It’s Reading, Stoopid!

Idiocracy. Big Think. https://bigthink.com

This morning I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 podcast – Just One Thing with Michael Mosely.  Each week he puts forward a suggestion of one activity that can improve our health and wellbeing.

This week it was about reading. Michael discovers how losing yourself in a novel for a short time each day can boost your brainpower, improve social bonds and, surprisingly, help you live longer.

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot recently about the decline in reading and that humanity has reached its intelligence peak – it’s all downhill from here – apparently. According to some sources.

Is there a decline in reading?

‘only 23% of 0-17s read for pleasure daily or nearly every day, down from 26% in 2019 and 38% in 2012.’

As an author, I find this alarming. If people are reading less, and more writers are publishing books, then surely the pool of potential readers is going to become a muddy battlefield! Like those images of animals drinking from a diminishing watering hole – the giraffes, lions, and wildebeest are the writers, whilst the little puddle denotes the readers – depressing. Every writer for themselves!!

‘According to the National Literacy Trust, a major 16% of adults are considered to be ‘functionally illiterate’ in the United Kingdom. Literacy levels are falling among the younger generations and it is stated that 1 in 5 adults struggle to read and write.’

Is the UK getting dumber?

‘Two in five (43%) Britons say they read for pleasure at least once a week, with a third (35%) doing so multiple times and 19% of UK adults reading every day. Britain’s keenest readers tend to be older, with 34% of Brits over 55 saying they read at least once a day, compared to just 7% of 18 to 24-year-olds.’

‘Readability data suggest that the average reading age of the UK population is 9 years – that is, they have achieved the reading ability normally expected of a 9-year-old. The Guardian has a reading age of 14 and the Sun has a reading age of 8.25’. Given that the average reading age of a GCSE exam paper is 15 years and 7 months, how can we expect young people to pass these exams if they cannot read and understand what’s on the paper in front of them?

Another report by the OECD found that England is the only country in the developed world in which adults aged 55-to-65 perform better in literacy and numeracy than those aged 16-to-24. That is, my age group reads more and has a higher literacy comprehension than my daughter’s age group – one day, the 55-65-year-olds will be dead – this means that in time, the basic skills of the English labour force could fall further behind those of other countries.

Not just the UK.

Total book reading is declining significantly, according to some studies in America. The percentage of the U.S. adult population reading any books has declined by -7 per cent over the past decade. It has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years. Less than half of the adult American population now reads literature.’ I’m simply stunned. From a purely selfish point of view – who will buy my books?!

And it’s not just Western countries. India is seeing a decline in the number of young people reading. ‘”It is not that students are not acquiring knowledge, but they browse the internet instead of reading books,” said Patna University English teacher Shiv Jatan Thakur. Browsing (like wildebeest) seems to be the norm.

We’ve seen diminishing numbers of visitors to libraries. Local libraries, school and college libraries, have become ‘Learning Resource’ centres, where students can go onto a computer to work – the books on the shelves sit sadly, overlooked, unread. Just give me a moment to pull myself together….

Places like the Netherlands and Norway, those countries I would usually have held up as examples of culturally intelligent, are also noticing this decline. What on earth is going on?

IQ = Idiocy Quotient?

Is there a connection between IQ and reading/literacy rates? Is there a connection between declining IQ and reading rates, and TV or similar media consumption?

In Norway, Ole Rogeberg and Bernt Bratsberg, of the Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research in Oslo, analysed the scores from a standardized IQ test of more than 730,000 men who reported [in Norway] for national service between 1970 and 2009. They saw a decline in IQ scores.

The results showed that those born in 1991 scored about five points lower than those born in 1975, and three points lower than those born in 1962. These results, we are informed, are applicable not just in Norway, but also globally. Our IQ levels are falling – and no one knows why!

Are humans getting dumber? Have we reached our homogenised collective intellectual pinnacle as a species? Or can I not see the wood for the trees? Am I being pessimistic? Will a ‘new breed’ arise that will invigorate our collective intelligence (or lack thereof), make reading for pleasure the norm and save the planet? I bloody well hope so, because it’s not looking too great at the moment folks!

Who or What Is to Blame?

It’s easy – and lazy? – to blame the internet/TikTok/Twitter/Facebook et al. Some studies show that reading for pleasure, or leisure reading, has been in decline since the late 80s early 90s…well before the widespread use of electronic hardware. The Netherlands has long blamed television.

One study found people could retain and process data significantly better if their smartphones were in another room. Just turning their phone off, or hiding it in a pocket or bag, didn’t work; phone owners still suffered brain drain when their device was nearby. Let’s pause and absorb this…. okay. So, what they’re saying is, that the proximity of a smartphone hinders one’s ability to think. Hmm, so shouldn’t we be banning them from classrooms? Or am I curtailing people’s freedoms?

