‘Here We Go Again’ (‘FAB: The Fifth Angel’) – Sample Chapter

 

December 7th (1995)

When Vogel woke up in his apartment later that morning, he was fully dressed and lying face down on the couch.

The telephone was ringing.

Considering how far his hangover had progressed since he’d passed out in the early hours of the morning, the sound of a phone might as well have been the rumblings of a major earthquake.

He glanced over at the digital clock on the window ledge. 7:34 am.

Vogel put a hand to his head. It felt like there was a berserker up there wielding a pneumatic drill and doing bad things to his cranium. He sat up slowly on the couch, almost gagging on the scent of his own breath, which consisted of a dense cloud of stale tobacco and alcohol.

Dear God, said the old Vogel.

He got to his feet and staggered over to the small desk on the other side of the room.

The large wooden desk was buried beneath a pile of papers and unopened mail, as well as empty takeaway boxes, coffee cups, and beer bottles. Just one glance at the takeaway boxes, with little bits of stale food clinging to the cardboard, was enough to make Vogel’s guts heave.

He picked up the phone, glancing around for a source of water. No such luck. He noticed however, that there was a little liquid left inside one of the beer bottles. Christ knew how long it had been there, but it was wet and at that moment, Vogel’s throat felt like the surface of the Atacama Desert.

He put the bottle to his lips and drained what was left. His body convulsed mildly at the impact, but nonetheless Vogel looked at the other bottles on the table, shaking them and checking for any leftovers.

“Frank Vogel,” he said in a croaky voice, bringing the receiver to his ear.

“Frank,” said a man’s voice. “How are you old chap?”

Vogel recognised the chirpy, upper-class English accent immediately. It was an old colleague of his from the UK, but damn it, he’d only gone and forgotten the guy’s name.

“Oh couldn’t be better,” Vogel said. “How about you? How’s, uhh…”

The other man was laughing down the phone.

“You’ve forgotten my name, haven’t you?” the caller said. “Has it really been that long Frank?”

“No,” Vogel said. “Yes, I guess it has. I’m sorry, I had kind of a rough night. You’re my London friend, aren’t you?”

“It has been a long time Frank.”

Finally it clicked.

“Owen!” Vogel said. “Owen Baird. MI5. Shit, I’m so sorry man.”

Owen Baird laughed again. “It’s so wonderful to be remembered.”

Frank Vogel and Owen Baird had known each other since the early eighties. In his FBI days, Vogel had had several European contacts during the Cold War era – a handy thing to have when dealing with the threat of foreign spies sneaking into the United States on a constant basis. Likewise, Vogel had proved to be a reliable source of information for Baird regarding American defectors making their way into the UK and Europe.

The two men were about the same age. Baird was an old hand at the security game, having been involved in specialist intelligence roles, concerning Northern Ireland and other internal threats to the UK. The Brit was old school: efficient, disciplined and above all, effective. In short, he was the British equivalent of everything that Vogel used to be.

Despite their years of mutual cooperation, Vogel and Baird had met only once – in London back in 1986. And that had been a personal occasion, as Vogel and Angie had been holidaying in the UK at the time. Vogel had mentioned the trip in advance to Baird, and the Englishman had suggested they meet up with their spouses. It had been a pleasant night all round, spent in a charming West End restaurant, before the two couples had taken in a few local bars.

Had they lived closer to one another, the Vogels and the Bairds would have undoubtedly been best friends.

But what mattered most of all, was that since Vogel’s fall from grace in 1988, Owen Baird – who Vogel recalled as a dead ringer for the old English actor, James Mason – had been the only one of his international contacts not to slam the door in his face. On the contrary, Baird had helped Vogel in his ongoing search for John Lennon, sending occasional tips his way. But it had been a long time since the last one. Not surprising, as sightings of Lennon had dipped with the passing of the years.

“You do sound rough Frank,” Baird said. “Is everything alright? Are you and Angie still…?”

“Separated?” Vogel said, sitting down behind the desk. “Yeah.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Frank.”

“Yeah,” Vogel said. “Me too. How’s Cecilia?”

“Smashing,” Baird said. “She’s taken up a new hobby lately – lawn bowls. I’ve even had to join in with her on Sunday afternoons. God help us Frank, we’ve turned into a right pair of stodgy old gits.”

Vogel smiled. “Sounds great. Is she any good?”

