Tag Archives: author

Writing fantasies

A while ago, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and you could sit in a pub garden and be mansplained… A man sat near me in a pub garden and told me how he was going to make his fortune writing short stories. Not a living, a fortune. He was going to put some short stories online and there they would be found by someone important at Netflix, or Amazon. Films would naturally follow, and that would be his life all sorted.

I tried to explain to him that this is not how things work. He was having none of it. I mentioned twenty years of writing and publishing industry experience, and he was still confident that not even having written a short story yet, he knew more than me – but then, he was the one who had brought the penis to the conversation, and that’s always proof of superior insight for some people.

I hit him with some industry stats – that only about 10% of authors make anything from their work and that a good income from writing is about £10k a year and most of us will never even get close to that. He was unpersuaded that The Society of Authors might have meaningful industry stats in the first place, and certainly did not imagine any of that doom and gloom stuff applied to him.

I’ve had similar conversations before. I’ve heard from people who were new to writing, there was one, memorably, who thought her NaNoWriMo fantasy trilogy was bound for fame and fortune. After all, Water for Elephants started on NaNoWriMo so clearly she was going to have the same experience.

As is often the way of it in many aspects of life, we only really hear from the authors who succeed. We hear about the best sellers, the international hits. Most of publishing does not look like JK Rowling. 90% of writers earn little or nothing from their work. For the rest of us, £10k a year is hitting the big time. There are lots of factors – timing, luck, gatekeeping, who you know, how you come across, whether you have a following already. It’s much easier to get published if you’re already famous – it’s not a meritocracy out there. Most of my favourite authors aren’t famous and many of them are a good deal better, in my opinion, then many of the published mainstream authors. There’s more diversity, originality and surprise out at the margins.

I think it’s very normal to come to writing imagining that your originality, and skill and whatnot will shine through and lead to results. People will notice you. I was like that with my first published piece, many years ago. Only it turned out that the publisher didn’t really mean to promote it beyond putting it on their website, and there wasn’t much word of mouth advertising, and I started to see why other authors in ebookland were trying so hard to sell their work.  It’s ok not to know, especially when the stories you hear are only ever the success stories. It’s important to tell those other sorts of stories, too, so that we all have our feet on the ground and aren’t going to be unreasonably hurt by this dysfunctional industry.

I don’t know if the man from the pub garden ever got as far as writing stories and putting them online – he might have done, but I do know he hasn’t landed at Netflix deal yet.


The writing life

Like many writers, I knew from as soon as I could clutch a pencil that writing was a thing I wanted to do. As a child, I wrote poetry and short stories. I fantasised about what it would mean to be an author – I think that’s common too. As I sauntered into my teens, I spent more time thinking about what I wanted to write than thinking about wanting to be an author, and I kept writing the poetry and the short stories.

It may be worth mentioning that I wanted to be a musician, too. I wanted to be Batman, I thought teaching might be interesting, I knew from as far back as I could remember that no one thought ‘author’ was a viable and sensible career path and that I’d need to keep my options open. When I was a kid it was far more feasible to be a full time professional author than it is now.

I wrote my first novel in my teens – I knew it wouldn’t be good or publishable, I just wanted the experience of putting down that many words and to get to know what a novel meant from the inside. I studied Literature at Uni, and I kept writing, poetry, short stories, novels. By the time I was in my early twenties I had a rejection slip from every major UK publisher.

At about this time I became bored with writing versions of myself and started paying more attention to other people, and what I could learn about the world. I think this is a really important shift in the life of any fiction author, although it doesn’t happen to everyone. We all start by playing out our personal fantasies, but good books usually require more than that.

I had a lot of fiction published in my twenties – mostly as ebooks in what was then a fledgling industry. I’d have to make an effort to figure out how many novels I’ve written, but, it’s a lot of novels. And of course I had that fantasy that I’d write a novel and it would naturally find its audience and magic things would happen. It isn’t like that, and finding an audience has taken time, and I’m still very small and obscure in the grand scheme of things. Success is a heady blend of luck and persistence, assuming you have something people want to read.

