On a Lighter Note

Considering that my last post was a little bit serious I thought I might change the mood a little with a discussion about music.

One of the things that I have found is that when I am writing or working on my books in any other way, such as editing for example, then I really do not like to listen to music that has lyrics. Normally I love music, all kinds as well, but I find even songs that I really like a real distraction when I am trying to concentrate. The other thing is that total silence really does not work either.

I do most of my work at home, which is a terraced house with a reasonably busy street outside. If I try and work in silence then I seem to become aware of the sounds that people are making outside, cars driving by, children screaming, people talking very loud, that sort of noise. To try and blanket this out I decided to listen to classical music. At first this was quite good but my playlist became predictable, even on when I put it on shuffle I soon realised that I was listening to pieces that had already been played. I did try the radio but the adverts and the talking and the change from kind of classical music to another, probably one that I am not particularly fond of, distracted me.

After a search of the internet I discovered ambient music. Well, to be honest I already knew about ambient music, I just had not thought of using it. Using the Tune In radio application I was able to find all kinds of different music station on my Android tablet. Amongst the many that I tried I found ‘Ambient Sleeping Pill’ and this really worked for me.

Some people think of this kind of music as monotonous, and I suppose it is, but then it is there not for me to listen to consciously but rather unconsciously. I do not concentrate on the pieces of music being played, I do not want to do that, I want to concentrate on what I am writing instead. Listening to ambient music seems to help me do this. Indeed, I would say that having ambient music on actually helps me be more creative. Does ambient music play with your brain? I expect it does as most other forms of music provoke reactions of one kind or another. For me it allows me to exploit my powers of concentration. I have no doubt about this. My writing experience when I have ambient music in the background just seems more enjoyable and less fraught with problems. In fact problem solving within the confines of the book that I am writing is easier and more satisfying.

When I get a study of my own, which I keep telling my wife that I will do (she’s okay about the idea as long as I keep it clean, not tidy, just clean), then ambient music is always going to be on in the background.

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There is No Benefit to Being Disabled

“Before my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, I knew what ‘the disabled’ looked like and I’m sure I had the right instincts towards ‘them’. But I had no understanding of what it was like to be ‘disabled’ and no understanding of the myriad obstacles — born out of discrimination or disinclination, bureaucracy or bullying, ineptitude or ignorance, a failure of the imagination or a failure of the will — which disabled people have to face on an almost daily basis. In short I was not prepared for disability.”

Alastair Hignell CBE.

Alastair Hignell played Rugby Union for England, was a county cricketer, and a sports presenter for the BBC. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. As part of the Leonard Cheshire 100 Years of Inspiration he posted a blog about his experiences as a disabled person here link.

The title of this particular blog entry is a direct quite from what Alastair Hignell wrote. The fact is that few if anyone actually understand what it is to be ‘disabled’ unless they can experience it for themselves. There are people like carers, whether family or volunteers or professionals, who get an insight into the kind of problems that disabled people encounter, but that is not the same as experiencing them for themselves from a purely subjective point of view.

In truth no one can comprehend the myriad of problems that being disabled can entail, not even a disabled person, simply because every disabled person is unique and the causes of disability are themselves too numerous to count. For this reason I do not get routinely upset about most of the problems that I encounter as a disabled person myself. I get it that most people simply don’t get it. The kind of problems that I do get annoyed about, however, are the ones listed in Alastair Hignell’s quote above, those that are caused by discrimination, disinclination, bureaucracy, bullying, ineptitude, ignorance, and failure of reason.

One of the things that does really annoy me is the assumption that some people make that being disabled is not that bad because of all the benefits that come with it. I am being serious here. I have had people tell me this to my face. There is no benefit that makes being disabled worthwhile, certainly not from my point of view, but then that is not what they are talking about. Invariably they are talking about the benefits that come from legislation and social security, so here’s a quick review of what this means to me.

