Thursday, 1 December 2016

Tyger Tyger, burning bright


A quick tale of tigers, burning and... um... cannibalism, this week.

"So now, bruised, bloodied and drunk, the victim, both of an opportunist ‘roller’ and my own weakness, I found myself in the graveyard of St Mary Matfelon staring down at the graves of Grandfather and his wife." - Memento Mori

The church, which appears in my first novel Memento Mori, is notable for two meetings between the main character Sibelius Darke and his grandparents.  Both meetings are unusual in their own way, the first as it is when Sibelius has a conversation with the ghost of his paternal Grandfather, and the second is with his maternal grandfather, whom he has never met before.  I chose St Mary Matheson, a 14th century church which stood on the Whitechapel Road, for a few very special reasons.

A large building, it dominated the surrounding area for many years, having a spire which reached two hundred feet in height allowing it to act as a landmark above the surrounding houses and buildings.  It could seat up to thirteen hundred people and was well attended by all in the surrounding parish, welcoming all Christian denominations, as well having close connections with members of the Jewish population in the area (something which incidentally is reflected in the name Matfelon taken from 'Matfel' the Hebrew word for 'woman who has lately given birth.')

There were a few notable souls buried in the grounds of the church; the hangman Richard Brandon who died in 1649, and who is accredited as being the executioner of Charles I, and also, more importantly to this little piece, a man named Richard Parker who, in 1797, led the infamous Nore mutiny at the mouth of the River Thames which demanded better conditions for sailors.

Parker, in fact, was only put in charge of the mutiny because he happened to be the most educated man on his ship, the HMS Sandwich, and had no pretensions of being a leader. However, the rebellion on his ship quickly spiralled out of control when other ships joined the mutiny, creating a “Floating Republic” which blockaded the Thames preventing all entry to Londons docks. 

Parker became known as the ‘President’ of this republic and found himself drawing up a set of ransom demands for the ending of the blockade.  When it became clear that their demands would not be met, ships began to abandon the cause and soon the ‘President’ was arrested and executed by hanging aboard the Sandwich
Apparently, George III wanted him to be publicly gibbeted, but did not get his wish and he was buried in unconsecrated ground.  He was not allowed to rest however, and his wife Anne had him found, dug up and smuggled in to London where crowds gathered to see him.  Eventually his body received its last rites and he was taken to St Mary Matfelon.

Now I humbly ask that you allow me to tangentalise* a little, just for a short while, as this is the story of where my thirst for knowledge, through historical research, has led me this week.

The name Richard Parker is one which is forever linked to seafaring and shipwrecks, history is littered with them, the most gruesome of which was the tale of young Richard Parker, a cabin boy aboard an English Yacht, The Mignonette.

In 1884 four crew members of the yacht, were shipwrecked in a storm some 1,600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope. After a few weeks, adrift in a lifeboat, Richard Parker, fell unconscious, due to a combination of hunger and drinking seawater. The others (one abstaining) decided then to kill him and eat him. They were picked up four days later, and the two cannibal crew members were immediately arrested and put on trial for murder where they were convicted, though their death sentence was commuted to six months' imprisonment. 



The case has gained notoriety since for two reasons.  Firstly, because it decided that necessity was not a defence for a charge of murder (so there’s no point in claiming, “I had to do it, m’lud.  It was necessary to repeatedly stab him and bury the body in a shallow grave!”)

The second reason is more recently famous and was due to the writer Yann Martel hearing of this story of shipwreck and cannibalism.  It gave him the perfect name for his tiger in Life of Pi.

That's not where it ends though...

Quite the strangest thing about the case of the poor, and apparently very edible, cabin boy Richard Parker was that his death was predicted 46 years earlier by Edgar Allan Poe in ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’.  This, the only fully completed novel by my absolute favourite writer, tells the tale of Arthur Pym and his adventures at sea as he stows away on a whaling ship, the Grampus.  If you have not read it I would thoroughly recommend, in terms of influence on subsequent novels such as Moby Dick and Treasure Island it is quite astounding really.

In the story, Richard Parker is one of the survivors few survivors when the Grampus is hit by a storm.  Adrift at sea and starving it is Richard Parker who suggests that one of their number give up their life so that the others may live.  Straws are drawn and Parker is the unfortunate saviour of his crew members.

