Wednesday 30 January 2013

Lucky Strikes

My most successful book flog took place last November. I went along to sign books on behalf of the charity Homes in Zimbabwe. If you want to support these noble fellows you can do by clicking on this link:
It was successful because I was giving all profits after costs to the charity. In other words, I was making nada, but I had no problem being on the make for them. I was able to don my marketing monkey suit with aplomb and become as shameless as a person in their ninth decade frolicking on a nudist beach in order to get a sale. I only had an hour to hawk my wares, so after ten minutes of smiling sweetly from a corner table and being roundly ignored, I decided to catch people unawares by infiltrating their circles as they attempted to make polite chit chat while trying to eat canapes and drink wine at the same time. "I am selling books in aid of Homes in Zimbabwe tonight," I announced popping up in their sedate circles and grinning like a loon. The group, would invariably reach into their pockets and pay up. Another charming Zimbabwean author who happened to be there grabbed an armful of books for me and came back ten minutes later without them. I was sold out within forty minutes and had to take names.

If only I could pull off this coup more often and perhaps even make a profit for those years of labour to boot! I'm thinking of becoming a charity. What with the shelves of our national bookshops crammed with Dostoyevsky on the one hand and Dragon's Den denizens on the other, with the Lucky Striker's in between - basically, blokes called Ian and the ones who write crime - which isn't to say Lucky Strike's aren't good fags - well-aged, toasted tobacco as well as good packaging, but can we have more space for the new too please?). Okay, I'm exaggerating, a little, there are a few doughty women in there, and there is some good kids stuff too. This marketing dilemma is a fact for new writers no matter how we publish (ourselves or through the mainstream) apart from the rare hype-ies who have the weight of their publishers marketing departments behind them. Surely there must be just a bit more room up there...

Thursday 24 January 2013

Marketing Monkey

They look good there but you don't want them to be spinsters
The last time I dressed up in my monkey suit - metaphorically speaking - was November last year, when I went to flog my books for a charity - this went very well - more later. Prior to that, monkey me came out at Waterstones in Hampstead - I think that was last February. The Waterstones gig was 'An Evening with Emily Barroso.' This event was given (I imagine) due to a good feature on the book that had come out the week I bowled in there (with sprogs) waving the paper. The manager had read the piece and in response to my asking for a book signing offered an event instead, thereby waving a double-edged sword in my face so deftly that I didn't even see it. I have blogged about this previously, but I bring it up now to point out that I was offered this event due to the happenstance of the feature and having had some other good press previously, and to show that that there is no point in having an evening with anyone unless folk know who the little monkey is. I was expected to don my monkey suit and get guests - and with a new baby, a toddler and an awol teenager, well I didn't. In the event there were about 36 people there - this is the headcount figure that seems to stick, though I may be doing myself (or Waterstones an injustice or not as the case may be).

Waxing on
The event went great, and I loved waxing on about my book and having a laugh with the audience and getting all tinkly-winkly about it all, but did I sell many books? Not really. The dilemma remains, and not just for me, through speaking to other recently published writers: those who have been published by a major, an indie, or who have done it themselves; a writer must get out there and pound the street to sell the meat (crude, but in my view appropriate, as this is how it feels!).

An industry person scoffed at my modest, but not bad (I thought) given they are word of mouth, book sales recently, citing an author she knows who has sold truckloads and who also went through a publisher similar to mine. I asked this industry lady if said author had little ones at home and whether she was doing book events every week. Affirmative. Obviously if you are going to don your monkey suit every weekend and clang your cymbals in bookshops folk are going to buy your book, and week by week, sales will rise. But if one has two nippers at home and another due imminently, one cannot just leave them and go tearing up and down the country with a livid stalkers book look in one's eye can one? Or two (sane mum + crazy mum?).

Maddened by lack of sleep and wine
Maddened by years of counting ones daily quota of sleep on three fingers, one should not be let loose on the unsuspecting public. At a bookshop signing, one might start mumbling on about the possibility of fossils on Mars while taking an absent minded bite out of the nearest display book to hand (which will be a bestseller by someone with the X Factor - 'X' as in the letter next door but one to 'Z' - or perhaps by a former cricket player spinning on his weaknesses - another winning wicket! Jaffa! No blunder there's no room for our books on the shelf). But please do not think I am thinking 'poor 'lil 'ol me,' I would not change my life for a second, sleepless and bonkers though it may be. I would just like to sell more books. Particularly since I write good books - yes, I believe my own press!

