Are you listening, Amazon?

In the good old, bad old pre-internet days you wrote your book and submitted the typescript to as many publishers as you liked. Eventually, either one of them accepted your efforts or you ran out of patience / confidence in yourself or in your work. Then, permanently into that dusty drawer went the child that had been so painfully fathered by your fevered imagination and mothered by all those lonesome hours. But of course the process of submission had been laborious in the extreme. All by itself it dissuaded many potential authors from embarking on the road to becoming that which I and most others think of as being ‘a proper writer’.

Then along came the Net and with it, the mighty Amazon. Suddenly you could easily publish your work, whether it be a novel or an autobiography or The Art & Craft of Making Lead Soldiers. Anybody could become their own publisher, so to hell with Faber & Faber! Dozens of eager new beavers queued up to help you ‘publish’ your new book in the certain knowledge that Amazon would offer it, sight unseen to the world, truly beautiful or truly awful as it might or might not be. Furthermore your little darling could actually take the form of a hardback or a paperback or - hey presto - an e-book for your Kindle. Magical!

The fly in the ointment is simply that, without the screening provided by literate professionals, a trickle of self-published words has rapidly grown into a true shit-storm of waste paper and pointless electronics. Too many of we readers have laid down our hard earned cash on commercially eulogised crap only to bin the thing after just a few disappointing pages or chapters read. Far from opening up a new readership for the betterment of the books trade, both paper and electronic, this self-publishing revolution is, in my opinion, threatening a kind of death by a thousand cuts!

My own suggestion, as follows, would apply only to novels. Looked at from the reader’s (i.e. the market’s) point of view, what is needed is a fail safe system allocating a yes/no rating as infallible, as believable and as totally independent as possible to all newly published novels, however and wherever the thing is being published. Either: yes, this book is worth the expenditure of your time and money or no it is not. No caveats, no stars, nothing else. And when a new book comes out without such a yes/no rating one’s assumption has to be the latter. In other words, buy it if you like but we (the raters) would not advise it!

Ah, but how to create such an infallible, independent system of rating? You might well be asking that question. Fortunately the web-site YouWriteOn incorporates something of a model. Through it you submit an initial ten thousand words of your (anonymous) work to five other (anonymous) authors, computer selected, who rate what they read according to a set of YouWriteOn’s criteria. You in return receive five anonymous works by - different - randomly selected fellow authors for your own critiques. There is an in-built check to ensure that you and the others actually did read what you / they are criticising!.

You would begin by inviting any and all readers of novels in English to put themselves forward as panel judges, specifically by genre. But why would anyone agree to get on such a computer assembled panel? Because when the computer selects you as part of a fifty person group to judge a currently unpublished book unattributed by author or publisher, you receive the initial ten thousand electronic words, then when you return your critique in the terms required you receive perhaps ten pounds or fifteen dollars to spend on books (from Amazon?) Thus, when you look for, say, a crime thriller, you know that fifty people thought this one worth buying - or not buying as the case may be.

So my novel's yes/no rating costs 50 x £10 = £500. Where is that money coming form? I, as an author who has devoted a year of my life to the creation of my novel, would be happy to pay £500. Many of my reviewers will, given they will know by then who is its author, want to spend their reward on buying my novel - or more important yet, recommending it to their book loving friends! But what if my reviewers said 'no, this is not worth reading'? Well, I could either go ahead anyway with publication of a book carrying that 'no' burden or I change tack altogether, having saved myself a lot more than the £500 in wasted time, morale, physical cost and personal energy.

Is it just possible that everyone really is a winner? Oh yes! Are you listening, Amazon?

Forbidden musings

At the point of a loaded pistol the highwayman of old used to demand, “Your money or your life!” When one is diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer the medics offer you a similar choice; “Your sex life or your life!” For me, at close to eighty years of age that one was a real no-brainer so I abdicated my sex life. The medication did the rest. However the pills do enable a new and curious objectivity of thought - and in my experience they cannot erase one’s general interest in the subject of sex or one’s sexual memory! Now, I should add that these remarks have perforce to be from the male perspective. Perhaps the female perspective is different. (Like most males I have my theory on that.)

We males talk to one another about many things; almost everything in fact, with the probable exceptions of our true personal finances and our true sex lives. (Our physical wellbeing is often another taboo area although I have noticed a tendency to reveal all about that, too, as I and my friends grow older).

I have opened up much of my own financial circumstance in my autobiography, SO WHAT? But I have skated with rather more care around my sex life. So here I’m going to take a deep breath and dive deep beneath those rose-tinted, sweet smelling, warm ‘though dangerously shark-infested waters. Should you have a problem or feel an embarrassment about that, please go off and read something more comfortable elsewhere. (But come back another day, please. I really need and do appreciate your company!)

