I sound like a troll. You do too

Feeling good about the world? Are you happy, content and fulfilled? Don’t worry – we’ve got the cure. Simply descend into the comments section on literally anything online, and you’ll soon have all faith in humanity sucked out of you. Comment boards kill 99.9% of wellbeing iotas on first contact. Add comment facilities to your life today, and never worry about self-esteem, confidence or serenity again.

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You know how obnoxious the comments section of an article or YouTube video often gets? People tell each other they know bugger all about the subject matter; they tell the author he or she doesn’t understand what they are talking about; they apply negative labels to one another faster than The Flash breaking in a new pad of Post-It notes.

In other words, people are asses online.

But so am I.

Not on the comments section, and not on social media as such. But I realised the other day, when talking to a group of friends in a messenger app, that I sound like a troll. Not one of those racist, misogynist, homophobic trolls; just one of those ones who sounds nasty and superior all the time. Who is incapable of conveying a thought or making a point without condescending.

And so do all my friends.

It’s a closed group we use to communicate and we’re all very aware of each other’s biases, beliefs and political standings. In fact, we’re all strongly aligned on the same spectrums. And that knowledge, I believe, gives us the confidence to speak more harshly about topics than we would to strangers.

We know, for instance, that we can share studies that prove something we’ve always known and caption the link with something like ‘And today’s award for Saying the Blatantly Obvious goes to this moron…

Thinking back on it now, most people I’ve spoken to for long enough will have expressed an opinion with the same level of sharpness. The kind of opinion that gets thrust out there, covered in barbed wire. Sensitivity is as high up its list of priorities as it would have been for the person who invented the morning star.

And I realised then that the issue with the way we talk to each other online isn’t that we say bad things, but that we assume we’re talking to lots of other people who all agree with us.

Think how viciously we tear apart films, books, actors, bands, restaurants, jam, etc, that we don’t like when talking to people we know will, if not agree, certainly not be surprised by our vitriol. Yet were we to meet the people involved in those things in person, we’d likely moderate our views. We’d offer ‘constructive criticism’.

Well, I would, but then again I’m British. We’re so meek if John Wick had been a Brit in the film he wouldn’t have killed several dozen people to get revenge for the death of his dog* he’d have just written an angry letter. A letter that would have started: ‘I’m sorry to bother you, but by golly this just isn’t on’.

*(It sounds a stupid premise, but give it a go: they make it work)

I suppose, sat alone in our homes, we have only our point of view to go by when evaluating a comment we are about to post. I wonder how differently people would comment online if they had to read their response aloud to a group of strangers before posting.

I bet even just knowing they would have to read it out would make them change what they were writing. Even though the whole point of commenting online is that lots of people see your opinions.

There’s a study in there someone. That would be interesting to find out.

Do you think you sound like a troll online? Troll me in the comments section.

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Follow me on Bloglovin’. It’s quick, free, and helps you find other great blogs and bloggers.

I’m on Bloglovin’, so come love my blog

Follow my blog with Bloglovin. I had to post that link to prove to the Bloglovin’ robot overlords that this was indeed my blog. Well it is, thank you very much, good sir.

But, since the link says ‘Follow my blog on Bloglovin”, you might as well do that very thing. Here are some reasons why this is a good idea:

  1. It’s totally an easy way of keeping up to date with my posts. I think the people who followed my blog on WordPress were cast adrift when I transferred to a self-hosted site. I miss those people and often spend days staring out of the window waiting for them to return, like an 18th century fisherman’s wife staring at the horizon for signs of her husband returning. Or Keira Knightly at the end of the third Pirates of the Caribbean film.
  2. There is many a blogger on there just waiting to be discovered. If you’re the kind of person who likes quality blogs – and you totally are, because you’re here, obviously – you’ll find a veritable smorgasbord of written wonders. Just don’t abandon me entirely in favour of other people, or I will have to get vengeance on those superior bloggers. There have been television crime dramas with more ludicrous plots.
  3. It’ll do wonders for my self-esteem. I’d like to look at a number on a screen and know that it in some way correlates to my popularity. Having a number (I’ve only just got onto Bloglovin’, so even just 10 would be a good number to start with) on the screen that corresponds with the number of people who regularly want to keep in touch with whatever it is this blog is about will make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Like a camel who has just swallowed a pair of microwaveable slippers.
  4. There are other reasons. But I don’t want to give away all the goodies right now. No, sir. So instead, go to the car park of your nearest supermarket at 3am tomorrow. I shall send further instructions.

