girl in the middle

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A quirky short story about a woman who discovers that not all heroes wear capes… some of them don’t even have a pulse. But they do have a name. Gerald.

I wrote a short story! girl in the middle And you can download it, for free, on whatever device you use.

Nook  ~ Kobo ~ Kindle ~ Apple

Now, don’t labour under the misapprehension that I wrote this during lockdown. No siree. All I’ve done during lockdown is watch Poldark (because… I’m really interested in 18th century mining?!), curse my sinuses and basically fall apart, in an orderly fashion.

Writing during this time has been like everything else during this time – a mixture of extremes. Either I’m feeling really creative and motivated or I can’t even muster up the enthusiasm to switch on my laptop. I wrote this story last year with the full intention of submitting it for a short story award, but being the success-driven, laser-focused, ambitious writer that I am, I didn’t get around to it 🙂 But I’m so glad I didn’t, because finding it now feels like perfect timing. A gift from past-me to present-me. When I read it again, I found myself laughing out loud and enjoying the quirky characters I created. So I thought, what’s the best way to get this out into the world? Self-publish of course!

Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve released anything and the stuff I’m currently working on is more contemporary and more comedy. That’s the thing with novels – there is sooooooooooooooo much time in between, where your readers probably think you’re dead or off spending your royalties in Mauritius. When really, you’re writing TWO new novels, submitting, waiting, writing, reading, editing, deleting and repeating until another year has gone by and you’ve nothing to show for it. So releasing a little story is a great way to remind people that you’re alive and still writing stories.

And people do love a free book! It’s a great way to discover a new author. Betwixt – my first short story – which is consistently in the Amazon Top 5, is flying off the virtual shelves at the moment. So it’s a win-win, I get to share a bite-size piece of creativity and readers get a free story.

So please share, read, download, whatever it is you crazy kids do and help me to get this story out there. At a very short and sweet 15 pages, girl in the middle is fun, free and uplifting – and we could all do with a bit of that right now.

 

The Calm and The Storm

I’m a worrier, by nature. I tend to say ‘What if’ a lot. But I also tend to over-compensate for this by cracking jokes and making people laugh. So, welcome to my blog where I swing wildly from one emotion to the other and attempt to make some sort of sense out of the last few weeks, peoples’ reactions to it and how I’m coping/not coping.

Firstly, I never thought it was possible, but social media has managed to turn quarantining into a competition! Some people seem to be really thriving at this complete and utter ARMAGEDDON that has literally come out of nowhere and they are sharing this wonderfulness, to cheer everyone else up. People are baking, hiking, taking up new hobbies, fucking sky-diving (well, maybe not that last bit, but I wouldn’t be surprised). So now I feel like I’m failing at quarantining. I’ve not had any instagrammable moments, or read all my books on the shelf. I haven’t made buns or joined an online yoga class. My paints and brushes lie idle and the only gardening I’ve managed to do is to stand under the laurel tree listening to the blackbird (which I should have recorded for Insta – dammit!!) In our weird online world, everything has to be the best experience EVER, even this shitbox of a time can’t be wasted. You have to be doing something with it. Being positive about it.


I reacted like many people do; privately freaking out while at the same time, sharing what I hoped were soothing artworks and poems. Then I finally accepted that, actually, no – I wasn’t over-reacting and the world is in total turmoil (zoinks!) What’s the picture for that? The Scream?! No-one wants to see that. So I took to the bed, as we say in Ireland, and had a good cry for myself whilst listening to some sad AF music. Honestly, that was the most positive thing I’ve done so far and would highly recommend it.

If I had a dog I’d be putting up cute dog pics, but as it is, I live alone and have to make my own entertainment (steady). So really, I should be perfectly placed to deal with this. I know how to work from home, how to be unsociable and shop online. But it’s the unknown I can’t deal with. How can you prepare for something when the rules keep changing every day? Nobody really knows what to do and I guess that’s why one minute we’re being over-enthusiastic about how well we can handle it and the next, completely overwhelmed.

As for me, I did the only thing that made sense to me – I made masks! Yep, I did wonder if I was being a bit OTT, but guess what, everyone’s at it! All around the world.  Even the governor of New York sent out a call for people to start making them for hospitals. There are lots of tutorials online, so even if you are a rubbish seamstress like me, you can probably cobble one together. They do not guarantee 100% protection from the virus, but they’re better than nothing I guess and I wanted to give my parents (who are in their seventies) something as a precaution if they have to go somewhere.

All the official advice here is that you don’t need a mask, and I can see why. There are no masks available to buy anyway and whatever protective gear they do have in stock needs to be kept for medical staff.  But there’s no harm in making your own. You don’t even need a sewing machine. Obviously, the best option is to just stay at home and stay safe, but I wonder if more people wore these, would it make a difference? I don’t know, I’m not a virologist, but they’re washable and reusable and making them gave me something proactive to do and took away that yucky feeling of helplessness.

