Category Archives: Observations

Ebooks, Publishers and going full circle

Electronic publishing began in earnest long before social media really existed and when many people weren’t online. Twenty years ago we relied heavily on egroups – mostly Yahoo groups to find each other and share books. Tiny publishing houses proliferated, and sold books directly to readers. Some of those houses grew enough to be able to afford artists for book covers, which is how Tom and I met.

When Amazon got into the ebook market, it was because that market already existed. Their early policies made it hard through to impossible for small houses to keep publishing via their own websites. Of necessity, we had to all sell through them, accepting a loss of control and lower income on each book in the hopes of reaching a wider audience, and of not being made obsolete. 

Many of the more successful ebook houses at that time were selling smut, and the kind of material you couldn’t get elsewhere. I watched Amazon have rounds of shutting down kink authors, shutting down queer authors, changing the rules, changing the rules again. Mostly as a company they seemed torn between the desire to make as much money as possible, and the censoring urges of the occasional Puritan they’d somehow employ. It was not fun being part of a small publishing house while that was happening.

Things evolved. Amazon got into print on demand. Other sites become more open to small houses, although that has everything to do with distribution now. One of the key things for a small publisher is to be able to get in with a distributor so that your books show up in online stores and can be ordered through physical bookshops. At this point, this is one of the major differences between self publishing and being published. As a self published author you may not be able to manage getting your print books distributed, at which point doing print on demand books with Amazon can make a lot of sense.

At this point, there are enough ways of getting your book out that Amazon can’t afford to have policies that entirely lock authors into working with them. And so it is that we’re coming full circle and seeing publisher websites offering both ebooks and hard copies. Even the bigger publishers are doing it. This is a reaction to the mess the publishing industry is in, which is in turn about the attitudes of publishers to not growing authors and not investing in marketing. Books do not magically sell because someone has published them and I really wish more publishers actually understood this. A staggering number of people in publishing seem to think that books just sell by magic.

Diversity is good, and massive corporations are problematic in so many ways. If you like an author, it is worth buying directly from the publisher if you can. Authors are usually paid a percentage of what the publisher gets, and when the publisher gets the full cover price, that really helps the author. When you see a book on sale in a supermarket for a few pounds, the author will be getting pennies for each copy sold. It’s just another bit of modern capitalism that really doesn’t work and there are parallels in many industries.

John Hunt Publishing has started selling directly, so if you’re looking for my traditionally published Pagan titles, do please have a look.

From the fainting couch

Compared to how much time I spend being bodily ill, I don’t write about it very much. Partly that’s because I am so very bored with the whole experience. Partly because it’s complicated in all kinds of ways and I’m not looking for advice.

One of the things I learned fairly early on in life is that if you are ill in a way people understand, they will help you. If you are ill in a way that is not understood, then you might not get any help. You might be told off for making a fuss, being lazy, trying to get out of PE and suchlike. Never mind that I had to give up dancing classes, I was told it was all in my head and that there was nothing really wrong with me. That wasn’t true, but it stopped me taking myself seriously for a long time and I learned to push through things and not make a fuss. A lot of people go through similar experiences, so I increasingly feel that it is important to talk about this stuff.

At this point in my life I know that hypermobile bodies are expensive to run and easy to hurt and damage. Low blood pressure, grumpy lymphs and heart palpitations all go with the territory. What I suffered with as a young human all makes a lot of sense now. It is easier to bear as an adult, knowing why I get so tired so easily and why so much of me is wonky.

I’ve thought about getting a diagnosis. Given that all of my joints are hypermobile, in theory it shouldn’t be hard, but I know from other people that unless you get lucky and find a GP who knows all of this stuff, it’s a bit of a slog. Many GPs are not open to people turning up with any kind of self diagnosis, that often makes the process harder, not easier. I’m not sure there’s much to be gained. There’s no treatment available for crappy structural collagen anyway, so it would be a lot of effort to go to in order to have to manage it by myself anyway. 

I’ve spent the last few years struggling with low blood pressure. Complicating factors include preposterous periods – there aren’t many options for dealing with those, but I am looking at them. There’s not much good information online about managing low blood pressure. Things like ‘don’t stand up too quickly’ are typical. To manage it, I have to be careful about what I eat and drink, alert to the peri-menpausal night sweats, to gut failure, and anything that makes me cry. Some days I manage better than others.