Farewell for now. See you on Bloglovin’.

Is Waterstones cheating independent bookshops and readers?

Books in the Dark

When is an independent bookshop not an independent bookshop? When it’s a Waterstones in disguise.

The stores all have their own unique names and branding, with just a small notice in the window pointing out that they are a trading name of Waterstones Ltd. Many local business owners are up in arms, claiming that the chain is deliberately trying to deceive customers looking to do business with an independent store.

Unsurprisingly, the owner of the local bookshop is not happy about it. Also unsurprisingly, Waterstones have rubbished claims there is anything underhand going on.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I don’t think a national chain pretending to be an independent store is a good thing, if that is indeed what Waterstones was attempting. People have their preferences over where to shop, and regardless of whether those preferences are driven by logic or prejudice (I mean only the kind of soft prejudices like a dislike of corporations, obviously) they deserve to know into whose bank account the money they are spending is going to end up.

Villages and towns with a strong sense of community often like to support their local shops, so for someone to think that their money was going to a small business owner, or staying within the local economy, when in fact it would end up in corporate coffers or lining the wallets of shareholders isn’t fair.

But at the same time, I don’t know whether this is really an act of treachery on par with something you would expect from a character Sean Bean plays in a film. While I do understand the ‘big brand versus small business’ argument, I can’t help but appreciate the fact that many global corporations operating today started out a century or so ago as homegrown local businesses.

Look at McDonald’s for instance, the second largest employer in the world (according to data from 2012). The ubiquitous restaurant chain started life around 1940, founded by two brothers. Although it is putting it incredibly prosaically, the reason McDonald’s dominates in the way it does today is because it started out as a small business that did what it did incredibly well. Becoming a global brand, admittedly while not happening by accident, is a side-effect of business acumen, great products or services, and an ability to cater to local demand.

There are obviously lots of ways in which the ‘corporations are evil’ axiom can ring true. But to say that a shop should be avoided or demonised because it has a name and branding that you already recognise seems to me to be an oversimplification.

And of course local businesses are going to complain: Waterstones is a threat to them. It is worth remembering that the same narrative that paints all chains as heartless and profiteering paints all small business owners as people of great integrity struggling to get by.

While it is true that being a small business owner is a great way of realising a passion and pursuing your dreams, there are plenty of people who open small businesses simply because they can see an opportunity to make money.

To return to the issue at hand, is Waterstones doing something that it shouldn’t? I guess it depends on your attitude towards independent bookshops. I love any kind of bookshop; I have to admit that local ones often do have more personality and flexibility to be different.

But it’s unsurprising to think that chains can often offer more: my local Waterstones (I say local, it’s still over half an hour away from where I live) is many times larger than the bookshops in my local town. But at the same time, one of my local bookshops always has windows brimming full of signed copies of the latest books by bigshot authors. It’s a bookshop you should take seriously: these are book-loving professionals running their business well.

So I suppose if you hate chain bookshops then this might seem like a bad precedent. While the idea that people working in a small family-owned bookshop love books, while those working in a chain hate them and just want a job, seems rather childish, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no truth in the point.

But looking like an independent bookshop can also be a double-edged sword. Not everybody loves independent shops. Some of them prefer chain bookshops, believing them to offer more variety and better service – I’m not saying it’s true, just that there are prejudices against small business owners and unique shops as well as there are national chains and global corporations. So Waterstones could find itself losing customers because they don’t realise it’s a chain and thus keep walking down the street instead of going in to browse.

Only if you dislike large chains do you see their branding and corporate identity as some kind of dirty secret they need to be rid of. Companies love their branding: that’s why they spend so much money on it. That’s why their carrier bags, pens, staff uniforms and delivery trucks are decorated in corporate livery. It is the brand that attracts the customer.