“At bowls?” Baird said. “Good lord, no. There’s more chance of England winning another World Cup than there is of Cecilia hitting the jack. She’s bloody hopeless.”

“Yeah,” Vogel said. “Still, it sounds nice.”

“Anyway,” Baird said, moving on. “Enough with the pleasantries. I’m sorry to hear you’re not feeling well Frank. It’s not surprising of course, considering what you’ve been through these past few years. Ghastly business.”

“It sure is,” Vogel said, wincing at the morning light outside. He reached over and pulled the blinds, plunging the room into a pleasant grey-darkness.

“Well,” Baird said. “I might have just the thing to make you feel better.”

Vogel raised his eyebrows. “Oh yeah?”

“Of course it might be nothing,” Baird said. “And I most certainly don’t want to get your hopes up. But would I be right to assume that you’re still interested in any news regarding our absent Liverpudlian friend?”

“”That depends Owen,” Vogel said. “Is it as good as Paris?”

“Ahh,” Baird said. “Paris. We came so close, didn’t we? I had a good feeling about Paris. And I’ve got a good feeling about this one too. Oh and by the way, did you get the package I sent over?”

Vogel glanced at a small mountain of unopened mail on his desk. “Package?”

“Yes,” Baird said. “Well, not much of a package really – just a magazine. I sent it over a couple of weeks ago. Should be there by now.”

“Give me a second Owen, will you?” Vogel said.

“Of course.”

Vogel put the phone on the desk and began rummaging through a pile of letters. Bills and more bills – how could such a small apartment gather so many bills? He’d really have to start opening his mail. It was either that or come home one night and find the electricity cut off. There was something else on the desk that looked like a birthday card – was it his birthday soon? There were at least a dozen letters from the bank too, which he pushed aside to reveal an A4 sized manila envelope. Vogel pulled it free and looked at the postmark in the corner – London.

He picked up the phone. “Got it Owen,” he said. “Sorry, I must have put it down and lost track.”

“Open it now,” Baird said.

“Sure thing.”

Vogel tucked the receiver in between his ear and shoulder, and then ran his finger over the top of the envelope, tearing it open. From inside, he pulled out a magazine – a pop music magazine called Sounds and Beats. On the front cover were four scruffy looking lads in their early twenties wearing sweaters and jeans. All four of them were holding a corner of a large Union Jack flag and looking at the camera. None of them were smiling.

The headline read:

THE ANGELICAS: BRITPOP’S LATEST SENSATION!

In particular, Vogel noticed the style of haircuts on the young men – Beatle haircuts.

“What’s this Owen?” he said.

“Are you looking at the magazine?” Baird asked.

“Yeah I am,” Vogel said. “I’m looking. Does Cecilia know you’ve got a thing for these guys?”

Owen Baird laughed. “Have you ever heard of The Angelicas?” he asked. “Come to think of it, have you ever heard of this ‘Britpop’ music phenomenon? It’s going down a storm over here in the UK.”

“Britpop?” Vogel said. “What the hell is Britpop? Is that some sort of limey soda?”

“Not quite,” Baird said. His tone was all business now. “I didn’t think it would be big news in the States. Not yet anyway, hence why I’m getting in touch to give you a nudge. And that’s why I sent that Angelicas article over for you to read.”

“What’s Britpop Owen?”

“Oh it’s a name they’ve given to this sound – this movement – an explosion of guitar bands that’s taken off with all the kids over here. Oasis, Blur – you’ve heard of them, haven’t you?”

“No,” Vogel said.

“Then you’ve absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“No,” Vogel said. “C’mon spit it out Owen. I’m feeling a little delicate here.”

“Listen Frank,” Baird said. “One of the most striking things about Britpop and all these bands is the huge Beatles influence upon them. I mean, look at the haircuts on those lads. They’re all like that, all these bands – they’re all obsessed with ripping off The Beatles apparently.”

Vogel looked at the cover. “Yeah I see the hair,” he said. “But I’m still not sure where you’re going with this.”

“Just read the article,” Baird said. “You’ll understand everything after you’ve read it. Remember, it might be nothing Frank. But you always said you wanted to know about any leads about Lennon.”

Vogel sat up straight. “What’s the lead?”

“The Fifth Angel,” Baird said.

“The what?”

“The Fifth Angel,” Baird said again. “The Angelicas are affectionately known by their fans as ‘the Angels’. It’s like a nickname. You understand?”

