A Few Thoughts on The Beatles: Eight Days A Week

 

I’m a big Beatles fan.  I’ve probably been a fan for about twenty-five years of my life.  That’s a lot of reading Beatle books, learning the songs, watching countless documentaries and more recently, finding rare interviews and other little titbits on YouTube.  So as I was walking into the cinema to see Ron Howard’s documentary The Beatles: Eight Days A Week yesterday I was thinking – will anything about this film surprise me?

The answer is no.  And a little bit of yes.

In terms of big picture Beatle story, there’s little that the average die-hard won’t already know.  If you’re a newbie to the touring years like my wife was then there’s lots of things to discover.  That’s not to say there’s nothing new for the likes of me.  There were occasional pieces of footage that I hadn’t seen before – little clips here and there and it was the first time I’d seen their initial American press conference in colour.  There is fresh material in the film (as well as new interviews with McCartney and Starr), it’s just that it doesn’t add anything new to The Beatles story.  If anything, it just enhances it a little.

The tone is hagiographical.  It’s one of those non-confrontational documentaries that was made with the cooperation of the two surviving Beatles and the Beatle widows – Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.  So yeah it skims over the seedier stuff.  The drugs are largely ignored (marijuana gets a brief mention) and there’s always very little in these Beatles documentaries about the groupies and in particular, Paul McCartney’s status as a legendary shagger.  Or as John Lennon apparently called him – a ‘sex gladiator’.

But despite these tittle-tattle omissions, I enjoyed the film immensely.  It does a great job of capturing the initial excitement of Beatlemania right up until 1966 by which time the band had become jaded with the whole touring thing and the accompanying madness.  Little wonder too – they must have felt like cattle at times the way they were herded back and forth between events and as a Lennon voiceover says: ‘Everyone wanted a piece of you.’

The film contains some great live footage from a variety of gigs and TV shows.  And occasionally we even get to watch the full performance instead of being interrupted by a talking head after the first verse.  This was a nice touch.  I’m also glad I got to see this in the cinema as along with the documentary, it featured 30 minutes of freshly restored Shea Stadium footage which I don’t think will be shown on Hulu or on the DVD release.

Result.

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week is not groundbreaking stuff, but it is a bloody good watch.  That applies to Beatles fans who think they’ve seen everything and to those who know nothing about them.  There’s a brief mention of Pepper and the later years, but this is primarily a film about the first half of The Beatles.  It’s nice that late in the film, there’s a little mention on the recording of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (off the Revolver album) which for me is the song that most represents the borderland between black and white Beatles and colour Beatles.

One last thing.  Watching the facial expressions of the audience during Beatle gigs is a joy in itself.  Has there ever been a band with more expressive/deranged fans than the fab four?  I doubt it.  God bless them all – I hope they watch this film with their kids and grandkids and show the young ‘uns that there’s more to watching a gig than just filming it on your iPhone.

The 5 best Fiction Books I Ever Read

 

I’m not saying the five best fiction books ever.  All that ‘the best’ stuff is subjective anyway.  I’m not saying these are the greatest pieces of literature either – whatever that’s supposed to mean.  These are just my personal favourites and so to me, they’re all of the above and more.

There are no major spoiler alerts in the description.  You’ve probably heard of most of these books, but that’s not the same as having read them.  Maybe you’ll be inspired to check them out.  I hope so.

In no particular order:

 

1/ The Razor’s Edge (W. Somerset Maugham – 1944)

razor.paperback

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard.”

An old fashioned book with a timeless meaning.

Larry Darrell returns to the United States after witnessing the carnage of the First World War in Europe.  He has no interest in getting a job and wallowing in American postwar prosperity like everyone expects him to do.  Larry is now only interested in pursuing the ultimate questions – about life, meaning and the existence of evil in the world.  It’s a journey that brings him into conflict with the materialism of modern society and importantly, with the people around him who know him, but no longer understand his choices.

I love how Larry’s spiritual path contrasts with the people around him.  He’s a laughing stock to some, a bum to others, but time proves which – of all the characters in the novel – has made the wisest choices in life.  While the majority of the other characters have spent their life pursuing material wealth and social prestige,  Larry the loafer has been searching for something much more valuable.

Today there are many self-help/spiritual books, as well as other novels that espouse a similar message to the one in The Razor’s Edge.  But this book was published back in 1944 and it was promoting the tenets of Eastern Philosophy about ten years before The Beat Generation came along.  And long before the hippies arrived on the scene in the 1960s.

If that isn’t a good enough reason to check out the book then consider this – Bill Murray loves The Razor’s Edge.  You may or may not know that he stars in the 1984 film version of the novel and that he only agreed to make Ghostbusters for Columbia in return for them financing this – his passion project.  Ultimately the 1984 movie is flawed and I think Murray is a little miscast as Larry, but it’s still an interesting watch and worth checking out.  But as always, read the book first.

 

2/ I Am Legend (Richard Matheson – 1954)

i-am-legend

“He stood there for a moment looking around the silent room, shaking his head slowly. All these books, he thought, the residue of a planet’s intellect, the scrapings of futile minds, the leftovers, the potpourri of artifacts that had no power to save men from perishing.”

Robert Neville is the last man.  The rest of humankind has been wiped out by an unknown plague and yet Neville is not alone.  The post-apocalyptic world that he lives in is now full of vampires who have emerged in large numbers in the aftermath of the plague.  It’s a tough break and Neville is doomed to live out his days in a terrible routine of necessary survival chores by day (safeguarding the house/vampire slaying), while at night he listens to classical music as the vampires surround his house, demanding that he come outside.

This is a great horror/post-apocalyptic story that captures the psychological struggle of day-to-day life as the last person in the world.  And going by this, it’s not a lot of fun.

I love that I Am Legend is a short book.  It clocks in at about 25,000 words, which makes it a pretty slim novella by most standards.  That means it can easily be read in a sitting or two and so no excuses about not having the time to read it.

I Am Legend would make a great movie but so far (over three attempts) no filmmaker has really captured the essence of the book.  The Last Man On Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price is the most faithful adaptation.  The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston has some interesting moments, but it strays a little from the book.  Okay it strays a lot!  The vampires in that movie are weird albino mutants of some sort.  It’s got a pretty good soundtrack though, I will say that.

Less said about the Will Smith movie the better.

This one’s all about the book.  It’s a classic.  Read it if you haven’t already.

 

3/ The Body (Stephen King – 1982)

the body

“I’ll see you.”
He grinned. ‘Not if i see you first.”

I have to do a separate Stephen King list sometime.  He’s my favourite author and this list might easily have been a list of SK books.  But for now I’ll only pick one and so I’m going to go with The Body.  Pennywise, Kurt Barlow and Roland Deschain will all have to wait.

