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Adventures in Writing – another summer over

This will be the first month since I started writing this blog that I have got nothing to say.

There are a number of reasons for this.

One, I feel very strongly that anything I say doesn’t really matter (refugees, climate change, they are a LOT more important).

Two, the woes of the world make ANYTHING I say totally irrelevant

Three, writing books is not such a big deal – we authors are not the font of all knowledge

So, to bring things into perspective, I’m going to write about what happened to me this month…a personal overview of four weeks or so of my ever-changing life.

I decided to enrol my youngest daughter in my school. Her mother was not impressed. I tried to convince her that having a choice, having options, is a good thing. Imagine having the option at 18 of either going to a Spanish University or a British one. Or, even at 16, having the option of trying to find a job in Spain, or a having the chance to go to a British FE college and leaning, training for a career that she will love. I wish I had those sorts of options. I left school with not very much. A grade ‘C’ in English and Art. Yeah, well with that I’m not even going to get into the Civil Service. So…my choices were limited, hers will not be.

I wrote a book over the summer. That’s quite an achievement, even if I say so myself. 65,000 words. A Western. I’ve always wanted to write a Western and it simply flowed out of me. I had to change the title a few times, but in the end, I went with ‘Unflinching’, a little like ‘Unforgiven’, but nothing like the same story. Set BEFORE the American Civil War, in 1857 this book tells the story of a Pinkerton Detective who sets out to find the kidnapped daughter of a general he served under. In the Mexican War. It is gutsy and full of violence. Which is how Westerns should be. I loved writing it, I hope you love reading it.

cover draft

The very wonderful cover of my soon-to-be-released novel ‘Unflinching’, a Western set in 1857 America.

Publishing a book is always fraught with problems. Small independant publishers do go out of business. They cannot survive in this cutthroat world, so where does that leave us poor authors? Do I self-publish, or find another publisher? I think my publishers are very good, although I was let down recently by some mistakes in the editing process, mistakes which were panned by a reviewer! Rightly so. Anyway, I got in touch with the publisher and we have worked together to iron out all the errors, of which there were not many, to be fair. I suspected there might have been a faulty with the reviewer’s E-reader. It does happen, because some of the things she said simply didn’t add up when I went through the manuscript. Anyway, it’s done… Another book of mine had a tiny mistake. The name of one of the characters changed towards the end, This was another publisher and their response was very different. They won’t make the changes! So, I am going to withdraw my book from them, close the contract, go with someone else. There a lot of good publishers out there…but there are plenty that aren’t. It is so difficult to find the right one, isn’t it. To self-publish sometimes seems like the easy option, but I’m still convinced to try and get picked up by one of the big publishers is what it is all about. So, that’s what I’ll do.

Did I tell you I completed the first parto f a TV adaptation of one of my books? It was such hard work, but I’m hopeful I’ll be rewards when it is put out on our TV screens!!!

Summer is over and it has been busy. Western, TV episode, and another book also completed. I’ve struck a deal with a publisher to publish 4 of my books. Sounds good. Well…we’ll see. I’m very pragmatic about the whole industry now. Like I say … We’ll see. I think that is the best policy.

Wait. Keep an open mind. And, as it turns out … Nothing to say this month? Well…quite a lot in the end!

Keep reading people.

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Adventures in writing…a month of commemorations!

This has been an interesting, and moving year, so far.

Interesting because it has been a steep learning curve for me with regard to publishers. I knew they worked slowly, but never quite how slowly. Of course, this is because they have lots of work with mountains of authors in the queue before me, I understand that, but nevertheless it is frustrating.

But I’m philosophical. I have now reached the stage where I don’t care.

If it takes them three years to get round to me, then so be it. I’m not going to worry. What will be will be. When they ask me to promote, get in touch with the press, libraries, Twitter and Facebook…I might just wait myself. Wait and wait.