Currently I’m looking at the relationship between other aspects of my body chemistry, and my blood pressure, because there may be other factors to explore. I’m lucky in that my ability to read and make sense of scientific papers is fairly good. I know that using Dr Google is risky and not always wise. I also know from experience that there’s nothing like seeing a member of the medical profession for raising my blood pressure, and it’s hard to make a case for having a problem that cannot be measured effectively.

It’s a funny business, having a body, being embodied, and being wonky in ways that don’t have simple explanations and aren’t easy to fix. I try to be pragmatic about it. I study my wonkiness for patterns in the hopes of managing it better. Some days pretty much the only Druidry I can do involves experiencing nature as it manifests in my own body – weird and confusing as that often is.

Inking for Wessex

This is me, working on a piece for The Wessex Mysteries – the series I’m doing with David Bridger.

David went through the text for all of the geographical content in the book. While the setting is based on actual Dorset, we’ve made a lot up. I then took his notes and worked that into a fairly basic sort of map. Tom took the map and turned it into a view of the landscape – it’s not a realistic perspective, more a kind of illustrative, narrative approach to map making, which I rather like. I then came back in to ink the whole thing. 

I don’t have a designated art space, so I usually work on a board wherever is most comfortable – usually with my knees up like this. I live in a small space with two other people and a cat, so there has to be a lot of flexibility around how work gets done.

One of the things visible here is how I hold a pen – I’ve always held it this way, despite many people trying to ‘correct’ me as a child. I have hypermobile hands, and a ‘proper’ hold is prohibitively painful for me. When I was a child, no one ever asked why I was refusing to hold the pen properly, the focus was all on trying to normalise me. I think we’ve come a long way since those days and there seems to be considerably more willingness to make room for difference. If you look at my left hand you can see my joints bending the wrong way. This is something that affects my whole body.

Having the space to do things on my own terms is incredibly important to me. If I can’t sit in the way my body needs to sit, or hold a pen in the way that works for me, I can’t really function. There are a great many people who have comparable issues and needs and who can’t thrive if forced to conform to other people’s ideas about what a body should be able to do.

There’s a kind of mono-thinking that permeates a lot of white, western culture. One God, one truth, one true way. One right way of holding your pen – I think of all the people who are older than me who were put through all kinds of needless distress for being left handed. People are diverse in all kinds of ways, and anything that insists on only having a solitary ‘right way’ of engaging is bound to needlessly exclude. 

This is part of why I was so attracted to Druidry in the first place. It’s not a path, as such, it’s an approach that allows people to make their own journey on their own terms. There’s no one right way of being a Druid, and no demands intrinsic to Druidry that casually dismiss people or deny their existence. There’s always scope to tinker things to make them work for you, and I think that’s incredibly important.

What some people think I do

Ah, the arts life, just swanning about doing nothing while people give me vast sums of money to support my decadent lifestyle.

I find it really curious how some people think the arts work, and all the recent commentary around AI has made it obvious just how many people out there think that creative people are elitist and lazy and don’t deserve to be paid for their work, or even allowed to work.

I wish with all my heart that the people who feel this way would sit down and write a novel, or an opera, or paint someone’s portrait, or go on stage and perform a play. It would be obvious to them fairly quickly at that point that there would be effort, skills and knowledge involved.

Whether a book is fiction or non-fiction there’s usually research involved, as well as planning and structuring. I prefer to make novels up as I go, but I do a lot of world building ahead of that, and I spend time on themes. I prefer character-driven stories, and it takes a while to create complex characters who can make that work. Then there’s the writing, the redrafting, the editing and the promoting. These days even big publishing houses expect authors to do most of the marketing. 

If all I did on this blog was try and sell people books, many of you would not show up to read anything – and rightly so. Relentless sales pitches aren’t interesting, and this is also true for social media. And so, in order to engage people, I end up creating and giving away a lot of content. This has worked as a strategy for me, but it does take time and energy, and not everyone can afford that. My fabulous co-writer David has massive health problems, leaving him with the option of writing or promoting, but no scope to do both. For those many creative people working full or part time jobs, the way marketing your own work also needs to be a full time job makes this whole industry really challenging.

We (The Hopeless, Maine team) do a lot of events because selling books directly works for us and because it’s a way of raising the profile of what we’re doing. Events are also work, performing at events requires rehearsing, being at events means promoting the event. I wish I could spend more time at events just being glamorous and floating about, but in practice, you’ll also find the better known musicians at events working their merch tables when they aren’t on stage, and putting in a lot of effort engaging with people.

