If that was 2019, You’ve had it!

Well, there goes another year. 2019. Was it a good one for you? Hopefully, it was. For me, 2019 was probably the year I became a carer. OK, I’d looked after my mother before but it was only this year that I became aware of how much help she really needed. Anyway, time for a quick look back focussing on my blog posts from this last year. All the links open up into another page to reunite you with my past posts.

I started this year off as a blogger with a post about me, yes, the real me. I started wondering how visible I really am on the Internet and came up with some surprising results in a post called Will the Real Steve Higgins Please Stand up?

Floating in Space is my novel as you probably know, I go on about it often enough and this post, 10 Books Rejected by Publishers was probably written just to console myself and make me think that Floating might one day become a proper published book, rather than a self published one.

While I’m on the subject of Floating in Space, I did get a bad review in 2019. Well, it wasn’t that bad really, it was someone who bought the book as a gift and when the recipient didn’t fancy it they decided to read it themselves and well, they didn’t like it. OK, Floating isn’t for everyone I suppose and we writers have to deal with bad reviews now and again.

A popular post this year was this one about food, A Foodie Sort of Blog Post which relied on those blog post prompts that we all sometime use when we are stuck for blog content.

A pretty exciting thing happened early on in 2019 when I was invited to be a guest on a radio show. It was really interesting and I took my video camera along and made it into a short video as well as a blog post.

I mentioned my Mum in the opening paragraph and here’s a post I wrote about trying to arrange an appointment for her about her hearing aid. Data protection issues stuck the boot in and made it really difficult.

This year, 2019 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I remember it like it was yesterday, getting woken up for school and coming downstairs for breakfast to find the TV on and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. How my mother got me off to school that day I’ll never know!

This year we holidayed in our motorhome and I didn’t get much of a chance to relax like I usually do when we rent a villa over there in France. Motorhoming holidays are all about travelling and in Sun Lounger Thoughts Part 9 I talked about our travels.

Here’s another post about our travels in France, this time focussing on the restaurants we stopped at.

I’m pretty keen on cameras and photography so here are two posts on the subject. This first one is about looking back and comparing my film cameras to my modern digital stuff. This second one is about some of my favourite snaps.

Should we talk about Brexit? Should I even mention it? Well if you haven’t had enough on the subject click here for the Brexit Blues Part 2.

I’ve not seen the latest Bond film yet but here’s a post about the relative merits of the actors who have played 007.

Here’s a final post about one of my favourite subjects, making that YouTube video.

That’s about it. Thanks to everyone who has read my blog posts and especially those who have taken the time to click the like button and to have even dropped me a few comments. All the best for 2020!


 

YouTube and The Final Cut

Ok, settle down, put your feet up. It’s time to reveal a great new slice of visual entertainment that has finally been released. Yes we know, I can hear you say, the new Bond film!  Bond film? No no, no. Forget about the Bond film, I’m talking about some serious movie making, my latest YouTube video!

Way back in the spring and again in the summer Liz and I motored off to France in our Ford Transit based motorhome. As usual I had my GoPro camera affixed to my driver’s window and along with my trusty Canon GX7 I built up a fair few reels of video footage.

I kept looking through it with a view to making it into some kind of video project but various things seemed to hold me back.

Firstly on our first trip to France we travelled through the French Jura and got caught in some spectacular and unseasonal snowstorms. I thought I had shot some spectacular footage only to find that the video files from that day would not play when downloaded to my laptop. I wasn’t happy.

My GoPro camera doesn’t seem to like to play ball when it has been left alone for a while and I’ve found just charging it up isn’t enough, It needs to be attached to my pc and and updated with the correct date and time and made a fuss of before it will function properly.

I slapped in a new memory card and the camera seemed in better shape for the rest of our travels but losing that video from the snowstorm still really winds me up. At one point it felt as though we were in a whiteout, the snow was falling so thickly it was like being inside a ping pong ball. Happily the snow cleared and an impressive army of snow ploughs and gritters cleared the area and we were soon back on route. No video footage though to liven up my videos.

Over the summer I started to put together a video but although I had a lot of film, not much of it was particularly inspiring and the loss of that snowstorm video really put a dampener on my enthusiasm.

Another thing that made the production difficult was that I like to use the old Windows Moviemaker which is why I’ve hung on to my old laptop. It’s easy to use and gives you a lot of control over your clips both visually and in terms of the sound track. The original soundtrack from the video can be edited as well as an additional music channel and a voice over channel. I tend to mix and match these channels so I can add a narration and music as well as adding sound effects all of which enhance the finished product.

Editing that sound!

Windows 10 comes with a new and completely different HD Movie Maker which I have never really got to grips with but I thought it was high time I did so I started the project off using the new software.

I have got the advanced rather than the free version and initially I found it pretty easy to use. Adding clips is pretty easy and they can be trimmed or split into two or more sections just like on the old program. There are various fades that can be used and just like the old version there is a music channel as well as a narration channel.

In the summer we visited the Retro Grand Prix in the village of Le Puy Notre Dame in France and I filmed a lot of stuff with my Canon GX7. The Canon is a really versatile camera both for still photography and video. In fact on the Internet it is noted for being the best vlogging camera around which is really why I bought it. Instead of bashing away at my laptop knocking out a new post every week I thought hey, I can just film a vlog instead. Well, I’ve since found it’s not so easy creating a vlog. To start with I’m not so good just talking off the cuff, I need to plan what I’m going to say which entails bashing away at my laptop once again. Vanity also comes into play as my youthful good looks are just not what they once were. Anyway, even though vlogging is not for me the GX7 is a great camera and I took some pretty good shots at the Retro Grand Prix with it so I decided that for my video project I would just concentrate on our trip there.