Let me reiterate. I DO NOT CARE. I forked out a lot of money for a virtual book tour, a Twitter campaign, etc., etc., Result? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. So, no more of that thank you very much. I’m not wasting another penny on any of these awful campaigns. They don’t work. End of.

Now, the moving bit, for which I DO care. Quite a lot.

2015 has been an extraordinary year for commemorating some of the most important dates in our calendar.

April was a time to remember the horrors of Gallipoli, Churchill’s dream of knocking Turkey out of the Great War and putting immense pressure on the Germans. It was a disaster. battle_of_gallipoliToo many died in what was to become a nightmare campaign. But we need to remember; for the men who gave their lives and to instruct our youth about the utter futility of war.

June. What a month (as I’m writing this, it is not yet over!). The fifteenth saw my school joining in with many others in the commemorations going on all around Runnymede for the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Actually, that is wrong. King John didn’t sign it, he couldn’t read or write. He put his seal on it. Anyway, my school asked the question and were given the answer, and named, by Dan Snow, who is a cool guy.

Then, the 18th June. Waterloo. waterlooThere is not much more to be said about this battle, one of the most important ever fought. A terrible day, but even so I would have loved to have gone to Belgium to watch the re-enactment, but of course I couldn’t. I have bought all the stamps and the coins…and a French army in 10mm however, so that is something!

In October, it is the 600th anniversary of Agincourt…

What a year…and next year…2016, is the Somme, and the Norman invasion (950 years since Duke William came a-calling!).

Mm…I might have to buy some more figures!

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Adventures in Writing – tweet, tweet ter-woo!

You know, I’ve just posted something on Twitter. I go to look, and it’s not there. Well, it is, but it is already superseded by about forty or more tweets from others. This got me thinking. In order to READ all of these Tweets, you’d have to be on the internet 24/7. For most of us, this simply isn’t feasible.

So…I tried to work it out. All my efforts to post earth-shattering, informative, philosophical, newsworthy Tweets…

Is it really worth it?

I began to think about myself. I’m not unique, different, in any way out of the ordinary. How much of my day do I spend on Twitter? It didn’t take me long to find the answer.

About ten minutes.

In that time, am I likely to take notice, spot, discern, know about the world’s next great book?

Answer…

No.

We are all programmed to believe that having a ‘presence’ is absolutely essential in this hyper-spaced-out-world in which we live.

Is it?

What does it mean if we have 108k followers? I’ve talked about this before, but sometimes I think it is worth revisiting. I use the above figure as an example. Here’s why.

Today I received an email telling me I have another new follower on Twitter. Not a company giving me access to thousands of e-books, or a travel firm, or fashion house, but a real person. Youpie. I investigated. This person follows some 23k people. That, in itself, is something of an achievement. Where does he find the time? Then, his followers…108k. I had to look again, One hundred and eight thousand followers! My God, who is this guy? Some sort of Mahatma Ghandi, a man of world-renown, the next President?

No. He’s just a guy. From Merseyside. And he’s written a book. And he has 108,000 followers.

What the hell is happening? Am I the only one who thinks all of this as simply some massive con? I think I am. People bombard me with all sorts of put-me-downs after I post such ideas. They lambast me, insult me, tell me I need to wake up, get real, join the real world. Really?

Sometimes, being a lone voice, is kind of deflating, but it can also do wonders for the spirit. Think of how many great men and women have been ridiculed for their views, only to be revered later when people realise the truth of what they said. Crying in the wilderness is actually a good thing. Just because a thousand people tell me I’m wrong doesn’t actually mean I’m wrong.

And then…joy of joys … as if to confirm thing, I receive an email from someone inviting me to be their follower on Twitter. Someone … or something. They ‘sell’ reviews. For a small payment I can purchase ‘good’ reviews.

Now this really got my blood boiling.

