Starter for Ten – w/c 24-2-20

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up and blank pages are not allowed – if all else fails type out song lyrics. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold!

Suckage often occurs. Wednesday’s is best this week…

**********

MONDAY

W: What is your problem?

M: I was waiting to pull into that space. You already had a space, so move back.

W: Why should I? There was no one in the space so I pulled into it. I can see now you were looking at moving into that space, but I did first.

M: It was mine.

W: If it was yours then I would have crashed into you, you arsehole.

M: Lovely attitude you’ve got. Do you talk to your husband like that?

W: Did you talk to your ex-wife like that?

M: Jokes on you, I’m not divorced.

W: Good things come to those who wait.

M: Listen, just give me that space back.

W: Why?

M: Because it’s the one that I was waiting to pull into!

W: There’s loads of space.

M: Yeah, but I want to go there.

W: As we’ve already established, you clearly didn’t have the space in the first place, otherwise I’d currently be parked on top of your head – which is an attractive thought right at the moment.

M: Oh so you’re threatening me now? Did you hear that mate?

S: What’s that?

M: Did you hear what she said about driving into my face?

W: I didn’t say that – I pointed out that it wasn’t “your space” because I was in it first.

M: That’s not the point!

B: Mum! Dad! Why can’t you just enjoy the dodgems like any other normal people?

TUESDAY

There’s a bad energy in the room. Jokes that would usually land are falling flat. He’s hoping that it’s something to do with this fucking mouth ulcer. Every time his tongue probes a certain point on his inside lip it stings and his attention is momentarily distracted. He’s changed his delivery ever-so minutely and it’s enough to screw his timing.

But he’s experienced, he’s been doing stand-up a long time and he knows enough to sell the lines with physical movements. His arm movements become bigger and his hands start to push the punchlines; after twenty minutes his face muscles are exhausted because he’s pantomiming the fuck out of the evening.

“I’m not one of those self-hating Jews,” he says and he realises that the word “Jews” is the perfect storm for this ulcer – the pursing of the lips for the J and the little thrust of the tongue for the S antagonise it perfectly and he winces. He notices a lady react to the wince and pushes quickly on. “My mother does that for me.”

A small laugh – maybe a 5. That line is usually a solid 7 out of 10 laugh and it allows him to build from it, this section is going to be tough. Mentally he computes how well this section would deliver if he had to prune the word Jews out of it. Somehow even thinking the word makes his lip wince – he bails.

“But enough about Je-ow the adherents of the Hebrew faith, let’s talk about…”

WEDNESDAY

The mouse crashed through a pile of leaf mould, scattering fragments in the air and skittered on the wet gravel. He turned hard right and ploughed again through the deep piles of oak leaves that sat on the road. The cat sprang and landed on the pile, padding at the various movements with his claws, thrusting into where he hoped the mouse would be. A noise over on the right alerted the cat that he had miscalculated and he tore through the leaves, swiping clusters of them to one side in the hope of revealing the small, damp creature. It would make no more than a mouthful, but this was about more than hunger now – it was about humiliation. The cat felt it and longed to inflict it.

The cat approached the trunk of the tree and swished at the remaining leaves. The mouse scuttled quickly around the edge of the trunk, a fraction too slow to stop the cat from driving the claws of its right paw through the bed of its tail. It peeped with anxiety and pain and the cat reveled in the moment. The chase was beautiful but the kill was art – first a wound to ensure that any subsequent chase would be very one-sided. Then a parody of the morning’s back and forth, to rehearse for the next and to celebrate the kill. Then a small meal – it’s body and innards, leaving the spine and skull for the birds.

He drove his claw in further and the mouse peeped again and shook. It shivered and looked up just in time to see the bulldog tiptoeing up behind the cat, with the largest metal skillet the mouse had ever seen, raised over its head.  

THURSDAY

There’s something really satisfying about pouring sugar into a container. Opening the folds of a large packet of sugar and tipping it into the caddy that will be its home. In part this is because the sugar is, at this stage, pristine white and is yet to accumulate the mysterious brown flecks that characterise the look of latter-stage sugar caddy sugar. You can kid yourself that this time you’ll keep to the rules, it will be dry teaspoons only that will be used. But really, who can be bothered to get a spoon to fish out the tea bag from the cup and another spoon to get the sugar. That’s where the brown flecks come from, crystallised drops of tea.