It’s vital to review your raw video footage first when creating a video project so what I tend to do is this; I’ll troll through everything I have shot and anything that I either like or think will add to the narrative I will add to the project. I tidy things up a little, eliminate the bad shots and then start to think about what I am going to say in the narration. What I usually do to start things off in that area is review the blogs I have written on the subject and start to see if they will fit the video. Then I will add to them and rewrite and finally a clearer picture of the project will begin to appear.

Next I usually record my narration direct to the video then export that as a sound file to my sound mixer where I cut out all my mumbles and ers and ahs, beef up the bass and the volume and then add it back to the project.

A big problem that appeared here was that when recording the narration on my new HP laptop on HD Movie Maker, my voice came out all tinny and clipped so it was back to my old laptop with the old Movie Maker and I recorded the narration again. Maybe the microphone is better on that older laptop. Next I produce the audio file in little sections, little clips, so I can move the narration about to fit the video. On the old Movie Maker this is easy as you can move the clips about with your mouse so they can be placed exactly where you want. On the new HD Movie Maker this is not possible although you have a delay button so you can move an audio file forward for however many seconds or milliseconds you want. Anyway after some time moving between laptops and editing programs I felt I was finally getting somewhere. Even so, a good few months had passed by at this point but I sometimes think it’s good to let a little time go by and so the project will coalesce in my mind resulting in what I like to think of as an organic result.

George Stevens was a Hollywood director who always edited his projects in a similar way. He directed among many other films Shane, the classic western with Alan Ladd and Giant the Rock Hudson/ Elizabeth Taylor film famous for being James Dean’s last film.

Stevens apparently received many threats on his life if he dared to cut any of Dean’s final scenes. He took his time and his films were always a masterclass in the art of editing.

Anyway, back to my little video. I finally reviewed the final cut and noticed that my narration, now slightly shortened after the excision of various mumblings now seemed to expose a typical piece of cheeky banter between myself and Liz. A little fun, but not something for the general public. Now on the old version of Movie Maker I could have faded out the video sound at that point but on the new version that wasn’t an option. I could either silence the whole clip but not fade it out. The solution was this: Silence the whole clip and add a sound clip, that of our motorhome exiting the car park of the french supermarket Intermarche, no doubt after purchasing a good few boxes of French wine ready to export back to Lancashire. A quick addition of some copyright free music from YouTube and there you have it, a new video for my YouTube channel.

Such a pity that Microsoft have seen fit to mess with Movie Maker. No doubt just when I manage to master the new HD Movie Maker they will replace it with something new.

It’s called progress . . .


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Four Writers’ Homes

Clouds Hill

TE Lawrence’s home was a small cottage called Clouds Hill. I read somewhere recently that the house had now been refurbished and open to the public. It is a small place and I remember seeing a TV documentary about Lawrence where someone who visited in the past advised that guests were generally left to their own devices, that food was eaten from tins left in the cupboard and that a lot of classical music was played.

Lawrence of course was more popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, the man who organised the Arab revolt during the First World War. As the feature film by David Lean tells us, Lawrence was dismayed by having to lie to the Arab people, telling them that Great Britain would honour their claims for freedom at the end of the conflict when in fact the UK had every intention of holding on firmly to the Arab lands.

Churchill was impressed by Lawrence and invited him to attend the Paris peace talks.

Lawrence later wrote his classic book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom upon which the film Lawrence of Arabia was based.

A number of elements of the book have interested scholars ever since. The book is a work of history but also a great work of literature and readers have wondered ever since about whether the work was accurate, especially as in one infamous chapter, Lawrence relates how he was captured and beaten by a sadistic Turkish officer.

In that same TV documentary, Lawrence’s brother addresses the camera and sheepishly tells the viewer that not many people can understand how someone can enjoy pain. That was in response to a 1960’s newspaper report about a man who claimed Lawrence paid him to be beaten regularly. Clearly Lawrence was a complicated man. In later life he hid from the public by using the names John Ross and later T E Shaw. He was fatally injured in 1935 after a motorcycle accident.

After a little research I find that the property is now owned by the national trust and is open regularly for visitors. Find out more at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/clouds-hill

Chartwell

Nothing that I can add to the mountains of books and articles written about Winston Churchill can make much of a difference, but anyway, here we go. Can there ever have been someone who was not only a great politician but also a great writer and also one of the giants of history? I have always felt a tiny spark of excitement when even now I read Churchill’s words on when he attained the premiership in the dark early days of World War II. ‘I felt,’ he wrote ‘as if I was walking with destiny.’

The amazing thing is that only a few years previously Churchill was a has been, a man written off as a former chancellor who had crossed the floor of the house once too often and now was distrusted by everyone.

As it happened, his dire warnings about Nazi Germany and the impending war made him the obvious choice to succeed Neville Chamberlain, whose policies of appeasement had perhaps led Britain towards the path of war.

Churchill’s home, Chartwell had been bought largely from the proceeds of his books. Indeed he was fond of commenting ‘all this, came from my pen.’

During the time of his so called wilderness years he spent a lot of time at Chartwell and even built some of the walls there with his own hands. He painted there and prior to World War II many informants came to him to reveal information with which he used to call attention to the tragic state of unreadiness of the UK for war.

