The In Off Is On

Now that I’ve got the hang of it a bit, I love my new computer. I always loved the colour but now I realise how delightful, and easy to use, the keyboard is. No more fighting to make the ‘e’ button work, or ending up with a sore wrist the next day.

I love the things that it allows me to do without a fifteen-minute wait – like getting on-line. (Slight exaggeration, but of course, I’m permitted to make liberal use of poetic licence these days!) And I love the opening pictures of magical wildlife and stunning scenery which it greets me with when I switch on.

I do not, however, see eye-to-eye with the little darling when I’m writing in creative mode. This new computer has a particularly annoying function that seems to think it can write better than I can! Not what any author wants to hear. It is constantly throwing up brown lines under my phrasing which a right-click of my mouse reveals as ‘better suggestions’.

Have you considered more concise language?’ it will ask, listing some ‘suitable options’. ‘Or using a more descriptive term?’ again, accompanying this with ‘appropriate ideas’.

I’m sure that somewhere in the development of this more up-to-date version of Word, someone thought they would be doing us all a favour by being so helpful, particularly for people who struggle to express themselves in written form; but I’m equally sure that the potential for sinister intent is lurking in the background.

‘What price, creativity?’ I want to shout at the screen when it suggests that my heroine (new novel – a romance), having fallen asleep in a chair with exhaustion and being woken by a stranger at the door, ‘made an effort to communicate‘ would be better expressed as ‘tried to communicate‘ (more concise) but when I have her responding to the stranger’s ideas with ‘‘That’s all … a big help’ she finished rather lamely’, the computer now wants me to replace Lily’s sad phrase with ‘an immense help‘, ‘a tremendous help‘ or ‘a powerful help‘, all of which would be a complete misrepresentation of the story at that point.

I am reminded, perhaps over-dramatically, of the Thought Police in Nineteen Eighty Four. Perhaps this novel has a different impact today, with its title appearing to be such a long time in the past, but when I was a teenager, the date was far enough in the future to be a blip on the horizon and the book became something of an icon for many of us growing up, determined to preserve freedom at all levels and to make people aware of the dangers of not caring about others on this planet.

The idea that the machines described in the book might actually become reality seemed ridiculous to many of us but the sentiment that some humans would use any kind of technology available to subdue those who did not agree with them, or who looked different, or who displayed the capacity for creative thought, was very real.

The scenario I meet daily on my computer appears innocuous at first glance, but so does any form of repetitive programming. How long before the newly-formed channels of the brain, which I believe can continue to be made as long as someone is alive and willing, are predetermined by the texts to which they are exposed, and those texts are controlled by people with very specific agendas?

At the very least, if our machines are constantly supplying answers for us whenever we request them – and even if we don’t – our thinking processes become less creative, automatically. There will appear to be less need to explore more unusual solutions and to stretch our minds for innovative ideas. And that, for me, takes the point out of being alive.

Anyone who watched any part of the World Snooker Championship over the last fortnight or so, will know that what gave us the greatest delight as spectators were the incredible shots that ‘came out of nowhere’ – the ones that required not just the skill to execute accurately but which could barely be conceived by those of us watching.

No surprise then that Shot Of The Tournament was awarded to Shaun Murphy’s unbelievable potting of the red into the middle pocket, in his match with Ronnie O’Sullivan, when it was absolutely impossible for him to hit it. What a stunningly creative solution!

I’m delighted to say that my computer was completely floored when I tried out John Virgo’s intriguing phrase, ‘the in off is on‘ on its brown line selections this morning, and was unable to offer any alternatives. Just for snooker aficionados: I shall treasure that alongside another favourite of his – ‘Where’s the cue ball going?’ There must be a T-shirt …

Life As An Indie Author

Easter is a great time for considering renewal. Traditionally, throughout the history of many spiritual practices, the bursting forth of spring energy has been accompanied by personal reflections on, and communal celebrations of, new life, transformation and the possibility of something utterly ground-breaking in its paradigm shift of reality.

