Thinking more of the writer

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I’m getting to know myself, and more of who I am, all over again. Occasionally my solitary life forces me to do that, like a brain reboot after a depressive episode. It’s happened before but it’s one of those traumatic things you tend not to remember until it hits again. It’s becoming reacquainted with the whom…

IcebergAbove and below the waterline: what I write, and what’s in my mind.

It’s a meeting convened inside the mind, between factions who have to always occupy the same space, so dialogue and understanding become survival, when a lesser mind might wish to end the conflict by giving up on life. I’ve been there before, when a voice constantly reminded me of the inevitability of death. But then I went off to learn what happens when we die from science, and I wrote about it. For this latest encounter, I became mediator of my own mind again.

For the conversation to start, I needed to withdraw to the theatre of conflict: My brain. And therein is where I needed to go, to work out what’s been up with me lately, as the field I surveyed was quite empty: I actually didn’t have enough on my mind to keep it functionally occupied. Just as I’m capable of seeing most situations from an outside perspective (in fiction, and the issues others have), sometimes it’s hard to transcend my own mind.

An above-average IQ is nice, but it can be a poisoned chalice and sometimes the host of the mind can’t see the woods for the trees (The Girl with the Snake Scarf is a fairy tale about finding a third way: A coping mechanism for others, and for me as I wrote it. Sometimes my own stories help me as a reader to look into my mind, to see how it was on a previous setting.) My problem was, I’d split into two. The writer had become separate from my depressed other self, and had separation anxiety from its own ideas factory.

Inside myself is not a good place to be if I don’t have enough thoughts to distract me. It makes the issues I need to address more stark. That inner world travels with me and if I’m only thinking of myself, I’m paranoid of my surroundings and the people therein. But if I go out and my inner writer is working on various projects, I feel more personally confident. So I am. The writer interrogated the other mind’s depths, and came up with some stories. I confronted the thoughts, rather than flee. I had to, as they were in my head and there’s a writer in there too, who can help get them out.

I’ve plotted and begun writing three new shorts, coming to an eZine soon, and included in a third anthology I’m planning (as yet untitled). There’s a tale of human consciousness as a virus (perhaps you wish could be cured, so you didn’t have to think about how awful your species is). There’s another, where life on earth is an accident, and no other life exists anywhere in the universe. Depressingly dark ideas on first inspection, but they’ll be tales with likely twists or surprises, as happens when the author spoke into the black mirror of a cracked mind.

Cyrus Song (the eBook) got taken up on the free offer a few times on World Book Day: Not huge numbers, but enough to tell me that someone is reading it, a complete stranger, somewhere unknown. And that’s a kind of magic, that’s why I write.

What would be the point of leading the rest of whatever life I have left, in a quiet and orderly manner? None at all. Life is not a singularity, and even the most introverted ones want to be shared.

An active mind fuels my insomnia, but rather a lucid mind than a dead one, empty of all but inward reflections. Inside my head is a universal microcosm. If I feel low about myself, that encourages the paranoia I have of how others see me. It’s a self-propelled paradox.

I’m writing this late at night, and working on those new short stories. I’m actually sitting in a scene I could imagine for a story, but which I don’t have to, because I’m in it: A writer, sitting in front of a window, illuminated by a desk lamp and writing on a typewriter. The moths look in, and seem eager to read what I’m writing.

We make our home under piles of words, we make friends amidst the pages of books and we find comfort in between a full stop and the next capital letter. We feel in italics and reflect in capitals. With an obsession for the written word and words dangling from our fingers, yes, we’re writers.” Aayushi Yadav, from “Inside A Writer’s Mind”.

Life in tablet form

THE WRITER’S LIFE | BOOKS

I’m feeling quite proud of myself, for swallowing some of the pride I was only just learning not to be ashamed of. I feel like Joseph, throwing off his dream coat: I published an e-book, which is far bigger news than it ought to be, but it’s why I did it that’s more important. It’s because Cyrus Song contains a perfectly plausible answer to the ultimate question, of life, the universe and everything; and because more people wanted to read it.

Life in tablet form

A few forays aside, I’ve not bothered the Kindle charts, partly through a kind of snobbery. The self-publishing independent writers who’ve democratised the publishing world are undeniably many and talented, but certainly in the e-book area at least, it can be somewhat overcrowded and claustrophobic with so many competing for attention. The printed book market is only slightly less so, but as one who’s always read printed books, I’ve eschewed the non-tangible ones. If nothing else, I’ve been somewhat foolish and naïve in denying myself such a market.

The writers I know personally are split roughly between three publishing camps: Printed books only, just e-books, or both. Some write different books for the two platforms, and others dual-publish both formats, sometimes offsetting the two (kind of like a cinema release and a DVD). I was only firmly pitched in the tangible book camp, because that’s how I like to read. So while I was talking to writers, I also consulted friends who read too.

