critics

6 Things I’ve Learned about Being a Published Author

My aim had always been to be a published author. I have achieved my aim. Now what? Writing a novel or two is the biggest time, energy and mental pressure you can undertake. In fact to write this blog post I had to take two Nurofen and a double espresso macchiato in order to steady myself. I have been writing for 40 years on and off, therefore I am not a new writer. But I still put wine, blood, paracetamol, sweat, caffeine, cortisol, endorphins and tears into it. Now I have learned that as a newly-published author, I still have more to learn.

 

1/ Sales of the book won’t make you a living.

Even bestseller authors have to work another job – usually related to writing such as journalism or teaching and lecturing in a related subject. The reason why writers write is because it is an incurable mental illness, an obsession, a love. It’s like asking the obsessive compulsive cleaner – “hey, why do you clean so much? It’s clean already.” Those who start out thinking this is a fun hobby will either quit or realise it is not a fun hobby, and then quit. If that obsession is there, the writer will carry on writing in spite of everything. That is how you know you have the bug.Therefore no writers can aim to do it as a means of livelihood, as they mostly earn less than the minimum wage. In the Guardian article ‘Most UK authors’ annual incomes still well below minimum wage on 9 Oct 2016,

…life is less than super for many authors in the UK, with average annual incomes for writers languishing at £12,500.

This figure is just 55% of average earnings in the UK, coming in below the minimum wage for a full-time job at £18,000 and well below the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s minimum income standard of £17,100.

In an industry that is becoming increasingly unequal, those at the bottom of the income distribution continue to struggle. Only half of the 317 UK authors who responded to the survey said writing was their main source of income, with respondents who offered a figure reporting total earnings from their latest book averaging at £7,000.

This is not a ‘new thing’. Writers we know and love from the past also had to hold day jobs:

Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and other “literary nonsense,” was also a mathematician, photographer and teacher.

Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer-winning memoir, “Angela’s Ashes,” taught in New York City high schools and colleges during his entire career.

Jorge Luis Borges Argentinian author of “Ficciones” worked as an assistant in the Buenos Aires Municipal Library, and eventually became the director of the National Library.

2/ What you wanted to publish will not be published and what you didn’t want to publish will be published

butchered

butchered

Caveat: Unless you self-published. No building is built exactly as the plans, unless you built it yourself. Publishing is a collaborative process. You are only one cog in the wheel and no doubt the most important cog but there are other cogs turning that wheel. There will be changes along the way, usually due to budget, darling-killing and changes of vision. This is down to the contract. The contract is the agreement between you and the publisher to create the book. Both you and the teams will work together and have a say in the end product. You can put your foot down but usually they are right. They are the professionals. My day job is being an architect. I tell my clients what they should do all the time and if they don’t do it, I will do it anyway. Otherwise you will have no overall cohesive design ethos and you will end up with substandard junk which you will get blamed for so you may as well get blamed for something great than some substandard junk caused by them.

When you hand over the manuscript, the multiple levels of editing begin.  At the moment I am coming out of editing hell, and this is why it is fresh in my mind and I am well-equipped to inform those who have not entered the seven gates of editing hell. Every sentence, punctuation marks and word will be examined. Every sentence has to flow logically into the next and there must not be a single discrepancy, inconsistency, continuity error or nonsensical or cop-out statement. You must not sound like a madman. Even books about madness are written by the sane, and has to appear compos mentis. The editing process is like ironing. You go back and forth and back and forth between the editorial department and you until the product is smooth. My first book has gone through 19 rounds of editing (not even accounting for the 12 years of editing before those rounds before I made any submissions). My second book is currently on 9 rounds (also excluding the years of my own editing). Sometimes you are blind to your own errors because you have seen them too many times and you don’t realise they are actual errors.

3/ You wrote the book and and now you do everything else

A big deal for little words

A big deal for little words

Nowadays publishers want to know how many followers you have before they even take you on.This is why anything that Jamie Oliver or Joe Wicks write will sell, will have a publisher. Their follower count is in the millions. If only 10% bought their books, that is still a substantial earner. I had to learn this while pitching my book. The Unbound pitch has questionnaire questions relating to your network, real or virtual. If the publisher likes your brilliant book, they also like, in the back of their minds, your follower count and your social media platforms.

