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Life is too short. It is certainly too short to worry over ebook sales, or the lack of them. I shot my bolt with A Crofter’s Tale and I didn’t hit any targets. Likewise, my short story collection stalled totally. Two new books with no sales. So for quite a while I agonised over this. I had sold paperback versions, which is unusual in itself, but no ebooks. I would have expected a flurry in the first month on Amazon, but nothing. Zero, zilch. Nada!

“Market” they all told me but I was marketing. I was using paid advertising on Goodreads and AMS and telling all my Twitter followers. By now, not only had my new books only moved in physical form but the older books were slipping behind in the ranks too. Day by day I saw bargain bins of 99c specials pushed out from traditional publishers on my kindle, day by day on social media I saw small groups of independent authors running sales and giving out freebies. I ran a freebie promotion on a novella and got a flyby one star on Goodreads. Nice…

So, back to the beginning. Life is too short to worry over book sales. It would have been nice to make enough for my flight out to see Jewels. Shit, it would have been nice to make enough for a cup of coffee or an ice cream each – but nothing has moved except for that poor doomed freebie. I know I can write – well, I am told by some who have read my work – but I can’t sell at all and unless I can hit that magical twenty five good reviews I won’t sell so I am pulling back from the battle. In six days I travel out to BC to visit my girlfriend and her family and other friends in the area. Unless somebody big, fluffy and fierce eats me in the National Park I will eventually return to England to decide whether to give up writing and composing and look for a job washing up or shelf filling locally. I know, do it just for pleasure, but as life approaches its final third I am circling the drain and time for me is shrinking rapidly. It is either write and starve, or work and eat.

Meantime I have a new hobby. I used the sunny weather this week to get out in the yard and play with my Dremel. I have been meaning to for months; it was my favourite Christmas present but is far too dusty to play with indoors. There is something decidedly therapeutic in picking up an amorphous chunk of limestone and turning it into a decorative object. My Persian cat needs polishing, my little statue of Bastet is a work in progress. The joy of this new hobby is that it is totally pointless – except for the diamond bits, of course. It takes days to make one little ushabti and nobody would buy one of my primitive efforts even for the minimum wage which is fine by me. I am doing it for love and I will give them to people whom I love. Come to that, I was writing for love too but somehow nobody else understood that. I had a post of my new novel deleted from an author invitation thread on a Facebook group where it should have been appropriate to post. Nevermind, I don’t really get on with Facebook and there is much I do not understand. I expect I shall write again in the future but I had to stop doing it right then because my heart was breaking.

Will my stone statues go on forever? No they won’t. When the sun swallows all the planets nothing anyone has ever done will matter. We will all be recycled as star stuff somewhere, somehow. Our great deeds will all be forgotten, our book sales will be pointless, our great achievements will all be obliterated. Nothing has permanence. There is little point in struggling when our time is so short and so very precious. Why miss out on sunshine and joy? Nothing actually has any meaning beyond the instant of its creation. I am smiling as I say this; the only thing that exists is emptiness and that is fine by me…

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This is a post that has been decades in the making. In my lifetime equality issues have made huge strides to the extent that gay and lesbian friends are very much out and part of everyday life. I am less sure about how those friends who are transsexual feel and to be honest the extent of biphobia and bi-erasure from those who should know better never ceases to amaze me. I decided quite early in my writing career to follow the principle that “love just is” and I have never excluded relationships that I felt were germane to the characters in a story. For this reason, I believe I am struggling to find any sort of audience. There are those who would say to me something along these lines:

1. “I can’t buy / read / share your WW2 novel because it has women like that in it.”

2. “Why does everything have to contain lesbians or gays these days?”

3. “There never used to be so many of them. The world is becoming so wicked.”

On the other hand, I also get:

1. “Why did Midge have to marry a man before she discovered herself?”

2. “I wish there were no straight sex scenes in your novel, you know. Without those is would be really good.”

3. “Why did your story have so many men in it? Was that really necessary?”

