Okay, folks, the audiobook of my short story “Nightfall” has just dropped. Have a listen and see what you think.
Originally posted on Novel Writing Festival: PITCH: Title: The Vorbing Written by: Stewart Stafford Type: Novel Genre: Fantasy/Horror Logline: The Vorbing is a fantasy/horror concerning Vlad Ingisbohr’s struggle to free his village from the reign of terror of vampires and avenge his father’s death at their hands. Interested in this logline, please email us at…
Imaginary things take time to write. Fantasy and horror and, to a lesser extent, science fiction can be among the toughest genres to write as they are works of pure imagination. Science fiction can be slightly researched and current trends can be followed to their logical conclusion. Educated guesses can be made as to what direction science will go in. Fantasy and horror mostly comprise world-building from scratch and, depending on the writer, the concepts can take time to generate.
Added to that, readers want new product yesterday. They’ve become ultra-impatient in the internet age. Some of them even refuse to read the first book in a series as they are unable to wait for the other books to be written and published. “Am I going to have to wait years for you to finish your Vorbing trilogy? I’m an impatient bitch,” one of my readers helpfully explained to me.
In their book, The Neuroscience of Clinical Psychiatry: The Pathophysiology of Behavior and Mental Illness, Edmund S. Higgins and Mark S. George note: “People who can delay gratification and control their impulses appear to achieve more in the long run. Attention and impulsivity are opposite sides of the same coin.” This is especially true of all those internet babies who have grown up in the technological age. So the internet is a bit like Brexit; we don’t know what the full implications of its arrival are yet.
The web has its advantages. It’s a phenomenal communication tool. Twitter has definitely made me think faster and streamline messages better, that is certain. As a way of quickly disseminating a message or a product worldwide immediately, the web takes some beating. The net is like a giant synthetic brain our thought patterns are connected to (a strength and a weakness that can be exploited). There are concerns over privacy and who is doing what with our data and those worries will only increase as time goes on.
Back to the writing. This awareness of the disintegration of attention spans has unquestionably changed both the method and style I employ when writing books. I started writing my first book when the internet was in its infancy. I was able to remain in the world I had created all day interacting with my characters. I was totally immersed in it and wouldn’t notice hours passing. Now social media, that great thief of time, eats up chunks of my day without me noticing hours passing. I mostly interact online with people I don’t know instead of my characters. I’m totally immersed in the internet. Writing is done now in feverish bursts to meet my daily word count so I can get back online. Experience has enabled me to do much more in less time though. I no longer need to spend all day going down blind alleys trying to find myself creatively. So perhaps there is no damage done there.
There are writers who have given up social media for a month to get books out there. I’d be concerned about losing half my hard-earned followers. You can’t expect people to continue following you if you’re offline for weeks. Especially if you’re a self-published writer dependent on social media to market your books. It appears to be a 21st-century Faustian pact with the web.
Then there is the pace of the novel itself. I am only too aware that if you fail to hold the attention of your readers, social media is tickling their ears non-stop to woo them away. So they’re dealing with getting their electronic fix too (especially if they’re consuming your book on an e-reader or smartphone app that’s connected to the internet and the ejector seat button for your novel is half an inch away). The pacing of a novel has to match the online frenzy going on out there or you’re toast. Then again, if the flour is going rotten to begin with, maybe the quality of the toast isn’t so important these days. We shall see.
So the internet has rewired our brains, changed our expectations and how books are written, edited, sold and read (or not as the case may be). What form will books take in 2026? 2036? 2066? Will we be taking downloads directly into our brains as in a William Gibson cyberpunk novel? I have a saying: “The possible is just the impossible that we’ve come to accept.” It will happen.
My novel “The Vorbing” is available here
© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.
We’ve all heard about the self-publishing revolution in books in the last few years with Amazon Kindle and all the other e-readers and websites. I was watching a BBC documentary called ArtsNight last week and the presenter made an interesting point: punk rock bands were the first indie authors. They learned their three chords, set up their own bands and, in some cases, record labels and self-published their own music. They took control of their own destinies in the same way novelists did recently. Even the punk fanzines were do-it-yourself wonders; stapled together, photocopied and distributed through record stores, mailing lists, by hand and by word-of-mouth in those pre-pre-internet days.
It’s a very cogent analogy. As with the self-published books, some of the DIY punk music that was put out was awful, but some of it has reached classic status in hindsight. Self-publishing until recently was called “vanity publishing,” but writers were no longer prepared to sit on their hands waiting months for a form rejection letter. They too seized their own destinies through the technology that was around them and turned the publishing industry on its head.
