now more obvious than ever before.
Only the fearful and desperate cling to what once was,.
Only the backward and slow reminisce and wish for those ‘good old days‘ when a Facebook post actually reached ALL your ‘friends’ and not just the 3 to 10% they do with today’s algorithms.
The same is true of your book promotions. This is why your sales do not exceed the minimal expectations you tell yourself are reasonable goals, let alone your wishes and dreams to become a consistent bestselling author.
To give away a book for free is an archaic, outdated and outmoded marketing model. One which no longer holds any credence, but one which so many still cling to with dying hope, like a gambler sliding deeper into depressive debt.
Paying another organisation to give your books away is a sign of utter desperation. A despondent cry for help, for someone, anyone to read your story.
In reality, it is authorship suicide; one you may never recover from financially and one which could leave your reputation in raggedy tatters, before you even start.
Book launches and parties no longer pull the crowds. They are a nice way to spend a few extra hours chatting with those you regularly talk to every day; to hear them say nice things about you, your book and “what a marvellous cover” you have.
But such events no longer attract readers. They have been overdone and done over, like an ancient, wrinkled whore, they no longer hold any attraction whatsoever.
Thunderclaps, Headtalkers, Daycause are little more than a (mostly) unseen flash-in-the-pan. A quick blast of tweets and public post which disappear down the scrolling stream faster than Usain Bolt running a hundred meters.
Authors, you NEED to find new ways to promote your works, ways which offer longevity rather than the promise of making a ‘quick buck’ or selling a few more copies of your latest tome overnight… for one night only.
You need to find a simple, ongoing promotional aid which is always working for you, even when you’re not working.
A low-cost way that won’t break the bank, or better still, a way which will pay you a return, a royalty, on your promotional material.
Now wouldn’t that be wonderful…
If only such a thing existed…
Well, such a thing does exist, but only for those who are prepared to move forward, to see the changing lights (mostly red ones) as social media platforms are brought to task and the hyper highway of freedom and unlimited possibility become more crowded, slower and, well… limited.
Even more so now Google plus is/has shut its doors. MeWe and Pluspora just don’t have the numbers or, as yet, the financial backing to grow fast enough or fight hard enough to take on the big boys… at least for now.
A small, but growing group of indie authors, are moving forward into the new dawn of altered perception, of interweb reconstruction and publishing future.
It is a group which, (at present), still has its doors open to welcome a few more indie authors inside. Authors with great tales to share, who are well crafted in penning a wonderful story. Authors who are serious about writing, about selling their books, about being authors.
So, what is this group and who are these indie authors?
Simple, we are Electric Eclectic. The book brand which is sweeping the internet.
Before you ask, yes, this is about sci-fi and Robots… but it also about crime fiction, fantasy, steampunk and many other genres. It’s about understanding, imagination and the muse… so read on…
Like all fiction genres, Sci-fi and its many sub-genres must evolve with the times, writers must look to the future. (pun intended)
Czech writer Karel Čapek introduced the word “robot”. It is said his brother suggested using a derivative of the word robata, which means literally “serf labour” and figuratively “drudgery” or “hard work.”
No wonder the robots usually want to revolt, to take over our world. To turn the tables on us!
But, long before the word “robot” was invented, the ideas of mechanical or artificial men was in our ancestors’ consciousness. Early ideas of robots or automata drew inspirations from early writings and figures in mythology, who were described as anthropomorphic and crafted from stone or metal.
Described in the Argonautica as a giant man of bronze forged by the smith Hephaestus, Talos is tasked with patrolling the island of Crete and fending off pirates.
However, he is still partially organic, as is shown in the description of a single blood vessel that runs from his neck down to his ankle. Much like with Achilles and his heel, the vein of Talos is his weakness, and he dies in the story from exsanguination.
This developed into ‘other’ forms of automata,
In ETA Hoffman’s short story, The Sandman, the main character Nathaniel falls in love with the daughter of one of his university professors.
While she is beautiful and elegant, Olympia speaks very little, only responding to conversations with “Ah”.
She is also often motionless for long periods of time.
The people around her find this disconcerting, and it is eventually revealed that she is a lifelike doll.
Enter the early days of Sci-fi as we recognise it now,
Edward Ellis’s Steam Man is an early example of the Edisonade genre of science fiction.
Derived from Thomas Edison’s name, the genre describes stories that feature an ingenious young American inventor, who uses his inventions to go on adventures, solve problems, and defend himself against his enemies. The invention often has many purposes, such as weaponry and transportation.
In this case, the teenage hero is Johnny Brainerd, who creates the steam man and uses it to pull wagons that can carry passengers. Despite its large size, the steam man can run quite fast, and Johnny uses this to his advantage (such as, for hunting buffalo).
An imitation of this story was written by Harry Enton in 1876, called Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains, which also features a young inventor and his robots. Frank Reade’s steam man improves upon the first, with a much more efficient engine due to improvements in hydraulics and use of lighter-weight alloys. Thus, it is faster and stronger. Frank Reade’s son, Frank Jr., would eventually go on to create Steam Man Mark III, and replaced the use of steam with the use of electricity.
This and Steam Man of the Prairies were dime novels, popular fiction that is much like the comic books of today.
Dorothy finds the mechanical man, Tik-Tok, with a printed card suspended from the back of its neck.