This is also a national trust property. You can find more about visiting Chartwell here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell

The Boathouse

It’s a long time since I visited Dylan Thomas’ house in Wales. The house is in the village of Laugharne and is not far from one of his famous watering holes, the Brown’s Hotel which I’m pretty sure was bought by one of the comedians from TV’s Men Behaving Badly.

The boathouse was bought by a trust some years ago which saved the property from collapsing into the sea. It’s a lovely place and on the day I visited, we had to leave early although I can’t remember why. I came back the next day and the staff remembered I had left early previously and let me in for free. I wandered about Dylan’s old house and sucked in the atmosphere before buying various books and pamphlets about Dylan and his works.

In another old TV documentary I tend to watch now and again, the presenter, a poet himself, thought he could imagine the conversations of Dylan and his wife, the chit chatting, the arguing and the making up later, or so he supposed.

I took a primitive digital camera with me and took a few shots of the house and Dylan’s famous writing shed. I read somewhere recently that the shed has now been removed and taken to a museum with a duplicate shed now occupying the site.

I enjoyed my visit and Dylan’s own poem always makes me think of it:

In the mustardseed sun,
By full tilt river and switchback sea
Where the cormorants scud,
In his house on stilts high among beaks
And palavers of birds . . .

Click the following link for more information on the boathouse: https://www.dylanthomasboathouse.com/

Mendips.

Lennon is a different kind of writer of course. He did publish a couple of books of his doodlings, one was called In his own Write if I remember correctly but mostly his creative urge went towards his music. Early on, he and fellow Beatle Paul McCartney agreed that all their songs would be known as Lennon and McCartney songs, even though some were written totally by Lennon and some totally by McCartney. Sometimes McCartney would finish off Lennon’s song, other times Lennon would sort out a problem song McCartney couldn’t finish. It was a great collaboration, perhaps the greatest in pop history.

Picture courtesy wikipedia

All the Beatles were from Liverpool of course. Lennon was brought up by his aunt Mimi in the Liverpool suburb of Woolton.

Many years ago I used to have a cigarette vending machine round and one of my sales areas was Woolton. One of the pubs I used to service there was a small modest place, owned by two former Shell tanker drivers. They had retired and pooled their retirement money to buy this small pub. They made little money they told me, in fact neither of them ran the pub, they employed a manager to do so.

One was a quiet chap, the other a pretty talkative fellow. The manageress never spoke to me much but the talkative owner was always in the bar and he usually made me a cup of tea and we would have a bit of a natter and then I would be off on my way to service some other pub.

One day we started talking about Lennon and my friend mentioned that Lennon had lived just around the corner from that very pub. Later I followed the directions given to me and found myself parked outside a typical 1950’s looking suburban semi-detached house. Surely Lennon came from a deprived background, a rough and tumble council estate? But no, there was a blue plaque on the wall denoting Lennon had indeed lived here. It was somehow not what I was expecting.

Since I last visited here I see that the house is now owned or at least managed by the national trust along with Paul McCartney’s former home. Click this link for more information: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/beatles-childhood-homes


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Blogging, Editing and Re-Editing

One of my workmates asked me recently if I had written a new blog post lately. Yes, I answered, a new post every Saturday.

‘Every Saturday?’ asked my friend. ‘You can’t write a new one every Saturday!’

Well, that’s what I do, a new post every Saturday.

It’s not so easy knocking out a new post every week and just lately I’ve noticed in a few of the blogs I follow that other bloggers must also feel the pressure to produce new content.

How do we get the ideas? How do we keep on writing week after week?

Well I have to admit that just lately I have faltered a little and I have started looking at blog post prompts that various bloggers have left scattered about the four winds of the Internet.

Write a post about your favourite book: Done that one!

Write about your favourite sporting event: Done that one!

Write a post linking various videos together: Done that too!

Write a post about your favourite music: Done that one too.

Not long ago I found a whole set of prompts about cookery and incorporated them into a post like a series of questions: What do you like to eat? What’s your favourite recipe? What was the first meal you cooked yourself? That particular post was pretty popular and I even found a whole new set of followers who post regularly about food on their food themed web sites. As that is pretty much the only food blog I’ve produced they must be pretty fed up now with my regular content. Sorry guys but then again, I do have quite a few posts about restaurants. This is one of my favourites about Giorgio, the worst waiter ever.

Another way to produce new content is to take an old post and add a little more material to it and perhaps even spice it up with a few pictures or videos. I have done that a few times most noticeably with a post about annoying elements of the 21st century. It started life as 10 annoying things and every now and again I’ll brush it off and add some new annoying thing. I think now I’m up to 16 annoying things!

Somebody once said that no work of art is ever finished, just abandoned. That is really how I feel about my blogs and my videos. I’m forever watching my old videos and thinking ‘that bit isn’t right, I’ll just change it!’

One of my best videos is one about the graves and cemeteries of World War I and II in northern France. It’s a sad video but the visuals are good and I put together what I thought was a pretty good narration based on some blog posts I’d written previously.

One big mistake was when I edited the video I put in a shot I’d taken at the start of our trip to France. It was a really great motorhome with a trailer and then I panned over to our much smaller model, thinking at the time I’d add some jokey comment about ours being smaller in the narration.

Anyway, I added the comment and put everything together then uploaded it to YouTube. It seemed to do pretty well getting a lot of views but when I added it to a Facebook video page expecting a certain amount of praise, one reviewer mentioned that the jokey stuff didn’t really go with the overall tone. Looking back at the video I realised he was completely correct however by then the video had pulled in a few thousand views (some free promo credit with Google ads had helped there!) and I was reluctant to substitute the re-edited version as then I’d lose all those views! Oh well, there is a more subdued version on Vimeo, alas without so many views.