Because of the competitive and declining market these days, in order to be successful, most writers have to work hard at promoting their own books much more than the publisher. This is because there are too many books, put simply. Because they are a business, they have to take on a lot of books in case a few become ‘hits’, the rest can die, no worries. One publisher has to handle between 10 to 40 books each, and though they are spread out through the year, they have to promote all of them. Naturally their focus is divided. If you had 36 children (at the rate of 3 being born a month) you will also not be able to give much attention to each. 

4/ You are your own Book and Blog Tour Organizer

Of course you can get on a plane. You will get what you pay for, and touring around the world is expensive and you may only sell twelve copies, if any. You might sell one. I have not much motivation in touring as I have been a musician with my band Satsuma and the gigs take an enormous amount of time loading and unloading, driving around, soundchecking, eating backstage, not to mention hair and makeup and the actual rehearsals, even when you have a cold and in all kinds of weather conditions – all for a 22 minute gig (if you are the headlining act) in which you are not sure if anybody will turn up if the weather is terrible. Therefore authors have to use effective internet marketing such as virtual book tours. There are very few real bookshop or real events being offered by publishers. I am now involved in a ‘blog tour’ with five of my fellow Unbound author whom I see as friends, colleagues and associates. It is a ‘tour’ where we move around and each write for each other’s site in a guest post on set dates. It’s very enjoyable and I am traveling the world from my armchair, involving no Bureaux de Change or visas queues. I have just completed writing my blog about Bill Colegrave’s Scraps of Wool, on the golden age of travel writing focusing on Central Asia, Indochina and the Maghreb (read the blog post here). Scraps of Wool was published recently by Unbound and shares the same publication date as my debut – 16 November 2017. Also completed is Carrie Jo Howe’s Island Life Sentence which is fiction set in Florida. You cannot get more destinations than these in four weeks, what more do you want from a tour?

5/ You are your own Launch Party Sponsor/Organizer/Host

front cover

front cover

Launch parties are for fun and they do not lead to sales. Only because people don’t want to carry a book while munching on greasy snacks with one hand and holding a drink in the other hand. There is no hand left for the book. Even successful authors have to throw their own parties, if they can be bothered. If they are successful they would have been to and done a lot of parties already so they may be partied out.

I put my own money into the London launch of my short story “Funny Mountain” in Hungry in Ipoh anthology held at my friend Sunita’s and Rufus’ art gallery Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton. If you are interested you can read the blow by blow account of how I did It, where I bought cheap drinks and so on. I even brought in the snacks and my friend Sunita kindly heated up the snacks in the vintage oven. Being a writer means there has to be family and friends who care about you being in fantasyland and living the writer life. You are not some banker. Even if you were, they will wonder why you need any help, but still help you. The party will be for them too. It is not for getting new people in, not for selling books, it is for thanking your own loved ones, your publisher. Without them, you would not be a writer. They may or may not buy your books, read your books but it does not matter. Most of all they know you want to be a writer, and they will want to celebrate with you. They will help you with the launch. You only need to ask.

View towards front of gallery

DIY wirestand

DIY wirestand

6/ Be grateful… the party has just begun

Being a published author means the party is not over…. the party has just begun! Long live writing and publishing. Do not get sucked in to what other writers are doing or not doing and feel you are not doing enough or you are doing too much. Your job as a writer is to write the best bloody book that you can. Your job is not to sell stuff, do ironing, be a bartender, organize events or do catering. Every writer is different and thank God for that. Know and recognize what you have achieved. Remember how hard it was to get published (camel, eye of needle etc)? For me to get my first novel out took 12 years, 89 rejections and an award. It is a feat and a celebration in itself. Every day I remind myself that I have earned my right to exist as an author, to tell the story that had to be told, in the way that I wanted it told, so that now it exists not just on my hard drive but in the world. It was what I fought hard for.

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a published author? How do you think you have been transformed by the experience? If you are unpublished, what are your expectations of being published? If you have enjoyed this blog post, please share and do drop me a line. As usual I would love to hear from you.

