Writing, Promotion and the Self published Author

Writing.

There is only one reason to be a writer and that is because you love writing.  OK, there are those whose novels regularly hit the best seller lists and get made into films and earn the writer untold millions and that is perhaps an incentive to write. Few writers however, get into the millionaire bracket so it is perhaps best to accept that writing is its own reward, just one of personal pleasure at creating something amusing, insightful, or whatever you, the writer, intended.

One of the problems of writing, for me at least is that I have two what I might call ‘situations’. One is the idea situation when I get an idea for something and long to get it down on paper, on my laptop or whatever. The second one is actual writing, that situation when I am alone, Liz has gone to work or out somewhere. She has probably left a list of things to be doing like ‘cut the grass’ or something but let’s ignore that for now. I am sitting at my laptop all ready to create a new chapter for my book, a new screenplay or whatever.

Here then, is the problem. These two states or situations rarely, if ever, meet, so a lot of the time when I am sitting quietly with my laptop nothing comes to mind. The other situation, the one where I am full of ideas, well that usually happens when I am at work and things are very busy or I am driving my car and unable to get this stuff down. Now I do have something of a solution. There is a hand-held dictation recorder in my car into which I blab various ideas, poems and stories as I speed along the M6 motorway on my way to work.

Another is an in idea I pinched from a fellow called Jack Black who wrote a motivational book called Mindstore. I used to use Mindstore quite a lot when I was trying to up my confidence for job interviews and so on. What Jack suggests is building a house entirely within your mind and designating various rooms inside for various confidence building activities.

For instance, there is a shower room where, after going through a relaxation and meditational procedure, one uses the imaginary shower room which not only cleanses but it relaxes and washes away all negative emotions and feelings. There are various meditational procedures used to build this house and its rooms in your mind and the individual is encouraged to design something outstanding. One room I added was a boxroom, in which I store all my unworked on ideas, unused blog posts and book chapters. The only problem is this, when I come to enter that room, I’m usually in situation #1, you know, the one where I’ve got time on my hands and can’t think of anything.

Promotion.

You may have spent weeks, months, even years writing and re writing and now your book is finally finished. Great, you think, pour out a glass of port, or your alcoholic beverage of choice and celebrate. It’s over, the mammoth task you set yourself ages ago is finally complete. Wait a minute, what do you do now?

Yes, exactly what do you do? Well, the first thing is to start searching for publishers which is not an easy task. If that fails you could always self publish your work, just like myself and thousands of others have done through Amazon. Floating in Space is available there as a paperback or as a Kindle download but what then? The book comes out and is perhaps one of 5,000 new titles newly available that or any day. 5,000! That is a pretty huge figure. How then do you not only get people to look at your book but actually buy it?

There is only one answer that I know, and that is to spend a great deal of your free time on social media plugging your work. That is how this whole WordPress site came about. Yes, these weekly posts are just a pawn in the game of marketing to seduce readers into buying my book. Sadly, Floating still isn’t a number one bestseller, I haven’t been able to give up my day job and the few pennies I make from book sales just about pay for my subscription to Animoto, the site where I edit most of my videos. Why video you might ask? Well, here are a few stats.

1 .In 2017 video content represented 74% of all internet traffic.

2. 37% of marketers said visual marketing was the most important form of content for their business, second only to blogging (38%)

3. 4X as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it.

4. Facebook users watch 8 billion videos per day.

5. Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text.

Well, that’s five facts gleaned from various sources on the Internet. My top Tweet on Twitter is one that links directly to my landing page here at stevehigginslive.com and that’s pretty much why I’ve got so many videos lurking about the Internet ready to extol the virtues of my writing and to convince the lucky viewer that they must buy my book! Here’s my very latest video which comes with some very exciting James Bond style music:

Videos aren’t that difficult to make but you do need a great deal of patience when it comes to the editing stage. In a number of my videos I speak directly to the camera and try to impart to the viewer why he or she should buy my book. That isn’t such an easy thing to do but it can be made easier just by a little preparation. What are you going to say? Well, work that out in advance and rehearse, take a few test shots. I tend to keep my chatter down to a few sharp and straight to the point phrases these days because in a lot of my earlier videos I tended to ramble on a bit too much. Anyway, here’s a video which shows just how I used to get it all so very wrong.

One of the great things about video, at least for me, is that I love messing about with videos, editing and adding music and sound effects. My preferred video editor is Windows Movie Maker. It’s simple, it doesn’t seem to overtax my computer memory unlike some other programs I have and it’s very easy to use. One of the problems though with computers and particularly with Microsoft is this. I’m pretty sure they know exactly what programs I use because as soon as I get pretty happy and settled with a particular one, in the next Windows upgrade, they will promptly drop it.

Windows Sound Recorder.

Windows Sound Recorder for instance. A simple program, pop in a DVD and copy some of the music and dialogue from your favourite film, mix it on my trusty magic sound mixer, burn it onto a CD and the next day I am happily hurtling down the M6 listening to wonderful old classic movies as I drive to work. Upgrade to Windows 10 and where is the sound recorder? Gone. replaced by Windows voice recorder which is a total waste of time.

Windows Movie Maker.

A few weeks back I decided it was time for a new laptop. I saw a good deal on Ebay, sent off my cash and soon my lovely HP laptop arrived. A short time later I was online only to find a message saying my laptop did not have the latest version of Windows 10. Now, and this may have been my first mistake, I clicked the ‘update’ button and began a long process of updating Windows 10. When the dust had settled and updates were installed, where was Windows Movie Maker? Gone. Consigned to the trash bin of software history! That scuppered my plans for making a few quid out of my old laptop because I still need it for my video editing.