Seriously, if you are in my position and have any tips please contact me. Maybe we can help each other in some way that doesn't require mining for that glittery gold: time.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Mustering the cerebral monkey troop

I am discovering that given I have a window of opportunity to finish my book (at least I think I am going to finish it this time), trying to write this blog five times a week was perhaps, a tad ambitious. So I am going to write my blog as many times a week as I can muster (muster as in the military sense - calling all the brain cells together and trying to get them to work in formation - not easy given daily dawn patrol thanks to newer members of the unit, and parts of the body general going awol - my sciatic nerve for instance not passing muster at all - which impedes corporeal functioning and prevents the enemy - the impeding mind Germs from being blown to kingdom come and thus clearing the field for my new characters). Barroso! Assemble! Attention!

As my current book travels (in faith) towards its concluding stages (again) I am still mulling over the dilemma of unsold copies of my former masterpiece (oh yes, if you read it you would see! - my marketing ploy if nothing else) After the Rains, which is languishing, at some expense in a warehouse in Leicester. You see unless you have a big publisher behind you maniacally marketing the thing, you have to get out and sell the blasted product yourself. Imagine a shelf of fifty thousand boxes of peanuts. Which one are you going to buy? The one with the best box or cover? Shopper, you will be tripping on covers, in both senses - there are 50 000 of them and some of them are lurid and have no bearing on the actual peanuts inside. No you are going to buy your peanuts from the man (or woman) dressed up as a giant monkey who is hanging upside down from an unstable light fitting, making ghastly chimp noises and scratching the armpits of his (or her) mouldy monkey costume, bearing the name of his (or her) product.

More on this monkey business tomorrow. I have a serious book to whose wrongs I must write.

Saturday 19 January 2013

True deception

Disclaimer: This is long and possibly even earnest. Call it a Saturday essay perhaps, though perhaps a Sunday one would have been better given Jesus appears (only literaturely, but miracles do still happen).

This week my book club were discussing the Tove Jansson book The True Deceiver in which Jannson invites the reader to decide which of her principal characters are 'the true deceiver.' A dark philosophical work in which truth, deception and self-deception are laid bare; the way one looks at and perceives things and the way one is perceived by others is another focus. By the time the novel closes both characters have had their psychic landscape stripped bare and have changed their 'position,' regarding the truth of a situation. Genius stuff.

In the news this week I was struck by the reporting of the interview by Oprah Winfrey of Lance 'Pinocchio' Armstrong's 'toxic' tales, regarding his use of drugs and the manipulation of public sympathies in portraying himself as a heroic overcomer of testicular cancer when basically this guy had a nose as long as a telephone wire. His pants were on fire! A ball buster to anyone who questioned his stories (he threatened them with and began legal action), he also seemed to think his lies were acceptable as they took place on a 'level playing field.' Perhaps his deception was so deep rooted and he had told his lies so often that he had begun to believe them himself? This cautionary tale could have begun with: Everyone does it so it's okay. 

This sentiment is expressed in society in diverse ways. Taking a sickie? Lying to the tax man? Further: to friends, partners, family members. The school place lie. Post code untruths. Do you become  a Catholic or C of E pewster come year 5? "Sorry guv but your duff education system made me do it?" Either that or a lack of faith.
"Darling, if anyone asks, we're Catholics."
"Mum, what's a Catholic?"
"Er...someone that is universal with the truth?"
To claim immunity is to liberalise the truth, we've all lied along the way. But is it ever okay given the downward (and often growing) trajectory of the lie and the potential destructive diversity of its landing areas? 

A teenager, when caught lying about drinking or going to a party when he was supposed to be doing something else, claims immunity by stating 'all teenagers lie.' And because they do, so many accept it as  a fact of life and do nothing about it, by default raising shoddy human beings. Rot, when perceived, must be 'amputated' in order for the 'whole body' to be saved. This can be applied to the self as well as to society - not in fascist or witch-hunty terms obviously. Of course this depends on whether one values ones 'insides' as much as ones 'outsides.' As JC said during his sermon on the mount, the eye is the lamp of the body. "If your eyes are good your whole body will be full of light." Should the eye become dark and not perceive the truth so will understanding become darkened: And Enlightenment hopefully proceeds and does not falter.