What struck me about The Body when I first read it is how faithful the film adaptation – Stand By Me – is to the source material.  Yep, like many people in this instance – and of my generation – I saw the film before I read the book.  And I can definitely say that the book and film are in sync with one another, unlike say Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining – great film but it goes in its own direction and King didn’t like it.  Therefore it’s not surprising that it’s Stand By Me, Rob Reiner’s faithful adaptation of The Body, that is Stephen King’s favourite film version of all his books. 

The Body is the story of four young boys who go looking for the fresh corpse of Ray Brower – a boy their own age who’s apparently been struck and killed by a train.  It sounds like a horror story, but it’s not.  It’s a coming of age tale and in my opinion, a perfect one at that.  The novella is contained within a collection called Different Seasons.  Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil and The Breathing Method are also featured in this outstanding collection.

You’ll love this beautifully written story.  Especially if you were ever twelve.

 

4/ The Count of Monte Cristo   (Alexandre Dumas – 1844)

“All human wisdom is contained in these two words -“Wait and Hope.”

monte-cristo

It’s big, old and richly detailed.  But don’t let that put you off.  

The novel begins in 1815.  Edmond Dantès is a young merchant sailor who has everything going for him in life.  He’s handsome, intelligent, and on the brink of being made captain of his ship.  And as if all that wasn’t enough, he’s engaged to the beautiful Mercédès.  So what could go wrong?  Well, everything as it happens.  Shortly after arriving back in port in Marseilles, Dantès is framed by his jealous rivals as a Bonapartist traitor.  He is arrested and subsequently imprisoned in the Château d’If, where he spends the next fourteen years of his life.  There he meets and befriends the mysterious Abbé Faria, who educates the young sailor in the sciences, philosophy and languages.  Faria informs Dantès about a vast treasure which is located on the barren island of Monte Cristo.  When Dantès finally escapes from prison, he goes after the loot and becomes filthy rich.  Immediately afterwards, he starts plotting revenge on those who betrayed him.

The Count of Monte Cristo was originally serialised in Journal des Débats in eighteen parts between 1844 to 1846.  It’s interesting to note that Dumas based his story on a true revenge tale, which was taken from the Parisian police archives.  I think everyone should read this book.  It’s fun and it’s BIG!  But if you don’t like lugging a doorstop sized book around with you then get the digital version.  I have a beautiful big hardcover version of this, but it’s on my Kindle too as the digital copy is super cheap.  See here for the e-book.  But whatever – whether it’s digital, paperback or hardback, this is still a classic.    

 

5/ The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (Neil Gaiman – 2010)

the-truth-is-a-cave-in-the-black-mountains

“The truth is a cave in the black mountains. There is one way there, and one way only, and that way is treacherous and hard. And if you choose the wrong path you will die alone, on the mountainside.”

This is a wonderful little novelette by Neil Gaiman.  It’s an atmospheric, dark and often claustrophobic story in which a Scottish dwarf (yes, a Scottish dwarf) hires a guide to take him to a cave on the Misty Isle, a cave which is reputedly filled with gold.  

The story is set in Scotland and Gaiman was apparently inspired to write it by his visits to the Isle of Skye and the old Hebridean legends that he most likely heard whilst there.  It’s a story that (for me anyway) isn’t so much about the external landscape (which is beautifully written) but the internal landscape of the two men journeying to the Misty Isle.  There’s so much going on underneath the surface – credit to the author for such excellent characterisation .  It’s riveting stuff and it lingered long in my mind after reading – this for me is the sign of a special story.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains is also one of the most evocative stories that I have ever read.  I could literally see every scene in my head playing out like a movie.  Neil Gaiman has done incredible things in this little story.  If you only read one novelette about a Scottish dwarf in your lifetime, make it this one.

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Reducing it to five books was always going to be tough.  So although I regret nothing, I’m doing the honourable mentions things.

These go to:

Tenth of December (George Saunders)

Watchmen (Alan Moore)

Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk),

Under the Skin (Michel Faber),

Bartleby the Scrivener (Herman Melville)

And just about anything by Roald Dahl.  

FAB: The Fifth Angel (The Blurb)

 

1995.

John Lennon. Whereabouts unknown.

The former Beatle and US Presidential candidate – who took the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1988 – has disappeared, seemingly off the face of the earth.

Frank Vogel is the FBI agent who let Lennon slip through his fingers back in ‘88. Now working as a small-time bounty hunter, Vogel has spent the last seven years following up countless Lennon sightings all over the world, but with little success.

One day, Vogel receives a tip from across the Atlantic. There’s a rumour going around that John Lennon – the world’s most wanted man – is writing songs again.

Vogel travels to the UK where he encounters The Angelicas. Known to their fans as ‘the Angels’ – the band’s meteoric rise to stardom is largely credited to an anonymous songwriting collaborator, known only as the ‘Fifth Angel’.

But who is the ‘Fifth Angel’? Can it really be John Lennon? And if Vogel manages to track the ex-Beatle down, will revenge lead to redemption?

It’s Your Unique Voice (Or Why Everyone Has the Right to Write)

 

Has the rise of self-publishing tainted the ‘purity’ of books?

Yes, that does sound pretentious.  Tell me about it.  I was going to write ‘fuck off’ under that first sentence because that’s what I really feel like saying to those who subscribe to this idea.  Believe it or not, there are sensitive souls out there who might say yes – actually it has darling, the rise of self-publishing has tainted the ‘purity’ of books.  They’ll say that the beautiful book thing has been tainted by the onslaught of commoners – the hundreds of thousands of Joe and Joanna Averages uploading their Word documents onto KDP/iTunes/Smashwords/Kobo, and calling them books.

How dare they?  How dare they call themselves authors?

I’ve seen this mentioned in a few publishing-themed articles.  Usually it’s a subtle reference, loaded with condescending intent – a little backhander designed with indie authors in mind.

Now to be fair, maybe the people who’re saying it don’t even realise they’re being patronising.  Or maybe I’m just being paranoid?

But I don’t think so.  And I certainly don’t agree with the notion that books or the publishing industry are in any way damaged by the rise of self-publishing.  If anything, books have become more fascinating, less inclusive, and unafraid.

It’s true.  Thanks to the recent evolution in the publishing industry (which came from retailers, not the traditional publishers who understandably loathe change), anyone can write and publish a book.  And sure, some of what gets published might not be up to a certain standard of technical brilliance.  Some of it might be downright shit – in your opinion.  But it’s a big world out there, and one full of readers – lots of different types of readers with all kinds of tastes.  This might come as a surprise, but not everyone wants to read somebody else’s definition of a classic.  Not everyone wants to read the Man Booker Prize winner.