The card provides directions for ‘using’ Tik-Tok, such as how to make him speak, think, and move by winding the clockwork in his body. Tik-Tok needs to be periodically wound like a toy to function, as he cannot wind himself up.
Tik-Tok has been referenced in other fiction, and his benign nature subverted into something more sinister, such as in Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and John Sladek’s Tik-Tok.
As I spoke of in the opening paragraphs of this post, the term Robot arose thus…
This famous play, which was successful in its time, describes a factory that makes artificial people or roboti, from synthetic organic matter.
Less like robots and more like androids or cyborgs because of their biological nature, these synthetic people work for humans but eventually organize an uprising, causing the extinction of humans.
Karel Capek’s play is influential for being the first to use the word “robot”, replacing “automaton” or “android”. It is also worth noting that “robota“in Czech means forced labour, of which the robots in the play were made to do.
“Robot:We wanted to be like people. We wanted to become people.
Radius:We wanted to live. We are more capable. We have learned everything. We can do everything.
Robot:You gave us weapons. We had to become the masters.
Robot:We have seen the mistakes made by the people, sir.”
Which basically, and with a giant leap of literary faith, brings us to the time when robots were simply robots, like Robby from ‘Lost in Space’. A time when Isaac Asimov penned ‘I Robot’ and hope for humankind lingered.
We all knew where we stood.
Then along came James Camron who introduced us to Skynet, and all hell broke loose.
So, where does that leave us, how can we tell new, inventive and genuinely futuristic tales of machines, androids and automaton now?
Maybe, a little closer inspection of where we stand now will help us, if we stand on tiptoes and look far over the rising horizon…
Robots are all around us, toiling away in factories and warehouses, busting a gut in landfills and working in hospitals. The NAO model introduces school kids and students to programming and robotics and it also teaches children with autism. Another model, Pepper, was created to work in the service sector; its tasks include attracting potential customers and consulting with buyers.
As the IOActive team discovered, to seize control of NAO you only need to be on the same network as the robot. Experts found vulnerabilities allowing commands to be remotely executed, effectively giving over full control of its actions.
To demonstrate how these vulnerabilities can be exploited, the team forced NAO to demand bitcoins from its human interlocutor.
But real criminals would be limited only by their imagination and programming skills. What’s more, it’s not just NAO that can be infected with ransomware; the more business-oriented Pepper is just as vulnerable, and other models probably are as well.
Just imagine if one fine day a robot teacher or store clerk, in full view of John Q. Public, started swearing and insulting people before going on strike or picking a fight.
You never know.
But why would anyone hack a robot?
What do criminals have to gain here? Won’t it just spoil someone’s day or their life? That might be enough incentive for some hackers, who often do such things just for fun.
But there’s another reason: money.
The profit motive is simple. Buying a robot costs about $10,000; and if it breaks, it must be repaired or replaced.
Both of those require a fair bit of cash, but factor in the downtime cost and reputational loss of having a robot threaten customers and the sum rises considerably.
If an industrial robot is hacked, it can pose an immediate threat to employee safety or production quality.
An attacker compromising a robot in one of those ways might offer a quick solution to the problem, (which they caused), pay a ransom and everything will be just fine.
But, as you might guess, cybercriminals don’t always keep their word. Of course, the vulnerable robot might be hacked again, requiring another payout.
And then, another,and another…
What can be done?
Robots are here to stay (and multiply), so avoiding contact with them is not the way to go. For that, you’d need to invent a time-machine and go back a long, long way as mentioned above.
Instead, users and manufacturers need to be sensitive to robots’ weaknesses to ensure these devices do not go from cutting-edge to catastrophic in the blink of an eye.
Robot creators need to think through security issues in advance before production starts. Today. Better still, yesterday.
Then, after product release, all ears must be kept firmly to the ground to respond promptly to reported vulnerabilities and get them fixed.
…Or some sort of mayhem, a type of life-shattering, civilisation ending apocalypse may just leap from the pages of a book and into reality…
Or maybe that is just my way of stimulating your muse… think on, but carefully and you could join the ranks of Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Isaac Asimov.
You see not all sci-fi which includes rouge robots must be apocalyptic, that idea has been done, and done, and done to death. Now it is time for a differing approach.
Take your favourite crime-based books or film, or a combination of both media. Choose a story without any robots and select a character or two.
Now, think of your chosen characters as automaton, combine those two or three films/books plots. (If they are Hollywood or from mainstream publishing, it will not be a difficult task because they use a five, or seven-point, plotline… its what makes mainstream boring and predictable.) and start writing. Don’t copy… No plagiarism allowed; simply let your muse write the story guided by the basic (combination) of the plot(s) outlines.
You will have a brand-new crime story, but one which includes robots. It does not even have to be set in the future or on another planet, it can be urban fiction, steampunk, fantasy… you decide.
What you will have is a cross-genre fictional work which can be promoted to a wider, but targeted audience. That means greater sales opportunities and a much larger readership potential.
Why not make your robot a stooge, a fall guy? Have the reader fall in love with it, empathize with it.
Alternatively, have your robot(s) as the victim, the missing link to solving a situation… not all robots are bad, not all are good, some simply have frailties, others damaged personalities, why, some are even human… aren’t they?
Whatever you do, have fun and visit my website HEREI have a load of crime fiction and other ‘stuff’ you will just love. But don’t just take my word, go and have a look now.