So while the one point of view casts Waterstones as some creeping and insidious force, attempting to infiltrate the local high street in disguise, the other depicts a well-known chain sacrificing its valued and advantageous branding for the sake of blending in with the aesthetic of its local trading environment. The move could be a concession on behalf of Waterstones; an acknowledgement that they are the outsider, and a sign that they’re making an effort to blend in.

I think that both these for and against arguments are a little too fairytale. Waterstones’ move was based upon a business decision, and, equally, it’s money that motivates the objections.

Ultimately, I’d say the outlook for those particular high streets is pretty rosy from the point of view of booklovers. More choice in books is never a negative, and if we can all agree on just one thing, it’s that readers are not the type of people to come out of one bookshop and say ‘I’d better not browse in that bookshop as well, I’ve bought enough books today.”

What about you? Are you Team Waterstones or Team Independent? Scroll down and leave a comment to let me know if you think Waterstones has done a bad thing, a good thing, or an irrelevant thing.

I’m trying to be funny here

Rewan Stand Up
Doing stand-up during my university days. I wish I still fitted in those clothes…

I’m only three episodes into vlogging and I have already realised how apologetic I’m being when I try to promote them. I had hoped that having the guts to upload those first videos would have allowed me to overcome the confidence barrier and just get on with it. I’m not so sure that’s happened.

The problem, in essence, is this: I’m trying to make you laugh – but I’m also worried that I might fail and so am trying to save face by acting as though that’s not my intention. It’s like if a person you have a crush on mentions they want to go see a new film that has just been released and you try and seize the opportunity to ask them out by saying ‘Well I was going to see it on Friday, I suppose you could tag along if, you know, you were free or whatever. But I can just go by myself, as that’s what I was going to do anyway, you know?’

Trying and failing to be funny is excruciating. Everybody knows this. During university I did stand-up comedy on occasion. I hasten to add that it wasn’t a dearth of good jokes that made me abandon it. Most of my gigs went swimmingly. One of them didn’t, and it’s painful when you’re on that stage, relaying a story which you think has great comic potential and getting very little response from the audience.

Vlogging is a bit like being a stand-up comic. In fact, that’s the reason I started doing it. For one reason or another I don’t really have the opportunity to do comedy where I live at the moment. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think up new routines. My colleagues in work have the unfortunate burden of being the test subjects for whatever observations, anecdotes, or analogies I think up during the day.

Just to sidetrack for a moment; being known as a bit of a comedian means you always get that awful scenario where, after having just uttered something hilarious off the top of your head, someone smugly asks ‘You’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use that one for months, haven’t you?’

Maybe that’s why I’m so desperate to get on a television panel show. People don’t often accuse panel show contestants of having prepared their jokes months in advance. Especially if it’s a satirical news show, about stories that only happened a few hours ago.

Anyway, back to the main issue. I suppose a more confident – and therefore, likely, successful – blogger or vlogger probably promotes their articles and videos along the lines of ‘Hey! You should check out this latest update, it’s really funny: you’ll love it!’

My promotional strategy is akin to that used by charity muggers: I have practised the phrase ‘Excuse me but do you have a minute to… Okay, no worries, thank you for your time, have a great day’ so that I don’t even have to wait for people to brush me off mid-pitch before trying to backtrack on my efforts.

So I’ve decided to just admit the problem, and then it’s not a secret. No point being embarrassed about saying something that has already been said. It’s like turning to a co-worker after a year in the office and saying to them: ‘Sarah, I have something to tell you: I work at this company’.

Rather like Alcoholics Anonymous, admitting the problem is halfway towards solving it. Not that I want to cure my desire to make people laugh. That’s an addiction that I want to be thoroughly enabled. I don’t want to find myself one day sitting in a circle of strangers at a comics’ self-help group, telling them how I went from ‘just trying to get a few giggles’ to ‘refusing to leave the library until at least one person bust a gut’.

But I will admit it, so here goes:

My blogs and vlogs – not to mention my books – are largely meant to be funny. My name is Rewan, and I want to make you laugh.

