Time for a Break, Break in Writing and Break in Bones

Well this is disappointing. Way back in 2010 when I was writing my first ever novel, The War Wolf, I had to undergo major reconstructive surgery on my left foot. It was a very uncomfortable period. The hope was that this surgery would put right many years of problems caused by the slow but persistent deforming of my feet that is the result of having untreated Spina Bifida. Unfortunately, it has failed and I will have to undergo the treatment again.

When I saw my surgeon last year I was more optimistic. Although it was accepted that my foot was still being deformed the damage did not seem that bad and the surgeon suggested that a relatively simple procedure would suffice. That was not the case when I saw him earlier this week. Now it seems that the damage is much more severe than first thought and the surgery has to be that much more extensive. Instead of only three months I am going to be wearing an external fixator for as long as six.

At times like these it is necessary to try and weigh things up. Yes, I am going to be in a lot of pain and discomfort for several weeks. There’s no escaping that. Once the healing process begins, however, then things will calm down. Past experience teaches me that. Then I will have a long period off work that I might be able to use for writing. At the end I will have a foot that has been reconstructed for the third time and it should, hopefully, allow me to remain independently mobile for at least another eight years.

Despite the suggestion of writing this will not be a paid holiday. Wearing an external fixator comes with risks. It creates a number of open wounds that have to kept clean. The risk of infection is high and any infection can lead to septicaemia, which is very dangerous. Add to this the fact that people who have Spina Bifida should not have epidurals but also people who have Myotonia Congenita, which I also have, should not have general anaesthetic and the risk factor increases again. The myotonia causes other problems as well. As my muscles do not relax normally after exertion I have problems with my balance and have to be very careful using crutches. Also, the Becker’s variant that I have causes sudden weakness in the large muscle groups, in particular the arms and legs, which can lead to the limbs giving way without warning. Something else for me to consider when trying to move around.

There’s no escaping the fact that writing will not be uppermost on my mind over the next few weeks. I might not be able to post on my blog for a while so apologies for that in advance. I have decided, however, to keep a journal of my experience. I was surprised how much hospital care had changed between 2010 and 2012 and it was not for the better. I do not expect to find an improvement this time round. I know that sounds rather negative but it is an opinion based on experience. I have spent an inordinate amount of time in hospitals and seen first-hand the actual results of so many politicians ‘reforms’ of the NHS; it has never got any better. However, I do not want to end on a negative note. I will get through this ordeal and come out the other side with at least two more novels added to my catalogue and a foot that helps me walk a little bit better. You see, it is not all bad.

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Yeah, that was my leg and its fixator back in 2010. It is going to look something similar very soon!

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A Advertising We Will Go – A Follow Up

My experiment with paid advertising is coming to an end, time to check out the details and see what my dollars brought me. Here are the metrics:

I had a budget of $100.

From 02 Feb to 04 Mar 2018 I had 7,768 impressions, an ‘impression’ being when my advert was displayed.

There were 18 clicks, which is when someone ‘clicks’ on the advert.

For every click I was charged $0.24 so that cost me $4.34.

My total sales for the period of the campaign were: 0 (nil).

Okay, that might not look very impressive at first glance, probably because it is not very impressive at all. However, although these figures are supplied by Amazon they do not make any reference to Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime members who might have looked at ‘Mesozoic’ or even read the book, for which I also receive a reduced royalty. During the ad campaign the book did very well in respect of eligible Amazon members but obviously I cannot say for definite that the two are linked.

The problem is that with so many eBooks now being available it really is a struggle to get my work noticed. Although this campaign might seem to have failed the fact is that 18 people who I would not have reached otherwise showed an interest in ‘Mesozoic’ and in reality it only cost me $4.34, which is actually equivalent to buying a beer!

I am not put off by this experience. I think that there are some things that could be better, such as finding the page where your results are displayed, which is not actually under the tab marked ‘Advertising Campaigns’ on the KDP dashboard, you have to follow the rather innocuous link to another page and the data does not appear for a day or two either. That is a small complaint, however. Now that I have acquired a little experience I will look at running another campaign but this time I want to put a little more work into it. I have access to several social media outlets, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc., but I did not really use them that much in this instance. A more coordinated effort on my part might lead to a better response. I have said previously that I did not start writing books to become a marketing expert and that still holds true but I am aware that sitting around waiting to be discovered is not very fulfilling either.