Oh well, just call me Two Laptop Steve!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. To find out more click the links at the top of the page.

Some Hints and Tips from my Adventures on YouTube

I was checking my YouTube page the other day and noticed that I have eighty four videos there. That figure was quite a surprise to me. Eighty four videos? I have to admit, some of those are in my private file and are for production use only. (That makes me sound like a real film producer – production use only!) By that I mean some were uploaded so I could use the soundtrack on another video, some were uploaded without a soundtrack so I could add YouTube music later and some were promotional videos that use the old Floating in Space cover and were made before I introduced the newer version and rather than delete them I have just taken them offline.

By far my most popular video is this one, Trucking: The life of an HGV driver, 1980’s Style! I’d like to be able to tell you what a cracking video it is and that it is well worth watching although, in fact, it isn’t. It’s one of my first videos made before I even went on a media course at the Manchester WFA. I spent a few days with my friend Brian who was an HGV delivery driver and I made a short film about him at work.

I think people watch the film because of the nostalgia factor. I can see perhaps former HGV drivers watching it because that’s how things used to be, no sat navs or other gadgets, just get your map out and get trucking. They are certainly the ones who leave comments. Apart from that it has no particular merit. Pity I didn’t remove the title sequence, done on my old Sinclair Spectrum with music from Elton John, because if I had, the 35,917 views I’ve had at the time of writing could be making me a few quid in royalties. Instead the video is subject to a copyright claim by the owners of Elton’s music.

That’s probably the best lesson I’ve learnt from my time on YouTube; if you made a video years ago and used your favourite tracks from your record collection, replace them with royalty free music which you can download free from YouTube.

One of my favourite videos is another I made in the 1980’s, A Welsh Journey, Manchester to Porthmadoc. It’s a short documentary made about a rail trip which was inspired at the time by a documentary film presented by Michael Palin called Confessions of a Train Spotter. It was part of a Great Railway Journeys series and unlike some of the travel films made later by the former Monty Python performer, it was a great little film full of enthusiasm for the subject.

My old friend Steve and I wanted to recreate Palin’s journey but instead decided to do something cheaper and easier, a rail trip from Manchester Victoria to Porthmadoc. I did a great edit with a documentary style voice over and some top notch sound, music and effects mixing, courtesy of the new sound mixer I had just picked up. The big problem with that video, as regards YouTube, was that I used music from a great album by the Crusaders called Images. Now, that was fine in 1986 when the video was viewed just by me and my friends. Fast forward however to the 21st century digital age, upload it to YouTube and suddenly you have a whole lot of  musical rights owners who are not happy that their music is playing on my video. Result: YouTube have muted the entire soundtrack. You can still watch it but you cannot hear it.

The only thing to do was to take my original VHS video, slip the digitised version into my Windows Movie Maker and then re-edit and add some royalty free music provided by YouTube, in this case a little track by a guy called Kevin MacLeod called Local Forecast. I re-did some of the commentary, faded in Local Forecast in place of the Crusaders and even tidied up the video as a whole.

Some time ago videos could be edited on YouTube using their on-line video editor, hence the reason for uploading videos for ‘production use only’ as I mentioned earlier. You could trim videos, use the soundtrack from a different video and so on. Alas, the YouTube editor is no more, so it’s important to have your video all ready for viewing before you upload it.

One handy little thing on YouTube are YouTube cards. They are just that; a little card that appears in the top right hand corner in which you can add a link to other videos or even to your website.

Just going back to my Trucking video, two other reasons why that video does so well might be as follows.

a) The title is very SEO compatible. It’s straight to the point and tells you all you want to know and it also has a pretty good thumbnail or icon. That’s the image when you see when you first find a video on YouTube. If you look at the railway video above, you can see the icon has all the basics, a simple but relevant picture, the title, and a little explanation that it’s the updated version, not the one with the sound muted!

b) Thumbnails are important as a  good one can pull the viewer into watching your video.

A lot of my more recent videos were made on the Animoto web site. Animoto is a video editing website that comes with templates so you can easily upload your photos and video clips and the template will do the rest. You can even create a whole slide show video with just a collection of still images. Here’s one of my favourites, even though it’s just a little advert for my book:

Here’s another one, this time a collection of photographs of Lytham St Annes :

Right, so so far we’ve got documentaries from the 1980’s, promo videos, and slide shows. Not only that but I also have my book reviews on YouTube. Yes, I’ve always added a video version of my Book Bag series. Here’s the last one, filmed in sunny France in 2017:

Just as I’ve finished this post and pretty much finished re-editing my Airport 1986 video by adding royalty free music, I’ve had an email from YouTube advising me that because I have under a 1000 subscribers I can no longer ‘monetise’ my videos! Oh well, the Internet is a fast moving and ever changing place. Perhaps I should look at shifting my videos over to rival video channel Vimeo.com! Anyway, here’s my updated airport video, split into two parts for ease of uploading.

So, just to finish, here are three points that are key to developing your YouTube channel:

1. Use royalty free music!

2. Think carefully about your video title.

3. Add a simple but effective icon for your video; that and your video title can be the key to bringing in your viewers and subscribers!

4. People have very short attention spans these days. If they are not interested in your video in the first few seconds, they will navigate away from your video to something else so make those first few seconds count.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the short promo below.