Captain Reasonable Vlog #3 – Saintly Namesakes

I consider myself rather fortunate to have such a unique name. This is a hard post to write without sounding snobby, but perhaps one of the things in the internet age that we have most forgotten and desperately need to remember is that being pro-thing ‘A’ doesn’t necessarily mean we are anti-thing ‘B’.

Think how many millions of hours of furious YouTube commenting would be saved.

There are quite a few Rewans on the internet. But Google my full name and the results are not only in quite short supply, they are all (the last time I checked, at least) about me. I think that’s pretty cool, but then again that’s probably because I attempt to battle feelings of worthlessness by maintaining a bit of an ego.

This has become somewhat serious: the third episode of my Captain Reasonable vlog is entirely silly. To be fair, most of them will be. This comic routine was mostly improvised and covers the origins of my name.

It features wolves, the Pope, and Tesco Metro. Watch it below.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to know as soon as the next episode is uploaded. You can also check out the first episode of the Captain Reasonable vlog (which I am already seriously regretting calling ‘Episode Two’) and the first episode of my video journal.

Let me know what you think.

Chipping Away at New Year’s Resolutions

Fountain pen and letter on wooden background

Well, rest in peace January. We had a good run, but now it’s over. Time to abandon your New Year’s Resolutions, everyone, and go back to the bad habits.

What exactly were my New Year’s Resolutions again? Hopefully not ‘Improve your memory’, because in that case I’ve definitely failed.

In actual fact, my resolution this year was basically just ‘2016 and then some’ (I originally wrote ‘2016+1’, but realised that’s just 2017, which I technically what everyone will be doing). I don’t mean ‘kill beloved celebrities’, though. Last year I took a leap towards unlearning my habit of thinking that progress can only be made in big steps.

I spent a lot of time thinking that I wasn’t getting very far on the second Laslo Kane book. Partly because I managed to get my dates confused and was therefore under the impression Fallen on Good Times came out around five years ago. It’s more like half that. Taking around three years to write another book isn’t bad, in my opinion (assuming, that is, I get it finished this year). Even full time professional authors usually have a couple of years between books. Considering all my other commitments and time drains, I’m doing pretty well.

The bigger issue was that I often didn’t make any progress because the task seemed so big that I couldn’t see the point in writing 100 words or so; in my mind each session should have been a few thousand or it wasn’t worth bothering to switch the computer on. But when you have a baby who could wake up at any second, you can’t guarantee that you’ll have a couple of hours of writing time. Thus, little got done.

At the beginning of last year – downtrodden by the misapprehension that it had been four or so years since Fallen on Good Times had been published – I decided I needed a change of attitude. And so I vowed to do whatever, whenever. I forced myself to view even a single extra sentence as progress. On occasions I wrote just 100 words before closing the document; on others I wrote several thousand.

It worked. On New Year’s Day 2016 I already had around 30,000 words of book II written. By New Year’s Day 2017, the word count had risen to 110,000. I wrote 80,000 words last year, all while learning to value every word typed as a little victory. Fallen on Good Times is just over 65,000 words; so just in terms of word count I wrote more than another book.

It just goes to show that making glacial progress is much more effective than making no progress. I was genuinely surprised last year when I realised just how much I had managed to write.

So my resolution for this year is simply to take that attitude and try and keep at it. I’ve had lots of dormant projects lying in wait for me to have the time to pay them attention. I don’t think I’ll ever have ‘the time’, but from the outside I didn’t really have the time to write 80,000 words last year. I still did.

2017 will be another year of chipping away. Even if I end the year only having added a hundred words or so to each of my other projects (or the equivalent of a hundred words if it’s not a writing project), that’s still an achievement.

Then again, January’s over now. Who keeps their New Year’s resolutions past January? February is the month of ‘Drink a Pint of Cigarettes While Eating Pizza in Your Old Job’.

Good luck, everyone.

Introducing the Captain Reasonable Vlog

Great news: you can now watch me. I don’t mean all the time, and certainly not from behind some wheelie bins, or through my office window. But you can now have the next best thing to me telling you my thoughts in person, because I’ve started vlogging.