Movies are even being made from self-published books for the first time like Ridley Scott’s The Martian starring Matt Damon and a future fantasy film that 20th Century Fox has purchased the rights to called Fall of Gods (even after that movie deal was signed, the book was taken down from Amazon due to formatting issues, the bane of indie authors everywhere. Luckily, it didn’t impact on the movie deal and Fox could see the merit of what was there despite the flaws.)
Punks and indie authors are strange bedfellows indeed, but both groups were and are pioneers in their fields. While the punk movement didn’t manage to overthrow the mainstream in the same way hippies in the previous generation hadn’t, they democratised their art form and showed others what was possible with self-belief and a little effort. Just as indie authors did. The shockwaves of the indie author revolution are still spreading out from the epicentre and nobody really knows where it will stop or what comes next. The most important thing is that books that would have gathered dust in drawers and on hard drives and memory sticks are now finding a worldwide audience. That can only be a good thing.
© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.
Being a writer in the 21st century is like being the driver of a very jerkily-driven vehicle. You’ve dreamt up ideas, written them, shaped them, rewritten and edited them and published them. Then you have to switch hats and sell your work. Now you find yourself measuring your book’s merit and your own self-worth by reviews, ratings, rankings, likes, shares, follows, analytics and sales. If they rise, your confidence rockets with them. If they mysteriously drop, you become frozen with doubt. You can control your writing up to a point. After that, it’s up to readers, reviewers and bloggers to spread the word. You can’t make people buy something they don’t want no matter what social marketing gurus say (who are biased witnesses involved in the hard sell).
It is healthy to get away from that draining stuff for a while. Major writers have people to handle sales of their work. They have agents, managers and the might of publishing houses behind them with their huge advertising budgets and key media contacts. Self-published writers only have themselves and their savings to rely on. That only goes so far unless they have great connections or access to bigger sums of money. If not, they may have to accept defeat on their beloved project when the cash runs out.
Some people say make your own luck but if everyone could do that, we’d all be successful. Life is never that simple or easy. Luck is mostly being in the right place at the right time. The wind catches your sails and whoosh, you’re off. Nobody can plan for that. It just happens. Word of mouth is another way. A neglected work slowly begins to pick up. Sales rise, reviews become more plentiful and positive and you’ve caught the Mighty Whoosh again.
Being an author now is a marathon, not a sprint. The idea that you could hit the send button, publish your book and it would become an instant bestseller really is a fantasy. It will take many months, if not years, to build up a loyal readership and a solid body of work. There is even the possibility of posthumous recognition Van Gogh-style. To become rich and famous when you’re no longer around to enjoy it would be cruel but better late than never. At least your heirs may benefit from your delayed Mighty Whoosh.
© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.
A writer’s legacy should be determined by the variety and fearlessness of their choices. It’s tempting to establish a formula or rip one off (just look at all the Harry Potter clones out there) and milk it for every cent. Another option is to pander to the demands of a readership and just give them what they want. Some writers (I never used the word “hacks”) are capable of doing that and are very successful. I can’t write something if my heart is not in it. It’s that passion that drives me to complete it.
Too often today, artistic merit is decided by commercial sales. We live in a virtual world of instant gratification. Being a successful author is the equivalent of going viral through commerce. Everyone wants a flake of viral gold dust for themselves. It’s being said in many online articles how unreliable website reviews have become as a way of determining the merits of a book. Hire the right people and you can have wall-to-wall positive reviews.
So it’s not easy being a writer in today’s world. They are in a Faustian pact with websites, readers, agents and managers. Most agents would have a fit if a writer wanted to write something they wanted instead of being “on trend” and giving the readership what it wants. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they’ll parrot. The greatest writers always challenge their readers with their ideas and test their loyalty. If they really are fans, they’ll respect the creative process and the risks taken by their favourite author.
Play it safe too long and you become stale and so does your work. That’s when you have to seize the reins of your career from scaremongering agents and managers and write what you want. Money is great to have but it’s temporary, the work lives on after you die. The priority should be what you want to leave behind. Others can and will decide your place in the pantheon, if you have one. The most important thing is what you think of yourself and your work. No monetary gain can fill the emptiness of a wasted career and promise unfulfilled.
© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.
The only comment at the end of the first report card I ever got from school at age five said: “Stewart writes very interesting stories.” I can remember having a discussion with my headmaster in front of the class about the Watergate situation. He was impressed that a five-year-old even knew the word Watergate let alone the political and judicial situation. That was my dad’s influence; he treated me like an adult from the start and made me aware of things. My mother’s side of the family had a lot of performers. She herself had the rare gift of having one of those pure singing voices that brought an instant hush to the noisiest party. Such a shame the world never got to hear it as she is no longer with us.
