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So another year and another round of agent submissions. Pretty much at this same time last year I was sending out my first round of submission to literary agents for my first novel ’The Last Englishman and the Bubble’ (now self-published and available for all! See my last post).
Now a year later I am embarking on that same journey with my second novel: ‘An End of Poppies’.
As you can probably tell that first book didn’t manage to climb anywhere near the top of the ’slush-pile’ and most agents probably either recycled the paper it was printed on or simply pressed ’delete’. The cynical part of me thinks that most of them probably didn’t even read it.
I know that one or two did and the feeling was that although they (kind of) liked it they didn’t know how to market it. It was described as “well written” and “obviously intelligent” but they didn’t know what box to out it in. You would think that has made me disheartened, but no it is quite the opposite, somehow I am more determined.
It all brings me back to one of my pet subjects; the misleading marketing tool of ’genre’.
I suppose it is inevitable that I have to grapple with this problem; often when submitting or when publishing online you have to label your work with it’s genre.
‘The Last Englishman…’ is a Sci Fi book, but I know that it is more than that and that the label ’SF’ may well put readers off if they don’t normally read this kind of book. It is also a romance, a drama, a dystopia and a commentary on existence, love and society. The downside of the label ’SF’ is that it means that many agents/publisher won’t touch it with a barge-pole. Surprising how many specifically say that they publish/work with all kinds of books but NOT science fiction or fantasy (the list usually says NO Science fiction, fantasy or poetry! I feel for you poets out there!).
At least this is not a problem for my new novel. It is perhaps an ’alternate history’; but here again I find that description inadequate. It is an epistolary novel, with romance and war, social commentary and feminism. And it is, I hope, a literary novel.
So what conclusion can I come to? Well, none really. I suppose people have to have some way to pigeon hole things. How else would readers find books? That said I still don’t like the idea of ’genre’, and still feel it misleads and constrains. I certainly don’t want to write in a certain genre because it is marketable. I will continue to write what excites and enthrals me, and hope it does the same for others, whatever it eventually becomes labelled as.
So wish me luck in search of that elusive agent who will fight my corner to find that elusive publisher. Maybe then I can leave the job of ’pigeon-holing’ to them?
So…I have finally done it. I have published my first novel; The Last Englishman and the Bubble – self published as an ebook – now available to download online.
This book began its journey as my first foray into ‘NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2011, where its first fifty thousand words came spilling out of my head. I had no idea then whether I could actually write a full length novel or what it would entail.
Since then this book has been through an editing process which included five or more full revisions/re-writes/additions etc. etc.
Over the last year excerpts of it have landed the slush-piles of myriads of agents, simply to face rejection or worse be completely ignored altogether. It has failed to win at least one major competition (and is still waiting on another one).
You might think that I maybe disheartened at this point and wonder why I have decided to publish it myself as an ‘Indie’ ebook. Well there are a number of reasons but let me say I am far from disheartened. My journey is just beginning (aren’t all journeys just beginning? Right now?). This book proved to me that I could actually write a novel. Since then I have written two more (one is unfinished – one chapter to go, the other is nearly edited!), and these books can now do the rounds of agents and publishers.
I don’t want to get into the ‘Traditional’ publishing versus ‘Indie’ publishing debate but let’s just say that the romantic part of me still wants to see a real hardback book with my name on the spine in a real bookshop. One day…
Anyway I am proud that I have come this far and, without wishing to sound vain, I think this book is actually quite good. So please download, have a read and let me know what you think. Leave a review if you like it…I hope you like it…
You can download my book to your ereader (Kindle, iPad etc.) from HERE. It will soon be available from the iBook store, Amazon and other retailers (I will keep you posted). It costs the princely sum of $2.99!
UPDATE: Now available on Amazon UK HERE and AMAZON US HERE…Happy Reading!