Video and Recycling the Re-edit

The video of today is very much a tool of social media. Attention spans are short so documentaries are out and very much in is a short, straight to the point video. In fact, social media videos today have a lot in common with music videos which started life in the 1980’s when the idea of a short film or video to promote a music single evolved. Since then, a whole generation of MTV style cable and satellite channels have emerged showing nothing but music videos. No intros, titles or credits, just straight in with the song.

Video.

Michael Jackson’s video Thriller was a highlight of the music video genre. It won an award for best short film if I remember but my favourite video was the one where each paving stone lights up as Jackson, doing his wholly personal trademark style of dancing, steps on each one. Billie Jean, I do love that song.

On social media a video needs to have a quick impact: So quick you wouldn’t believe it. According to statistics, a viewer has to be hooked by a video in the first ten seconds, otherwise they are off. There are more videos to watch and better content to be found elsewhere.  Here are a few more stats from http://www.wordstream.com

  • 82% of Twitter users watch video content on Twitter
  • YouTube has over a billion users, almost one-third of total internet users.
  • 45% of people watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week.
  • More than 500 million hours of videos are watched on YouTube each day.
  • More video content is uploaded in 30 days than the major U.S. television networks have created in 30 years.
  • 87% of online marketers use video content.
  • 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound.
  • 72 Hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every 60 seconds.

Pretty staggering stats aren’t they? However you interpret those figures they are saying this; if you are in the business of marketing or social media, you need to be in the business of video. Happily, with today’s technology, videos are not quite as hard to make as they were a few years back. Many social media videos are made with minimal editing on tablets or even mobile phones. Most of my videos are shot either on a small hand-held Panasonic HD camera or on my newest gadget, my action cam. Technology has helped some bloggers evolve from blogging into vlogging, simply by pointing a camera at themselves and chatting away, instead of writing.

Earlier in 2017 I made a short film about cycling. I had picked up, fairly cheaply, one of those action cams you have probably seen advertised. The same style of action cam that is responsible for so many videos of stunt cycles, skiing, surfing and so on that are featured regularly on Facebook and other social media sites. I thought I could perhaps combine some sort of physical activity; in which I am severely lacking, with cameras; which I love messing about with and the result might be an entertaining film with which to pull viewers into the clutches of my web site and then, you guessed it, flog more copies of my book!

Recycling.

So, I dug out my old bike from the depths of the garage. A quick hosing down and a spray on the vital points with WD40 and the bike didn’t look so bad.  I have two action cams; they are not expensive Go-Pro cameras, just cheap copy versions. One cost about £19 from eBay, the other was £2 from a car boot sale. They come with various clamps and grabs and things to attach them to your bike. I had the cameras mounted  in various positions although the best was when I strapped one to my wrist with a Velcro strap so I could flip it around and catch shots of gear changing and braking and so on and even flip round to see me, straining somewhat as I began to get my muscles to flex again.

The big problem with these kind of cameras, at least for me is this -not only are they small, the buttons are small too, and the screen is small, and the indications on the screen -which mode you are in, battery time, record, play and so on, are even smaller, so setting things up is pretty hard especially for a man who uses reading glasses. As for setting the date and time -forget about it! Another thing is that when I switched on my camera and then set off biking, I was not always sure if I had pressed the right mode; if the two clicks for standby and then one for record actually registered so when I came back after a ride I sometimes got:
1. Nothing.
2. A short video of me messing about with the camera and then it switching off just as I ride away.

To be honest, I’m not even sure why I was filming myself, although if I’m truthful, I just like messing about with cameras and video, just as I said earlier, and pretending to be the film director I always wanted to be. Anyway, after three laps of the immediate area and about forty minutes of camera video, it was time for a cuppa. Then it was time to spend days, weeks even, fiddling about on Windows Movie Maker, cutting and splicing and so on until I managed to produce a workable edit.

Editing can be a slow process but as long as you have a clear result in mind it can be very satisfying.

I do so like photography in the digital age. No expensive films, no waiting for the film to be developed and printed. No more expensive mistakes. Today, if you take a bad picture, delete it, take another in fact, take multiple exposures and just delete or edit the bad ones later.

Digital video is pretty much the same. Delete what you don’t like and start again. Even if what you have shot isn’t good, it can be saved by cutting or effects like slow motion.

In the editing suite, build your video slowly, adding each scene and then later your soundtrack, adding layers to the original sound with effects, music and narration.

I remember editing in the VHS days, juggling different tracks on my sound mixer, having to cue each track and fade in when ready, keeping an eye on the monitor all the time. Once, in one of my airport videos I had to do a narration, fade down the original video soundtrack, pause while a helicopter flew into the shot, fade in a helicopter sound effect, fade in the next section of original sound while I narrated the next paragraph and finally, cue and fade in the music and then fade out the original sound.

Today, with digital, all that is a step by step process.

The Re-edit.

Since my original version of my cycle ride, I seem to have finally mastered (perhaps not quite the word) my sound technology and have produced a number of short films featuring me, chattering away about various things. On A French Journey I added a narration that was done extemporaneously (I like that word) meaning basically that I started talking off the top of my head armed only with a few notes about the history of the M6 and the channel tunnel. I think I did about three takes, took away the soundtrack to my sound mixer, cut out a lot of er and ahs and returned it successfully to the video. For my cycling re-edit I tried to do a similar off the cuff piece but it didn’t work out so I sat down, wrote a short essay linking cycling, photography and editing and read it over the video. Again after a few cuts here and there it doesn’t seem so bad. Is it the sort of content that will pull the viewers in to stevehigginslive.com?