I was also struck by the case of Pola Kinski, daughter of Klaus Kinski, who has stated that her recently deceased father raped her as a child. The young Pola describes her conflicting feelings, including the internalisation of guilt (why are victims so often made to feel blame?). At age 60 she is still tortured by her conflicting feelings: she is still being punished for her father's actions. Last night over dinner with two friends, one friend related the case of her friend's sister who is accusing her father of raping her as a child. The other sister denies it ever happened to her sister. The sisters are not speaking and the sister claiming abuse is having nothing to do with the father. The father (lying to everyone else and perhaps to himself too?) denies it. I hear this kind of thing over and over again: one or more child claims trauma or abuse, other children (perhaps repressing or suppressing the truth or having had another version of childhood that they understandably prefer) deny it. Sides are taken. I suggested to my friend that the abuse claiming sister is either telling the truth or mad: perhaps in the grip of a serious personality disorder.  I have taught art and creative writing to vulnerable women, some with personality disorders and these women tell lies like they are the truth. They are very unwell and this becomes apparent sooner or later.

At book club, I expressed my desire to always try to discover and communicate the truth. A woman asked me why. I expressed the notion that it is fundamental to our being: as sentient beings we seek out the truth of existence in all things. It is our highest aim. Surely it is a given? Jesus stated that he was 'The Way, The Truth and the Life.' As C.S Lewis said in his BBC recordings later published in Mere Christianity, this man was either stating the truth or he was mad. The Bible states that the heart is deceitful above all things. Lying to oneself seems to me to be true deception. Believers (I no longer use the term 'Christian' for a follower or disciple of Jesus as the term, in my view, is no longer tenable) are therefore invited to ask the Holy Spirit to heal their heart so that they are able to receive more and more of the Truth, who is also the person of Jesus Christ. The disciple James suggests that they confess their hurts to one another so that they will be healed, and St Paul urges that we speak the truth in love. Of course different people experience versions of the truth in which case grace needs to factor.

I am disturbed that it is harder and harder for believers to speak 'the truth' at all, though the case of Nadia Eweida is cheering. Told by BA that she could not wear her cross to work, she took her case to the European Court of Human Rights and won. Hopefully believers will always be able to model 'truth,' not least by showing love and tolerance to those that persecute them. Laugh but believers are persecuted in sorts of ways these days, mostly through 'intellectual' mockery, though usually these 'intellectuals' fail to see the irony in their stance particularly since they stand on the rock of hard won (by Christian thinkers and reformers) democratic principles whose historic laws enshrine and protect them. Let us avoid the dark ages: our own darkened thinking in ourselves and towards others and in our often coddled culture, by examining ourselves thoroughly and endeavouring to speak the truth in love.

Forgiveness is key to overcoming trauma. But for true reconciliation to flow the truth must first be heard and seen as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the apartheid years so brilliantly endeavoured to do. Without the acknowledgement of the truth of what may have happened to a victim, anger is a valid emotion, and left to boil over not a helpful one. In our post-Christian (no eternal consequences?) for want of a better way of putting things, society, we need to seek and speak the truth inside and out as vigorously as we are able and entertain as much help in this area as we can access, in order to continue to exist in an atmosphere of tolerance and dare I say it? - love.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Complete comp-etence

I have a startling confession to make. I wrote a whole novel - 400 odd pages with these two digits that I am now typing with. Typing is not something I have ever got to grips with. Only now, in my forties (first half!) am I learning to drive. When I first went to university, in my late twenties I wrote my essays in longhand - so long it was illegible. A merciful friend gave me a wordprocessor. Suddenly I made sense! Since then my handwriting has become even worse and I would never trouble anyone with more than a birthday or Christmas card, and truth be told, those do no always surface. I have married a man that is technical, scientific and can do maths. I joke that he loads the dishwasher like a scientist and I, like a poet - he usually does not let me near it now (see there is method in my madness!). I never did any of that techno-mathsy stuff, my excuse was always that I am good at the arts, that's what I do and that is what I should stick to - and I have, like glue. Turns out though, that as an adult, I rather enjoy science - reading about it anyway, and am pretty good at mental maths (or just being mental as my older son might quip) and want to learn more technical stuff.

When anything technical needs to be accomplished, I usually default to my computer comp-etent husband to do it, but lately, I have been realising that I have become dependent on him in this area and I ought to watch it as this kind of behaviour could result in all sorts of slides. To this end, I am now conquering my own technical challenges albeit small ones. The simple feat of redesigning (simple template stuff) this blog and learning how to upload pictures was a start, but nonetheless a satisfactory one for me. Baby steps for me, but compartmentalised thinking seems no longer good enough.

The novelist and scientist Sunetra Gupta is my role model for the day. In her own words (thank you, University of Oxford website) "she has an interest in the public understanding of science and also in the connections between science and literature at the level of language and narrative." I heard her speak along these lines on BBC Radio 4 last year. Fascinating stuff. Baby steps and giddy heights. More digits in every sense next...