Developing ideas takes time. I don’t want to write the kind of obvious, derivative fiction that could easily be replaced by an AI. So there are limits on how fast I can churn things out (5k words a day is my upper limit) , and how much time I need to spend just thinking about things. Unfortunately we have a culture that prizes looking busy, and is much less keen on people thinking about things. What you can do by rushing around trying very hard to look busy as a kind of performance art is not the same as what you can do with focused thought, but one of these things looks more convincing than the other, for a lot of people.

Music takes time, too. It takes hours of work to learn a piece and get it up to performance standards. It takes a lot of time to learn a script and to be able to perform it on stage. Art also takes time and isn’t created in a brief flurry of being magically talented. The image I’ve put at the top of this post is a Hopeless, Maine take on The Death of Chatterton. Drawing that image took Tom at least a day – which he can only do because he’s spent years honing his skills as a visual artist. Colouring it will have taken at least four hours, and that’s four hours of intense focus. 

Being creative is an excellent thing, and I want everyone to have time and resources to create whatever they want. Being a professional creator is actually quite a lot of work, and has a lot of the same work aspects of other jobs – we have admin, and tedious stuff that just has to be slogged through, and all the rest of it. The vast majority of people working in creative industries are paid poorly, no matter what their economic approach to the work is.

Doing something, doing nothing

Sometimes, self care looks like getting stuff done. There’s relief in tackling challenges and getting problems under control. Sometimes, self care means doing the terrifying things, booking the appointment, squaring up to the problems.

At other times, doing nothing can be a really good choice. Bodies need time to rest and heal. Our minds need time to process complex experiences. When things are intense and emotional, we can need more rest and sometimes even more sleep just to deal with it. It’s important to note that this isn’t just about ‘negative’ feelings. Big happy feelings, especially ones leading to radical life changes, also need processing. Letting your body work through the excitement so that you can incorporate it rather than just jangling about, is a really good idea.

I find I often do my emotional processing more effectively if I’m also doing something with my body. I’ve used walking, dancing, crafting and cleaning this way. How much it helps to be doing something is really personal, and definitely worth exploring.

Sometimes the answer is to distract yourself. When it comes to massive emotional upheavals, it can be better to not try and focus on it too much, and let at least some of it happen in the background.

When you aren’t able to deal with your own emotions, sometimes it helps to dig in with a book or film that goes into similar territory. I’ve found this helpful around unprocessed grief, although it can be an invitation to sobbing. But, on the plus side, you do get to pick your timing with those rather than just being ambushed by it, and feeling more in control of things can also be a good self care choice.

On the day of writing this, self care for me looks like getting things done so that I can feel more in control, alongside throwing myself at things that aren’t the real issues, for reasons of distraction and comfort. On another day, faced with the same issues, I might make entirely different choices. It’s all good.

Humanity and technology

I have a recollection of a scene in a Star Trek NG film, where there was a comment on our relationship with machines. The speaker was making a complex textile piece and expressed the feeling that when we replace anything with technology, we reduce our humanity.

Certainly when things are made by hand, to be kept and cherished we have a very different relationship with them to items made industrially to be thrown away. Ideas of fashion and consumerism depend on having no longevity in our possessions. 

There are things machines do very well, and I find I’m wholly in favour of using technology for things we otherwise have no means of doing. Medical technology is an excellent case in point here. Using machines to make life possible and comfortable for people strikes me as being a really good idea. Using devices to do the bits of jobs that are efforty but don’t give you much is worth a thought. Cooking from scratch but having a food blender can make a lot more sense than having to hand mash or whisk everything. Having workarounds for things your body can’t do opens up more possibilities.

I love the internet, and I greatly appreciate the things computers allow us to do. Books work far better for being easier to distribute and I see no advantage in books being something you have to meticulously copy out by hand. Clearly sometimes the slowest way is not the best way.

It seems to me that there’s a question to ask here about whether mechanising a process gives us something truly helpful, or takes something away from us. I think it’s also worth asking to what degree the ‘mechanised’ things really are that, and to what degree work is actually being done by people obliged to work like machines. I’m thinking about workers in Amazon warehouses and clothing sweatshops here, to take some obvious examples. The way in which people are deployed to support tech driven industry can be brutal.