Fireworks Cropped

I’ve been wanting to vlog for a long time now, but something always got in the way. The videos I’ll be producing and uploading will mostly be the kind of material I would have performed as stand-up comedy were there more opportunities where I live to do so.

Instead, I just have to imagine (or, more accurately, hope) that there is laughter. The supportive kind, that is. Not the kind of laugh you do after you see someone fall over on a skateboard.

Meet Captain Reasonable; the World’s Most Affable Superhero

Captain Reasonable is my vlogging alter ego (my dictation software initially thought I’d said ‘flogging’ – that’d be a very different video series). If you’ve read a few of my posts on here, you’re probably already able to understand the inspiration behind him. I spend a lot of time considering how other people will react to what I say and write, which isn’t really my job. People can make up their own minds without me chipping in.

The Captain Reasonable vlog starts with Episode Two. Why? Well, you’ll just have to watch the video below to find out.

Dear Journal

The other type of video I will be regularly posting will be as part of a series entitled Captain Reasonable’s Journal. These are essentially podcasts, or narrated newspaper columns, with added snazzy visuals. I’m putting together lots of footage and effects, so while they will follow the same format, each one will be just as interesting to look at as it is to listen to.

They are only a couple of minutes long each, so do give them a watch. You can find the first one below.

Never Miss a Video: Subscribe Today

If you enjoy these videos, the best thing to do is subscribe to my YouTube channel. This ensures that you never miss my latest upload. They’ll get shared on my other social platforms as well, including Facebook, Twitter, and of course on here. If you haven’t yet done so, subscribing to this blog lets me know that you’re enjoying this and gives me more motivation to keep going.

And don’t forget to comment and let me know what you think of my videos.

1AM is not a good time to discover there’s more than one infinity

clockwork;

The other night I was living my usual rockstar life: eating cereal whilst watching videos on YouTube. I started off with logic puzzles – with mixed results – and ended up watching an explainer of the ‘infinite hotel paradox’. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post, but the basic premise is this:

The infinite hotel has an infinite number of rooms. It also has infinite guests, which means that every room is filled. So if another customer arrives at the front desk asking for a room, they’ll have to be turned away, right?

If you happen to be reading this post in the middle of the night, go to bed now. This quickly becomes one hell of a rabbit hole.

At one point in the video, the narrator casually mentions that there is more than one type of infinity. Sorry, what?

How can there be any more than one type of infinity? It’s infinity. It is infinite – surely it has no limitations? Which means you only need one of it, unlike – say – a car. The reason there are so many different types of car is because not every car suits every purpose. Imagine the advert for the first car that tried to meet everyone’s needs:

Getting the kids to school will be no trouble with the new seven seater Ford infinity. Thanks to its front, rear, four-wheel-drive automatic manual gearbox with snow treaded tyres with added smoothness, you will be able to make the school run no matter whether your children attend an institution located in the middle of the suburbs, at the top of the mountain, or on an iceberg surrounded by penguins. The engine is located in the front, middle, and rear, leaving storage space under the bonnet, in the passenger area, and at the back. This makes it incredibly convenient to store your professional corporate family work bicycles, golf shopping, and food clubs.

And so on…

So doesn’t infinity do everything? Apparently not. It gets even harder to wrap your head around when you realise that if you asked a mathematician ‘Doesn’t infinity do everything?’ they would get confused as to which infinity you were referring. As if you’d asked a colleague at work ‘What does Brian actually do here?’ and watched as they try to figure out which of the seven Brians on your floor you mean.

So then I watched another TED talk about infinity, and things got even more complicated. You see, the problem is there are different ways of counting to infinity (I still don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, so if anyone clever is reading this, I have probably made a lot of mistakes already – perhaps an infinite number of mistakes. Oh yeah, I went there.) If you counted to infinity in the obvious way (one, two, three, et cetera) you get one type of infinity. But if you counted to infinity using, for example, the Fibonacci sequence (one, two, three, five, eight, etc) then by the time you reached infinity, you would have used fewer numbers. So what you have is not only two types of infinity, but one that is technically ‘smaller’ than the other.