2018 All Rights Reserved © Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow lives in London. Cry of the Flying Rhino is a debut award-winning novel set in Malaysia and Borneo. Her second novel Heart of Glass is published by Unbound in 2018.

Can You Learn “How to Write Like Tolstoy” from a Book?

 

Somerset Maugham famously said that there are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

How to Write Like Tolstoy by Richard Cohen

should be read with caution. It is, like all other writing books, a How To book that is a How Not To, which means it shows and not tells you via anecdotes and countless examples of great literature, broken down into a structured and systematic analysis what is essentially the magical and unknown journeys we take when we read and when we write. It is a tour de force of all your favourite books in one and why they are. The content page alone is proof that editor and author Richard Cohen has attempted to turn the business of creative writing into practical advice.

Reading about the writing business is an illness that you already know too well, like flu or cold symptoms. For me, it is also a secret and guilty passion because in my heart, I know that you will never know what a great book is until it is a great book so how can this magic, this art be unravelled?

Beginnings

You recognise the symptoms of the infection straightaway. When you start reading a book about writing, they all tell you the same thing, and that is, all books begin in the same way:

“the opening paragraph, the whole question of starting off right. Thereafter the chapters are roughly organized according to the creative process. How characters are created seems paramount – most often, a character will stay with us long after the particular story has faded away – but how does one give them life? What names does one bestow, how much of a back story should be included?”

Can you teach creative writing?

The question is raised in the preface. Hanif Kureishi in the Guardian on 4 March 2014 famously said you can’t. “Creative writing courses are a waste of time,” he said.

“A lot of them [students] don’t really understand,” said Kureishi. “It’s the story that really helps you. They worry about the writing and the prose and you think: ‘Fuck the prose, no one’s going to read your book for the writing, all they want to do is find out what happens in the story next.’ “

He also says that 99.9% of his students are not talented and the little bit who are left are. If skill comes with talent, then the skill can be taught and improved but the original talent still has to be present. That is why when all else fails, writing is referred to as a craft, akin to knitting a jumper or wood-whittling. If it is crude and wrongly-made, that’s just tough. You have to make it again and again until proportionally, structurally and aesthetically it is just right. There is no magic in it.

The short-lived Brendan Behan (1923-64) described himself as a “drinker with a writing problem”.

“He was invited by a prestigious American university to deliver an afternoon lecture about his craft. Behan’s reputation as boozer and rabble-rouser meant that the lecture hall was filled to capacity with students standing at the back and perched in the aisles, but the appointed hour came and went, with still no sign of the great man. Time laboured on; the stage remained empty. After forty-five minutes or so, a more than usually dishevelled Behan stumbled in, and the audience waited, in equal parts expectant, curious and alarmed. “Good afternoon,” he crooned. “Now hands up all of you who want to be writers.” Nearly everyone raised an arm. Behan viewed this forest with disgust. “Well, then,” said he. “Go on back home and frickin’ write.” With that, he reeled off the stage.”

Kurt Vonnegut who for many years was on the faculty of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, also believed that one could not make writers. He said he himself was like a golf pro who could at best “take a few shots off someone’s game”.

Hemingway said what must be a classic truism by now: the only way for a writer to learn his craft was to go away and write. Despite hours of tutorials from Gertrude Stein, Hemingway had to write to her: “Isn’t writing a hard job though? It used to be easy before I met you. I certainly was bad. Gosh, I’m awfully bad now but it’s a different kind of bad.”

This different kind of bad confirms that the teaching of the craft only highlights how difficult it is to stand out or be original. Once you become a writer aware, you become writer beware. Although teaching writing and publishing is a big business now, with creative writing Masters programme costing thousands of dollars or pounds of fees, it always comes down to: but Dickens didn’t do an MA, neither did Hemingway, Atwood, Orwell, nor J K Rowling. In reality, no one did because it was only recently (in the last 20 years) that creative writing courses came to exist. There was no such thing before. Either you were a writer or you weren’t.