That’s why the open door policy of twenty-first century publishing is a beautiful thing.  Even if it does appear messy and chaotic at times.  So what?  Authors have more opportunities to be read and readers have more books to choose from.

This sums it up for me – writing is your unique voice.  Nobody else in the world can write like you and that’s a fact.  It’s an incredible thing that you are so unique.  Whatever you have to say, whatever story you have to tell – it’s yours (unless you’re a plagiarising git!)  When you put pen to paper or finger to laptop, it’s your unique voice that comes out within those words and what’s more, you can guarantee there’s someone else out there in the world who will respond to you – even if it’s just one person who’s every bit as weird as you are.

Your unique voice.  That alone gives you the right to write.  Those who don’t like the sound of your voice, they can just stay away from what you write.

It’s that easy.  Live and let live.

When I first picked up the guitar as a teenager, I had a friend who was learning at the same time as me.  His style was kind of odd by conventional standards.  His left hand (the one fretting the notes) was pretty normal but his right hand – the strumming hand – had a mind of its own.  Instead of a traditional up-down, up-down flowing motion on the strings, it was a jerky-jerky, down-down.  Something in between punk rock and a seizure.   It was bonkers and unorthodox, but it worked.  Nobody told him to play any differently and they couldn’t because that was his unique voice coming through the guitar.  And nobody else in the world sounded like that, or ever will.

So your grammar might be a bit wonky.  Your third act might be all over the place and your punctuation may very well be pants.  Keep practicing.  I will always defend your right to write and publish your book, whichever way you see fit.  Read a lot of books, study storytelling in all its guises and absorb, absorb, absorb.  Get better, because in no way am I condoning or advocating mediocrity.  What I’m saying is that writing gives you a voice.  It’s communication.  And no matter what stage you’re at, everyone’s entitled to that.

 

 

 

 

How To Use Pop Culture In Your Alternate Histories

 

What if the Axis Powers had won the Second World War?  What if the Confederates had won the American Civil War?  What if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo?  Or what if the Roman Empire was still intact?

The majority of alternate histories focus on military and political ‘what ifs?’.  And certainly, the most high profile examples, which have been turned into films and TV shows – The Man in the High Castle and Fatherland –  fall into these categories.  There are others, intricate and specialised political/military/economic ‘what ifs?’ that are nothing short of hardcore.

Whatever blows your whistle.  It’s all good.

It’s not for me however.  Pop culture is more my thing.  This too plays an important role in the majority of people’s lives and its influence is seen and felt everywhere within our society, in the way we dress, talk, and behave.  After all, kids don’t tend to grow up wanting to dress or style their hair like their favourite politician or military leader, do they?  (Although I’m sure those people are out there – somewhere!)

I’m talking about rock stars, movie stars, TV stuff, books, fashion, fads, trends, movements, music and cultural revolutions.  The possibilities for writing alternate histories around these subjects are both endless and fascinating.  It’s all about what sort of ‘what if?’ you’re asking.

So with that in mind, here are a couple of suggestions for any authors interested in doing a ‘pop culture’ alternate history.

The Dead Live

This is what I’ve been working on recently with the FAB trilogy.  Take a famous dead person and imagine – wait for it – that they’re not dead.  Not overly original but extremely interesting in terms of what to write about.  In my case it’s John Lennon. 

Who’s your favourite rock star?  Your favourite movie star? (Deceased, remember!)  Think of someone you admire or someone whose life and work you’re familiar with or that you would be interested in becoming familiar with.  It’s important that you know your subject otherwise you might as well just invent a fictional character.  

Now imagine that this person never died.  There was no car crash, no drug overdose, no plane crash, no whatever.  They’re still alive.  What sort of future do you envision for this rock star/movie star in your alternate timeline?  What are they doing?  What have they grown into over the years?  How have they fit in with subsequent eras?  (James Dean in the swinging sixties?)  Of course, what you write doesn’t have to be what you actually think would happen.  Personally, I subscribe to anything that’s entertaining.

So use your imagination.  

What really would have happened to John Lennon probably doesn’t make for good or interesting fiction.  More solo albums, perhaps even a Beatles reunion?  Cool, but not much of a story in there.  That’s where you – the writer and your imagination come in.  In FAB, I turned John Lennon inside out, envisioning him as a right-wing politician who goes after the big seat in the White House.  Along the way, he becomes corrupted and bad things happen.  Do I think that’s what would have happened to JL in the 1980s?  Not in a gazillion years.  But – alternate history is fiction remember?  Do whatever the hell you want, just make it a compelling story.

Worried about your ideas being seen as ridiculous?  Okay, if anybody says that just give them the following spiel – had OJ Simpson died in the late 70s or early 80s, he would have been remembered today as a poster boy of black/American sporting pride.  A symbol of masculinity, a hero, and all that.  Now, imagine that an author in this alternate timeline (with dead OJ) writes a story in which legendary sporting hero OJ Simpson lives on into the 80s and 90s, going on to brutally murder his wife and another man and then goes off on a crazy car chase with half the LAPD on his tail.  That author is going to get some funny looks, no?

Bottom line – we have no idea what would have happened.  So we might as well use our imaginations.

Recommendation – Check out The Rebel by Jack Dann, which imagines a world in which James Dean doesn’t die in the 1955 car crash.

Quick Word About Legal Stuff

Regarding the legality of using real people in your fiction, be cautious.  My advice would be – wherever possible – to write your stories around these people rather than feature them as central figures.  Although lots of people do it and have no problems.  Personally, I prefer to write around John Lennon in FAB.  He’s there, but he’s not always there if you know what I mean.  He’s more of a presence than a main character.  It’s entirely up to you of course, but if you’re writing about a real person always write a disclaimer at the start of your book stating that it’s a work of fiction.  And avoid slander – don’t go there or you could be in real trouble further down the line.  Generally, the more ridiculous the scenario you invent, the more obvious it is that it’s fiction, the better.  

If you’re curious about legal stuff, here’s a link to a great post with advice on using celebrities in fiction.  Be sure to go through the comments too as there’s some good stuff in there.

Backdrop

You could also write an alternate history using a particular era as your backdrop.  For example, the second FAB book (released in August) is set during the Britpop era.  For anyone who isn’t aware, Britpop was a musical phenomenon/movement/scene in the 1990s.  British guitar bands ruled the post-grunge landscape, saluting The Beatles, all things British, and the Union Jack.  Think bands like Oasis, Blur, Suede, Pulp, Elastica, and others.  I’m inserting a fictional band in here and messing about with history to serve my plot.