Not being one for just sitting around and complaining I accept that I have to become more active in the promotion of my books. I believe that the trick is to make sure that my time is used efficiently. I want people to read what I write but I also want to be able to write for people who want to read. Giving too much time to marketing is only going to leave me feeling frustrated but then not giving enough time will also result in me wasting that effort, probably. It is just another one of life’s balancing acts.

 

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That Disability Thing!

I had a reader ask me why there seemed to be a disabled person in every one of my books to date? My answer was, if not me who else was going to do it?

One of the tenets of writing is to write about what you know and having been born disabled I know a lot about disability. I do not have a chip on my shoulder about it. The disabled characters in my books are not out to right wrongs suffered by disabled people. They are not outraged protestors on a quest to make everything right. My aim is very simple, I want to portray disabled people as people.

In The Sorrow Song Trilogy, I invented the character of Half-foot, a Saxon who proved his worth by his learning rather than the traditional method of the sword, spear, and axe. He serves King Harold in the capacity of a secretary and is looked upon favourably. For Mesozoic, there is Charles Marsh, a man who overcomes his physical disability by means of medication and the use of an exoskeleton. As a result of this, he gets to pursue his passion of studying dinosaurs and even travels back in time to the Mesozoic Era to do it.

Without a doubt, Eugenica is my most determined effort to present disabled people in a positive light. The whole theme of the book is society’s attitude and treatment of the disabled. It makes for a harrowing read in parts but then it is based on some of my own personal experiences. It is also an adventure story, a type of story that I have always enjoyed, and getting four disabled young people into that setting proved very satisfying.

I suppose the point is that society, in general, has been very good at ignoring disabled people. It has not always been an active thing. In many respects, it has just been apathetic. In literature and other media I have often found the disabled to be presented as very shallow characters, usually designed to inspire pity, Charles Dickens’ Smike for example, or loathing, Richard III always springs to mind with that one. Very seldom do I find worthy characters like Long John Silver. Okay, he was a pirate but he was also a man of courage and ambition. I preferred him to Squire Trelawney anyway.

At the moment I have two books in writing. One is an epic fantasy, but without wizards, orcs, or elves, and the other is a whodunit mystery. Both have disabled people in them. I think my books are always going to feature disabled characters. It is not always a conscious effort on my part as the writer, they seem to enter my stories quite naturally. I suspect that if I was not disabled myself then this probably would not be the case, but I am and I do.

 

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A Advertising We Will Go

Advertising

When I published my first novel through Amazon I actually made a nice little sum in royalties. It was not a fortune but it was rewarding all the same. By the time I published my fifth novel, earlier this year, those royalties have effectively disappeared. I do not think that the reason for this is that I am writing stories that people do not want to read. I base this opinion on the feedback that I have gotten from readers who have taken the trouble to contact me. Having looked at the market recently I think part of the problem is that the eBook revolution has become so vast.

The problem for me today is not writing books but finding readers. There are so many people now writing, all to varying degrees of quality, that it is much harder to get your book noticed than it was when I first started. I have written previously about how I do not want to become a marketing wizard and that remains true. It is not a subject or undertaking that interests me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money to pay someone else to do it for me either. I decided to use an Amazon advertising campaign instead. I decided on a budget of $100 but one of the good things about the Amazon advert is that you only pay when someone clicks on it. The campaign started on 02 February and to date, the metrics state that it has been displayed 2,026 times resulting in 2 clicks at $0.22 in charges and 0 sales. Not very impressive!

Despite this ‘Mesozoic’ has been doing quite well with regards to Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library. I get a reduced royalty from each of these. Actual sales have not been anything to sing about, however. To be honest, though, I already accept that I am not likely to make a lot of money out selling books through Amazon. What I do like is the idea that someone I do not know is reading my work. I also really enjoy reading honest reviews of that work, but they appear to be as difficult to come by as actual sales.

I would love to be a professional writer, which would be dependent on a lot more sales obviously, but it seems that I need to be discovered first. That is certainly not an original position to be in. I understand the problem as well, I think that I have illustrated that above. I do not want to go into marketing seriously but my efforts to use established means really I have not given me a great return. I joined AwesomeGang, a book promotion website, to try and attract more readers for my novel ‘Eugenica’ but after paying my subscription I have to report that a year later not a single copy has been sold. A bit sad really because it is a good book and not just in my opinion, those readers who have read it and expressed an opinion have told me so as well.