To me, neither of these attitudes addresses the real problem of bi-erasure, straight-erasure or the LGBT-erasure we (wrongly) assume is over and done with. People who buy books want to look through rose tinted spectacles at a world where any of the following apply:

1. LGBTQIA people do not exist; or only exist on the periphery as sad or comic characters.

2. Men in lesfic – or women in M/M romance – do not play any role in the story, other than a minor part if absolutely necessary.

3. Characters are exclusively gay, lesbian or straight, nobody is ever confused and bisexuality is a wicked perversion that endangers everyone who is actually honest with themselves.

Sadly, my books do not conform to these straitjacketing norms and for that reason I now know that they will probably not be enjoyed by many readers, LGBTQIA or straight, within my lifetime. I have worked so hard over the last five years or so and yet I am still very much on the fringe and at this point in time I am seriously thinking of giving up creative writing altogether and going back to the less frustrating business of composing music.

You know, in my stories, I try my best to make the love scenes open, honest and tasteful; please note I said love. I am not in the business of writing erotica; too many people already do it far better than I ever could. I would just like to find a few more tolerant and open-minded readers who don’t fall into either of the above two categories though. I would like to find some readers who can accept that LGBT characters existed and had (albeit closeted) normal lives before 1970 and others who can accept that their own liberation includes recognising that we are not stereotypes. Real people are not all the same – black or white, hetero-exclusive or homo-exclusive, recognisable genre tropes in day to day existence – nor should we be. My relationships are not second class relationships, either in real life or between the pages of my novels.

Rant over.

Love just is.

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!

Yes, I admit it I am a bit of a curmudgeon. I should have been born in the days of Queen Victoria. Despite my mental youth I belong firmly to that school of “children should be seen and not heard” and I don’t like having my routine disturbed by other people’s precious dears. So yesterday when we fancied a late Sunday lunch I was disappointed to see a car park filled to the brim at my local hostelry. Apparently everyone in the world had gathered there to rush out and watch the Magna Carta being taken past unseen in a convoy of dignitaries and security guards.
Noting our usual table was free, we went to sit down. Now I have a bit of a thing about sitting in the “pub end” where the chairs are wide and cosy as opposed to the “restaurant end”. The manager on the other hand has recently decided that food belongs in the restaurant where modern reproduction tables and carvers designed for skinny minnies and children dig their cruel sharp side posts into my muscular back and shoulders. In our usual comfy spot we would happily have waited our turn for a menu (the pub recently having acquired table service) but no, we were to go to the far end out of everyone’s way and wait to be seated at a table.
I remonstrated with the staff. Nobody was actually sitting there and we wouldn’t mind the wait in our usual spot (in fact we would have happily had an extra pint while waiting) but no… the landlord has decided these tables will not be used for serving food. As we were not allowed to sit down where we wanted for a drink, we left hungry and disappointed. You see, we knew the plan. When our local is busy, people who arrive in pairs are squeezed into the uncomfortable end near the toilets where peace is shattered by small children (and not so small children too) who rush around showing off to an audience much bigger than usual.
We were not going to comply with their evil plan. Now our local pub probably will not miss the several meals a week we purchase there (because, as a writer, I find cooking distracts me from my work). Nevertheless I refuse to be shoe horned into an unsuitable environment that has pretensions. We left and will not return while they have their busy June period. The Chinese takeaway we ordered instead was cheaper, home booze was available if required, and there were no toilet smells, sharp seats to poke your back or screaming kids to hurt your head.
When my local pub gets its first Michelin star I won’t mind waiting to be seated even though I see free tables, in the meantime, like Matilda, I just say F.U. Unlike Matilda, I doubt the dragon will scorch my fairy dress and eat me up. I was brought up to be seen and not heard!

Of Matilda Who Told Lies: Tales from the Edge of Darkness – 2 is the latest short story in the collection Tales From The Edge Of Darkness and is available to borrow free with Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime.