Writing your memoir - the pain and the pleasure.

With the passing of the years most of us are less and less inclined to look at the face in the mirror. Nevertheless behind that face there is a mind and within that mind a giant bank of memories to make a story - a life story unique unto itself; compelling if ever it is told with humility and, above all, with truth. The truth and nothing but the truth as best it be recalled.

Naturally, such a tale will not - can never - claim to be the whole truth. Not even if told in as much fine detail as that famously semi-autobiographical Ulysses, a substantial book encompassing the life of a single man on a single day in Dublin town. Nobody wishes to hurt friends, family, even oneself! Nobody, that is, other than James Joyce.

About a year after my being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer my youngest son said he enjoyed reading my occasional blogs. But because I, his father, obviously enjoyed writing them, why not blog about your life? he suggested, adding that people seldom know very much about their parents’ early lives and are always curious. (He might well have been fed up with the rantings against the world of a grumpy old man but would have been too polite to say so!) So I started blogging in November 2014. It took me about a year to cover, through eighty four irregular essays my life between the years 1939 and 2015. The autobiographical SO WHAT? is the paperback / e-book compendium.
I wrote about the things I have done and those I have left undone, the things I have seen and those I wish not to have seen. I wrote down my thoughts along the way as best I can recall them. And, as I am a writer, I wrote with as much attention to the structure and musicality of language as I could muster. 

But why should one put oneself through the toil and sometime pain of remembering and producing, with as much care as one can, a hundred thousand word autobiography? It has nothing to do with ego. There are warts in abundance within the life described and I can hardly be proud of them. Truth is, I found the writing experience cathartic, even therapeutic in itself. I reckon you or anybody would find the same.

But, I hear you say, I am no celebrity. Why should anyone be interested in me? To that I say two things: firstly that you are writing primarily to and for your very own self. If another or others are looking over your shoulder, fine. Secondly, that your autobiography should be a celebration not so much of you as of life itself. Whether you are called Beckham or Smith, whether you are or were rich or poor, talented or not, mainly a good person or mainly the opposite, your story is unique. Written well and with honesty it can be of singular interest, therefore of value to others. But what about my carefully protected privacy? you ask. Well, sorry, in this man’s view privacy is largely illusory in these cyberatic times of ever greater public intrusivity. In any case there will be no such thing as privacy when one is finally standing before that golden gate. When I am at that time asked questions I can refer the questioner to SO WHAT? The answers are mostly there - as could be yours.
Bryan Islip

p.s. The photo at top is my very first shot at a selfie. No too dusty, huh?

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.