I got into writing non-fiction in my thirties, first with blogging and magazine articles, and then later with Pagan books. That’s been interesting to add to the mix and I enjoy doing it, but fiction remains my main passion. I’ve sauntered into graphic novel writing, game scenarios, and film scripts, and have no real plan for how any of this is supposed to develop.

Like most writers, I don’t earn anything like enough to live in. A reasonably successful author – full time, professional and with a mid-tier contract at a large publishing house, can aspire to make £10k a year. This is not generally considered to be good money in any other context. So I write poetry, and short stories, novels, graphic novels, scripts, and all the rest of it, and I work alongside that to stay afloat. I’m greatly helped by Patreon support (https://www.patreon.com/NimueB ). I’m ok with not being affluent, I’ve never been affluent, I have infamously low standards and limited interest in material culture. But, it makes me cross and unhappy that arts industries are increasingly structured so that only people who are funded by other means can participate – people with good pensions, supportive spouses, inheritance, and the like. It keeps the poorer folk out, it makes it hard for anyone not well enough to work a day job and create as well.  I don’t want creativity to be a hobby for the rich, I want it to be a viable line of work for those with talent and passion.


Notes on my killing rampage

I have to kill a hundred people. It’s an author issue, and one that is going to occupy a good deal of my time in the coming months.

I wrote a blog post about it for fellow steampunk author Mark Hayes. Which was good of him, as he’s also one of the people I killed… https://markhayesblog.com/2019/10/03/how-to-kill-a-hundred-people-a-indie-october-guest-post-by-nimue-brown/

I had meant to do a cunning reblog this morning, but the technology has thwarted me, so, here’s the opening as a teaser…

“Let me begin by explaining Hopeless Maine. It started life as a graphic novel series set on an imaginary island off the coast of Maine. There’s now a role play game, prose books in the offing and other things in planning! For people who want to get involved, there’s www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com which is currently full of dead people…

Back in August, when we were figuring out the details for Hopeless Maine kickstarter, I suggested I could do obituaries for people as though they had died in the setting. Those became early bird bonuses, and “yes,” I blithely said, of course I can write a hundred of them.

Of course I didn’t think for a moment that 100 people would get in fast enough that I’d have to do it.”

And for the rest, hop over to Mark’s blog.

 

 


Things I am doing

A bit of an update about what I’m up to at the moment!

I’m back down to a more manageable number of day jobs – I’m currently doing freelance work for Moon Books, Sloth Comics and Transition Stroud, alongside doing voluntary work for Transition Stroud and The Woodland Trust.

This weekend I’m off to Edinburgh for the Scottish Pagan Federation’s conference. This is my second event this month, having done the Pagan Federation Conference in Wakefield. In May, I have a video in the online Pagan Federation Conference, and am involved with Stroud’s Steampunk Weekend.

I’m still writing regular columns for Pagan Dawn, and for Sage Women Blogs.

I’m currently working on the script for the next Hopeless Maine graphic novel, fitting that in around the paying gigs as much as my concentration will allow. I have not put in the time I wanted to on finishing up an elements book, and I’ve still not found the time and energy to start on a spirits of place book. I don’t have enough hours of good concentration in a day – six is about as good as it gets, currently. It’s not enough, and I know I won’t improve this until I can take some more time off and rest up a bit. It is all too easy to get trapped in spirals of diminishing returns.

I’m still on Patreon. I’m finding it helpful because it makes me take the time each month for something creative. I’m also, frankly, glad of the money. I did slightly better than break even at Wakefield – which is good for an event, I’ve done plenty at a loss. I’m hoping to break even in Scotland. It’s necessary to get out there and do events to raise your profile as an author and sell books, but it is hard for authors to cover costs often, and the chances of coming out ahead are slim.

The amount of time that goes into writing makes it hard to make minimum wage doing it. Thinking about writing in those terms is just depressing so I mostly try not to, But, I have maybe six good hours of concentration in any given day, and I need to be economically active, so there are things to figure out. How much time I can give – to the blog, to voluntary work and to writing books alongside how much time I need to spend on things that earn money.