Only time will tell . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

My 10 Best Posts of 2017

Well that’s it, Christmas over for another year. Time to relax, take stock and perhaps muse over the last twelve months. If you are a blogger, then it’s always good to reflect on your previous posts.

For me personally, it’s not been a bad year. I opted to go semi-retired which was a good choice I think, working three shifts on and six off. Still not happy about the three on but I like the six off!

Did I write the follow up to Floating in Space? Well, I have to admit I didn’t quite get stuck into that, still there’s always 2018!

I always tend to showcase my favourite posts in these ‘best of’ year end posts but I thought I’d start by taking a look at my stats and see what were my best performing posts.

My all time top performing post  is one about the JFK assassination, a tragic event wrapped in mystery and misinformation that has interested me since childhood. It always rates highly with google searches and that’s probably the reason for the high hit rate for this post. Interestingly, I reblogged it on the 22nd November, the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination but on the previous day, the 21st, David Cassidy died and so on the 22nd, many people were typing David Cassidy into their search engines and many of those people may have been surprised to find my second most read post ‘David Cassidy and a Haircut in 1977′ in their results. Maybe it’s a good one, well, I like to think so but then, maybe it’s just SEO compatible.

Earlier on this year, in case you didn’t know, Donald Trump was elected, surprisingly, as the new President of the USA. A lot of people were not happy about it but that is the nature of democracy; the people vote, the votes are counted  and the winning candidate is announced. Simple really, although a great deal of people seem to get very annoyed about it. I wasn’t too happy as I mentioned in my post Tipping Point, the Chase and Donald Trump, because rather annoyingly, my favourite quiz programmes were shelved in favour of the election coverage.

My Mother had her 88th birthday in 2017 and I wrote about her in My Mum, the Microwave and Old Age.

Talking about old age, I became semi-retired in 2017 and wrote a post about it Things to do when Semi-Retired.

In A Monkey, A French Canal Barge and a Million Pound Cheque I returned to my very first job when I had to deal with a cheque for, you guessed it, a million pounds.

I am a big classic movie fan as you probably know from my film posts and I decided to take a look at the persona of the urbane English actor in The Essential Englishman with special reference to David Niven in ‘Around the World in Eighty days’.

Although I’m not a football fan I have always rather liked George Best and in Personal Encounters with George Best I describe my fleeting encounters with the famous Manchester United player.

Going back even further in time than my George Best encounters or even my first job, Schoolday Memories is just that, a look back at my old school days.

As a major Formula One racing fan I tend to knock out an F1 post every now and again. In No Hiding Place and the Mexican Grand Prix  I combine F1 with a little humour and a quick look at a TV comedy classic.

I have spent a lot of time this year messing about with video cameras and editing and although I had some problems earlier in the year recording narrations, since then I’ve recorded quite a few including an updated version of my cycling video with narration rather than captions. Another video I made this year was one using in car footage of our trip to France in the summer. I’ve compiled this year’s video efforts together in a post entitled Adventures with an Action Cam.

Finally, in one of my later posts, I combined that classic British film Green for Danger with some thoughts about my personal work life, past and present, in Resignations, Old Friends and Green for Danger.

So, that was my year. Hope you had a good 2017 and all the best for 2018!


Thanks for looking in and if you liked this post, why not consider buying my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Metrics and the Art of Social Media.

You might think having been a blogger for over three years now I’d be an expert in the art of social media? Think so? Really? Forget it!

For the past three years I have concentrated my social media promotions on Twitter. OK, I have a Facebook writer page and a Pinterest account and  Google+ account but it’s Twitter where I have really pushed myself. So much so that I am the proud possessor of over 5,000 followers. Sounds good doesn’t it? If every one of those 5,000 people were fans of my blog and each and every one bought a copy of Floating in Space I’d be quids in. The fact is, out of those 5,000, I’d say only a handful are genuine fans. The rest want to be friends with me for one reason -because I have 5,000 followers and every time someone Tweets one of my Tweets I am honour bound by the unwritten Twitter users code to Tweet them back, Tweet them to my 5,000+ followers.

Yes, I feel good with that power; 5,000 followers. Wow, that’s power. Of course, if you have ever read the Spiderman comics or indeed seen the film you will know that with great power comes great responsibility.

Not so long ago I made a video, a spoof of Woody Allen’s opening to the movie Manhattan. It was good, I thought. I made the video over on Animoto and exported the result to everywhere I could think of: YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Then I sat back and waited for the results to come in. Next day I had four views on YouTube. Yes, I have to admit I was kind of disappointed. The thing is, everything I have ever written, particularly on WordPress, that I personally thought was really good has never had such a great reaction. Conversely also, those things I have just knocked out quickly because my Saturday deadline was looming have actually done pretty well with lots of hits and comments.

Anyway, not to be daunted I added the video to one of my WordPress posts and hoped I might get more hits that way. A few days later I checked YouTube again. 17 hits. Not bad I suppose. So, next move: check my Twitter analytics. I took a look and saw this:

Yes right in the middle there as you can see, there is a big spike. What was it? Well it was a Tweet created by Vimeo, a sort of automatic Tweet that is created when you post something there. The Tweet had over 12,000 impressions and 411 engagements, which is people actually clicking on the video and watching it. It looks like, in this case at least, that despite Vimeo being the poor cousin to YouTube, or so I thought, it was actually Vimeo that was performing for me!
Why?
How should I know? I’m still just an amateur!