You could use something similar as a backdrop.  The grunge scene of the early 90s?  There was also the acid house scene of the late 1980s.  You could go further back to the early hip-hop years in the 1970s.  Or the swinging sixties when cultural revolution was at its peak.  You get the idea.  Go back to that scene, whatever it is, and change something – maybe a famous band from that period who split up stay together.  What effect will that have on the future?  A famous event/tragedy from that period never happened.  Mess about with things.  Use your imagination.

Of course it doesn’t have to have anything to do with music?  Maybe a famous celebrity couple from a particular era stayed together?  (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor?)  You could write about the impact on someone close to them – a staff member perhaps?  Or just write about the couple themselves.

Recommendation: Speaking of famous bands who split up, I recommend The Death and Life of Mal Evans by Peter Lee, in which The Beatles’ former roadie gets a second chance at life, and tries to prevent the fab four from breaking up.

What else?

This is just a brief introduction, highlighting a couple of ways to incorporate pop culture into your alternate histories.  If you’re interested in this kind of thing, here are a couple more.  Maybe they’ll fire up your imagination:

What if social media had been invented earlier?  What if it had been around in the 1980s?

What if a famous actor playing a monster in a movie turned out to be a real monster?  (I nicked this.  See Shadow of the Vampire starring Willem Dafoe)

And so on and on.

For me, alternate history is all about letting your imagination run wild.  Whatever you do, whatever you write, have fun with it.  Because if you’re having fun, it’s guaranteed that somebody else out there will too.

 

Write Fast, Write Lots: Why Quantity Leads To Quality

 

The best piece of marketing advice for authors (in my humble opinion) is to write another book.  The second best piece of marketing advice is to write another book.  Yep, so keep writing, you get where it’s going.  It’s that simple and that hard.  You have to produce work and you have to do it on a consistent basis in order to keep the momentum going.

That means you have to be prolific.  And if you’re prolific, you’re writing fast.  And if you’re writing fast, you’re probably just churning out sub-standard crap, right?

Wrong.

If you think writing fast means writing crap, then take a look at the list below.  It’s a short list of novels and novellas that were written in less than six weeks.  None of which are crap.  If nothing else, this list demonstrates what writers are capable of doing in a short period of time if they truly want to.

Have a look at the list.  After that we’ll get into the quality vs quantity debate with a little help from Adam Grant, and his highly informative book, Originals.

 

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brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark.  Spark wrote her celebrated novel in less than a month.  Yep, less than a month.  Originally published in 1961, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is based on Spark’s recollections of her own teacher, Christina Kay.

Running Man

The Running Man – Stephen King.  King knocked off The Running Man in less than a week.  Less than four days even!  Says the man himself: “The Running Man, for instance, was written during a period of seventy-two hours and published with virtually no changes.”

ACC

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens.  Dickens called this his “little Christmas book” and he started writing it in October 1843.  Six weeks later, the novella was finished in time for Christmas and from there it went on to pretty much invent the whole Christmas spirit thing.  And just in case you didn’t know – Dickens also self-published this book, overseeing every detail of publication until its release on December 19th, 1843.

ACC

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess.  Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange in three weeks.  He always dismissed this controversial novel as one of his poorer efforts and it pissed him off that out of all his books, this was the one everyone was still talking about, right up until his death in 1993.

007

The James Bond Books – Ian Fleming. It took Ian Fleming about six weeks to write each of the James Bond books.  Usually it was the same routine for the author – he’d fly down to Jamaica, set up his writing desk in Goldeneye (his private residence), and work there.  The rest of the time, I presume he had fun in the sun.  Not a bad old life Mr F.

road

The Road – Cormac McCarthy.  In 2004, Cormac McCarthy flew to Ireland for six weeks.  During his stay in the Emerald Isle, he wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road.  The project was originally inspired by a trip to El Paso with his son, but it was written during that single stint in Ireland.  As McCarthy said at the time, “It’s amazing what you can get done when there’s nothing else to do but write.”

 

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Quantity = Quality?

Let’s go back to the matter of writing fast – of quality vs quantity.  A lot of people are under the assumption that if work is churned out quickly and regularly, then the churner-outer has little chance of producing great work.  Instead, the churner-outer is just a hack, producing inferior quality work to those ‘true artists’ who labour over a single or fewer pieces for many years.

But there’s a section in Adam Grant’s book Originals, which puts forth the idea that quantity is in fact, your best chance of producing quality.  I’m going to borrow a few passages from the book below.  Most of the information that I share comes from either David Simonton, a psychologist who has spent his career studying creative productivity, or from Grant himself.

Here are a few interesting titbits that might get you thinking.

Painting Your Masterpiece

How best to increase your odds of creating a masterpiece in any given field?  According to Simonton, “creative geniuses weren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers.  They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality.”

In plain speak for authors – that means to write, publish, and repeat (to borrow a phrase from the guys at The Self-Publishing Podcast).  But remember – you must do it without sacrificing quality.  Work fast, but work great – never release crap into the world or you risk ruining your reputation forever.

Nobody said it was going to be easy.

But here’s the thing – don’t take ten years to write a novel unless your novel really needs ten years.  Ten years, five years, three years, is no assurance against writing garbage.  Time has got nothing to do with how good or bad a book turns out.

And by the way, don’t think for one second that I’m telling anyone how long it takes to write a novel or novella.  There is no set answer to that riddle.  This is aimed at those people who think it takes a long time to write a truly good book.  It doesn’t.  Quite simply, it takes however long or short it takes.

Shakespeare

The book goes on to list a few historical examples of people who produced a large body of work in their lifetime – only a fraction of which is truly memorable.  For example, there’s William Shakespeare.  Over the course of two decades he produced 37 plays and 154 sonnets.  Simonton looked at the five year window in which Shakespeare produced three of his five most popular plays – Macbeth, King Lear, and Othello – and observed that the playwright also wrote Timon of Athens and All’s Well That Ends Well in that same time period.  Simonton describes these last two as ‘among the worst of his plays…consistently slammed for unpolished prose and incomplete plot and character development.’

When we talk about excellence in creative writing we often use Shakespeare as the benchmark, even though much of what he produced wasn’t excellent at all.  Undoubtedly he achieved excellence, but this was aided by the fact that (a) he was talented and (b) he wrote and produced a large body of work.

The Composers

Some musical examples are listed in Originals:

Before dying at the age of thirty-five, Mozart had over 600 compositions to his name, but only a handful of them are considered as masterworks.

Same with Beethoven.  He produced about 650 pieces in his lifetime, but when the London Philharmonic Orchestra chose the fifty greatest pieces of classical music of all time, only five were Beethoven’s.

Three were by Bach, who composed over a thousand pieces in his lifetime.

Picasso

Picasso was crazy prolific.  In Originals, we’re informed that he created ‘more than 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 2.800 ceramics, and 12,000 drawings, not to mention prints, rugs, and tapestries – only a fraction of which have garnered acclaim.’