The other thing that’s nice about tipping the sugar into the caddy is the aesthetic of it. It whooshes out and builds into a peak in the centre which a quick nudge on the caddy will flatten. The grains of sugar behave according to some laws of fluids, in the same way that you get waves in banks of sand. Enough atoms of sugar are pushed into the atmosphere to sweeten the very air. The echoing caddy soon takes on a deeper sound as the weight of material builds. The entire bag fits in and means that you won’t have to fold the bag over and keep yet another scrag end of a bag in the cupboard with the odds and sods of flours and powders.

The lid sits snug on the container, a rubber seal keeping the contents pristine – a new hope that this time it will be better and that the area around the kettle will not attract chaos. This time it will all work out.

FRIDAY

Afternoon tea? A four tier platter of sandwiches, cakes, petits fours, a glass of champagne, a vole and a pot of perfectly-brewed tea. All served by a waiter who is so smart he could be off to a wedding and he’s wearing white gloves.

Yes that sounds lovely. I’m wondering though if you’d accept some feedback?

It’s the vole, isn’t it.

It is the vole, yes.

It’s an outlier, isn’t it.

I’m not sure I’d even describe it as an outlier, I’d simply say it’s an irrelevance. You’ve done really well with the rest of the offer – the good, the drinks, the service. I’m just not sure what a woodland creature adds to the ensemble.

On the first week you said that we needed a USP. I looked it up when I got home and it means Unique. A Unique Selling Point.

That’s right.

None of the other hotels do a vole with their afternoon tea.

Right.

It’s unique.

Right.

I googled it, there is no other hotel anywhere in the world that offers voles. The niche is entirely empty.

Right. Let’s for the moment establish that the vole provides the U in this situation.

It’s Unique.

Right. What I think you might want to ponder on is whether this same element brings the S.

The Selling.

Yes.

Oh.

That’s right. If I compared offerings between your hotel and the one next door would the vole raise an eyebrow? Certainly. Would it get me through the doors? No.

Oh.

How far have you gone with the marketing?

Not far. Barely anywhere.

That’s good.

Just a banner.

OK, well that can be removed.

And a thing in the paper.

Which paper?

All of them.

Anythi-

A skywriter. I’ve renamed the business to The Voletel.

Anyt-

And I’ve ordered fifteen thousand voles. And employed a vole handler.

Why?

I thought people might want to choose their vole from a bucket of live ones. Like lobsters.

Book Readings Over The Phone: The Verdict

As you might remember, I recently posted an offer that I was going to invite readers to register for a free book reading over the phone. Don’t worry, it’s not finished – you can still book in for me to read to you here. I posted that on the 17th January and it’s been something of a surprise success, with about 60 readings taking place since then. On one day I did six readings and read to people from New Jersey and Australia.

Valuable lesson: always check that your mobile phone contract covers overseas calls. Mine didn’t…

In part the popularity of the experiment has been because I got some coverage from The Telegraph and from Popbitch, who featured it in their newsletter, which goes out to about 250,000 people every week. Frustrating to see that once again I get second billing to Donald Trump’s badger obssession.

The aim of this post is really just to outline what I’ve learned about the process, so that if other writers were thinking of doing it they might learn from some of the pot-holes I hit and, hopefully, avoid them. I’m also keen if anyone has any suggestions and feedback on the idea, then fire your thoughts at me in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter – this whole thing is very much a work-in-progress.

First thing I would say to anyone considering doing this is absolutely go for it. Do it. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry about getting it wrong. Just put yourself out there. You might get NO ONE taking you up on the offer, but so what – it’s just a fun project. Do it. Do it now. Set it up and do it. Stop thinking.

Absolutely, I’ve been nervous about how a reading would go sometimes, but I can honestly say that I’ve got something positive out of every single experience. I also estimate that about 90% of the listeners went on to buy the book. This isn’t primarily a marketing exercise, but it’s nice to know that it does work on that level. The best thing for me about the process is that there’s something so exciting about connecting directly with a reader through your story. It’s fascinating to hear them listening and then ask about what happens next – it validates a very real need to ensure that readers are actually excited by the book.