Anyway, over on YouTube I not only have numerous videos encouraging the world to buy my book or subscribe to my web page, I also have various other non-marketing videos available.

My top watched video is this one below with, at the time of writing, over 30,899 views. You might be thinking hey, bet he makes a tidy little sum out of that video. However, if you did you’d be wrong because that video, which I made back in 1986 or 1987 is enhanced by an Elton John album track and all the royalties goes to Elton’s music company, despite my hours and weeks of filming and editing.

The video was one of my early video efforts, filmed using a JVC VHS-Compact camera, similar to the one Marty McFly uses in Back to the Future. One day I must get around to deleting Elton and adding some royalty free music.

Next in my video chart is this one about Manchester Airport;

Manchester Airport 1986 was such a long video I had to split it into two parts to upload it and strangely, part one has 6,839 views while poor old Part Two only has 4,762! Once again no royalties are forthcoming from either video as I used music from the pop charts of 1986.

Anyway, time to take another look at my Twitter account and schedule some tweets for this weekend. Should I do the usual stuff plugging my videos and blog posts or perhaps I should Tweet something a little more thoughtful to my 5,000 plus followers? Something about saving the environment or some heartwarming stuff about love and relationships?

After all, with great power comes great responsibility!


Now the nights are drawing in, why not settle down with a good book? Floating in Space is available from amazon as a paperback or Kindle download! Click here to buy!

Icarus, the Pool and Five Weeks in France.

Book Bag 2017.

If things had gone to plan, today you would have been looking at Holiday Book bag 4 (or should that be 5?) However, an urgent issue has been spotted by staff at Steve Higgins Tower, the home of SteveHigginsLive.com. Yes, the photography department has cocked up and I have been advised that the imaging for the post, that had duly been checked and sent on to the graphics department for blog titling to be added, had, shockingly, one of the seven books that make up this year’s Book Bag missing. Two major gaffes in as many weeks! Can this blog post recover? I can see as manager and CEO I will have no choice upon my return to the UK but to implement a new and drastic management review, perhaps even convene a Departmental Review Board! Ha! That will show my staff I mean business.

Five Weeks in France.

Five weeks in France? Wow! you’re probably thinking. Yes, five weeks is a hefty chunk of time to spend in France. Probably longer than the average holiday (wonder if I could claim a tax break? Probably not!) But all in all a nice stretch of time doing not much except, relax, swim, drink wine, eat cheese, swim, drink wine, eat cheese and so on.

One of the great qualities of this part of the world, Germigny  l’Exempt in the Cher region of France is the quiet. Almost everywhere in the UK, particularly in big cities like Manchester, silence is hard to find. Here in the country as I lie on my sun lounger I can feel a faint breeze and all I can hear is the hum of the pool’s machinery, some occasional birdsong and the distant drone of a car or motor bike. Wonderful.

Don’t think for a moment though we have forsaken the pleasures of the UK. At great expense we have had driven over, especially from the UK, a large supply of UK tea bags, Cheddar cheese, English Marmalade, English bacon and of course, who could do without English sausages? The result is a couple who eat like the English at breakfast and dine like the French at tea time.

Of course, everything is not all that rosy in our garden. We have forsworn TV for the duration of the holiday which means missing out on the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix. I have however duly downloaded the BBC F1 podcasts but sadly after sitting on my earphones the other day they have been rendered hors de combat as we natural French speakers say. Cue for this weekend’s brocantes and vide greniers:  Look for earphones!

The summer, even a long, hot one like the one here in France, does not last for ever. One thing I have noticed about the end of the seasons here is that it is usually abrupt. A few days ago, Liz and I were sitting in the garden, drinking wine and eating cheese, which of course is compulsory in France. Those lovely creamy French cheeses had softened in the heat and spread easily on some fresh French bread. Sweat was pouring down my face and we were slurping iced water in between vin rouge like it was going out of fashion. I was wearing a vest in the best Bruce Willis tradition and even though it was hot it was just wonderful to feel a gentle warm breeze on my shoulders. In the UK we just don’t have warm breezes! The next night something happened that I have experienced every year for the last ten years that I have been visiting France. There was a thunderstorm and a huge downpour and the next day things had cooled considerably.

Summer I fear, has departed.

The Pool.

This next section is a little heavier, some serious writing for a change. OK, it’s about the pool and a sun lounger, the focus of my holiday life but, way too heavy for a sun lounger thoughts post, I think . . .

As I sit reading, perspiration pours from my head and into my eyes. The sun is burning me alive and it is time to swim. From the first splash of my body into the pool, the warm water is all around and it comforts rather than cools me. Either way, it’s cooler than out on the sun lounger.

The pool is my father confessor. If I have sacrificed myself to the gods of the sun, here, in this pool, the waters give me redemption. The thermometer, floating in the water, says the temperature is ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Outside these waters it must be what? One hundred, one hundred and ten degrees perhaps.

As I slip forward all my mind is focussed on swimming and my thoughts of home and work vanish as the waters part to let me through. The effect it has on me is like a cleansing. The waters clean the outer body, sweat and moisture are washed away. Inside the effect is the same. Worries and negative vibes are cleansed.

As my body slips through the water, all my thoughts coalesce, thoughts mesh and words tumble together. I take them and store them away in a room in my mind until I can get to my notebook and set them down.

