I spend a lot of time on Twitter. Possibly (very likely) more than I should and that is possibly counterproductive in terms of time management, but I have grown my following by being real and interactive. Occasionally I am tempted to schedule tweets and I do find they can be effective for reaching people in the middle of the night. If I do, I always respond to follows and retweets as soon as I can.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of relatively small accounts growing their own followers by offering random retweets and telling you this is the way to go. It is almost like a follow train (another thing I won’t do) and while still within the rules it is only a matter of time before Twitter reacts to it and makes it harder to do. Already it is impossible to access your own likes for pinning to your profile later, you used to be able to keep them for years, now the limit is days. Favourites have been replaced by “moments” and I am not even sure what “moments” are. (Perhaps someone who is a real person can tell me in the comments?) That has been done for a reason, most likely to stop automation of this sort. It is very annoying when measures taken to discourage automation stop the user from sending real messages that quote your own old tweets… but there you go… It is the price we pay for these cheating Autotweet apps.

I know lots of people who used to interact personally and reciprocate RTs are now using random apps instead of spending time on Twitter. They no longer respond or reciprocate so I no longer retweet them. In my limited time I want to interact with real people, not be overlooked by third party apps. So, that is my curmudgeonly musing for the day. If you ARE a new retweet app user you are losing the impressions my RTs would have given you. I prefer the real deal!

There was a time, not too long ago, when to have a well-rounded liberal education was considered a good thing. I grew up in such a system. My education in areas of health, careers and financial management was non-existent but I could read and speak a little in three languages, knew a little Latin and dabbled in music and poetry while studying towards maths and science A-levels. That was the point at which things started to change for me.

I was blessed with a Maths teacher who was somewhat of a genius mathematically but not very gifted as a pedagogue. He expected us all to understand instinctively what was needed to solve problems. For the A* students that was no problem but most of us struggled. For me, it fell apart with integral calculus and that, I was told, was essential for A level Chemistry. Without Maths and Chemistry my best subject, Biology, had to be dropped much against my protests and those of Mr Howard my Biology teacher. Why? Well, in those days one science A level was apparently no use to anyone when it came to University entrance so when I dug my heels in and refused to give up A level Music and have extra maths homework I was reassigned to taking English and French midway through my second term.

I suppose I had these difficulties because I was a bit of a polymath which was fine up to year twelve (sixth-form we were called then) but afterwards you had to think about University and careers. Had my Maths teacher been more imaginative I could possibly have conquered the little block I had on integral calculus; at that time I could do it mechanically but didn’t understand its application to real life problems. I would have completed my science courses as planned, but I didn’t. In such circumstances I would probably have gone on to study music therapy, which needed science and music, or psychology which fascinated me then and still does – or even both – but as it was I was left with arts subjects and no ambition.

The whole experience was demoralising and I dropped out for a while after passing those exams. What followed was two years in the retail trade, then a four year degree in teaching and a lifetime drifting through the education system in various incarnations, cover teacher, class teacher, college lecturer and peripatetic music teacher. It was a good career but it never set me alight. I spent my free time variously scribbling poetry, stories and scripts, making musical arrangements for guitar, writing songs and composing my own serious “classical” music.

So many years later, I regret nothing. I did what I had to do and followed the paths I was told to follow by my elders and betters. Now I find I am still torn by many interests; history, politics, science, the environment, animals and nature – not to mention a spiritual side I usually keep under wraps. I am content if not happy. In this life nobody can be completely happy if they are aware of the plight of others. We all experience loss, which we learn to accept, and horror at terrible events, which is perhaps harder to cope with. I have fans who listen to my music on internet radio. I sell musical arrangements and compositions worldwide. I have just published my second novel which, until last week, was selling and being read. I have four books of poetry under my belt and I am working on several projects when the cats allow me some free time.

