Authors! Why Kittens Are Not Your Friends

 

Writing with pets – especially young ones – is tough.  It’s a unique challenge all on its own.   Yes, I’m sure children are hard work too but do they crawl up the curtains like hairy-tailed ninjas and tear out the fly screen just to annoy you?

There was a real sense of accomplishment when I finished FAB: Revolver in late March.  Authors (quite rightly) should feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish any piece of work.  But this was different because this latest book was written under very difficult circumstances.  Without being too dramatic, I would say I wrote it whilst being trapped in the eye of a storm.

A kitten storm.

How did this kitten storm happen?  Read on.

In late September, I was sitting at home (it was quiet and peaceful back then) minding my own business in a kitten-free environment.  At some point in the evening, my wife Íde (a vet) sent me a photo of two little stray kittens that had been brought into the vet hospital where she works.  It was a boy and a girl – twins.  They’d been found in a box in somebody’s backyard (so the bringer-in said!)

More like they’d crawled up from the fiery depths of Hell.

Íde was convinced they were right for us.  And in that moment, I’m certain that an evil force took possession of me and forced me to agree.

They came home the following night.  It was probably a dark and stormy night with lots of thunder and lightning.  I’m not sure how this happened.  Evil magic probably.

These are the first pics I took that night:

the evil monsters not long after they’d hatched from Satan’s eggs…(Bodhi (left) Billie Jean (right)

The monsters are so helpless at that age.  We were forced into instant slavery.  We had to bottle feed them and fill their little bag up with hot water bottles to keep their temperature warm enough.  We had to attend to their every need and all this at any hour of the day.  We hardly slept but it was too late to do anything about it.  We’d already invited them over the threshold.  It was their home now.  To my horror, I discovered that we even had to force them to pee and poo by imitating cat mum’s tongue with a damp cloth after every feed.  This was not pleasant.  My delicate writer hands were often covered in some sort of browny-orange shit paste.  And my God, how they screamed.

Time passed.  They grew stronger and more evil.

‘We’re going to mess you up…’

We gave them names – Billie Jean and Bodhi.  Nice names, to try and soften the edge.

They were still in the developing stages of evilness by the time I released Mr Apocalypse in December.  That wasn’t too bad.  But I knew the third and final FAB book would be the ultimate challenge.  By that point (early 2017), they were getting super-duper sadistic and now the time had come.

They were ready to ruin me.

I’d try to write in the morning and at the same time they’d go nuts.  Literally bouncing off the walls nuts.  After this initial storm (which could last for a good two or three hours), they would quieten a little in the afternoon but then so did I.  I’m an early riser and afternoon’s aren’t a good time for me.  In the afternoon, my brain is sozzled, especially in the Australian summer heat (being Scottish I’m not used to this).  This means that when the kittens were biding their time, recharging their satanic batteries, I was at my least productive.  Quite clearly they’d studied me well.  When I worked, they worked.  When I rested, they rested.  They had picked their active hours to be as disruptive as possible to my schedule.  Little buggers.

Speaking of a schedule, I was lucky to even have one.  The creatures would sabotage my diary and stationary on a regular basis and all my attempts at organisation were thwarted.  I have photographic evidence:

‘Schedule this motherfucker!’

 

‘That looks like an important reminder there. Let’s tear out the page.’

The kitten storm would always return in the evening.  Super turbo charged, Wizard of Oz tornado style.  More wall-bouncing.  Leg-biting, scratching – sometimes I looked at my skin and it was like I’d been pierced by a thousand tiny needles.

All my attempts to be productive were sabotaged.

But I wouldn’t give into them.  No way.  They wanted to break me but they only managed to bend me – a lot.  I wrote through it, not looking up when I heard the loud clatter of things being knocked off the shelves.  Not looking up when they were pawing at their water bowl, soaking the kitchen floor in an attempt to flood the house and drown me.  No way.  I wrote through the distraction.  Keep writing, I told myself.  So I kept writing and one day, guess what?  I finished the book.  Despite the best efforts of the two monsters, I’d managed to beat them.

Incidentally, any mistakes or typos you find in FAB: Revolver are entirely the fault of the two fun-sized tigers 🙂

If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s that no matter how much your pets distract you, if you’re focused enough you can still produce work.  Even when you see the monster activating the crazy switch – you know the one that sees her pupils dilate and blow up like two giant, black beach balls.  When you see the ears go back and then she leaps onto your chair like certain death in motion, climbs onto your shoulders and just stands there triumphantly reminding you that yes, you are her bitch.

But the biggest lesson of all is this.  Authors, kittens are not your friends.  They will make it hard.