In conclusion, I am convinced that further advertising is necessary for success. How I go about this I do not know. Based on how my Amazon advertising campaign has gone so far I stand to recoup most of the $100 I budgeted for it so I suppose I could invest that in something. The question is, what?

 

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2018, My Writing Year

Grace Flag 01.42018 has proven to be a very busy year so far and I am not complaining. Not only have I managed to get ‘Mesozoic’ published but I have also completed a review of my earlier book, ‘Eugneica’, all 160,000 words of it! There were some grammar and spelling mistakes in the manuscript that were annoying me simply because I knew that they were there. A reader sent me some observations that they had made while reading the book, which I thought was very considerate of them. Some people like to include observations of spelling mistakes for their reviews so that all future prospective readers can read about them too. Most writers like me don’t have editors and cannot always afford to spend the money to hire a professional to do the job. Of course, if you have a publishing contract this comes as part of the deal. Perhaps one day then. I am planning on doing a re-launch of ‘Eugneica’, which was another reason for the review. I still have faith in this book. I still enjoy reading it myself. I hope that I am not tempting fate but I have not yet had a bad review, but then again I have not had many people actually pick it up to read either. That is something that I am hoping to change.

Next, I am going to finish my fantasy novel, ‘The Queen of the Mountain’. It is about 70% there already but I was unhappy with the main character, one Risdun Hak. He had no clear definition in my opinion. He also lacked a motivational force. I took some time out to consider how to put this right and ended up completing ‘Mesozoic’ instead. However, putting the fantasy novel on the back-burner, so to speak, seems to have worked. Risdun Hak now has more depth to him and I have a better understanding of his character. He has developed a more sympathetic side. I hope to begin work on rewriting his character in the extant manuscript almost immediately.

On another tack, a reader asked me if I would ever be interested in writing a murder mystery? The answer was yes. I like watching these kinds of programmes on television and I have read quite a few books on the subject as well. I have a proviso though. I like the stories where the reader gets all of the facts so that they can solve the mystery at the same time as the detective. I really do not like stories where the investigator is privy to information that is not revealed to the reader until the moment of unveiling the killer, Sherlock Holmes springs to mind. Because of this I have waited until I either had a particular mystery in mind or the time to devise one.

Inspiration is a funny thing. I had this character knocking about my jotter. He’s kind of aBook Cover 01 fish out of water in that he is not comfortable in the 21st century. I did not know really what to do with him but when I was looking through my jotter for ideas of what to write after the fantasy novel I had a wonderful creative moment. In an hour of frenetic activity I devised a murder, a motive, a prime suspect, and a detective to investigate the case. It all came together very quickly, like most good ideas do. I am not going to rush into this one, however. I want the plot to be airtight. I want the mystery to be revealed layer by layer and I am going to insist of my writing alter-ego that the reader will get access to all the clues that the detective does at the same time as he does. There will be no white rabbits being pulled out of hats like Agatha Christie so often does. This means that I will have to write a very detailed plan of the book, which will take time in itself. My wife loves reading murder mysteries and she is going to be my proof-reader in respect of the mystery itself. I don’t have a title for the book as yet but the main character, the detective, is the guy from my jotter and he’s beginning to develop in my head already!

So, that’s my writing year mapped out then!

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Eugenica Revisited

Book Cover 01Mesozoic is now published and that particular project has finished. There is, of course, a very satisfying feeling of accomplishment when a book is completed and put out there for the reading public to enjoy, but what does an author do immediately after that? I do not know about other writers but I like to go back and revisit one of my earlier books. There can be various reasons for doing this, such as having a reader point out an error or a spelling mistake or just a feeling that a particular scene could be improved with a bit of a revision.

Eugenica is probably the most personal book that I have written to date. Although a work of fiction and set in an alternate 1930’s much of the inspiration for it came from my own personal experiences. In fact, one of the characters in the book is actually me. He uses my middle name and he has one of the medical problems that I suffer from. Short of writing something autobiographical I do not think that I could get more personal. Perhaps because this book contains so much of me as a person I find its lack of attention even more keenly. The fact is that the book has not done as well as I had originally hoped. In retrospect, I cannot help thinking that part of the reason for this is that the central characters, Grace, Tom, Mary, and Hector are all disabled in one way or another. People generally do not find the disabled attractive. Indeed, there remains an undercurrent of prejudice against the disabled even today.