Clothes are to a large degree made by people. Mechanised clothes making involves dangerous work places, long hours and little pay. We haven’t spared anyone any drudgery or misery by this means. Factory floor work is often tedious and the environments are unpleasant – it’s not work I’ve done personally, but I know people who have. While mechanising can reduce the number of jobs in such spaces, it doesn’t result in nice working environments, necessarily, or well paid jobs, or meaningful jobs, which inclines me to think that we’re going about it all in entirely the wrong way.

Misleading stories

CW rape and suicide

Recently I watched a film in which a young lady committed suicide because she had been raped. The whole thing was presented as a massive tragedy. Afterwards, it struck me how deeply misleading and problematic this kind of story is.

Rape is common, as is sexual assault. I know a depressingly large number of women who have been raped, most of whom have experienced no justice whatsoever. None of whom have killed themselves, or even tried to.

At the same time, suicide is most often an issue for young men. While there’s a general feeling that this is because it’s hard for men to talk about their feelings, I’m not aware of much real research into the question of why this happens or what we can do to prevent it.

The stories we tell each other inform how we think the world works. A lot of people get more of their ideas from entertainment than they do from non-fictional sources. People who believe that the global majority played little part in history often get that impression from the whitewashed American films of the 20th century, as an obvious example of this in action. Entertainment impacts on life and is not a morally neutral activity.

As a storyteller, the temptation is always to go after the most dramatic story you can imagine. It’s also tempting to tell the story you think you know, not the one rooted in reality. The way in which stories about female experience are told by a very male dominated film industry has troubled me for some time, and this film underlined it for me. There are too many films where realistic violence to a woman is used to justify and to centre unrealistic male violence. There aren’t many films that examine in a realistic way what it’s like for a female survivor. It’s there in the book version of The Colour Purple for example, but not really in the film at all. We don’t mostly go on Kill Bill style revenge missions. Mostly we just live with it.

Rape as a plot device often actually serves to make rape seem rare, dramatic, and the basis for other kinds of violence and drama. Part of the true horror of rape is the banality of it, the widespread, widely ignored nature of this kind of violence.

Blog Issues

Dear regular readers of the blog, those of you who are here often are likely aware that there have been some weird things going on in the comments in the last couple of months. I think it will be useful to those of you who have felt disquiet, to explain as best I can what’s going on.

First up, this is just one person. I wasn’t sure initially, but I am now and have been for some time. They use multiple identities to try and make it seem as though there are a lot of people who have taken against me. Whether this is supposed to make me uncomfortable, or intended to impact on you, my readers, I am not sure.

I do not know who this person is or why they are doing what they do. Clearly this is someone who very much needs attention – perhaps having a whole post written about them will help with that. I’ve let the comments through and replied to them partly because at the moment this person doesn’t seem to know how to seek attention in healthy ways, and at least this is a fairly safe space for them. While I do get frustrated and irritated sometimes, I’m doing my best to handle all of this constructively, and your patience is greatly appreciated around all of that.

There are people in my past who I have seriously annoyed, but this person doesn’t write like any of them. I don’t know if there’s any real reason for the anger they keep bringing. I try hard not to cause harm, and if I mess up through ignorance or lack of attention then I want to know about that so I can do better. That’s an open invitation to tell me if you have a problem with something I’ve done.

If this is a case of taking something out on me that has nothing to do with me… all I can do is counsel against that. It’s a way of behaving that does not serve the person doing it, and will not fix anything. If this is about the desire to provoke me into behaving differently, then that’s a bit of a waste of time, because I’m simply being myself here and there isn’t anything significantly different from how I am responding that can be revealed by needling me. 

I’m not especially upset about the comments on my own account. I have spent quite a lot of time wondering what on earth could be going on in a person’s head to lead them to act in this way. I hope the person doing this is able to seek more fulfilling ways of spending their time. I wish they would spend time working through their own issues in a supportive environment, but I recognise not everyone has the friend support to do that, and not everyone can afford therapy or counselling. The internet is full of free resources though. It is much better to invest time in learning, healing and changing yourself than it is to take out your frustration on some random person online.