Now Get To Work

There are other examples in the book – the poetry of Maya Angelou and the theories of Albert Einstein amongst them.  The point is the same.  These are talented people who increased their odds of creating something great by producing a large volume of work.

What to take from this?

Well, everybody’s different and certainly there’s no one size fits all in any given field.  But if you’re trying to write a great book, a great screenplay, paint a masterpiece, write the best song, or come up with the best ideas in whatever field you’re in – you could do a lot worse than be prolific.  Some of what you come up with will be shit, and lots of it probably worse than shit.  That’s okay.  Some of it might be alright, some of it good.  Then again, some of it might be great.

To quote ‘Originals‘ one last time.

‘It’s widely assumed that there’s a tradeoff between quantity and quality – if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it – but this turns out to be false.  In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.’

“The most important possible thing you could do,” says producer Ira Glass, “is do a lot of work.  Do a huge volume of work.”

Remember the list of books at the top of this post?  Look at what can be done in a relatively short period of time.  Truly great things.  You can work faster and better simply if you choose to.  Forget the old myth that quality means years and years of waiting.

Keep busy and produce, because apparently this increases your odds of greatness.

 

The London Riots: The Making of L-2011

 

If you’re a fan of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, then you’ll know there’s no shortage of possibilities as to how civilisation might one day pull the trigger on itself.

Nuclear disaster, plague, war, freak weather, something big from outer space crashing into Earth – and if you’re up for the supernatural too, then what about aliens, zombies and vampires?

Why not?

But there’s another trigger for the end of all things.  One that perhaps isn’t explored as much in film and literature – probably ‘cos it’s too close to the bone.

It’s the apocalypse that begins at home.  That is, destruction from within our own communities.

Riots, riots, riots.

Just like what happened in London, back in 2011.

 

The London Riots

L-2011 (Blog2)

There are some out there who’ll tell you that Mark Duggan’s death was the cause of the London riots.  In case you don’t know, 29-year-old Duggan was shot by police in Tottenham, North London, on August 4th 2011.  The details of Duggan’s last moments on Earth are sketchy, which made the circumstances of his death all the more controversial as some people wondered whether the police actually had to shoot him that day.  There’s a lot of info on this, so if you’re curious, here’s a short video with more on Duggan’s shooting.

But Duggan’s death wasn’t the real reason that people took to the streets in August 2011.  That goes way beyond the reach of a short blog post, but this much is certain – Mark Duggan’s death and the subsequent protest outside Tottenham police station two day later were inciting incidents – the sparks, but they were not the root cause.

It was just a bunch of yobs, thugs, vandals etc.  That’s what most people will say, and then they’ll leave it at that.

But it was more.  We’re talking big picture here.  It was more than just simple opportunism and the prospect of breaking into JJB Sports for a pair of fancy footwear.  A lingering frustration had been building up in these inner-city communities for many years.  After all, people don’t just wake up one day and suddenly decide to trash their own neighbourhood.

 One social commentator who was based in Brixton, South London, described these communities as ‘pressure cookers’. 

Others spoke of a longstanding resentment about the number of stop and searches conducted against black youths.

In many inner-city communities, local facilities were being shut down at an alarming rate, and whether or not you think the London rioters would otherwise have been playing ping-pong in youth clubs doesn’t matter.  By consistently closing down local facilities, the government are sending a message to the people who live in these areas.  And the message is this – they don’t care about you.  You simply don’t matter.

I’m not saying that there wasn’t opportunism and that the rioters were all working-class heroes fighting against the man.  Of course there were yobs, thugs, and scumbags aplenty during the London riots.  But you cannot leave it there, not if you’re truly searching for the ‘why?’

Anyway, I’m not here to dissect the sociology and the politics.  That’s a book you’re looking for.  If you’re interested in exploring the ‘whys’ surrounding the London riots, here are a couple of books I found useful while doing my own research for ‘L-2011’:

Mad Mobs and Englishmen? Myths and Realities of the 2011 riotshere.

Reading the Riots: Investigating England’s Summer of Disorderhere.

Carla’s Story

So anyway – why did I end up writing an alternate history novel about the London riots?

A Facebook post.

This particular Facebook post was by a friend of mine, Carla Rees – who lived in Croydon during the riots.  One day she checked in on Facebook, but it wasn’t your average post.  She wanted to let everyone know that she was safe.  That she was in fact, still alive.  It came completely out of the blue and I remember my jaw dropping in astonishment as I read her words.

It turned out that Carla’s flat – located on London Road – had been burned down by rioters on the previous night and everything she owned was lost.  The good news?  Carla and her partner hadn’t been in the flat at the time.  The terrible news was that her two beloved cats and numerous musical instruments she used to make a living had been.  Not to mention all their other stuff.

I was shocked.  She’d lost everything and for what?  These things happen to other people, don’t they?  Not people that I actually know.  And one thing’s for sure, Carla didn’t deserve that.  She’s a lovely girl who I worked with when I was still a musician – in 2010 if I remember the year correctly.  She’s the type of girl who’d go out of her way to help anyone and this much is certain – she had nothing to do with government cuts or police harassment or any of the alleged reasons why the rioters were so pissed off back in early August 2011.

It didn’t make sense.

She just happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And that’s it.  Terrible, terrible luck.

Carla’s post made the London riots much more real to me.  And long after the rioting had actually stopped, it was still there stuck in my mind and I knew sooner or later, that I’d end up writing about it.

L-2011

L-2011 (Blog 3)

 

So here’s a quick rundown on how ‘L-2011’ (Future of London Series #1) came to be.

In 2011 (the year I began writing seriously), I wrote a post-apocalyptic short story called The Wall.  It was your typical post-apocalyptic yarn – the end of civilisation and technology and all that – and set in an unspecified and far-distant future.  Not an iPad in sight.  I used the London riots as my trigger for this post-apocalyptic/alternate history story – the trigger being, ‘what if the London riots hadn’t stopped?’

In 2013, I started converting the short story into a novel.

In 2015, I started inserting flashback scenes into the PA narrative.  By this point, I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing.

Somewhere along the way, these same flashback scenes became the story.  But the flashbacks were no longer flashbacks and instead, they turned into blogs, transcripts of news broadcasts, TV shows and YouTube videos – a 21st century epistolary novel if you like.  The PA narrative (The Wall) got sidelined and I started writing about a sixteen year old boy called Mack Walker, who along with his friend Sumo Dave, gets caught up in the London riots.  Mack and Sumo Dave’s story fitted nicely in between the 21st century epistolary bits.

My London riots story had come a long way and it was unrecognisable from the short story I started off with in 2011.  But thank God it was finally getting somewhere.