Every year, I get to ponder anew on the ridiculous possibility of the tiny seeds in my hand becoming six-foot-tall tomato plants with rich, red fruits hanging in bunches, and the ‘dust’ in my brightly coloured packets turning into cascades of tumbling, cheerful, blue and white lobelia. What a miracle!

This year, the timing of the festival, arriving much later than usual, has coincided unexpectedly with the arrival of my new identity. I am now an author. No longer just a writer – a person with dreams, hopes and ambitions, someone who fills their spare time with scribbling words on a page for fun – now I’m an actual author. This changes things.

For a start, I now find I have to consider the strange and mysterious worlds of publicity and marketing. These are worlds which do not come naturally to me and which present many difficult challenges I had never expected to face. It looks as though I may have to venture into my ‘dark side’ to understand how to negotiate my way.

I read an article somewhere – when I was still in the world of possibilities – that suggested people should not become indie authors because they no longer make good friends. Apparently, they turn into self-proclaiming, money-grabbing bores, who cannot avoid viewing their companions as potential customers and end up constantly regaling everyone they know with requests for reviews, checks on purchases and reminders to pass on book information to others.

I can see how this might happen, but I suspect the writers who go down this route were pretty mercenary to begin with, and I’m not convinced that conventionally-published authors would necessarily be immune to the ‘seller-virus’, anyway.

You might guess that the acquisition of money is not high on my list of priorities for a good life. I have been relatively poor for the vast majority of my time so far, and it has not escaped my notice that my happiest times have usually coincided with less financially prosperous periods. The one segment of my life where I had easy access to plenty of funds was probably my most miserable. Nevertheless, it has taken many years for me to discover the sense of abundance that comes irrelevant of monetary income.

This is the place I find myself in now, but I am conscious, too, that my particular circumstances cannot be sustained beyond another few years without a substantial input of cash. That is, ‘substantial’ for me. Which means that I need to learn to navigate this otherworld of promotion, sales and ranking tables. Yet another unexpected learning curve, I guess – but one which is more deeply challenging for me than understanding formatting and the newest version of Word.

Uploading my book via the internet may have been a huge venture, but I  knew I could rely on my intelligence, my ability to learn and mental characteristics such as perseverance and determination which I have developed steadily over a long period of time.

Deliberately trying to manipulate a marketplace to my benefit is not just a matter of invoking these skills but also involves me in confronting my deepest beliefs about commerce and the financial world. All this, at the same time as maintaining a light touch on my life, so that my very real sense of abundance does not evaporate and my creativity is not squeezed to one side.

I guess like every other vision quest I have engaged in, I need to tie myself securely to the guiding thread, be ready to negotiate with dragons and do my best to follow the path my soul lays out before me.

Does that sound fanciful? Well, that’s the joy of being an indie author!

What Are We Going To Do Now … ?

Coming to the end of anything entails a grief. No matter how much you want to get to that end – whether it signals the cessation of a painful process or the satisfaction of a major accomplishment (or, I guess, both) – the final act is the final act, and that part of your life is over.

I am, in some ways, fortunate to have had a lot of practice as far as grief goes, so I find myself in the privileged position of understanding both its importance and many of the ways one can live through it without becoming dead oneself.

The Chinese, in their ancient medicine teachings, linked grief with ‘value’. It’s obvious, really. If something holds true value for you, letting go of that will involve grief. The strange thing is that if you don’t let go when life asks that of you, the pain of the grief will destroy you, and therefore, also, any value that you may have experienced.

Learning to live with grief is one of the biggest lessons we get in our human lives. Learning to live past grief is another. I see too many people, damaged for ever by the passing of someone – or something – they loved. And sometimes by something they didn’t, but it held their lives together, in a subtle, unstated way.

I am discovering now that grief is an essential part of writing. It feels rather odd that no sooner has one birthed the ‘baby’, than one has to let it go. If the story one has created is to fulfil its function, it has to be released into the world – where the author has absolutely no control whatsoever over what happens to it! Despite the fact that some of them (authors, that is) would have you believe otherwise.