So if you want to give it a go, check out #millionmaskchallenge on Twitter, try this tutorial on Instructables  or have a read of this article on Forbes.  At the very least, they will stop you touching your face! And I made mine using material with miniature dachshunds on the front, so, I mean, what’s not to love about that?! Anyway, that’s what I’m doing. Apart from worrying, binge-watching The Crown, eating stuff and wondering if what I think is a toothache is actually the beginnings of a stroke! That’s how I roll folks.

I really hope you are all minding each other and doing whatever you need to to feel okay (or just be okay with not feeling okay). I hope we treat ourselves and our planet with a little more care when we get to the other side of this. Life isn’t a race to the finish line – a game of Monopoly where you simply produce and consume. It’s an experience and we can all help to make it a good one for the majority of people, rather than just the few.  People can be so kind and community-minded – it’s amazing how it takes something like this to see it. I hope we will view things differently, through a lens of common good rather than self-interest. Also, where would we be without our arts & culture?! Through this time I relied heavily on actors, artists, musicians and of course, writers. We need their work to comfort us, to help us escape, to offer hope.

Speaking of, look at what this artist Mathieu Persan made – a gorgeous poster with a simple message. Free to use as you please. We’re in this together. x

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by Mathieu Persan

Don’t @ Me

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Reading reviews can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. The warm and fuzzy feeling when someone has connected with your characters; understood what you were trying to do and are happy they bought a ticket to your show. The shock and anger when someone dismisses your work, casually labels it ‘boring’ or the real killer, ‘light reading’. Some authors choose not to read their reviews, which is completely understandable. But for a lot of us, this is the only kind of feedback we get and so we cross our fingers, keep one eye closed and dive in, hoping for the best.

Over time, you come to realise that your book is no longer your private property. It belongs to anyone who hands over their hard-earned cash to buy it and their experience of reading it is unique to them and something you have no control over. This knowledge has given me a certain amount of detachment from reviews. As someone once said, reviews are for the readers and that is as it should be. But does that mean that authors don’t read their reviews?

I remember when I published my first book, The Heirloom. I hoped that people would buy it, read it and with any luck, enjoy it. It took roughly two years to research, write and rewrite. As a newly, self-published author, it took a very long time to get off the ground. If someone had told me back then that people would not only read it, but contact me to say how much they enjoyed it, well, I would have felt like my dreams were coming true.

That’s why I think the recent discussion on Twitter, sparked by an author who said it was ‘rude’ to tag them, is confusing a lot of people. On a basic level, writers write because they want to share a story with the world. Now, they might not care what the world thinks about their story (I’m thinking of Sally Rooney who said in an interview that she doesn’t read reviews or let them hold any sway for her) and that is their right. Writing a book does not automatically lock you into a contract where you have to be open to everyone’s’ opinion on it.

However, this is social media. It’s where you come to interact with people and if you’re an author (especially a well-known author), people are going to @ you. I see that Sally Rooney no longer has a Twitter account, which is really the only way to go if you don’t want to be involved in the conversation. I also noticed that Gail Honeyman, author of one of my favourite books, has also been inactive on her account since 2017. Now, I don’t know the reason for this (she’s probably writing another amazing book!) but prior to that, she responded to everyone who tagged her.

Which makes me wonder about the other part of the tweet – how we are limited ‘professionally’. Does this mean that publishers preclude authors from engaging with reviewers? Perhaps that’s a valid point – but I’ve never heard of this being the case and it certainly isn’t for me. In fact, the more interaction the merrier. But I think saying ‘thank you’ or liking a tweet is hardly going to create any conflict of interest. Or is the author referring to negative reviews and the unwritten rule that authors should not engage in online spats about their books (are you listening John Boyne?!) Maybe that is what she meant – it is so difficult to have a nuanced conversation on Twitter.

But speaking of negative reviews – I think it’s safe to assume that most authors do not want to be tagged on those! I saw Erin Morgenstern had to ask people to refrain from tagging her in conversations about how they didn’t really enjoy her new book. That’s just …. shit, really. I don’t know why anyone would want to call an author’s attention to their negative opinion of their book. Where is that conversation going to go? Is the author supposed to apologise? Give up writing?? Of course not. I like to use Goodreads to write my reviews, but I’m always cringing that an author might see the negative ones. Yes, it’s my honest opinion, but I’m not going to draw their attention to it by tagging them.

The fact is, everyone is entitled to make their own boundaries and I respect that. Judging from the comments, most people don’t expect a response from the author anyhow, but it’s nice when it happens. I tag other authors when I’m in love with their book – you can bet your butt I tagged Gail Honeyman with a link to a gushing review on my blog and she said something along the lines of Yay! thanks and we all went home happy. But I have tagged one or two authors who haven’t responded, for whatever reason, and that’s cool too. Maybe we should just agree that it’s not rude to tag and it’s not rude to not reply. Simples.