Is it genetic? What is the makeup of the study groups? There’s the ‘dumb people have more babies’ hypothesis, but research shows that even within single families IQ has declined. Is it our environment? Is it something ‘in the water’? Have we created a stupid-inducing culture?

In the multitude of studies on declining IQ, they’ve shown the impact of technology obsession, genetics, poor diets, quality of schooling, and, yes, you guessed it folks – decline in reading!

Finland

Finland is the world’s most literate nation, according to new research, with the UK coming in 17th, behind countries including the US, Canada and Australia.

Finland has been coming top of the literacy tables for a very long time now. Studies would suggest there is not only something inherent within their culture but whatever goes on in their education system is, quite frankly, brilliant. I’ve read that teaching in Finland is a well-respected profession. The application process is difficult, and teachers are very well paid.

Some 22.2% of adults in Finland aged 16 to 65 attain the two highest levels of proficiency in literacy (Level 4 or 5) compared with the average of 11.8% of adults in all participating countries. What their studies are revealing is, that young Finns are more literate than older Finns. This is a reverse of the UK where the literate are older. Does this mean that Finland is producing the ‘new breed’ that I spoke of earlier? In twenty, thirty, or forty years, will we all be speaking and reading Finnish? Funny how the country that gave birth to the inventors of internet browsers – that thing some of us want to blame for our low literacy rates, is also the most literate!

Read More Books

          So, back to Michael at the BBC. I began by introducing Mr Mosely’s podcast as an attempt to get listeners to try something different to help make their lives better. To increase our well-being, our physical and mental states, and more.

             During the course of the programme, he hopes to “…boost my empathy and my mental health…” through daily reading. A test subject takes on the challenge for a week, and Mosely speaks to some clever chap who conducted studies. We are told that reading can increase brain activity, and productivity and create neural pathways! What’s not to love about that?!

             People complain that they don’t have time to read. Reading novels is something that can be fitted into each day, bedtime might suit best. But a chapter here or there isn’t going to take up much time. Read in the bath. Read during your lunch breaks. Put your feet up after a day in the office, grab a cuppa and a book, escape for a while. Go on, do it! Mr Mosely reveals that reading actually is more beneficial to mental health than a spa day!

Larry David giving himself a talking to. curbyourlarrydavid
Tv tv tv!! That’s all you can do. READ A FUCKING BOOK!
https://www.instagram.com/p/8d8zhcixww/https://www.instagram.com/p/8d8zhcixww/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00187ws

https://www.readingzone.com/news/dramatic-decline-in-reading-for-pleasure

https://yougov.co.uk/topics/entertainment/articles-reports/2020/03/05/world-book-day-britons-reading-habits

https://www.ascento.co.uk/blog/are-you-aware-of-how-literate-your-employees-are

https://literacytrust.org.uk/information/what-is-literacy/how-does-englands-literacy-compare-other-countries/

https://www.latimes.com/books/la-xpm-2013-jul-10-la-et-jc-what-makes-you-stop-reading-a-book-20130709-story.html

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/annals-the-emotions/201807/don-t-people-enjoy-reading-anymore

https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/research-confirms-it-really-are-getting-dumber.htm

Marketing Makes Me Want to Vomit

Gak! Fr@!g! Sh*g!

That’s basically my reaction to marketing. Any kind of marketing. But especially the stuff I do am supposed to do to sell my writing.

I have been reading about branding. What is this shit? I am not a tin of peas! Branding is when you take a product there are billions of similars of and stick some sort of ‘identity’ on top. A label.

The thing is, creativity IS the thing. It shouldn’t need a label, or an author a brand. Writing is what it is. There are already genres enough to confine and constrict – yes, they can and do. People struggle to hashtag their novels or find suitable keywords to fit if their novel crosses genres. Agents reject submissions on the grounds that your sci-fi/horror/comedy/etc isn’t close enough to the last sci-fi/horror/comedy/etc success they were involved with. What’s the ‘typical’ word count for the genre you write? Go ahead and look it up – I’ll wait…

And you wrote under or over it didn’t you? You worry that you now have to chop it up or tack on something else. I’m betting you looked around a few sites till you found one that fit closer to your word count. Who the f*ck decided this? Who got to decide how short or long your book should be?

And more importantly.

Why are we listening to them?!

I have a proposition – writers of the world unite and throw away all the rules (not grammar rules, that would be wrong, and very silly). Ignore what the publishers, agents, talking heads and ‘experts’ (I feel like Doctor Evil with so many ‘air quotes’) tell you!

Write from your heart. Write whatever you want. Write any and every genre and confuse the fuck out of your current agent, if you have one.