The best part, the part where it seems I commune with nature is when I leave the pool. I lie down on the sun lounger and the water drips away from my body in tiny streams of water, then all my worries drip away too. Any final drops of moisture are warmed by the sun and slip silently upwards into the atmosphere, changed for a short while into something lighter than air, drifting ever upwards and inside, inside my mind, I almost feel that with a little effort, I too could drift upwards, floating on the currents of air, warmed by the sun, until like Icarus I slip closer and closer to the sun.

The heat eventually melts my wings and I plummet towards the earth, once again in need of the rejuvenation of the pool. I step up from the sun lounger, slip easily into the pool, and at once the warm waters embrace me.


Floating in Space is a novel set in 1977. Find out more by clicking the links at the top of the page or click here to go to amazon.

Blogging and the Art of the Visual Image

I’ve been a blogger for a few years now and I tend to think three years is the extent of my blogging experience but thinking about it, my blogging experience goes back even further, the only difference is when I started doing it, it wasn’t called blogging.

As a schoolboy I used to publish (OK, write out on pages torn from an exercise book) a blog every week. It was called ‘The latest from the Perverted Press!’ It was mainly a spoof on the then current news stories from the late sixties and early seventies. They were things on the lines of, President Nixon issues apologies after visiting the Nuclear command centre and saying ‘time for launch’ when in fact he had really said ‘time for lunch!’

I used to bill myself as the celebrated author of that great trilogy, the ‘Master’ novels. There was the first one, ‘Master Smith’, the follow-up, ‘Master Jones’, and the one that caused a great deal of unwarranted attention to the Perverted Press, ‘Master Bates’.

I had a friend called Jeff Langdon who created a rival blog, sorry, I mean pamphlet. He decided to write about me and called his pamphlet The Steve Higgins Story, so I was forced to reply with The Jeff Langdon Story. Mine, I have to say, was far more popular and Jeff always complained that my popularity stemmed from the fact my pamphlets looked better because of the liberal use of coloured pens and drawings. Alas Jeff, art always was one of my top subjects. I suppose to a great extent things haven’t changed much. It’s still images that tend to pull in the reader to our work whether it is a pamphlet or a blog and it’s impossible to ignore the growing power and value of visual content. Just look at four of the fastest-growing social networks: Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr.

I read an article the other day that stated, amongst other things, that posts with images produce a higher reader engagement of 650% as compared to text only posts. So how do you get images for your posts?

Well, one easy way is to take them yourself. As an amateur photographer I have a big stack of pictures for use in my blogs and nowadays its even easier to produce a picture, especially with my iPad and the various apps you can get to manipulate the image however you want. https://www.picmonkey.com/ is a great site for editing your images and for adding text and there is also an iPad version. Another great one I use frequently ishttps://www.canva.com/  which has easy to use templates for Twitter, Facebook and all the main social media sites.

If you are not a photographer yourself you need to subscribe to a stock photo site such as https://pixabay.com/ or https://unsplash.com/

Another great site that I use often is http://quotescover.com/  and it’s this site I used to create the title banner you can see at the top of the post.

In Quotescover, simply add your quote or in this case, blog title, add a name or the name of your website and click create. You can choose what type of image you want, for instance for a social media post, for Pinterest, or for a Facebook cover or whatever, then you have a choice of image shape; portrait, landscape or square. After that keep clicking ‘next fonts’ until you get the font that you like.

Here’s a picture from many years ago, taken with my old Olympus OM10. It was pretty handy when I came to post an item called Adventures with A Camera. In the picture is my old Zenith TTL, my first SLR camera and the picture was taken with the camera I upgraded to, an Olympus OM10. As you can see from the picture, I was becoming more and more interested in photography, buying new lenses, experimenting with filters and reading all about photography techniques in the camera magazines of the day.

The picture below was a simple one of me posing with the statue of John Lennon in Liverpool. It was edited in Picmonkey, darkened, given a blue hue and some laser like light beams, some arcing electric lights and some text. It helped to draw in numerous readers to a post about my music loves, The Soundtrack to my Life Part 2.

Picmonkey is a really helpful site for manipulating images and adding text. For a post on my Formula One racing book collection I decided to make a few montages with cover shots of my books. To do that, go into Picmonkey and click ‘collage’. This takes you a page where you can choose from various preselected collage frames or design your own. When you are ready, it’s easy to just upload the pictures you want to create your own collage. Save the design and then you can choose edit and add text or other items.

One thing you might want to try on your blog is an animated image, a gif. It’s quite easy to make a gif using a website like http://gifmaker.me/

All you need to do is have two or three related images that can be animated together, upload them and the site does the rest. On my main page I have a number of gifs and they are all pretty simple. here’s one showing the cover of my book, Floating in Space.

Of course, there’s also video content that you can use to entertain your reader but that’s a whole other blog post!


Thanks for stopping by and if you want to find out more about Floating in Space, click the links at the top of the page!

How to Write a Novel

So why do you want to write a novel? For fame, fortune or financial gain? Do you just like writing? Anyway, here are few tips.

Plan your novel. Yes, don’t think you can sit down and just start typing away. Do some planning and research, then start writing.

Start at the beginning! Well, not necessarily. Sometimes the beginning is hard. It’s a sort of slow part of the novel, introducing people and places. Sometimes it’s easier to start right at the heart of the book and then add the beginning on later.

Got stuck already? Again, start writing a different part of the novel. When you have got the old creative juices flowing, then you can come back to the section that was difficult to write.