Having said that…

…what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Thanks to the kittens, I can write through anything.  Hey, maybe they were just helping me fine tune my concentration all along.  With that in mind, if you can, why not give a rescue animal a home today?  Or tomorrow for that matter.  Especially demonic little kittens like these two.  They WILL make you a better writer.  Yeah sure, they’ll destroy your life in the process and take your sanity.

But somehow, you’ll still love them for it.

Movie Recommendations – T2 Trainspotting and Logan

 

After a couple of weeks binging on Hammer Horror movies at home (Yes I still prefer blood that looks like paint and fake, crappy looking bats with strings attached over CGI), I finally got back to the cinema to see something new.

Here are a few spoiler-free thoughts (not a review or synopsis – just my thoughts!) on two great movies I saw recently.

T2 Trainspotting

Like a lot of people, I was apprehensive about this.  You just can’t follow up a movie like Trainspotting right?  How dare they?  The original was a perfect thing and why would Danny Boyle and crew want to piss all over their 1996 masterpiece by making a shoddy twenty-years later sequel?

(Note – The Colour of Money was made twenty-five years after The Hustler and although it has its critics I actually think it’s a pretty good film.  Later sequels CAN work)

T2 Trainspotting works brilliantly.  A few friends back in Scotland went to see this before me and their positive reports were enough to convince me that it was going to be good.  Props to screenwriter John Hodge, who’s nailed it with a brilliant script.  This is a very moving, funny/tragic film about growing older, disillusionment and all those weighty things that happen when you’re no longer in your early twenties.

The performances are all top notch.  Beforehand I was a little worried that Robert Carlyle might be caricaturing his original and outstanding portrayal of Begbie.  He doesn’t.  Although Begbie is still a psycho with a grudge (understandable!) he’s carrying as much baggage as the other characters and there are some great scenes with his son who is the complete opposite of his father given that he’s working on getting a career in hotel management.

Begbie Junior running the Hilton?  Makes you think…

Favourite scene?  Spud coming out of the boxing gym and witnessing a scene from the original film (and from his own past).  A few lingering notes of ‘Born Slippy’ add tremendously to the atmosphere.  That for me was the most moving moment of the film.  Quality stuff.

I saw this in Australia and I’m pretty sure my Scottish accent was more Begbie-esque as I went swaggering out of the cinema.

So what next?  T3?  I’d actually like to see an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s The Blade Artist which sees Begbie in very different surroundings.  I enjoyed the book and there’s an interesting film in there.  Apparently Irvine Welsh is up for it and so is Robert Carlyle.

Someone give them the money.  Please.

 

Logan

I didn’t know much about X-Men before seeing this.  In fact, until recently I’d never seen any of the films and I’d never read any of the comics either.  But recently I kept noticing articles about Logan and the premise had me intrigued.  I love the whole superhero getting older thing.   No matter who it is, it makes the character more human, fragile and ultimately much, much more interesting.

So in advance of seeing this, I binged on the X-Men movies over the past week or so.  And I enjoyed them.  Most of them 🙂  But it set me up nicely for going to see Logan a couple of days back.  I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s a great, emotional violent frenzy of a movie.  A kick in the guts in more ways than one.

There are some tender moments in there for sure, so it’s not your typical Marvel thing, which to be honest can get a bit boring.  This movie has soul – the magic ingredient and the one thing I demand in everything that promises to entertain me.

Patrick Stewart is brilliant.  He’s always brilliant.  Ever since I saw him prancing around on a horse in Excalibur I’ve loved that man.  Hugh Jackman is great too.  This is his last appearance as Wolverine and in my opinion it’s his best.  Again, something about fragile heroes – like Bruce Willis in Die Hard.  Knowing that the hero is vulnerable and that he really could get hurt or even die makes a story so much more engaging.  So much more tense.  That’s why the violence in Logan (and there’s lots of it) has the impact that it does.  It feels like life and death and much less like the cartoon violence of some other superhero movies.

Is Wolverine gone for keeps?  No way.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing the character again brought to life by another actor.  (There’s an obvious character in this film who should take up the mantle.  Why does Wolverine 2 have to be a man?)

Richard E. Grant is in this film too.  Anything that has Richard E. Grant in it makes me smile.  Even in this film where he plays the big bad villain, he’ll always be Withnail to me (lots of Withnail and I quotes buzzing in my head right now.  You haven’t seen it?  You must.  You bloody must!)

Anyway, this was a great film.  Logan was everything I’d hoped for and more.  Great characters, fast-paced and with an emotional core that will kick you where it hurts but in a good way.

 

If you haven’t seen either T2 Trainspotting or Logan, go catch them in the cinema while there’s still time.  If I WAS reviewing them (and I’m not) I’d give them both five out of five.

Oh shit.

