Potted Reviews: The Rapist by Les Edgerton, Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr, Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler, and Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden

It’s been a while since I posted any reviews. I’m still avoiding most social media, but I thought that my recent reading has included some strong books that deserve exposure to a much wider audience (although Philip Kerr doesn’t need help on that front). And I’m also trying to get back into reviewing again. 2015 was patchy on the reviews front – some of my year end list didn’t have full blog reviews.

So without further ado…

The Rapist by Les Edgerton
The story of Truman Pinter, and how he came to be in prison, is told in his own flowery words on the last night of his life. He is on death row for the rape and murder of a barmaid. Well, he happily admits to the rape, but he denies the murder charge, because she was an intellectually inferior specimen in his eyes and made the mistake of annoying him. Pinter is clearly intelligent, but he’s also insane. He is self-aggrandizing, intolerant of others, and highly unsympathetic and unreliable as a narrator. His unreliability is as much of a surprise to him as it is to the reader. He suppresses and compresses information not because he wants to but because he has internalised so much rage. He reads like a more flowery version of the already locquacious Humbert Humbert.

Les Edgerton’s superb The Bitch was one of my favourite reads of 2014 but The Rapist is as far from that tale as it is possible to get. Whereas The Bitch was tight and mean and made short work of its complex noir narrative, this tale’s prose style is flowery (intentionally so) and nasty. It’s different and difficult. The subject matter alone is going to divide readers, but Edgerton’s execution is what elevates something that could have been voyeuristic or downright dull in the wrong hands. It’s not crime fiction or noir, it’s more like The Belly of the Beast as recounted by Nietzsche. The ending is likely to be as divisive as the subject matter and open to all manner of interpretations. It’s a very strong piece of work. Original and brave. And recommended for those with a strong stomach and an open mind.

Berlin Noir: March Violets / The Pale Criminal / A German Requiem by Philip Kerr
Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels cannily apply the Raymond Chandler model to Germany just before, during and just after the second world war. Gunther, like Philip Marlowe, is a shop-soiled Sir Galahad – displaying decency in the face of corruption and evil. And like the great LA detective he’s just as quick with a one-liner.

The research and detail of these novels is terrific, weaving Gunther seamlessly into historical events and into the orbits of several major Nazi operators. The stories drip with period detail and atmosphere and they are well plotted and the characters are superb. Kerr knows how to push a narrative along and keep the reader interested. And most of the time the writing strikes an excellent balance between storytelling verve and descriptive excellence. However, occasionally Kerr likes to lavish the page with unnecessary metaphors and similes. Sometimes they are right on the money, but other times they jarred me out of the story. Also, the quality of some of the metaphors were wanting in comparison with Chandler. Otherwise this is a superb, highly recommended collection of crime fiction.

Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler
Scorch Atlas is an interesting though not always successful collection of apocalyptic tales and vignettes. Butler’s writing often ascends to some wonderful heights, though sometimes it reads like little more than a shopping list of pestilence and destruction. The best stories (Television Milk and The Ruined Child come to mind) knit superb prose and a distinctive vision of hell on earth. They also display a fear of family and people in general. The problem with the apocalypse is that it gets a little repetitive after a while. The stories often segue into each other – drowned worlds, horrific diseases and deformities, nature rebelling against man and beast – and the lack of memorable characters doesn’t help with differentiating things. If Butler had paid as much attention to character as he did to the rhythm of his prose this collection would be an ouright winner. But he didn’t and it isn’t – decent, though with moments of brilliance

Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden
I wanted to read this before I made a start on the Netflix series Narcos. Basically, I wanted to know the truth (or as close as anybody can get without being there) of the story before watching a more dramatised version of it.

To be honest, it’s a tale that doesn’t need to be exaggerated or sexed up. The story of Pablo Escobar, and the men (both Colombian and American) who lined up to stop him, is so utterly wild that if an author tried to present it as fiction nobody would believe it. Escobar earned billions (back in the days when this was still a relatively difficult thing to achieve), pretty much owned and modernised the city of Medellin, and organised a reign of terror across Colombia. He tried to run for public office in the early days of his empire. He was responsible for the deaths of police, armed forces, government officials, presidential candidates. He was even considered the mastermind behind an airplane bombing and bombs in public places. Like I said, life is often stranger and wilder than fiction.