The journey my book will now undertake is, for me, very similar to the one we shared together as I created it. I never knew from day to day, from chapter to chapter, what was going to happen next. And this was the delight for me. I relinquished control and waited to see, each morning, what arrived on the page. It was so exciting. A roller-coaster ride of discovery, that continually demanded I let go of expectations, pre-planned routes, assumptions, presumptions and – my ‘bete noir’ – conventions. I absolutely loved the process, and that has meant I also love the result.

Now, I have to stand out of the way again, and watch how my baby grows, stepping in where required to aid publicity, addressing when necessary any admin issues, but essentially allowing my creation a life all of its own.

So what does that mean for me? I’ve been reading a bit this week about authors’ reactions to finishing a book. Some of them find they can’t bear to write again for a while. Some discover a huge hole in their lives that they can’t fill and don’t know how to live with. Some just get on with writing something – anything – to fill the gap. Some, of course, have parties. And others finally get to do the housework.

Me? I sit in the middle of the splendid mandala that is now my life. I’ve broken all the rules, as usual. I have three other novels on the go. Book 2 in the McShannon-Pearce series is currently eleven chapters in. I started this last year, just after writing the final chapter of The White And Silver Shore.

Another, different, detective appeared on my pages, unexpectedly, a couple of years ago, when I was writing an exercise. Tessa currently has a good ten or so chapters to her name.

And at Christmas, I tried to read the kind of book I normally eschew – a romance. Despite being listed as a bestseller, it was rubbish. (Sorry, that should have read: ‘I found it wasn’t very good for me, personally’.) I thought – I could do better than that. So I had a go. My romance – Rannoch Moor – is one brand new chapter long.

So I shall be able to continue, as before, dipping in and out of different adventures to see where they will take me, as I carefully and, I hope, honourably, wave goodbye to my first ever novel.

A casual conversation with a fellow writer, a few months back, revealed that I had four novels on the go. They put on a very serious face as they pronounced, ‘I want to suggest that’s three too many’. Well, maybe in their world, it is …

I Did It!

This is to be a blog like no other I’ve written yet. It will not be the usual, rather more thoughtful, sometimes esoteric, often fanciful, considered piece of writing, that I am in the habit of offering up. Instead, as well as landing on a Wednesday, rather than a Tuesday, it will be an unashamedly celebratory, and self-congratulatory, not very literary, collection of photos and paragraphs. Forgive me.

I have finally finished – and loaded onto Amazon – both the CreateSpace paperback, and the KDP e-book, versions of The White And Silver Shore. My first novel!!!! Hurray!

And here is an impromptu publicity session on my kitchen table:

You can just about make out the proof copy, the first live copy, the Kindle version and some publicity leaflets. As you can see, I need to work on my camera skills – one of the new areas of expertise I have delved into over the past few months.

And this is another view of the same thing – a bit like holiday photos, really.

And here you can see the book posing, first on the new computer that allowed me to upload to Kindle, and then on the old one, which didn’t. But it was the old one that stuck with me for the two and half years it took to write the book, and then a further year I needed to type up the manuscript, edit it, format it and turn it into a CreateSpace document. So, although the Dell will be retiring soon, after nearly ten years’ of faithful service, I expect – like Sheldon – I’ll be keeping it around for a while, as a useful extra.

And to finish off –

Here is a not very good photo of the fabulous fibres I treated myself to as a reward. Blue-faced Leicester and silk. Scrummy. I’ll be getting the spinning wheel out shortly …

Thank you to everyone who stuck with me during this amazing enterprise. Do go and check out my Amazon page. Maybe you’ll be tempted. Progress on book 2 to be reported next week.

