Something As Simple As Rock ‘N’ Roll Could Save Us All

Last night I went to a gig which reminded me how glorious us humans can be. How glorious most of us constantly are. It was a Frank Turner gig, which may or may not be significant to the effect it had on me, the emotions it stirred, the tears it unexpectedly brought to my eyes. But then again, it definitely needed a certain sort of singer and a certain sort of crowd for this blog post to have been inspired.

Frank Turner, for those of you who don’t know, is an English singer/songwriter, of a folk/rock tradition. This was the second time I’d seen him live and it was even better due to the smaller, more intimate venue not far from his own home town. Over the years many of his songs have gotten to me personally, but isn’t that always the way with performers we become attracted to? They write so many lyrics that could have been written just for us, making us feel like they are talking directly to us.

So come on now if we all pull togetherWe can lift up the weight of the world from your shoulders, just for a moment or two.png

 

Frank Turner invites a mixed crowd of people, which in my opinion makes for the friendliest and safest kind of gig. Young teenage couples stand and sway beside grey haired ones. Parents stand with hands on the shoulders of their children. Women in their thirties and forties, and everyone in between. It doesn’t matter what you wear or how you look, you’ll feel instantly relaxed and at home. There’s no sense of danger or threat in this mild mannered yet devoted crowd.

Not everyone grows up to be an astronautNot everyone was born to be a kingNot everyone can be Freddie MercuryBut everyone can raise a drink and sing (1).png

 

Like all great performers, Turner knows his job is to make us happy and he plays this role to perfection, making it is his sole purpose to excite, entice and invite the crowd to have fun. Like the pied piper of music lovers, if he says jump, we jump, if he says sing, we sing, and if he tells us all to hug a stranger, we hug a stranger. There were some truly wonderful and memorable moments last night, including a man who had flown in from Lithuania to see Frank, being called on stage to pick out someone who would then crowd-surf to two points in the audience in order to deliver high fives to two chosen men.

Having recently mentioned money being raised for Safe Gigs For Women, Turner asked us to prove what a safe and respectful environment his gigs provided for all. Later on, he crowd surfed himself in order to find a beautiful girl to dance with while singing I Wanna’ Dance. He found a little girl and danced with her, and I am sure it will be a moment she will never forget.

But this is not meant to be a gig review. If it was I would say that the crowd were suitably enticed into a hand clapping, feet stomping frenzy, roaring along to each and every song, dancing and hugging and kissing. I would say that Turner did a magnificent job of interacting with the audience, delivering an energetic and passionate performance while coming across as a genuinely lovely and down to earth person.

But all that aside. Something happened last night. I kept getting emotional. I kept wiping away tears. It might have been the two pints of cider. It might have been the songs (I’m not ashamed to admit I wept openly to Ten Storey Love Song and I Am The Ressurection when I saw The Stone Roses) But it was more than that. Because I’ve been feeling emotional a lot lately.

I’ve caught myself staring into space, lost in fearful thoughts. I’ve found myself breathless in the beauty of nature whilst a cold terror that everything is ending clutches at my heart. I’ve had moments of intense love with my children, which feel undeniably punctured with hopelessness. And I’m not the only one. So many people I know seem to be experiencing what can only be described as a sort of mourning. We’re grieving for a world that seems to be going backwards in so many ways, devoured by hate and division. We’re mourning for a beautiful glorious earth that cannot hang on much longer under the damage we inflict. We’re aghast at the utter demons who rule the world and who are voted in by people who should know better.

It’s been bad news followed by worse. Now you might have different political opinions to mine, and that’s fine, but these things need to be spoken about. None of us should ever have to be silent. You might have voted Conservative, for Brexit or even for Trump, but I cannot hold back from discussing the fall out from such outcomes. On the morning of the Tory election win, there were groups of mums gathered in shock at school, in tears. I cried myself. People who were already scared and dismayed at the rate at which the NHS, education and the welfare state had been cut back, rolled back and privatised for profit, were facing another five years of rule under a barely elected Government extremely lacking in compassion.

But we soldiered on. Signed petitions and even won some of the battles. Then came Brexit. And again, if you voted differently to me, that’s fine. I know plenty of people who voted for their own reasons which were not doused in selfishness and intolerance. However, it cannot be denied that Farage and the right wing press whipped up a frenzy of suspicion, hatred, selfish nationalism, not to mention the repetition of outright lies and misinformation.

The morning after I saw the same shocked faces at school and at home. It felt like the extreme right wing racists had won, and the terrifying increase of racially motivated hate crime since then would suggest they felt they had. They felt vindicated and are now proud to voice their intolerant views. It felt like everything was going backwards.