And by the way, if any of this rambling has made you interested, you can read the blurb for ‘L-2011’ here.

Streets of Oil

If nothing else, I hope the novel gets a few people talking about the London riots again.  The five year anniversary is coming up in August 2016, and it seems like nobody’s talking about the riots.

These days we’re more worried about radicalised Muslims or North Korea or Putin, or whether George RR Martin will ever finish the next book.

But it would be foolish to forget the London riots.  Dangerous too.

As Max Hastings said at the time:

“The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. They do not have what most of use would call ‘lives’: they simply exist.”

People with nothing to lose are dangerous because to be frank, they don’t give a shit about consequences like the rest of us.  And there are thousands of them out there.  They have nothing to lose, or as sociologists might put it, they have no ‘stake in society’.

What does it all mean?  Simply put, it could happen again at any time.  As someone said after the 2011 riots, the streets of London are ‘still slicked with oil’.  And all it takes is another spark.

Fans of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, take note.

 

L-2011: The Blurb

The Revolution Will Be Televised, Retweeted And Liked.

August 2011.

The London riots – coordinated by technology and social media – have brought the city to its knees.

Historic buildings have been burned to the ground. Shops are looted, businesses and homes destroyed at random.

The politicians try to resolve the crisis, but the Houses of Parliament are no longer a match for the influence of the Internet, where two alternative leaders have emerged in an online battle for the future soul of London.

Chester George – a masked man whose real identity is unknown, uses YouTube, punk rock and fierce intellect to spread the anarchy.

Sadie Hobbs – reality TV star and blogger. Loathed and controversial, she urges ‘normal’ society to fight back against Chester George and the ‘feral rats’ destroying the city.

The fate of London hangs in the balance. And when the day of reckoning comes, hundreds of thousands of people – including sixteen-year-old Mack Walker – will descend upon the city for the final showdown – and a day that London will never forget.

L-2011 is released on May 20th.

Jesus Was A Punk/A Lament For Original Thinkers/And Other Non-SEO Friendly Titles

 

When punk rock exploded onto the music scene in the mid-seventies, anybody could smash out three chords and call themselves a band.

How cool is that?

The Ramones and The Sex Pistols turned the musical establishment upside down, flushing its fat, bloated, overindulgent head down the toilet pan.  Gone was the legend of the unattainable, mythical rock star looking down upon the little people from the heights of their lofty perch.  Suddenly it was all about those little people instead – about you and your spotty mates and what you could do to change the world.  You – yes you – could be in a band, even if you couldn’t tell one end of a Fender Stratocaster from another.  Because even if you weren’t particularly talented, you still had every right to make your voice heard.

Who’d have thought?

But that was the beauty of punk rock.  It was an original thing.  That’s why in its early days, it truly was a revolution of its own making.  It shook the world and rightly so.

But what do we mean by ‘punk’?

Is it aggressive guitar music?  A Mohican haircut?  What about safety pins, razor blade bracelets, studs, pins, badges, or any other fashion accessory for that matter?

No, that’s the ‘rock’ bit see?

Punk has nothing to do with fashion.  It has nothing to do with music either.

What is Punk?

Punk is an attitude.  It’s anti-conformity, anti-establishment and all those things.  It’s about originality and going this way when everybody else is going that way.  It’s what we all want to be.  It’s what we say we’re going to be when we’re young and idealistic, but then ‘reality’ and ‘necessity’ interfere with our lives and we give in and tragically, our inner punks slowly die of boredom.

Historical examples of punk

Guess what?  Jesus was a punk.  Yes he was.  In Mark Johnson’s book, Seditious Theology: Punk and the Ministry of Jesus, he emphasises the disdain that Jesus had for the religious leaders of the day.  He compares this to the punk rockers of the seventies and their own “confrontational anger towards the hypocrisy of the leaders of a nation and their moral bankruptcy”.  Let’s not forget that Jesus was a seriously confrontational guy.  A true original and yes, it’s hard to equate all that with the portrait of the gentle white hippy that you see splattered over church windows.

The inventor of the wheel = Punk.  Original thinking.

The early Abolitionist Movement in the 1830s.  Punks.

When Rosa Lee Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to white people on December 1st 1955, not only did she break the existing segregation laws and bolster the Civil Rights Movement – she also showed the world what a seriously bad-ass punk she was.

The young Elvis Presley was a punk.  Hips that changed the world.

This guy below – August Landmesser – refusing to salute and show allegiance to the Nazi Party in 1936.  Quite rightly he’s become the Internet poster boy for not giving a fuck.  Talk about ballsy.  Talk about original.  And talk about punk.

 

A lone man refusing to do the Nazi salute, 1936

 

Punk is not loud guitars and mohicans.  What it is, is true expression.  It’s who you are deep deep down and best of all, it’s anti-bullshit in our bullshit drenched times.

Punk is 100% authentic.  100% original.

Indie Publishing

Indie publishing – at least in the digital age – is a modern innovation that initially inherited the DIY and DIYW (Do It Your Way) spirit of punk.

Its growth was (and is) a reaction to the status quo of traditional publishing.  Just like punk rock in the mid-seventies was a reaction to the sheer wanky pretentiousness of Rod Stewart prancing around the stage in a pair of leopard skin trousers.

Likewise, the rise of indie publishing was a reaction to the limitations of traditional publishing.  Amazon unleashed KDP in 2007.  Mark Coker founded Smashwords in 2008.  Authors had the ability to offer their work directly to readers and not a handful of business people who presumed to know what readers did and did not want to read.  Writers were empowered.  Readers were empowered.

And things have never been the same since.

The Mainstream

For a while, it was truly punk.  But indie publishing isn’t punk anymore.  It’s pretty much become a mainstream pursuit these days, which isn’t a bad thing – it just means a LOT of people are publishing independently now.

Like many readers, I get a large dose of the latest book deals in my inbox every day –  99p deals, free deals, that kind of thing.  Now lot of these books are by indie authors and here’s one of the major reasons that indie isn’t punk anymore.

Far too many indie books are just pale imitations of another franchise.

Here’s one example.

There are a shitload of writers out there trying to replicate the Lee Child thing.  That is, they’re trying to do what Lee Child has done with the Jack Reacher character.  They’re writing a fast-paced thriller about the former secret services loner guy with the bad ass combat skills who moves from place to place helping people.  It seems like every other day, I see THAT cover with the former secret services loner guy with the bad ass combat skills standing in the middle of the road/desert/street or whatever.  Moody, dark, but completely unoriginal.

And don’t even start me on the gazillions of Fifty Shades erotica rip-offs out there.  Holy shit!  I’m talking about books so blatantly unoriginal that the covers are almost identical to Fifty Shades.  These books might as well be called Thirty-Eight Shades of Marigold and have done with it.