Fortunately I’m willing and able to live without many of the things that most people take for granted, which makes my home cheaper to run. But, time off can be a problem and I am craving a break. When I do an event and knock out a weekend, I can’t reliably take time off in the week to compensate. I managed a week off between Christmas and New Year, and I’m trying to get a week off in June. I’ll have to take a pay cut to do it – there is no other way. I do not get paid holiday leave from freelance work. I won’t be able to go on holiday for that week – the cost, and the effort of organising are beyond me. It would be nice to just slouch round the flat and read books, and sit under trees and that sort of thing.

If you like what I do, and want to help, then I really appreciate patreon support. Please consider supporting me. If you’d like to support me but can’t make an ongoing commitment, ko-fi is good for one off donations. Thank you.


Co-writing with my younger self

I’ve done a fair bit of co-writing with other people over the years. At the moment, I am in the slightly surreal position of co-writing with myself.

Tom and I are working on the 4th book of Hopeless Maine right now. I wrote the original script more than eight years ago, when I knew far less about comics. Younger me had a rather different voice to current me. Younger me did not really know how to lay out a comics page or tell stories visually. Younger me used to just hand scripts to Tom and leave him to figure out how to make it work on the page. Since then, I have become someone who can think pretty well about visual storytelling and how to get the words onto the page. Having a better grasp of the visual side also means I can see which words to take out.

A few years ago, when contemplating how best to handle an old prose piece in the Hopeless setting, I was given some advice from a fellow writer. Don’t you want it to be your best work? They asked. They were clear that I should revise and update it. In the end, I didn’t do that much. I may have more craft skills than I used to, but there are also things I used to do that I couldn’t do now. How I think about people and situations has changed. I no longer tell the same stories. I am wary of assuming that my current writing self is my best possible writing self. I think previous me had some things going for them.

I find myself working with my old scripts, trying to edit them for best effect, and feeling as though I am working with another author. Usually when I edit for people, the other author is there to talk to. This one is dead, or disappeared, or trapped in another time. I have to edit their work without being able to discuss it with them. I try to honour their vision while applying the things I know that they don’t know. It’s a very odd process. It’s shown me there are things my younger self knew and felt that I need to re-find and re-feel.

We don’t always improve with time. Sometimes our first, unpolished attempts can be the best we do because they have the most passion and energy and are least self-conscious. Sometimes the tools we collect freeze us up and have us second guessing ourselves. Younger me frankly had no idea how to write a comic, but was brazen enough to do it anyway. I am at the moment failing to write a script for something because I’m so bogged down in what I know that I can’t get started. The only way to do it will be to emulate younger me, and write the way I used to write, and then come in for a second stage with all the useful, technical things I know.


Big fish, small pond

There are a lot of personal advantages to being a big fish in a small pond. It’s good for your self esteem, your feelings of worth, usefulness and recognition. It is of course rather challenging to come out of the small pond and suddenly find you are a pretty small fish in a much bigger pond.

Many people are very good at creating small spaces in which to be big fish. I see a lot of it around me where I live, and I see it in the Pagan community too. It’s not so difficult to be big in your local Pagan community. Of course often that means in the rest of your local community, you’re insignificant.

There are all kinds of ways this can cause a person problems. An inflated sense of self worth can trip you up and invites massive embarrassment. The person who has to say ‘do you know who I am?’ is a fish out of the pond that validated them. Frustration at not being a big fish in the small pond can make people insecure, cranky and a problem to themselves and others. Being able to see the bigger pond in which you would be a small fish can do all the same things. Getting caught up in this does a person no good at all. The desire to be important often proves a barrier to getting anything worthwhile done, as well.

We weren’t designed to exist in a global community of billions. We evolved for small groups. Most of us see more people in a year than a mediaeval peasant would have seen in their entire life. We seem geared to deal with a larger network of a few hundred people at most. When we deal with other people in such numbers as these, it’s a very different experience.