Stating such a thing is not a revelation. One of the points of inspiration for the book was my own experience of actual verbal assault and insult during a time when the British government was using a complicit media to demonise the disabled prior to removing their benefit payments. Effectively, the government was robbing them of their sympathy first before then robbing them of their monies that disability rights campaigners had fought for decades to win. In some respects, Eugenica was an attempt on my part to achieve some kind of balance, that is why there are four disabled young people at the heart of the story. They are not superhuman and they are not objects of pity. They are people with additional problems to contend with as well as those that I, as the author, task them with.

I really wanted to show that the human spirit can rise above most of the troubles that beset us. Although the story of a Britain under eugenic rule appears quite a harrowing prospect, and all the evidence that exists suggest that it would indeed have been, Eugenica is, in my opinion, an uplifting tale. The conclusion is open-ended and full of promise. Everyone who has read this book and communicated with me has said as much. One reader who had a severely disabled step-daughter told me that they thought everyone should read Eugenica so as to get a more realistic impression of the disabled as people.

In revisiting Eugenica my intent is not to try and discover why people who look at it doGrace Flag 01.4 not become readers. I am merely looking over the manuscript to spot errors that crept into the 160,000 plus words that make it the longest book that I have ever written. Some might see this as a chore, and I can understand that, but revisiting Eugenica in this fashion has proven to be a lot of fun. I still like the story and all four of the main characters. I enjoy the nostalgia of the 1930’s setting, the flashy cars, and elegant clothes, as well as the Art Deco architecture and decoration even if it exists mostly in my mind. Rereading the book confirms my faith in it again. Eugenica might not prove to be the most commercially successful book that I have written but in many respects, it remains one of the most satisfying. I still believe that its day will come, that someone will discover it and talk about it and the word will get out there. I am not interested in vast royalty payments, as nice as that would be, but rather in the fact that I might, through writing such a book, do my bit to help disabled people come closer to being seen as just people.

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Seven Months

I was looking back at my archive and realised that on the 28th June 2017 I began work on my present novel, ‘Mesozoic’. This week I finished the second draft and moved the book into the editing phase. Without doubt seven months is the shortest amount of time that I have spent on writing a book!

All of my previous novels took at least eighteen months to two years to complete. The Sorrow Song Trilogy volumes all involved a lot of research, although that got easier with each instalment as I was constantly adding to what I had learnt. Eugenica also required a lot of research into the pseudo-science of eugenics and life in the 1930’s. That book also had some personal challenges that I had to meet because some of the ordeals that the characters when through, especially in the medical induction scenes, had actually happened to me.

Of course I should consider that Mesozoic will be my fifth novel and it is to be expected that I have learnt something about the art of writing by now. It might also be that as I changed my style for this story, less indulgence in descriptive writing and more in dialogue, that this has helped. Well, that might be the case except that Mesozoic is well over 75,000 words long, which is still a lot of words to write.

Another factor that I should consider is that although I did have to do some research in respect of the prehistoric life that appears in the book I am already a dinosaur fan to begin with. Much of the research I did was merely confirming what I already knew to be true about these animals. There was some work to do on the mechanics of time travel but that also involved using a little artistic licence. I did read several articles to get as much right in terms of today’s physics as I could but at the end, as travel back in time appears to be impossible in this universe as we currently understand it, I had to take a leap of imagination.

Ultimately, I think that real reason why this book was been written so quickly is that it was tremendous fun! I really enjoyed the whole experience. There were times when writing the War Wolf that I felt like I was getting bogged down in the minutia of historical detail. There were also times when writing Eugenica when I found the personal cost just a little too much to take. Mesozoic never presented any of those problems to me. It is an adventure story. It has the inevitable journey that is such a staple of this type of book. There is the bad guy and the chase to catch him. There are the heroes and there are the challenges that they face to resolves their predicament. There is also a message that we can become better than what we, as a species perhaps, currently are. On the whole it is all pretty positive stuff. I am hoping that readers will find it very entertaining as well.

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