If Money Is All That You Love …

Just over a year ago, I finished writing my novel and started writing this blog. Now, with the editing, formatting, uploading and proofing complete (yes, I have got to the last stage … awaiting File Review from CreateSpace so I can hit that final button) –  not to mention the decision-making and transitioning from being someone who’d written a book and wasn’t sure how to get it published, to feeling very at home with the concept of being an indie author – I am taking stock of where I am and what I still need to put in order.

Obviously, I have yet to conquer Kindle uploading but my new computer will, hopefully, make short work of that, (said she, confidently …)

As part of my sorting-out-ness this week, I was required to hunt down some papers to do with my finances and found myself rootling around in my filing cabinet. Not a place I visit all that often, these days, so it can be quite exciting to see what turns up. I was hunting, in particular, for a letter I received round about this time last year, which both shocked me to the core and heralded the changes I highlighted above.

You don’t need to know the details – just that the possible consequence of the missive was the loss of a substantial portion of my income, which is pretty minuscule to begin with.

Now I am not a person who gets hung up on money – at least, not any more. At one time, any financial hiccup would signal the end of the world – a trick I learned from my family – but I’ve been fortunate to encounter people along the way who ‘do’ their money differently, and this has gradually led me down a better path. ‘Better’ in the sense that my well-being is only marginally determined by my income.

That being said, to be threatened out of the blue with the possibility of such a substantial reduction in funds, rocked my boat considerably. I really couldn’t see how I was going to survive at that point. I honestly thought I would have to sell my house and live off the proceeds – not a long-term solution, in any way. I plummeted, for a while, into despair and a state of anxiety and fear. Not at all like me.

I remember pulling myself out of this state, changing my life around a lot, and ultimately being very glad that the predicted circumstances did not materialise. What I hadn’t remembered was what I found when I went searching in my filing cabinet this week.

On the reverse of the letter declaring gloom, closely followed by apocalypse, I had written a declaration to myself. A declaration which inspired me – far from battening down the hatches and retreating from the world – to take a leap of faith by gradually closing down my current business in order to become a full-time writer.

On the face of it, this was a crazy decision. Since I was about to lose a considerable portion of my income, (or thought I was,) guaranteeing I ditched much of the rest was not sensible in most people’s books. But I knew, at some very deep level, I was being presented with an opportunity. An opportunity to make a powerful choice about what was really important to me.

I made the choice and things, so far, have worked out so well for me that I’d forgotten I’d written the letter to myself. Finding it now, when things have turned around so brilliantly, has been a great reminder both of why my life works and of one of my favourite Star Wars quotes.

This is what I wrote:

I bless this letter with love as it marks the beginning of a new way of living for me. I affirm myself as an author, a writer, a storyteller, someone with courage and vigour, someone who can defy boundaries and conventions to reach for the truth and to enable love, someone who will fight against fundamentalism of any genre or context in order to promote creativity and the honouring of difference, someone who lives her life from a place of love, not a place of fear and who will endeavour – through her work – to teach this path to others.

Just When I Thought It Was Safe To …

So, having spent the past couple of months learning how to format my manuscript and load it into CreateSpace – then how to re-load it into CreateSpace – and then, once more with feeling, how to … You get the picture.

After all that effort, learning about editing, templates, making a pdf and creating a cover, not to mention the disappointment of the failure by Kindle to recognise said effort and instantly accept my manuscript to their website – as I had been assured they would by CreateSpace … I settled down last week to proofing.

Proofing turns out to be a delightful exercise where you re-read your 110,000 words for what feels like the 110,000th time and discover you have still made mistakes!

Never mind, I kept reassuring myself. You’re nearly there. Then I had an interesting conversation with a fellow writer who, most encouragingly, suggested that part of the problems I had been having, might be to do with my computer.

Now, you have to understand, this comes as something of a shock to me. I take great care of my beautiful midnight blue Dell laptop – and have done so for nearly ten years. Apparently, this length of service is unusual, not to say, almost unheard of!

I mean, I was aware that my version of Word didn’t match the ones I was watching on You-Tube whenever I loaded up an editing tutorial. Basically, I had to edit the editing, if you get my meaning. And I knew that Google Chrome had stopped sending me updates, possibly as much as a year ago, on the grounds that my computer was no longer capable of receiving them.