Even the attempts to bring him down were the stuff of fiction. Endemic corruption in Colombian society meant that Pablo’s snitches were embedded deeply within government, the military, and the police. He was able to evade capture for years (and later escape from ‘prison’) thanks to high levels of corruption. The few people who couldn’t be corrupted were either targeted by Pablo’s sicarios or slated by a press and public that didn’t know what to believe. Even the American operation was mired with infighting by the small, tightly operated, and brilliant Centra Spike intelligence unit and the bloated and highly expensive CIA operation. Centra Spike won the battle to chase Escobar, but it cost them in the long run.

It’s a story that benefits from Bowden’s impartial and considered approach. He doesn’t sensationalise or sex things up, probably because he knows that the facts speak for themselves, and his storytelling skills are strong. He keeps the prose in the background and never shows off, which throws the astonishing events into sharp relief. This is an excellent bit of non-fiction that reads as compellingly and quickly as some of the finest crime fiction. Highly recommended.

Social media hiatus

I’ve been getting angry recently. Angrier than usual, I should add. Most of this is borne out of frustration. A Funny Thing Happened is still moving very slowly, to the point where I’ve considered abandoning it on a couple of occasions, and the important tasks I’d set myself for the first month of the year haven’t even been started. I’ve been procrastinating a lot. Or my own personal favorite: I’ve been juggling so many tasks that I become paralysed and let them all drop uncompleted. This has made me both sadder and angrier.

Then I visit Facebook (the procrastinator’s friend) and get swamped by a tsunami of bad news, murder, racism, clickbait, and this makes me angrier and I feel the need to vent my spleen. Happy posts seem to be few and far between these days. The case is very similar on Twitter.

I’m tired of reading about jihadists murdering anybody who stands in the way of their doctrines and dogma, watching Donald Trump channel Adolf Hitler in his candidacy run, and observing a Conservative government that despises everyone and everything but Big Money and Corporate concerns, and shaking my head at mankind’s blinkered stupidity regarding the state of the environment.  It makes me sad, depressed and perpetually enraged.

And tired. Very, very tired.

All this anger is exhausting. It is gradually consuming all my positivity and drive, and it is burning me out.

So I’m dropping off the radar for a while, at least until I whittle down my ever-increasing to-do-list. I’ve deleted Facebook off my phone and my iPad and will hide my account either later today or tomorrow (assuming you can still do that). I’ve deleted Twitter off my phone and iPad, too. I’ll also log out of my accounts on my computer shortly and not visit them for quite some time. I’ve also deleted a lot of my news apps. Right now, I don’t want to know about the world.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I want to conserve my energy and positivity for my home life, my writing and my graphic design work (i.e. how I earn my living). The background can remain in shallow focus for a while. I’ll know it’s there, but it won’t bother me because it’ll be nothing more than heavy bokeh.

At the very least I’ll be off the grid for a month, but I suspect it will be a bit longer than that. Until I’ve got a workable second draft of A Funny Thing… ready for editing, and until I’ve got several other tasks out of the way, I want to maintain my focus. Staying off social media for a while is a good way of achieving that.

Those who want to get in contact have my email or my mobile number. As for those who don’t: So long, I shall see you all in a while (virtually speaking).

2016: No Resolutions, just a resolve to push forward

2015 was the year I finally finished and published The Glasgow Grin. The process was more difficult than I’d anticipated, which meant that I barely wrote another word for a good couple of months. To be honest, I felt written out. If I’d tried to write a sentence as simple as The cat sat on the mat during this period I would have fucked it up. Instead, I sat back and studied my initial sales in the hope that GG would make a decent start to its life.