But we shouldered it and carried on. Then came the election of the most powerful man in the world and we all know how that turned out. Avoiding social commentary and political discourse as much as I possibly can here, it cannot be denied nor should it be, that the majority of people across the world right now are pretty scared. They’re either so scared they voted for a misogynistic unqualified lunatic or who doesn’t believe in climate change, or they are now terrified because of that outcome.

As Turner said himself last night, it has been a shit year and the world right now feels very unstable divided and scary.

I felt it hit me last night. The emotion, the fear, the ache of hope, the solidarity with others. With each song he sang I guess I released a little bit of what I had been holding onto. When he spoke about his song Rivers not being about nationalism, but about the beautiful rivers that carve up our land, I wanted to shout yes! I came away feeling lighter, not knowing how much I had needed a night like that.

'And when I dieI hope to beBuried in out in English seasSo all that then remains of meWill lap against the shoreUntil England is no more''Rivers'Frank Turner.png

I guess I don’t really believe any more than rock and roll can save us all. Maybe we are all too far gone, but I do still believe it can save us, if only for just one night.

And I thank Frank Turner for that.

And in his own words; ‘We can get better, because we’re not dead yet!’

and-i-still-believe-in-the-needfor-guitars-and-drums-and-desperate-poetryand-i-still-believe-that-everyone-can-find-a-song-for-every-time-theyve-lost-and-every-time-theyve-won

 

Indies!! What The Hell Are We Doing?

Indie writers, if you’re anything like me, you ask yourself the same question on a regular basis. It looks a bit like this;

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I’m sure my family think I am mad. None of this really pays off, let’s be honest. My husband chuckles when I declare I am going onto the laptop to ‘work’. He thinks I am crazy for giving myself so much stress.After all, it’s not like I have a boss breathing down my neck! I don’t actually have to do any of this, do I?

He can’t understand when I announce that ‘I have a lot to do tonight’. To explain, it usually goes a bit like this; ‘I’ve got to finalise the short story for the newsletter and I’ve got to fiddle with the template, plus I’ve got to share the newsletter link to my page before it goes out, so I can try to pick up a few more subscribers, then I’ve got to go over this week’s blog, because that goes out tomorrow and I haven’t added images yet, and I’ve really got to start hitting some book review blogs and I’ve really got to start submitting to some competitions, but I’ve got to finish this book too, and plan this other one…’

And I’m sure he’s thinking; um no, you don’t actually have to do any of that. You could have a night off and watch TV or something.

Indies, I’m sure you can relate to how I feel when I regularly ask myself; what the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this? Why am I writing another short story to add to another newsletter than only 19 out of 34 people will even open, and out of those 19, only 2 will go on to open the file and hopefully read the story? Why am I sharing my thoughts, my progress and my blog posts to Facebook so that it can show them to only 23 people out of 1027? Why am I asking for reviews when I might as well be banging my head against a brick wall? Why am I writing a book when the ones I have released already barely sell? Why do I constantly feel like I am fighting a losing battle? Why am I forever looking for the holy grail of ‘making it’ as writer? Will I even know it when I find it? Why the hell am I doing this to myself?

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I think it’s common to feel thwarted, frustrated and downhearted as an indie writer. You constantly swing between feeling like an outsider, and feeling proud to be doing it your own way. You feel like you have something to prove, when surely having a nice, fat traditional publishing contract, would be all the proof you’d need? As an indie, you keep one eye on the sales, you pester and beg for reviews, you enter competitions, and do all you can to promote without becoming an annoying spammer. You lose yourself in social media, and it is all for your books. Sharing interesting writer advice to Twitter, pinning funny writing quotes and making storyboards for your books on Pinterest, running events and giveaways on your Facebook page, and starting an email newsletter to try to gain a decent, loyal following. You do it all, don’t you? And wonder when on earth it’s going to pay off…

How do you know when you have succeeded? How do you measure achievement when you’ve chosen the indie path?

Maybe it’s enough money to live on, or to at least pay a few bills. Maybe it’s some level of fame, recognition or critical acclaim? Maybe it’s wonderful reviews, or just a nice, steady trickle of sales? Maybe it’s just becoming a better writer.

Sometimes I have to stand back and force myself to ask some awkward questions. What if I never sell lots of books? What if I never get the amount of reviews they say you need to get Amazon on side? What if I never win an award? What if I never get any recognition or any level of success?

Would I stop doing it?

No.

Never. And when I remember this, I think, fuck it, and keep going.