But it wasn’t until I investigated the murky depths of Kindle Publishing in order to attempt to discover why my manuscript was unacceptable to them, that I came across a small, but simple, sentence – something to do with the necessity of using an up-to-date browser. The penny finally dropped and I realised the time had come to buy a new computer.

I am now the proud owner of a rather nice HP teal laptop. Problem solved? Not a bit of it. Because now I have to learn – all over again – how to use the damn thing. Inevitably, since I last sat down in front of a new computer, the technology has changed dramatically. I couldn’t even make sense of the screen when I switched it on!

And, never having used a touchpad before, (I have always had a mouse with its own ‘dongle’,) things keep happening on the screen that I haven’t asked for, and the things that I keep asking for, won’t happen.

So, for the umpteenth time, it’s back to the drawing board. I’m allowing myself an hour’s learning a day on the new laptop, while I use the old one for the proofing process – on the grounds that it has loaded the manuscript to CreateSpace once, so I presume it will do so again.

In the meantime, I am stretching my brain not only to learn the new stuff I need to know, but to be open to discovering a massive load of stuff I didn’t even know I needed to know. And making decisions every day as to whether the stuff I didn’t know about before, is actually relevant to my life as I want to live it, or whether it is someone’s attempt to hook me into yet more commercial – not to say capitalist – rubbish.

One thing is for sure, this is the first time I have ever written my blog directly into my computer – I usually write by hand first, but this keyboard practice counts as today’s tutorial – and I believe I can safely say, it’s not the measured kind of blog I usually write.

Now, isn’t that interesting?


The Proof Of The Pudding

Last week, I experienced a curious mixture of elation and lethargy.

I had a birthday – love those – and my friends clubbed together, at my request, to buy me a fabulous set of artist’s crayons for my expanding mandala ‘habit’. On Wednesday morning, I opened a tin of seventy two magical pencils and encountered colouring at a new level. I’ve never had the chance to use really good crayons before and it was enchanting.

At the same time, I could only venture into the new experience in short bursts, due to a disturbing recurrence of ‘unwellness’. Three times this year, with the approach of the full moon, I have found myself struggling with huge bouts of  fatigue and general ‘can’t-be-bothered-ness’ – a pale reflection of a long-term illness I suffered many years ago. And on all three occasions, the symptoms have mysteriously disappeared on the day of the full moon. Unfortunately, this latest bout coincided with my birthday week.

However, on Friday, as I was just about hanging on, something amazing happened. The proof copy of my book arrived from America, where CreateSpace organise their printing for such things. I had read various on-line accounts of how incredible this experience is – of holding and opening your very own  book for the first time – but nothing had prepared me for the delight and incredulity that burst spontaneously from me.

There is something weirdly surreal about handling a book that contains words and sentences so familiar that they are now intimately carved into your brain, and further, to see the positioning of those words on the page in exactly the way you set them up a couple of weeks previously. Along, of course, with that infamous cover.

I felt proud, surprised and overjoyed, all in one go.

And then I found my first mistake. A typo. How?!!! How, after all that checking, re-writing, re-checking, re-reading and checking again, did a typo – of all things – get in there? And, of course, to correct these pages, I have to go back to the original manuscript …

I have, however, made an executive decision. I had ordered the proof copy because I really wanted to see what the book would look like ‘live’. For all the digital imaging available to me – perfectly adequate to carry out the proofing process – I thought that, for this first one, I would order the book to make sure. And it is a very different experience, having the book in my hands, compared to seeing it on-screen.

But having acquired it, I have decided not to handle it any more than I need to – not to get fingerprints on the cover, risk creasing the pages or cracking the spine. I have in front of me, whatever happens next, a historical document. A pristine copy of ‘what I did’. The result of three and a half years of hard slog and unbelievable enjoyment.

I’ve written my first book – and I have the proof!