Editing. Now this is pretty important, especially if you write the way I do, in a pretty disjointed way, moving back and forth within the novel as I’ve outlined above. I’ve always felt that it’s important to keep banging away on my laptop or notebook or whatever and if I’m not banging away (writing) then I need to do something to make me write so that’s when I open my diary and write about last night’s night out, the shift I’ve just had at work and so on. Perhaps that’s why so much of me spills over into my blogs and books. (OK: Book, the one book, the only one book I’ve ever written!)

Where do you get your ideas from? Well, let’s face it, if you haven’t got an idea why do you even want to write a book? (Fame, fortune and financial gain?)

Can you see it through? It’s hard work. Floating was started in the 1980’s although not as a book but as a series of essays. Years later I decided to make it into a novel so I put the essays together which formed the second half of the book then I had to write the first half. I was still writing it when the PC revolution began and I typed it all out onto Microsoft word. I was ready to give up after two computer crashes. I lost the third quarter of the book when my PC crashed so I had to rewrite it and then found the lost quarter on a back up disk! Confusion then reigned until I sat down, deleted lots of multiple versions, re edited the book and added a new ending. That was hard work, believe me.

Enjoy what you are doing. Writing should be enjoyable and satisfying. If it is neither, then you should be questioning why you are doing what you are doing. If you think it’s an easy way to make money, think again!

Find somewhere to write. Find your own space, relax and be comfortable while writing.

Always have something to write with. Even when you are not writing, ideas can still come to you so make sure you have a notebook handy to jot ideas down, no matter where you are. You can even record yourself. I have a dictation machine in my car because ideas always come to me when I’m driving. Whether it’s on a nice pleasant drive or a trip to the supermarket, you never know when a good idea may appear.

How do you write a bestseller? Well, wish I knew. I enjoyed writing my book and I love the fact that numerous people have read it and enjoyed it but it’s far from being a best seller. Every now and then a few pounds are pinged into my bank account courtesy of amazon but I won’t be giving up the day job yet.

What do famous Writers advise? I saw an interesting article by PD James which started off by saying this:

You can’t teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don’t think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.

Nobody could make me into a musician. Somebody might be able to teach me how to play the piano reasonably well after a lot of effort, but they can’t make a musician out of me and you cannot make a writer, I do feel that very profoundly.

Interesting. Read the full article here.

Ernest Hemingway thought the key was to write one true sentence. Click here to read this fascinating article on Hemingway.

Charles Dickens was the author of my favourite book, David Copperfield. Click here to read 10 writing tips from Dickens himself.

Finally, here are 20 writing tips by author Stephen King. I’ll quote my favourite one to end this post. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

So settle down, open your laptop or notebook, and write.


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Marketing, Social Media and the 1970’s.

I read a lot about promotions and marketing, all in pursuit of selling my book, Floating in Space, to the unsuspecting public. Many marketeers recommend giving away free copies as a way of driving sales forward. Other marketeers are not so certain. A book is a product of many long hours, even years of hard work and for some, giving it away for free is not an option. For a registered tight wad like me that is something I go along with wholeheartedly.

Another reason is that at the moment I only have one book to sell. It’s not like having a trilogy or a series of books, where giving the first one of the series away will drive sales of the other books. Having said all this, I did run a giveaway lasting for three days in the hope that some new reviews might drive sales up but sales seemed to just run at their normal rate.

Reviews are important to an author. Quite a few readers have given me good reviews on Facebook but where I need them are on my amazon page where the buyers go to look directly at my book.  I suppose not being the pushy type works against me but I have recently added my book to Goodreads where readers with a Facebook profile can log on there and add a review. There are links on my Goodreads author page straight to amazon.

Dear me, bet Charles Dickens never had this trouble!

One of the nice aspects of Floating in Space is that because it has been born out of my past, as well as my imagination, reading it is a rather nice nostalgic experience for me, drawn back into the world of my youth, Manchester in the late 1970’s. Reading the book I can once again soak up the atmosphere of Manchester City Centre and remember those late afternoons and early evenings drinking in pubs like the Salisbury after a day in the office, or evenings playing snooker and pool after a shift going up and down the roads of Manchester as a bus conductor. Sometimes I can almost feel the polished wood of the bar in the working men’s club I used to frequent and even smell the cigarette smoke of the smokers, now a long gone sensation in British pubs. The past is inside all of us and I’m sure many people could do what I have done and take their past life, mix it up with a dash of imagination and some humour and write it all into a book.

So how easy is it to write a book like this? Well, not that easy, I can tell you. However, my book started life as a series of essays about my life in the late seventies. I started to compare the worlds of insurance and accounting and the world of passenger transport. Accounting wasn’t that easy in the seventies. Everything was added up by hand and entered into huge ledgers. There was the rough ledger where all the rough entries and working out and cash balancing was done and then it was all entered neatly into the big blue main ledger.

I am sure that today it’s a much easier process with software that does all the additions and calculations for you. One job that really used to tax me was arranging fire insurance for the offices rented by our tenants. They paid a percentage based on their office space. So for instance, if they rented 50% of the available space, they paid 50% of the insurance. There again, there were other tenants who rented a small office on the ground floor that measured 12 by 8. Now, try converting that into a percentage!

Coming back to the present day, here’s another set of maths questions. If I have 4,619 followers on Twitter, (correct at the time of writing although according to Twitter analytics, I get an average of 4 new followers per day so please make the necessary adjustments when you read this) why then don’t I get that figure following my blog? After all, all my Twitter posts lead, directly or indirectly, to this website. I recently had my Twitter page analysed by one of those writers’ sites that offer stuff like that. This is what they said.