However, I don’t like the idea of self-appointed spokespeople making sweeping generalisations on behalf of all authors everywhere. We have all taken different paths to this place and some of us see it as a validation of sorts when someone has taken the time to say, hey, nice work.

Neil Gaiman added his tuppence worth, giving credence to the belief that authors do not want to read their reviews. Again, it came off a little patronising and, as happens on Twitter, we all have knee-jerk reactions. Later, he qualified his comment with the following:

This just goes to show what I believe to be the crux of the issue. Most of us would struggle to get reviewed in the mainstream media. Our aim is to be read by regular readers, not critics. So yeah, of course we want to hear from those people! The day I have a bad review in the Times and someone tags me in it, maybe then I’ll understand the annoyance these writers feel. But you know what? Maybe I won’t, because I’ve had to grow a very thick skin over the years – something all those articles written by publishers and agents tell us we need to do if we want to be authors!

It sometimes feels like all of this advice for writers is being sent in the wrong direction. I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman, but he does not speak for all of us. Just like he didn’t speak for me when he said eBook piracy was ‘an incredibly good thing’. Illegal downloads are having a seriously adverse affect on authors trying to establish a career in the digital age, affecting sales and creating an environment where readers no longer see the value in paying for books. You cannot assume that everyone in this industry is on a level playing field. We are a diverse ecosystem and one of the most integral parts of it are book reviewers/book bloggers. Elizabeth Bear’s tweet was especially dismissive of bloggers who read/review/promote book reviews and naturally tag the author as an FYI.

Whatever the intention was (and I’m learning that your intention can be very much misconstrued on Twitter) it has again highlighted the amount of unpaid work bloggers do with little or no credit. Another tweet (oh my God, I’m spending so much time on Twitter!! Help!) from a book blogger laid out how much time it takes and commitment to keep a blog going and how a simple high five from an author can make it feel worthwhile. It strikes me that in a multi-million euro industry, the people who do all the work get the least reward. Authors receive tiny royalties, have to do their own marketing and bloggers work for the price of a free book.

Anyway, I don’t want to end on a bum note. No-one is forcing us to be here, we do it because we love it, but as in life, it only takes some small courtesies to make it better for everyone. Try to not to illegally download books – I know we’re all on tight budgets, but please borrow from a library instead and if you can, leave a review. Show book bloggers some appreciation by liking their reviews – yes they love books anyway but I can’t imagine having to read loads of books I didn’t choose and then promoting them and promoting other bloggers, all for free! And do tag authors – most of us are not guaranteed newspaper reviews or even book deals. So it’s a lovely boost when someone takes the time to review your book (just don’t share the negative ones with us – no good can come from it!)

As Rebecca Solnit said, a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. We need each other.

Why Do Authors Diss Other Authors?

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Credit: Gerd Altman

You know what’s hot right now, other than global warming? Tearing down your peers in order to promote your new book! And it’s not new authors, desperate for any kind of media coverage they can get – these are well-established authors who all seem to be hopping on the latest controversy bandwagon. But why are they doing it? Does it result in more sales or is a just a ploy to get your name ‘out there’?

For a while there, it seemed like a queue of predominantly white male authors were awaiting their turn to declare that the novel (as they knew it) was dead. Will Self being the most vocal (who even is he??!). It was all a bit pathetic really – writers bemoaning the fact that their work was no longer relevant and choosing to denounce the younger generation for their lack of taste rather than accept that their books mightn’t be as good as they thought they were. Or that, like the rest of us mere mortals, their books have no  guarantee of a warm reception.

Irish author Colm Tóibín recently told a Guardian interviewer: “I can’t do thrillers and I can’t do spy novels.”  

Asked which books he felt were most overrated, he said: “I can’t do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them. I just get bored with the prose. I don’t find any rhythm in it. It’s blank, it’s nothing; it’s like watching TV.”

So clearly, Colm has read ALL THE BOOKS and they’re all boring. Thanks for that Colm, inspirational.

Poor old John Banville can only write ‘genre’ under a pseudonym, lest his good name and reputation be besmirched by popular fiction. It’s a form of snobbery, looking down one’s nose at other writers, and readers for that matter. Like the ‘real book’ brigade who scoff at eBooks and their readers. Like, get over yourself and the delusion that you are the sole arbiter of good taste. By dismissing things that people enjoy, you are dismissing them and what matters to them. And to me, this seems a very foolish thing to do.

The most recent author to diss an entire genre is Louise Doughty, when she told The Guardian (why is it always The Guardian?) “I can’t bear anything chicklitty or girly.”