My MA in Writing at Middlesex University

From a personal viewpoint, I became a “professional” when I did my MA in Writing at Middlesex University. I was already a writer. Doing the course did not make me a writer (I had been writing since I could write i.e. from the age of 8 or 9). But it turned my writing from a noun into a verb. Before there was such a thing as MA in Writing, I attended a writing group, the City Lit Writers’ Club in the late 1990s. Being “taught” creative writing was the best thing that ever happened to me as a writer. I am a very small person physically and socially, so I feel I need to be part of a big organisation. It gave me confidence that more than one person (i.e. myself) liked my work. I know that writing is like fine arts, a self-taught interest/hobby/profession/career but I still believe that I need to be self-taught in a group. Most recently, I attended the London Lit Lab’s weekend workshop (a story in a weekend). I am still working on that same story now, editing and perfecting it. However, I would not have written 3000 words in a day had not been for the workshop where I was being “taught” to start writing from scratch after a long period of not writing.

Any university course aims to give you skills or to improve your skills, even more so a Writing MA. Cry of the Flying Rhino was born at Middlesex. Yes! It’s actually a North Londoner! Without having attended the MA at Middlesex, I could not have written the book I wanted to write, nor been granted the opportunity to say what I wanted to say, free of constraints, fear, guilt, grammar, market desirability and proverbial voices over the shoulder, free of boundaries of race, language, culture. A book that experimented with patois, multiple voices, a book that is pure literature. A book that ultimately, after 12 years of dormancy on my hard drive, was submitted for an international literary prize and won. Now that I have written two books and am writing my third, I would not hesitate to say that I was “taught” something: that an MA in Writing is the most freedom you will ever get as a writer.

What about George Orwell?

What about him? He is one of my literary heroes. Perhaps what I liked about his honesty and his writing was what he “taught” me, which is not to aim for popularity but to say what you want to say but make it clear:

“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”

He began his career as a clumsy writer. At the age of 24 he moved into cheap lodgings in London, and was befriended by the distinguished poet Ruth Pitter. The two would go for long walks along the Embankment discussing his stories, or meet for dinner of a bottle of red plonk when she would give him unsparing criticism and therefore taught him to compose those stories even though the original gift for storytelling was in fact his own.

Plot

is formula, a template. The titular Leo Tolstoy once said all great literature is one of two stories. A man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.

Naturally this is sexist and I shall avert my eyes. Man is generic. It could be a child or woman or a living thing. Sexism aside, it is not so simple. If it were, then there would not be so many narratives available.

Carlo Gozzi, an Italian playwright of the 18th century said there were 36 plots. 2004’s bestselling Seven Basic Plots won approval of many writers. Oxford philosopher Roger Scruton called it “a brilliant summary of storytelling.”

Overcoming Monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return
Comedy
Tragedy
Rebirth
These are just nonsensical hashtags in my view. If there are only 7 then how come all the greatest books have all of the above?

Sex

Naturally I turned to this chapter first being someone who can’t, won’t and doesn’t write about sex. As it happens this is a very interesting chapter. It is not about erotica or pornography. “It’s nearly always best to avoid detailed descriptions or elaborate imagery” which is how one turns the writing about sex into erotica or pornography.

William F Buckley liked to recall a dinner with Vladimir Nabokov who told him that he was smiling because he polished off his OSS in that afternoon’s writing session.

What’s an OSS? asked Buckley.

Nabokov explained. Obligatory sex scene.

A depressing scenario is when writers put in a sex scene, badly-written because they hope it will boost sales, or win them popularity or whatever. Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris has a section for erotica and it is aptly called L’Enfer. Hell.

Shirley Conran, bonkbuster bestseller, subcontracts her erotic scenes to Celia Brayfield. Detachment from the characters is still a great way to get attached to them. The irony. Summary about writing about sex?

Writing about sex is a fine ambition but difficult to carry off successfully. Try, but be ready to junk the pages.

The Song of Songs, a long erotic poem, in the Old Testament has been described as the single most instructive example of how to write effectively about physical love. The second most successful love scene is John Donne’s “To His Mistress Going to Bed”:

Now off with those shoes: and then safely tread

In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed…

By this these Angles from an evil sprite,

Those set out hairs, but these our flesh upright.