Be free! Don’t let anyone tell you how many words you should write. Or where you should promote yourself. Or how many times a day you should post on social media.

To misquote some bloke who drank a lot – Rage, rage against the pressures of the publishing industry!

Book Review – The Kids of God by Dave Appleby

The Kids of God [Dave Appleby] तक
The Kids of God by Dave Appleby
book cover

Genre: Fiction/Psychological Thriller
Pub Date: 2021
Length: 343 pages
Kindle Edition: £1.99/Paperback Edition: £8.99

Synopsis

What would you do if a man you hated appeared on your doorstep, fleeing from his would-be murderers, and tricked his way into your house? If you could be killed for sheltering him? This is Ed’s dilemma. Ed is not a hero. He is easily bullied and blackmailed. Living under a totalitarian regime, he has learned to survive using trickery and deceit. But how low will he stoop when the going gets really tough? This psychological thriller is about power and its abuses.

In a not to distant future, a self-made group calling themselves The Peacemakers, have control over the town. The town in question is never named. It doesn’t need to be. The citizens live in quiet fear. The enemy is the Drudjers – immigrants, refugees, ‘foreigners’ – others. Or are they?

This is a microcosm of our world, where people do whatever they can to survive in trying circumstances. There are decent people, there are bad people, and there are the morally ambiguous.

We follow Ed, a regular computer tech guy, as he is pushed to make a decision many have during wartime throughout history – do I save the stranger on the doorstep or leave him to the militia? Although, in Ed’s case, the decision is made for him – as it is in many situations that follow. Ed is a man whose wife has just recently left him, taking their two children with her. Ed has recently lost his job, after devoting himself to the company, whose system he helped develop. Ed is frightened, easily manipulated, used and cowed. The story is told in first person narrative, so we rely on Ed to be honest – and he is. His honesty – and his actions – will have you pitying him, initially. But for how long?

The Kids of God has a Kafkaesque quality, especially at the beginning. The staccato sentences that denote Ed’s thought pattern, fractured, frightened, work very well to convey a sense of fear and confusion. It isn’t utterly bizarre in the traditional Kafka sense, although we do take time to realise the world that is being portrayed. It isn’t totally illogical, except when a character makes decisions that are the sort of conclusions one might make under duress. But it is a nightmare world that Appleby has created, with the powerlessness of the protagonist and the crushing authority of The Peacemakers.

There are sections in Kids of God that are uncomfortable to read – be prepared – but read them you must. The events become pretty horrific. The treatment of secondary characters unforgivable. One’s initial opinions of Ed are challenged. We don’t have a lot of background about this protagonist, he doesn’t tell us why his wife left. We are in the here and now, and war makes cowards or heroes of us all.

I like that the story takes place in one town. The author has kept the lens focused close on the protagonist’s actions. There’s no grand landscape, or expansion elsewhere. We only know what is happening in Ed’s world, Ed’s town, right now. It successfully keeps us adhered to the moment, keeps us learning as Ed learns, experiencing as Ed experiences. This also makes for a slightly claustrophobic atmosphere, combining the domestic intimacy with the real and ever-present danger of being caught. The secondary character is a Peacemaker named Nikov, who initially comes across as a two-dimensional Nazi style Brown Shirt. We are meant to despise him because of what he represents, vigilante militia, and because Ed is frightened of them and Ed’s our hero. But the two dimensionality is a deliberate foil by the author, Nikov is an extremely complicated character who presents as a simple man following what he believes in. Ed and Nikov are neighbours in a street that has lost many of its residents and one comes increasingly to rely on the other, or does he?

This is a novel about how we treat people who are ‘not one of us’. How we view those from another country, or state or class. We presume, about ourselves, that we are decent individuals, but when things get hard, who are we looking out for, who do we care about – and who is to blame for the situations we find ourselves in?

This novel tackles, not only human behaviour towards foreigners, but through Ed, we can question what is going on inside our heads compared to what we present to the world, and reveals – horrifically, starkly – what actions erupt from people worn down by life and crushed by authority. This is, in places, a raw and uncompromising delve into impulses, and it comes with a Warning: it contains scenes of sex and violence.

Simultaneously engrossing and repulsive.

I did enjoy The Kids of God and give it

I Did a Thing!

36,896 Vintage kids Stock Photos | Free & Royalty-free Vintage kids Images  | Depositphotos
Vintage photo curtesy of https://depositphotos.com/

Hello again, yes, it’s been a while, but hey, pandemic, etc.

Double exciting news! I did a thing – well, two things.

First, I was interviewed by Vince Stephenson about my book, Beneath the Skin. Vince runs a YouTube channel called Boomers on Books, in which he interviews authors from around the world. Vince is primarily interested in first-time and up-and-coming authors. I was put in contact with Vince via a member of the #WritingCommunity on Twitter.