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Nero do well

I had less time (no kidding) this morning, so I decided rather than trek my bulge and katundu (stuff) down to the big BL, I would take me, my new front and rear and my gear to the new cafe Nero and make it my work space! Trouble was, everyone else had the same idea given the vast back room area they newly have. There were noisy business meetings taking place, people booking accommodation and flights, a young trainee being lectured by, I suppose, her boss (I know I'm anal about noise, but you see I get so much of it from my nearest and dearest at home, that I like contrast when writing, so as to appreciate them all so much more when I get home). But no matter! My trusty husband had downloaded me some music this morning designed to drown people out and to this end, I whipped my headphones out and soon the folk around me were all at sea, bobbing off somewhere in the distance, some waving, some drowning, while I plunged into my book, carried hither by the mighty sound waves created by Karl Jenkins of whom I must now wax lyrical. Have you listened to the man? It might have something to do that I am currently novel-living in Wales that my ear is Jenkins bent, but this is mountain shaking stuff. You’ll likely be familiar with this number, thanks to its commercialisation, but good to see Karl looking like a timeless sound surfer as he conducts.

Listen for yourself:

A Stabat Mater state of mind
I was listening to Stabat Mater this morning (no suffering involved: a matter of genius). Jenkins, and the coffee helped me to write non stop for my allotted time without so much as a caterpillar brow raised towards my fellow Nero do wells. In fact  everything went swimmingly, and the staff were easy on the eye too - I think they have to look Italian in a non-Berlusconi, Surfier Loreny sort of way. so is Nero the hero of the day? I still prefer the mother of all ships that is the BL, but for lazier, more weighty days, Nero is just swell.

Monday 14 January 2013

The British Library is a spaceracket

I am sitting at the big BL (British Library) and it is deserted! I can see about three other people up here on the second floor of Humanities. I have never, in all my years of BL flight (of fancy, imagination; but also because sitting in the big BL is like sitting inside a spaceship – do you not think?). With this in mind, all the other students have been sucked out through a tube and are now floating around in space making bizarre hand (and general limb gestures – more elasticity in space you know?) because they cannot hear each other whispering to each other, or slamming books, or banging chairs. As there is no sense of proportion out there in space – and they have been trained in here – their gesturing becomes more and more grotesque as they orbit the planet…their books and notes and laptops and mobiles forming auras around them…but I have spoken too soon. It is 10.15 and the spaces around me are rapidly filling up. With rusty, bangy, whispery folk! And in inner writing space, I can hear a pin drop…Let’s try these headphones.

Now for proportion: I am so happy to be here, in this me zone, having walked here on my own and having taken snowy photos on my phone…sorry it takes a while to get the battiness out of my system.

And so to becoming a Welsh man again in the book that I am currently writing. 

Friday 11 January 2013

Gene Genius

Happy New Year cyber buddies, known and unknown. This year the blog is going to be five days a week, and possibly even seven - though I might not be allowed. It is also going to shorter and snappier - as in zing zing! - and also as in photographs! Yes, I am going to come over all stylish, you wait and see, and no kiddy vomit on top or on tops either...standby...

Yes, it does say Rambo
Naturally I have been pondering NY resolutions. I have decided not to have any, so that I do not have to break them. Instead, I am going to have daily, weekly and perhaps monthly goals so that I can restrict my failures and celebrate my successes more often. Genius right? A daily goal might be to bake a cake, or do this blogster thing. Rambo! I have already succeeded in ticking off two resolutions. Talk about having my cake and eating it! Congratulations to me.

Today my long (and ultra slim n sinewy, even after Christmas) suffering (not as much as me!) husband went back to free lancing work - in my minds eye he galloped along Monty Python style on his own two feet bashing coconut halves and chucked a lance through a screen marked 'random job' and, well - lanced it. Only random as in it seems that in the early months of this year work may be random for him...which is not celebratory news financially speaking, but creatively speaking it is top smoking gun, because I am taking a six week writing sabbatical and trotting (minus the coconuts apart from the ones clanging in my head) down to the British Library to write my book! It's a morning only scribble job but I am thrilled! So if you are there, I will be the one looking like I have swallowed a beach ball with nipper vomit on my top.

My daughter's heart bread
Oh yes! Also today I am going for dinner with my very tall, very handsome sixteen year old son who is a wit-mobile to boot, which is the highlight of my year so far as he does not live here any more (hear that mournful tune?). It is always fun being out with him because people gape at him in the street and I get to bask in the reflected glory and secretly claim that his genetic success is all down to me.

Oh dear this is no longer short. Hope it's snappy...standby...