Wow. Can’t bear it, eh? Any book in particular, or just every book written by a woman who has been classified under the broadest commercial fiction genre EVER? Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but such an established writer must be aware of how dismissive this sounds to her peers? How many years have female authors been fighting this exact kind of stigma associated with chick lit? It’s a marketing tag, that has unfortunately sidelined contemporary romcoms  written by women as vacuous, vapid and unimportant. The definition of chick lit is ‘a heroine-centred narrative‘, so far so brilliant, and luckily for us fans, promotes a whole plethora of styles, voices and subject matter. In fact, categorising novels by a single criterion is such a reductive exercise anyway, the dismissive tone used by this authors is at best, unhelpful.

I also think the media has a lot to answer for here. If an author is asked their opinion, they have every right to give it. It was the editor’s choice to pick that one quote from the interview and run it as click-bait on all social media platforms. And this seems to be the way of it now – the newspaper takes the most inflammatory line from an article, tweets it and watches the book world have a meltdown. And that my friends, is marketing.

But in case you were thinking literary authors were safe from all this criticism, think again. Sally Rooney has committed a cardinal sin – the worst thing you can do in literary fiction – she has sold a lot of books. It’s one thing garnering critical acclaim, but to be successful in the monetary sense can risk the loss of your member’s card to the ‘serious’ literary writers club. Will Self (him again!) ‘bravely’ took it upon himself to put her back in her place by labelling her writing as ‘lacking ambition’, lest she go getting any ideas that she might have earned her place among the literati. Fortunately we have men like him to save us from our own bad taste.

Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard has her finger on the pulse and her tongue firmly in her cheek with this latest tweet:

 

So is this the future for authors? A newspaper article in which they upset not only their fellow authors, but the millions of readers who enjoy their books?  And while everyone has the right to speak their mind, it is the contrivance to cause controversy that seems to be the PR drug of choice these days. To me, it just makes people look arrogant and insecure. I’ve always been taught that people who try to make you feel small are only doing it so they can feel big. Authors dismissing other genres must have some dire need to feel important, or to be seen as superior, i.e. someone whose work matters. But newsflash, we all matter and a bit of diplomacy goes a long way.

We are all creatures of habit and of course we tend to gravitate to certain styles of writing and subject matter. There is nothing wrong with that and there is nothing wrong with not liking a book. Art is subjective. But when does it stop being an opinion and start being derisory? Good critique is backed up by fact and reason (like books where the characters are under-developped, for example) but generalisations that have no real basis tell us nothing constructive. The truth is, there are crap writers and crap books everywhere. There are crap literary books, crap self-published books, crap traditionally published books, crap YA books, crap detective novels, crap books by men, crap books by women … but to give one broad sweep of criticism to any of these categories is just ignorant and lazy.

I have always found the writing community to be supportive and always remember the first time I read another saying that there is room enough for all of us. We don’t have to compete by putting one another down. Most readers, like myself, read across genres, so in the long run, it’s probably wiser to big up your fellow authors rather than risk alienating your audience. Your readership could well overlap. But just on a human level, as Michelle Obama once said, when they go low, we go high!

Over-Exposed

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As we slide sun-burned and ice-creamed into August, I think it’s safe to assume we all just want to switch off from life for a while. But is it really possible to switch off when we carry our phones with us like some kind of external pace-maker? As though we might cease to exist if we do not maintain an online presence. But do we really need to share so much of our lives and what does it mean if external validation is all that keeps us ticking?

Every interaction has an exchange and we have to gauge the value of what we are receiving in return for the cost to us. This is where I am right now with social media and I know I’m not alone. I keep coming across more and more people wondering if social media is actually the benign distraction we once thought it was, or perhaps something a little more insidious.

Facebook never held any allure for me – I failed to see the benefits of curating my life for an audience who really couldn’t give a shit. Twitter, however, slowly became an intrinsic part of my daily life. I have learned so much on Twitter about feminism, gender bias, publishing, writing and (no surprises here) that dogs are the true comedians of the world. I’ve had some right laughs and connected with brilliant people.

BUT …

I find my mood is increasingly affected by what I see on there – whether it be political propaganda, bad news stories, argumentative and angry people who just want to pick a fight or on the other end of the scale, people being really successful and happy. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground – ordinary people having ordinary ups and downs. It’s all somebody who fears their own irrelevance says something controversial and you find yourself drawn into a pointless discussion from which you gain nothing. In fact you’re losing something really important; your time.

This is my real issue with social media. It has taken away our golden opportunities to be bored. Scrolling is the new navel gazing, except that navel gazing might lead to some kind of interesting insight into the psyche, or make you so bored that you decide to paint the bedroom. But at least you’d be connecting with yourself and your feelings. There’s nothing wrong with a little distraction, but it’s starting to feel like social media is stealing our down time and we’re complicit in the crime. I’m just not sure I’m willing to pay the cost anymore.