One video idea lately came from a post I wrote about cameras. In Cameras then and Cameras now, I looked back at my SLR case with my Olympus film cameras and compared it to my current camera gear. I took a few photographs for the blog and thought hey, why not make this into a video?

I powered up my trusty Canon G7X and ran through my film camera case, pointing out all the relevant bits and pieces then did the same for my current camera bag and my video case. When I came to review the footage the sound wasn’t so very good, probably because I was behind the camera talking rather than in front. Oh well, I re-recorded my narration which is sometimes a good thing as I can snip out all the ums and ahs which I invariably produce. The end result seemed a bit flat somehow. Anyway, I added all the usual music and captions and uploaded it to YouTube. Somehow it just wasn’t punchy or snappy enough. Take a look at it here.

The other day I decided to remake the video this time using the online editing site www.animoto.com

The result was visually much better with some eye catching fades and cuts which the animoto templates provide but my narration still sounded a bit flat even after I tweaked the sound using my sound mixer so I recorded another narration. I think this one is better, at least it’s a little more dynamic.

Oh well, another work of art about to be abandoned!


If you enjoyed this post then why not try my book, Floating in Space, a nvel set in Manchester, 1977.

Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

7 Questions for a Self-Published Author

Question 1:

How did you come to write your book?

I’ve always been a writer, even as a school kid I was writing stories and screenplays. I used to write scripts and do all the casting. Not sure whether Steve McQueen would have appreciated the roles I was planning for him though.

Later on when I was in my 20s I tried to move away from all the sci-fi and espionage stuff I was writing and write about something more personal to me, something that I had a personal connection with so I started writing about life working on the buses, which is what I was doing at the time.

I wrote about working as a bus conductor and driver and jotted down my observations about the people I met and carried on my bus. Then there were other stories about my personal life, drinking in pubs, chatting up girls in nightclubs, listening to music and so on. Later I realised I could bring all this stuff together even though it was just a series of essays then, and even make it into a book, which I eventually did.

Question 2

How did you go about publishing the finished book?

I had the book turned down by three publishers, not really a great amount.  I wrote a blog post a while ago about books rejected by publishers and I found out that Day of the Jackal was rejected 4 times, Gone with the Wind 38 times and The Time Traveller’s Wife 25 times. Publishers are only human of course but these days writers don’t need them, we can just publish online, just like I did at Amazon using their website createspace which is now kdp.amazon.com

Question 3

Tell me about the problems of marketing and getting your book noticed by the public.

Well, that was the hard part, writing it was easy in comparison!

Building up a presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube was a gradual process and the same is also true for my blog on WordPress which I started really just to promote the book. I started off with essays about how I wrote the book and videos of me talking about the book and so on.

I read somewhere that over 5000 books are published every day on Amazon, an incredible figure so how can anyone compete with that? Well, just by getting out onto social media and plugging away with tweets, new blog posts, videos on YouTube and so on.

Question 4

Tell me about your website and your blog

Well, it was originally created just to promote my book and get my message out there to potential readers but it’s also a challenge, a writing challenge. My big problem is that I’m lazy and I need a big push to get me writing so having a deadline, 10:00am on a Saturday morning, is something that gets me motivated as a writer. I know that I have to write something by then.

I even feel like a sort of writing professional because I have my deadline, my one deadline, and I’m always working towards that, trying to get something ready to post for my followers.

Question 5

What sort of posts will we find on your blog?

Generally I try to write stuff that is similar to my book, little bits of fluff, anecdotes with a funny twist, things like that. The idea is that if people like the blogs, they should like my book, Floating in Space which is written in a similar style. A typical blog post, and one of my favourites, is the one about hoodies (Hoodies and a Shaggy Dog Story) and an incident where an old lady’s handbag was snatched. Another favourite was called the Cat Wars and was about a crazy situation that built up when I was looking after my neighbour’s cat.

The only problem now is that I’m running out of anecdotes but I still manage to write about two other favourite themes, second-hand books and classic films.

Question 6

What about video, do you use video in your blogs and marketing?

Any internet post on social media performs better with images, a 37% percent increase in engagement and even more so with video.

Here are a few stats:

100 million hours of video are watched each day on Facebook.

500 million people watch Facebook videos every day.

Facebook videos receive 135% more organic reach on average than a photo.

2 thirds of content on Instagram is now video as opposed to pictures but video has to be snappy. If viewers are not hooked in the first few seconds, they just click away from your video to something more interesting.

I use video on my website to try and engage readers and all my adverts, because I do use advertising every now and then, are all video based.

A lot of years ago, in the 1990’s I really wanted to get into TV and video and I went on a video production course at the WFA media centre in Manchester. Subsequently, I made a few attempts to make some things for TV, all of which ended in failure but as a result I do have a bit of technical knowledge with video editing and production which has helped me a lot.

Luckily, today’s technology today makes it pretty easy to create simple videos and I use them a lot in my blog posts.

Question 7

What are your plans for the future regarding writing and blogging?

Well, more of the same really. I’m actually very slow at producing video content so I need to maybe speed up a little with my video production.

I really need to work more on my follow up book.

I’ve written some screenplays that were rejected so I plan on turning those into a book. The big problem is just me, being motivated and just getting myself geared up to work and write!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

4 Simple Secrets of Self Publishing

One of the bylines I use on Twitter is ‘hear it straight from a self-published author’ so I thought it might be an idea to write a post about just that, about being a self-published author.