Please believe me – I’m not trying to be a dick.  You might think I am, but really I’m not.  You might say that’s what we love to write and who are you to judge us Mark – you dick!

And you’d be right!

If that’s the kind of book you absolutely love to write then do it.  If your heart tells you to do it – then do it.  You absolutely have to be happy with what you’re writing and if that’s your thing, then do your thing.  Life is too short so be happy and write what you want.

But…

I do think that too many writers out there are chasing the market.  Too many writers are caught up in trying to be smart businessmen/women and as a result of market chasing and following trends, there’s a lack of original ideas out there.  There is.  Truly, imitation and cashing in on someone else’s idea seems to be the modern way.

It’s Happening on TV!

Look at all the bland and uninspired reality TV shows constantly cropping up on network TV.  Here in Australia it’s a fucking joke and every time an advert for My Celebrity Kitchen Reality Wife Swap (or whatever they’re called) comes on, I wish – oh I wish – I could be like Elvis and shoot the TV.

Bang.

Where are all the original ideas?  Where are the twisted minds?  I know they’re out there somewhere.  Tell me where can I find a truly inspired television show like Red Dwarf these days?  Remember that?  A masterpiece with original content and top notch writing.  Where are all the great sitcoms?  Or shows like The Prisoner.  If they’re anywhere, they’re nowhere near the networks because the networks are too busy churning out the same old reality dross, which is designed to shock just for the sake of reeling viewers in.

No wonder Netflix and Amazon Prime are chewing up the networks.

And don’t even get me started on what the film industry is doing with all these 80s remakes.  Lazy unadventurous bastards cashing in on the past, instead of investing and nurturing fresh writing talent.

Back To Indies

In the case of indie authors, so many are enamoured of self-publishing success stories and riding the bandwagon of a certain genre/character/formulaic plot style.  The thinking is that because Hugh Howey or E.L. James sold millions of copies writing dystopian fiction or erotica that they will too.

For better of for worse, they’re thinking like businesspeople.  Yes, marketing your work is important, of course, but it should be the lesser part of your writing career.  The art, remember the art!  Everybody wants to sell you the secrets of book marketing, but I don’t see any Facebook ads reminding you to flex your imagination once in a while.

Authors – indie, trad or hybrid – just write a truly great story.  Write your story and not a rehash of something else (unless it’s a cool mash-up or an inspired modern take on a classic).

Here’s what I love (for what it’s worth).  I love the truly original ideas.   Perhaps it’s the reason I love alternate histories so much because here’s a genre that truly encourages the use of the author’s imagination and original thinking – what if?

The Author’s Legacy

Because when all is said and done and you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil and the money thing is irrelevant, it’s your work that will live on.  Your art is your legacy, not your marketing skills or your craftiness, or your ability to follow fleeting trends.

Even if just one person – maybe in the year 2347 – stumbles across your book long after you’re gone, it’d better be a good book.  Because with the passing of time, it’ll become obvious to Mr and Mrs Future Reader if you were just a pale imitation of another writer, writing books you thought would sell in a long since obsolete fashion…

…or whether you were a true original.

Great art outlives us.  It outlives our grandchildren too.  So of course, think about your pockets, the practicalities and the marketing side of things – nobody’s saying that isn’t important, but for God’s sake don’t just write a book to imitate fads or trends because you think you’ll strike the jackpot.

You can do better than that.   It might not make you rich – but then again, it might.  The point is, nobody really knows what they’re doing here – not one ‘indie author expert’ or ‘publishing guru’ out there has a clue what’s going to be the next big thing in the land of books.

Original ideas are what will make you immortal.  So by all means – put food on the table, but try at least to be a little bit great too, okay?

Remember you’re an artist, more so than a businessman/woman.

Be original.

Because that’s the punk spirit.  That’s what it means to be a punk.  To do something that nobody else has done and to write something that nobody else has written.  That nobody else would dare write.

To invent the wheel all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Indie Authors Should Celebrate Short Fiction

 

For emerging indie writers, it’s important to produce work on a consistent basis.  If you want to build a following and generate some kind of income from your writing, you need to be consistent and above all else they’ll tell you – write more books.  That’s because more books mean more marketing opportunities and that in turn, means visibility.  More books provide you with the means of offering special deals to your customers and creating product funnels and doing all that marketing stuff that as people like to say nowadays – increases your ‘discoverability’ – what a word that is.

Think of it this way – as a fiction writer, writing books is your primary method of content marketing.  Not writing blogs or recording podcasts or anything like that.  Writing books.

Writing a book is hard.   Writing a load of books, huh?  Sure – let’s just knock off a sequel to War and Peace before lunch.

Eh, not quite.

From start to finish, novels demand a serious time commitment on the part of the author.  And that’s just writing the book because if you’re a good indie author, you’ll also be working with an editor to shape the book and a professional graphic designer to design the cover.  You might also do all the formatting  yourself – which is my own worst nightmare.

So there you are.  You’re working your ass off – you and others to produce a top-notch novel, which is roughly 50/60,000 words (or as is more likely these days, way, way, waaaay above those numbers – how’s that consistency thing working out George RR Martin?)

You can’t rush your book, but if you’re keen not to leave long gaps in between releases, writing back-to-back novels could be a problem.

Fortunately however, the digital revolution happened.  And with new technologies came new possibilities of product consumption (God, that sounds so creepily capitalist).  The twentieth century model of how mass market fiction is consumed – novel, novel, novel – is no longer the only means available to readers.  Thanks to ebooks, there are other choices available.

Now one of the best things about opting the way of indie publishing (or author-publishing if you prefer that term) is that you are your own boss.  You can do what you want.  So that means if you want to stay in bed and eat chocolate and drink Red Bull till you spout real actual wings and fly through the ceiling then you can.  I don’t recommend it, but the point is that you’re in charge.  And with that, you have a freedom that was unavailable to writers just a couple of decades ago.  There are less restrictions on how you deliver stories to readers and if you want to be a consistent indie author, then consider the most obvious way of delivering quality products in good time.

Write shorter books.

This is not a new or radical idea.  Not by any means.  But in terms of both reading and writing, I’m an advocate of shorter books, which goes against the trend of recent years for books to be very long.  And I think too many emerging writers are trying to write long books just because they think they should.  But for me, this is the old model of thinking, which is still geared towards the novel as the be-all and end-all.   Now I love novels –  they’re beautiful things.  I think every writer’s backlist should have novels in them because they’ve proven themselves to be immensely popular with readers.

But novels aren’t the only thing available on the fiction menu.  There are other choices that writers should consider – and guess what?  They have even cooler sounding names.