Beneath the Skin: Where Sleeps the Serpent?
and The Song of the Nightingale

It was went live this morning, Tuesday 27th July, and remains there for all to see and pick apart my daft answers.

So, how did it go? Okay – I think. I was rather nervous, and the 9:00 start saw me a bit bleary eyed and fuzzy. When I watched it back I realised that I hadn’t really said much about my book – I did not mention that the protagonist has an inborn ability. She is a Nagi. I did not mention that she has excellent fighting skills based on the Kerala martial art, Kalaripayattu. I did not mention that her friend and first mate is a Princess!

Why not? I don’t know, nerves? I tend to blether a lot when I am nervous, and later realise that I didn’t get to the point. I could have said so much more, but I am, unfortunately, not eloquent when it comes to the spoken word.

My second big news is that I have published my latest book. Hurrah!

The Floating Church is a novella set in the early 17th century. It follows thirteen-year-old Susanna Assheby in the time leading up to and just after the May Day celebrations. Thirty days on the cusp of womanhood. The isolated village of Hope Ghyll sits on the border of England and Scotland, hovering between Pagan beliefs and Christianity. A new minister brings news of the death of Queen Elizabeth, and staunch ideas on how his flock should behave.

The book is historical fiction, with hints of magical realism.

If the rest of the summer continues in the same vein, then I should have completed another short story or two, and maybe another novella!

Many thanks for reading, I hope you and yours are safe and well, and, if you’re a writer, artist, musician, then I wish you a productive summer.

And finally, many thanks to Vince for having me on his channel. He was a lovely interviewer and kind to let me rant and ramble.

Book Review – Motherdarling by Dave Appleby

Motherdarling by [Dave Appleby]
Motherdarling by Dave Appleby

Genre: Fiction
Pub Date: 2020
Length: 369 pages
Kindle Edition: £0.99/Paperback Edition: £8.99

Motherdarling was a monster. Jack, her son, walked out the day he turned eighteen. He’s not been back. Now Motherdarling’s dead. Anne has to find the missing Will or Jack inherits half of the Estate. But when Anne starts to search, she finds a secret that endangers all her hopes.

Motherdarling is a slow burn. This isn’t a negative. I enjoy these kinds of narratives, as they allow one to become slowly absorbed into the author’s world. It is akin to settling into a hot bath, except in this story, someone has lit a fire under the tub, and one hardly notices as the water begins to heat up and boil!

There are a couple of grammatical errors which can be forgiven, such as missing quotation marks, and using first then third person in a single sentence – when Anne is speaking in one chapter, she says, “I look down at her hands” and “At last I shake the water from her hands”. This might be a very subtle way of mentioning her hands remind her of her mother’s, but I don’t believe so.

The story takes place over a week, beginning with the funeral of the titular Motherdarling. Each chapter is written from the point of view of the family members, Anne, Jack, Peter and Chris. Beginning with Anne, we discover a somewhat sad, and dowdy, middle-aged woman who is both grieving, and relieved at the loss of her mother. She is aghast to discover that her brother, Jack, who has been out of the country for 30 years, has turned up and fears he is after part of the potential inheritance.

Then the family is informed that there is no Will. They must find it. And so, the hunt begins. And as they search, they uncover more than they bargained for. The reader accompanies each of the players on this journey, and as we are party to their inner thoughts, we begin to learn more about their motives, their appetites, their desires. The author writes deftly, unfolding the character’s responses to the situation as it twists one way then the other. It sounds such a cliché, but like an onion, it has layers. And as these layers are drawn back, each reveals the flaws in their makeup, the same way all humans veer on our moral track depending on circumstance.

Appleby has written a family drama wrapped around a mystery. And though the pace is similar throughout, we do get a feel for each individual character via a varied style of writing – Chris, for example, Anne’s teenage son, thinks in a staccato way, his thoughts are sometimes scattered, he bounces from one topic to the next when not directly speaking to someone. Whereas his father, Peter, has longer, drawn-out sentences that reflect his slower thinking pattern.

Motherdarling is engrossing. It is horribly fascinating. Like watching (another cliché, I’m afraid) a car crash in slow motion. The question of nature versus nurture is at the core of the story, as well as what is family? There are two, apparent, side stories relating to Peter and Chris, that eventually find their place in the whole. I had wondered about them and the relevance, but the author does a beautiful job of weaving the threads together into a wonderful if disturbing tapestry of family, heritage, duty and deceit.

I’m giving Motherdarling

Happy New Writing Year

Hello! Happy New Year. And welcome to the first post of 2021.

It’s been a while, I know, but some of you will already be familiar with my haphazard, impetuous and remissful style of blogging. *shrug*

It’s been a tough year for many people, some of us have lost family and/or friends, some have been in a negative place emotionally – but I’m not here to talk about the gloom, let’s look forward and think positive.