  1. I currently receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA). However, it took me over 20 years to get it and I am likely to lose it when I am reassessed for the lower Personal Independence Payment (PIP) by the Benefits Agency’s contractor. My condition is so rare that even members of the medical fraternity do not know what it is or what problems it gives rise to, which is why it took so long to qualify for DLA. The DLA does help pay for my monthly medication, however.
  2. I have a car but this is not a benefit. I bought the car myself and I had to pay an extra £1,800 to have it adapted to hand controls so that I could driver it. I had to take out a loan that paid for both the car and the adaptations. On my driving test my examiner asked me how many cars I had tested before choosing the one I was in? I told them that I could not afford to test drive any cars because of the cost of having them adapted!
  3. I have a Blue Badge that permits me to park in reserved disability parking bays. I am assessed for this permit on a regular basis but the non-disabled people who find such parking bays conveniently close to ATMs and mothers with children who also think that they have a right to use them are not. It also does not exempt me from parking charges. I have to pay for the Blue Badge at every assessment as well.
  4. I have boots that are custom made for me. They are ugly. I refer to them as my ‘Frankenstein boots’ because they are over-large as I also wear leg splints that have to be accommodated by them. I cannot wear anything else, even on holiday. To have them repaired I have to return them to the hospital and make do with a pair that do not fit so well.
  5. I am protected by disability legislation. In theory, yes, in practice, only if I make a complaint. Not so long ago I proved that my employer discriminated against me on the grounds of disability. Winning did not change anything, except may be labelled me a trouble maker. I still did not get the job I had applied for. Disabled people have been proven to earn less than the majority of working people as they are often overlooked for promotion. A former employer once told me that I should have been glad to just have a job and not expect to get paid the same as ‘normal’ people.

I could go on but it would probably make for tedious reading. The point I am trying to make is that if someone offered me a miracle cure for my disability then there is not one single ‘benefit’ that I can think of that would cause me to turn that cure down. There is no real benefit to being disabled as far as I am concerned. For all the perceived benefits that some people actually begrudged the disabled for receiving, especially politicians it would appear, the problems, the pain, the loss of independence, the mistreatment, the decline in dignity, none of it is made up for. Nothing prepares you for disability and very little makes it any better, except if you are lucky enough to have family and friends who care for you, but you do not have to be disabled to enjoy that.

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The Blade’s fell Blow

Blades Fell BlowI set myself the target of October 2017 to publish the final part of the Sorrow Song Trilogy; The Blade’s fell Blow. I do not normally impose deadlines on myself, I know from past experience that I do not work well with them. This is partly because I have a medical condition that reacts to stress. I love writing and I know there are some people out there who want to read the final instalment of this series, but I am loath to make myself ill over this. At the moment we are still in June so October seems quite a long way off but I know that in the world of the independent author it really is not.

From experience I know that the editing process for getting the book ready to print is going to take an inordinate amount of time. I have passed 82,000 words now and I expect to be writing quite a few more yet; that is an awful lot of words to work with. One further complication is that I have used lots of unusual words take from Old English and they all flag up as incorrect in the spell checker. I understand that but one of the things that I have to be careful of is making sure that I spell the words consistently throughout the text. To this end I use a simple style-sheet. These are invaluable tools for the writer even if they might seem like an unnecessary diversion at the beginning of the writing process.

A style-sheet is simply a list of characters, names, unusual words, and anything else that a write might find useful to record so as to maintain consistency throughout the novel. Readers are very good at spotting inconsistencies, which is good because it shows that they are paying attention to the text, which the author should have done as well when writing it.

Like I said, I love writing, and coming to the final parts of finishing a novel is really quite a great feeling. The Blade’s Fell Blow has been, for me at least, reasonably easy to work on. I had a wealth of research from the previous two books, The War Wolf and For Rapture of Ravens, to work with of course. The plot more or less wrote itself as it was more of an exercise of tying everything up. One thing that I was careful to do, however, was not to be too tidy in this respect. I think life rarely is ever that efficient at sorting things out.

To maintain the tension I had to consider using a few devices to (hopefully) keep the reader interested as the book heads to a conclusion that is widely known; the Normans win! One of the things that interested me, however, is the decision was far from clear cut despite what the historians have written. I have spent quite a bit of time looking into this aspect of the story and then trying to work it into the plot. Some of the events that I describe might surprise a few readers, but I have researched them and I believe that they do give a truthful account of what happened and why.

I am hoping to have all of the original writing finished by the end of this month. After than I will be going back to the beginning and reading every word on every line and trying to ensure that there are no mistakes of any kind creeping into the 80,000+ word count. Once I am happy I will then have to go through the rigours of formatting the manuscript for publishing in both eBook and paperback. In the past this has proven quite onerous, I am hoping that there have been some recent improvements in the process since I published Eugenica, however. After that, well I will be returning to my fantasy novel and seeing if I can get that out for the New Year.

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I had a Moment of Design Madness – Unless it Works of Course in Which Case it’s Genius!

I was looking around Amazon with my own novels as a starting point and I realised that there many fine examples of book covers out there. In fact it seems that everyone has upped their game with regards to covers. As I perused the offerings that came up as being in the same genre as mine, that would be historical fiction by the way, I got the impression that mine were looking a little dated!

War WolfI decided to go back to the drawing board and see if I could come up with something new. Now I do not consider myself incredibly talented when it comes to graphic design, I just like playing around with images and seeing what I can make happen. Also, I do not have the money to spend on professional book covers as I am still waiting to be discovered as a writer.

To be honest I kind of got off to a bad start as I attempted to recreate my original image for ‘The War Wolf’. This was a mistake as what I wanted was something new. After a while I accepted that my gut knew better than my heart and abandoned this first attempt. The second went much better.

I was looking for a bold image that was simple, as most bold images tend to be, but For Rapture of Ravenscarried with it a look that was germane to the product that it was advertising. I still wanted to use the image of the Coppergate Helmet from York and I decided that a brooding face hiding in the shadows of that piece of armour would look quite arresting. This was one of those moments when going with your instincts turns to be the better choice. Almost immediately I liked the picture that I was able to create. In fact the image was very striking and I realised immediately that I could use it for all three books!

In their previous incarnation I was relying on the layout of the covers to establish a degree of unity between the volumes of the trilogy. It was fine at the time of imagining, and even when I had all three covers created, but I was not so sure just lately, well if I had not been I probably would not have started the redesign!

Blades Fell BlowThe new book covers are all based on the one same element and the positioning of a secondary element that is unique to that story. For ‘The War Wolf’ there is Coenred in his armour with a Saxon banner of a wolf behind him. ‘For Rapture of Ravens’ has the same Coenred but a different hue and a Viking raven banner. Finally, ‘The Blade’s Fell Blow’ has that image of Coenred but this time there is an ephemeral portrait of Mildryth. I did consider using a Norman banner but then it occurred to me that Coenred’s impetus for being at Hastings is actually all about returning to the woman he loves and it seemed to me that that should also be the main impetus of the picture as well. It kind of ties up the trilogy for me.

As a closing note writing on the final volume is going very well. I am almost finished now but I am undertaking some rewrites and then I will be going into the editing. Just recently several people have contacted me asking when this book will be finished, which is very encouraging, my answer is October 2017.

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Has my experiment failed?

As experiments go making all of my books available for free download seemed to be successful. According to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) several hundred copies were downloaded by prospective readers in the five days of the offer. One of my goals was to increase the number of reviews that my books have on Amazon. To date this has not been realised.

For some reason people who have downloaded my books do not seem motivated to give me an honest review. Several people contacted me to say that they were reading one of my books, that they were enjoying it, and that they would give me a review. To date no one has. I find this a little disappointing and frustrating.

Of course I know that not everyone who downloads a book reads it immediately. I have myself downloaded more than one book at a time and worked my way through my growing library as and when I can. I choose which book to read according to my mood and I suppose a lot of other readers do this also. However, when I read a book by an independent author I always leave a fair review of their work. I suppose some readers might just be taking their time getting to my work and I will just have to accept that.

I know that I do not have a right to expect a review from everyone who goes to the trouble of putting one of my books into their collection, in some respects I wish that I did not have to even consider this, but Amazon, who have done so much to revolutionise publishing and reading, have inadvertently made it a necessity. Many people look at the reviews of products on the Amazon website and they do not buy unless they see high a count of stars. Although my reviews average 4.5 stars there is not very many of them. I have read that this tends to put potential readers off buying the books that they look at.

Time might yet prove to be kind to me, however. Although I check to see if any new reviews have been posted almost daily, which may seem a little sad, I know, I have to remind myself that for other people this is not a priority. Our lives are busy and there are plenty of other distractions out there as well. All I can do is distract myself with writing my next book and hoping that when I check Amazon during my next coffee break that there might be a surprise waiting for me there!