Licence my roving hands, and let them go

Before, behind, between, above, below.

O, my America! My new-found-land,

My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d…

To enter in these bonds, is to be free;

Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.

Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee.

The advice in a nutshell is to use poetic licence. Language is still language. Do not describe body parts. Less is more. End of scene.

Endings

There is no need to recap or to sum up with a great statement of “wearisome” arguments already made. “When you have said what you want to say,

Stop.”

Thanks for reading this blog post! If you like South-east Asian and vintage arts and cultures, you will love my award-winning novel Cry of the Flying Rhino set in Malaysia and Borneo in the 1990s. It is dark, macabre and thrilling, it has received a handful of five-star reviews already. And of course, it is stylish like you and I.

 

The Sadomasochistic Art of Writing: you know what I’m talking about yes you do


When the thing is virtual, digital, electronic, unreal:
Through the years I must have received more than a hundred rejections or several hundred (if you count the electronic ones). Yet I seemed to have somehow ignored, shrugged off, be cheered by, be angered by, rejuvenated by, devastated by, thwarted by, enriched by, encouraged by, empowered by or simply unaffected by them. 

Many times I wanted to drag the document into the trashcan icon on my computer. No one stopped me and at any point I could have done this especially when I was drunk, pig-headed, feeling strong or all three, and I am often all three.

Writing is sadomasochistic because…

…nobody cares. Many times I said I should just GIVE UP. Even though Winston Churchill said never ever to do such a thing. Did I mention I am a true artist? I will probably cut off my ear soon. You don’t write because of self-belief. You can’t. No fiction writer truly believes fiction unless they are only five. I don’t believe anything. I have to write because otherwise drops of blood would appear on my desk. That’s why it is sadomasochistic.

Nobody likes it, nobody even reads this sh1t. Yet stuff I wrote did not end up in the trashcan icon. How easily one’s life’s work is dumped by computer. Friends have told me to keep this sh1t no matter what. 

When printed out, real, physical:
Now I am terrified. This is the first novel I wrote. I have a second one. They are both unpublished. But I have printed out just the first one. This is because I had to send it off for a competition. 

This thing that I wrote for so many years exists. It can even sit on a table or a floor and look at me. I really did spend sh1tload5 of time, years and years, forming words, forming sentences, making it, carving, whittling, planning, thinking, typing, reading, re-writing, cutting, adding, cutting, adding, and breathing it to life. This thing! This monster. It is real. It is 281 pages, can cause paper cuts, and has serious weight. It is 3D, it has thwack factor. (That means you can thwack someone with it and they will end up in A&E). It may even move me. That is what has changed today.

Apart from being laughed at in the print shop and having to carry out a conversation involving an elevator pitch to ‘so what’s it about? what’s it about?’ I had my three-word reply because I have rehearsed this so many times during my hundred or so rejections. Followed by: Sheep-faced, I even managed to read out the first page to a room full of printer guys. My first audience and interview. This is the audience feedback: ‘Hey you wrote a book. Man! She wrote a book guys! Hey guys! Everybody. She wrote a book. She. Wrote. A. Book’.

And here it is.


And that is why I carried on putting myself out there: for the sadomasochistic art of writing. And now wish me luck for this competition!

REVIEW: “For Now, I am…” @marc_brew Dance Theatre Show @Sadler_Wells 11 March 2016

Marc Brew For Now I am

Marc Brew in “For Now, I am…”

It was “dance, experimental, arty” and that I must come, said Nina the friend who was organising the girl’s night out evening for her birthday do. We were a party of eight. I have never been to experimental theatre before, let alone experimental dance, never been to Sadler Wells or Lilian Baylis Studio. How often does one get treated to theatre tickets in one’s lifetime? I think you can count the number of times in a hand. I could not say no to her. (Aside: no recording was allowed therefore I have no photos or audio clips to show of the night, much as I was itching to do a 15 second trailer. Being a neanderthal, I only just learnt to do this on my iPhone and I can’t stop making mini Instafilms now.)