At the turning of the year, many like to think about how we might improve ourselves; resolutions and so forth – I spent a lot of the lockdown period thinking this over already, and decided that I was extremely lucky, for tonnes of reasons which I am not going to recount here, instead, I want to think about the successes and future endeavours.

Last year saw me (finally) publishing my novel – Beneath the Skin. A Steampunk duology about an Indian-Irish airship courier who unwittingly becomes embroiled in the politics of a secret society within the British East India Company. Plus, I won our writing group annual in-house short story competition! Which came with a cup (still needs to be engraved).

Beaneath the Skin covers for Parts One & Two

I don’t make New Years resolutions, or all-encompassing lists of things -to-do, but I am determined to begin this year as I mean to go on, both personally and workwise. I will continue to watch my diet (lost almost 2 stone between Nov 2019 and Dec 2020), I intend to get more exercise (continue to do 40 sit-ups a night) and be more joyful and thankful for the simple things.

On the writing front: on 24th December I put in 2 submissions; one for flash fiction competition. On the 31st December, I submitted my novella to a publishing company, and on the 1st January, I submitted a sci-fi short story and a poem to two separate competitions.

Cover design for novella The Floating Church

I’m one of those writers who don’t seem to have one specific/favourite genre. And that’s okay. Where does it say that you should write just Romance, or Fantasy? I have a LOT of stories piling up in notebooks and stuffing my brain, and I don’t see why any of them shouldn’t be written – how well they are written is a different matter!

 I read on social media, that some writers get stuck with their writing, they’ve finished a first draft, then sort of… dry up. Or think they do. I have only one piece of advice, that you’ve probably heard a million times before – keep writing – but I’d say specifically, WRITE SOMETHING ELSE. Unless you are contracted to create something within a certain timeline, you’re pretty much free to write whatever you so choose. If you find the juices drying up on a novel, pack it away and go and write a piece of flash fiction or a short for a competition. This is the key bit – FOR A COMPETITION. You will be pressured into writing in a different style or format than you’re used to, and have a limited time to get it done. A change is as good as a rest.

Looking ahead, I hope to get my current fantasy WIP completed and also the YA sci-fi novel completed. I’ve never done a book promo or anything like that, once I put something out there, it’s on its own. But I see that I’ve been rather negligent, so perhaps some of that will be going on too.

I have also decided to be less critical of other people (and myself). I converse with another writer on Twitter, we pointed out the fact that writers (and other creatives) put work before the public for more reasons than money (hell, if money was the aim, I wouldn’t write!) and sometimes that piece of work isn’t as good, when one looks back on it, as one originally thought. This is the nature of creativity, it’s always (or should be) going to improve as one progresses. Unfortunately, that means that people reading your ‘older’ stuff might find it full of faults.

Hey ho, that’s life, is all I can say.

In the meantime, keep writing, painting, filming, dancing, playing, singing, doing whatever it is you do, and have fun doing it. I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful year ahead.

Bless you for reading my nonsense.

Beneath the Skin: Where Sleeps the Serpent?

Heads up to my readers. I have a new Steampunk adventure now available on Amazon! Only £2.24 (Kindle) or free with Kindle Unlimited!! This is the first book in a duology.

Publication date: 30th August 2020 Publisher: KDP, Sticks & Stones imprint

Beneath the Skin, Book One: Where Sleeps the Serpent?

Airship courier, Shakti O’Malley takes on one last job before heading home. It will be a job she deeply regrets. All she wants is a simple life, to go home to her mother in Kerala, but her employer convinces her to take on a final delivery. It’s paid for, sealed, and already in her cargo hold before she has agreed – couriers rarely know what is in the packages they are delivering.

On board the Emperor Ashoka, Shakti discovers a stowaway, defends her ship from pirates, and finds out what is in the box she is transporting. She is forced to confront the truth about her father’s death and of her own hidden nature. From the heat of Kerala to the cool of Paris, Shakti is drawn into international politics and espionage.

The year is 1878. France’s Empire has overtaken the British and has a strong alliance with India. But some English men have ideas to alter the balance of power.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a serial killer is on the loose.

Extract

Paris

The Emperor Ashoka sat on the waters of the River Seine. The dock swarmed with shoals of flying boats, mini dirigibles, fantastic arrow-shaped craft with water landing gear. Mooring masts on the Champ de Mars sprouted dirigibles like giant seed pods, docking towers ran cables that tethered a variety of craft. The Aerodrome du Seine was a floating docking station replete with everything the aeronaut could need; food supplies, engine parts, engineers even. It also provided a hotel service for those who were unable to live on board their vessels, or for tourists who had newly arrived. President Charbonnier even had his own personal zeppelin stationed in the aerodrome complex. Shakti, Anita, Kinza and Deepak gawked around in wonder at some of the sleek airships and the brilliant aerodrome from which a harsh spring sun glinted. Apart from Kinza, they had never been outside of India before. The princess had travelled throughout much of the Middle East with her tribe before joining the Ashoka, and was, therefore, less awed but just as delighted.