1. The first thing to remember in the world of self-publishing is that it’s just you, no one else, just you.

You are the writer, the editor and the proofreader all rolled into one and there is only you to tell you that that bit is good and that other bit is not so good and that the book is too long or too short, or anything else for that matter. Sometimes you might find you need a little help, particularly in the area of proofreading. After I wrote my book and then rewrote it a few times I personally began to develop a sort of word blindness and I tended to see only the words I thought I had written and not the ones I actually had written. Spelling and grammar checkers will pick up things like repeated words, bad spelling and so on but a really good idea is to get someone to proofread your work. How many mistakes Liz has spotted in my work I shudder to think!

2. Once you have clicked the button at Amazon to publish then another thought may begin to enter your head: Who is going to buy your epic work? How will they even know about it?

The answer is marketing, and who will be marketing your book? Well, for a self published author, it’s going to be you! Yes, that’s your cue to start Facebooking, Tweeting and Blogging so you can get your message out to all those eagerly waiting readers; a new book is available, come and get it.

A thousand websites are out there that will tell you about the intricacies of marketing and blogging. Some will drop a tiny sliver of free info onto your doorstep, others want you to sign up for their webinars and their courses all guaranteed to sell your book, at a price of course.

For me there are a few select websites that I follow and I do follow their advice particularly when I decide to shell out some money and actually advertise. Apart from advertising, I publicise Floating in Space in all the usual places I have mentioned plus I have a raft of videos to bombard the public with, some short and snappy and others that go into more detail. Then of course, there is this humble blog, going out once a week in the hope that these short missives about life, the universe, books and classic films will hopefully entice a few people to buy my book and bring me in a few sales. Will you be a best seller and make lots of money? Some writers do of course but when £5 a month drops into my bank account, sometimes more, sometimes less, I count myself very happy indeed.

Got yourself an author blog? No? Get yourself one ASAP. An author blog is a way of communicating straight to the book buying public. WordPress is a great way to start, fairly easy and free. The only thing I pay for at WordPress is my website address, http://www.stevehigginslive.com

3. Have you self-published at amazon?

Well if you have, having your author page at amazon is very important too. Get yourself a good bio sorted and some juicy stuff about your book. Another place that’s important is Goodreads. Take some time to set up your author page there too and try to interact with readers and other authors. Take a look at my Goodreads page here.

4. One last thought.

Ok, you’ve gone down the self-publishing route but that doesn’t mean you have to stay self-published. Keep on researching publishers and keep on sending off your manuscripts!

Oh and one other thing, just because you have found these four ‘secrets’ published on the Internet, that doesn’t mean that they are right, or good or even worthwhile listening to. I am just like a thousand other writers knocking out works like this that float off into the internet. I have no editor to tell me my post wasn’t helpful or interesting or generally up to much. I just have me and some grammatical support from my lovely proofreader who labours away correcting my tenses and spelling and other errors for no monetary gain at all, although I do take her out for a meal now and again.

So if you fancy becoming a self published author and blogger, join the club. Floating in Space is currently rated by Amazon as the 520,413th most popular book on their site. Almost a year ago it had hit the dizzy heights of 4,536th most popular so that is quite a fall, maybe it’s time to consult my head of marketing (me) and maybe sort out a new video from my personal video producer (me) for a new ad campaign!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 


 

Dealing with that Bad Review

Getting a bad review is not nice. That’s the basic fact of the issue. Nobody likes a bad review. The flip side, the good review is just great. You feel good, your writing, your work is vindicated but the bad review, well that gets you right there, right in the solar plexus and depending how thick skinned you are, well, even then it still hurts.

I have a number of reviews of Floating in Space on my Amazon page and they are all pretty complimentary.

The first one was written some years back by my friend Andy. We used to work together until I changed shifts. I thought I was going to progress from deputy manager to full-time manager but it didn’t work out but well, that’s another story.

I enjoyed working with Andy because he and I were just sympatico. We like a lot of the same things such as music, films, and books. We have the same sense of humour, have similar viewpoints on life and just, well, generally get on well.

I remember once on a dull night shift I decided to compile a list of my top 20 favourite singles but it expanded and expanded until it became my top 100. I showed it to Andy and he began compiling his own version. We compared notes and found that there was so much music that we both liked that our compilations overlapped in so many area. There were, of course, some areas of music that Andy liked which didn’t appeal to me but there was much more that we had in common. Andy though had quite a few artists and songs on his list that I had never heard of and as we talked and pulled out more and more tracks from our memory banks, I became desperate for something that I liked but would be new to him and so I started racking my brains for something he would never have heard of.

After a few moments I remembered an artist so obscure that Andy would never have heard of in a month of Sundays.’ Andy,’ I told him. ‘I’ve got one record that I really don’t think you’ll know. It’s by a Japanese percussionist.’

Andy thought for a moment and said ‘you don’t mean Stomu Yamashta!

He and I both roared with laughter. It’s not totally inconceivable that two middle-aged men with similar likes should both have bought albums by the same obscure artist decades ago but it seemed so funny to us that we both howled with laughter. I remember one of our team mates coming over and asking what the joke was. When we had recovered sufficiently to tell her, she looked back at us blankly and went back to her desk. Clearly she thought we were both bonkers.

I’m not sure Andy was too keen on looking at my book with a view to reviewing it. He’d looked at my blog posts and he wasn’t a particular fan. Anyway, eventually he succumbed to my constant mithering and one day decided to take my review copy home.

He came back to work saying he had really liked the book and even went so far as to buy his own paperback version. That was another satisfied reader and a great feeling for me to have a friend like my work. Andy, as I said earlier, wrote me a pretty good review.