I’d set myself a sales target of 1,000 books in total for 2015, hoping that The Glasgow Grin would make up the largest percentage. This would be a decent increase on 2014, and would mean more readers and a bigger audience for the next one. During my two-month period of inactivity The Glasgow Grin quickly gained sales momentum and became my biggest seller.

Then it kept on selling…

It was the first of my books to break the 200 sales in a month barrier, then it was the first to break 500 in a month, then it sold enough to propel my combined sales through the 1,000 in a month threshold. And then it repeated the feat in the following month. It also managed to break into the UK Top 1,000, albeit briefly. In short, it was the (not so) little book that could.

Sales of The Glasgow Grin hit 3,400 this year and all my other books took the total just over 6,000.

Not bad for somebody who just wanted to crack the thousand mark.

I’m not going to try and break the 6,000 barrier in 2016. Instead, I’m going to try and maintain and build on my current audience. To do this I intend to finish and publish A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Billingham Forum in the first quarter of 2016. This is actually set earlier than The Glasgow Grin (In fact, it occurs after the events of The Curious Case). Not because it was intended as a prequel, but because I started a lot of novels and ideas at the same time – they just happened to finish in an utterly random order. A Funny Thing just happens to have taken far more time than everything else.

After all, I want to make sure it’s a good read.

After this, I’ve got a novella called Sexy Lexy, started simultaneously with A Funny Thing and set during the same time period. It might make it into 2016.

Then I’m sending the boys on holiday, and I’m writing something different for a while: The Amsterdamned is the most obvious candidate, though I have an idea for a psychological thriller that should come together quite quickly (famous last words).

I also intend to build a more specific author website for myself, with an email subscribers’ list to keep interested readers up-to-date with the latest news, and merge this blog and reviews into that.

Adios for now!

My Top Reads of 2015

2015 has been a good year in some respects, though less so in others. However, what it has marked has been a considerable improvement in both my book sales and my experience as a writer. It’s also the first year that I’m following up a novel that has had a fair degree of success (for me, at least), The Glasgow Grin, with sales in the thousands.

This means that I’ve got to up my game in 2016.

Most of this year has involved a redraft of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Billingham Forum (the next Stanton tale), to ensure that it is as good as possible. Sadly, this takes time. It’s been in gestation for over three years – an incredibly long time for a 75,000 word novel that reads like an Elmore Leonard tale being screamed from the gallows by a maniacally cackling psychopath.

Which is quite a long-winded way of saying that I haven’t read as many books as I would have liked this year. Writing got in the way. But the stuff I did read was mostly excellent, and choosing my final five was very difficult. The ones that made it on the list resonated with me more deeply for some reason (a piece of description, an ending, a plot twist or revelation, or just a lingering image or attitude). But everything on this list (including the notables) is well worth your time.

This list isn’t in any particular order:

1) Angels of the North by Ray Banks
This is stone cold brilliance from Brit Grit’s premier exponent. It reads with the propulsive force of a kitchen-sink James Ellroy, yet handles its relationships with far more sensitivity than the great American author can manage. It targets both Thatcher’s legacy and by implication the social experiment currently being conducted on Britain’s poor by David Cameron – yet not in a way that shout its politics overtly. When the dust settles, this is a novel about people, outsiders in one way or another, who don’t quite fit the system no matter how hard they try. Glorious stuff. And I can’t wait to read what Banks comes up with next.

2) The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
Like Angels this has a tinge of Ellroy about it; but whereas Banks’ masterwork borrows the three character structure and the sense of historical significance from Ellroy, Winslow’s novel has the epic scope and dense structure of American Tabloid and the terse, laconic sentences that punctuate Ellroy’s best work. Yet it is entirely its own beast. Powerful, superbly plotted, characterised by a huge cast all with their own foibles and failings, and a story that has  the gravitational pull of a black hole. Despite the length, no matter how squalid things get, you find yourself coming back for more of this tale set during the defining years of America’s war on drugs. Brilliant.