For most of the life of this blog, I’ve been proud to say ‘do read the comments’ – a rare and delightful position to be in, considering the nature of the internet. I’ve been blessed with readers who respond thoughtfully, who open out discussions, add insight and who challenge in really good ways. Many of you have been reading and responding for years, and I treasure those interactions. I’m not going to change any aspect of what I do in response to what’s going on, and I will wait and see if this person either finds the courage to tell me what their problem is, or gets bored with me, or finds something better. I wish them well, I wish them opportunities to learn, and grow and become a healthier, happier sort of person.

If any of this is impacting on you then please do flag it up in the comments. I don’t want to make regular readers uncomfortable over this. I would rather keep those you you who benefit from the blog comfortable, and I’m not honestly sure what the best way to handle any of this really is.

Seeking feedback

If you have any desire to create for other people, then getting feedback is an important part of the process. Initially it may be the case that all you can do is bring your efforts to the people who you want as your audience, and see what happens. As you grow and learn, your feedback needs are likely to change.

No matter where it comes from, the single most important consideration with feedback is whether you can use it. There are plenty of people who hand out unusable criticism. It’s very easy to rubbish something. People who have anything of value to offer are able to give criticism in a way that makes it possible to do something productive with it. If there’s nothing you can usefully do with feedback you were given, you might as well ignore it.

While general audience feedback is good, there’s a lot to be said for getting more qualified and relevant insight. There’s not much point fretting over what someone who considers themselves ‘literary’ thinks of your genre novel. Paying attention to feedback from people who are working in the same areas as you, or actively choosing to be an audience for the kinds of things you do makes a lot of sense. There’s no hope of making something everyone will like, so it’s important to be deliberate about who you are making things for. At which point you might as well not worry about the people who are not your intended audience. 

As a case in point, I’ve had a few Christians turn up on the blog wanting to convert me. I am not for them, and they are not for me. Christians I can have conversations with about spirituality, morality and service – for example – are always entirely welcome. We don’t have to agree on everything to learn from each other.

One of the most problematic kinds of feedback comes from people who will try and make your work exactly like their work. This is especially a problem when you’re starting out and trying to figure out who you are as a creator. When it comes from people with actual or apparent authority, it can be persuasive. Anyone giving you feedback should be helping you be yourself, not trying to turn you into them. Trust your own feelings in this – if you don’t feel that someone understands what you were trying to achieve, you don’t have to take their feedback onboard.

Being able to offer good advice often depends on having a skills set. A person telling me whether or not they liked something is unlikely to result in my knowing how to do better. This is why a lot of authors will have other authors who read and feed back to them. I’ve had the pleasure of doing this for other people, and I have several author friends who read for me. I also have some wonderful test readers with wider experience, whose insight I greatly value. It’s good to have people I can take things to, especially when I’m struggling with a piece – which happens to us all.

As a creator, you don’t owe time and attention to everyone. It’s not actually feasible, and the higher a profile you have the more time you’ll spend hearing from people with nothing useful to say. I follow a number of high profile authors on Twitter, and some of them get a startling amount of abuse. I’m very glad not to have to deal with that kind of attention and I respect the kind of courage it takes to keep showing up in face of that. No matter what you’re doing, believing in your own vision is vital. Find the people who share that vision, the people who are fellow travellers and who understand what you’re about. The world is a big place and social media makes it much easier than it used to be for those of us who are more niche.

Sloth Comics

Sloth Comics are a small UK based publisher. This is the house that handles my Hopeless, Maine graphic novels and they’ve been an utter joy to work with. Sloth publishes a mix of UK material, and French material. Publisher Nic is bilingual and is thus able to bring French titles in translation to the UK market.

The French comics market is much bigger and gets far more respect than comics publishing in the UK. One of the consequences of this is that artists can afford to create. This leads to higher quality of work, faster output, or both.

In the UK, graphic novels and comics are often treated as an inferior form. Many people think that comics mean superheroes. Most of what Sloth publishes is not superhero content – there’s one very entertaining parody – Loran’s Academy of Super-Heroes. 

Many people assume that comics are intrinsically for children, because of the pictures. This simply isn’t true. Comics can be for anyone, and are as capable of dealing with adult themes as any other medium. Most of what Sloth publishes would be suitable for anyone over twelve, and all of it is unsuitable for young children. Most of the readers are adults.

I’ve had a long and steady relationship with Sloth. I’t a house that has taken good care of me, and my work and where I’ve felt I could build a firm foundation for the Hopeless, Maine project.  I like the other comics Nic publishes and I’m delighted to be part of it all..

Publisher’s website –

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