Kinza exclaimed loudly and excitedly, indicating the arrow shaped airship that looked at home on the water as much as in the air.

“Oh my goodness! What is he wearing?” she cried pointing at a strangely garbed man exiting a semi-submerged craft.

She continued gabbling enthusiastically, clutching and tugging at Torben’s sleeve now and then. The big man smiled patiently. Shakti and Anita linked arms and wandered along taking in the European scenery. Michel had headed straight into the city proper to purchase supplies, after reminding her that she needed to register their vessel before too long. She had watched the boy tag along behind the Frenchman, staring at leather-clad aeronauts and straining his neck to see to the top of the huge gleaming aerodrome. Shakti noted the new smell, so different from home – no warm spices, hot, dusty air, or lush green vegetation. There was a cool, crispness with an underlying hint of river water. Cigarette smoke and perfume and urine. Coal and engine oil.

“Let us get registered and give the ship an overhaul before we get carried away.” She said, “Remember, we’re not on holiday.”

“We are not working either,” her first mate reminded her, “So what exactly are we doing here?”

Shakti twisted her mouth sideways, thinking. “You know, I am not really sure. Tinka was definitely giving us a hint to get ourselves here. All I know is we are now on the run from the Indian authorities.”

Publishing: Trad or Self?

To print, or not to print, that is the question, Whether ’tis nobler to self-publish or suffer the endless grind of querying.

Book written – novella actually.

Completed third draft? Check.

Spelling and grammar? Check.

Beta reader? Check.

Editorial Assessment? Check.

Currently with editor for the complete works – copy, line, structural, proof-reading.

I can’t say I’m not nervous. I really am, for a couple of reasons: 1. What if she discovers some appalling plot-hole (or holes!) that I’ve overlooked? 2. It’s costing me money that, in all likelihood, I’ll never make back on sales.

How To Workshop N-Words - The Rumpus.net

I have previously self-published on Amazon, both collections of short stories which you can find here and here, before I had any real idea of what I was about. This time I want a ‘real’ publisher. This time I want someone else to do all the work. This time I want to get it right (whatever that means).

Now this isn’t to say that other folks who have self-published haven’t got it right, many have. I have seen some exceedingly professionally produced books, well formatted, attention to interior, solid cover and sound back blurb. I have also seen titles produced by actual, real life, proper publishing companies that I haven’t been totally bowled over by.

How To Workshop N-Words - The Rumpus.net

Personally, I’m terrible at querying, I’m terrible at writing cover blurb, a synopsis, a pitch etc. I’m a creative writer, creative being the operative word. I want the idea written, complete and done so I can move onto the next one. I seriously resent the time spent on ‘Learning How to Write the Best Query Letter’ and similar. Why does self-publishing hold a lesser place in the eyes of others than publishing houses? Isn’t it the writing that ultimately matters?

I’ve spent the morning looking at domain names, cost of said domain names, how to have an imprint, how to register your imprint, how to…yadda, yadda, yadda. It goes on indefinitely – and I think this is my issue, I know that, given time, I could produce a decent product for the book market – because regardless of what the saying is, we DO judge a book by it’s cover.

How To Workshop N-Words - The Rumpus.net

But I don’t want to spend the time doing all that. I want to write, just write. I want to be able to be creative and develop my skill. I’m not interested in producing a trilogy to satisfy mass market appeal. I’m not particularly interested in becoming the next top selling author (of course it would be nice should anyone want to promote the shit out of my upcoming novella!), but that’s not what I write for.

I’ve read variously that a self-published author needs to spend anything form 50% to 70% of their time doing marketing, which leaves only 30% to 50% on writing. I want to be a writer, not a marketer. I spent too many years after leaving uni with my B.A in Fine Art, hoping that I would be magically discovered by some agent or art dealer – we were simply taught NOTHING about how to make a living from our art – I imagined in some airy-fairy, I’m a Bohemian kind of way that something would just fall into my lap – I didn’t have a clue! Seriously.

I am aware that talent alone does not get the work sold. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best author/painter/sculptor in the world, if it’s not out there in the public domain, it isn’t going to earn you anything. (If you create purely for yourself, that’s another thing, but there’s also the argument that art isn’t complete until viewed by an audience.)

