Tag Archives: authors

Stories about ourselves

We all tell stories about ourselves. Humans are storytelling creatures and we like to make narrative sense of the world. We present ourselves to each other in the stories we tell about what we’ve done and seen, where we’ve been and who we’ve known. Many stories are very short and often we don’t notice them – as tellers or as audience, or what effect they might have.

I’m intrigued by people who tell stories about the sorts of people they are – that they are empathic people, or highly aware, sensitive, special – these come up around Paganism a fair bit. These are stories that tend to come from people who seem to be none of those things, in my experience. Then there are the people who want to tell a story about who you are – to measure you and demonstrate that they understand you. When there’s depth of relationship this can be valuable feedback, but it’s the empathic people who do it off the cuff I find least helpful.

No doubt we’re all inclined to make ourselves look good when we tell our stories. We want to pick out the best bits. At some point there’s a line to cross between a good retelling and an actual falsehood. That line is seldom easy to see.

One of the falsehoods I see frequently, and that I know to be harmful, is the habit of bigging yourself up. Social media is full of it – people putting their best self out there and doing their best to look like they have great and successful lives. I see authors doing it too – overplaying book sales, what ‘best seller’ on Amazon means, and the like. Success is attractive, is the theory. Who wants to buy from a moderately successful author? The trouble with this comes when you need help.

If you’ve been telling stories about how good you are, but those stories aren’t true, how can you ask for help? I’ve seen authors who have presented as successful start Patreons and not get any support – either because what fans they have believed the success story, or because they never had many fans in the first place. On the flip side, creators who are honest about how things work for them are often much better supported. Fans understand the struggle, and care and want to be involved. In practice, most creators don’t earn enough to live on and investing time in creativity alongside regular employment isn’t easy. But when you’ve overplayed your success, this is hard to talk about.

When you’re over-invested in the story of your own success, you can end up tied in knots about your reality. This way lies cognitive dissonance. When you have to believe in your literary legacy, even though no one seems to be reading your books. When you have presented a perfect family and cannot then admit how your household is falling apart… The greater the distance between your stories and your reality, the harder it becomes to let anyone into your life. The more you’ve misrepresented to look good, the harder it gets to effectively ask for help.

The stories we tell to ourselves, about ourselves and about our relationships with other people are tiny, every day things. We might not even notice when we do them. We might be crafting it deliberately as good PR, as fake it until you make it, as positivity or to feel better. But, these distortions come at a cost – they increase anxiety and feelings of pressure to succeed and they don’t reliably work as marketing strategies, whether you’re trying to look good to your family, or sell more books.

Most of us identify more with stories of honest struggle and occasional success than we do with people who seem to have it all. Our kindness is engaged by empathy with other people’s trials. We can enjoy the success of people we feel have earned it but may resent people who seem to have had it all handed to them on a plate. Better not to fake it until you make it. Better to be real, and human, open to being supported and able to have a wail about the crap along the way.


After the Asylum

I write this blog post on the morning after getting back from Asylum in Lincoln – the biggest Steampunk event in the UK, one of the biggest on the world, in fact. Perhaps the biggest. It involves a great many people, and is always an epic experience.

I’ve always gone to the event to work. This year and last year, Tom and I have run space for books and comics people. We’ve taken a team, provided daytime entertainment and looked after a venue. This tends to leave us too tired to do much of the evening stuff. But still, it’s a great thing to be part of.

This year, I got to meet Nils Nisse Visser, whose novel – Amster Damned – I’ve reviewed here. I also got to meet Stephen Palmer, whose Factory Girl trilogy I reviewed here. This is no kind of coincidence. We’re picking people who write excellent books, and who have the kind of ideas that translate well into presentations. As this is not a literary festival, most people going have no interest in book readings from authors they’ve never heard of. Most of us are authors most people have never heard of. Most people do not want to go to talks on facets of the publishing industry or talks about the writing process.

However, what people clearly do want is to be entertained, inspired, and engaged. Workshops are good, drink and draws, talks based around concepts, and things you might join in with. We delivered that this year, we delivered it with knobs on. Collectively, we created a space where people could come and hang out, chat, and be amused, and I want to do more of this.