Another short but good review came from my old friend Brian. Brian actually features in Floating in Space, thinly disguised as a character called Billy Mallet. Billy, and Brian, were both great jokers and were always quick with a funny response for any given situation. I remember once going into a pub with Brian where he was due to have a game of pool with someone and it was something of a grudge match if you know what I mean.

Anyway, we walked into this pub. The atmosphere was not good and someone shouted out to him. I don’t actually remember what the remark was, it certainly wasn’t of a complimentary nature but Brian, without missing a beat called to the guy and said ‘hey, fancy going around with a face like that and no dog licence!’ which brought the house down and cleared the atmosphere. Brian and his mate had the pool match, Brian won, money was exchanged and we left in search of more congenial surroundings.

Brian’s review was short and sweet but positive.

Another review came from one of my WordPress fellow bloggers who decided to see what all the fuss was about on my web page, which as you may know is full of posts, pages and videos praising this relatively unknown literary masterpiece. That review was very, very kind indeed and compared FIS to similar works like the Reggie Perrin books and writers such as Stan Barstow, Alan Sillitoe and Bill Naughton.

So now it’s about time we came to the bad review. It wasn’t a nasty review, it wasn’t one of those internet things where someone just starts having a go at you. Come to think of it, not long ago on YouTube, someone commented on one of my promo videos that Floating was ‘a rip off and a sad copy of Life on Mars!’

Life on Mars if you remember, was a TV show in which the main character wakes up in 1970’s Manchester where he is a police detective. Well, I don’t know where that guy was going with that one because FIS is nothing like Life on Mars although it is of course set in Manchester in 1977. I pointed that out to my random YouTube commenter but he never replied and after about a month I deleted his comment as it annoyed me every time I happened to see it.

OK but what about the bad review on Amazon? I know, well here it is:

I got this for my oh (other half?) to read as he was at uni in the 70s. But he wasn’t interested, so I read it myself. It wasn’t my cup of tea. I found it boring, lacking in real story and about free sex and booze.

Free sex and booze! I don’t remember writing anything about free sex but then again, then was some sex. It’s a book about young men and young men like young women and, at least back in the seventies, young men and women liked having a drink and a dance and they enjoyed the subtle and no so subtle arts of the ‘chat up’!

I like to think that FIS observes young men up close in pubs and clubs and I wrote, quite accurately I thought, about beer and cigarettes, about banter and chat up lines, pints of lager and Bacardi and cokes and the smoky background of 1970’s jukebox music.

The reviewer mentions university so perhaps life was different for students in the 70’s. Perhaps for them it was all red wine and progressive rock, cannabis and sex. (But not free sex, clearly.)

Still, there are a number of things to remember about reviews, especially bad reviews.

Firstly: Even the very best of the bestest authors get them because not everybody will like your book.

Secondly: It’s not a personal affront; the reviewer just didn’t like my book. When it comes down to it, I don’t care for every book I read, do I?

Thirdly: Look at the review objectively. Are they any comments I can use to improve my next project?

Fourthly: Pick yourself up and carry on. OK, give yourself time to perhaps eat chocolate, drink beer or even have a moan to friends but then pick yourself up and move on!

Here are a couple of posts on the subject of bad reviews that helped me.

Click here for one and here for the other.


Floating in Space is set in Manchester 1977. It’s about beer and cigarettes, banter and chat up lines, pints of lager and Bacardi and cokes and the smoky background of 1970’s jukebox music. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

The Self Published Writer’s Guide to the Radio Interview

A great opportunity to promote my work came my way this week. I’d like to be able to say that it was an opportunity that I created because I’m a top-notch marketeer and all round internet savvy guy. As it happens it was something that happened quite by chance. It turns out that one of my fellow northern bloggers thought that I’d be an ideal interviewee for her husband who happens to be a radio DJ. It was also an ideal opportunity for me to rabbit away on radio about my books, (ok, book!) blogs and YouTube page and generally promote myself with the possibility of flogging a few more copies of Floating in Space and maybe even getting a few more followers on my various internet pages.

I have to say I’ve always fancied being a radio DJ. I’ve always liked Paul Gambacinni whose smooth transatlantic tones used to tell us all about the US chart placing on his BBC radio show and he is still broadcasting today on BBC Radio 2. Another favourite DJ was Adrian Juste, who back in the 70’s and 80’s did a BBC radio show which combined music and comedy clips. Sadly he was sacked by the BBC when the new Radio 1 controller made some sweeping changes in the 1990’s. Shame really because Adrian was doing something very different on the radio, combining music and comedy. I loved his show.

Now my adventure on radio wasn’t exactly Radio 1 or even Radio 2 for that matter. In fact it was on Salford City 94.4 FM, a community radio station and the DJ was a really nice guy called Allan Shalks. Salford City Radio, according to their website blurb is . .

‘a multi award-winning non-profit community radio station brought to you by more than one hundred local people every week.

We encourage new, unique and innovative radio with a local feel and local relevance. All our shows are produced and presented by volunteers and we offer Salford a unique service that promotes local news, people, topics and events.

We are also famous for our fantastic and varied taste in music. We cover everything from unsigned bands and new artists to specialist genres.’

Writers, even those of the self-published variety have to cope with various things in their writing lives; book signings and stuff like that. A particular milestone for me was my first media interview. How did it go? Well it went something like this:

I wasn’t sure exactly where the radio station was so I did a recce the day before and I arrived early. Allan Shalks, the DJ who had kindly offered to have me on his show was there waiting and we had a quick chat, settled on some writer and blogger friendly topics and we were all set.