“He made no resistance whatever, and was stabbed in the back by Peters, when he fell instantly dead. I must not dwell upon the fearful repast which immediately ensued. Such things may be imagined, but words have no power to impress the mind with the exquisite horror of their reality. Let it suffice to say that, having in some measure appeased the raging thirst which consumed us by the blood of the victim, and having by common consent taken off the hands, feet, and head, throwing them together with the entrails, into the sea, we devoured the rest of the body, piecemeal, during the four ever memorable days…”

And another connective strand in this web of shipwreck and cannibalism?  Arthur Pym has a dog, which he smuggles aboard ship, and which is shipwrecked with him, disappearing from the story when they are adrift at sea (and probably eaten).  The dog's name is Tiger. Did Yann Martel plan it this way? I think he probably did.

Anyway, tangentalisation* over, thank you for that brief interlude, let's get back to the church.

It was rebuilt and adapted many times throughout its life, with fire claiming it on more than one occasion.  In 1877 (the year of Memento Mori) it was reopened following a fire and it's capacity increased due to the ever growing population of the teeming east end.

Tragedy haunted the church however and, three years after its refurbishment, in August 1880 it was destroyed by another fire, started by a workman leaving a lighted lamp inside the organ which was being repaired.  Only the tower, vestry and church rooms were left intact, and it took two years to once more rebuild.




Fire struck for a final time during the blitz of 1940, when a German fire-bombing raid saw the church’s complete destruction.

It was finally demolished in 1952, and its site is now a public park named after Altab Ali, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi man who was murdered by three teenage boys whilst walking home in 1978.  The outline of the church upon the floor of the park is all that remains.

However St Mary Matfelon's most notable contribution to the area was its original outer decoration in the 1300s; it was whitewashed with a paint made from lime and chalk, making it a bright white beacon in a dark and often dangerous setting.



To the locals, it was known as the 'White Chapel' therefore giving a name to the district of London which, in 1888, would take on a considerably more unwelcome notoriety.



If you would like to read Memento Mori, it is available from Amazon both in kindle version or, if you really can’t be doing with the virtual, a paperback. Click HERE to go have a look. 

It’s sort of sequel Domini Mortum is currently being crowdfunded with the publisher Unbound and can be found here www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum Please do head over there as well and consider pledging your support.

Thanks

Paul

*I realise of course that tangentalise and tangentalisation are not real words, but I wrote them,  and I make the rules here.  Feel free to use them yourself as much as you possibly can in future conversations.  Ta x

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Worst Newspaper in the World


“If it’s murder you want then this city is producing it afresh every day.  Nobody wants to hear old news, I cannot sell it." - George Purkess, Domini Mortum

A little over two years ago I found myself at a writing impasse.  I had recently completed my first novel, Memento Mori, and the burning desire to build on the achievement and hurl myself straight into the process of creating another had begun to fill my every waking thought.

I had an issue though; Memento Mori was, I thought at the time, a standalone story, a tale of how a photographer, and expert in the field of the Victorian fad for post mortem portrait photography, had become involved, and become a suspect, in a series of grisly murders in late nineteenth century London.  I had written it to be stand alone, pained over the final few pages tying up as many loose ends as possible  in order to make it a one off story, and had completed it with the intention of moving on to something else completely.

That is until it was read by others.

I have a happy little posse of test readers, they are a small but varied group comprising of close family (who aren’t afraid to be brutally honest with me), friends (who would take great pleasure in pointing out problems and issues with the story), and others who I have only met throughs and pictures the internet (who expressed an interest in reading the novel for me and who gave me some of the more constructive and sensible advice).

The problem that arose was that they wanted more.  They had questions about characters in the story, they wanted to know what happened to them once the story finished.  This is a great thing for a writer to hear. It means that you have somehow made a connection with the reader and interested them enough in the world that you have created to make them want more.  It was a problem however.  The problem posed was, relatively speaking, a good one; what writer doesn’t want their work to have made such a mental affect on the reader that they invested in and even cared for the characters created?  It was a nice problem to have but it gave way to another; do I leave them in the lurch and let them make up their own minds or do I take the story further?  And if I do take it further then how?  I had sweated blood over tying everything up at the end of Memento Mori; how do I start to untangle these very tight final knots that I had created?