We had an amazing team in the Assembly Rooms – alongside Nils and Stephen, we had Lou Pulford (who writes as Penny Blake) Craig Hallam, multimedia genius Yoms, Jade Sarson who makes beautiful comics, Chris Mole of Professor elemental Comics and Brigantia, Super-minion and MC James Weaslegrease and creator of fabulous devices Ian Crichton. Plus partners, and children. An excellent set of people to spend a weekend with!

Those of you who follow this blog or follow me on social media will recognise many of these names. It may look to a casual glance that what I do is advance my friends. What really happens is that I find people whose work I love and who I want to support, and become friends with them. I believe in creating opportunities and holding permeable edges, and letting people in. I’ll make space where I can for people doing excellent work and putting forward fine ideas.


What are stories for?

Stories have many different impacts on our lives, but for the purposes of this blog post, there are two aspects I particularly want to consider. Stories have the potential to show us ourselves and the kinds of problems, challenges and potential we have. Characters who we empathise with and who catch our life stage, feelings and so forth can be really enabling, and also cheering. The other not unrelated aspect, is characters who appear to be nothing like us, but who we learn to empathise with and whose perspective we come to understand.

Either way, this aspect of story gives us a wider perspective. It gives us tools for getting on with life, ideas about how to deal with stuff, a sense of where we fit. It reduces feelings of being alone with our challenges. Our scope for empathy with people who are not like us is increased. Our ability to see our similarities with people we might have assumed would be very different, is increased.

Key to this, is having diversity in stories. Authors with different backgrounds and life experiences writing what they know and what they imagine give us all a chance of finding ourselves reflected and finding the unfamiliar as well.

UK publishing has always been a white, male, middle class, straight, Christian and most likely Oxbridge educated creature. Not only in terms of what gets published, but what gets hailed as great by reviewers and critics (who likely have the exact same background). The more aligned a writer has been with that background, the better their chances. It has got better in recent years, but this is in no small part because internet shopping offers wider choices than bookshops used to, and there are more small publishers now who aren’t affluent Oxbridge men.

There are similar trends in films – how many action films can you think of with a female lead? How many films can you think of with only male leads? Hollywood thinks that a middle aged white man can be anyone from anywhere (I recently watched Troy, in which Sean Bean is Odysseus) but keeps people of colour in roles that are about being people of colour. How many famous disabled actors can you name? How many films are there with autistic characters where the plot isn’t basically about how challenging it is for the ‘normal’ people dealing with them, but how the ‘normal’ people grow as a consequence?

If mostly what we see are stories by and about straight, middle aged, middle class, Christian, white, educated, able bodied men, we get a very narrow sense of the world. The majority of us never see a world in which we even exist. Add up female people, LGBT people, non-Christians, the working class, and the disabled and you have a good deal more than half of the population, and yet we’re still talked about as a minority. People who read books and see films in which only a certain kind of white guy is an active and powerful character are more likely, I suspect, to believe that no one else can do anything worth mentioning.

A small percentage of the population sees a lot of stories that appear to be all about them and very little about anyone else. Most of us see stories that are not about us and do not reflect us. I for one am very tired of seeing women written and designed by men and for men. Women who exist in stories to be prizes, to create motivation by dying, or to applaud and reflect the man’s glory. Women who cry over broken fingernails, occupy very little space and are mostly passive and there to be eye candy.

As individuals, we can’t do much about the gatekeepers, but we can vote with our wallets. There are many people telling other kinds of stories, and we can support them. One of the things upholding the narrow story is that it appears to sell, and bean counters tend to assume that if they haven’t seen it sell, it won’t sell. Ignoring a long history of skewing the market by investing in some stories and not others.


Fantasy futures and the unprofessional author

This week saw Philip Pullman in the Telegraph pointing out that it is now nigh on impossible to make a living as an author. The book industry in the UK is worth billions, but it can’t pay its creators enough to live on. I talk about this a lot because it is unjust, and unfair, and not good. But, all of those things said, I’ve mixed feelings about the idea of full time professionally creative people.