 

Amazon Ads for Authors – A Few Tips

Hey everyone,

This isn’t an in depth post on Amazon ads.  It’s just a few thoughts based on my initial experience using Amazon’s handy wee marketing tool.  If you’re just starting out and are looking for a fairly comprehensive guide on how to get things going with Amazon ads, I suggest you try this article on Jane Friedman’s site.  It’s written by Robert Kroese, it’s easy to follow (with screenshots) and that’s what I used to begin with.

What follows are just some scattered observations based on my own recent experience.  I’m not an expert by any means but if you’re interested in going the AMS (Amazon Marketing Services) route, you might find them useful.

It’s early days but I’m pretty happy with my initial experimentation with Amazon ads.  I started using them around early January and I’m pleased to report that approximately two months later, I’ve made more money that I’ve spent.  I’m not talking great sums here – I’ve probably made just over a hundred dollars via AMS but I’ve spent considerably less and for me that’s a winner.

My initial advertising has been focused on two books – FAB: The Fifth Angel and Mr Apocalypse.  As mentioned earlier, I used Robert Kroese’s article to get things up and running and while the set-up is fairly simple, it can be time consuming if you’re adding keywords (more on that below)

If you’re thinking about Amazon ads, here are a few things to remember:

 

SPONSORED PRODUCTS/PRODUCT DISPLAY ADS

There are two kinds of ad that you’ll use with AMS.  Sponsored and Product Display.  My advice?  Use Sponsored Ads only, especially if you’re just starting off.  Product Display ads are those rectangular displays that appear on any given product page – they’re usually tucked away on the right hand side and within close proximity to the main product on that page.

As a reader/potential book buyer, I don’t like these ads.

Product Display Ad – Bottom Right

They’re intrusive and what’s more they just don’t look all that good aesthetically with the blurry background and all.  I get it.  It’s not meant to be pretty, it’s meant to be seen.  And they are prominent, there’s no denying that.  These ads can also appear on the Kindle screensaver/Home Page and that’s pretty cool.  The thing is however, that Product Display ads require more of a financial commitment upfront.  To get one of these going, you have to start with a minimum budget of $100.  That”s not ideal for indies who just want to test the water.

I haven’t tried Product Display ads yet.  All the advice I’ve read suggests that indies shouldn’t bother.  If you’re tempted to give it a try however, Robert’s article offers a few pointers.  But again, if you’re on a tight budget you probably want to give those a miss at least for now.

That brings us to a Sponsored Ad campaign, which is what most indies – including myself – are doing.  These are the ads that sit below the also bought section and in my opinion, they’re a whole lot less annoying than Product Display ads.

Sponsored Product Ads

But are they more effective?

You’ve probably got the best chance of getting a positive return on your investment with a Sponsored Ad.  There is no minimum budget here.  Start as low as you like although the consensus seems to be that $5-10 is a good starter point.  I use $5 for each book.  Some days, I go through my allotted budget but there are days when few people are clicking and I don’t.  In fact, the odd day – I don’t spend a thing.  Remember you pay for clicks, not impressions.  If we paid for impressions the cost would be astronomical.  So if you’re not getting clicks with your ad, you don’t pay.

I would suggest you start out with a Sponsored Ad.  As you’re setting up, you’ll have to decided whether you want Amazon to target automatically or whether you want to set up a manual campaign.  If you choose manual then you’re going to have to choose your own keywords.  Mostly these will be books in similar genre and author names.  This is the bit that took the longest but it’s well worth investing the time.  For me, it was half a day at first, searching through Speculative Fiction sub-genres and authors both on Amazon and elsewhere online (scouring through best alternate history lists/best apocalyptic fiction lists, and things like that).

 

KEYWORDS AND TWEAKING

I’ve read various opinions about how many keywords you should be aiming for.  In my own experience, the more the merrier.  I started off with about a hundred keywords for Mr Apocalypse and FAB: The Fifth Angel.  Since then, I’ve built up to over two hundred keywords for each.

I do this when I’m periodically refining each ad.

How to refine?  Tweak, tweak, tweak…and then tweak some more.

Every 2-4 weeks, I go through the data to see what’s working.  I study what keywords are getting clicks and of course, which ones are leading to sales.  I then use these leading keywords to generate new ones.  To do this, I go onto Amazon and find new keywords which are related to the successful ones.  For example, if a particular book title is getting me clicks/sales then I go onto that product page and look at the also bought section.  From there, I’ll usually find new book titles and author names to add to the keywords in my ad.  Over time, this has gotten me a better conversion rate and more clicks have turned into sales.