On a practical basis it’s really important to prepare for every reading. That sounds obvious, but it’s not just a case of getting organised. There’s a couple of angles that need thought and effort.

Technology: does your phone have enough battery? Are you in a space where you will get good signal and have a quiet background (and not sitting in the car like I was for one reading). Do you have a copy of the book?! I found it helped to have a reading copy which I could mark up with any notes or exclamations, to ensure I hit the right emphasis. I usually put my phone on speaker and sit it on a pint glass, which means that when I’m sitting at my desk, I can lean in really close and maximise the volume. It also frees up both hands, so I can hold the book and make any notes as I go.

Research: I ask people when they book in to tell me three things about themselves and I’ve been really surprised by how revealing people have been in these answers. It’s perhaps a sign that they recognise that I’m exposing something of myself to them (don’t worry, it’s not a video call) and they feel comfortable doing that too. Maybe it’s just a truth that when you ask people directly about themselves they often answer without much artifice. Those bits of information are useful for us to establish a rapport when we chat. I have to remind myself as I do more of these readings, that although this is becoming more normal to me, it’s potentially a pretty weird thing for them to be on the receiving end of. Therefore I like to make sure they’re relaxed and happy.

As part of this research, there are various questions that I ask before I begin a reading, such as “what do you know about the book?” More than I thought have actually read it and some have a specific section they want me to read, in which case I do that – this is their experience and they should get what they want out of it. Or if they’ve never heard of it before I give a very simple explanation of the book in a few sentences and then read them the first chapter. I want the book to stand on its own, rather than me issuing lengthy explanations and disclaimers. In theory, that should pull them into the book and hopefully make them want to know more.

I also ask if they’re ok with profanity – I learned the importance of that the hard way after I received the telephonic equivalent of a Hard Stare from one listener, after I casually started effing and jeffing. I also like to ask what sort of things they usually read, just because it’s interesting and I’ve got some good tips about books that I might like to read from the discussions! Finally, I ask them if they’re sitting comfortably, and tell them that if they want to interrupt me at any point then just shout and don’t feel bad about it. There have been a few guest appearances from Amazon delivery drivers and I wouldn’t want listeners thinking they can’t interrupt or tell me to shut up if they need a wee.

Finally, and perhaps the most unexpected part of the experience for me, there’s an emotional aspect to reading to people. As mentioned above – reading my book to people does put me out there and it takes some mental preparation to be ok with that. They might laugh in odd places, or they might be effected emotionally by what I’ve read them. They might hate it, or worse still, feel ambivalent towards it. I feel like it’s important to take a few minutes to make sure both reader and listener have got something out of the experience and offer them the opportunity to ask questions, or talk about what they heard. They might not want to, or I might have a question for them.

I will say that overall reading to people leaves me with a sense of calm and happiness. The love of telling people a story is what authors get involved in this business for, and reading it straight into a willing earhole is about as direct a hit of that experience as you can get. Often I’m left wanting to read them more, but I appreciate that people have their own lives and the world can’t just stop because I’ve written a book. Sadly.

From a practical point of view I’ve used YouCanBookMe to organise bookings and readings, which is about as straight-forward a platform as you could hope to get. I just use their free plan which does everything I need it to. Vitally, it cross-checks with your Google Calendar and ensures that you aren’t double-booking yourself. I was going to walk through the settings, but mostly it’s just a case of following the set-up wizard and deciding how many appointments you want to set per day and what duration they should be. You can then set up notifications before it starts. I’ve also set it so that it sends them an SMS after the reading to give them a link to the book (a small charge applies to each SMS sent) and where they can sign up for more info about me.

If you want to give this a go for yourself then give me a shout if you get stuck and I’ll gladly help set it up for you. And of course – if you’d like to book in a reading then give it a go, it’s not nearly as weird as you might think – unless you want me to make it weird?

Starter for Ten – w/c 17-02-20

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up and blank pages are not allowed – if all else fails type out song lyrics. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold!