I do not want to buy ‘good’ reviews. If I’m going to buy reviews, I want them to be ‘honest’. And I receive an email from Amazon telling me that only when you have received 50 reviews are you going to be taken seriously. Fifty? So, the pressure is on. We have to have that magical number, we have to break through the barrier, get ourselves noticed, win the accolades, the sales, the acceptance. Fifty. And, guess what, Amazon can help. Yes, they really can. You can get onboard and ‘buy’ the required number of sales to be regarded as a best-seller! Just imagine, having that accolade on your book cover. ‘Best-selling author bla-de-bla’ comes to a village hall near you to talk about how wonderful it is to be a star. Famous. Rich. Mm.

I’m being cynical? You think? I know James Joyce did it. He bought 200 copies of Ulysses I think it was, to give away to his friends. That gave him something of a kick-start, but what is being proposed today is very different. As long as you keep spending your money, you can buy your way to success. Well, I’m of the school which believes talent, creativity and the ability to craft a damn good story is of far greater importance. We all need to promote ourselves in the best ways we can, but this buying your way above the masses … Well …

I’m simply and honestly disgusted. This is all a sham. We are living in the era of the biggest publishing con there has ever been, and we all contribute, we all buy into it, even me. Because the pressure is on to sell, sell, sell. Honesty and talent no longer have a place. We must sell, by hook or by crook, and to hell with everything else. Listen to Amazon, if you don’t believe me. Or Bookbaby. It’s easy. Anyone can do it … just keep reaching inside your pockets.

Beam me up. I’ve had enough.

I’m going back to my keyboard, find happiness in the worlds I create, and keep submitting. I believe, in my simple innocence, that good writing will forces its way to the top. People like good stories. They simply need to know I write them, that I exist. But I’m not going to buy my way into the consciousness of prospective readers. Besides, I can’t afford it. So, there has to be another way. Surely.

Thanks for dropping by. You can find out about my books on my website: www.stuartgyates.com. Come along and visit me, pick up a book, enjoy. But whatever you do, keep reading.

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Adventures in writing … Facebook and Twitter, the way to success?

Random shots … well, it is The Season!

Just finished reading another of those little articles that cause me to stop and think…this one from The Guardian, recounting how publishers are now expecting authors to have Facebook and Twitter accounts, with as many ‘followers’ or ‘friends’ or ‘likes’ or whatever else you want to call it, as they can get.

Okay … you see, I’m always a little cynical about all this, wondering who exactly creates this stuff. A little bit like receiving posts from Book Baby and Kindle glowing with the stories of self-made authors who are making thousands every week. Apparently, this can’t be said for authors signed by major publishers as everyone there is losing money.

Which is why, I suppose, they tell us to get out there and sign up those ‘friends’.

Well … so I did a little research, just to see …

I chose five of my favouirite authors (I have a lot more than five, and this is only a random list)

Here they are, in no particular order.

John Harvey, Mark Billingham, Harlan Coben, Philippa Gregory and C J Sansom.

The results were really interesting.

On Facebook, Mark Billingham has 6.424 likes, C J Sansom 10,726, Philippa Gregory a whopping 129,229 and Harlan Coben an utterly amazing 306,448! John Harvey does not have a Facebook page. Mm …

Okay, on Twitter, the results are somewhat different. These are followers, and I haven’t done ‘following’. Maybe I should, or you could, and let me know. Anyway … John Harvey has 337 (which is less than me, I think!), Philippa Gregory has 13,400, Mark Billingham 16,200 and Harlan is way out in the lead again, with 57,000 followers! C J Sansom doesn’t appear to have a Twitter account, but there a thousands of Tweats about him, which may or may not mean the same thing.

The thing is, of course, these authors don’t seem to have ‘personal’ pages, which is probably a good thing as it keeps their private lives separate from their professional ones, although some of them do share quite a lot of personal stuff other than their writing on their author page, and Twitter accounts. I notice many self-published authors combine their private and author pages into one. I have two, one personal and one for my writing and related news. I have probably gone about this in totally the wrong way, but nobody was here to guide me when I set it all up. And my poor old Twitter account uses my Young Adult author name, which proves I am moron when it comes to social media.