The answer came, as sparks of new interest and sudden ideas often do, through mindless internet browsing.  I had been toying with the idea of adding illustrations to Memento Mori; the kind that filled my favourite books when I was younger.  Pictures like the excellent illustrations by Sidney Paget in my Sherlock Holmes books and also in my childhood favourites, my Jennings books which used to belong to my Dad when he was a boy. 
Throughout these books, usually at the start of each chapter, was a illustration of a scene or incident from the pages to follow, usually annotated with a line or piece of dialogue taken from the story – ‘Jennings and Darbishire come up with an ingenious plan to save Binns Minor from a thrashing, much to the annoyance of Venables.’ or something similar or ‘Let me see the evidence, Madam, said Holmes as he firmly grasped his pipe’.  I wanted this for my books.


It was as I scrolled through the infinite screen loads of sketches from the Victorian age that I came across various front pages of ‘The Illustrated Police News’.  Now, of course I had seen many of these before, I have an ever growing collection of books on Jack the Ripper many of which include the IPN’s covers showing Martha Tabram and her unfortunate peers.  This time it was different though; this time, I looked a little more in depth at the pictures on my screen and found myself wanting to know more, wanting to know who drew them and how did they go from the eyes and mind of the artist to the front page of one of the forerunners of the modern day tabloid.



Now, I could bore you with tales of carefully drawn pictures sent to those in the offices who would do their part of the job; tracing the initial drawings before intricately carving them into blocks of wood ready for printing… but I will not.

What came of my research however was an idea a way of taking that modern day police procedural concept, so adored by TV companies, and take it back to Victorian London.  Could I write a novel with a newspaper illustrator as the central character, solving a series of grisly murders, like those shown weekly on the cover and within the pages of The Illustrated Police News?  Why not?  And perhaps, could I link this story to my first novel and have said central character investigate and uncover the events of Memento Mori?

Some people would say that I had a ‘lightbulb moment’ but I’m afraid in my case when ideas like this formulate in my mind they are more like a ‘brain on fire moment’  and I found myself senselessly hurling myself into the process of learning everything that I could about The Illustrated Police News and its processes.

There are some excellent resources available for those interested in the newspaper and it's history, and not just those to be found on the internet.  My favourite and most trusted source of knowledge is the book 'Cruel Deeds and Dreadful Calamities: The Illustrated Police News 1864 - 1938 ' by Linda Stratmann.

    
It's  beautiful book not just in the sense of the contents, which tell the chronological story of the newspaper from its original inception, through the 'Glory years' of the late 19th century up until its eventual demise, but just through being a lovely object to hold.  It is quite large in size, like one of those annuals which I read and reread when I was younger; Warlord,  2000ad, Victor and the like.With regards to content however,  inside these pages is where I first saw the name George Purkess. 

George Purkess, the proprietor of The Illustrated Police News is the only character in Domini Mortum, who actually existed, although in truth, very little is actually known of him.  There are no known photographs of him, although he is described as “a stout, comfortable-looking man of middle age, medium height, and dark complexion."  Other than that all that I could find out about him was gleaned from an interview tat he gave to The Strand magazine, a rival of his own publication.  


In it he told me all that I needed to know about the man.  Such as the fact that he would never work in the afternoon, preferring to leave the offices for lunch at his club from which he would not return until the next day (This is a a fantastic idea that I still feel we would all benefit from today).  He also gave an isight into the process of collecting stories and portraits to feature in his newspaper.  For George Purkess, getting a good portrait of a suspected killer or victim was worth a lot, he admitted to paying up to £50 for a good portrait, an amount that would be well into the thousands now.  Mr Purkess claimed that a good portrait would do more to prevent crime than to glorify it in any way (apparently he had been told that the criminal underworld in London at the time greatly feared their picture appearing in the newspaper more than anything).

For stories the Illustrated Police News were less bothered Often copying the news stories of other newspapers word for word and adding their own garishly shocking pictures and headlines to fool the public into thinking that the IPN were publishing an exclusive piece.

But what about those headlines; 'Scared to death by a donkey', 'Battle with an owl', 'Topless female bare knuckle boxing'.  Well they obviously added something to the newspaper otherwise why would the front covers of the IPN and their bizarre stories still litter the internet over 100 years later?

But 'The Worst Newspaper in the World'?  I don't think so. Because without it I would never have written Domini Mortum and that is something that I do have Mr George Purkess and his 'Terrible' publication to be grateful for.


If you would like to find out more about the Illustrated Police News, then I would recommend that the best place to start is by visiting my Unbound page at www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum and pledging your support for my novel.  Once published you will get your name listed in it as someone who made it happen.  You will also be able to read all about the mysterious Mr Purkess and his newspaper, all wrapped up in a beautifully written murderous supernatural story from Victorian London.

