In the beginning ... (part 2)

Yesterday I wrote of how my fixation on fiction was conceived and born, how life overtook writing but how the dream lived on. Then ...

'September 2001, Holiday Inn, Bahrain: phone rings. Dee calling from our Winchester home: “Quick, Bryan, turn on the telly; America’s under attack!” I rush down to the bar and watch the big screen as bodies tumble lazily from high towers and young Saudis blow kisses at the screen. Later on I return Dee’s call; “I’m coming home,” I tell her. “We’ll take a holiday up in Scotland. I’m going to wrap it all up here … why? … it’s time I got on with the novel.”

By one of those strange co-incidences, within a week and nothing to do with the twin towers and in ways it’s best not to go into (and in any case I don’t do bitter and twisted) we had ‘lost everything’ in Saudi Arabia. Of much greater importance I / we had started on the path towards our new life in Scotland’s Wester-Ross. That young man was now an old man; one who understood the truth of Willie Nelson’s words: ‘You cain’t write a song if you ain’t got nothin’ to say.’ I had learned plenty, had plenty to say. Therefore had plenty to write about.

Since coming to the Highlands I have had a short story, Claws, published in the USA’s Carve Magazine and another of my stories, Speaking of Champions, won the Scotland section of the 2003 Real-Writers Awards. Then another, Willie's Place, reached the final six in their 2004 Awards. This was included in their anthology. I have a further dozen completed short stories. To provide an income up here in the Highlands of Scotland whilst I got on with writing my fiction we started a ‘publishing’ business, Pictures & Poems. I paint the Pictures in any of a variety of media and compose the associated verse then print and sell the results as cards, signed prints, calendars etc. I also self-publish a booklet called An Incomers Views On Wester-Ross in 24 paintings, poems and narratives.

But my main focus remained on the writing of a novel. I’d told Dee what I was planning. She’d heard it all before in bits and pieces over the past twenty five years. I recall her listening carefully them after a while, suggesting it just might be a bit ‘heavy’ - and more than a bit contentious. “Why not go for a common or garden blockbuster to fund the writing of the main event? You know, make some money?” Oh yes, what a good idea. Sounds easy enough.

Wrong. More Deaths Than One emerged one year later, blinking into the light of day. Two years after that, having done all the usual rounds of agents and publishers, reviewers etc, the by then much upgraded ‘blockbuster’ remained unloved other than by me and mine.

However, one of the many, many avenues down which I had taken this first completed novel was a mutual appraisal website sponsored by the Arts Council of England called YouWriteOn.com. Dozens of aspirant writers had reviewed More Deaths and had liked it to the point where it became a YouWriteOn ‘Bestseller’. Ditto when I submitted it to a similar site, (now no more), called The Friday Project. Could I, could all those reviewing readers / embryo writers be wrong? I took advantage of YouWriteOn’s offer to publish at no cost to us. Of course there would be the little matter of learning how to set out the pages in a form acceptable to the reader and to the computed presses of the world’s largest print on demand house. Oh, and there’s the cover design, but that seemed no great problem for am I not myself an artist / designer? A couple of months later I held in my hands a first copy of More Deaths Than One. As I did so I realised that what I had arrived at was no more nor less than fully fledged self-publishing. A second, better edited edition of the novel arrived last October, this time under my own Pictures and Poems label.

The writing of a novel good enough for folk to read and remember and talk about to their friends is of course hugely demanding of time, mostly the early day hours in my own case. The learning about editing and page design proved for me less demanding but by no means easy-peasy for a non-geek. But marketing the outcome? That’s a different scale of difficulty altogether, even for someone who had occupied a working lifetime as a professional marketeer. On a scale of one to ten, marketing a novel gets an eleven. Equivalent to, say, climbing Everest in wintertime or learning quantum theory. Jane Austen or Tolstoi would have cried their eyes out had they needed to market their work today.'

Tomorrow gets this short story of a long life right up to date.

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