Suckage often occurs.

I took a break from Starter for Ten while I was busy marketing Before and After, but as I start to focus on writing a new book, the plan is to do them daily again but publish them weekly, or possibly weakly. Hopefully that way it gives you a bundle to read or ignore as you see fit, in one handy package.

**********

MONDAY

There’s a little scratch on the wall and it bothers him. The walls were only painted a few months ago and to see this scratch where flecks of paint have been scraped off, reveals the colours underneath – that awful green that the landing had been painted ever since they arrived. He runs his thumb across the scratch and a minute fleck of the paint chips clings to his nail. It’s fine. He moves on with his day.

Later, he finds himself on the landing with a fine grade of sandpaper. He’s not entirely sure where he got the sandpaper from, but he dimly recalls a shop and a joke about DIY. Now here he is and he eases a sheet of the paper out and folds it carefully around a small block of wood, about the size of a chalk-board eraser. This gives him a pad which he can use to gently push at the edges of the gouge. He’s decided it’s a gouge and not a scratch – almost like it was a nail that pulled through the surface. He brushes and wipes and vacuums and soon he has a flat surface – the gouge is less prominent but underneath there’s that green colour that his wife insisted on. It reminds him of pea and ham soup. It’s a colour from another era.

The next morning he lays out a small cloth on the floor which is covered with spatters of colours. He’s mesmerised briefly and half composes a thought about Jackson Pollock, which dissipates as he returns his focus to the wall. He has a small tester pot in a colour which very, very closely matches the colour he chose for the landing when he was redecorating. He unscrews the pot and feels his tongue protrude through his lips as he daubs the paint in a neat line across the length of the seven inch fissure. In a macro he can picture the little valley of the gorge. The trauma that there must have been to create it. He pushes his face up close to watch the brush deposit the paint. As the paint hits the wall it fills the valley. It blots out any trauma and once again pushes the green walls back out of existence. It calms him to look at the now smooth walls. The paint is a good match. You’d hardly ever notice. He hopes it won’t dry darker, he’ll check again in the morning.

TUESDAY

There was a small black cat on the table. It could only have been a few months old. Its body was growing but it’s head was still kittenish and her paws still seemed a little large for her body. The children had named the cats, so this one was Bing. The other ginger kitten was Mr Tumble, which had been shortened to Tum. She pushed at a pen on the table until half of it was over the edge. All right gents, I’ve got an idea. The pen fell and skittered across the floor. The noise scared the cat and it bolted from the table, which wobbled under the sudden movement and the vial tipped on one side and rolled with intent towards the edge of the table. Just as it approached the edge, the man reached out and calmly put a finger on top of the vial stopping it a centimetre from the edge.

He was a big man, but the word fat wouldn’t have done him justice. He was just large. His head was large. His chest full. His frame was double-sized. Even the finger that now held the vial was large, the nail as big as a fifty pence piece. He wore a double-breasted white suit and his head was wet shaved so that the lights glinted off his dome. Bing circled around his foot, feeling the safety of his presence and scenting his feet. He carefully lifted the vial and placed it back in the rack, where it should have been but it was an object that called to him and demanded to be lifted and rolled between his fingers. The outright horror of what lay behind the simple rubber bung never failed to bring him a thrill. To own death and to keep it trapped in such a feeble prison amused him.

He lifted Bing onto his lap and the cat brushed its face against his hands. It circled several times and sat on one of his thighs, its entire body easily fitting. He lightly curled a finger around the cat’s ear and it lifted its chin to glory at this attention. He reached over and pulled the vial from the rack and ran it across the cat’s jawline. The cat enjoyed the game and feinted to bite at the vial. The man smiled and pulled it out of reach and secured it once more. How thin the lines were between chaos and normality. 

“Not today Bing.”

WEDNESDAY

“’…Slapped the fish on the table and said cook it yourself’ – that’s not good,” Pops looked up from the laptop. He raised his eyebrows – inviting comment. When nothing came he carried on.

“’Our party was then told that the table had been double-booked and the waitress told us we had to leave, even though some of us had already been served our starters.’ That’s not good. Marcy? What can you say?”