Or, to use my own example, you can think about infinity in terms of the physical world. Take the surface of a football, for example. It has no beginning or end, so it is infinite. Yet it is quite small, which would surely mean that compared to a beach ball (which also has an infinite surface area) it has a smaller level of infinity. I think this means that if you had a series of spheres, each one marginally bigger than the one before it, you could count infinity in terms of traditional numbers. The smallest sphere could be Infinity One, and the next Infinity Two, and so on. Eventually you could reach Infinity Infinity.

This all occurred to me at 1 o’clock in the morning. You won’t be surprised to learn that sleep did not come easily to me that night.

I Never Thought I’d Be This Happy to Get Rejected

Fountain pen and letter on wooden background

Aspiring novelists must have issues. Getting published is a process which involves being rejected so much you could probably put it on your CV as a part-time role. In order to be an aspiring novelist, you have to have a very thick skin, or at least the ability to keep your crying on the inside when you’re at a party and someone asks: ‘So, how’s the writing going?’

Like any wannabe famous published author, I’ve had my fair share of rejections. If anything, I haven’t had nearly as many as I should have, because I’ve been busy; because I’ve been afraid; because I didn’t think I was good enough to even bother sending it out; because I spilled jam on the keyboard – the list goes on.

I did, however, rather recently get rejected again. And, surprisingly, I’m now going to tell you why that’s made me very happy. All right, I admit, I’m actually going to brag a little bit. But I need to tell as many people as possible, so it is either blog about it, or stand out in the street with a megaphone and accost people trying to buy shoes, and mobile phones, and cabbages, and bits of string, et cetera.

It all began just under a year ago (cue wistful, memory inducing harp music). The fantasy and science fiction publisher HodderScape held an ‘open submissions’. Basically these days if you want to submit your manuscript to a publisher, you have to go through an agent. Getting an agent involves pretty much the same process as you used to have to go through to get a publisher, which means your book now has to do it all twice, and the odds of success are probably considerably lessened. Open submissions are when a publisher invites people who don’t have an agent to submit their manuscripts.

Considering how hard it is to get an agent, an opportunity like this is golden for aspiring writers. It’s the kind of thing a lot of people would jump at the chance to have. In fact, a lot of people did. That’s important to remember.

 

I submitted a couple of things. One of them was a book I’ve been working on pretty much since childhood, which keeps accidentally evolving and getting more complicated (although not a boring, overworked kind of way) and so was never actually finished. I got the first three chapters all nice and polished – for what felt like the 15th or so iteration – wrote a synopsis for the novel, which is painful by the way, and sent it off along with a covering letter.

Incidentally, I also submitted Fallen on Good Times, just because I could. That one didn’t get very far, but that doesn’t really matter. It’s already published, after all.

Shortly after this – five days in fact – my son was born. This somewhat altered the paradigms of my life, and I forgot about such trivial things as hopes and dreams. Over the next 10 or so months my focus became one of eagerly anticipating and celebrating the micro things in life: Logan opening his eyes; my wife allowing me to get Logan a Batman onesie; Logan saying ‘Guuuuu’. I didn’t have time for my future; his was all that mattered. And it was happening a lot faster than mine.

It did occur to me once or twice to wonder what happened to my other book. It hadn’t been explicitly rejected, but publishers and agents are a bit like jobs – you’re very unlikely to hear back if you don’t get one. I assumed that the book had been read and passed over not long after Fallen on Good Times, and that HodderScape were simply too busy to get in touch and let me know.

I was wrong.

 

So fast forward, or rewind depending upon whether you are still living in my narrative past or your actual present, to last Thursday. Walking home from work I checked my emails on my phone and found one from a certain large fantasy/science fiction publisher. It was largely a form rejection, but there were a couple of interesting pieces of information, namely the fact that 1,500 manuscripts were submitted, under this paragraph:

‘We are aware that you submitted your novel to us quite some time ago. Multiple members of the team read and discussed your manuscript before we came to a decision, and we were all very impressed with it, which is why it has been a while since you last heard from us.’