Thanks 

Paul 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Crying Game

"Death is not the end"

The first words of my novel appeared on the page without me thinking about what I was about to write.  I just started typing and there they were.  Those words affected every other word typed by me until the book's completion and the final words of the novel (which incidentally are the same).  It has been a mystery to me since that time, and I gave it a lot of thought initially, until I decided that it was just one of those things and decided not to worry about where the phrase came from any more.  That is until today when I finally, and by chance, worked it out.

You see, I cried this week and I don't know why.


This is a strange occurence for me for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, and most obviously, it was odd because I have no idea what brought it on; it just happened.  Secondly however, and this will appear even more strange when taking into context the first reason, crying is not something that I do very often, in fact I can only remember about four or five significant times throughout all of my 46 years.

Now obviously I must have cried a lot as a child up until the age of about ten, everybody does.  Since then however such displays of emotion are about as rare as hen's teeth, they do not happen with me.  This is not to say that I am a cold person, I am not.  I get emotional in times of intense heart tugging moments as much as the next person.  I get affected by those things specifically designed to make you shed a tear, like charity television nights such as Comic Relief and, in the case of this weekends annual blubfest, Children in Need.  These well orchestrated pieces of emotional trauma and blackmail by media are designed by very clever well trained people, who know exactly the buttons to press at exactly the right time to get an emotional response from the millions of people that tune in.  They have developed their art over the years, they know what works and what doesn't, they know how to stimulate that part of the brain that gets tears and cash flowing.

I am not immune to this, I choke, I shift uncomfortably in my chair, and my eyes fill with liquid.  It's an autonomic response to stimuli designed for this purpose, and of course my body reacts, I have no control over this.  But this kind of damp eyed emotion is not the kind that I am talking about.  The moment hits me but it is not expressed in the extreme, it is not what I call crying; it is something more basic than that.

No, the tears which flowed today, and which I am at a loss to remember happening anything but infrequently since the age of ten, flowed freely, unrestrained and breaking out from the shackles of the pupil.  These tears were matched with other bodily responses; sounds, sobs, sudden and repetitive shoulder shrugs, and a sense of a loss of control, if only for a moment.  You see this week's performance did not last long, I was at work, and filled with the terror that someone might see me and, since I work at a secondary school, that someone might be one of the students.  It is not something that they would forget and it would not be long before I became known as Mr Holbrook; that one that cried.

I felt it coming, you see, and so I scurried off to where I knew I would not be seen and where my actions would not overnight be etched into the annals of school urban legend.  When I had reached a place where it was safe to do so, and where I could no longer hold it together, I let it out, just for a short time, just long enough to rid myself of the feeling so that I could carry on with my day without anyone being any the wiser.  It has affected me though, because it was unexpected and came without incident or reason.

I won't write here about the other four or five times that I have cried in the last 36 years, because there is sharing and there is sharing, OK well maybe one or two of them.

In 1982 when I was twelve, I went to the cinema with my older sister. The movie that we went to see,  thinking back,  was definitely my choice not hers.  Because it was Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.  Now, I never professed to being much of a Trekkie.  Of course I watched series whenever it was on and I also really enjoyed the animated series, sometimes more than the live action original.
I was more of a Star Wars fan though, and still am in a lot of respects, despite my advancing years, but I had been to see the first Star Trek movie and had been one of the few in the cinema that had actually enjoyed it, despite the lack of action and the fact that it didn't hold a candle to Battlestar Galactica, which my Dad had sneaked me out of the house one night to see when my sisters were asleep.

For those of you that haven't seen The Wrath of Khan, where have you been and what is wrong with you? It's a great film,  one that is easily the best of the Star Trek movies, much better than the current crop.

But there is a segment at the end of the film where Spock gives up his life to save the Enterprise and has a drawn out death scene where he talks to Bill Shatner through a glass pane.  Looking back, and I have watched the film a number of times since, I'm not sure why it got to me as it did.  But got to me it did and, ever since that evening 34 years ago, my sister has revelled in that time when I burst into tears because a fictional character from a science fiction movie hammed up his death.  I'm not bitter at all, I don't blame her, that's what growing up with siblings is all about.

Another time where I went 'Full On Tear' is also related to a movie, but is not anything to do with a generic space opera and certainly has had more of a lasting effect on my life.  This is because it is my favourite film of all time. A lot of people that know me, if asked what my favourite movie was would probably say Star Wars or 'Some bloody awful horror movie from the sixties'. This is not the case.