Marcy lifted her eyes and took an exaggerated breath. She twiddled the control stick of her wheelchair which made her fidget on the spot.

“Trip Advisor is a really important source of customers for us – if we get reviews like this then it hurts us as a business. And if we’re hurt then it hurts our staff – including you – as well.”

Pops made an awkward face at Marcy, his expression like he was witnessing a five car pile up on the freeway. “If you can’t tell me why you did it, I think we have to let you go.”

Marcy twirled the pommel of the control stick in her hand and found that it was a bit loose, so she pinched harder and screwed it back into place. Pops was still looking at her, the grotesque pantomime of awkwardness playing across his face.

“Marcy?”

The silence stretched until Pops could bear it no longer.

“Marcy – was it because of the wheel-, because of your…did it happen…”

“Oh fuck off Pops. I kicked them out because I was bored. It didn’t have anything to do with my wheelchair. It didn’t have anything to do with my leg. It didn’t have anything to do with anything, other than the fact that I was bored of looking at another table of shit-munching customers who expected me to bring them food.”

“But you’re a waitress.”

“I was a waitress until ten seconds ago. Now I’m a gin-seeking missile.”

THURSDAY

The line is nearly out of the door. It’s not even straight, it sort of circles around a display tables that has books about crochet on it. The audience is mixed, good balance of male and female, good ethnic mix and, best of all, they’re young – maybe averaging at around mid-20s. That’s all the more unusual when you consider that the city is mostly older and affluent. To attract an audience like this is surely the sort of thing his handler will take back to the publisher.

The handler was suggested by his editor. “She’ll help you make all the arrangements; it’ll free you up so you can focus on getting pages down.” That was the most appalling horseshit. The handler was there to take the temperature. Sales weren’t good on his last two books and although it still made all of the usual lists, that was now a given rather than a bonus. He briefly thought back to that magical Summer evening when he hit the best-seller lists for the first time. There had been whooping and wine and sex. The last time he hit the best-seller list his editor sent him an email asking if he had corrected the proofs for the German version.

He was saying a few words before the signing started. Generous, self-deprecating comments pushing his brilliance to one side and blaming the excellent crowd on the weather. Inside he thought about his pages. There were none. It was the book’s central idea that was the problem – there wasn’t one. He’d declared a breakthrough on this book so many times that it was becoming a bit of a cliché. Every time he thought he’d pinned the idea down it slithered from under his grasp like a squid. Fucking analogies.

“With no further ado then let me open the signing and thank you in advance for your patience.”

The table was set, a comical number of his favourite marker pens, a drink – lightly alcoholic – and, of course, his handler. The first reader came forward and smiled.

“Please could you sign this,” she asked and he took the book from her hands, opened it and fired his standard greeting into the inside cover.

“Thanks. Do we get the twenty pounds from you as well?” she asked.

The handler’s head snapped up.

FRIDAY

It felt tickly, that was a warning. It felt a bit like a cough, but also like a bit of the food had got stuck in her throat. The difference was that coughing really didn’t do anything to remove the sensation. She started to cough anyway, a light, high-throated Hrrrem noise that she repeated two or three times.

“Are you all right, Shirley?”

“Bit of a frog,” she managed to croak in-between hrrrems.

But she knew. It had only happened two times before and those were in very different circumstances. Very different.

Shirley started to panic. If previous occasions were anything to go by then within a few minutes her throat would be closing up and her breathing would sound like a punctured bagpipe.

“Ladies and gentlemen, will you please rise for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.”

There was a sound of chairs being politely scraped back and a hundred cake forks hitting plates as the star of the garden party arrived. Even given her situation Shirley found the power of royal obedience compelling her legs to stand. She tried to hrrrem even harder in the hope that it would dislodge something.

But she knew. The real horror was how had it been triggered? She knew it was absurd, but she searched her mind for any way in which she could have forgotten a meeting of that sort in the last few hours. But there was nothing! Of course, there was nothing! She and Katya had been in the hotel, they had dressed and as the invitation had promised carriages had arrived – albeit a hackney carriage, where it had deposited them here and they had joined the queues of ladies, all looking so stately and perfect.