I’ll come back to the number of manuscripts in a minute, because there is something very cool about that which I want to tell you. But I didn’t find out the really cool thing until later that evening. The information in the paragraph above is cool enough, though.

When a book is submitted to a publisher it is usually assessed by the aptly named ‘reader’. This is a person whose job it is to wade through the hundreds upon hundreds of manuscripts from aspiring authors and to sift out those of some merit. The huge majority of submissions to a publisher or agent fall at this first hurdle. If the reader finds a manuscript that they think has promise then it gets passed higher.

So the fact that this email from Hodder told me that my opening chapters had been read by several people in the team was incredibly heartening. This meant those chapters hadn’t just impressed one person: they had impressed several. While they were eventually rejected, doing so was a tough decision. This was not a case that one person picked up my opening chapters, read the first few lines and went ‘Well this is terrible’, before shredding the pages, setting fire to the shredded debris, burying the burning embers under three feet of concrete, and then blowing up the concrete. They were ‘very impressed’, and my opening chapters must have shown a lot of promise.

vintage clock

But now let’s get onto the really cool thing. The really heartening thing. You see, about this time I was scrolling through my Facebook feed I saw a status from a previous university lecturer of mine – the insanely prolific creator of National Flash Fiction Day, Calum Kerr – saying how excited he was that the book he had submitted to a publisher who had an open call for submissions had made it into the top 25. It was the fact he said that the publisher had been assessing 1,500 manuscripts that piqued my interest.

Could this have been the same publisher, HodderScape? But as soon as I wondered this I was confused. His status had been posted a couple of days before I received my rejection. So if he knew that his book had made it into the top 25, and he knew that before I was rejected, what did that mean for me? Sure enough, I got in touch and discovered that it was the same publisher. Not only this, but I found out that he only knew his book had made it into the top 25 because Hodder had been commenting on a recent blog post they wrote to keep everybody up to date on how they were progressing through the huge pile of submissions. And at just after midday, on 5th July, they commented to let everybody know that:

‘We’ve got about 25 manuscripts left to make decisions on, which means we have contacted slightly more than 98% of everyone who submitted to us.’

That was two days before I received my rejection. Which means that out of 1,500 (yes, 1,499 once you take Fallen on Good Times into account, but I’m sure they rounded the figure, and so will I) my opening chapters made it into the top 25. My chapters, my synopsis, my idea, survived the process where 1,475 others did not. My work made it into the top 1.67%.

I said at the beginning that getting rejected is a big part of being a writer. Well, so is self-doubt. I have plenty of comments, compliments, and indications that I am a good writer. It should be enough to have an unshakeable faith in my ability, but it’s not. I still fear, in my darkest moments, that I’ll never make it all of the way.

Developments like this remind me why I keep going. They remind me why I’ve always had the determination to keep on working. Being in the top 25 of most things is good (unless you’re in a ‘Best Door In An Advent Calendar’ competition, or ‘Best Episode In A Season Of 24’ countdown). Yes, I got rejected because there were better books. There are always better books.

libro antico aperto

One of the problems with being a writer is the uncertainty. I have plenty of rejections that comprise of nothing more than a couple of polite sentences on a sheet of A4 paper. Agents and publishers are usually too busy to provide personalised feedback. Which means you usually never know how your work really fared.

They might have thought it was the worst thing they had ever read; they might have thought it was great, but just needed one more rewrite. There is a huge spectrum spanning failure and success upon which your work could fall at any point, yet the average rejection letter gives you no indication whatsoever as to your bearing. It can be excruciating.

On the other hand, you could be holding something brilliant, but only failed due to the personality, tastes, or idiosyncrasies of that particular reader for that particular publisher. The next one on your list could be the one who absolutely loves it. We all know the stories of the famous authors who got rejected multiple times. But at the same time, the words on the page could be all wrong, the characters could be weak, the plot could be boring. You could be wasting your time, and opportunities, by sending out dirge.