3) After Hours by Edwin Torres
This brilliant novel was the basis for the Brian De Palma/Al Pacino classic Carlito’s Way. The novel is a bit more complex and better plotted than the film, which cuts out much of Dave Kleinfeld’s story in favour of focusing on Pacino. The first-person narrative voice of Carlito Brigante is superbly realised and, you can almost imagine Pacino speaking the lines, which makes things even better, it meshes well with the third-person sections that feature the Kleinfelds and other major characters. Although it follows a similar arc to the film, there are enough changes to keep the novel from feeling stale when compared with the movie (and vice-versa). If you can get hold of it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

4) Black Gum by J. David Osborne
Black Gum is one of those novels (like Angels, and Power) that has stayed with me long after finishing it. With pared-back Carver-esque clarity, it gets on with telling a story that never postures or strikes a false pose. The moments of weirdness that punctuated Osborne’s Low Down Death Right Easy are weaved into the text more coherently here (Shane’s body modification, Juggalo parties, the narrator’s strange trip at the end). And it feels all the better for it. Also, the few moments of criminal action or violence contained in the story have the blink-and-you’ll miss them qualities of real life – its all about the aftermath. Danny Ames (one of the main characters in Low Down) gets a fleeting cameo here. And what I liked about Ames’ moment was that his actions are all about implied violence (his threat is known, and understood, and the main characters react accordingly). This is quality, character-based fiction with criminality and a vein of glittering weirdness weaved through it. Highly recommended.

5) Zulu by Caryl Férey
This book was one of those moments when I decided to take a risk and get something by an author I’d never heard based on nothing but the back cover blurb that pitched the narrative as somewhere between ultra-violent noir and John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener. It concerns murder, designer drugs, white power/apartheid conspiracies, and the general corruption of a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world. It’s a very violent, fast-moving tale with more twists than fusilli, is superbly plotted, and is gripping from first page to last. Highly recommended.

Other highly notable reads:
The Guns of Brixton by Paul Brazill, The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow, Ben Turner is a Dead Man by Ryan Bracha, Amsterdam Rampant by Neil Cocker and Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal. All of these are top-notch reads that are well worth your time.

Disappointment of the year:
Perfidia by James Ellroy
I could go into minute detail about what doesn’t work in this book (the first quarter is an interminable slog, Dudley Smith should always be a supporting character, Kay Lake’s diary reads exactly like it was written by James Ellroy), but I won’t. I’ll simply add that I had expectations for it that weren’t met (which is my problem, not the author’s), but also many of Ellroy’s flaws seemed to be magnified by the expansive scale of the novel. It isn’t a bad book, but it’s not a good one, either.

White Noise

* Not so long ago I stopped reading writing advice from other writers. Is that because I’m brilliant at it? Hardly.

* Every day I wish I was a better writer. Every day I look at what I’ve written and see a better way to do it: a more concise sentence; a means to describe an action or person in punchier, less prolix prose; how to establish character in stronger terms and faster. Often, in the middle of the writing process, I look at my outpourings and tell myself I’m a cunt. I come close to jacking it all in. Somehow I don’t (I’m still trying to understand that one). So, if I’m that uncertain why shun all the advice? Doesn’t it help?

* Sometimes. Here and there. Up to a point.

* Beyond that point it becomes white noise, conflicting with other white noise, often cancelling itself out. Another term for white noise is interference.

* One writer tells you to cut down on adverbs, another to excise them completely. One writer tells you to write in short declarative sentences, another says mix and match syntax – long on top of short and vice versa. One writer tells you to write to the market, another states follow your own path. One writer tells you exactly how to write a particular genre, while another adds with utmost sincerity that genre isn’t important. One writer suggests eliminating back story and states action is character while another suggests drip feeding back story to readers. Somebody intones that plotting is key, another states making it up as you go along is better, and yet another author suggests a mix of the two. Is third person or first person the best way of telling a story? These writers think they’re helping you. And some of you might agree. However, it’s just as likely they aren’t helping. They’re hindering.