Problem number one is that full time creativity you can make a living from has always been for the few, not the many. It is easier to get into the arts if you are white, male, well educated and financially supported by your family when you start out. Recent years have seen our Tory government telling poor kids in state schools that creative jobs are not for them. Private schools encourage their kids to consider creative industries. There have been complaints levelled recently that the BBC isn’t representative in much the same way.

I don’t fancy a system where the chosen few get paid oodles of dosh to create while the majority of us are cogs in the machine and designated consumers. People at the top of their industries can get huge advances, huge booking fees and so forth leaving only a tiny pot for everyone else. I’m not a fan.

I also know from experience that being creative full time can put an enormous pressure on your creativity. It’s nice not to have to make all of your creative work pay, to have the freedom to play, explore, develop ideas, be creative!

To be creative a person needs time, space, energy and resources. As it stands many of us work other jobs and then create as best we can in our spare time. This is not an approach likely to lead to excellence, or that means it will take us all far longer to become as good as we could be.

So, my fantasy future notions then. I think we should all be working (those of us who can work) at least some hours every week doing things that are needed. And everyone, everyone who wants it should have the time to develop creative interests. Some people will want to do other things – physical skills, personal development, fitness etc – and we should all have the scope to find whatever balance suits us. We should all have the opportunity to learn an instrument, write a book, study photography or whatever it is.

My suspicion is (and my basis for thinking this is what seems to happen in Iceland) is that more people with more time to create would actually result in more people sharing creativity and being financially viable while doing so.


Paganism and stolen books

Recently, Lupa Greenwolf wrote a very good blog about how stealing books impacts on Pagan authors.  Most of us are not wealthy, in fact many of us struggle, and theft hurts us in many ways. As Lupa has covered that side of things so well, I wanted to explore the magical and spiritual implications of working from a stolen book. To clarify, if a person picks up an ebook someone other than the author or publisher of said book was giving away, and the author is alive or only recently dead, then the book is stolen.  You might want to look up a post of mine – Should I have this free book? – for further clarification.

I give this blog away. Most authors give stuff away. There’s tons of legitimate free stuff out there. Help yourself to that with an easy conscience and enjoy the results.

Most Pagan paths advocate honour. Stealing clearly isn’t honourable. So, from the moment you get that book you are at odds with the path. If you’ve exploring a path that has more of a grey feel, or is less about honour and more about power, consider that these are the authors who will unhesitatingly curse the people who cross them.

If you are following a deity, and you steal a book written by a devotee of that deity to learn more… are you in that deity’s good books? Probably not.

If you practice magic, you’ll run into ideas about how energy moves around. Give something for what you take so that it isn’t taken from you is a popular theory for people working with herbs, for example. Consider threefold return, karma, like attracts like, and all the other philosophies you have encountered. What is your stolen book going to do for you? How is that energy relationship you now have with the author going to work out for you?

I realise that most people don’t know copyright law, and it is easy to be persuaded that it’s ok to have something you want. There are a lot of people out there spouting all kinds of crap about why giving away other people’s ebooks is ok. It isn’t ok to give other people’s ebooks away, simply. However, anyone can make a mistake. Anyone can pick up a book because it sounded legit. If you are new to Paganism and just dabbling and exploring, there’s a lot it is easy not to know about.

If you’ve made a mistake and taken something you shouldn’t have had, you can fix this by rebalancing things. Buy another book from the same author. Buy a hard copy for yourself. Stick something in their donations pot or patreon.

What do you do if poverty put you in this position? If you truly can’t afford to give back? Focus on the things that are freely given. Save up for books. Consider what you are paying for – because if you can afford to buy coffee from cafes, you can miss a few coffees and buy a book. If you’re at the level of poverty where you have no disposable income, I know how tough this is, and it’s a bloody unfair situation to be in. Commit to rebalancing when things are better for you, at the very least. Don’t buy into the idea that you are always going to be so poor that you have a justification for theft. Try talking to the author. Some authors will give books in exchange for reviews. Many authors will happily point you at the things they already give away.