Followers are generally people who just want you to follow them back. There’s no love there or loyalty.
Put it this way. 
Say you had a coffee shop and 2 people walked in:
person a) who is an ardent coffee fan and
person b) who came in basically to get out of the rain.
Who are you most likely to get a sale out of and be able to convince to join your email list to send them more coffee ideas?
Clearly person a) – they already love coffee right?
Person b) – harder work to convince them to do anything. Not impossible but definitely more work.
You need a bunch of person a)’s Steve.
The 2nd thing you may be doing ‘wrong’ is HOW you are going about trying to funnel those blog views. Let me give you some generic advice.
With all due respect nobody is interested in you. 
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that nobody is interested in any of us (so don’t take it personally!)  : )
People are interested in what YOU can do for THEM.

I have to admit, that’s a pretty shrewd assessment of Twitter. Everyone who is on there, with the exception of those who just want to Tweet to their friends about their social life, is out there to sell something, just, as my Twitter reviewer pointed out, as I am. I want people to read my blog and then perhaps think, “hey, this isn’t bad, wonder if its worth buying Steve’s book?” Bingo!

Just one last thought. There was no social media in 1977, the year in which Floating in Space is set but imagine if we tried to do the sort of things then that we do now on Facebook?  Suppose we went for a meal and wanted to share the experience with friends. We had to take a big bulky camera, take a picture of our meal, take the film to Boots or Max Spielmann or wherever, have the film developed, have the prints made and then get copies and send them out in the mail to your friends. By mail of course I mean mail, the Royal Mail, put the picture in an envelope, get a stamp and actually send it after adding a brief message for your followers -I mean friends- such as ‘this looks yummy!’

Social media was hard work in the 1970’s!


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Writer’s block, Russian Women, and my In-box.

It’s great to have lots of extra time to myself now I’m semi-retired and for me as a writer, well, amateur writer I suppose, (and blogger) I tend to use a lot of that time for writing. The crazy thing is, when you get a nice quiet day, all your jobs done, they’re the jobs Liz arranged for me before she went out to work, it’s great to fire up the laptop and get cracking. The big problem though is this, what do I write? Yes usually ideas seem to just flow for me, especially when I’m at work and it’s all getting pretty busy.

Now I’m not at work and I’m not really busy, the ideas aren’t coming. I could tell you about my TV viewing but I did that last week. Then there’s dealing with semi-retirement but I did that one the week before. I have actually got twelve posts in my draft box but none of those seem to be calling to me, not one of the twelve is saying “finish me!”

One of the problems of writing on a laptop is that eventually, even if you are beavering frantically away on a new post, the internet will eventually beckon. What has been quite amusing this week is how a shocking and outrageous event on a United Airlines flight has spawned an increasing number of spoofs using footage from the movie Airplane. If you’ve been away holidaying in the jungles of Borneo and have been without wi-fi then you won’t know that on an overbooked United Airlines flight, the staff simply picked a passenger at random and ejected him from the aeroplane! Smartphone video footage of the incident has gone ‘viral’ as they say. How the airline will recover from this PR disaster is anyone’s guess but the poor fellow in question, hauled off a flight because they were short of a seat for the staff, must certainly be considering legal action and American lawyers will probably be queueing up to take on the job. Fame and fortune and an easy legal victory must surely await the man who takes that one into the courtroom!

Anyway, Internet surfing done, next is a ‘quick’ look at my emails. I see I have one from the National Westminster Bank saying there is a problem with my account and I need to click on a link and enter my password to get it sorted. As it happens, I don’t have a Nat West account so whoever you are with your beady eyes on my hard earned cash, this scam didn’t work but people are falling for these scams in increasing numbers. Never click on emails asking for your passwords and if you are not happy with any type of mail you receive, call your bank but don’t use any links or numbers in the suspect e-mail.

This Russian lady is probably an Internet Scammer!

Also in my inbox is yet another e-mail from a Russian lady wanting a relationship with me! Poor girl! I have been targeted lately by numerous Russian ladies and not long ago I e-mailed one of these women back and said, look, I think you have fallen for a scam. I’m not on any dating sites and I’m not interested in you. The lady in question, her name was Kristina and she even enclosed a photograph, wrote back a very long letter telling me about her life in a small Russian village, how she was orphaned as a youngster and how she loved my picture and longed to be with me.

Sometimes, when the light gets me in a certain way and I’m wearing my leather ‘pulling jacket’ I tend to think I look quite good, hardly in the Bruce Willis class but acceptable though hardly deserving of anyone’s longing. Not only that, my picture, as far as I am aware, is not on any dating site, Russian or otherwise. Anyway, I wrote back again, told the lady her dating site was a scam and not to pay them a penny, or a ruble more. She wrote quickly back that luckily she had come into a small amount of money and was ready to fly over to the USA to spend some time with me and although she would be low on funds she was desperate to see me.

Yes, I’ve always wanted to visit the USA but hopefully when it happens I won’t be bumping into Kristina from the Russian City of Izhevsk. Of course she could also be after another Steve Higgins, or even the Steven Higgins from Ventura California, who I am constantly advised by the My Life Backgound Monitor Company Dot Com, that important personal details of mine are freely available on the Internet! No they are not and my name is not Steven and the only person who calls me Stephen is my Mum and even then it’s Stephen and not Steven!

Of course some are my details are freely available, for instance my novel set in 1970’s Manchester! Click the links at the top of the page to find out more. Now, back to this week’s post, what can I write about?