Why do I write this now? Well, as an author, I am daunted by the importance of genre and tropes. I see specialism is not confined to the sciences now but has filtered through into the arts too. Authors are expected to use pen names when they write in different genres. This is a process that is all about selling and targeting readers. The great writers of history did not confine themselves in such an unnatural way. Shakespeare wrote tragedies and comedies. He toyed with history and the paranormal. Edgar Allen Poe dabbled with detective fiction, science fiction and poetry although he is remembered for horror. Oscar Wilde dabbled in horror, moral tales and poetry although he was best known for satire, wit, and the theatre.

Take a look at my page at Author Central if you want to see diversity:

Lisa Gabriel on Author Central

If you travel over to iTunes and look me up there you will see my music is not particularly specialised either:

Lisa Marie Gabriel on iTunes

It’s just that sometimes creative people need that bit of freedom just to BE. The selling is something we would hope, often in vain, that others with entrepreneurial abilities might do for us and in this day and age that becomes less and less likely. So please forgive the polymaths of the world, the multi-genre authors and the fusion musicians. We are not trying to deceive you, we are just who we are. I hope you all had a wonderful Easter, Ostara or whatever else you like to call it and may your God/dess bless and keep you whoever He/She is.

The other day one of my readers said:
“I enjoyed The Wings to Fly but there’s a lot about flying in it, isn’t there?”
“Yes, there is.” I said.
“It’s different. It’s not often you read a historical romance with much history in these days. They tend to about the chase and the catch and the good sex at the end.”
“Well, that’s your standard romance isn’t it? Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, things happen, boy gets girl back, happy ever after?”
“Yours isn’t like that though.”
“Why? What do you mean? Apart from the girls of course…”
She went on to explain that she felt this was more about a group of people, real people and their lives. Romance was a strong element but not the main one and there were boy/girl romances everywhere, plus a couple of girl/girl ones and not too much action between the sheets. I asked her if she was OK with that.
“Isn’t that what life’s like? It’s not just about two people between the sheets, it’s about all of us, our friends and what happens around us,” she replied.

I had to admit that was true; that we don’t all fit into convenient pigeon holes anymore than The Wings to Fly fits into a convenient genre. Life is full of awakenings, discoveries, disappointments, tragedies and, in time, true happiness when we eventually find love.

“But what about the flying? Why was that so important to you?”
“I suppose it was the flying that brought the whole thing about. The book I mean. Without feeling the inspiration of those early aviation pioneers, the tragedy of war and the heroism of combat and ferry pilots I confess I’d just have finished my second vampire novel instead.”
“I’m glad you didn’t, I’m not too keen on horror, but that enthusiasm certainly comes through in The Wings to Fly . I really wanted to be up in the air with Midge in the Tiger Moth – and touch the clouds with John Magee in his Spitfire – I loved Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart. I could almost feel the wind in my hair in that biplane.”
“Really? That is just what I wanted. I can think of nothing more wonderful than flying a plane like that. Not a big commercial plane though. To me that’s like being on a bus in the air and it’s a little scary being out of control. But to feel the response of a Spitfire or the lightness of a Tiger Moth in the wind? Now that’s the romance of flight, that overwhelming sensation of freedom most of us only get when we do truly fall in love.”

The Wings to Fly is available on Kindle and in paperback and you can read it free with Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime. I hope you will and that you will enjoy it.

Well the easy answer is because that is her nature. Life as a writer would be infinitely more easy if our characters were less complex. If Midge were heterosexual that would throw open a much larger readership for me for a start. Schools and Christian readers would not be taken aback by her love for another women for example. Yet she would blend unseen into the infinitely large pile of boy meets girl romances. If she were to be a lesbian on the other hand that would make her life much less complicated for her and for my novel too. There would be a ready made niche audience of lesfic fans who I suspect would be somehow much more comfortable with her sexuality. There would be fewer triggers in the story although, for me, it would be less true to life and less interesting. Midge is neither gay nor straight and that shapes her life in unexpected ways. Although she is obviously drawn to women emotionally she enjoys the company of men as likeable human beings and has a strong sex drive which is modified by the era in which she was born. There will be those readers who say she always was a lesbian and just had to discover her true self; there will be some who castigate her for marrying a man just as there will be those who condemn her for being unfaithful to Richard. So why did I write her this way? Was I trying to be trendy?