“Yeah,” Vogel said.

“The article in that magazine is called ‘The Fifth Angel’. And as you can see from the cover, there are only four members of The Angelicas. Look Frank, it’ll all make sense once you’ve read the article.”

Vogel sighed. It sounded confusing. “You’re saying this is as good as Paris?”

“I am,” Baird said.

Paris had been Owen Baird’s best tip about the whereabouts of John Lennon. It had come six years ago in 1989, before Vogel had left the FBI and before his wife had thrown him out of the family home in Manhattan. Baird had contacted Vogel about an Englishman named Jon Leyden, who was found to be living in Paris at that time. Baird had received word from an MI6 contact based in Paris that Leyden, a British citizen, bore a remarkable resemblance to John Lennon. The MI6 agent had undertaken a short period of part-time surveillance, and after watching Leyden for a few days, was convinced that it was indeed John Lennon.

The agent sent a report to Baird about Leyden’s daily routine. Leyden laid low by day, working as a caretaker in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. He was also discovered to be playing rhythm guitar in a local rock band and occasionally performed in a small club on the outskirts of the city. After finding this out, Baird had subsequently reported the findings to Vogel, who was in Buenos Aires following up on another Lennon lead.

After hearing this, Vogel had abandoned his lead in Argentina. He’d already neglected his immediate duties with the FBI to travel to Buenos Aires, so a few more days in Paris wouldn’t make much difference. He flew to France the next day. The plan was that he would take over from the MI6 agent on surveillance at the Pere Lachaise. Then, if fully convinced that Leyden was Lennon, he would swoop in and take him down.

Vogel had arrived in Paris at about five o’clock in the morning. After freshening up in the airport restroom, he took a taxi straight to Pere Lachaise. In hindsight, he should have gone to the hotel and got some rest, but he was far too excited about the possibility of encountering Lennon again to think about sleep.

The cemetery opened at 8:00 am. Vogel arrived outside the gates almost an hour early, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the caretaker, the man called Jon Leyden.

Time passed slowly. Vogel had positioned himself near the wall at the main gate and sat down for a few minutes. Then his eyelids began to grow heavy. He felt his brain shutting down and everything inside him was crying out for a proper sleep. A few minutes later, he closed his eyes, intending to shut them only for a few minutes. To rest them, as they say.

When Vogel awoke, it was 8.27am.

In a state of panic, he covered every inch of the cemetery – passing the graves of famous and long-dead people such as Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin, and Jim Morrison. But no matter how much ground he covered – and he covered a lot – there was no sign of the caretaker. There was no sign of Jon Leyden.

Vogel had returned to the cemetery the following three mornings. But Jon Leyden was never seen or heard of again in Paris. Vogel talked to his employers in the cemetery and with people at the club where Leydon had been known to play occasionally. Nobody had seen him for a few days, they’d said. It was as if he’d just upped and disappeared without a trace.

Vogel had taken this near miss particularly hard. His self-loathing had only increased due to the fact that he’d blown it by falling asleep outside Pere Lachaise. He was convinced that Lennon must have seen him sleeping outside the gates and recognised him as that FBI agent from New York. It was the only explanation for Leyden’s sudden disappearance that made sense.

Vogel had fucked up.

Paris was the best tip he’d ever had in his search for Lennon. And as Baird said, they’d come so close – so close to catching Lennon and ending it. If only Vogel had been able to hold his shit together, it would have happened. Baird’s information had been good then, and Vogel had no reason to believe that this Fifth Angel thing – whatever it was – wasn’t worth looking into further.

“Thanks for this Owen,” Vogel said. “I’ll read the article, but I’m not sure I can just hop on a plane and jet around the world anymore.”

“Do whatever you think best Frank,” Baird said. “Let it go if you have to. God knows, you’ve tried enough as it is.”

“Yeah,” Vogel said. “I’ve tried.”

“Read the article and take it from there,” Baird said. “Okay? And if you think there’s something interesting in all this and you do decide to come over, let me know – we’ll do dinner in the West End. You, me and Cecilia. Our treat.”

“Sure will Owen. Thanks.”

“Let me give you my private number,” Baird said. “If you need to contact me – it’ll save you faffing about trying to get a hold of me at the office. This one comes direct to me.”

Vogel scribbled down the number on the back of a discarded envelope.