It’s the ‘always on’ aspect that seems to be causing this collective burn out. And why wouldn’t it? We were all hooked under the guise of connecting with people, but is it meaningful connection? We are all providing free content for a platform which uses our shared pics to attract more users. We are all essentially working for Instagram, for free!  Like, how many times have you stopped in the middle of a nice walk, meal or holiday trip to take a photo for Insta? If you think it through, you are interrupting your personal, private experience to do something for your social media accounts that will gain likes or follows. You are promoting your page. That is work and you’re not getting paid for it.

And even regardless of remuneration, you are thinking about your free time differently when viewing it through the lens of social media. You wonder, will this look good? Will people be impressed? Because I saw X and Y put up pictures of that place they went to and it looked great. And I want people to think I do interesting things too. So we are all being ensnared by each other with representations of our lives that only offer the merest of glimpses into reality. We all know this on a rational level, but we don’t often stop to think about the thought processes this sparks off and how it affects our everyday lives. I see a photo of someone on a beach on their holidays looking serene and free and I just assume their entire holiday was like that. I don’t see the mundane bits, the bits where everything went wrong or God forbid, the boring bits. The arguments. The seething resentment. So this creates an impossible fantasy of what our lives should be like, but will never be, because it’s not real.

And that’s the crux of it. It’s not real and I don’t think I can be a part of that. Maybe I should become a crusader for authenticity, like the wonderfully hilarious Celeste Barber, who gives a real-life makeover to some truly ridiculous IG posts. But fucking hell, that’s more work, more of my precious time and what do I get out of it? It’s one thing if you are actually promoting something, then social media is a fantastic marketing tool. But if not, then you are simply promoting yourself and your life becomes a commodity. Yep, sounds dystopian to me too.

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This is my fav!

So I’ve returned to the good old blog – a place where I can really take my time to talk about how I feel about things without having to upload some filtered selfie of me not being me. When I blog, I sit down to write, it’s a choice I make. But scrolling on Twitter and trying to find interesting pics for Instagram is just a mindless addiction and feels, at best, shallow and superficial. At worst, I’m handing my free time over to large corporations who profit from our need to feel seen, to matter. Well, I see you, all of you out there who are just doing your best and trying to find meaning and purpose in this unpredictable world. And my God you matter – more than a silly photo or a witty tweet. You already matter – you don’t need likes to prove that. x

 

 

White Lies

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I read a great thread the other day on Twitter by author Leigh Bardugo about how, as authors, we tend to perpetuate the myth of glamour and success that surrounds the magical business of getting published. Take it away Leigh!

She goes on to talk about how we ‘big up’ the successful moments, but downplay (or conceal) the less attractive aspects, like having to make your own merchandise to bribe people with! But don’t we all do this in our everyday lives? Pretending that everything is rosy in the garden, whether it be your marriage, your job, or your house that looks lovely but is actually developing some scary cracks and is possibly built on an ancient burial site?? But that’s enough about me. Telling little white lies about your job is just an extension of that very human need to be seen as ‘successful’ or ‘having your shit together’. We pretend we’re earning more than we are or have a bigger office.

But there is something about the truth that liberates all of us. In recent times, more and more authors are opening up about the reality of publishing and what it really looks like, behind the headlines. Irish author Donal Ryan ruffled many’s the feather by revealing that his books earned him a mere 40c per book and that he was returning to full-time employing in order to pay his mortgage. (I wrote about it for the Irish Times here).

I think there is a certain amount of embarrassment – because all we tend to hear about are the big authors who get eye-watering book deals, then sell the movie rights and next thing you know, they’re featured in some home style magazine showing off their new castle. That’s what people expect will happen when you get a publishing deal, but it is the exception. Most authors just want to earn a wage, even a really tiny one, that means they can write full time. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s rarely the case.

But we don’t want to let the side down, or reveal to our friends and families that actually, not all book shops will stock your book, that some people still won’t read your book even though you’ve given them a copy for free, that you have to work just as hard promoting your book as you did writing it and at the end of the day, most Irish authors earn somewhere between €500 and €5,000 per year (eek!).

Yet it seems a bit strange that authors are the ones left to gloss over these facts – as though we somehow have to protect the reputation of the publishing industry as well as our own! Well, not on my watch. Self-publishing is a great leveler and dispels you of any ‘notions’ (as we call them here) pretty early on. I’ve had to do everything myself, so signing with a publisher was a real privilege. But it’s not the end of the rainbow – there were still disappointments as well as unexpected gains. What didn’t change is the amount of effort I had to put into making sure people knew about my book.  There are so many jobs you have to do as an author that you can never invoice anyone for and I’m not sure any amount of wild success will change that.