Reading preferences are as varied as writing genres, and I had to conclude that I really was missing a trick by not publishing my books for e-readers.

The recent attention I’ve been getting as a writer, in peer groups, reviews and encouraging comments, has all reinforced what another writer said to me late last year: Don’t be ashamed to be proud of what you’ve done. Coming from where I have (on the streets four years ago) is indeed quite an achievement and this was recognition by someone else (a peer), which made me realise I should accept that I’ve done something quite – dare I say – impressive, especially when I’m so respected as a writer. It can be difficult to accept praise that you’re good at something when you’ve been such an arse in the past, but that’s just the guilt which must be borne by the truly penitent person, who sobered up when drowning personal demons might have been easier.

My recent personal paradox has been that of having a lot to say, but with social anxiety doing its best to silence me, so I write it all down. Like all writers, I crave an audience, but I shied from promoting myself too much, as I didn’t want the attention. And then it hit me, and it was something Simon Fry said, as I’ve carried on talking to my fictional character (see the last two blog posts).

I was a bad person once, who got drunk and hurt a lot of people, and there are very few (all now abandoned) who continue to judge my past, unprepared in some cases to accept that I’ve become a better person in myself, and better than many of them. That’s their problem, for not talking to me (or reading me). Some of that past is my shame and I still carry it. I have chronic depression, PTSD and a life-long guilt trip of sobriety as a hangover, so writing is my therapy. I’m pretty good at that, as there’s so much to write about, and I will be judged for what I’ve become.

I’m a writer now. People have to accept that. If they don’t want to read me, they can exercise consumer choice. If they want to find out what I might have been writing about them, they can do the same. My last two books are the ones I’ll be judged on, until I finish the next. Simon Fry is very good at saying these things for me.

I gave a few copies of Cyrus Song to close friends when it first came out, mainly the younger people I know: students to whom a book would be quite a significant financial outlay. I’ve written before of how I’m aware of this and other demographics, which is why my books can be requested at lending libraries.

One young friend lost her copy, another didn’t want to carry a book around, and a third simply couldn’t be arsed to read anything for longer than a few minutes. The latter was my adopted little sister and mum to my god daughter, Courtney. Typical of many her age, she has a short attention span (and she’s on the ADHD and autism spectra), and she’s somewhat at sea without her mobile phone. I ended up reading Cyrus Song to her, but I can’t do that for everyone, and even as I did, she was distracted by her phone. There it was, right in front of me: if she had the book on her phone, she’d be less likely to lose it and more likely to read the book in between social media.

Of course, others have known this for years, but I was blind to the obvious, even though it was in front of me then, and around me all the time. People do actually read e-books, even though I’ve read hardly any. After an autopsy of the situation, I had to conclude I was a book snob.

I needed more people to hear me, but it was something Courtney said which made me finally swallow the pill. Even though she’s prone to exaggeration, and although it’s a cliché, “Everyone needs to read this book” warrants a writer paying attention. To get more people at least reading my surrealist sci-fi RomCom, I had to make it more accessible. The really big thing I’d missed was the democratisation of the audience, through the very devices which opened up the writing market to so many authors like me. I’d also become jaded with some of the (at best) mediocre fiction offerings out there for e-readers, when it’s a completely free outlet (democratically and financially). Once, it might have felt somehow dirty, like I was selling myself out. But I’ve got a track record and a reputation now, and if you’re good, you’ll stand out in any size market.

Cyrus Song wants to be read, and it is a good book (see the reviews on this blog (on the bookshelf), and on Amazon, where I need more). Unlike its author, the novel decided to go out and be noticed, rather than wait to be found. Simon Fry suggested that, and it’s much more his book than mine. It’s a book for everyone, which is why I’ve made it more obtainable. It’s still available in paperback and always will be, for those who prefer a tangible book (and who might want it signed). But for everyone else, there’s now the Kindle edition (compatible with most e-readers, tablets, phones etc.)

It does still carry a cover price, because I’d be doing no-one any justice making it free. It’s £2.99 and it comes with 14-day lending rights to others. It can also be bought for 99p when buying the paperback, and borrowed for free with Kindle Unlimited. I’m not devaluing myself, as there are no costs (apart from my time) without print, so I make roughly the same royalties per copy, but hopefully in greater volumes now.

I’d like everyone to hear the Cyrus Song, and see that the answers really are all around and inside us, wherever they read the book, and even if they use tablets. The price of a coffee, to wash down the tablet version of the answer to the life, the universe and everything.

Cyrus Song for Kindle (other readers are available) is out now.