When it comes to using big mega-sellers and huge authors as keywords, just remember – these might get you a lot of impressions but (for me anyway) there are few clicks.  Still if it’s not costing you anything then these impressions aren’t necessarily a bad thing.  You’re in the shop window and that means somebody can find you if they come looking for a book just like yours.

Look out for keywords that are costing you a lot in terms of clicks but not resulting in sales.  This will drain your budget and you’re best ditching some of these as you constantly refine your ad.

Be wary of sticking rigidly to whatever advice you hear (including everything on this page) Break a few rules and experiment.  I’ve read things like don’t use single book title names as keywords, but this has actually worked out well for me on occasion.  Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora has worked out well for me, not only in terms of clicks but sales.  A lot of my tweaking has come via the also boughts on KSR’s product pages.

See what works for you.  But stay on top of things – don’t just set up an ad and then slack off.

 

MICRO-BLURB

The last thing you’ll do before running your ad is to write a micro-blurb that sits alongside your book cover in the Sponsored Ads row.  This is copywriting folks and that means it’s time to sell.  You need to sell your little baby in a just one or two sentences.  After keywords, this is what takes me the longest because I hate any form of blurb writing.

But it has to be done.

Anyway – you’re all set to go after that.  You’ll wait for a little approval period (not long) and then your ad is up and running.

Then you check in a week later.  See how it’s going…

 

LOTS OF CLICKS…NO SALES?

There are several reasons why people don’t buy after clicking.  Maybe they took a closer look at the cover and weren’t too impressed.  Maybe you don’t have enough (or any reviews yet), maybe you have a couple of bad reviews that put them off, or perhaps the synopsis wasn’t gripping enough.  Of course, just because they didn’t buy this time doesn’t mean they haven’t added you to their Wish List or made a mental note of your book for another time.  There’s every chance that they might see your book again during another shopping session and purchase second, third or fourth time around.

Obviously we’d rather they bought first time.   We’re paying for those clicks after all, but it’s out of our control.

I think the review thing might have cost me a few sales.  My reviews are mostly good but for these two books in particular, which are my latest, the reviews are still in single figures.  Having said that, people are buying so who knows for sure – every book buyer is an individual after all.

 

Conclusion

  • Use Sponsored Ads (about $5-10 a day is a good start – or lower)
  • Take your time when adding your keywords.  Don’t rush it.  Do your research and the more keywords you add, the better your chance of getting noticed.
  • Check your ads regularly/tweak/even copy the campaign and start afresh from time to time in order to keep track of what keywords are working and which are redundant.
  • Experiment.  Ignore standard advice if something is going right.

These are just a few observations based on my limited experience with Amazon ads.  In short, I like them.  In contrast to Facebook, people are on Amazon to shop.  That means there’s a better chance of actually converting interest into sales.  So far it’s working okay for me.

Good luck people 🙂

Over and out.

 

Why I’ve Decided To Launch A Patreon Page

 

As somebody else said, if Kickstarter is a one-night stand, then Patreon is going steady.

Wanna go steady with me?

A small announcement.  I’ve decided to start a Patreon page and I’ll briefly explain why.  By the way, I’m not asking random strangers who have no interest in what I do to get involved.  Why should they?  You can ignore this if you’ve no interest in what I do.  This is specifically for fans of the books or people who just want to support the arts or even those who just like me as a human being 🙂

So…

Here’s why I’ve just launched a Patreon page.  At the rate I’m going, I’m releasing four books a year.  That involves not only a lot of writing/rewriting/editing time but it costs a lot of money to produce these books.  Most people probably don’t realise the production costs associated with getting a book ready for public consumption.  It’s not like recording music or a film where you need tons of equipment, right?  Well sort of.  We have some production costs of our own and they’re quite substantial.  Editing is the great white shark taking a bite out of the indie author budget.  Graphic design is another big fish.  There are others.  And all of that comes before marketing and promotion costs.

It all adds up and you really feel it at the beginning.

Between December 2015 and December 2016, I released five books.  Two of my five titles are currently listed as free.  Yes that’s on me of course, but I did so as a way of drawing readers into two different series.  Those books were always going to be free.  Another book is a small collection of short stories that are early curiosities more than anything else and besides, shorts are a harder sell.  That leaves me two out of five books making a profit.  And did I mention production costs?

That’s the situation and that’s why I’m setting up a Patreon page.  I do admire the economic model of Patreon in that it allows creatives some breathing room while they’re getting things up and running.  There aren’t many outlets or sources of funding to fall back on and while some people might resent the concept, don’t forget, that ‘Earth’ without art is just ‘Eh’.

As is the custom, I offer small rewards to my patron.  Behind the scenes material, creative contributions, and you can even make a small cameo appearance in the Future of London series.  You can see what it’s all about on the Patreon page.