We aren’t going to get rid of book theft in Pagan circles until we change Pagan culture and value the people who make things a bit more. If you see it happening, call it out. And feel free to use anything in this blog, in whole or in part if it will help you. Copyright waved on all of this blog post. (For other blogs, credit me please, and let me know, but this one’s different.)


My latest steampunk adventures

Last year at Asylum in Lincoln (biggest steampunk gathering in the UK) I spent quite a lot of time stood outside a venue being the signpost, because there wasn’t a sign, and one was needed. While I was doing that, another author at the event asked how on earth I’d ended up doing that. I said I’d offered. This year I’ll be co-running that venue, and Tom and I have had the honour of putting together a team of authors for the event as a whole. How did we end up doing that? Well, in no small part because we are the kinds of people who pile in and do what needs doing.

It’s not about the money, or the glory. Ok, it is a bit about the glory. We were keen to jump in because we want to change what happens around ‘literature’ at steampunk events. Tom and I will not be touring venues across the weekend as part of the author team, we’ll be looking after the Cathedral Centre/Steampunk embassy. If you’re in town, come and find us, it’s not a big building.

It would be fair to say that as things stand, ‘literature’ is not something most steampunks are that excited about, and with good reason. It’s not the sort of thing you can easily engage with when there’s loads going on. It doesn’t grab your attention like art or music, or clothes or devices or just about anything else at a steampunk event. If you aren’t already into an author, you may not be even slightly excited about hearing them read, and you don’t want to go to a talk about how they self published their first novel, and if you don’t write, the standard fayre of talks about how to write books may not appeal. And then there’s the room of gloom – I’ve seen these at too many events and not just steampunk ones. Tables full of books behind which mournful and obscure authors sit in puddles of grumpy entitlement wondering where all their adoring fans have got to.

Of course that’s not steampunk writing, or steampunk books as a whole, and even in the rooms of gloom there are always people worth meeting. This year, Asylum has taken a radical new approach to how it deals with authors. With that as our underpinning,  Tom and I have done a number of things to further change what happens. We’ve brought in more comics people – because unlike books, comics are easy to engage with quickly. We’ve brought in authors who are great performers, we’ve got all kinds of drawing workshops on the go, and the talks are full of ideas and interesting concepts. Around the authors we’ve lured an array of fascinating folk to come and do their thing at the cathedral centre, and I think it’s going to be a really interesting space.

We will be doing some Hopeless Maine stuff – we’re using it as a recruitment opportunity for The Hopeless Vendetta (if you feel a sudden urge to be recruited, comment below!) and we’re taking out a show called Songs from a Strange Island – a mix of material written for the Hopeless Maine project, (like the Hopeless shanty) and things that inspire us (gloomy and magical folk music for the greater part).

I know we’re not alone in wanting to see things change around books and book events. I’ve been having all the same conversations with the people running Stroud Book Festival as I’ve had with many people on the steampunk side. ‘Literature’ turns people off, and often what happens under that banner is dull and self-congratulatory. I want to see more spoken word content. I want to see authors stepping up to entertain and engage people. I want to be talking about books, comics, fat comics, ephemera, writing, and creativity. I want things people can join in with, not the literary on one side and the audience on the other.


The Pagan and The Pen

Druid Life started as a column on a wordpress blog for Pagan authors – https://thepaganandthepen.wordpress.com/ . When I started I half expected the Pagan Police to show up and tell me I wasn’t allowed to do it. Impostor syndrome is a bit of an ongoing issue for me. I angsted over the title, worrying that this would sound too definitive, too dogmatic. On the whole, I think I’ve got away with it. For various reasons, the column became and almost every day thing. I felt a bit out of kilter with some of what was happening at the site, and founder C.S. Scarlett left. I followed her a little while later and set this up instead. This was all about five years ago.