It had to be something she had eaten then. She breathed hard through her nose and looked at her plate. Two fairy cakes – which were exquisite – and three long-fingered sandwiches. A cup of tea with milk. Shirley was peripherally aware that the Queen was circulating closer to their table. She was shaking hands with a chosen few. She had beautiful, long white gloves. It was true what they said too – she was smaller than you expected. She exuded a force though.

HRRREM – another effort to dislodge the blockage. Katya was now shifting between beaming with joy at the nearby royal and looking with a dark concern at Shirley. Shirley looked at the Queen and wondered why she was so bendy. Why would the Queen have black splodges on her? The roof of the tent was beautiful. Why didn’t everyone lie on their back and look at it, like Shirley did.   

Before and After is Officially a Best-Seller – But What Does That Mean?

After approximately 10 days of Before and After hovering around the Top Ten list in two different categories (more on that later), some mysterious salesforce bumped the book not just into the top ten, but actually to the hallowed top slot. I genuinely felt a bit dizzy when I saw what it had pushed back.

Oh, it’s just Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Who?

Before this post starts to sound like a vomit-inducing, overly-premature victory lap I thought it might be interesting to go into what hitting the best-seller means and how you go about getting that much-coveted orange ribbon.

The short and predictable answer is sales. There’s no getting around it, people need to buy your book. A slightly longer answer would be that it’s sales in a condensed period of time. If you take a look just underneath where it says Amazon Best Sellers then you’ll see that it says “Updated Hourly”. So the simple answer is that during that hour, as Amazon measured it, Before and After sold more copies than Good Omens.

Now, I’m not attempting to downplay this, I’m thrilled that anyone buys my books, but it’s fair to say that Good Omens has been on the shelves for some time – it was released in 1990. So, even despite the fact that it’s had renewed attention because of the (nice and accurate) TV series, that’s pretty amazing that a thirty year old book can still hold the number one and two slot on a best-selling chart. Come back to me in 30 years and let’s see how Before and After is doing. More amazing still is that it’s pretty expensive as Kindle books go.

The other thing that’s worth noting when it comes to the best-seller charts is that authors get to choose a number of categories for Amazon to list their book in. My main categories you can see here:

Notice too that it’s dropped to #94 in “post-apocalyptic” now – I’m sure Gaiman and Pratchett are working on their boastful blog posts right now. When you first upload your book Amazon allows you to have two main categories, you can actually email the very helpful customer support team at Kindle Direct Publishing and ask them to list you in as many as eight other categories.

Clearly, this helps a lot because some of those categories are fairly niche and will require far fewer sales to hit the best-seller chart than others. Perhaps unsurprisingly the most competitive category is Contemporary Romance. My chosen battleground of science fiction> post apocalyptic is slap bang in the middle at #54 (of around 100). So it seems that if you’re looking to harvest as many of those orange tags as possible then according to this chart you should write a book about something that fits the following categories.

Romance -> Historical Romance -> Scottish
Literature & Fiction -> Literary Fiction -> Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Nonfiction -> Religion & Spirituality -> Christianity -> Christian Living -> Spiritual Growth

Which rather neatly brings me onto my new book series: The Detective Morag Mysteries. The year is 1915 and Curtly Morag is one of the first to ever make the rank of detective in the fiercely misogynistic Scottish police force, she’s certainly the first atheist…

How about I read you my book over the phone?

I love reading to people. Love it. When my wife and I first got together I’d read to her all the time (mostly Pratchett, cos you can’t go wrong with Pratchett) and I’ve read to all of my children until the point where they don’t really want me to. There’s something so warm and human about telling a story straight into someone’s ear that hits me right where I live.

So let me read my book to you.

https://beforeandafter.youcanbook.me

Huh? What? Well, just that really. I’m doing a little experiment for the next two weeks where you can book a slot in my working week for me to read to you. It’s totally free and I’ll call at a time you designate and read about 10 minutes of Before and After to you. You could think of it as an audio sampler. We can chat and if you’ve got any questions then I’ll do my best to answer them, unless it’s maths related in which case I’ll get one of my children to help.

It’s kind of a weird idea, but I know that as my readers you’re looking for weird kind of ideas and I dig you for that. So why not give it a try?

