Videos, Blog posts and the Search for Content.

It doesn’t get any easier, the search for words and ideas for a weekly blog post. And it just goes on and on, just like marketing. You write a book, self publish it on Amazon, then realise that if you want to sell a few copies you need to promote your book more and more on social media. After all, before people can make a decision about whether to buy or not, they need to know more about your product, and if they’ve never heard of it at all there is only you who can tell them about it.

One of the ways in which I have worked is to show the public something interesting through either my blog posts or videos and hope people may think, ‘hey that was interesting. Wonder what this guy’s book is like? That’s the theory anyway. In practice coming up with varied content week after week is hard work. Sometimes I have to cheat a little. Cheat did he say? Well a little bit. Sometimes I take an old blog post and liven it up a little, rewrite it and add some new images and graphics and hey presto, new blog post!

Sometimes I’ll take content from a stalled project and use it for something else, like another blog post. Back in 2017 I was in Manchester, the location of the events in my book, Floating in Space, and shot some video of the town as it looks these days. I had a vague idea of talking about the city and how it has changed during the last 40 odd years and looking at some of the pubs and bars I used to frequent. Back home I saw that my footage wasn’t brilliant and there didn’t seem to be enough useable video to work with. One big problem for me is that when I visit Manchester, the lure of my old pubs and haunts is just too great and I tend to have to go and visit them and of course, have a pint or two in them too. Then there are new venues that need to be tried out and evaluated. This process of evaluating is very important, especially to a top blogger and chronicler of Manchester, like me! The thing is, after a few pints, which of course are essential to the evaulating process, I’m not necessarily in the mood, or the state, for shooting video!

Making a documentary film, even the short ones I make is pretty hard. I started off putting a rough cut together then working out a narration but things just wouldn’t come together. A better way, I found, was to sit down and write something and then try to select images that fit together with my words. Editing, especially the way I work, can be a slow process. After that particular video project stalled for the umpteenth time I realised my Saturday blog deadline was fast approaching and that I had little worth publishing. That’s when I decided to take my narration and re-purpose it into, yes, you’ve guessed it, another blog post.

My post Manchester 41 Years On, was a nostalgic look back down memory lane and a sort of appreciative look at present day Manchester. It combined a lot of text from Floating in Space, written quite a few years back now with some new fresh words inspired by my recent visit to the old home town. I liked it so much that I determined to get back into the editor’s chair and sort out that video!

After numerous re-edits I finally got things in some sort of order. I did have a version with some background music but it was annoying so that had to be removed. My narration wasn’t perfect but after a session with the old sound mixer and the snipping out of those many errs and ahhs, things seem a little better. Not Oscar nomination material I suppose, but a pretty reasonable short video. Take a look and see what you think!

By the way, this post came direct from French mobile internet hell! Stay tuned and illI tell you more next week!


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

Writing and the Big 300!

It’s not always so easy to come up with a new blog post week after week. It’s even harder to find something extra special for my 300th post. Three hundred posts! I suppose to those of you who have been writing for years, 300 may not be such a big milestone but for an amateur writer like me, it’s pretty special. The crazy thing is this, a few weeks ago I was commenting on one of those online forums, praising WordPress and blogging and someone commented that if I hadn’t been blogging I might have finished my second book! Looking back I now wonder whether that guy was actually right. 300 blog posts, times my average word count per post: That comes to about 20,000 words. Yes, perhaps I could have written my next book. Then again, it’s not just the words, its the idea behind the words, the creative thrust of a book that’s important. Get that and the book should just follow. Still, that fellow had a point. Should I give up my blog posts in favour of my book? Well, if that would guarantee me producing a book then yes, great! The thing is, it’s not a lack of words that have kept my book in a constant state of unfinishedness (is that a word? If Norman Mailer can invent words then so can I.) It’s really my own laziness.

Laziness, fear of the blank page, procrastination, they are all enemies of the writer. The only way to overcome them is just to keep on writing. If you are writing a blog post and it wont come, switch to something else; that other post you had on the back burner or that  script you had started a few years back. A great deal of my work is done like that, in small bursts of activity. A while back I had an idea for a film screenplay and worked away creating the first quarter of the work. Later I decided to turn it into a book and as I worked with the text, adding in all sorts of detail that wasn’t in the original script, the story came alive to me in a different way and I started to bring something new to the book version. Don’t hold your breath though, its still far from completion.