The Last Englishman and the Bubble
Is Kris the last man on Earth? He is an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. He types his story as he struggles to understand why he has been left alone. Why does he live in a shack on a lonely Norfolk beach? What happened to the love of his life Samantha? How does he survive alone in a desolate England populated by packs of wild dogs? What event caused everyone to disappear? And ultimately, will Kris die alone with no one to read his story?
So…here is an unfinished short story I have been working on. I have some ideas about where it is going, what it is about and what might happen, but I thought it might be fun to post it here and see what people think. If you have any ideas about what should happen in this story or how it should end then please post your comments…enjoy…
I can remember my mother. She had blonde hair and smelt of roses. At least I think that’s what they are called. ’Roses’; it is a word I associate with her. Some kind of flower anyway. I can picture the twitch she had in her fingers and how she would roll her shoulders and twist her neck to try and relax herself. She would shake her long hair into my face. It tickled me and made me giggle. And smile.
Today I went to see the flowers. It is the one place that has a breeze all round the space. I like to stand by the vents and let the mix of warm and cold air buzz over my skin. It gives me goosebumps and my hair floats all around, just like my mother’s. I pull myself up to the sky where the pipes spurt rain on all the curling trees and plants and let the droplets cover my hair and skin. It makes the air damp and the tiny droplets catch in my nostrils.
The flowers don’t seem as bright as they do in my memory. Or perhaps they just seem more vivid when I dream them, because they have a blue sky backdrop and not the more realistic stars and black behind them.
Later I asked Caleb about it in our meeting. He just said the flowers are the same colours that they have always been.
I instigated the daily meetings between us, about two months ago. Now I am not so sure about them. It hasn’t been very helpful. He only seems to know about facts not memories. His smooth artificial face smiles, floating and glowing in the centre of the white room where he resides. I like him but he seems rather unfeeling. It is beginning to make me feel lonely talking to him. I asked him what it meant to be lonely.
He said “Loneliness is the state of being alone in solitary isolation,”
I said, “Really, well…does that describe me?”
He said “Unfortunately yes, you are alone Sara,”
My name sounds like any other word he says. His words all have the same tone.
I remember when he first told me my name. Must have been the first or second day after I woke. That was the first spark that I could remember anything. Anything at all. I remembered my mother whispering it in a singing voice as I went to sleep.
“Sara, go to sleep, my beautiful Sara, go to sleep…”
Caleb said it would take me a while to adjust. That I should take it slowly. One day at a time. That was six months ago. The dates on the clocks tell me that. Not sure what he meant by ’a while…’
At first I felt like I was stupid. That I didn’t know anything. But then it occurred to me, I actually know quite a lot. I know how to speak and write and read. I know the names of things. And silly things, like how to eat and use the toilet. How to dress, though I don’t much bother with that. I haven’t learnt any of that since I woke up. It was already there, inside me.
And I can remember my mother. I remember my toys, and rag dolly Emma and the bright green grass in front of the porch with the sprinkler. Rain from a pipe like I have here in the flower room.
We lived on Rokehampton Drive. That’s what mother said I should say if I ever got lost in a shop or the park or somewhere. So I said it over and over to myself as I skipped down the sidewalk holding her hand,
“We live on Rokehampton Drive, we live on Rokehampton Drive,”
I asked Caleb about the skipping when I remembered that. Why I couldn’t walk or run or skip here? He just said ’sorry’ and that the gravity was broken or some such. Whatever that means. He tries to get me to exercise my legs on the stretch machine every day but I find it boring.
Everyone walks or runs or skips in the films he shows me. And they have the blue sky backdrops. Sometimes they even dance. And sometimes I ask Caleb to play the music loud and I try to dance, but my dancing is clumsy and I bang against the walls. I get bruises on my thighs.
In the films they talk and sing in excited ways and the children always have mothers and fathers. When I saw that I asked Caleb why I couldn’t remember my father. He said he didn’t know.