I remember reading an article a while back (but for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name or find the link) in which a bestselling author spoke about a reading he was due to give at a local library for his new book. About eight people showed up; one was his wife and the rest were from a local retirement home. That was shocking to me – again because I just didn’t know that most really, really successful authors aren’t celebrities. Even New York Times bestselling authors. The truth is, nobody really cares! Apart from you, your publisher and probably your bank.

So yeah, I don’t think there’s any harm in telling the odd white lie to save face, but the constant pressure to present a false picture of your life or your career – which has only increased with the dawn of social media – is just really exhausting and serves nobody. And sometimes the most inspiring stories are the ones where you didn’t make it – like, how often do we find our own inner resilience perk up when reading about authors who were rejected zillions of times? Of course, the catch is, you have to then make it big-time for your sob story to resonate, but still. Knowing that nobody really knows what their doing can be the most comforting truth of all.

Value Your Writing

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was watching a documentary about Christie’s Auction House the other day (more unexpected research!) when they took delivery of a beautiful Constable painting. Three specialists inspected the piece, oohing and aahing over the quick brush strokes and immensity of the sky. Then came the real deliberations… how much was it worth? As they debated over how many tens of millions it might fetch, the documentary maker asked them how they arrived at such a price (£20 million). The specialists said that the price was based on how much previous Constable paintings sold for and how much buyers would be prepared to pay. It was staggering to me – it wasn’t so much to do with the actual artwork itself, but how the art world chose to value it. The artist is long gone and even if he were alive today, could not profit from these kinds of sales. Banksy highlighted this issue when he shredded one of his paintings that was resold at auction.

The way society values things can often seem completely unrelated to an item’s true worth. It seems to be more about ownership and the prestige that it brings, rather than investing in an item because it means something to you. The documentary went on to boast about Christie’s new operations in China, where they were basically teaching the Chinese the value of Western art (i.e. teaching them how to spend their millions lusting after the same limited number of artworks deemed worthy). It all seemed so fake and contrived to keep money flowing within the same circles. As my mother would say, money for old rope! These auction houses aren’t actually creating anything or adding value – they are making their money off the backs of artists who died hundreds of years ago, many of them penniless. I often think of Van Gogh and how he struggled throughout his life. Ostracised by the art world at the time, his paintings speak to so many of us now because of their individuality and unique style.

Anyway, what has all this got to do with anything? Well, I’ve been stressing over book sales recently – wondering if I could be doing more and getting frustrated with myself because OBVIOUSLY I’m not doing enough. Which has ultimately led to me viewing my work purely in terms of rankings, sales and reviews. Which is awful – nobody should view their work in those terms, yet it is a reality you face when you’re trying to make a living out of writing.

The problem is, it’s an extremely narrow view of how much your book is worth. I lost touch with how much value I gained from writing my stories in the first place – how much writing helped me through the ups and downs of life. My books have been an escape and a sanctuary. A source of limitless frustration, yes, but also a source of pride. Becoming a writer has been a dream come true. It has given my life a whole new meaning and purpose. Not to mention the joy of being read! One of my favourite reviews (which I should really stick on my fridge in moments of doubt) was from a reader who thanked me for following my passion and living my purpose. Now, what could be worth more than that? You can’t put a price on that kind of connection.

We are all creators, communicating our unique experience of life. Value arbitrarily placed on something by the outside world doesn’t always necessarily mean ‘better’. It might just mean they can find a buyer for it, or that it will sell with minimal fuss. The same applies if you submit a manuscript to a publisher – if they don’t think your book is commercial enough, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t any good. Market forces are driven by very different motives. Was J.K. Rowling’s writing any less impressive when she was writing in a cafe, unemployed and unable to get published? Were Van Gogh’s paintings any less vibrant and expressive when the art world had turned their back on him? The work is it’s own reward, its value is inherent, regardless of stats or awards. Your writing has value, whether you are published or not, whether your last book was a hit or not. So never skimp on the quality of your work – make it the best it can be, for yourself. Don’t follow the markets or compromise your ideas. Never stop dreaming. The process of creation, fulfilling your artistic potential, telling your story – all of these things are beyond price tags.

We all want to be successful, but I’m not sure that allowing the world to tell you how much you’re worth is the meaning of success. An artist’s career will always have peaks and troughs, but that does not reflect your worth or predict your potential. We should value our talent and keep writing (and stop checking the sales reports!)

Shooting Stars

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You might think you need a degree in symbology or semantics to understand what the hell your book reviews reveal about your novels, but fear not lads and ladies, I’ve put a good half hour of research into some of my own books’ critical reviews and come up with practically no all the answers.
For starters, the star rating means different things to different people on different days. Do not attempt to find any correlation between high ratings and postive reviews (or vice versa). Sometimes the most critical reviews lie in ambush under a five star rating and likewise, a three star rating can often be accompanied by the most glowing review. Do not try to make sense of this – that way madness lies!
However, by using some examples from my own Amazon customer reviews (which I usually read with one eye through a tiny gap in my fingers) I’ve put together a highly scientific system of categorization to make things a little easier. Strap yourselves in!