In answer to the first, my writing tends to be character driven. I believe that our characters exist in some hidden dimension of space or time waiting to speak to those who will be most attentive to their needs. Maybe some will see that as paranormal; I think it more likely that it is a product of our own psyche, our conscious beliefs and our unconscious dreams. When a character like Midge is “born” she takes over the writing of the story and leads it down paths a little different possibly from those we had planned. I could no more force Midge to be gay or straight than I could force myself to eat melted blue cheese on cornflakes! She has a voice of her own and her scenes were almost dictated to me, as distinct from scenes I wrote for other characters after in depth historical research.

Was I trying to be trendy? Absolutely not. The concept of “bisexual being trendy” is really limited in my experience to the young and famous. For most honestly bisexual individuals it is not an easy label to take on or live with. The ideas many people have about bisexuals derive from sources that have a strong agenda. I won’t go into that now, but I will reference a superb book that addresses many of the misconceptions about bisexuals. This comes from my review of Purple Prose on Goodreads:

“Bisexual is not a “one size fits all” label. Being bisexual is not about being confused, trendy, greedy or dishonest. Bi-phobia and bi-erasure are institutionalised everywhere. Bisexuals are often, but not always, monogamous. They might identify as straight or gay/lesbian their entire lives but they know they have romantic feelings towards both genders and indeed sometimes to people whose gender falls outside the binary norm. A bisexual friend once said to me “I love a person, not a gender.” For those individuals who fall into the “monosexual” category gender assumes an overwhelming significance in partner choice. For bisexuals it does not – a person is loved for more than their intimate parts, their masculinity or femininity. This should be liberating. Often it is not.”

So I was not trying to be trendy and by being honest rather than reductionist in my writing I was probably always going to limit my book’s audience but if one person reads The Wings to Fly and says “I know that girl, she is like me” or “she is like my friend” then it will have been worthwhile. Sometimes life does not fit into convenient pigeonholes and neither do heroines in fiction.

This is something writers are often asked and I find I am no exception to that. The answer will vary from author to author and also varies within genres. For example, in my short stories I often find the idea for a story arrives well before any of the characters. In my novels it is a completely different kettle of fish. In the case of The Cougar , Berenice actually appeared to me in a dream and said “Tell my story.” She had such a commanding presence that I had little choice in the matter and the following day I sat down and began to write The Cougar from scratch. This novel was my first and I was not writing to any standard genre or pattern. The Cougar is a love it or hate it novel for that reason. It doesn’t conform and is not written with anyone’s sensitivities or preferences in mind. I could have bent the story or characters to a particular style or genre but I wouldn’t really want to. Berenice wanted the story told and it was Berenice who dictated the telling of it. The Cougar was an easy book to write and seemed quite effortless at the time; its setting was a familiar one – a place I love in reality – research was serious because I like to get things right historically but it presented no problems. The hard part was the editing but the hardest of course was learning to live with all sorts of criticism, some of it harsh, much of it probably justified based on what is expected of writers when it comes to “how to write commercially”. Were there things I could have done differently? Very likely, but it is a question of weighing up what could be gained against what would be lost.

When I wrote my second novel (which at the time probably looked like being my third) it was again character driven. I had a few thoughts which gave birth to an initial storyline but, once begun, I found that the character of Midge took over as narrator for much of the time and her feelings took front seat throughout. The Wings to Fly is an historical novel and certainly required a lot of reading and research, taking nearly a whole year to write the first draft as opposed to The Cougar’s six weeks, in both cases this was followed by careful editing. The Cougar was therefore an easier project than The Wings to Fly but I am happy overall with the result. It is a longer and more complex tale and I took on board many examples of the historical fiction genre that I have enjoyed over the years. It is a more intimate telling, there are fewer factual asides, where reality creeps in it is made part of the action. Characters are, I hope, well developed and believable. There are aspects of the main character in both of these novels that I would like to elaborate on further because I am sure some readers are going to have questions about their complex personalities and lives but those are questions that will have to wait for another day.