I remember words. Lots of words. Caleb gave me a book to look them up in. It’s called a ‘dictionary’. I looked up the word delicious today. It said about some things that taste nice. I wondered what that meant so went to ask Caleb. He asked me if I wanted to change my ‘dietary requirements’. Strange that I knew what that meant. Everything the dispenser gives me to eat is nutritious and designed to keep my body at the required state of health.
The funny thing is that none of it seems to be ‘delicious’. I often like the taste but I would never say it was ‘delicious’. So I asked Caleb if the dispenser could give me something ‘delicious’. So he said how about ‘ice cream’? Mmmm…I remember mother giving me ice cream and how much I loved it. That must be what ‘delicious’ is.
So I got the dispenser to give me ice cream. It was vanilla with chocolate sprinkles. It was very cold and made my teeth hurt but the taste was actually ‘delicious’.
It made me wonder more about the words I know. The ones that buzz around in my head. There doesn’t always seem to be a logical connection between the sound they make when I say them out loud and the meaning they have. Either the meaning I think I remember they have or the meaning the dictionary says they have.
I like to watch the shooting stars in the sky. Caleb says they aren’t actually ‘stars’ as such, but I like to think of them as that. Those are the words my mind had for them when I first saw them streaking past the windows above me. And below me. They are everywhere around us, rushing past.
I did ask Caleb if I could go outside and touch them but he said that nothing can live outside, not without a special suit anyway. As soon as I began to ask him I knew the answer he would give. I knew that I couldn’t go outside. I just hadn’t remembered it yet. I don’t know why that is.
So I asked him what was wrong with my memory. I have asked him this before. He sighs and says “All in good time Sara, all in good time,” like he often does.
So again I ask him “what does that mean?”
“It means that you will remember when you are ready, you will understand when you are ready,”
“How will I know if I am ready?” I say,
“I will know…or you will know…who knows?” he says.
Then I am stumped and don’t know what to make of his riddles. He can be so frustrating at times. So I just changed the subject;
“Where is Rokehampton Drive?” I ask,
“Ah,” he says, “Well that is a place that is very far from here. About as far away as you can imagine,”
“So we can’t go there?”
“No, Sara, we can’t go there,”
“Have you ever been there?”
“No, Sara, I haven’t,”
“So you can’t remember it?”
“No, Sara, I can’t,”
I gave up then. Couldn’t think of what to ask next. As ever his answers frustrate. I looked up frustrate in my dictionary. ‘Frustration’ and ‘loneliness’.
- ‘a feeling of dissatisfaction, often accompanied by anxiety or depression, resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems.’ – that’s what it said about frustration. Kind of summed it up I think. Summed up one of the feelings I have…
Imagine, if you will, that you are in the corridor of an old fashioned plush hotel. The deep pile carpet feels warm nestled against your knees. You are breathing deeply but are unaware of this. The focus of your attention is the keyhole in front of you. Beyond the thick door is the object of your attention. A beautiful couple perhaps. Engaged in passion. Your ear, close to the grain of the door is devouring the soft sounds of their embrace. Your eyelash flicks the metal surround of the keyhole, its classic shape framing sections of the moving bodies, partially clothed, lost in passion, within the room.
Then, almost inevitably, you become aware of footsteps padding down the hallway…how do you feel in that moment?
This is my imagining of a scene suggested by the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in order to illustrate his view of self-awareness. The voyeur is completely unaware of his or her self whilst staring through the keyhole. Whatever their motive for taking the role of ‘Peeping Tom’ at that moment they are only conscious of of the object of their senses – the couple beyond the door.
The point being that they only become self-aware once they realise that they are the object of someone else’s gaze, the knowledge that someone else coming along the corridor can see them. And at that moment the voyeur will think of themselves in terms of what they perceive the other person will be thinking about them. They may think that the person in the corridor will be thinking that they are a ’peeping Tom’ or voyeur.
In a way what Sartre suggested was that we can never be truly self-aware. Our ’awareness’ can be a reflection of others.