Which, in the final analysis, means I’m not going to be taken seriously by a big publisher.

Great. What a lovely way to end the year.

However, I do take solace in the fact that my very favourite writer, John Harvey, is in exactly the same boat. He has published NINETY books and is internationally regarded as one of the finest thriller writers there is. So, although I see the sense in having all these people following me (wouldn’t it be great, to have 5,000 likes on Facebook, and 15,000 followers on Twitter. Wow, the thought is intoxicating!), I am warmed by the fact that me and John are true soul-mates when it comes to this sort of thing. I don’t know what I’m doing. Perhaps John doesn’t either, but it hasn’t stopped him selling millions of books.

Wonder what my excuse is?

Anyway, lovely people, hope you had a very lovely Christmas and a wonderful New Year. 2015 is going to be YOUR year, don’t forget. As for me, I have a new book, ‘Whipped Up’, the 2nd in the Paul Chaise thriller series, coming out on the 5th January, so please pop over to Smashwords and reserve your copy! For Kindle, it’ll be on Amazon as that beautiful day dawns.

whippedup_cover_big

Thanks in advance

God bless us, everyone!

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Adventures in Writing – Hardrada novels

VARANGIAN – the background story to the greatest Viking of them all, is the first in my Harald Hardrada series. novels.

Very soon, the second in my proposed five volume series of historical novels based around the life of Harald Sigurdsson, the last and greatest Viking of them all, published by Rebel-e, will be available.

The first volume, entitled ‘Varangian’ is receiving very good reviews. It is available from Barnes and noble, Smashwords and HERE, on Amazon.

The cover for my historical novel 'Varangian'.

The cover for my historical novel ‘Varangian’.

I thought it might be of interest to many readers to give some background to this amazing man, a living legend in his own time, a man who is still honoured and celebrated in Norway even to this day.

We all know the Vikings, or at least we think we do. The recent television series ‘The Vikings’ has used the historical figure of Ragnor Luthbrok as its vehicle to launch a re-telling of this amazing man’s journey across the sea to England.

Luthbrok was a real figure. It is to him that history has forever linked the terrible atrocities perpetrated at Lindisfarne in 793 AD, when the defenceless monks in that isolated monastery were put to the sword and their holy relics and treasures looted. The Vikings had arrived, and for the next 360 years they raided, settled and ruled the land we now know as England.

Ragnor Lodbrok, one of the first Vikings to raid Britain

Hardrada’s story is similar.

Born in Norway, around 1014, he was the half-brother to King Olaf II, who was canonised a saint soon after his bloody death. My fictional series begins with Harald languishing in a prison cell, in the great city of Constantinople. How he got there is the subject of my thirds volume. The in-betweens are dealt with it the previous two volumes. ‘Varangian’ sets out how he manages to make good his release. Already a commander of the fabled Varangian guard, he is employed by the holy patriarch Alexius to help the great city defend itself against the excesses of its own emperor, Michael V. Depraved, drunk with power, Michael attempted to usurp power for himself, ignoring the army and his adopted mother, the magnificent, beautiful and sensual Empress Zoe, whom Hardrada was once a lover. Well, all that is over now. Zoe found our hero in a clinch with a young girl and has taken her revenge by throwing him in prison. But the patriarch wants him free, to muster the Varangians, stationed in the north. Without them, the entire empire will fall under the clutches of the mad, perverted young emperor.

That’s the plan at least.

The problem is, there are others who want the throne for themselves. Top of the tree is General George Maniakes, the greatest Byzantine general ever. He has fought alongside the ferocious Hardrada in Sicily. He knows what the man is like, and he will do his utmost to undermine him at every opportunity.

And so the story continues, the palace intrigues, deceptions, murders, all contributing to make for a fast-paced and exciting series of books.