My absolute all time favourite piece of cinema ever created is The Elephant Man by David Lynch.  It is just a beautiful thing and, although I have only seen it twice, it holds a very special place in my heart, the way that only the most special things should.  You will notice that I said that I have only seen it twice, and yet I call it my favourite;  I have seen all of the Star Wars films (even the crap ones) 20 or 30 times, The number of times I have seen Theatre of Blood is well into double figures, and The Lost Boys probably most of all.  But The Elephant Man only twice, why is this if it's my favourite?

Well it is precisely because of its power to reduce me to a blubbering wreck at the end.  I can happily watch the film all the way through, it is what filled me with my love of all things Victorian and made me want to write stories set in those times in fact.  But the last 5 minutes of that movie get me every time, uncomfortably so.

The first time I saw it, I was shocked at my reaction, I was with friends, who it did not effect and who looked at me like some kind of freak.  The second time I was alone, safe from outside eyes and prepared for the ending.  It still got me.

Which brings me back to this week's incident.

After my sudden flood of emotion today I began to think about my tears and why they had happened. I still don't know, which is worrying as that means that they could return at any time and I could still yet be the subject of classroom banter as 'that bloke teacher who burst into tears int he middle of English'.

It was as I desperately soul searched for the reason, and thought about those rare things that bring me to tears, that I remembered the ending to The Elephant Man, and with it came the answer to my inspiration for the first and last lines of Domini Mortum.

"Never.  Oh never.  Nothing will die.  The stream flows, the wind blows, the cloud fleets, the heart beats.  Nothing will die."


If you would like to read Domini Mortum, you can, I would highly recommend it.  There is a catch however; in order for it to become readable, first it has to be published and getting it published is entirely in your hands.  Domini Mortum is being crowdfunded by those lovely people at Unbound.  Please visit my Unbound page to find out more about the novel, read an extract and perhaps pledge your support.  There is nothing that will bring me to tears more than achieving my dream and you can make it happen.

www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum

Thank you.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Should the Dead stay Dead?


Should the Dead stay Dead?

I’ve been having a look back through old bits of writing lately, I say old but most of them were done in the last five years.  There are lots of bits of unused stuff there, the odd short story, ranty bits (that I produced when trying to get myself just writing anything) and then there are the unfinished novels, fully formed story ideas that are deep enough to make the grade.  Should a half-finished, once abandoned, opus ever be resurrected though?



I have about half a dozen unfinished novels in various states of repair, most of these were created in what I like to call my ‘golden age of writing’, a nine month period in my life when I seemed to be so full of ideas that I couldn’t get them written fast enough.  During this time my brain was flooded with ideas on a daily basis and I was constantly hammering on my keyboard or frantically scribbling in one of the many notepads that now litter my desk and to which I return to when feeling particularly short of ‘writing oomph’. I flew through novel ideas regularly during those times and it is quite weird to now look back on some of them and wonder just what was going through my mind.  Some of these ‘uncompleted masterpieces’ are just a handful of pages of scribble; character names and back stories, scenes and scenarios and sometimes pen pictures for the first few chapters.  Some of them however moved forward from this scribbly stage to actual content.  These pieces found themselves at the mercy of the flurry of imagination and drive created by my mind, which I now find difficult to recreate.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why this period was so fruitful for me, despite most of the ideas and concepts never actually coming to much, and for the most part I think I can blame it on the medication I was taking.  Let me give you a bit of context;

About six years ago I suffered from a traumatic head injury, nothing too serious; there was no hospital admission, no surgery or life threatening interventions, but it was a head injury all the same.  I received sudden and repeated blows to both sides of the head over a very short period of time which, although having no physical effect on me, caused me to suffer from constant migraines and general head pain for about four months afterwards.  During this time I was off of work and spent my time at home, either asleep (my head didn’t hurt me when I slept) or in a world of silence; no television, no music, no computers, nothing through sound and vision which caused me to recoil in agony.  It was a difficult time, both for me and for my very understanding close family. 

There were two things that I found that I could do though that didn’t hurt as much and they were writing and baking.  The baking had the terrible side effect of causing me the gain weight, through the continual production and ingestion of biscuits and cakes.  The writing however, that was a different thing altogether.  You see I had never tried writing before, not anything of any length or value, and I found that I liked it, it made me feel better.