On a number of occasions I get an idea for a scene, a single scene for a screenplay or even a book. Just a scene, not a book or screenplay idea, just an idea for a short scene. Occasionally I’ll write something and see an opening for that scene, a little space that the scene will fit in and perhaps take one of the characters from A to C when before there was a yawning chasm at B!

The other day my brother and I were talking about war pictures and I said that war films don’t really do it for me but then, my brother reeled off a number of war films that I love. World War 2 Films like The Wooden Horse, First of the Few, The Cruel Sea, The Great Escape, and The Dambusters. Then there are modern classics like Platoon and Born on the Fouth of July from director Oliver Stone. Platoon is a particular favourite of mine; it was written and directed by Stone and based on his personal experiences in Vietnam, which made it all the more relevant and emotional.

Anyway, I’m talking about war films for a reason, which is this. My scene, the one that I’m waiting for a story to fit it into, is from a war film. It goes like this:

EXTERIOR. WORLD WAR 2 BATTLEFIELD. SHELLS ARE BURSTING ALL AROUND. MACHINE GUN FIRE RAKES THE AREA AND A WOUNDED SOLIDER STUMBLES INTO A FOX HOLE. SOLDIERS RUN TO HIS AID. THEY TURN HIM OVER AND LIFT HIS HEAD UP.

THE SOLDIER COUGHS AND TRIES TO SPEAK.

SOLDIER 1: Take it easy son. Don’t try to talk.

SOLDIER 2: HE LIGHTS A CIGARETTE AND SLIPS IT INTO THE WOUNDED SOILDIER’S MOUTH.

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS AND CHOKES.

SOLDIER 1: What did I tell you kid? Don’t try and talk. The medic’s on the way over. Save your strength.

THE WOUNDED SOLDIER COUGHS EVEN MORE.

SOLDIIER 2: Sarge, I think he’s trying to tell us something.

SOLDIER SPITS OUT THE CIGARETTE.

CLOSE UP:

(By the way, I did mention it was a comedy scene , didn’t I?)

WOUNDED SOLDIER: I don’t . .smoke..

Oh well. Here’s another script story. Ages ago when I first met Liz and we began socialising in St Annes, we started frequenting Wetherspoons there. It’s a pretty friendly pub and we made friends with quite a few people. There was Big Steve who I wrote about in another post but we also met two guys, Craig and Danny (as usual, names have been changed to protect the innocent!) They were brothers in law who were married to twin sisters and they both owned and ran small hotels in St Annes. The hotels were on the same street opposite each other and the  sisters were identical twins so their whole scenario seemed to scream ‘sitcom’ to me.

I used to ask them what funny things had happened to them in their work as hoteliers and being married to identical women. ‘Loads of things’ they would always say but I could never get any details. Anyway, when I had a quiet moment I started off a pilot sit com script using their situation, rival hoteliers married to identical sisters. It’s nothing brilliant but mildly amusing and it sat in my documents folder for a long time. Every now and again when I slipped into that blank page syndrome, I’d pull out the script and add a few more pages.

Not long ago I noticed on one of my occasional visits to the BBC Writersroom page that a window of opportunity was coming up for a sitcom script. The BBC, rather than accepting ‘spec’ scripts all year round open a small ‘window’ of a few weeks where you can submit your work in certain areas, sometimes a film script or a play, sometimes drama, other times situation comedy. I went back to my sitcom script,  pulled it quickly into some sort of shape, added an ending and bunged it off to the BBC. Now I sit glued to my inbox with bated breath, awaiting the BBC email that may or may not even arrive.

Of course, I do wonder what might happen if the BBC actually decided that my sitcom script is worth making into a pilot? That would be fun having my work made into a TV show. Imagine if it was succesful! Imagine if the BBC said we’re going to make a twelve episode series! Imagine me trying to write twelve episodes when it took me months to write one 25 minute episode! Even the great Spike MIlligan had a nervous breakdown writing the numerous scripts of the radio show ‘The Goon Show’. Of course, someone at the BBC could be reading this very post. Did I say something about 12 episodes? Would I be able to write 12 episodes?

Of course! What’s 12 episodes to a top writer like me? I might even start episode 2 straight away. Well, straight away after a cup of tea. And maybe a sandwich. Better make it first thing tomorrow. Well, tomorrow afternoon might be better . .


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

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.