In his book ’Being and Nothingness’ he says this:
“Consciousness is a being such that in its being, its being is in question, in so far as this being implies a being other than itself,”
The implication of this is that consciousness is dependent on awareness of an OBJECT. To be conscious you have to be aware OF something. When it comes to being conscious of the self, what happens is that we project a version of our ’self’ (the object) in order to be conscious of it and think about it. What this means is that the ’self’ we project and think about is not our true self but merely an image.
Often what happens when thinking of our ’self’ is that it is a reflection of what we think others think about us. Hence the voyeur thinks about the observer seeing them as a ’peeping tom’ and feels the associated guilt and shame. Before being observed the voyeur is not self aware at all.
So when we think about ourselves we generally tend to view it through a lens. We think that we are happy/sad/good/bad people because that is how others think of us.
When I think about this I realise how much of the time that we are not self-aware. How much of the time we are absorbed in something else. Like watching tv or reading a book. Even when we are engaged in an activity (me writing this for example), one can be thinking of other things on multiple levels, but not aware of anything around us.
I guess my question is whether we can ever truly ’know’ ourselves? I am not sure that we can because as humans we are continually moving and changing like shifting sands in the desert. The dunes of the sahara seem so large and full of form that they appear solid. The reality is that they are shifting waves; an ocean of sand sweeping ever so slowly, unseen, across North Africa. As people we are like these oceans of sand.
People often say ’it’s not in my nature’ to do this thing or that thing. Or they say ’I don’t have that kind of personality,’ or ’that person isn’t my type,’. As if the kind of person we are is somehow fixed in our DNA.
The truth is that I am not the same person I was yesterday, or last week, or ten years ago. If a boatbuilder repairs a wooden boat and replaces every single plank and mast and nail, is it the same boat? It has the same shape but surely a different essence.
What can we learn from this? I am not sure. Except to say that as humans we have choices and one of those choices is how we view the object that we project of our self in our minds. Too often we choose the negative view. If someone gives you five compliments and one throwaway negative comment (perhaps about how they don’t like your sweater) you go away remembering the bad thing. We should be mindful of this and when we think about ourselves attempt to keep the positive.
Sartre argued for an existentialist viewpoint. The only thing that exists is the here and now. The past is gone. Over. The future hasn’t arrived yet. There is only now. Right now. Therefore we can choose to interpret our past actions and feelings however we like. And we can choose what kind of person we think we are going to be in the future. Endless possibilities there!
Finally, back to the voyeur. If we are honest most of us should admit to being curious about what was beyond the keyhole. A glimpse of stocking perhaps? Can any of us truly say that we wouldn’t be tempted to look?
What do you think?
So. For the second day running, delightfully, I have a day off. I am a teacher so I am experiencing the joy that is the ‘Snow Day’. I know there will be many who are perhaps jealous and feel that us teachers get an easy ride, what with all those long holidays and finishing at three. I will always counter any of those arguments with the fact most teachers work damn hard, as hard as any one else I would say. I would also counter it with this; why can’t everyone have long holidays and snow days? There is no real reason apart from those at the top who are convinced in the efficacy of the Protestant work ethic, where one is somehow only a virtuous person if you work your socks off. For me, this is a false premise. You only get one life so why should the majority of it be spent in drudgery; where you sell your time to someone else richer than you? Those at the top do not work harder than those at the bottom.
I therefore relish the snow day, as I am sure that anyone would. Apart from savouring that the sky is the deepest blue that you will ever see and the treetops the most magical winter white I can spend a few hours doing something I love. And that, right now, is editing my latest work in progress which is the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo entitled ‘An End of Poppies’.
At the end of November I had hit the magical number of fifty thousand words and it had a full plot with an ending. Now the problem is, as any writer who has done NaNoWriMo will know, fifty thousand words does not a novel make. Most novels are at least twice this length. So I busy myself adding to it, with a vague target of one hundred thousand words. Doubling it if you will.