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Torn Between Two Books

Gosh! Another enforced hiatus. I really did not think that it had been so long but it has. I have used the excuse of suffering the curse of living a busy life previously, I know, but it is true. Things just seem to get forgotten about. That is both a little disappointing and frustrating, however. I mean, I really enjoy writing and I also enjoy writing this blog. I suppose it is a question of something having to give and it often seems to be this that gets forgotten.

Anyway, enough complaining. I find myself in a rather strange position, artistically speaking, in that I have two books that are both close to being finished in terms of their second draft. I did not set you to have two books so close together, they just seem to have set themselves on a collision course I have given both of them the necessary impetus. In retrospect I am wondering where I got both the time and the energy to carry out two writing projects at the same time?

The first of the two is third and final part of my trilogy, the Sorrow Song. I began it after completing ‘Eugenica’. As a project it has gone very well. Of course I had the benefit of writing the two previous novels in the series, so I had a good understanding of the subject matter and the characters. I also wanted to finish the series properly so I had a lot of personal motivation in that respect. To date the second manuscript is just a shade under 80,000 words and I know, more or less, everything that I want to write. There’s plenty to do in the way of editing the manuscript, always the boring part, but most of the actual creative writing has been done. I am now aiming for a publishing date closer to the actual anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, which has the double benefit of not putting myself under too much stress and allowing the release to tap into the public interest that this battle now seems to invoke.

The second book is the fantasy story that I have also written about before. I have to admit that I was not expecting this project to go quite as quickly as it has. The story seemed to come together with surprising rapidity. The characters are mostly well realised and the alternate world in which it all takes place has former very well. I am aware that there is a need to add more depth to the background but this is not turning out to be a chore. I am really enjoying writing this story. I do not want to say too much about it as I feel I have some original ideas I do am wary about giving too much away. The last time I finished writing a section the count stood at a shade under 70,000, which is the minimum I would expect for a novel. There is an outside chance that this book might be ready before ‘The Blade’s Fell Blow’ although I think that it is more likely that I will put the fantasy story on the back burner and devote all of my energy and limited time into finishing the trilogy.

After this I am not too sure what my next project will be. I have several ideas but I do not think that I will be writing two books at once. Then again, if this method turns out successful I might find that this is the optimum method of writing for me!

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Why Give Your Work Away for Free?

From Thursday 13 April until midnight Monday 17 April all of my books will be free to download for the Amazon Kindle. This is not the first time that I have run this kind of promotion but it is one that often seems to confuse people who invariably ask the question: ‘how will you make any money doing that?’

My answer is that I am not doing this to make money! Obviously becoming rich from writing books would be a good thing, something that I would be delighted to happen to me, but being realistic it is not the likeliest thing to happen. The fact is that being better known is, at this stage of my writing career, far more valuable than even a couple of thousand book sales.

When I published my first book, The War Wolf, through Amazon I enjoyed quite an active period of book downloads, but things have changed. The Kindle market is now swamped by other authors and it is very difficult to get yourself noticed these days. I have looked at marketing and to be honest it bores me to tears! I did not write a novel to become a marketing wizard, I wrote it because I like being a story teller. I have mentioned previously that one of my definitions of success as an author was to have my book read by someone that I did not know and that happened. Obviously that was not the only criteria I used, having several thousand, even a million, readers would be great, but I am only one of several million, or so it seems, other independent authors.

Of course getting discovered is not the sole torment of the author, other artists in all the different fields that come under the umbrella term of art struggle against anonymity as well. It is the fact that some strike it lucky, for whatever reason, that keeps my hope alive.

I am not offering my books for free because I doubt their quality, far from it. In fact it is because I believe that I have written three very good novels that I am doing this. I want to share my work with as many readers as possible not just in the hope of improved future book sales but rather in the hope of gaining more recognition through an increase in the number of honest book reviews that I have had. I am not exaggerating when I say that my books have sold in the thousands but if you look at my Amazon reviews for those books you will see that they are pitifully few. I do not know why this is. I would like to think that most Amazon customers are now used to submitting quick product assessments online, certainly Amazon make it very easy to do. I do not expect an essay of literary criticism standards, just an honest opinion by a reader on my work; is that too much to ask?

My books will be free over the holiday period for five days, if you feel like having a read of them then please, be my guest, all that I ask is that you take the time afterwards to give me an honest review…please?!

To download free copies of my books please follow this link and Visit My Website

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