As the months wore on and my headache slowly faded into the background thanks to regular medication I finally returned to work… and decided that I hated it and hadn’t missed it at all in the four months that I had been away.  It’s not that I wasn’t good at it; I think I was. It’s just that the job satisfaction element of it had gone altogether.  This lack of enthusiasm for the job, combined with having to catch up with all the work that I had missed led me to fall into a funk which I found it impossible to shake myself out of, and which eventually led to me resigning after falling foul of those in power.

I found another job quickly enough, albeit one for half the salary, but the funk remained and I found myself very quickly sat in front of my GP, unable to crack even the most feeble of smiles.  Her response was to increase the medication that I took for my headaches, they were antidepressants anyway as apparently they had a dual use for treating chronic headaches.  The effect on my mind was almost instantaneous.  As well as helping to lift my mood and give me a better opinion of myself, I also found myself to be bursting with ideas for stories and novels.  I remember reading an article back in 1995 about Bernard Sumner of New Order.  In this article he recounts how he used Prozac to lift him out of a 15 month song writing drought.  He claimed not to suffer from depression but, at that time, there was a lot of research and discussion about the use of antidepressant, particularly SSRIs (Selective Seratonin Re-uptake Inhibitors), as a creative tool.  I can certainly concur that this was the case with me, as I almost bordered on mania at times with the amount of ‘brilliant’ ideas that I was producing when I took the tablets.

Image result for black dog depression painting

Whilst writing this I have looked back at these articles and found something else pertinent to me and something which I now see when going through my old scrappy notebooks.  This is because of one of the main outcomes of the studies conducted with ‘creative types’ is that, although output increased and writing blocks could be broken, the actual content was probably not actually that good.  Quantity did not breed quality it would seem, and being a little down on yourself could actually be a good thing, and help to act as that filter that is needed to weed out the dross.

I don’t take medication to deal with my mental health issues any more, I’ve found that, on most days, the actual process of writing is enough to stamp on the demons in my mind and ‘bring the black dog to heel’ a bit (although he often howls outside my door).  I have been tempted to return to them though.  Sometimes when things have been so bad that I can see no real worth in myself as a whole, let alone words that I put together into stories, at these times I think of going back to see my GP just to get that little creative boost to get me writing again (better to write crap and exorcise the demons than not write at all).  I have resisted going back though, for now, and have looked at other avenues to get me writing, which brings me back to the whole point of this piece.

I decided to give NaNoWriMo a go this year, something to push me into writing, a way of putting myself into a headlock and squeezing something creative out of me.  I had a problem though, I am in a low and there are no great ideas for novels popping into my head.  And so I returned to the dross from the notebooks and the half started novels from a time when the reuptake of Seratonin was being thoroughly inhibited. I feel like I’m cheating a bit, using something half started to write a novel in a month, but really I don’t actually care.  The end justifies the means and all that.

The half-novel I’ve restarted is, I think, a good one, something worthy of resurrection, and reading back I wonder why I abandoned it in the first place.  I’ve added 10,000 words to it in the last week alone and at this rate I should easily meet the NaNoWriMo objective of 50,000 words in a month.  The most bizarre thing about the whole enterprise though is that it is a comedy and I find myself taking heart from the fact that some of my favourite comedy writers create funny from a dark place… and I know all about the dark places.


Hopefully my new novel will be fully written by the end of the month and past its first edit and drafting by Christmas.  If anyone fancies being a test reader for me please get in touch, and we’ll discover together if it was actually dross.

In the meantime if you would please consider supporting my crowdfunded novel Domini Mortum then I would be very grateful indeed.  Visit www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum to read an extract and find out more.

Thanks Paul

Friday, 4 November 2016

Crowdfunding Publishing - A Science or an Art?

Crowdfunding Publishing 
A Science or an Art?

I’m not very good at Science, never have been and, despite my best efforts, probably never will be.  I like the idea of it, I’m interested in the hows and the whys, the whats and the wherefores, but there is just something in my brain that can’t click with remembering the important Sciencey stuff, or being able to work it out for myself.  



This can be a bit of a problem, as my full time job is working in a secondary school and, as such, I often find myself in Science lessons, either covering when the teacher is out or providing additional support to the kids when the teacher is there.

“Sir, can you help me with this?”  Cue puzzled expression, intense staring at the page of a textbook in the hope that the answer might leap out at me, followed by shrug of shoulders and response.  