* Writers are often narcissists. Hell, why do you think we write? To leave a little something behind – however small – that states I was here. We like to entertain with made up stories or change the world with reportage. We sometimes congratulate ourselves for doing both. So when it comes to advice the same rules apply. Writers like to pontificate that their way is the right way, though they dress it up in a little humility. If a writer is offering advice it’s because they want you to do as they do, even though they always preface it with this is just my opinion, so go your own way. They don’t mean that. How do I know this? I’m a narcissist, too. Although I’m lacking in just enough self-belief to know I’m not that good at what I do and my advice is bullshit. You don’t need it. So I don’t offer.

* If I did offer, it would be more white noise. Interference won’t help you write.

* As stated in a previous post, A Funny Thing Happened… has had a protracted and torturous development. Three and a half years of call and response, ebb and flow. I wrote myself into a corner not so long ago, when turning it from novella to novel. I considered abandoning the project, telling myself it was an earlier Stanton project and to concentrate on the Glasgow Grin follow-up.

* Then I came up with my own little piece of genius advice: go to the all-seeing Internet and see what She has to say. She offered writer advice. Lots of it. Conflicting and often unpleasant. Some ‘advisors’ start with the notion that your manuscript is shit right from the off. Prompted by what I learned, I noticed mistakes in the manuscript that weren’t actually there – they were in my head, not on the page. I started applying advice that I had no business following – fucking things up as a result. After a few days, I didn’t just want to abandon my novel I wanted to abandon myself under the wheels of the Greenwich to London Bridge train. I told you my advice is bullshit!

* Then I revisited these blogs and websites and saw contradictions everywhere – often in the same blogs. Writer states an opinion with clarity one week then contradicts their own fucking advice a few weeks later. Then I remembered something an ex-boss once said:

Opinions are like arseholes. Everybody’s got one. And like arseholes, most of what comes out is shit.

I loved that guy…

* After that I felt much better. I discarded the advice and got on with the task of revising, pruning and expanding following my own instincts. I wrote my way out of the corner I was in, solved some other structural problems, and I did it all on my own. Now I know what I must do to make my writing better. And not heeding a stranger’s advice is a good fucking start.

* Basically, what works for them didn’t work for me. In fact, they made things worse.  Heartache and fucking misery.

* I trimmed a truckload of writers from my Twitter feed, particularly the persistent spammers and those offering unwanted literary ‘advice’. Fuck ’em.

* There is good advice out there. Often writing advice that concerns other aspects of the business; and this is a business, even if your intentions for writing aren’t motivated by financial results. (And if you’re writing purely for money you’re probably in trouble anyway, because not many writers hit the BIG payout.) This by J. David Osborne is something I’ve seen over the last few days that I rather like, and David Gaughran has a wealth of advice about the mechanics of self-publishing on his blog, which is all good, but take most writers’ advice with a pinch of salt. Just because some writer or editor doesn’t want to read another manuscript ever again with lots adverbs or troubling changes of tense – so what? That is on them, not you. If you like adverbs – use ’em. If you have trouble with tenses – so what? Do what you want. Those writers and editors won’t ever see your manuscript, anyway. Chances are they wouldn’t be interested in it even if it was genius.

* At the end of the day the only thing that matters is that you’re happy with what you’re doing. And that’s it, really.

* Rant over.

Some more random musings on the self-published and indie scene

* Music and film have both had Indie scenes without the sky falling in or society falling apart, and both have ultimately changed their artforms for the better. Punk ploughed into the dormant disco scene and a prog-rock and metal scene that had grown smug and almost unbearably macho. People with just enough music knowledge to form a few chords and chord progressions kicked the music scene into submission. Magazines and sub-cultures sprang up around the music of the late-Seventies. Then it happened again in the late-Eighties and early-Nineties. Factory Records, Madchester, Rave culture (and in the US – Rap and Grunge) all came from independent sensibilities. Yes, they had their opponents (especially Rap, because it gave black culture a mass-market vocalising of anger that it didn’t previously have), but time and cultural upheaval have shown these musical and cultural movements to be hugely valid artistically. Spotify and other streaming services have pretty much democratised music making in the modern age. Anybody with a modicum of musical knowledge and a laptop or iPad can produce chart-topping work (streaming charts, at least), particularly with some clever social media networking and marketing.