 

Interlude.

Of course you might be one of those weirdos who say they can write a novel every week or two (yeah they’re out there – I read about this one women who said she writes a novel per week – a NOVEL??  Per week?  Ah c’mon now!  I mean, either she’s the greatest thing since Shakespeare and sliced bread in the same room or there’s something wrong with those books.  Seriously wrong.  There has to be something wrong with them, no?  Or is it just me? 

Interlude Ends.

 

Experiment

Indie publishing at its best is about innovation.  So think outside the novel box.  Thanks to the popularity of ebooks, words like novella and novelette have made a return in recent years and if you ask me, this is a good thing.  In the past, if you were an unknown author and you approached a traditional publishing house with a novella, they wouldn’t have touched you with someone else’s extra-long barge pole.  It’s not marketable, they would have said.  And yet at the same time they’d continue to publish classic novellas like The Old Man and the Sea (26,601 words) and I am Legend (25,204 words) and call them novels.

(For a brief list of outstanding short books by word count click here).  

It’s simple.  You want to write great books but you don’t want to sit on the sidelines for months working on full-length novels.  Well congratulations.  You’re an indie author and you can publish your work in whatever bite-sized chunks you please – be it on Amazon, Wattpad, or direct to the reader from your own website.  You don’t need to think like a writer under a slave, oops, I mean trade contract.

Digital technology is at hand.  Novels no longer need be the default choice of fiction writers.

Little Bits of Post-Apocalyptic London

For example, here’s what I’m thinking about doing with a current project.  In April or May this year, I’m hoping to release my first full length novel (yes, a novel and it didn’t take a friggin’ week to write either!)  It’s called L-2011 and it’s an alternate history novel in which the London riots of 2011 don’t stop (as they did after four days in this reality) and as you might guess, shit goes very bad in the Big Smoke.

I’m not giving anything away by saying that the ending is open.  The option for future development and further exploration in that fictional world is there.  And it’s a world in which I want to keep writing but I don’t necessarily want the series to be full of just novels.  That would leave too many long gaps between instalments because unlike some people, I can’t write a novel in a week.

So how about trying something else?  For example, I could take one character’s story and write a 15,000 word novelette about what happens next with them.  15,000 you might say?  That’s nothing – that’s not a proper book.  No, I would say – it is.  It’s a novelette and it’s actually something quite cool.  Remember that the first of Hugh Howey’s Wool stories – the one that gave him his big break – was a novelette of about 12,000 words and we all know how that worked out for big Hughie boy, don’t we?

So I could follow up my novel with a novelette.  Then how about a novella of about 30,000 words which explores another character or facet of that world?  Or I could write a short story.  And then maybe another novel – who knows?  Couldn’t you do the same thing?  And the more we write and publish, the more we’re world-building, expanding our fictional universe and doing it faster than if we were just concentrating on longer forms.

There’s just something about short fiction.  It’s a brief dalliance, a beautiful fling and not a long grinding slog like some longer books inevitably are.  Short books leave you wanting more and in a good way – not in a way that leaves you unsatisfied.  

“Leave them wanting more and you know they’ll call you back.” – Bobby Womack

Pricing

Once you have a significant number of books on the market, you can establish a variety of prices and make sure that (a) the reader is not overpaying and (b) you’re still earning something for your work.

You’ve got to be sensible here.  You can’t sell a 20,000 word ebook for more than £1.99/$2.99.  And if you ask me, that’s pricing it at the absolute max.  I know, you want your seventy percent royalties but you’ve got to treat the reader with the utmost respect and NEVER rip them off.  It’s a simply pay-off.  Be generous and they’ll consider coming back – and back.   Novelettes and short stories – I would initially price these at 99p/c and when you’ve got enough of them on your backlist, make some of them free.

And make sure to write short stories in a way that introduces your fictional world to newcomers.  If these become perma-freebies later on, it’s a great way of luring in potential readers who are are more likely to test the waters with one of your free products.

All of the numbers above are just suggestions and how you price your work is entirely up to you.   It’s all about experimenting and there is no one-size-fits-all formula.  If something’s not working, then try something else and start again.  You’re essentially just jamming here and trying to find the perfect groove.  But try to escape the old mentality that says short books aren’t marketable.  That sort of thinking belongs in the past and it had nothing to do with books themselves or their ability to convey a story, but the print publication costs.  And that’s irrelevant in the digital era.

“Very few really long novels earn their length. My fingers are always twitching for a blue pencil.” – Ian McEwan

Smartphone Reading

Another reason to embrace shorter fiction is the rise of smartphone reading.  More and more people are choosing to read books on their mobile phone.  Why?  I’d say it’s the sheer convenience of it.  Not everyone wants to carry a paperback or an e-reader around in their bag (that’s if you even have a bag!)

But almost everyone has a phone.

The smartphone, not the e-reader, looks set to become the driving force in digital book sales.  Personal preference aside, it makes sense given how close our phones are to hand.  With a mobile phone, you can read anywhere – on your lunch break, in the back seat of a taxi, standing in a queue at the shop, or even going up and down in an elevator.  It’s an extremely convenient way of consuming books and this is why the number of people reading on their smartphones will rise in 2016 and beyond.

And short books make sense for smartphone readers.  Especially if you’re reading on the move, such as during a regular commute.  It’s easier to keep track of shorter works – you can read complete short stories in one sitting, novelettes and novellas in several – rather than keep coming back to an epic novel in which you might have forgotten crucial details from earlier chapters.

Short fiction and smartphones.  That’ll work.

Quality

But of course, it doesn’t matter what length your book is if the reader isn’ t impressed.  So don’t think that short means skimping on quality.  Putting out short fiction is not a shortcut.  But the truth is, if you’re looking to get work out there, it will probably take you less time to write a great 25,000 words than it will 100,000.  So I guess it is kind of a shortcut, but you know what I mean.   You want to write a 30,000 word novella – write a great one.  You want to write a 200,000 word epic – write a great one.  And so on.

NEVER (and I apologise for e-shouting here) NEVER sacrifice quality for speed.  Never do it.

The Future

So have fun with it.  These are good times to be a writer.  We no longer have to submit our work to slushpiles and chance and literary limbo.  Neither do we have to write one or two novels a year because that’s what writers have been told to do for so long by their masters in publishing houses.

(You, dear reader, are the masters!)

If you’re an indie author, then prepare to lead the way.  As long as we’re providing quality and value for money (as well as working our arses off elsewhere), the readers will come with us on our journey.  So revel in your newfound status as the punk rockers of the literary world.  Do things differently and do them well.

And speaking of punk – what was it The Sex Pistols said?

“Don’t be told what you want,

Don’t be told what you need.”