I was a little surprised because I had imagined that a radio station was full of young media students eager to climb the ladder of media success and get something down on their CVs before sending in their applications for Radio One.

Actually, Salford City was a pretty laid back environment staffed with people of a similar age to myself, in fact I could even imagine myself in the DJ seat, turntables at the ready, earphones in place, ready to knock out a few tunes for the Salford populace. I brought along my trusty video camera hoping to put together a video to record this momentous occasion in the life of a blogger. Record book sales of £25 in one month and now radio fame! Whatever next!


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins available as a Kindle download or traditional paperback. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Will the Real Steve Higgins Please Stand Up!

“All relationships are transient, friends who stab you in the back. People you network with at a fancy party. Relatives who die. The love of your life. Everything is temporary. People come into your life for a limited amount of time, and then they go away. So you welcome their arrival, and you surrender to their departure. Because they are all visitors. And when the visitors go home, they might take something from you. Something that you can’t ever get back. And that part sucks. But visitors always leave souvenirs. And you get to keep those forever.”

I didn’t write that first paragraph. I found it on the world-wide web after a surfing session. I was actually looking for something else but when I found that paragraph I had to stop and think. The writer, a guy called Sam Lansky, called it the Theory of Visitors and his post (you can read the full post here) is a post about gay men, dating and relationships but it highlights a fundamental fact of life; it is temporary and everything changes. That can be a bad thing if you are happy with your lot and don’t want things to change, but then again if you are not happy with things then hang on because someday, they will change.

Anyway, I might as well try to get back on track. I was diverted by the Theory of Visitors and good writing always has the power to take me way off track. I was writing about me and social media, and one way to try and gauge how I am doing and how visible I am in cyber space is by searching for me on the internet. I don’t know if that’s something you have done yourself but looking for you yourself on the internet is always fun. The first things that pops up on Google about me, Steve Higgins, are plenty of hits for various other Steve Higgins’s and the most popular Steve Higgins on the internet is a guy I have never heard of, the Steve Higgins who apparently is an American comedian and talk show host. That particular Steve Higgins was born on 13th August 1963 and is also a writer, producer, announcer, actor, and comedian. He currently serves as the announcer of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon and as a writer and producer of Saturday Night Live, a TV show over there in the USA.

On page 2 this very website appears in the results, Steve Higgins: Letters from an unknown author. Page 3 shows my amazon author page which is good but nothing much else could be found about me personally although it was interesting to hear that Steve Higgins was performing at the annual Caribbean Voices and Pan Show, giving a ‘spectacular’ musical performance. I was also happy to see that the Steve Higgins who appeared in the obituaries was not me and at the moment I am currently alive and well.

Clicking on the Google video tab I found myself on page three of the results one day and then a week later relegated to page six. disappointing but at least it’s good to know that I actually feature in Google searches which is probably more by accident than design although I do pay a lot of attention to SEO otherwise known as Search Engine Optimisation. What is that all about? Well it’s about making sure that you are using the right keywords in the right places so that you will show up on Google searches and one big tip I would like to reveal is this one. Instead of adding an image titled DSC34567 to your post, give it another title, rename it to something more relevant to your post as Google searches will also pick up on the names of your images!

 

Anyway, getting back to me. On a very dull night shift not long ago I was sitting with my colleague Paul and we were watching the old TV show Bullseye. As usual in our control room the TV has no sound, just subtitles and Paul mentioned how great it would be for a contestant on the show to tune in and see either himself or a loved one guesting on TV from the 1980’s. The show started in 1981 and ran for quite a while. As I thought about it I remembered that I myself was on a TV show in the late 80’s or early 90’s. It was a show called A Word in Your Era. It was a spoof quiz show, that is to say it wasn’t a real quiz show at all. It pretended to be but all the questions and dialogue were scripted in advance and the guests were comedians who were playing a part. In fact I remember that the warm up man was the writer of the show and he seemed to be very pleased with himself, poor deluded fellow that he was. On the show that I was part of, Steve Cougan played Casanova and he answered various questions, in character, all of which were pre arranged for Steve to give a comedic reply to. When we entered the TV studio, the old BBC studios in Oxford Road in Manchester, members of the audience were asked to give questions to the performers in a fake question and answer session. The question I was given was to ask ‘Casanova’ was had he ever been involved with a man?

Now A Word in Your Era never really took off and although I remember my episode being on TV the series fizzled out soon after. Anyway, I didn’t imagine for a moment that the show would be out there on the Internet but then again, one should not under estimate the power of Google or the Internet. There am I, just as I was in 1992 with large glasses and a not very attractive shirt . .

The video should start just as I make an appearance but if not, fast forward to 17 minutes 54 seconds!

After that experience I became quite interested in being on TV and applied to be a contestant on another TV quiz show. At the audition I was understandably rather nervous. Sitting with various other TV hopefuls I was asked to stand up and talk about myself. I did so, chatted about my job, my new house move and so on. After a few minutes I faltered and asked ‘was that enough?’ Fine said the producer or whoever she was. As I returned to my seat, a girl sat next to me shook her head. ‘Oh God’ I asked. ‘Was I that bad?’

‘No’ she answered. ‘It’s just that you have to keep talking until asked to stop. If you stop too early they expect you’ll dry up on the real TV show and so they won’t go for you.’ The lady, like quite a few of my neighbours in the audition room, was a veteran of various daytime TV shows and knew what she was talking about. I never made it onto the long forgotten TV quiz show.