“I’m not here to give you the answers, you need to work it out for yourself or you’ll never learn anything.” (Back in the old days this phrase would have been accompanied by a swift clip around the ear, but this physical addition to the quip, which all school staff relied on at some point, is now somewhat frowned on by Ofsted).

Now, when I first started my campaign with Unbound for my novel Domini Mortum (a fantastic Victorian tale of ghosts, murder and mystery which can be found at www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum all pledges and support accepted gratefully, thank you very much) I had, in mymind, the impression that the Crowdfunding process was a functional thing, a scientific formula if you will; its most simplified version being:

B + P = T + H
Book + Pledges = Target + Happiness

That is my level of Science, my friends; that is just about my level of scientific formula.  

Over the next few months I experienced its true madness, my eyes were prized open to its fury and pinned wide with nails, my ears rang with the sound of its diabolical laughter.

(I made a solemn pledge to myself, before writing this piece, that I would not mention the word ‘rollercoaster’ or any other theme park attraction for that matter, and the word journey, I hate the word journey, it is the word of the weeping X-Factor contestant as they share their story, or the Z-List Celebrity, coarsely stuffing cockroaches into their mouths in an attempt to reinvent their public persona).   

The shock that came to me was because, as it turns out, the actual formula is something like this:

B (NI x Pg x Wr) + SmP (C + Ch + FwM+ L (Po x Dd)= T (NGH)
Book x (New Idea x Popular Genre x Well Written) + Social Media Profile (Confidence + Charisma + Friends with Money) + Luck (Positive Outlook x Dogged Determination) = Target (No guaranteed Happiness)

If you add into this abominable chemistry experiment the perils of; abnormal bouts of fear and depression, lack of self-confidence, and the incessant pangs of guilt, because you feel that you’re emotionally blackmailing your friends and family,then you can see my problem with a scientific approach to Crowdfunding.  

Now, as I’ve already said, I’m not the Science guy, there is not an atom of Science to be found in meI do, however, find myself to be the Crowdfunding publishing guy, and so, when starting the process (and when I had got over the initial shock of the reality of it all) I decided that I needed to find a way to make it work for me if I was ever going to succeed.

The best way to learn something and become good at it, I was always told, was first to watch someone else doing it.  I used to be a nurse, years ago, and the way to learn something new on the ward was a three stage process – You watch it once, you do it for yourself and then you teach it.  It applies to anything nursing or medical related; changing a dressinggiving an injection, even transplanting a heart.

And so I watched.

I studied other campaigns intensely.  I followed their progress; I watched them as they seemed to pluck pledges from thin air, right in front of my eyes.  If I was a paranoid man I would be thinking that everyone knew the secret to Crowdfunding and that they were keeping it from me , but I’m not… quite.

So what is the answer?  What is the secret formula known only to a few hallowed souls and very rarely passed down to thelesser mortals?

Well, after studying the form, I can reveal that the secret to successfully Crowdfunding your novel is…

Nothing.Nada.Nenio.Zilch.

There is no answer, it doesn’t exist.  There is no direct route to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, no bought at Lidl Sat Nav to help you through the turgid and constricted backstreets of Crowdfunding’s frantic city and that, my friends, is my point.  If you approach Crowdfunding your project with the idea that it is an easy and formulaic process, simple to carry out if you follow the recipe then, my friends, you are about to run at great speed into a very large, very hard brick wall.  You may just as well walk naked through the streets of your nearest city carrying a sandwich board saying ‘First person to bludgeon me unconscious wins a million pounds and free beer for life’. You will get hurt.

As far as I’m concerned, and in order to make the whole thing seem achievable within my non-scientific brain, Crowdfunding is not a Science, it is not learning by numbers or fact; it is not something that can be broken down into cold definite and winning procedures.  Not for me and not for anyonethat I have seen who has stepped onto the psychotic travellator of Crowdfunding and been led through terrible, beautiful worlds of joy and doubt that represents their own personal experience.(I was tempted to use the J word there but held firm).

So what has been my great plan?  How have I hit the heady heights of 60% plus?
Well, to answer that I must, if I can, take you back to my school life and to a different subject on the curriculum.

At Art I am better; I like Art, there is no right or wrong answer to Art, anything created in the Art studio, or indeed classroom, is subjective and can be found to have its worth, no matter how supposedly bad the idea, drawing or creation is.  I like to paint (my house is littered with canvas attempts) and when I am in an Art class I am more relaxed, I can join in a bit more, I can let the students have more of a free reign in what they do (and often the wilder their imaginations and approaches to the class the better).  Art, in my mind, is a good thing.