As all children at the time did, I was into comics. Yes, the paper ones. Ones from England like The Beano, The Dandy, Buster (my brother’s comic of choice that I read when he was finished with them) and Whizzer & Chips. I particularly liked the cut-out masks of Guy Fawkes that came with them around November 5th as we don’t celebrate Guy Fawkes Night in Ireland (The Gunpowder Plot being an infamous part of British history) Look-In was my favourite kids magazine with articles on movies, TV shows and music. When Star Wars came out, I did buy the Star Wars comic too and enjoyed seeing characters from the movie spinoff into different adventures. There was even a Laurel and Hardy comic out then and a Popeye one as well. To this day, I can still draw a pretty good Popeye in under 60 seconds. (Today’s kids don’t do tangible. They’re mostly gamers, especially boys, and their first experiences are visual and online and remain so. There are phenomena like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games that give hope that the younger generation are keeping up literary traditions and forging their own path.)
Television gets a bad rap these days with some parents refusing to let their children watch it, but that’s a mistake. There was an excellent news show tailored for children on the BBC called John Craven’s Newsround. I watched that from Monday to Friday for years. Through that, I began to form opinions about things. I started to agree with one thing but not with another. Even just the awareness of what was going on around the world at that time like The Cold War shaped my world view. Denying children access to that is closing them off from reality and knowledge. Reading about something is one thing, seeing it happen in front of your eyes makes you a witness to history (all of that culminating in 9/11, a day I’ll never forget). Of course, there is selective editing from the journalist and news corporation’s viewpoints but the gist of it is yours to decipher and absorb. You come to an understanding of that later in life. An opinion makes your writing specific and different from others.
I saw the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie The Hound of The Baskervilles on television one afternoon when I was around nine and was fascinated (you could argue that its Gothic influence is all over my novel The Vorbing). I saw the book on sale for 99p in my local supermarket and snapped it up. The book was even better than the film and a love of reading was born. I did endure an unfortunate Sherlock Holmes-related incident when I got a book on the Holmes movies from my local library. I returned it on time but received a threatening card in the post from the library saying the book was overdue. I told them I had returned it but for three years the threatening communiqués kept arriving. Not a nice experience for a kid who had done nothing wrong to go through. Finally, they copped on that the book was in fact back with them in the library just as I had told them all along. I never got an apology only an admission that they were wrong. That experience put me off libraries and I usually buy the books I read now. It’s also probably why I can’t stand unfairness and bullying and will stop it as no one did that for me.
My school library proved to be a much more lenient and fruitful experience for me. The books were stacked along the windowsill of the classroom and they had a wide variety of texts. I read Rudyard Kipling, Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and even The Iliad by Homer. There were books of ghost stories that I was just entranced by (even better if they were true, I always hated the endings of Scooby Doo cartoons when the ghosts weren’t real). A documentary came out at that time about the Bermuda Triangle and I was lucky that my local cinema actually screened documentaries. I urged my dad to take me to it and he did along with my brother. As with Sherlock, there was a book of the movie by Charles Berlitz. It was my dad’s birthday soon after the film opened, so I got him the book knowing that I could read it if I wanted to and I did. I remember one dull, wet morning our teacher was late or absent and I just took out my Bermuda Triangle book and lost myself in it. The rest of the class were getting louder and louder with unsupervised boredom. I heard none of it. I was off the coast of Bermuda searching for Flight 19 and various other missing planes and ships. I went further in that area by buying a magazine on the paranormal called The Unexplained. It covered not only the Bermuda Triangle but also Bigfoot and even things like spontaneous combustion with graphic photos that earned me major brownie points in the schoolyard.
In later years, I came across the work of James Ellroy, my favourite fiction writer. He has written L.A. Confidential and other noir thrillers. There is a great, obsessive rhythm to his work. It is expletive-ridden and gloriously politically incorrect. His attitude is, if you don’t like something he’s written: “Fuck you, put the book down.”
I also discovered the works of Antony Beevor, my favourite non-fiction author. In recent years, he has released one definitive text on World War II after another, his masterpiece being Stalingrad. The numerous awards it has won and the seemingly endless ecstatic blurb quotes by big names aren’t there for nothing. Again, The Vorbing is steeped in warfare and the influence of Beevor’s minutely-detailed but heart-wrenching battles scenes bleed into my vampire novel. My dad was also a soldier and so war has always been there in the background.
So now I come to put my own first book out there in October. It is surreal to think I will soon see a book with my name on it, in my hands and on the internet. To think someone could hopefully derive pleasure from something I have written is a thrill beyond words. Perhaps I could even inspire someone else to write something the way my heroes directly and indirectly inspired me. That is the literary baton we pass from generation to generation going right back to the oral tradition passed down the generations around the campfire and hearth. Long may it continue.
© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.
(This blog was first published on my website earlier; http://thevorbing.com/2015/07/vampires-in-the-brain-the-genesis-of-the-vorbing/)
Everyone has one good book in them. So the cliché goes. Well, maybe. We all have ideas passing through our minds; the difference is that writers capture theirs on paper. Some ideas can sustain the epic length of a novel but most do not. Let’s assume that creative lightning has struck; not everyone can express themselves well through language or they may not enjoy the writing process which can be tedious and solitary. Even if they did, have they the drive and/or obsession to take them from a blank page to a finished manuscript? The complete writer is a jigsaw made up of many disparate pieces.
We are all born with certain innate abilities. You either have a good sense of humour or you don’t. You can condition your mind to think certain ways but it is always easiest to go with the natural flow of the skill sets we possess.
There are some groups that refuse to believe that William Shakespeare wrote his phenomenal plays and sonnets. They argue that he did not have a sufficient level of education to come up with his great works. It is an elitist and narrow-minded argument. Education is not creativity. Education is the acquisition and interpretation of the ideas of others. Creativity is the generation of your own concepts, opinions, narratives and characters. Education is the known, creativity is an exploration of the unknown.
Great writers are born not made. We have all met extremely well-educated people who are unable to string a sentence together properly. Their skills may lie in rote learning and having an excellent memory in the exam hall. Someone with a lesser education may have an astonishing natural gift for invention and expression. I believe that is the case with William Shakespeare and that he was the author of his seminal body of work.
Life experience can teach you far more. We learn by doing. There is no exam to measure your life experience level, so it is wrongly discarded as a legitimate source of knowledge.
I meet people with great ideas all the time. When I ask what they are doing about them, their body language immediately changes and the excuses start flowing. “I can’t because of… (x,y,z),” they say. I try to encourage them but, again, they sabotage themselves with their negative inner dialogue. So those ideas in their heads stay there, they never come to fruition as anything tangible or rewarding and that is a great tragedy. The world is a poorer place for it. You can’t live someone else’s life for them. If they refuse to allow themselves permission to go for their dreams, that is their choice. It is hard to believe some people choose failure but human beings are complex creatures with many inherent paradoxes. Not everyone has the confidence to pursue their ambitions to their zenith. Depression and self-esteem issues hinder great swathes of the public daily.
So everyone may have one good book in them but, as you have seen, there are many, many obstacles to getting it out there. Many of those obstacles are the limitations we unnecessarily place on ourselves.
© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.
Indie authors, book marketers and promoters can be a bit like Piranhas sometimes. Once they lock onto you, they start ripping strips off you with their desperate over-enthusiasm, frothing the waters of the information superhighway with your virtual blood. Their bio on Twitter smothers you with grand statements about themselves (“I’m a writer/producer/actor/director/philanthropist/mountaineer/marketer on a personal journey of discovery.” Puh-leese!) and links to all their zillion websites and profiles. Then they send you a direct message bombarding you with more of the same. Their tweets tend to be frenzied, repetitive, spammy Amazon links that clog up your timeline with free giveaways of books you’d never read if you were paid to.
It gets worse because their legions of followers are just like them. Once they see you being bombarded, they join in. Soon you’re inundated and struggling to breathe. Indie Piranhas in action, ladies and gentlemen. Is it any wonder self-publishing has a bad name?
Trying to stand out from all of that is difficult. Nobody knows a first-time indie author yet and the writer themselves doesn’t know who to trust as they’re new to it all. Influencers are important but it could cheapen your brand and hobble you from the start to go with the wrong person or company spamming your book details out everywhere in a scattergun fashion. My old history teacher used to call it “blanket bombing”, i.e. pumping out everything you know on the subject instead of actually figuring out precisely what is needed.
Trial and error is the only real way to learn. You can take advice from people, but you really won’t know until you take the plunge and go for it and see for yourself. It’s the same with relationships, you will meet people that will lie to you, rip you off and break your heart but you have to keep going until you find the right one for you. When you do, everything that was awkward and stressful becomes natural and straightforward. The gears stop grinding and everything flows beautifully.
For all the empty promises on the internet, results will speak for themselves. You will see quickly if it is having any impact on your book sales. The reality is that I only read books that I want to read. I don’t read books that I feel are compulsory or because some stranger tries to pressure me into doing so. That has the opposite effect on me. (Reading is always a joy when I follow my tastes and interests.) It is counter-productive in the long run but they still keep pumping that white noise out to anyone that will listen. Think small, be small. Only the indie authors that can see the bigger picture will be able to haul themselves out of the primordial swamp of the cold-calling hard sell and become fully-fledged writers.
© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.