“Thanks Owen,” he said. “Appreciate it.”

“Goodbye Frank,” Baird said. “Look after yourself.”

Vogel hung up the phone. He stole another glance at the magazine lying on the desk and before he knew what he was doing, he was reaching across the table, his fingers eagerly turning the pages.

***

FAB: The Fifth Angel is available here.

The first book in the series ‘FAB’ is free to purchase at most retailers – Click here.

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.

 

Icarus Played a Fender Stratocaster

 

Icarus Played a Fender Stratocaster

 

I walked into my uncle’s room.  This was two years before he died of a heroin overdose.

Usually his door was locked but that day it had been left ajar.

Inside, he was lying face up on the bed.  The curtains were drawn but there was some half-light seeping through the cracks and it meant that I could have a good look and see what was left of him.

There wasn’t much left of him.

His skin, once a deep hue of golden brown, had by that point faded to a sickly and brittle yellow.  His cheekbones, as sharp as razors, were on the brink of stabbing their way out of his ever-shrinking flesh in a morbid bid for freedom.

He was only twenty-five, and yet to look at him.  Jesus.  It was like looking upon the face of an Egyptian mummy. Fresh out of the sarcophagus after three thousand years, unwrapped for all to see.

And the smell.  Rotting flesh and rotten food, intermingled to become one terrible super-scent.

I was ten years old.

His lunch tray sat on the floor beside the bed, cold and untouched.  Chilli Con Carne with extra beans and for dessert, a small mountain of pancakes topped with peanut butter and syrup.  Commander-in-chief downstairs – aka my grandmother, his mother – was busy at work in the kitchen, supplying protein bombs and carb rockets three times a day.  Her mission?  To reclaim the spirit of her youngest son.  It was Apocalypse Now, junkie style, and Granny was Captain Willard sailing downriver to terminate (with extreme prejudice) the Colonel Kurtz living in her son’s head.

I said hello.  My uncle said nothing.  I said hello again.

Like something out of a horror movie, his eyes rolled back in his head and all of a sudden he was looking at me.  For a split second, his eyes lit up as if he recognised me.  But it was no more than a moment’s glance, an involuntary reaction perhaps, muscle memory, and then it was gone and I was a stranger again.

He tried to talk, but the words got stuck in his throat and he sounded like a lizard-man gargling violently with mouthwash.  He kept trying to say something, to force it out, but it only led to another one of those violent coughing fits.  Dear God.  Ever since my uncle had taken refuge in Granny’s house, those spontaneous coughing fits had become the stuff of legend.

Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. Well I say that every time a junkie coughs, a demonic motherfucker gets its wings.

Can someone die from coughing?  ‘Cos that’s what it looked like was about to happen.  His face blew up and turned purple.  I was scared.  So scared that I turned around and ran out of the room and just left him there, all alone.

Even now, I can’t handle the sound of coughing.

He’s not a bad man, is he?  I said this to my dad that night.  No son, Dad said.  He’s your uncle, and he’s just sick is all.

icarus2

His was a beautiful funeral.

It took place in an old church surrounded by acres of green pastures and rolling hills.  That morning, our car pulled up outside the church gate and as it did so, I peered through the window at the tall grass of the churchyard, swaying in the breeze to the piper’s lament.

We – the family – stepped out of the stretch limo.  There were crowds lining up everywhere on all sides of the little road that ran alongside the church grounds.  My uncle’s most devoted fans had come from all corners of the earth to say goodbye.  There were thousands of them.  It was like watching an alien invasion on a bright summer’s morning.  Aliens dressed in black, with long hair and tattoos with uncle’s lyrics inscribed upon their skin, the message passed on with the intent to forever.

Dad told me to wave back to the fans to show our appreciation.  And when we waved, the crowds burst into a spontaneous round of applause, holding their banners aloft, banners that that read ‘The King is Dead’, ‘The Day The Music Died’, and many others like that.

And they were singing his songs too.  Always, there was the singing.

The fans kept a respectful distance throughout, unlike the majority of press photographers who on several occasions had to be dragged back from the church door by security.

We – the family – were hurriedly escorted from the car into the church, with the television and press cameras bearing down on us.  Man, it was surreal but for a few seconds there I had a glimpse of how my uncle had lived the last ten years of his life.  And it was exhausting, I can tell you.  Just ten seconds of it was enough for me.