 

1. The Back-handed Compliment Review
“If you are looking for literture for the ages, this isnt it. However, if you are looking to settle back in your favorite reading chair with a cup of hot tea and some lemon cookies for a delightful afternoon of light reading, this book is your ticket. I thoroughly enjoyed it!”
adrien brody wink GIF
I love you really

 

2. The Passive-Aggressive Review
“The story is readable. A good ‘waiting time’ read.”
“Easy & light summer read.”
angelina jolie smile GIF
Ooh, did I say something wrong?

 

3. The Least Said, Soonest Mended Review
“Too slow”
“Boring”
ouch 40 days and 40 nights GIF
OUCH!

 

4. The Insult
“Fair warning.  I have better things to do with my time!”
“The cover art was the best part of this book in my opinion.”
dissed fan GIF
How dare you write this book!

 

5. The Have-They-Even-Read-The-Book Review
“Once you get past the fowl language and depravity”
(Fowl language? I don’t remember any poultry featuring in that book…)
Whaaat?

 

6. The Angry Review
“THIS ITEM HAS NOT ARRIVED ON MY KINDLE, ALTHOUGH THE MONEY HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM MY ACCOUNT !!!!”
zooey deschanel fox GIF by New Girl

So, what I think what we’ve all learned here today is that reviews can be confusing, but let’s be honest, we wouldn’t have them any other way, right?! Short, long, cogent or rambling, we love to read them – so please keep writing them 😉

What To Do Before Your Book Launch

Sound the 30 days to launch klaxon!!  It’s just T minus 720 hours until my new book, The Story Collector, hits bookshelves and I’ve decided to draw up a helpful list of all the things I should be doing during this final phase of publishery and book launcherism.

  1. Panic.  I’m particularly good at this and have devoted many years of worship at the altar of worry.  Some people say that stress is a negative use of energy… I say they’re not doing it right!

 

2. Have my immune system turn against me.  

Immune system:  Hey, remember that time of the big freeze when you’re pipes burst and the house flooded and you got a chest infection and just for fun, I thought I’d spice things up with some weird eczema rash on your legs??  Let’s do that again!

Me: Um…

Immune system:  You know, it’s been ages since we’ve been to the dentist for a filling…. it’d be a shame if you had to get a really deep filling and upset all your nerve endings right before your launch…

Me: HELP!

3. Start comparing myself (unfavourably) to other authors

It doesn’t even need to be launch time to do this – authors can do this any old time they fancy but it’s particularly effective when you’re looking for proof that everyone else on the planet is doing a better job at this than you.

 Me watching someone have a better launch than me.

 

4.  Plan my spontaneous wardrobe

Why do we spend two months planning an ‘I just threw this on’ look?  Why is it so damn hard to look natural?  And why oh why is it that when authors buy an outfit for their author photo, they look like someone trying to look like an author??  What do authors even wear? If I’m being authentic, I should just wear pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt. READY!

5. See how many times you can remind people of your launch date before they take out a barring order.

Work in progress.

6. Cry.

Did I say cry?  I meant smile, dementedly.

I’m really happy and not nervous at all!

7. Reality check

Remember that anyone without a book deal would bite your arm off right now – in fact, you yourself would have gnawed off an appendage less than two years ago to be where you are now.  So try to be mindful, greatful and remember that it’s a book, not a rocket launch.  You don’t need to be a scientist or anything other than yourself.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

But seriously folks, it’s not all fun and games, I have actually done something productive!  I am planning a VIRTUAL BOOK LAUNCH and you’re all invited 🙂  Love book launches but hate having to leave the house?  Want to chat with booky people AND stay in your pyjamas?  I’ve got you covered!

Book launch

All you need to come to my party is a Twitter account!  Just follow the hashtag #TheStoryCollector or my handle @evgaughan and rock up at about 8pm on the 14th June for an hour of book chat and you might even win something for your trouble.  As the book is all about folklore and superstition, I’m actively encouraging everyone to share their stories – perhaps an old family story that has been handed down or a superstition unique to your area.  I’m really looking forward to it and hope you can join me!

In the meantime, you can preorder your copy here.

A Writer’s Holiday

As most of you will not have noticed at all, because you have your own lives, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from social media.  And it has been good.

While most writers talk about taking a break from writing, I’m talking about a break from being ‘visible’, ‘out there’ and ‘switched on’.  A break from that constant gnawing feeling that you should be doing something… online.  Being online creates that weird paradox where you feel like you’re achieving something, but what it is, you can’t exactly say.