Gist

I had deliberately not read the blurb or synopsis prior to watching “For Now, I am…”. I wanted to experience surprise, freshness and my own interpretation. I found Marc Brew‘s performance not only fresh and surprising, but revealing and poignant. It was his own personal story of becoming disabled and recovering. Marc was a professional dancer from NSW Australia and became paralysed after a car accident 19 years ago. This is his story about being reborn.

Music

was composed by Glaswegian Claire McCue and began with the tentative sequence of open minor 7th piano chords. I knew there was something tender and heart wrenching going on. (All musicians know this, not just me). This is what they do in arthouse European cinema. It is very evocative, timeless and effective. Enters the cello, and so the most baritone-voiced string element. When the music builds towards the finale with diminished 7th alternating and repetitive arpeggios, so does the tension. The melodic theme is so strong you could actually sing it. It would work ‘live’, if the piano player cum composer McCue and the cellist Andrew Huggan turned up and played it would not have looked or sounded wrong. I wish I could hear it again. It is indeed a beautiful piece of music.

Structure and storytelling

is traditional (not experimental!) in approach, and therefore had a beginning, middle and a twist.

SPOILER ALERT (avert eyes from now on to the end if you do not want to know)

Beginning:

When the story begins he faces away from the audience, calm, seemingly asleep, lying down. The view from the audience was that of his bald head. (My friend Tina joked to me that that must be what I view everyday since my own hubby’s head was as bald and shiny as Marc’s). The whole show is floor-based except in the final scene.

Middle:

The second movement was most difficult to take because the music was jarring, abrasive and plinky plonky (sorry I don’t know how to technically define it) Marc is in a cave with dripping water sounds echoing throughout. He appears to be convulsing, swatting or slapping insects and in a state of irritation and agitation. At this point I still did not know he was disabled because I did not read the blurb beforehand.

Twist:

I was totally taken by astonishment and amazement when he unveiled his legs towards the final scene, making them walk with his own hands, as we would to a doll. This well-built, young dancer had legs with no muscular definition, that he was indeed a disabled person, vulnerable yet brave because he has told the story so well. He brought us on his personal journey and brought us into his world. Now I understood the first and second movement. It all made sense.

In the denouement, my own view was that it was the visual opposite of the crucifixion. Marc was upside down and being strung up like a hunk of meat by his own paralysed legs. At the same time, the eyeline of the character had been raised for the first time, like a curtain being raised, and raised to well above the eyeline of the audience. He was seeing the world upside down now. At the same time, his expression was that of resignation.

Costume

Was low-tech, simple and minimalist, an elasticated waistband around a Jesus-type loincloth pants, and chunky foot bandages.

Props

Again simple and minimalist, almost clinical and religious in what it represented. A very enormous sheet of white Kabuki silk. A theatrical hook and guylines at the end.

Video projection and lighting

The opening scene begins with video projection of window panes onto the sheet of white silk and a light that strikes the window pane and moves down in a strobing effect, as we see when we are in a car at night, or when search lights cover a harbour. The sheet then becomes a calm sea, the sea that is brought to life later and becomes stormy when Marc apparently wakes up from his state of unrest or coma. The third scene has snow-like projections but instead of coming down, they are going up, thereby in keeping with the fact that he is in fact upside down.

Dialogue

was chaired by Alistair Spalding (Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Sadler Wells). They talked about Marc’s CV to date, what he is working on and what he would be working on. Marc discussed the themes that inspired him, such as that of water. Marc did swear on stage at one point, when talking about having performed this solo before and the audience went silent, he said he was thinking “Oh 5h1t they don’t like this”. I think that’s the nice thing about Aussies, they don’t mince words, they say it like it is and they are straight-talking. I thought he seemed like a nice guy, just a regular person. I was educated, and lived in and worked in Sydney, Australia for 8 years so I should know. I just love the country, the wine, the people and of course the climate.

Question and Answer Session

I asked Marc what he missed about Sydney and Melbourne and how often he went back home. I was first to ask a question. Alistair liked my question very much :-D. Marc said he missed the sunshine and family. He has just been back to Australia and he aims to go back home once a year as he has been in Glasgow for more than ten years.