Both The Cougar and The Wings to Fly are available in paperback and ebook format and may be read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

I haven’t written much this year. In fact I am saddened to confess that I haven’t even read very much. In the month of NaNoWriMo I suppose any writer worth their salt should have produced the outline of at least one great novel but quantity was never my forte, least of all when blocked by a combination of family bereavement and seasonal affective disorder. However I gave myself a kick in the butt and managed another short story this week.

The Nefarious Deeds of Flautobel: Tales from the Edge of Darkness – 3 is a very British story. You won’t find Webster’s spellings here and you may be easily offended by the “ing” words in the writing, but it is a little piece of English humour, with a “U”.

The Nefarious Deeds of Flautobel: Tales from the Edge of Darkness – 3 is firmly set in the East Midlands, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire to be specific, and it deals with the surprises that real people can often spring on you. There is no magical realism, no vampires, evil empires, talking spiders or spaceships just a growing relationship between a young forensic science student and a blind baglady who turns out to have a few little tricks up her frayed sleeve. Is it literary fiction? Who knows, “literary”, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder. All I know is that Flautobel spoke to me early one morning when she could have chosen a myriad of far more highly regarded authors. God bless Flautobel for dragging me out of my lethargy and I hope I have done her character justice.

The best-selling album of all time in the United Kingdom is Queen’s Greatest Hits, a compilation album that was first released in 1981. According to authorities in the music business, as of February 2014, this album had sold more than six million copies, of which only approximately 124,000 were from downloads – the rest were vinyl, CD and other media. Now if I wanted to advise a young guitar student of mine  how to succeed in the music business I could look at all the reasons why Queen are still in that coveted number one slot and enumerate them into a prescriptive (or proscriptive) thirty point list. I could say that you have no hope of succeeding in the business unless you do all these thirty things. I would be wrong and I would be laughed at because in music what succeeds and maintains success long after hype and payola have ceased to artificially boost a band’s reputation and sales is PERSONALITY.

Queen, when they first burst in on the music scene in the 1970s, had already been going for some time doing all the important stuff that people told them would help them succeed. They were not brand new and they did their share of emulating former stars too. That is called serving an apprenticeship and it is pretty vital to success in the business; likewise The Beatles played many live shows in Europe, played covers and changed band members before they got their break courtesy of Brian Epstein and “made it”. Eventually there comes a time when the band gets tired of doing the same-old-same-old received wisdom that never works and they say:

“Sod it! We are going to do…”

That is often the point at which A&R men sit up and say:

“Hang on just a bleedin’ minute…”

Then they get the push and they break out big time.

It helps to have an exciting hook line, an amazing voice up front like Freddie Mercury, a fantastic skilled guitar player like Brian May and all the rest of the talented lovelies in Queen but to be radical and not to slavishly copy is the secret to lasting success. This is what Queen did. This is why they are still selling downloads to the grandchildren of the first generation of their fans. This is why, amongst all those money making published bands, they will never be forgotten.

When it comes to writing, is there any need these days of that long, long list of rules the publishing houses put together to account for half a dozen mega successful genre authors? My belief is that the market is now far more new and exciting than it ever was. Many of the classics break many of these “rules” and my belief is that the new “classics” will break them too. If your sole interest as a writer is to get a toe in the door of a genre publisher then follow them however you have no need to do this if you self publish. In self publication there are few rules although there might be a few guidelines:

  • Have a good story
  • Tell it well
  • Be original, sparkling and personal in your writing
  • Don’t apologise for description, scene setting or adverbs, just use them tastefully
  • Strive for balance but allow your words to have a life
  • Write fewer words rather than more but make every single one of those words count
  • Read
  • Edit
  • Re-read
  • Edit
  • Read aloud to a friend
  • Edit
  • Let a friend read the proof
  • Edit
  • If you can’t spell or punctuate get a PROFESSIONAL to do the final edit
  • Publish
  • Promote
  • Eat if you are lucky and sell a book…
  • Write another book

It may be that you will not be all that successful as an author, maybe that is not in your karma for this lifetime, maybe you will have to content yourself with a day job BUT you will be a writer because you love to tell your story in your own words.

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Good luck, be brave, be original!