Of course, Hardrada was to fall at Stamford Bridge in 1066, a victim of his own ambition. Not content to be honoured as the greatest Viking who has ever lived, he strove to succeed in one last, great achievement – to be king of England. He destroyed the Army of the North at Fulford Gate, but fell at Stamford a few days later, not expecting Harold Godwinson to react so quickly.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge, September 25th, 1066

 

Two hundred and fifty ships brought the Vikings to England, only twenty were needed to take the survivors home. It was the last roll of the dice, the Vikings never again gaining a foothold in England.

Hardrada was an amazing man. His adventures and sheer force of will to have his named stamped in the annals of history, set him towering over his contemporaries. Poet, lover, warrior, read of his exploits in my books and get to know the greatest Viking of them all – Harald the hard ruler, king of Norway and man of legend.

You can learn more about my books and what I do by visiting my website, www.stuartgyates.com.

Here you can read some extracts of my books and find about current and future projects.

The images used in this blog are supplied under license from ‘Look and Learn’, and apologies for the Vikings wearing horns on their helmets – something they never did!

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Adventures in Writing…paid reviews? NO THANKS!

One of the biggest struggles about being a writer isn’t so much the writing. That’s the cool part. Imagination, the spinning together of all the various threads: character, scenarios, plots, etc, etc…wow, wouldn’t it be so great to simply sit and write…whimsical thoughts, probably. Because, as we all know, we now have to sell ourselves. And that is such a pain.

Well, okay, so you’ve told the world. The world being Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, websites, newspapers, magazines, friends, family, the neighbour’s dog. You may even have placed an ad in Goodreads, like me. Wow, Goodreads. 40,000 people viewed my ad. 30 have clicked on it. Mm…30 clicks. And sales…hold your breath…nil.

So, friends. We persuade our publisher to reduce the price, get some interest moving. They moan and groan. ‘I’ll make no money’. Oh, so you’ll make more by NOT selling it for $13 dollars? Sure, if someone bought it, but they don’t! When we try and give away our books, what happens? Nobody picks them up. They’re free. Nobody is interested.

And then, one fine day, somebody does take hold of your book and they love it. They write a review. It is fantastic. You rub your hands with glee, because now you have not one, but FIVE stunning reviews.

This truly is the turning point.

It isn’t.

So, by this time you’re really up against it. What to do. Your book is reduced in price, it is on promotion, you are telling the whole world, reviews are great and we all know that reviews help sell so… you need more reviews.

I went on Amazon and I looked up some reviews for books similar to mine. I got in touch with those people who had given these reviewed books only one star. They seemed honest. Honest enough to reply to my question, ‘Why haven’t you read my book, as it is much better than this one?’ Well, okay, I didn’t say it quite like that, but you know what I mean. One of them told me something very interesting. He told me to be wary of 5-star reviews, that many of them are paid reviewers. He gave me some names and I began to look them up. Sure enough, they churn out these things by the lorry load. 5-stars reviews like they are falling around us like snow in the Alps. And there are HUNDREDS of these guys. Furthermore, authors are PAYING them!

Is that honest? Is that cheating?

I think so. They must have money to burn too, as these reviews don’t come cheap. Imagine, paying out 10 dollars for each review, receiving 50 5-star reviews. Five hundred dollars. Not much I hear you say, and the sales – whoa, the sales! They are fantastic. Pretty soon you are climbing up the ladder. You are 10,000, 5,000, TWO HUNDRED in the pop chart of sales!!!

But then you come to write your second book. If you can write a second book that is. If you’re interested, if you have the will, the desire, let alone the talent. You write it, and despite all the reviews in all the world, you don’t sell any.

Why not? Because it’s crud, that’s why. Just like the first one. The only difference is, now everyone knows it. The bluff can’t work twice.

You might even be tempted to go and buy some advertising on one of those book promotion sites which are all the rage. Sure, brilliant. The free ones…well, your book will get lost amongst all the others, so BUY an ad. It’ll only cost you around 1200 dollars. WHAT? Am I mad? Somebody must be, to actually buy this stuff.