In a community of a few hundred people, everyone knows everyone. No one is irrelevant. Any skill, or significant action will stand out and be noticed. Everyone can shine at their own thing. It’s unlikely anyone will cast such a long shadow that they cause a lot of other people to disappear.

In comparison, most of us will never be more than statistics, and most of us will disappear from history and memory when we die. Most of us will not have our centenaries acknowledged, or our legacies discussed.

For our own sanity, we all need small spaces where we can exist as people and feel valued. Alongside that, we all need to be able to deal with the issue that in the grand scheme of things, we don’t count for much.

It was Stroud Book Festival this weekend. I was doing venue work, not there as an author, but my being an author came up in a couple of conversations. “Should I have heard of you?” someone asked. I said, “no, I’m pretty niche.” And that, mostly, is the size of it.


Debunking the creative life

Mostly when I’m online, I talk about my creative life and my Druidry – those are the bits of what I do that I find most interesting. However, it may give the impression that I’m living the dream – full time Druid and author. I’m not.

There was a point in my life where I spent most of my time writing, teaching, leading meditation groups, running rituals and so forth. I didn’t feel able to ask for payment for the Druid work, because I was hearing a lot at the time about how it was supposed to be service. I didn’t make a vast amount from the writing. Sometimes I wrote pub quizzes for money. I had financial support from the person I was then living with, but little money of my own and no economic freedom.

Most creative people, and most professional Pagans are in a similar situation. Either the money comes from somewhere else – an inheritance, a partner or a pension, or there is a second job, or there is abject poverty. Sometimes there’s a second job and abject poverty. The lack of money and/or the not being full time is not a measure of failure. It is nigh on impossible at the moment to make a living as a creative person.

For example, it takes Tom a day to draw a page of Hopeless Maine. It takes me some hours to colour it. Then it has to be scanned, tidied up, and the lettering done. It is a full time job plus a bit. To get a graphic novel out once a year, that’s six months of solid work for Tom and part time work for me. Advances are rare, and you’re more likely to get them on handing in finished work ahead of publication than when you start drawing or writing. That’s six months with no income, please note.

Now, work out how much money you need to live on. The cover price of the book is not the money the creator gets for a book, even if they’ve self published. Half of the cover price likely goes to whoever was selling it. From the remaining half, the print costs have to be paid, plus the publisher wants to make some money. Perhaps the creator gets £1 a copy. That’s optimistic. So, you can do the maths and work out how many books you’d have to sell in a year to have what you consider a decent standard of living. Note at this point that the average book sells about 3000 copies in its entire life.

Most of us work other jobs, because that’s the only way it’s possible to create. And if we don’t, we aren’t sat in our nice libraries pondering the world – I have friends who write at a rate of about a novel a month, and believe me, that’s intense. I have friends who spend their weekends taking their work to events and markets – while doing the creative work in the week. That’s a way of making ends meet that allows you no time off. That’s no kind of easy option. To sell anything, you have to spend time promoting it. That also takes time and energy. It’s pretty full on.

Creative people and professional Pagans alike won’t necessarily tell you what their private financial situation is. For some reason, many people assume that the default answer is full time and well off. The reality is much more likely to be part time and considering it a win if they can make ends meet.

I work other jobs. I have always worked other jobs, and I expect I always will. At the moment I’m working six small part time jobs. And because of that, we can afford to have Tom full time on Hopeless Maine, and we can keep making comics. This is normal.


Getting beyond myself

Recently when I wrote about finding a voice for performance, Lorna Smithers raised the issue of finding voices that are not your own. I think this is a really important developmental stage for anyone working with words, and that it merited a follow up.

I’ve worked in publishing for about twenty years now, which has given me a broad perspective on what authors do. New authors tend to write autobiographically. This is one of the reasons first novels are often best left in a drawer! Write what you know is perfectly good advice for getting started, but it’s rarely enough to give you a great book. New authors will dramatise their own hopes and fears, revisit their own experiences and cast themselves as the unlikely hero.