Additionally, a few people have also asked if I’d read at their book club meeting and the answer is hell yes. If you’re doing Before and After at your book club just drop me an email and I’ll gladly come and read to you. I’ll also send you a list of the book club discussion points which I’m putting together for a later blog post. Depending on where you are I might need you to cover petrol, or bike wheel rubber, but it won’t be much. I’m also happy to talk about the career path of becoming an indie author and share what I’ve learned thus far. Primarily, never use the word thus.

Also as an aside Before and After is now a best-seller…no biggie.

Before and After The Book Trailer

Simply everyone is doing book trailers darlink! So I’ve done one too.

Actually, that’s a bald-faced lie – Iven Gilmore made it and I just chipped in with ideas and suggestions, then corrections to the suggestions, then alterations to the corrections, then…Iven punched me in the face and we finished it. Thank you Iven, I love you.

You’ll have to read the book to get an idea of quite wtf is going on here, but I love the little crescendo of chaos as the film builds. Given the size of my hero in the book, it felt appropriate to go with Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of What A Wonderful World, rather than Louis Armstrong’s. Plus, who doesn’t love a uke?

Let me know what you think! If you like it, would you be a poppet and stick it on your socials?

OK, Sminsel – a story about a story that I wrote for you as a Christmas gift

You know when they say that it’s the thought that counts? Yeah, well, I had a thought about writing y’all a short story to wish you Happy Christmas. I discussed it with one of my story advisors (Frank, aged 9) and he liked it well enough, so yesterday I powered through it and churned that sucker out. 2,400 words.

OH. HOLY. NIGHT. IT. SUCKED.

In nearly the first paragraph the concept fell apart. The characters were loathsome. It became ideologically perilous. The sentences themselves were fraught with rusty jagged edges that caught your jumper as you walked past them.

It stank.

I’m currently in the phase of processing this that therapists call “dangerously raw”. I splurged out the details on Twitter, so I’m going to link the tweets in here. This is solely so I don’t have to write the suckiness out again. Anyway, Happy Christmas readers.

https://twitter.com/nervouscrying/status/1206811316612206593

A footnote because these things gnaw at me. I thought reticulated meant when a creature is segmented like a worm or snake and it can move through a wave like process of shuffling each segment. I was wrong, I’m not sure that has a name – please let me know if I’m wrong here too. Reticulated is the name of a pattern where a network is created by lines. Think of a python or squinting at the motorway network map. As you were.

Three Weeks To Publication. Emphasis on eeks.

In my journey towards publishing Before and After, I’ve been learning a lot about the self-publishing process, with the help of the rather impressive guys over at a company called Socciones. They support Indie Authors to get their books onto Amazon. Indie Authors is the sexy, preferred term rather than self-published authors, because that has too much baggage and suggests a Chartered Accountant wondering why no one will publish his memoirs about spreadsheets.

I’m sure they wouldn’t object to my saying that it’s not actually impossible to do the work yourself, but there was quite a lot to do in a short space of time so I thought I’d recruit some help. They were friendly and helpful to me on Twitter and so I thought I’d go with them. So far, so excellent.

The stuff that they’re doing is mostly around the admin of the book. There’s typesetting the manuscript. This is where you take the Word document and change it into a file that Kindle readers know how it should be displayed. There are some basic formatting choices but this is more for the print-on-demand paperback than for the Kindle version, as readers can obviously change font size and line spacing themselves. I tend to have my Kindle on settings so large that you could read over my shoulder from a different county, so as ever with design stuff I will defer to the opinions of others.

They are also setting up an Amazon ads page so that I can play with that and see if I can get a reasonable return on putting out little ads on Amazon.

The idea is that if I can figure out what sort of keywords my readers would be typing in then I can pay X pence per click and have my book appear at the top of their search results. I’ve been researching and it seems to me that possible keywords are:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Morbid obesity
  • Dog ownership
  • Living like a hermit
  • Rage
  • Drones
  • Violent post-apocalyptic hellscape

Best-seller charts here we come!