Then out of the blue this year, C.S. Scarlett got in touch with me. The Pagan and The Pen had fallen by the wayside. No one had posted to it for several years. Could I still get in? I could. We reclaimed it, and restarted it. There followed a lot of spring cleaning, removing the reams of book promo. It’s a problem with inexperienced authors – the temptation to use something successful as an easy way to flog books. What you end up with is wall to wall book promotions and no actual readers. It’s been great fun seeing who wanted to come back, and what could be re-thought.

I’m doing a few things. I’ll be putting up monthly book news – a single post for the releases of new Pagan titles. Contact me if you have something you’d like me to share. We’re doing one post a month, or so, of reviews – again all Pagan titles, picked out by in house reviewer Cosmic Dancer. I’m also looking after the monthly featured artist column, and for the first month of me doing this, I featured Jacqui Lovesey from Matlock the Hare – you can read that here – https://thepaganandthepen.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/jacqui-lovesey-artist-and-illustrator/

Also on The Pagan and the Pen – daily festivals from ancient calendars, herb lore, Sheena Cundy’s music column, Laura Perry writing about Minoan spirituality, and no doubt more as we get into the swing of it. I’ve wanted a project like this for a while – heavy on lifestyle, community and creativity, with multiple contributors. There are a few other collective Pagan sites out there – Patheos Pagan site, Witches and Pagans, Sage Woman… but I think this one has enough of its own style to contribute.


Magical reading for people who like to think

Blood on Borrowed Wings, by Darren Stapleton

There’s a saying that genre fiction means loads happens and no one thinks about it, while literature means nothing happens and everyone thinks about it a lot. That this is too often true is one of the reasons I struggle to find books I want to read. Blood on Borrowed Wings has that perfect balance of action and introspection. Set in a grim future, with political intrigue, dark secrets and modified humans who can fly, the main character thinks about what’s happening to him. It’s not just about solving the plot and finding out what’s going on, it’s also about finding out who he is and deciding who he is going to be.

I found it a gripping read. The setting, and some of the characters truly enthralled me. There’s dark humour here, and the kind of thoughtful word-crafting you’d expect from a literary author, but with the kind of plot you’d expect from a summer blockbuster movie. That balance of humour and darkness, sharp dialogue, insight, action and intrigue put me in mind of Mark Lawrence.

I gather this is book one of a series – it leaves me wanting to know what happens next. It is dark and violent, and what’s suggested is darker and more violent again than what’s shown, but it’s also key to plot and characters, not there for the sake of it. If you are craving clever speculative fiction, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Find out more about the book here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Borrowed-Wings-science-thriller-ebook/dp/B01BGYNXSE/

To Be A Young Witch, by Siusaidh Ceanadach

The author suggests at the beginning that this is a book for 16 to 18 year olds, but I would cheerfully put it into the hands of any younger Pagan who has some adult support. It’s written for the young Pagan to read, with adults on hand, not to read for them, so the main issue I think is how literate your proto-witch is. Beyond that, it’s an accessible introduction to what witches do, and the way reality starts to look if you adopt a witchy outlook on life. Siusaidh uses stories as part of her teaching – a great way of expressing ideas and making them available, and a way for the reader to see themselves, and their own potential reflected back. The book is nicely illustrated. The content is sensible and responsible, no one is going to get themselves out of their depth or into trouble working from this book. Of course it represents a world view, a take on history and practice and whether that aligns with your take is another question, but if the image of the traditional British Witch as wise person and healer speaks to you, this is a good book to work with.

More about the book here – http://www.millhouse-publishers.com/#!product/prd17/4469855381/to-be-a-young-witch

 

Ghostbird, By Carol Lovekin

In two cottages that have belonged to one witch family for generations, live a mother, a daughter and an aunt. It’s almost a fairytale set up. However, as the daughter of the family comes into her own as a teenager, she starts feeling able to ask more questions – what happened to her father, and to the sister she’s not allowed to speak of? What happened to her mother? Why are they living like this? There are dark secrets in this family, held by years of pain and silence, and young Cadi must either make sense of it, or be swallowed by it herself. This is a beautiful, haunting story, full of myth and magic, and the journeys from despair to hope. It’s a fantastic piece of witch-lit – with its focus on the lives of women, a compelling expression of witchcraft, and some fantastic magical realism, it’s everything a Pagan fiction reader might want from a book. The author isn’t a Pagan, but she certainly gets it. I loved it, I cannot praise it highly enough.