And what is success anyway? Yes, more reviews, more sales, an award or too etc, would all be lovely. Of course they would. They would make it all worthwhile. They would help justify the hours, the blood sweat and tears and sanity invested in all this. They would help alleviate the crippling self doubt and the gloomy, why am I bothering days.

But you can measure success in other, smaller ways too.

Such as, where was I a year ago? Or two? How about six?

Well, six years ago I was still working on the early drafts of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, having dragged it out from the dusty suitcase under my bed where it had been living since I last worked on it aged 16. With my then youngest child starting school, I’d felt the strongest urge ever to get writing again, as that book had just never stopped talking to me.

In the years that followed that decision, I’ve published four novels and one short story collection. I’ve finished two more novels and am working on getting them released soon. I’ve started a Facebook author page and slowly but surely reached over 1,000 likes. I started this blog which also has over 1000 lovely followers. I’ve had many articles about writing published by Author’s Publish. I’ve fallen back in love with writing short stories. I’ve started my own writing business, Chasing Driftwood, running adult writing group and children’s creative writing workshops. I’ve been asked to run several workshops for children and adults by the Dorset Writer’s Network. I’ve become a reviewer for Underground Book Reviews, where I actually get paid to read books! There is so much more I want to do too, such as working regularly with schools, running workshops for aspiring authors and after school writing clubs. I want to write all of the books in my head! And if that’s not the main motivation for all of this craziness, then I don’t know what is!

Plus, I have a confession. I do moan, I do lose heart, I do get frustrated and I do have ‘I’m just gonna’ give up’ days, but do you know what? The truth is I actually enjoy all the craziness that goes with being an indie. I’m proud to be doing it my way, I’m proud to be learning from my mistakes, I’m proud to be getting stronger and more confident, I’m proud of the sales and reviews that I have, and the messages from readers. And as for all the other stuff; Pinterest, tweeting, author page, email newsletter…yeah, I have to admit it is all quite fun. Admit it!! It is fun!! Plus, writing blog posts, learning how to master social media, attempting articles and short stories, will all help make you a better writer. You may be doing them for promotional reasons, but the process is going to help your writing in the end, so that’s a win-win!

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Now, over to you, fellow Outsiders. How often do you feel like quitting? How do you really feel about being an indie? How do you measure your own success? Do you enjoy all the promotional activities that go with being an indie, or are they a curse? Please feel free to comment and share! 🙂

 

 

When Fear Drives Fiction

So, I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time and wondering if what deterred me from it for so long was fear of fear. By that I mean there is already so much to be afraid of in this world, why would I want to give myself more? I’m currently writing from a place of fear and uncertainty and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not the only human feeling like that right now. And I mean on a daily basis. It’s like that Monday morning stomach lurch, except it happens every morning. It’s like the heavy sluggish twisting guts you get before an exam, before a driving test, before you do anything you’re scared to do. Except it never goes away. It’s there all of the time. Weighing me down, wringing me out, making me pause to catch my breath. It’s like that too; like I can’t breathe properly, like there is a deep and shaking level of fear rising up to the surface, and if I am quick I can take a breath and send it back down again. Deal with it another day. Move on quickly into the light.

And there is light. It’s vital to remember that. There is light and love everywhere, and I hope you’ve got as much as I have in my life. When I feel too bad, when the sinking feeling starts to drag me down, I buck myself up and busy myself with the things I love. My beautiful children. Loud music. My garden full of flowers, vegetables and animals. Writing and books.

I’m examining the world right now and wondering if life imitates art, or if it is in fact the other way around. Does art reflect the world we have already created? Or does it project our fears for the future based on what’s going on around us right now? George Orwell must have been pretty terrified, that’s all I can think. Big Brother. Thought police. Uniforms and Two Minutes Of Hate. Chilling stuff. Which all feels rather apt and grim at the moment.

I’m writing to you from a post Brexit Britain. I hate the word Brexit. To me it sums up the dumbing down we’ve been subject to for so long now. Let’s join two words together and make a new one so we don’t have to say too many words! Now I don’t care how you voted, and I’m not going to talk here about my vote, or the whole situation in any real depth. I personally feel that there were good reasons to stay and to leave, but that as usual the government and the media focused on immigration and fed us lies, and what an ugly divisive country this now looks as a result. Let me say again, if you voted to leave, I respect that vote and your reasons for it, and I’m not going to talk about what might happen next. What saddens me most right now is the applause and delight demonstrated by far-right groups across the globe. Whether you like it or not, there are many people out there using this situation to legitimise racism and xenophobia, and that makes my heart sink. I thought we had come so much further than that, but it feels like we are slipping backwards all the time.