You can support for as little as $1 dollar a month.  That’s about 80 pence for those in the UK, $1.30 in Australia and so on…

If you’re a fan of the books (FAB Trilogy or Future of London) or maybe you’d just like to support in some small way, you can visit my Patreon at the link below this post.

And finally, don’t worry if you can’t – there’s absolutely no need to get involved unless you feel compelled to.  You’re not a bad person 🙂  I’ll continue to write anyway and there’s no getting rid of me.

(Unless I die of course – and then you’ll feel guilty!!  And if my kittens starve, well…)

Thanks everyone,

Mark

Self-Publishers CAN Wear Two Hats. Knuckle Draggers CAN’T Handle It

 

Yesterday I was reading a short, fairly innocuous article about self-publishing on a random business website.  It was basic stuff, nothing groundbreaking and I skimmed mostly.  But when I got to the comments at the end, I noticed that the first one was yet another sneaky little dig at self-publishers.

I sighed.

Here’s the comment.

‘Love the fact that self-publishers ALWAYS address things like marketing and sales, but NEVER talk about their lifelong efforts to hone the craft of writing (because the vast majority aren’t career, professional writers.) Probably why 99.9% of self-published works are (charitably speaking) mediocre.’

So in other words my fellow independent authors, if you’ve ever considered marketing your work in order to boost sales, don’t you dare think of yourself as an artist/author/creative type.  You’re a marketer who writes books!  Go spit on yourself now.  Take off your turtleneck sweater, your Che Guevara beret and go put on a suit or something square like that.

And give yourself a slap on the wrist while you’re at it.  Damn you!

Now I know that most mature, independent authors are supposed to do nothing more than roll our eyes when we read comments like these.  We’re supposed to just get on with the work and prove the naysayers wrong by our actions and the quality of our work.

And that is the right thing to do.

But for some reason, I couldn’t let this one go.  Of course I replied, politely informing her that she was mistaken.  It wasn’t so much that she was having a dig at self-publishing that bothered me.  It’s the fact that she was saying in a roundabout way that being an author and an entrepreneur is somehow incompatible.

Knuckle dragger.

That’s the term that kept popping into my head regarding this sort of perspective.  I have no idea why this person thinks that artists or creative types can’t also focus on promoting and selling their work.  They’ve been doing it for donkeys years!  In the early 1960s, The Beatles took off their leather jackets and dressed up in suits.  Why?  Because they were selling themselves.  They wanted to succeed in the music industry and they knew they had a better chance of doing that by changing things up.  Later on, they could do whatever they wanted but in the beginning they had to think about their image and not only their image, but the product itself.  Which songs work best as a potential break out hit?  That type of thing.

The Beatles, advised by their manager Brian Epstein, did this willingly.  This is marketing and promotion – or am I mistaken?  No one held a gun to their heads or questioned their purity as artists.

I could sit here all day and write about similar artists (and great ones too) throughout history who had to consider how to market themselves.  It’s not a new thing by any means.  Indie authors discuss this subject a lot because – thanks to constant technological advancement – it’s important to keep up with the latest and most effective means of getting yourself out there.  Right?  If you don’t then you run the risk of being left behind and if you’re an author who wants to be read then that’s not a good thing.  Or are we to be looked down upon for wanting to be read?

Readers won’t automatically flock towards us.  We have to find them.

Sure there are bad indie authors out there who don’t give a shit about craft.  But that’s not all of us.  In fact, from my experience of the indie author community, it’s a tiny percentage but it’s the bad ones the knuckle draggers like to highlight over the skilled writers.  Most indies that I know care a great deal about the quality of their writing but hopefully not to the point of being pretentious assholes who spend ten years rewriting a sentence over and over again.

The person who commented on the aforementioned article was wrong.  They ALWAYS address things like marketing and sales’.  I don’t but I certainly give it the time it deserves.  And unless I’m very much mistaken, these days the majority of traditionally published authors also have to consider marketing.  Seeing as how we’re living in the digital age and all.  It’s just part of the game.

She was also generalising with her use of the term ‘ALWAYS’ – (in caps too, give me a break).   She was throwing us ALL into the same basket as if to talk about ONE indie author was to talk about EVERY indie author.

Generalisation is lazy thinking.

Yes, we care about marketing.  But none of that stops us from working on our craft and becoming better writers.  Does it?  Self-publishers and traditionally published authors who focus on their marketing strategies are not turning their back on the craft of good writing.  We’re just moving with the times, wearing more than one hat, and no matter what the knuckle draggers say, that’s what we’re going to keep on doing.

 

A Blog About Failing

 

I think about failure a lot.  Past failure, present failure, the possibility of future failure – you name it.