* Then there is cinema. Film-makers have written, produced and directed films themselves for years without studios saying: “Who the fuck are these people? And how dare they step on our toes.” Well, maybe they did, but they had the decency not to voice it out loud. Stephen Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, John Cassavetes, Kevin Smith, to name but a few, have all come from independent backgrounds. Hell, Scorsese and Brian De Palma worked for Roger Corman (who for a long time was pretty much the King of the Indies). And with high-speed broadband VOD has made it much easier for fledgling film-makers to get their work out there.

* Okay, so what the fuck has that got to do with self-publishers? I hear you ask (in my mind at least). Well, since you’re throwing the question out there, I’ll bite…

* Self-publishers and Indie Publishers work within the same spirit of upheaval as the indies working in film and music, but there’s a complete lack of respect from the publishers, agents and the mainstream media. How many newspapers review Indie or self-pubbed work? How many agents or publishers take any notice of Indie or self-pubbed writers until they have shifted enough units on Amazon or Barnes & Noble? How much mockery do self-published authors get from those in publishing and the mainstream media? There’s this notion that what self-published authors put out is simply the infamous ‘slush pile’ – basically, all the shite that publishing houses deem unsuitable for the general public. Some of the work is rubbish, but there are plenty of novels and novellas that aren’t slush but are rejected anyway.

* Novellas tend to be rejected unread, especially if they are from unknown writers, because the length doesn’t suit a publisher’s bottom line. Also, anything that can’t be easily pigeonholed tends to be rejected, because publishing is a business and marketing people are essentially lazy. Marketeers like dealing with demographics and boiling down humanity into groups. They prefer not to think about the folks that fall between the cracks, because it involves hard work on their part and, as stated above, they don’t like hard work, but they really should: it’s one of the reasons why Big Publishing seems to be behind the trend in the eBook age.

* Sergio de la Pava’s A Naked Singularity was self-published, Andy Weir’s The Martian was self-published, Hugh Howey’s mega-selling Wool trilogy is self-published. EL James’ 50 Shades books are Indie, but they started as a self-published experiment with transposing Twilight’s Bella and Edward into erotic fiction. Big Publishing wouldn’t have touched her with a fucking bargepole. And yes, based on what I’ve read, her work isn’t very good, but on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis it’s not much worse than Dan Brown who is touted by Big Publishing. Rachel Abbott’s huge sales are from self-publishing – big enough that she doesn’t need to sign her career away to Big Publishing. These writers are just a few of the many self-publishing success stories. There are plenty of others out there who write excellent work on a regular basis that doesn’t sell in these kinds of numbers but have enough of a following to get by financially or to at least supplement their regular incomes. They don’t get many/any column inches in the regular press. This is a real shame because a lot of superb work is being missed.

* The Indie and self-published scene is awash with fine writers (and some brilliant ones, too), but the publishing world feels their work is too dark or too raw for mainstream publication. That’s not the fault of the writers – because that’s where their muse takes them – that one is on the publishing houses. Again, marketing. The publishing world is about money, not art, and don’t let anybody ever tell you otherwise. They’re not protecting you from terrible fiction, they’re protecting their profit margins. Bottom line, baby! If they truly want to protect readers from dreadful meaningless books then why are they releasing Zoella’s or Katie Price’s ghostwritten novels? Why do they shovel poor quality celebrity memoirs down reader’s throats? Why did they publish Morrissey’s turd List of the Lost? Hell, why did they publish his memoir as a Penguin Classic? Money, that’s why. The next time one of these publishers or agents trots out the old ‘We’re gatekeepers protecting readers from badly written books’ trope then please feel free to call them out as the cunts they are.