Now most ‘editors’ advise that you should ‘cut, cut, cut,’ and I am certainly cutting some passages, though I have to say they are small and rare. It sounds odd but there is a certain economy to writing fifty thousand words in thirty days and I seem to be quite good at being concise, making my plot points and not ‘over-writing’ things as it were.
Now though I find myself clarifying descriptions and adding detail, tone and colour. In fact you could argue that I am not ‘editing’ at all, although I do remove typos and change grammar and such. Neither am I ‘re-writing’ because the majority of what I have written I am happy with and find pleasing to read as I go through it. I suppose my version of editing is almost the opposite of what many do and what many would advise. I guess I am adding and polishing.
So, at the end of the day, on this beautiful snow day, I find that I am not editing at all. I am simply writing. How delightful…
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
This is what the second amendment of the United States Bill of Rights says. This was adopted, along with the rest of the bill of rights, on the 15th December 1791. Two hundred and twenty one years ago.
Obviously, like everyone else, my heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and all those connected with the recent horrific shootings in Connecticut. This latest tragedy is sadly another in a long line of such tragedies.
I am an Englishman who lives in a country where there is strict gun control; where our police force mostly do not carry guns, simply because they do not need them most of the time. It seems painfully obvious and logical to me that if you have less guns you will have less senseless death. Most in Europe would agree with this and we cannot understand the logic of America resisting gun control.
I will try to be clear because I know that this post will create controversy amongst some American readers. I am not arguing that gun control is the only solution to such tragedy. It is true that we have gun crime in the UK. It is also true that addressing mental health issues is needed to try to curb such murderous intent. It is also true that we should think carefully about how our societies often glamourise violence and gang culture. All of these need addressing but, for me, controlling guns is the obvious first step.
What I am arguing is that it is patently obvious that if you have less guns you will have less murder. The shooter in Connecticut would not have been able to slaughter so many innocent children without access to guns and ammunition. Neither would the perpetrators at Columbine or any of the other recent shootings in the USA. Any figures you care to look at show that less guns mean less murder. For example:
United States firearm related deaths per 100,000 population in a year equals 9. In the UK the rate is 0.22.
As a European I cannot understand the mindset of those who argue that it should be the right of ordinary citizens to own guns. What is the purpose of such a thing?
For me the 2nd Amendment doesn’t even argue this. It argues for a “Well regulated Militia,” – a ‘Militia’ implies a group of people – citizens – trained to defend a state, perhaps from foreign invasion (e.g to defend against us – the British). I am well aware that congress has interpreted the 2nd Amendment to mean that individuals can own guns but was that really the original intention back in 1791? The US has well trained armed forces and police forces to defend itself. Therefore Militias are redundant.
Some will argue that you need an armed citizenry to defend against a possible tyrannical government. But, like European nations, America has the ballot box and the option of peaceful protest when it finds those in power distasteful. Armed civil war would and should not be a desirable option; just look at Syria right now.
I apologise if my opinions offend any of my American readers; that is not my intention. We are lucky to live in countries where free speech, opinion and dissent are allowed. I do not mean to preach but it all seems so logical and obvious to me.
So be brave America; it’s time to ditch the guns.
I will finish with a quote from one of my heroes; Thomas Paine. Paine was an Englishman who was instrumental in the birth of the USA and the American War of Independence. I am an Englishman who grew up in his birthplace and went to the same school that he did. This quote is from his revolutionary pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ and surely now it must be time for common sense to prevail; less guns equals less death. The children of Connecticut deserve no less than common sense. As Paine rightly said:
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
So…now I have completed the first draft of my third novel. Hmmm…yes…indeed.
I did this through ‘NaNoWriMo’ (National Novel Writing Month) where you are challenged to write fifty thousand words in one month (November). For the second year running I am a winner and have miraculously completed that many words and my novel has a start, a middle and an end (round of applause please!).