Out of all of these it’s the past failures that really bite me on the bum and motivate me to work harder.  Maybe it’s just me but I don’t think about sunshine, rainbows and kittens when I’m down in the dumps with the indie author blues.  I’d rather be motivated than comforted if you get my drift.  So how do I do that?  I think about how I failed.

Failure, the great motivator.

But how exactly did I fail?  What is it that gives me a kick when I need it most?

This is a sensitive issue for me but I’m going to write it down anyway.  At best it can be used as an example of how failure can be a good thing or at least a useful thing to those who may be currently searching for motivation in other places.

I failed at being a musician.  By that I don’t mean I never learned how to play the guitar or the piano as a little boy.  Not quite.  I actually worked as a musician for ten years between 2001 and 2011.

So you succeeded, you might say?  Well, no I’d say I failed miserably.  It’s perhaps a matter of perspective.

I was fifteen when I started to think seriously about being a musician (1992 I think!)  One day my brother came home with an acoustic guitar that he’d borrowed from a friend and when he wasn’t there, I used to sneak into his bedroom, pick up the guitar, run my fingers down the steel strings and I was the happiest boy in the world.

I was hooked.  There are no words to describe the way that music reels you in.  Its charms are incomparable and I think it’s even fair to say that my first love affair was not with another person.  It was with music.  I fell hook, line and sinker and things would never be the same again in my life as a result.

Of course my parents and everyone else thought it was a phase that I’d grow out of.  But I knew better.  Get a real job and play gigs at the weekend, they said.  No thanks, I said.  This was the real thing.  For better or worse, I’ve always been all or nothing in terms of pursuing what I’m passionate about.  I still am.  And I’d never been as passionate about anything like I was with music when I was in my teens/early twenties.  I set the bar high in terms of future ambition.  I would be a successful musician and that’s all there was to it.  There was no room to fail.  I would be in demand, recording and touring the world and earning good money because well, because it was meant to be.

I believed I could do it too.  I was determined enough and what’s more I was a damn good bass player.  I don’t mean to sound arrogant because I’m hopeless at so many things in life.  But I could play the bass well and I don’t think anyone I ever worked with had reason to complain.

Eventually (at the age of 23) after many years of playing on the local band circuit in Glasgow, I got my first regular paying gig as a musician.  After that, I took whatever paid gigs I could get my hands on.  One thing you learn quickly when you’re trying to pay the rent through a music career – money is hard to come by.  On top of that, I was always the kind of guy who lost money down the couch.  I was never the type to find it.  You might even call me Mr Money Repellant.  So in those days, I took what gigs I could get and certainly I did a few thing that I’d rather forget.

The truth is I barely survived as a working musician between 2001 and 2011.  No matter how much I tried, my lofty goals were far from coming true.  In the big picture it was great of course – I was working as a musician but still, I was very much on the lower end of the music ladder.  Reality and my ambitions were poles apart.  I just couldn’t seem to get it going.

MeRosesExperience

It’s not like I didn’t try either.  I worked my ass off, practicing three hours a day without fail.  When I wasn’t practicing I was looking for work.  Before I had the Internet at home, I used to stand in Borders book store in Buchanan Street, picking up every doorstopper sized book about the music industry off the shelves.  I’d look through them right there in the shop (the average price was sixty pounds that’s why) and write down the contact details for music managers, agents and artists in a little notebook.  This took ages and I’m surprised the staff didn’t ever chuck me out.

After that I’d go to my parents house and use my dad’s laptop or go into an Internet cafe and sit there all day, sending emails to these supposedly important people (even letters at one point!), bullshitting (a little) about my experience and announcing to the world that I was available for work.

I thought the world would answer but it didn’t.

So this was my life.  My twenties were all about failing, playing gigs, hustling, rinse and repeat.  I put ads in music magazines like NME.  I started original bands from scratch searching for the right chemical mixture but it just never happened.  Sometimes I’d get invited down to London to meet agents to talk about future work opportunities.  On several occasions, these meetings fell through on super short notice and that stung because I’d already travelled down from Glasgow to London to meet them and had spent money that I couldn’t afford on travel expenses.

Anyway, I’m rambling here and apologies.  I don’t want to sound like a miserable, ungrateful git.  It certainly wasn’t all bad luck or somebody else’s fault that I didn’t make it.  I made bad choices for sure. 

So anyway I failed at music.  My ambition flopped and that failure felt public and humiliating for a while.  Still I got to play with some amazing talent from all over the world for sure.  I paid rent for a while but it was always a ferocious struggle to stay afloat.  I had dreamed bigger dreams than these.

In 2011, burned out and exhausted, I played my last gig.