You see, I am one of those creative types, my brain is active and ingenious, but not in a clever scientific kind of way.  I literally have made my campaign up as I have gone along.  I have the mind of the caffeinated hummingbird, flitting from one random thoughtflower to the next, high on brainpollen .  I don’t deal with fact and rational explanation; I deal with ideas, with imagination and with chaos.  For me the whole process of Crowdfunding is an Art, something natural and organic, within which random decisions and snap judgments can make a person’s campaign go a long way towards either hitting its funding target or being caught in a swirling eddy of self-doubt and campaigner guilt.

Yes, there are things that you can do to get your campaign up and running, get a few pledges in the bank as it were.  These, I have found and in no particular order, are;

• E-mail everyone you know, or have ever known, and asking for their support, even people you used to hate (hunt them down on social media).

• Constant Facebook and Twitter presence; buildup your friends and followers and fill their timeline with news of your project. Anything you post will be better than funny cat videos, smugshare (“I’m so lucky to be having lunch with Beyonce’s hairdresser”) or the worst of the lot - ‘If you are my friend please copy and paste this on your wall or I will sulk’.

• Face to face hounding of work colleagues, family and friends.  Casually drop your project into conversation; something leading which will prompt them to ask how the campaign is going, giving you the opportunity to press your case and point out how tight they are.

• Local newspapers and media.  Get to know what angles get attention in the local paper, which writer to pester to get your mug appearing in their pages on a regular basis next to stories of damaged letterboxes and diamond wedding anniversaries.

• Get your more loyal friends and family to act as an advocate for you.  You may be a social recluse, much preferring to spend your time sat in a darkened room writing novels, but people you know may actually have a friendship and social circle that you can tap into.

All of these things are the basics, the brushes and paint of the Art, the things you must try if you’re going to have any hope of hitting that 100% and getting your book on the shelves and screens of the world; all of these I have tried and continue to try.  They will only get you so far however; they will only get you to, what I have decided to call, the SSP (Social Saturation Point, ©Paul Holbrook 2016) which is the percentage mark, measured through the process of Crowdfunding publishing, with which you can measure your social limit, the size of your beaming face to the world around you.  

Now, everyones SSP is different; for some people,percentage wise, it’s in the low 20s, for others, those that are more socially adept, it is in the 60s or 70s, these are the witty, clever types, those able to express themselves in social situations and having more than a few names in the address book of their soul.  There are some however, whose SSP exceeds 100% and who have social prowess simply oozing from every pore in their smug, shiny bodies; they collect pledges and supporters in the same way that I collect grey hairs, they flash a smile, post a tweet and then sit back and watch as their adoring public shower them with pledges.  I’m not bitter, I know that this is probably not how it really is, but it’s the picture which wakes me in the night.

I hit my own personal SSP at around 55%, which, to be honest, was greater than I thought it would be as I am not an outgoing, extroverted type; I’m better at writing than speaking,and find myself to be socially awkward and happier in small company; I’ve tried to be better at it but my face shuts down and I run away to the shelter of my own mind.  

Now I’m not saying that my approach to Crowdfunding my book is the best way to do it, far from it, I haven’t got to 100% yet.  The point I am trying to make, if you can discern it from my babble, is that no two campaigns are the same; each individual campaign is a fingerprint, a snowflake if you will, an imprint of the personality of the author selling their wares. Some are the scientists, methodical in their approach and working to formulas, some may be geographers and historians; looking at patterns and incidents, pre-empting through experience and mapping out their territories, and others, like me, are the Artists; a bit scatter-brained, wildly lurching from one idea to the next and randomly collecting pledges through moments of borderline genius and utter stupidity.  The metaphors could go on, but I will spare you; you have heard enough and I will end with just a few words more.

Whether a Scientist or an Artist, a Historian or a Mathematician, you will have your own approach to Crowdfunding, if you are lucky enough to climb onto that travellator.  By all means take advice from others; watch and steal, borrow and poach others tactics, but be true to yourself and, most importantly, trust your own ideas; it is your ‘j**rn*y’, your ‘r*ll*rc**st*r’enjoy the ride.

My new novel Domini Mortum is currently undergoing a crowdfunding campaign with those very lovely people at Unbound.

www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum 

Please pay my page a visit, have a look at the synopsis, read an excerpt and then consider pledging your support.

Thank you

Paul