Some authors never move past the autobiography stage. Some find they can’t, and drift away from writing as a consequence. The authors who will go on to do really good work will start to find things other than themselves interesting. They’ll wonder and ask questions, and start writing about things they did not know. Research and experimentation may replace casual experience. They may visit locations, swot up on subjects, observe others, and use this to fuel their imaginations.

In fairness, I have read some really good semi-autobiographical first novels. They tend to come about because the author has learned something from personal experience that they want to share. It’s not a form of wish fulfilment, but a desire to express something significant.

These days when I’m developing ideas for a novel, I spend time exploring the first person voices of many of the main characters. I try to get in their skin and see it all from their perspective. I’ll usually put that down to write in third person, but it helps to individualise characters and establish what makes them tick. It’s a bit like sketching.

Making art is often a curious balance of things. Imagination coming from within, inspiration coming from without. Working with what we know and feel, and with what is unknown and can only be speculated about. Grounding in known things and letting fly into realms of speculation. It’s in the tensions between these things that it becomes possible to create something original and exciting.


A most Hopeless diet

When I’m dealing with fantastical settings, I like to know how the practical details work. I think it’s getting the little, mundane things right that is key to making big, strange, magical things feel plausible. I experience this as a reader as well as when writing. I want to know where you go to take a shit, what people are wearing in terms of materials, how they keep warm, or cool, and what they eat.

Hopeless Maine is a lost island. It used to be more connected, and resources used to head its way, but these days, new materials either come from natural resources or wash in from shipwrecks. Recycling is a must. The Hopeless Maine diet is not for the squeamish. Food is in short supply, and you have to be willing to eat anything passably edible that comes along. This is why ‘bottom of the garden stew’ is the main dish, where the key feature is to cut everything up really small so that it isn’t too obvious what it was.

For the release of The Gathering, Tom and I sent a host of creatures out into the ether, to give a flavour of Hopeless Maine. And, as I was in the mood to take that sense of ‘flavour’ a step further, all the creatures come with cooking instructions.

Thank you everyone who took part. If you would like some denizen of Hopeless to visit your blog, let us know in the comments, we’re very happy to keep doing this. In the meantime, do visit the escapees.

A dead dog hosted by Kyle Cassidy

Spoonwalker, hosted by Fire Springs Folk Tales

Deep Sea Life hosted by Anthony Nanson at Deep Time.

Gnii hosted by Graeme K Talboys

Owl Demon, hosted by Craig Hallam

Mermaid, hosted by Lou Pulford

Agents of Change hosted by R Thomas Allwin

Various small things, some in bottles, hosted by Matlock the Hare (Phil and Jacqui Lovesey) at Niff Soup.


When We Are Vanished

As a book reviewer, and also a book promoter, I feel pretty confident about reading a book, working out who would like it, and saying so. Which is as well, because after all that’s the essence of what those two jobs are about! However, for authors talking about their own books, it’s often much harder work – and I know I’m not alone in this. When you write a book, you know what you think you were doing, you maybe even sort of imagined the reader, but it’s a whole other thing to stride forth proclaiming ‘this book is for you!’

 

 

Truth be told, authors don’t always know what they’ve written or who it’s for. The implications of books change over time as well – my case in point for this is Huckleberry Finn – written in part as a protest against slavery, now condemned as racist because of the language it uses.

I never really know how the stuff that falls out of my brain is going to impact on anyone else.

Happily, When We Are Vanished has been picked up by a couple of reviewers recently. They are the sort of people I was really hoping might like it, and they like it for all the reasons I was hoping a person might like it. So, you have a fighting chance of ascertaining, from these reviews, whether you are also the sort of person who might enjoy it. It’s entirely possible, although I’d be the first to say this is not a novel that’s likely to appeal to everyone…

Review from Meredith Debonnaire https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/book-review-when-we-are-vanished-by-nimue-brown/

Review from Lorna Smithers – https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/2016/11/18/review-when-we-are-vanished-by-nimue-brown/