We’re always on.  And if we’re not on, there is a fear that we’re not doing enough.   Or FoMO – Fear of missing out (yes, it’s a thing!)  Are we using Twitter/Facebook/Instagram or are they using us?  Where is the down time?  Are we really interacting meaningfully, or are we just scrolling through other peoples’ thoughts, witnessing other peoples’ outrage and occasionally getting caught up in debates with people who never let the facts get in the way of a good argument.  Like Bing Crosby sang, we’re busy doing nothing.

But it’s all harmless fun, right?  Maybe, in moderation.  But the mindless compulsion to check into this social world every day in order to feel like you’re ‘engaging’, eventually becomes a bit joyless… a bit robotic.  So I switched off.  I put a sign on Twitter saying I was on a break (mainly as a deterrent to myself) and even unplugged the broadband.  For a whole day.  But then I had to plug it back in to check my email because I’m not complete lunatic.

I felt bad at first – all of the people who retweet me and whom I regularly retweet might get the hump (or think I’m dead).  But I had to ask myself, am I a writer or a social media personality??  The answer was simple and funnily enough, so was the break.  I didn’t miss it at all.  The constant need to keep up with everything, to stay connected, was gone.

That restlessness was replaced by restfulness.

Turns out, I didn’t need to know everything after all.  But Twitter and Facebook weren’t going to let me away that easy.  Notifications telling me that people I ‘know’ have all liked the same picture tried to tempt me back.  ‘What is the picture?’ I wondered to myself, but I stood fast.  Even when Facebook lamented the 228 followers who hadn’t heard from me in a while, did I want to rectify that??  No, they’d have to get through the day without me.

It’s silly really.  We’re all trying to promote stuff without looking like we’re promoting stuff.  ‘THEY’ say that you shouldn’t promote on social media, you should gain popularity by being interesting and fun to follow.  No pressure there then!  Is this high school or some kind of Machievellian double-speak?!   99% of our lives (if we’re lucky) are pretty boring, so how are we going to keep all of our followers entertained and somehow fool them that we have something interesting going on, all the time??  I don’t need my readers to know how uninspiring I can be on a daily basis.   I am a writer and I’m here to promote my books – let’s call a spade a spade!  And the really funny thing is that when I took a step back from social media, my book sales continued to rise.  So there was no correlation whatsoever between me being constantly switched on and my reach when it came to readers.  My book even did this:

#3

Yes, you are seeing correctly – that’s my book at number three, beside Alice Hoffman’s ‘Practical Magic’.  Quite the milestone!  And it happened all by itself.  Well, by the power of Amazon’s algorithms, which I still don’t get, but the point is, it had nothing to do with Twitter.

And it’s not just me.  I’ve read a lot of blogs recently where book bloggers are cutting down and in some cases, no longer taking part in blog tours.  The pressure to be available all of the time is taking its toll and I think a lot of people are trying to create more of a balance, where they can participate on their own terms.  They are continuing to promote books, but in a way that suits them.  More and more, I see people questioning the benefits of being so switched on all of the time.  There comes a saturation point where you have to step back and focus on your own path.

Have I used this break to write?  Nope!  I’ve done NOTHING and it’s been wonderful.  I’ve read other peoples’ books.  I’ve been checking out designs for my new book cover with my publisher.  I’ve baked!  I spent half an hour trying to make some DIY Nordic Christmas decorations (damn you Pinterest!) Unfortunately, my Christmas star ended up looking like a Halloween pentagram, but hey, I made something.  I’ve allowed myself to get bored.  Remember boredom?  The mother of all creation.  I watched Stranger Things and kept all of my opinions about it to myself (it’s basically ET, right?!)  I got a head cold and ‘took to the bed’ without a second thought for my abandoned accounts.  And it feels so good to just let my mind be free.  To not have that niggling feeling… ‘I’ll just check’.

So, the moral of the story is, a change really is as good as a rest.  Taking a break from social media has just made me more aware of how jaded I had become by the whole thing.  And it’s not like anyone is holding a gun to my head (well, not that I’m aware of *gulp*) so all of this pressure to be ‘on’ is self-inflicted.  I can get all of my social media stuff done in half an hour, so where do the other two and a half hours go?  I think writers especially need time away from this social machine to create some space for creativity; to breathe and grow without this constant spotlight, demanding your attention and sapping your energy.  Social media is great – in my view its benefits certainly outweigh the down sides, but it might be better in small doses.

So like those people who do dry January, I’ve become all preachy and holier than thou (even though I did break my break a few times) so we’ll see how long that lasts!  What about you?  Have you managed to avoid getting sucked into the black hole of social media? Do you detox regularly or is switching off a step too far?

If you haven’t read my books, then you really should have the FoMO!  Check out my Amazon Author Page or follow the links below.

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris by [Gaughan, Evie]

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