It feels like we are now adrift, with no one stepping in to guide us through this unchartered territory. The Labour party and the Conservatives are in turmoil. Everything feels weird and unsafe. I can’t help but wonder what future writing will evolve from this tumultuous time in politics. And that’s the only way to get through it, I feel. Write about it.

My next two books certainly reflect a lot of my current fears, thought I don’t think I was entirely conscious of it to begin with. The Tree Of Rebels was conceived one day when I signed an online petition to prevent Monsanto patenting seeds. I didn’t really know too much about the case, but some very concerned friends of mine deemed it a very serious issue, so I signed it and hoped for the best. It got me thinking though. What if a company could patent seeds? All the seeds? What if they could then, bit by bit, own nature? What if in the future, growing your own food was banned? Surely a government with complete control over nature, would have complete control over its people. The idea made me wonder further; how would this society operate without total rebellion? Well, the people would need to be thankful for what they were given, and what makes people thankful? Perceiving life to be better now than it was then. A story driven by wonder and what if’s…but ultimately fear. I’m a keen gardener myself. I worry so much about the state of the world, so I’m trying to become more self-sufficient, just in case. The thought of someone telling me it’s now illegal to grown my fruit and vegetables or raise my chickens and ducks is terrifying. The thought of a giant and powerful company with extremely dubious ethics essentially owning nature appalls me. So I wrote about it.

Writing helps me make sense of the world. Or at least it is my desperate attempt to. I guess we all have our fears. Things that keep us awake at night. I’ve felt for a while that the world and all it’s people are heading towards some kind of tipping point. Is the world now worse than it has ever been? I scroll through my Facebook feed to witness a never-ending roll call of human misery, animal abuse, environmental damage and worse than all of that; apathy. I feel sick to my stomach, as well as helpless, cynical and angry. Are these the most selfish times we’ve seen? The most brutal? Maybe it is all too easy to look back on the past too fondly. I’m guilty of this myself. I become convinced that the 1980’s and 90’s were a wonderful, simple time. Surely it was all lovely then, wasn’t it? Well no, actually. It’s just that I was a kid and totally unaware.

Fear and dismay drive fiction. We create stories we are frightened of as a way of warning ourselves and others. Helplessness spawns words and worlds and sometimes, if we are lucky, solutions. At least it makes us feel better, anyway. Elliot Pie was born of this frustration with the modern world and the way it is all heading. Elliot is 12 and he wants to do something to help his mother, who is refusing to leave the house after a number of hard knocks. How can he convince her the world is not a bad place filled with bad people?

It’s been quite a task for a writer currently so disillusioned and afraid. But I had to go back and look at it all through a child’s eyes. Elliot doesn’t want to give up on the world yet, or on life. He feels like the adults in his life have all written it off for him before he’s even had a chance to work it out for himself.

Like Elliot, and for my own children, I have to cling onto a dangerous and painful amount of hope. I stand by the very few politicians who have decent intentions. I hope the powers that be don’t prevent them trying to change things. I hope that people are not too apathetic, too far gone, too addicted to reality TV and pointless celebs to fight back before it is all too late. I hope George Orwell was wrong. I hope Elliot Pie is right.

In the meantime, my advice to anyone feeling like I am right now, is to do what you can to ensure love wins. Whatever that means, in whatever way you can, make spreading love and tolerance part of everything you do. This morning I woke up feeling more positive than usual. I decided on the school run journey that I would be kinder than normal, and I let out as many waiting cars as I could. It was actually sad how many of the drivers looked genuinely surprised and thankful. I played some invigorating, uplifting music, told my kids I loved them, and decided that if the two little rabbits in the adoption centre of the pet shop were still waiting for a home, then I would get them. I’d had my eye on them for a while, and once I’d learnt their history (four years of neglect) it was a done deal. I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit of love counts. And at least I changed the world for them.

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Have You Got What It Takes To Go Indie?

Life as an indie writer is not easy. It is a hard slog, full of ups and downs. It is a journey often plagued by a gnawing self-doubt as well as the added burden of feeling like you constantly have to prove yourself. Not only do you have to make all the key decisions about your book, with regards to editing, front cover, and how to market and promote it, you also sometimes feel like you have a shadow hanging over you. You have to fight harder to be seen, try every trick in the book to prove yourself, and all with the nagging question that just won’t seem to go away. Are you really good enough?

Sadly, since I started my own journey in 2013, I’ve seen indie author’s announce they are quitting on a regular basis, stating that they just can’t do it anymore. There are just so many of us out there now, all searching for the same thing. The Holy Grail. How to succeed as an indie writer.  It often feels like a step forward, followed by two steps back. Many give up when their books refuse to sell. Many become disenchanted when they fail to find an audience. Many become exhausted by the endless choice and costs involved in promoting their books.