How To Workshop N-Words - The Rumpus.net

So my bind is this, after the editor has done her job, do I go to self-publish, or attempt to get it professionally published? Can I bear the repeated individually written pitches and synopsis, as each agent/publisher will have slightly different criteria. Do I want to spend all that time asking, pitching, selling it to someone else to sell, or go indie?

Watch this space.

Actually, no don’t… you could be here for eons!

Sticks & Stones

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You can find my work at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alexandra-Peel/e/B0180332YY/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

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The Floating Churchwill be coming to a ‘bookshop’ near you soon.

#Lockdown Sex. Have Sex – Stay Healthy!

(Something light and fluffy for a change)

Pink Fluffy Handcuffs. Image courtesy of wattpad.pink-fluffy-handcuffs

Sex is great.

I mean you feel great doing it, and pleasantly satisfied and relaxed after it, assuming you’re doing it right!

During #lockdown, some people are beginning to feel a little glum and gloomy around the edges, which is a shame, because it’s an opportunity to delve inside oneself,(fnarr, fnarr) be in the moment, and discover what it is you want – truly want – from life after #lockdown. Ask yourself those questions about life, the universe and everything. Who am I? What really matters to me as a person, as a community member? You know, the BIG stuff.

In the meantime – sex!

Sex has many health benefits – and before any of you single guys and gals complain about not having someone to do it with – self pleasuring has it’s benefits too! And as Truman Capote said, “The good thing about masturbation is you don’t have to dress up for it.”

Sex not only feels good, it helps reduce stress – and who doesn’t want a bit of that these days?!

Here’s a Sexy List:

Orgasms help reduce tension. Hormones are released, including endorphins which work as relaxants. Less stress, reduction in anxiety, reduction in depression.

It encourages feelings of intimacy with your loved one.

Keeps the heart healthy.

Helps with a good night’s sleep.

Stimulates blood flow to the skin, that rosy afterglow is from oxygen, and oxygen stimulates collagen.

Some studies suggest it boosts our immune system.

Mortality rate for males is reduced.

Active sex can help us reduce weight (unless you get pregnant of course!)

Blood flow to the brain increases, if you do it regularly, you’ll be more brainy!

Helps women improve bladder control.

If more people were having fun sex, there’d be less complaining and conflict in the world. I bet all those who raise placards in the name of ‘needing a haircut’ (Sheesh!), haven’t had a shag since Easter.

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And also, don’t measure the amount of sex you do or don’t have in comparison to others, I mean, I don’t want people rubbing themselves raw or nothing, but keep it to a rate that’s comfortable for you, and your partner, or partners.

#lockdown sex can be anything you want (consensually speaking). What a perfect time for playing dress-up, or swapping underwear, or whatever it is you like to do, or wish you could do. I’m not advocating everyone order stuff from their local DIY store and build an S&M dungeon – but if you want to…hold on a moment…just adding to my ‘To-Do’ list… hmm, hm, there we go, so where was I? oh yes, #lockdown sex, I’m not suggesting you literally lock each other down…hang on…hm, hm…but whatever tickles yours, hers, his, theirs fancy, have a bash at it (I couldn’t help that one)

Grab your partner, grab your lube, grab your vibrator; whatever, (it’s not called hand ‘relief’ for nothing!) just get going. Too many people feel shame, or embarrassment when thinking or talking about sex, it’s weird, we all do it, to one degree or another, and none of us would be here today if someone else hadn’t before us; it’s natural people.

So whether you’re indulging in some Afternoon Delight, playing Blanket Hornpipe, or Friggin’ in the Riggin, enjoy it! Just, y’know, keep the noise down – you might live next-door to me!

Stay safe – Stay sexy!

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232318#common-misconceptions

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9448525

https://www.powerthesaurus.org/masturbation

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/12399/17-euphemisms-sex-1800s

Book Review – The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking: a novel, by Timothy Balding

I need to make some apologies first. It has been a long time since I posted a book review, and I feel I have somewhat let my readers down – but hey, this blog isn’t called Flailing Through Life for no reason!

I also need to apologise to the author I am reviewing today, Timothy Balding, as I read this book some time ago – last October to be exact, and I am sure that I promised to write something about it, what can I say? I’m a slow reader and a lazy blogger! And, another person to apologise to – Emma Lombard author and ‘mother’ of the Twitter #WritingCommunity, who has probably been wondering when I was going to get around to this. So, without further ado, here’s my take on The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking…

The Man Who Couldn't Stop Thinking: A Novel: Timothy Balding ...
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking
by Timothy Balding

Genre: Fiction, Satire
Pub Date: 2019
Publisher: Upper West Side Philosophers, Incorporated
Length: 274 pages
Kindle Edition: £7.91

Synopsis

Victor Andrews cannot decide whether thinking is a good thing or not. He has managed to escape it till now, too occupied with his career and the pursuit of his romantic and carnal ambitions. A heart operation and an inheritance suddenly change all that. He has time on his hands and new ambitions to invent for himself. If he starts thinking, will it take him forwards or backwards? he wonders. Will it lead him out of the confused labyrinth of his life and give it some new meaning before it’s too late? Or push him to join the company of the crazy people who chase endlessly the tails of their obsessions?