Someone asked what I thought was a dumbed down question. She asked if Marc “worked out” as he looked “fit”. Oi, this is a dancer, Mrs. They all work out and look fit. It is actually a bit insulting because what she is really saying is: ‘you are disabled but you look fit’.  You gotta look at it for real: this is a dancer, don’t even think of the disability. He is a total professional.

Someone said he found the performance “uncomfortable” and that he felt “grumpy” and this is “not a criticism”. The man has missed the point. Which is:

“The purpose of art is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

Marc has done just that. He is not baring his soul and his body in order to entertain and thrill, this is not the Lion King, this is a story of one man’s journey into discovering the unknown and to find himself again. And just one man’s story consisted of 14 names on the credit list to make this story happen and bring it to the masses.

Someone else said she found the performance vulnerable and she could empathise how lonely it must have been for Marc. I can totally agree with that.

I wanted to ask Marc what he likes to do and where does he like to go when in London, but there wasn’t time.

Conclusion

“For Now, I am…” is a most thoughtful, moving performance by Marc and I didn’t think it was uncomfortable at all. I thought it was very positive and heartwarming and of course, a thing of beauty. A lovely memorable evening out with the girls which I will cherish always. Thanks, Nina for your kindness and generosity, without which I would not have found myself in Sadlers Wells, Islington, last night. The three dots after “I am” is actually a clue as to the denouement of the show, one that provokes a central wisdom. He is what he is, and he plainly reveals it. I dance too but I am bloody useless. I can’t even control the limbs I have let alone the limbs I don’t have. Enough said. I would never complain about going en pointe with chilblains in the middle of February again. Or walking an entire block in heels in the rain. Marc is gifted, proud, a natural leader and achiever and has gained much, much more in the last twenty years than us able-bodied in a lifetime.

 

 

All views and thoughts are mine.

REVIEW: @SkyArts – Cautionary tale of Giles Coren “My Failed Novel”

butchered

Butchered:

How can a novel written by The Times journalist-celebrity-critic flop?

This is the question. And it is answered very well in this TV programme on Sky Arts, Mon 29 February 2016: Giles Coren: My Failed Novel. Every writer, published, unpublished, successful, unsuccessful, commercial, literary – should watch it. It has all the answers. It is packed to the eyeballs with information and advice. And they are all shown, not told.

Giles Coren

had his dream come true too easily. Then it became a nightmare. He was taunted by bad reviews and poor sales. Every writer dreams of writing a novel, a first novel at that, and being published. What happens when the crit comes ten years too late?

Giles comes across very well – honest, modest and humble. I have always loved his restaurant reviews, especially those of Chinese food as I enjoy discovering what he knows and does not know. In My Failed Novel, he bares his soul, shared and gave away vital statistics,  the facts and figures that plague all writers and readers – can you make money writing? There are interviews with the top editors of top publishing houses, bestselling authors both literary and commercial fiction such as Jeffrey Archer, Rachel Johnson (despite being the mayor’s sister, cannot afford to buy hamburgers at her own book launch which costs £3,000 in drinks), Rose Tremain, Hanif Kureishi, David Mitchell, William Nicholson.

Giles also had his first 5,000 words crit by the students at UEA. He even assumed he could simply just do the course to improve his writing until a student pointed out – you have to get on it first! Through much difficulty and competition, I got through to the interview stage in 2004/05 for the Creative Writing MA, but I did not get offered a place. Therefore I have always remembered I have no right to anything. Writing is disappointment in every way possible. I am like any normal person, girl next door, man on the street. Nothing falls into or onto my lap of existence. Nothing in the arts can be taken for granted. There is no given, no polemic, no history. I only know hard work.

The facts and figures

were clear. His failed novel is called Winkler and has been described by the critic Stephen Bayley as “ocean-going, lavatorial awfulness”. How about that for a three-word pitch?

Sold: 771 in hardback, 1400 in paperback. (To be successful you have to sell at least four figures in HB says Howard Jacobson. Or 27 million says Jeffrey Archer for PB copies.)