I’m also working with my good friend Iven Gilmore to make a short book trailer for Before and After. I made the cardinal sin of briefing quite a complex and involved trailer, which Iven then dutifully went and started to make only for me to realise that it wouldn’t work, thus undoing all of his good work. Bad Shanahan, sorry Iven.

Other than that the book has now gone out to the ARC team. This handy little initialism stands for Advanced Reader Copy. This is where you hone, buff and polish your manuscript and send it out to very kind people who agree to read it and give you feedback on it. Their role isn’t to spot typos and spelling errors, although depressingly it seems they often do that too. Ideally, when the book comes out they’ll be in a position to review it, so that people wondering if they should buy the book will have an idea of what people think.

It’s three weeks today that the book is launched. That seems surreal. I’m in a weird space with it now. I feel sickened by it, but also there’s a deep connection of love to it. It’s like those awful marriages that end up with husband and wife stepping pointedly around each other in the kitchen, one waiting to get to the cutlery drawer, while the other waits for their toast to pop up. No, carry on. No, I’ll move. It’s fine. For clarity, our toaster is next to the cutlery drawer but Em would just push me out of the way in the above scenario.

I’m not saying I hate the book – I really don’t. I think it’s just part of this weird relationship you have with an idea, where it first blows your socks off and unrolls the turn-ups from your trousers. Over time, that novelty necessarily wears off because you spend so long shaping the idea and working with the characters. By the end you’re not best-placed to have any sense of the thing’s innate value because it seems old and all you spot are the scratches. Man, that’s depressing, no wonder arty types drink so much. Does make you wonder if Donatello spent a few hours after knocking David out thinking, “I reckon I could have done his knob better. Oh well, fuck it.”

The pre-sale page of the book on Amazon should go up hopefully by Wednesday and I’ve got some PR going out this week too. Not sure what will come of it but it’s nice to be working on something concrete. Well, that and starting to wonder what the next book will be…

Three weeks. Cripes.

Writing This Final Draft Makes Me Think Of Gareth Southgate

Yikes. This is all getting alarmingly real. I’m currently writing the third and final draft of the book and so far it’s been three days of weeping, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. The key to the difficulty is in that terrifying word: final.

FINAL.

FINAL.

Decades of following English international sporting teams has conditioned me so that I come out in a rash at the mere mention of the word final. Finals are hopes dashed. Finals are repeating the words “but we could have had it all!” endlessly into the froth of a pint of lager. As each chapter gets done I have to essentially declare: yes, this is perfect and precisely how I’d like the reader to receive these words. How do you do that? I suppose the alternative is that you find yourself two years down the line starting your 48th draft and realise that you’ve whittled your stick down to a match, but, boy, what a match!

Sure it’s great, but WHY?

Em said I had to push on through so that’s what I’m doing, wise wifely counsel. I’m also keeping myself busy by working with Yo on the cover design. I say working with, but really she does all the work and I just nod and say things like, “Can that font run right to left?” or “Would it work in mauve?” Yo smiles politely down the phone and gets on with the vital business of ignoring me.

I’m actually going to let Yo write a post about how the cover is decided because frankly she’s the one who knows what’s what, but I thought you might like an image that she made which shows an array of covers that are also nominally in the same category (the jolly post-apocalypse category, although Before and After is perhaps the first ever post-apocalyptic weight loss book – how’s that for a niche?)

Do you have a favourite from these? I’m an Atwood guy all the way.

Please help me pick a tagline for my book

So…I re-read the book while we were away at half-term and it turns out that I’m actually pretty proud of it. I don’t know if it has artistic merit exactly, but it talks about some things that matter to me, I think it’s a fun read and I’d like to share it with people. I’ve also had the early beta reader feedback which has been encouraging and given me lots to work on next. So, full steam ahead!

That means that in the coming weeks I’ll probably be asking you your opinion on various aspects of the book, from the cover to the inevitably horrible author photograph (still think I might go with this one…)

The first thing I’d like to get your thoughts on is the tagline which designer Yo is thinking about adding to the front cover. Now, I know you probably haven’t read the book at the moment (more on that coming in a later post) but which of these taglines would tempt you to read a book by a random author with a publicity headshot like that?

Vote now or forever hold your peace!