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).

Prices rises and general warnings

As of the 1 August, The Glasgow Grin will be going up in price from 99p/$0.99 to £2.99/$3.99. The lower price point has obviously assisted sales that are creeping towards the 3,000 barrier in the UK, and helped shift numerous copies of my other novels and novellas, but I feel now is the time to raise the price. I’ve been selling GG cheaply for far longer than I ever planned (it was originally only going to be 99p until the end of March), and all good things must come to an end.

Will this decision affect sales? Undoubtedly, and for the worse. However, I don’t think £2.99 is an unfair price to pay for several years of my life, and something that will give readers many hours of enjoyment (I hope). It will, I suspect, negatively impact sales of my other books, too. But I’ve been worrying more about my sales recently than I’ve been doing actual writing. I check my sales figures with depressing and monotonous regularity; in fact, I’d even go so far as to suggest that it has become a complusion. So, come August, I’ll be avoiding my sales figures like they’re some sort of life-threatening disease.

The other thing I plan to do is put bad language and violence warnings clearly within the product description/synopsis of my books. I’m getting tired of the prudish, and those of a weak disposition, giving me one-star reviews because they can’t handle bad language or sex or strong violence. Frankly, I’d rather warn them from the start that my work is hardcore crime fiction, so they don’t make the mistake of buying my stuff and complaining about it later. A clear warning (PROBABLY IN CAPS, SO THERE’S NO MISTAKE) at least gives readers a chance to make an informed decision about my work (although the current synopsis for my latest novel states clearly: The Glasgow Grin combines intense, fast-paced plotting, ferocious ultra-violence, snappy, foul-mouthed dialogue, and a rogue’s gallery of twisted villains…).

So there you have it!

Review: How’s The Pain by Pascal Garnier

Simon is an ageing hitman with a terminal illness undertaking one last job before retirement. He befriends the young and simple-minded Bernard and employs him as his driver (telling him that he’s a vermin exterminator). Bernard jumps at the chance of seeing the coast and making some money. But what happens is a road trip that the young man will never forget.

Garnier’s How’s The Pain is not a bad read, but it isn’t stunning either (particularly as Garnier has been highly lauded by many mainstream critics). Based on the evidence of this novel, Garnier isn’t up there at the summit of French crime fiction with Manchette and Simenon, but he’s still a more than decent writer. His overuse of comic simile and metaphor grates at times. Simile is a difficult thing to get right and when it is overdone or overused it distracts from the story – something that happens several times during the course of this tale. However, when he keeps it simple, Garnier is very effective. Character seems to be where his real strength lies: Simon, Bernard, Anais and Rose are all great characters with very human flaws and foibles. And their interplay and dialogue is what keeps the interest high. Also, Garnier writes a couple of brief but effective action set pieces. Nothing spectacular, but a solid novel for those looking for something character based.

Review: Zulu by Caryl Feréy

I grabbed this recently while on a book expedition in London. I’d never heard of either the author or the book before, but the blurb appealed to me. It pitched the narrative as somewhere between ultra-violent noir and John le Carré’s The Constant Gardener.

The story basically concerns the murder of a young, affluent white student in Cape Town. The violent killing has a suspected sexual motive, and seems to have been done in a senseless frenzy. Ali Neumann, an emotionally repressed detective, and his team (Dan, intelligent but weak, and Brian, angry and self-destructive) soon discover a second killing that then leads them down a path into political machinations, a new meth-based drug that sends users into a violent frenzy, and conspiracies pitting black against white (and vice-versa). As the bodies pile up (and boy, do they pile high in this), and the tale develops more twists than fusilli, this really does develop into a gripping novel.

Roger Smith’s crime fiction has made South Africa seem like a very scary place (somehow even scarier than the very violent reality), but Feréy’s novel makes Smith’s work read like fucking Cider With Rosie in comparison (with the exception of the astonishingly black Man Down). The moment a major character is killed off in the first quarter was the point I realised that all bets were off in this story. Anybody could die at any time. And they do – lots of them – in very violent and gruesome ways. It is brutal stuff. It is also beautifully paced: starting slow, but building momentum as the tale progresses, until the pages seem to be practically turning themselves at the end. Superbly plotted, with a keen eye for a post-Apartheid political scene where neither black lives or white lives matter so long as the folks at the top make a profit and maintain power, and well told, Zulu does somehow meld Le Carré with neo-noir to create something fresh and new – and in the process becomes a dreadful advertisement for South African tourism. Highly recommended.

Review: Black Gum by J David Osborne

Having read a couple of Osborne’s previous works (Low Down Death Right Easy and Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit), and having found them both rather impressive, I’ve had my eye on Black Gum for some time. And I’m glad to tell you it didn’t disappoint.

Originally, I think Osborne pegged the project as a direct sequel to Low Down, in that Danny Ames (one of the main characters in that novel) plays a major part in the proceedings. But somewhere along the way the project seems to have changed and become something else, something different. Ames only appears in the last third of the book, in a small, though significant, cameo, and the book itself feels different in tone and texture to its predecessor. The narrator is a bit of a man-child who lives with an old friend after the failure of his marriage. They deal drugs, have parties, and hang out with the friend’s strange cousin, Shane; and generally they just exist in a vacuum where life is the stuff that happens to other people.

Whereas Low Down felt like a surreal crime drama, Black Gum feels more like a naturalistic drama with an element of crime running through it. The moments of weirdness that punctuate Osborne’s LDDRE are mostly missing here – consisting instead of minor details weaved into the main text (Shane’s body modification, Juggalo parties, the narrator’s strange trip at the end of book). It is also a very short work – more novella than novel – but that intensifies rather than diminishes the book’s impact.

Black Gum has a Carver-esque clarity to it, insofar as its simple, well-written, pared-back prose gets on with telling the story without the need for posturing and posing. What little action there is done without grandstanding; instead, it has more in common with the blink-and-you’ll miss them moments of real life. I liked that Danny Ames’ one-and-only appearance here is done without any real violence (he appears, the characters realise resistance is futile and do what they’re told).

If you’re looking for balls-to-the-wall crime action you won’t find it here, but what you will find is quality, character-based fiction with criminality weaved through it. Black Gum comes highly recommended.