Going back to Google I thought I’d might as well try the Google image tab. I scrolled down and there I am on row 22 of the image results, nestled between Steve Higgins with Cuba Gooding Junior and Steve Higgins @stevehigginsok of Twitter. Steve sadly has only 478 Twitter followers compared to my 6,743! Never mind Steve, perhaps you need to do a little more networking.

Looking back over http://www.stevehigginslive.com (not http://www.stevehiggins.com -that wily US comedian has snapped up that domain name!) I see that I have revealed a great deal of myself to the unsuspecting public, all in the name of marketing my one and only book. My hobbies of writing and video production have been revealed. My love of 1960s TV shows. My classic film addiction, my music loves. Have I revealed my true self, the inner Steve Higgins that is really me? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. Either way, everything is only temporary. People come into your life for a limited amount of time, and then they go away. So you welcome their arrival, and you surrender to their departure. . . .


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

My life on YouTube

I am pretty active on social media, all mostly focussed on the thankless task of flogging my book, Floating in Space, to the unsuspecting book reading public. Here on WordPress my output is mostly short essays about my life, the books I read and the classic films I watch on TV. Over on YouTube my output is slightly different, mostly short videos that extol the virtue of my equally short novel but I do get pretty creative in the video element too.

My hobby as a video producer began in 1986 when I was given a VHS compact video camera for my birthday. It was pretty much the same camera that Marty McFly used in back to the future, shooting video onto small VHS tapes that you play on a standard VHS player by inserting the small tapes into a VHS converter which was just the size of a standard VHS tape. When I got the camcorder, as soon as I had exhausted the usual stuff, filming weddings and christenings and so on, I starting trying to make something more professional and the first time I felt like I had succeeded was when my friend Steve and I made a film about Manchester Airport.

We had both spent lots of time at the airport as schoolkids and we both had ideas about what we wanted to show on the video, particularly the back lanes of the airport and the old war-time pill-box we used to visit on our bikes. Almost as soon as we began to shoot Steve just switched on his life time love of aircraft and started talking, which apart from some brief discussions earlier, was basically unscripted. When I consider now how hard it is to speak on camera, even when I have a script, I take my hat off to Steve.

Not so long ago I took the airport video and added some copyright free music, tidied up some bad cuts and added it back to YouTube. I did think of deleting the original but when I looked at all the views it has had (8.3K views at the time of writing) and all the comments, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Another re-edit was a video about a rail trip from Manchester to Porthmadoc in Wales made on a weekend trip Steve and I made in 1986. The original used a lot of contemporary music and was not very visible on the Internet, in fact a little caption used to come up saying ‘blocked in Europe due to copyright infringement!’ So again with this other re-edit I added copyright free music and tidied the film up a little. I re-voiced part of the narration which was a mistake because my voice is so much more confident these days than it used to be and the old and the new narration don’t really go together. Perhaps I just need to go the whole hog and re-voice the entire narration!

Back in the 1980’s I was a great motorsport fan and spent every other weekend down at Oulton Park, the Cheshire racing circuit. Here’s a video that was a compilation of some of my best video at the track complete with titles made on my Sinclair Spectrum!

Getting to some of my more recent videos, here’s me reciting some of my poetry, in fact this poem, The Long and Dusty Road of Life, is one of my favourites.

One of my usual themes in this blog is second-hand books and I’ve done quite a few posts on the theme of my Holiday Book Bag. Every time so far I’ve managed to convert the post into a video version. Here’s the first from 2016 with me dressed as Bruce Willis in Die Hard fashion.

I’ve used the online editing website Animoto for a while now and here’s one of my favourite short promo videos for Floating in Space. One of the great things about Animoto is that you don’t necessarily need video, you can create a video slide show using still images or combine video and still photography.

Here’s another one but instead of just pictures and music I’ve tried to do something slightly different. Floating is set in 1977 so I’ve tried to bring up some interesting things from that year as well as some interesting personalities to make the watcher start to think about the late seventies and perhaps how interesting a book set in that time period might be .

Here’s something different again. It’s actually still a plug for Floating but also a spoof on the opening of the Woody Allen film Manhattan, only instead of talking about New York like Woody, I wax lyrical about Manchester. Once the watcher has been lulled into a false sense of security, then comes the link to Floating!

Having got the hang of this narration business I decided to step back and add a narration to a video that just had captions when I first put it together. Even though at first glance the video seems to be about cycling, it’s actually about video editing. Click here to see the original.

One of my favourite videos is this one. The narration has been put together from my blogs and text from Floating with some new additional thoughts on Manchester. I revisit the sites of some of the locations used in the novel and talk about how things have changed, take a ride on the town’s new tram system and generally wax lyrical about Manchester.

Talking to camera and trying to make your book sound interesting isn’t as easy as it seems. In this video I’ve tried to show how difficult it is and produced what is generally called a bloopers reel. It’s nothing brilliant, just a bit of fun.

When I travelled to France in 2018, I clipped my action cam to the window and filmed pretty much everywhere I went. On several occasions, especially when travelling long distances, the cameras ground to a halt when their battery charge ran out. Anyway, this short video takes in the village of Parçay les Pins where we stayed, my favourite town of Saumur, brocantes and barbecuing.

Here’s one last video. Earier this year, 2019, I was invited to the radio station Salford City Radio 94.4 FM to talk about books, writing and blogging. I was hoping to improve my media profile and pick up a few more followers and perhaps even flog a few more books. Naturally, I took along my video camera and here is the result.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.