The eulogies were fitting.  He was a great singer, musician, and songwriter.  He was the spokesman of a generation.  The next Jimi Hendrix, they’d called him as a teenager, said dad with a heartbroken smile.

Dying at twenty-seven, he got that bit right.   Now he’d joined a club that not only included Hendrix, but also Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.

That’s how it was.  Friends and colleagues took to the pulpit and told happy stories about my junkie uncle. Bullshit, every last word of it.  But that’s how we do it.  We’d rather build a mythology over a rotten corpse than tell the truth.  So instead, they talked about the musical legacy and the multiple Grammy wins.  They called him Icarus and said that in life, he’d flown on melting wings.

Nobody spoke about heroin or the fact that we were celebrating a wasted life.

None of those people had smelled the air after one of his coughing fits.

But I had.

L-2011 (Sample) – Chester George vs Parliament

 

Below is a sample chapter from L-2011 (Future of London Series #1)

 

Transcript of a video uploaded to YouTube.com (posted on 11th August 2011)

Chester George is wearing the same black skull hoodie as before, zipped up over his face, with the luminous skull design leering back at the camera. He’s standing in the same room as during the last broadcast, surrounded by punk rock posters and little else.

‘Straight to Hell’ by The Clash, is playing softly in the background.

When Chester George speaks, he does so in that quiet raspy, almost snake-like voice:

***

“Mr Prime Minister and all the politicians in the Houses of Parliament.

That was a poor pretence of unity yesterday. Yet you said everything that you were expected to say.

Which wasn’t much.

I feel however, that I must add something on behalf of the people you are trying to understand – something you forgot to mention amidst your feeble efforts to put on such a united front.

You ask: why are so many of them quick to steal? It’s criminality you say. It’s the fault of our parents, you say. Or it’s our sick culture.

Sssssick.

It’s quite simple to you and all the other MPs – we’re simply rotten from within. Our communities have no morals. This is nothing you cannot comfortably classify as a revolt of the feral underclass – is it Mr Prime Minister?”

But YOU are too humble sir. You forgot to mention yesterday how much the greed and selfishness that we see in the city inspires us to be as rotten as we are.

Our conception of right and wrong comes from more than just our parents. Have you forgotten Mr Prime Minister? Just a few years back, the bankers publicly looted this country’s fortune. When they did that, they showed us that the acquisition of individual wealth is clearly a measure of success. They took millions and destroyed people’s life savings. They were caught red-handed, but very few were punished. And yet you criticise us – the Good and Honest Citizens – for taking a mobile phone or a pair of shoes?”

Chester George moves towards the camera.

“And what about all the MPs who got caught fiddling their expenses? You must remember that one Mr Prime Minister? Or how about the phone-hacking scandals?”

Chester George lets out a throaty laugh.

“If we are devils, then we learned how to be devils from the very best. You – the suits and ties – are the original looters of this country. The original gangsters.

Now of course, I understand your reasoning for trying to label us. If there are no sociological, political or economic causes for the revolution that you call the riots, then no one in authority is to blame.”

He wags a gloved finger from side to side.

“Such irresponsible behaviour from our so-called leaders.

Mr Prime Minister. The worst violence London has seen for decades is happening against the backdrop of a global economic meltdown. It’s never pretty when society wakes up, is it? But society is waking up. That’s what this is. We live in an uneven world of uneven wages and opportunities. Did you know Mr Prime Minister, that last year the combined wealth of the one thousand richest people in Britain went up by thirty per cent to over three hundred billion pounds?

Isn’t that a remarkable number?

London is now one of the most unequal cities in the developed world. You and your kind have turned it into a gigantic shopping mall. And yet you expect our kind to be satisfied with only window-shopping.

Mr Prime Minister. What you see now on the streets of London – and in other cities waking up – is the result of a society that’s been run on greed. For us – the Good and Honest Citizens – there has been little cause for optimism and opportunities have been too few and far between.

Until now that is.

Last but not least – Mr Prime Minister, let me give you a word of advice. You would do well to pay closer attention to the private activities of your MPs and to the moral implications of the bankers involved in ‘casino capitalism’. It was white-collar vandalism that brought the world to its knees – not us. Remember that, the next time you talk about ‘criminality.’

Till next time.

 

L-2011 (Future of London Series #1) is available on Amazon and iTunes.

 

 

 

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.

 

***

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.”

 

***

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.