So what does an indie need to survive? What sort of person to they need to be to get through the inevitable highs and lows? I believe survival comes down to four main things, four personality traits you are going to need in bucket loads, if you are going to stick with the indie life and not give up when the going gets tough.

You need to have an immense passion.You must believe in your stories. You might be good at writing, but you are going to need more than talent to survive the bumpy road ahead. Never mind your writing abilities or creative talents right now. Ask yourself this; do you truly have a passion, a deep and possessive passion for the stories? Do these stories keep you up at night? Are these stories begging to be told? Do they plague your daydreams and interrupt your ordinary life? Do you have something you desperately want to say and share? Is this idea driving you crazy? If yes, then you‘ve got the passion. But that is only half the battle. You have to keep that passion, especially when times get tough, as they inevitably will. It helps to have a lot of unwritten material sloshing around inside of you. A host of characters chattering away, urging you to get on and give them their turn. A desire to get it all out,whatever it takes, to keep writing and writing, no matter what.  The passion to write is perhaps the most important thing you will need. It will ensure you keep writing, because you have to write, because absolutely nothing is going to stop you.

Self-belief. In truth, for any writer, self-belief comes and goes. There are times you have lots of it and feel genuinely proud of your last paragraph or your final, finished product. But there are equally as many times when a first draft is anything but perfect. In fact it is ugly and clumsy and utterly different to how you envisioned it in your head. Quite simply you think you should give up and never write another word. This is quite normal, and I’m sure even the most successful and well known writers are regularly plagued with bouts of crippling self-doubt. There are days you just can’t write properly, nothing comes out the way you want it to, you compare yourself to others and feel you fall woefully short. This is all fine. But in order to succeed as an indie writer you need to have a rather solid foundation of genuine self-belief.You may not want to brag about it or declare it to the world, but deep down inside you must believe that you are good. You must believe that you can write. You can tell a story and make it work. You can make people care. You deserve this and can hold your head up with the best of them. Otherwise, the hurdles to come are going to knock you off course pretty quickly.

Hope. I think this applies to the indie more than any other writer. The indie needs passion and self-belief, in order to get that idea down on paper. They need talent and determination to edit, rewrite and perfect that work until it is ready to publish. They need to become an expert at marketing, promotion, an entrepreneur even, and in many respects a businessperson. But they also need to be an optimistic and hopeful kind of person in order to survive. Why? Because hope keeps you going through all the hard times, through the low sales and no sales, through bad reviews and no reviews, through feeling totally alone and out of depth and not to mention being penniless! You have hope that you‘ll become a better writer, that you will get better with every new thing you write. You have hope that your small following will continue to grow,and that fans will spread the word for you. You have hope that you‘ll one day land a nice big, traditional publishing deal, (if that’s what you want, and let’s face it, most indies would love to hand at least some of the control over to an enthusiastic professional!) You have hope that you‘ll make it. You‘ll succeed and realise your dreams, and achieve whatever level of success you are aiming for.

And finally, I believe you need to be a realistic dreamer. By that I mean, you need to dream big and aim high, but at the same time, you need to keep your feet on the ground and be realistic. I think perhaps too many writers jump into the indie game with their expectations too high. I know I was guilty of just this at the start of my journey. I sort of expected things to just take off. I thought all my friends and family would buy and love my book, would leave plentiful glowing reviews, and would then encourage all of their family and friends to do just the same, and my book would somehow just tumble forward, picking up speed until I made it! Oh how that makes me laugh now! No, I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen like that. In my experience, people mean well, but when they say they will read or review your book, it does not always happen. People are busy. They have their own lives and interests, and they may not want to read your book for fear of offending you if it’s not their kind of thing. in truth, many of them are just not going to be interested at all. The indie journey can therefore be a lonely one at times, not to mention frustrating. Expect too much, and you are going to get disappointed. Be realistic. Recognise that it is not a race, but more a journey of development and discovery. The fact is, you will get better at all of it. You will get better at writing, and at marketing, and you will realise you don’t need your family and friends to push you forward. You need to find your own audience, and finding them, is quite simply part of the package you sign up to. Getting reviews and exposure, gaining readers and fans, winning awards and so on; all of these things are down to you.

I believe that if you have enough passion, self-belief and hope, you will be able to maintain longevity as an indie writer. Keep your feet on the ground and your expectations realistic, while not ever giving up on the dream. They may all get dented and bashed about from time to time, but as long as the reserves are deep, you should be able to keep going. Who knows what is around the corner as long as you don’t give up your dream?