IS THERE LIFE AFTER FAILURE-

Yes there is.  And that’s the whole point of this post.  A lot has happened in the last six years.  I took up writing in 2011.  I got married to a great woman (who I met on tour!) and then I picked up my degree in English Literature and History, spending some time in New Zealand along the way.  In 2015, my wife and I emigrated to Australia to begin the next chapter of our lives.

For me that next chapter has been in play for a year and it’s the indie author journey and a shitload of hard work.  Of course it’s another thankless task 🙂  Twelve hour days, crap money and if we’re being honest, not a lot of people giving a shit when push comes to shove about what it is that I actually do.

Still I’m very fortunate and count my blessings every day.  I do know that and if you’ve got your health, well you’ve got it pretty good.  And when I do get a little down in the dumps or the work seems hard and pointless, I think about how I failed before and that really pushes my buttons.  I let it piss me off because I haven’t forgotten how much it hurt in 2010/2011 when my music career came to an end.  These days however, I have no expectations as to what’s going to happen.  I’m taking it one day at a time.  My ambitions are modest but I’m determined again and I one hundred percent believe in what I’m doing.

So what am I saying?  In any walk of life, it’s what we do with failure that either makes or breaks us.  And some of us will break irreparably.  But instead of letting it break you, why not use your past failures to spur you onto better things?  Get angry, get mad!  Exploit them for your own sake because God knows, if you’ve had the guts to ever fail at something then you’ve earned it.

2017 – Productivity Or Else

 

Happy New Year everyone.  First of all, best wishes for the next twelve months.  And that goes double to you Bill Murray and all our other international treasures who didn’t die last year.

Okay.  This is a short post about productivity, what I did with my 2016 and what I hope to do with my 2017 in terms of creative stuff and getting things done.  Hopefully this post doesn’t come across as being all about me (it’s short anyway as I mentioned!) and it’ll make you think about your own plans for this year – whatever it is that you do and hope to get done.

If you’re an author then I’m sure you’ve got your own productivity schedule mapped out for 2017.  That doesn’t just include what you’re creating bookwise but also other things such as what you can improve on in terms of marketing and promotion.  Things that’ll make you make better art.  Things that’ll help more people discover who you are and what you do.  Maybe you need to implement some changes to your lifestyle, cutting out things like TV or socialising in order to be more productive.  Yep that might sound harsh but this writing lark is all consuming (especially if you’re indie).

Increased productivity requires a sacrifice of some sort.  Usually it’s the fun stuff that has to go but more often than not it’s worth it.  I’m not saying don’t watch TV or go out with your mates but couldn’t you cut back on it just a little?  How much is entirely up to you.  Maybe you’ve been dying to start work on a novel for ages but can’t seem to find the time.  What about cutting out some sleep?  An hour?  Forty minutes?  Where there’s a will there’s a way.  Who needs eight hours anyway?  I average on six and it’s plenty.

We can all improve.  We can all become more focused.  This is the time of year when we’re most likely to implement changes in our lives.  But sadly in the months to come, a lot of us are going to blow it.  We’re going to get distracted, burn out or just lose interest in the changes we’re thinking about now.

That doesn’t have to be you though.

2016 was a productive year for me personally.  I released four titles and I’m proud of them all.  That makes a total of five books (the first was published in December 2015.)  For the most part, I’ve just completed my first full year as an independent author (late 2015 to late 2016).  And it was hard bloody work I can say that much.  The good news is that it’s only going to get harder.

So I’m putting it down here on the website.  My writing goals for the next twelve months.  This is what I’m going to produce in 2017.  And I’ll be back at the end of December to check up on myself:

 

March 2017 – Release the final book in the FAB trilogy.  This is what I’ve been working on over Christmas and New Year.

May 2017 – Produce and release a FAB box set.

June 2017 – Release the third book in the Future of London series.

September 2017 – Release the fourth book in the Future of London series.

November 2017 – Release a box set of the first four Future of London books.

December 2017 – I plan to be in Scotland next Christmas and New Year.  But I’m hoping to get the last original release of the year out before I go – the fifth book in the Future of London series.

***

Right, I’ve done it.  Made plans, published plans.  Four original releases and two compilations.  Six releases.  It’s down and I have to do everything I can to stick to these goals.  That doesn’t mean I’ll be skimping on quality or taking shortcuts though – I’l continue to work with a professional editor, graphic designer and formatter.

Obviously if I get hospitalised for a long stretch then my plans might have to change.  Same thing if I meet my maker in 2017 but fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.  To those authors who crank out a book a month (what are you on?) it probably looks like I’m slacking in 2017.  To those who write one (or less) book a year, you must think I’m a sadist.

Each to their own.

Best of luck all to you all.  Work hard, have fun and happy writing/creating/living.