I’m so tired of it all. I am. The whole bandwagon. Buy this, do that. Bootcamps and snowflakes. Three part novels and five part novels. Pulses and beats.

Why in the name of sanity can’t people write because they can? Because they NEED to?

I’m a lonely voice, lost in the corporate, self gratifying bilge of world that is called publishing.

But do I care? Well, I’m just completing an 80,000 word thriller, and about to edit my sequel to Varangian. So, I don’t care. Two-fingers, is what I say. I’ll write and if I sell, cool.

Stick with it.

My books Varangian, Roadkill and Burnt Offerings are all on promotion until the end of the month. Be quick and buy your Kindle version soon. You won’t regret it, I promise. Just read the reviews…and none of them paid for!

 

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Adventures in Writing…the future is looking…?

Just returning from Facebook and watching Matt Damon talk about how we need to make changes to the way we run our world. Seems like many celebrities are beginning to enter into the debate for a sort of non-conformist, civil disobedience stance. Russell Brand did a similar thing not so long ago on Newsnight.

I’m an advocate of free-speech. It is immaterial if you agree or not, but the right to voice opinions is a major pillar of our democracy. So let the debate rage, and may it change people’s minds and force us all to look towards the future and do our damnedest to make it a good one!

Now, you may be wondering what on earth any of this has to do with writing.

Well…

The thing is, these questions have always been a rich vein for me to explore creatively.

I wrote a cross-over book entitled ‘The Sandman Cometh’ which explored ideas to do with control. What if we were all fitted with a chip in our heads, inserted at birth, which changed or even removed our memories? What if children no longer had parents, that their lives were manipulated by nameless, faceless governments and every facet of society kept under strict control by the hideous Sandmen of the title? When I was young I used go to sleep with the sound of my heart beating through the pillow, and I believed the noise was that of a drum, signalling the approach of the Sandman. Awful dreams of being ‘caught’ outside after dark, of these things coming through my backyard door to seize me and take me away. And then, the terrible night when my father did not come home, and my mother went out into the dark streets to find him…These incidents occur in my book, and the hero, or anti-hero in many ways, struggles to overthrow the imbalance because his chip has malfunctioned, and he remembers.

Kindle version of The Sandman Cometh

Kindle version of The Sandman Cometh

Well, such a story found inspiration, not only from my dreams, but also in the changes – or advances – brought in by scientific research. Perhaps, in the future, we will not require men and women to co-habit in order for the species to continue. Perhaps a ‘Brave New World’ really is not so very far away?

And then, I began to think of other, more pressing things. The environment, the dangers we face through climate change and over-population. What if governments were secretly conjuring up plans to ‘wipe-out’ huge swathes of the population? What if this ‘cull’ was followed by the rich and powerful being left in charge, with armies of simpletons, their brains made smooth, the drones of a new society? What if someone discovered this plan, a policeman, someone in authority, and tried to do something about it? Well, I plotted and wrote the first draft and then, just the other day, I came across an interview Bill Gates had done…and it is chilling. Yes, the man who promotes helping the Third world and donates millions to the impoverished, appears to be advocating population control…enforced population control. To say I was stunned is an understatement. Maybe my book isn’t so far from the mark…

This book ‘Minus Life’ is finished and is now in the re-editing stage. I am hoping to submit it sometime in the New Year. As with all my books, there is a lot of me in there, with characters and scenarios lifted from my own experiences. Despite books being set in the future, they still need a semblance of truth. This is what makes fiction so powerful. The best stories are not far-fetched, or so improbable that readers shake their heads and toss the book aside. If it is believable, even high-fantasy, then readers will become engaged and will want to finish.

Well, I’ve given a tiny insight into what I do, and how I do it. I hope you enjoy reading about my writing journey, and please comment whenever you can.

Thank you for all your support and please visit my website to catch up on my work and other news. Thanks for reading.

www.stuartgyates.com

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