Agent: Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown

Advance: £30,000

Book launch: none (From £30,000 advance surely there was spare change for a book launch? Couldn’t someone from his restaurant connections do him a two hundred pound deal? This bit was not expounded upon, so I don’t know what the answer is)

The publishers let him down

The agents and publishers took a gamble and took him for granted (see above, first para, nothing in the arts can be taken for granted). Yet this is not some anonymous aircon mechanic from Leicester. This is Giles Coren. This is someone who had top private education all his life, “everything served up on a plate” in his own words, someone who went to Oxford to read English. This is not just anybody. He is very well-connected. I have no connections yesterday, today or tomorrow. Even if I was cleaning the Queen’s loo I would still have ZERO connections. But the publishers did something wrong. They allowed the book to come out with only two drafts. They did not invest enough into Giles. They did not make him work hard for another two years writing and re-writing, which is basically the life of writing. They thought that the name already was the investment.

Lifestyle of Jeffrey Archer

In his gilt mansion, Jeffrey Archer explains that it’s routine, routine, routine. He works from 6 to 8am, 10-12, 2-4pm, 6-8pm. (Presumably he has servants to get his dinner ready, fix the leaky radiator, boiler, gutter and whatever else is leaky, clean the whole mansion daily and to wash and iron his clothes so he is fully able to write during those times undisturbed.) He does 14 drafts before it is ready for his editor’s eyes.

The interview with Rose Tremain

To be a writer, you need three things, discipline and imagination being two of them, I cannot remember the third. But she says that you can be taught to write better. By being an editor to her students at University of East Anglia, she is actually their editor.

The interview with William Nicholson

I found most poignant and moving. There is something visceral about writing, he said.  You can only do this with maturity. He published his first book when he was in his fifties. He is now 67 and only now he is getting there, getting to the peak of his writing. I think this applies to literary fiction. Therefore there is still plenty of time for Giles. He can still aim to write a bestseller when he is 55. There is something trite and untrue when writers write with pomp and conviction when they have not experienced life, not life in bars and clubs, but the life of profound emotions (to use the eternal cliche, the human condition). Young writers can only imagine true, deep emotions and the reality of existence. They simply cannot practise what they preach. This is why many young writers write fan fiction of the paranormal, fantasy and horror ilk. I also have read somewhere that writing is an old person’s profession.

In summary:

All the writers said the same thing. Discipline, hard work, acceptance of failure, just write a damned good book, books sell by word-of-mouth, win a prize. Ben Okri said that winning a prize increases a book’s sales from 1,000 to 50,000 overnight. If you don’t like failure, you should give up and try something else, said William Nicholson.

What happened in the last ten years

A lot, said Coren. Firstly, although it wasn’t mentioned, it was shown – children. Secondly, social media. In fairness, out of the two things that happened, children take up far more time than social media. If we didn’t have social media we would be better parents. If we didn’t have children we would not even need social media. It takes care of social life for those who do not have social life anymore. Giles has 183,000 Twitter followers. If conversion rate is 1%, he could be selling 1830 copies. So 23% more sales in PB if he had written the book now. But this is just if, if, if.

Bad Sex Award

The camera shows him playing with his children in his perfectly manicured garden in North London, very near the broken stone foot covered in moss that he received for his Bad Sex Award – it even had sandals on, like some part of a Greek god. ( I did not know there was such a thing as Bad Sex Award, I thought it was a joke, an Eng Lit myth. If there was indeed such an award, wouldn’t EL James’ garden be totally littered with these trip hazards of stone amputated feet complete with gladiator sandals? Therefore there can’t be such a thing.)

183,000 followers

Winkler was written in 2005 and there was no social media, even more so that the book has to sell itself. Nowadays I see that you can sell any rubbish, not just books, if you tweeted like a robot and have followers in the millions. Even if it is only for a short time. As long as you can follow up with a box set. So if this is his dream, then he must not give up. Giles needs to follow up the TV programme with a novel! That’s a novel idea, The 183,000 followers won’t be disappointed.

Conclusion

was positive. Be mature. Write a great book. Readers will know if it’s great, they will love it and they will come. Since you will not know if they will love it and they will come, you need to write for yourself, for love, without pity, without shame, but with humility, sheer determination, hard work and the constant quest for perfection.

No hashtag will ever help to sell it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/98327290@N02/16694864302″>The butcher story</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>