Firstly, I must tell you that I was bought this book by the writer Emma Lombard. On a Twitter post, she ran a competition asking the community which book they would most like to read at that moment. I responded, and was one of three individuals who received their chosen book. Also, I must add, that she bought me the paperback version AND had it posted to me! So many, many thanks to @LombardEmma.

Secondly, this is not the sort of book to read if you’re after action or huge dramatic scenes. It is very low key, with a few sections of dialogue, and mostly focuses on Victor’s day to day musings and concerns. But that isn’t to say it isn’t a good read, it is. In fact I found it to be one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while.

8 common mistakes people make when ordering whisky and how to ...
Wee dram of whisky, image courtesy of Scotsman Food and Drink

Victor has just had surgery again, and (this is only my take as a female of a certain age!) is possibly going through a mid-life crisis; I have to admit that the opening scene made me laugh a lot, still does when I re-read it, a good example of how to grab your audience’s attention! Instead of succumbing to mastering ‘the use of a boomerang’ or taking ‘up skateboarding’, he buys an African grey parrot which he decides to teach phrases such as Nietzsche’s “God is dead.”

The parrot becomes a kind of sounding board for Victor and his philosophising, beginning with questioning his own motives for buying the bird, “Was his act the realization of a tyrannical dream of power, he joked to himself?” and later questions his own motives for teaching the parrot the phrase “God is dead” and how humanity could possibly continue without hope and a deity. He also has a relationship with a woman called Helen, who I would say is Victor’s intellectual equal, but doesn’t give credence to some of his ideas; she comes across as somewhat acerbic and I quite honestly don’t see how Victor stays with her.

Balding’s writing style made me think of British authors from a bygone age. It strikes me as terribly British and a little old fashioned; this is not a criticism, far too many aspiring writers concern themselves with being unique and ‘modern’ instead of concentrating on producing good writing. It is deceptively easy to read – but not to be rushed! Victor’s self-questioning (and self-questing) had me pausing for long moments to give some thought to, well, Victor’s thoughts (but without the whisky). There is no superfluity in his writing, Balding has the skill that many of us budding authors so crave, the ability to write concisely and to the point.

Objectivity and subjectivity drive Victor through his post-op life – he asks, how can a person make decisions if one cannot see the world from the perspective of others? Who is responsible for one’s personal happiness? And “I know I’m egocentric…but I will try harder.” Though I cannot say that I fully understood every philosophical musing, nor every reference to research topics that Victor had undertaken, I was acutely aware that I was probably missing something due to my lack of acquired knowledge or intellect, but I still found the story fascinating. And although Victor seems to suffer minor existential crises internally, he never comes across as morose, or self-obsessed. I found the character to be less white-middle-aged-man-with-English-pomp, and more bemused-middle-aged-man-seeking-the-truth; I felt I could relate to him very much. Victor’s musings are funny and he has a much more positive and generous attitude toward his fellow human beings than many folk I know in real life.

He makes statements like “Women were as unpredictable as Belgians.” which made me laugh out loud, because it’s so English and so male, but, and it’s an important but, this never comes across as offensive, because Victor always quizzes his own opinions and offers us facts that he has dredged up from news articles or papers he has read. I found myself reading a paragraph and thinking, Yes, I think this or I have done that – spouting off my theories to a stranger then wondering why on earth I did that. When I tried to describe the book to friends, I found it really difficult, why would a woman want to read the musings of a middle aged man? one asked me. I can’t explain. To the uninitiated, I suppose Victor Andrews might epitomise all that is wrong with white men of a certain age, however, I found him to be lovely, thoughtful, witty, erudite and at least he’s trying! It also goes a bit Kafkaesque near the end when Victor is interrogated! Maybe I just find ‘male humour’, if it exists, to be funnier than female?

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Roger Allam, whose voice is very distinctive, very English. I adore Roger Allam and his voice, you might recognise him from the film ‘V for Vendetta’ and the TV show ‘The Thick of It’. And I would love, simply love this book to be made into a radio or TV drama with Mr. Allam in the lead, though what the author Mr.Balding would have to say about that I don’t know!

Roger Allam - IMDb
Roger Allam, English actor

If you’re after some good strong writing that is humorous as well as thought provoking, I can thoroughly recommend this book.

I’m giving The Man Who Could’t Stop Thinking 5 stars.