* I’ll take this one step further: I’ve read some seriously good fiction this year, with quite a few candidates for my top ten/top five year-end list. Some of the candidates are Ryan Bracha’s Ben Turner is a Dead Man, J David Osborne’s Black Gum, Tiffany Scandal’s Jigsaw Youth, Paul Brazill’s Guns of Brixton, Ray Banks’ awesome Angels of the North, Les Edgerton’s The Rapist. They are all Indie published or, in Ryan’s case, self-published. Yes, I’ve also got some traditionally published authors vying for a place on that list; but the fact that these authors can mix it up with the likes of Caryl Ferey, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Don Winslow and James Crumley in my list is a testament to just how strong the Indie scene is. Good writing is good writing regardless of how it is produced and what genre it occupies. Authors of psycho-noir, neo-noir, transgressive/bizarro and gritty crime fiction in all their weird glory are producing works of astonishing imagination, ferocity and quality. Authors like those named above and the likes of Jon Bassoff, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Stephen Graham Jones, Jedidiah Ayres, Anthony Neil Smith, Ian Ayris, Keith Nixon, Gerard Brennan, can all stand tall against Big Publishing and its authors.

* Another thing I’ve noticed in the press recently is the mainstream media crowing about the fall in folks reading ebooks and paperback sales rising. And stories about Waterstones removing Kindles from their stores because of poor sales. However, in typical mainstream media style this is only part of the story. They seem to ignore the fact that e-book pricing of many Big Publishing novels are so high that readers find it easier and more convenient to simply buy the hardback or paperback. The Media ignore Indie e-book originals and self-publishing because they don’t fit the narrative they are trying to sell. And the Waterstones story also makes little sense under scrutiny. When I go to Waterstones it isn’t with the intention of buying a fucking Kindle; I go for paperbacks. Why would anybody go to Waterstones for a Kindle? You buy it from Amazon, usually at a discount, and then browse for books online. Waterstones’ decision, and subsequent failure, to sell Kindles says much more about them than it does about the Kindle.

* I love my Kindle, I use my Kindle regularly, it gives me access to fiction that wouldn’t otherwise be easily available. But when I don’t have access to my Kindle I use my smartphone. Plenty of people who don’t have a Kindle read on their phones or on high pixel-density tablet screens. That probably also contributes to poor Kindle sales anywhere other than Amazon. Just a thought.

Some random stuff I’ve gleaned doing this self-publishing malarkey

* It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new on this blog. I’ve been busy, but also, paradoxically, I’ve been lazy.

* If somebody had told me when I published The Gamblers properly in 2011 that four and a half years later I would have written, revised, edited and published another six books I would have laughed. Somehow I’ve managed just that with an eighth book on the way.

* This year I’ve sold thousands instead of hundreds of books. Don’t ask me why, because I’ve no idea. However, books with the word Glasgow in the title seem to do rather well. Maybe I should relocate the Stanton brothers from Middlesbrough to Scotland?

* The Glasgow Grin has shifted well over 3,000 copies (not a single one of them free) in its first year of release. Again, I have no idea why: I’m rubbish at marketing.

* However, this puts more pressure on the next novel to sell a decent number of copies. If A Funny Thing Happened… fails to sell at least a 1,000 copies in its first twelve months, this will lead me to believe The Glasgow Grin was a fluke. I’ll also be very disappointed.

* It’s funny how shifting a decent amount of books in a year changes one’s perspective: 2015 was the year I hoped to break the thousand sales barrier for combined book sales. In fact, I managed to sell more than 1,000 books in a month on two separate occasions in 2015. That I now expect A Funny Thing Happened… to sell at least 1,000 copies in its first year shows how drastically my perspective has been altered.

* I think that’s because I want to be a full-time writer and earn my living from it. To do that means I’m going to need to get a better grasp of this marketing malarkey. Random and scattershot no longer cuts it. I also need to learn how to write faster: especially if it becomes my main career.

* My current pace of writing is far too slow. I thought the revision of A Funny Thing Happened would be done by the end of September. We’re now into November. This one isn’t going to land until early 2016, I’m sad to say.