It is quite obviously true that the act of sex is hardly ever the procreationally motivated procedure for which one has to believe it was designed. It is for most of us an intense pleasure, a routine kind of physical excitement and very often an undeniable compulsion - whether inside or outside the marriage bed. Either way the acts of sex are much akin to rather pointless tight rope walks across Niagara Falls; walks culminating for many in a swim through very troubled waters down below.

Shame on you Adam! You had to go and bite into that bloody apple, didn’t you? And to hell (literally) with the fact that you ruined or preoccupied so many billions of lives down so many millions of years. How much greater would this species of ours be, had you initiated a more innocent, less sensory, less mandatory a way to procreate? i.e. One less demanding of our mental, physical and moral resources, thus leaving us to concentrate on things of greater importance to ourselves, our species and planet Earth.

According to the 2005 Global Sex Survey by The London Rubber Company (Durex), adults today have on average a lifetime total of nine sexual partners. At once the question is raised; am I getting / did I get my fair share? My own answer would be (probably) ‘yes’. I have a vivid memory of walking with my beautiful, much loved wife into a neighbourhood party, looking all around and fancying every female in the room! And actually being jealous of all the other males! Disgraceful? Not really, mind games don’t count!

I have to believe that, in a monogamous society, out of wedlock experiences usually give rise to considerable negativity. Short term physical gain (pleasure) for long term emotional pain (misery) in fact. It takes a dispossessed, therefore dispassionate view such as mine to see that sex outside of marriage is tantamount to a visit to the sweetie shop, only to discover that all the nicest stuff is actually poisonous.That bloody apple all over again!

Anyway, that's enough of all that ....Thank God I don't have to venture out across that damned tightrope any more.

You, your life

I cannot tell what you and other men
Think of this life;    (his own life, that is)
but, for my single self,
I had as lief not be as live to be
In awe of such a thing as I myself.

(Shakespeare : Julius Caesar)

April Fools Day was quite significant for the release of my autobiography! Its title is SO WHAT? and it takes the form of eighty four essays, each of them an episode in the story of my life to date. The vast majority of these essays saw first light on my blog,, in the beginning at the suggestion of one of my sons who, probably tired of my blogged rantings about the world at large said, Dad, why don’t you tell us something about your early life. None of us (his siblings) know much about that. Hey, most people are curious about that kind of stuff!

I am a certified extrovert although it seems that like most extroverts I have believed myself the opposite. Therefore at first this self-examination, this probing into deep memory was not an easy thing. For sure (at least, I reckon for sure) as we grow older we succeed in forgetting or obfuscating those mean or nasty thoughts and actions, and especially our failures. On the other hand with what ease, with what pleasure are we able to recall the green fields of childhood, the hope and promise of early adulthood, the discovery of precisely and with what cleverness we sooner or later make a fit of ourselves with the world. And overall, how tempting it is to take personal credit for that which is in reality plain old good fortune; but how ready we are to attribute our historically wrong turnings to the fickle finger of fate, aka damned bad luck!

In spite of all I recommend the process of writing one’s memoirs. For myself it has been a form of catharsis in the aftermath of the death of my friend and lover, my wife, my Delia. This autobiography has in fact been a kind of irrigation of body and soul, a getting rid of the bad stuff. In my experience the bad stuff tends to rest in peace once shown the light of day.

My mantra says, ‘Writing is for Reading’. All right, but by whom and why should any he/she/they read my memoirs? Well, I think there are several reasons. The main ones: perhaps because (1) anyone’s life is a story (and we all like stories); (2) curiosity (aka the ‘nosey parker’ syndrome); (3) simply because the author is known to the reader (and the reader might be mentioned). None of these are likely to ensure a weight of readership of interest to the mainstream book publisher - unless the author be called David Beckham or similar. Ah, that modern day, media cultivated celebrity thing! Complete nonsense. Everybody mature enough and who I happen to know well enough, I know to have led or be leading a life of greater interest to me - I have to assume to others also - than the short and well cushioned life of a young man outstanding as a football star, aggressively average as a human being.

My memoir SO WHAT? contains the truth and nothing but the truth but of course it cannot contain the whole truth. Clearly it has taken me a lifetime thus far to live it and so would need to take another lifetime to write it all. There’s no book big enough. Also it must be said that one has to have regard for the feelings of those nearest and dearest to oneself. I have no wish gratuitously to hurt anyone - even myself.  

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams, wrote William Butler Yeats ... Yes, please.