More about the book here – http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983397


Blogging, pacing and a re-think

For years now, I’ve run Druid Life as a pretty much every day blog. Occasionally I miss days, but not often. This week I’ve taken the decision to halve my output. I hope those of you who are following me will be ok with this, but part of the point of halving my output is to improve on the quality of my blogging. It should give me more time to think about things, and fewer days when I cobble a post together for the sake of posting, rather than because I have something to say.

There are other reasons. I want to make more time for music, for fiction writing, and for time off. I’m also exploring video making a bit more. As I’ve been spending time promoting other authors, I’ve come to notice a thing about the internet. It’s especially true on Twitter, but not just a Twitter issue. Vast numbers of writers get out there every day to compete with each other for your time and attention. Many of them do not get the attention they deserve, and there’s also a lot of empty vessels out there making a lot of noise. I want to change my relationship with this. By cutting down on my blogging, I’m making room to spend more time sharing other people’s work, without as much risk of overloading anyone on social media.

My aim is to post here on odd numbered days (the Moon Books blog posts on even numbered days, so this will balance nicely). It may well be that I use the days I’m not creating content to reblog other people, and for guest blogs. I may use that space to flag up things I’m doing other places, I don’t know – we’ll see how it goes.

I’m looking for a gentler life balance, I want it to be easier for me to take days off, and I want to invest more in the quality of my own work. I want to spend more time reading. The daily blogging has become so much an intrinsic part of my day, that not doing it is going to feel weird, but I need to challenge myself, and letting go a bit with this could, I think, be a good thing.

When I started this blog I was a total unknown as a Druid and as an author. That’s changed a bit. Increasingly however, authors have to spend a hell of a lot of time pushing themselves forwards in order to build a readership and sell books. I don’t want to feel this constant pressure to attract people and persuade you to be interested in what I do. I want to share things I think are interesting. I want to help other authors and creative and active people – make life that little bit easier for people who are doing good stuff. So this is, in part, a laying down of all ambitions to be a Very Important Druid or a popular author, in preference for doing something I think will be more useful. I feel good about this choice, and optimistic about the shift of focus; it seems like a step in the right direction for me.


Talking about books

I spend a lot of time talking about books. Partly because, some of the time, it’s my job to do so. How cool is that? I also spend a fair bit of time talking about books because reading is something I do for fun, to learn, to be part of a wider community. What I struggle with is talking about the books that I’ve written. So much so that in a recent social media conversation about dream interpretation, it was pretty obvious that most of my online friends hadn’t the faintest idea I’d written a book on the subject of dreaming.

So, why am I doing such a poor job of promoting my own work? Well, for one, by the time I’ve written it, I tend to have said everything I ever wanted to say on the subject. At least for the next few years. I’m just at the moment getting interested in talking about meditation again, nearly 5 years after my meditation book came out. I also assume that you (dear reader) do not come to my blog to read me banging on about my books and trying to sell them to you.

I’m not personally attracted to authors who spend most of their time banging on about their books. The closer it is to a hard sell, the less interested I am. But at the same time, selling books makes my publisher happy (and I really like my publisher, he’s an excellent chap). Producing an income stream would make it easier to keep writing. So, if you want any of my Pagan books, they’re over here. And if you don’t, that’s fine! I’ll still blog.

It’s possible, I realise, that there may be things of interest about my books, so I’m just going to throw this open. If there’s things you’d like me to include here, pop it in the comments and I’ll see what I can do to oblige. Possibilities might include book excerpts, bits from other people reviewing my books, information about what I’m working on at the moment and why (a novel, as it happens, I’m not sure what/if to do next on the Pagan book front, again, open to suggestions!)

If you’d rather not have too much content pertaining to my books, do please say, because that’s helpful to know. The whole point of this blog is to be useful and interesting to other people, but at the moment I’m only guessing as to what delivers that.