Which is what makes this rejection so special. It’s why I’m so happy to have been rejected. Because this rejection tells me something that rejections usually don’t. It might seem oxymoronic, but this rejection has told me I’m good. I nearly got all the way to the end (although, in this case the end is actually technically the beginning: having the opportunity to submit the full manuscript to the editor for assessing).

So now I know that those opening chapters are solid. They did get rejected, so maybe they need a few tweaks here and there. Maybe a key essence of the character was missing, perhaps the world wasn’t quite as developed as it needed to be. Maybe the sentence structure exhibited some repeat issues. But overall it’s got a lot of promise. I know that I can send those opening chapters out to other agents and publishers, knowing that they are good enough to get far. They might not have quite worked for Hodder, but they might work perfectly for someone else.

Oh, and there’s also the small issue of the fact that, because Logan was born pretty much as soon as these chapters were submitted, I never actually had time to rework the rest of the book in-line with this new opening. So, to be honest, if they’d accepted them and asked for the full manuscript, the next few weeks of my life would have been frantic, frenzied, and frenetic.

I mean I do have a book to be writing – the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times isn’t going to produce itself. But finishing the second book is going to be somewhat easier now. I’m still level-headed, I’m still objective, I’m still well aware of my flaws, but thanks to the events of last week, I can sit back in my chair and get to work on book 2 knowing that every sentence I dictate is coming out of the mind of an author who, if he works hard, has a tangible – if remote – chance of getting all the way.

70,000 words and counting

quill pen in inkwell on antique paper

A few days ago I broke through the 70,000 word mark on the follow-up to Fallen on Good Times. It’s really opened my eyes to what you can achieve when you chip away at something a little bit at a time. What always held me back was the sheer size of the task ahead of me. Every time I would sit down at my computer, or think about working on the book, I would simply realise just how many tens of thousands of words were required from me and give up, overwhelmed by the scale of it all.

But since Christmas I’ve been reinvigorated. I started 2016 with a very old draft of the book that was about 30,000 words long. Simply by adopting the philosophy that writing even 100 words was better than writing nothing, I find myself now having averaged 10,000 words a month and well past the halfway point. I’m currently in the middle of writing one of the key scenes in the book – a scene which I’ve been visualising for over three years now.

It reminds me of that Lao Tzu proverb – overused, but incredibly accurate (as cliches often are) – ‘a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step’.

I’ve begun building up momentum now, driven by the fact that not only am I approaching the finish line, but also the realisation that the finish line has moved closer towards me.

If you read this post on the fact that book II is going to be a very long one, you’ll know that I estimated the final word count at around 135,000 words. I arrived at that number by dividing the amount of words I had done so far by the number of plot points I had completed writing, then multiplied that by the total number of plot points in my synopsis.

Well, as I progressed through the synopsis, I realised that in shuffling scenes around I’d accidentally duplicated five of the plot points. This takes the synopsis down to 40 key developments, which has had the effect of shaving about 15,000 words off the projected total.

All of a sudden, I’m excited again. I’m no longer just trudging along, reminding myself of the big picture (that one day I’ll turn around and give myself a damn good kicking over the fact it’s taken me four years to write another book, all the while lamenting the other volumes I could have written if I just had the discipline and the motivation). Now, I’ve begun to think about the finished book: about how exciting it will be to market another volume; to hold the finished novel in my hands; to put on the shelf with my other work. I’ve started dreaming up ideas for book trailers and other such promotion.

But it’s not that I’m getting ahead of myself: there’s still a long way to go before I’ve even finished draft one, let alone the extensive edits and reader feedback that are going to come before this book is ready to go. This foresight is not jumping the gun, it’s simply the by-product of enthusiasm. It’s similar to the way in which you speed up the pace of your reading as you reach the most tense part of a novel; you aren’t wishing it away, you’re simply eager to see how it unfolds.

Plus there are lots of things that I didn’t get to do when marketing Fallen on Good Times, which I’m excited to try out for book II. I’m also interested to see if the simple act of having two published novels will improve my sales (it couldn’t make them any worse).

There is still quite a way to go yet. Which reminds me: 80,000 words beckons. If you’ll excuse me…