* A Funny Thing Happened has had – by a large margin – the most protracted gestation period of any of my novels. It started life as a short early in 2012, but then I realised it was too dense and needed to be at least a 25,000 word novella. However, once it became a novella I realised that – although it was a decent tale – it needed to expand. As the characters fleshed out and their motivations became crystal clear, I knew what it really wanted to be all along was a novel. By the time I’m finished it’ll probably be over 65,000 words.

* I wish is I was one of those authors who writes quickly. I envy them. My first drafts are nearly always sub-literate, skeletal shit. Second drafts are where the flesh and muscle go on. But the revision is where it really comes to life. The editor then makes it into a fully functioning novel. I still make revisions when it’s being turned into an ebook, hunting sentences that don’t work or typos that have crept into the manuscript. Sadly, this process takes a while.

* This whole democratising of fiction via Kindle and other e-readers has thrown out a lot of opinion. One of the most ubiquitous opinions (one propogated by Big Publishing and some of their writers) suggests that self-publishers (and to a lesser degree smaller Indie publishers) don’t give a damn about their writing. This misconception is that we shit out a fully formed first draft, wipe our arses, and simply say: “Ah, my freshly laid turd is done. Time to upload this shit to Amazon.” As stated above, I never put out a first draft. My work goes through several drafts and revisions before I even dare upload it. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with other writers and many of them are self-publishers. Not a single one of them gets it right in the first draft. They’re nearly always on the lookout for a fresh set of eyes, beta readers, and editors to hunt for mistakes and sharpen their prose or narrative.

* Big publishing and their agents constantly tell us that they are ‘gatekeepers’ protecting readers from the improperly formed and vaguely realised sentences that are the sole responsibility of the self-published masses. Okay, folks, then explain me this: Morrissey’s List of the Lost. Pondering the possibility that maybe the reviews were unfair, I visited Waterstones and pored through the first twenty pages of Morrissey’s, ahem, meisterwerk. It may very well be one of the worst things I’ve ever read. The reviews weren’t unfair; they were downright generous. List is truly abysmal. Hell, it makes EL James seem like Nabokov. So where was the ‘gate keeping’ here? Not protecting the reading public from this, I see? But, then again, you don’t protect the public when it comes to making money, do you? Give me the work of self-published or independently published writers like Ryan Bracha, Paul Brazill, Keith Nixon, Anthony Neil Smith, J David Osborne, Heath Lowrance, Jedidiah Ayres, Tiffany Scandal (to name just a few) any day of the week. They shit all over Morrissey’s inane scribblings from a great height. They destroy the latest ghostwritten YouTuber novel or celebrity memoir you’re attempting to flog to the public. They pack more excitement in one sentence than James Patterson does in the ten novels he’s likely to shit out via proxies this year. Oh, are writers like these what you are protecting us from? These fresh voices with their sharp edges still intact? If so, then you can keep your gate, and then feel free to go fuck yourselves while you’re at it.

* Another thing I like about the indie scene is that for the most part it’s a friendly place to be. Collaboration (be it in the form of beta-reading, contributing to anthologies or novels, editing, or helping with ebook creation or design) is rife; and when other writers do well there doesn’t seem to be an Gore Vidal quote attached to it:

Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.

They seem to be genuinely pleased that somebody has succeeded. Writing is a difficult enough endeavour without everybody being at each other’s throats, too.

* I’m in the process of creating an author website that will be my main web presence from now on. The Gamblers blog will be assimilated into the new site in due course. I also intend to have a Gumroad store on the new site, where I can sell any work that doesn’t have Amazon exclusivity direct to you at a cheaper price. I will also sell (or make free) exclusive work that might not make it on to Amazon for a while (various pieces of short fiction, possibly including exclusive Stanton brothers shorts). Like I mentioned earlier, I need to be more professional about this stuff from now on.

* I’m going to make all of my work available in paperback over the coming month or two. I’ve let my current version of The Gamblers lapse because Amazon Createspace won’t allow me to alter the size to a 8″ x 5″ paperback (something to do with the ISBN they assign, so that may take a little longer to arrive). This includes The Greatest Show in Town (which in paperback form will also contain The Green-Eyed Monster).