 

L-2011 is now FREE!

 

Hello everyone,

It’s almost Christmas and it’s time to give you all a wee gift 🙂

To mark this week’s release of Mr Apocalypse – the second book in the Future of London series – I’m delighted to announce that the first book , L-2011, is now free to download.

This is where the Future of London begins.  If you’d like to download L-2011, here’s a link that will take you there.  The book is free in several territories via Amazon (Apologies if that doesn’t include yours yet – it’s beyond my control) It’s free on all other digital retailers too.

Thank you and I hope you enjoy L-2011.

Mark

https://books2read.com/L-2011

P.S. If you’ve already read L-2011 and are ready for Mr Apocalypse, here’s a link to Part Two.

Mr Apocalypse – The Blurb

 

This is the blurb for Mr Apocalypse (Future of London #2) – Out 20th December

London has been cut off from the rest of civilisation.

The people there abide by no rules. There is no police presence. No laws or consequences. There is only the ravaged city, hidden behind two superwalls since the carnage of 2011.

And yet they are not alone.

The survivors don’t know it, but their lives are being broadcast 24/7 to the outside world on a reality TV show called The Future of London. Their every move is scrutinised by millions of people on social media.

The star of the show is a mysterious loner – Mr Apocalypse. When one day, an exotic stranger appears in his life, the viewers demand even more intimate access to their hero’s life.

But these demands will also lead Mr Apocalypse down a dark and twisted road.

So whatever you do – don’t touch that dial!

The Future of London is about to change forever.

Ideasville

 

Writers.  Do you have it?  That one location where creative ideas breed like rabbits?

Otherwise known as Ideasville.

And just for the record – Ideasville is not the desk.  The desk is a dark, cold and terrible place where in the normal course of things, mental graft and the grind take over from magic.  At least that’s how it works for me.  Maybe it’s different for other people and if so, how do you do that?

Think of Ideasville as being like those little islands in Japan that are inhabited mostly by cats.  Thousands and thousands of cats.  Well replace cats with creative ideas and there you go – Ideasville.  I’m talking about that one place where no matter what, it’s always possible to get inspired.  Where the magic happens consistently.

And for me, it’s the shower.

It goes like this – I step into the bathroom and close the shower door.  I stand under the warm running water and yes!  Here it comes.  The breakthrough that’s been evading me for so long (or at least since the last shower!)

Phew.

It’s not the little ideas that come to me in the shower either.  Usually it’s the good ones, the important ones, the ones that will make a real difference.  That’s the beauty of Ideasville – it rarely stops at a single eureka moment.  Just as the first idea is settling in, another one appears literally out of nowhere.

I haven’t even picked up the bar of soap yet.

But what is it about the shower that inspires me so?  Think about your own Ideasville – what are the main ingredients/conditions of that place that make it work for you?

Well…

Keith Richards once said that ideas for songs were floating around in the atmosphere, just waiting to come down to us.  Keith did a lot of drugs of course, but I think he’s right and that this applies to stories too.  I don’t think we can force ourselves upon these ideas – they come to us when they’re ready.  This reminds of me a quote that I wrote down a long time ago.  This one’s attributed to Mozart:

‘It is when I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone and of good cheer…that ideas flow best and most abundantly.  Whence and how they come I know not, nor can I force them.’

Alone and of good cheer?  Does that work for you and your Ideasville?  That sure sounds like me in the shower.  Most people are happy in the shower though aren’t they?  That’s why we have a tendency to stay in there for longer than we should and sing songs at the top of our voices even if when we sing we sound like (and I’m stealing this) a dog barking into a bucket.

Thinking back to Mozart’s quote, perhaps we’re at our most creative when we’re in a state of relaxation.  I feel particularly at ease in the shower.  I can shut the door and when I turn on the water I turn off the world.  At least for five minutes.  No phone.  No music.  No podcast playing in the background on a loudspeaker – nothing but the sound of water and silence.

Solitude is also good for creativity – that’s no secret of course.  It’s hard to be creative when there’s too much noise going on in your life.  Recently my parents came from Scotland to visit my wife and I in Australia.  They were staying in our house for a few weeks and I took a break from writing and editing and marketing.  I did normal things – like going out and all that stuff.  It was fun, but I noticed during that time that my brain stopped working like a writer.  I didn’t have a single idea over that three week period.  Nothing.  I barely thought about the creative side of writing and I was rarely alone.

Three weeks later my parents returned to Scotland.  My wife went back to work.  I was alone again in the house (apart from the animals).  I took a shower, completely relaxed and by myself.  As I turned the metal lever, the water started flowing again and so did the ideas – almost immediately in fact.

Solitude and relaxation.

Eureka.  I was back in Ideasville.