If you had asked me whether I was capable of such a thing a year and a half ago I probably would have laughed at you in the way that we often laugh off things that might challenge us. The kind of laughter born of disbelief and fear.
Of course there is still lots of work to do with editing my novel and rewriting. I now have two novels that require such extended work. Only the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2011 is in any kind of finished state.
Despite the work ahead it should still be a gratifying feeling to accomplish such a creative feat, and I do feel proud of myself. In a way…
But then, being the miserable bugger that I can sometimes be, I wonder about what it all means. And, yet again, I find myself wondering why I am doing it? The writing I mean…
The first thing, and this is a hard thing to admit, is that it is a bit self-indulgent. If writers (or artists of any kind) are honest, they are often creating to entertain others, and thereby seeking to gain approval from others. We all want to be adored after all? Don’t we?
Although, I have to admit that there is a certain terror when someone I know actually reads something I have written. This is always a difficult thing. If a friend or family member reads your work then aren’t they obliged to tell you they like it, even if they don’t? So you can’t always trust what they say…
Praise from strangers is better. It is a bit like when I play gigs. Singing to strangers is always easier and less precious than singing to friends.
I guess I am just rambling now. My real question is this. Do I dare now call myself a ‘novelist’ simply because I have written some novels? Am I a novelist if no one has ever read my work?
Franz Kafka never had a novel published in his life. He only ever published short stories in magazines (like ‘Metamorphosis’). He later instructed his friend Max Brod to burn all his manuscripts before he died. We have Brod to thank because he ignored Kafka’s request and published works like ‘The Trial’ and ‘The Castle’ posthumously anyway.
Would we call Kafka a novelist if Brod hadn’t published his work and burnt it instead? If we knew he had written novels but no one had ever read them?
I am not sure what I think about this. I suppose if you write a novel (however good or bad?) that makes you a novelist…even if you aren’t published or make a living from it…
Perhaps I will challenge myself over the Christmas period. Often when we meet new people, perhaps at parties, they ask us “What are you?” to which I sometimes reply “I am a human being, what are you?” Or they ask “What do you do?” to which I sometimes reply “I like to lie on the sofa, what do you do?”
Flippant and silly I know, but maybe, just maybe, this Christmas I will be brave and when somebody asks me one of those questions I will answer “I am a novelist…”
Do you think I will dare?
What do you think?
I have not posted so much this month due to being immersed in NaNoWriMo (google it if you are unsure what this means) for the second year running. As it stands I am about five thousand words from hitting the fifty thousand target and am hopeful I will be a winner again this year.
Again I have amazed myself that I am somehow able to write so much in such a short space of time and am hoping that this year’s novel – entitled ‘An End of Poppies’ – will have a start, middle and end to it, just like last years did. I suppose I like to use NaNoWriMo as some kind of mad plotting technique.
Anyway, as any good writer knows you need to have breaks from all those words, ideas and characters that are continually fighting for space inside your jumbled head.
So this year one of my breaks was to write some music. A theme of sorts, if you will, for my novel. I am not sure that this piece of music entirely encapsulates the feel I was hoping for, or reflects the book, but at the end of the day I will leave you to judge it on its own merits.
And just for fun I am not going to tell you anything about my story. Instead I challenge you to come up with your own ideas of what my book might be about from the music (oh and the clue of the title!).
I hope you enjoy it…let me know…click on the link below…
© 2012 Simon Poore
Last week I was lucky enough to have a few days on the Isle of Wight with my mother and five year old daughter. For those of you not from around these parts, the Isle of Wight is that island that hugs the south coast of England.
I had never visited it before and wasn’t sure what to expect, especially in October. But I was pleasantly surprised. The Isle of Wight often seems as if it is a place from a rosy bygone age. It has beaches and cliffs and castles and rolling green hills. I would recommend it for a visit.
So as I am embroiled in NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and busy furiously typing out my third novel I thought I would post some of my photos from the Isle of Wight. Have you been there?
© 2012 Simon Poore