Writing, Blogging and making those Ch-Ch-Changes

I sometimes wonder why I go to all the effort of banging out a new blog post every weekend. My words like those of many others go forth into the internet and some multiply in terms of ‘likes’ and followers and some fall on stony ground. Still, what do I care? I have enjoyed the process of writing and have done ever since I was a child. I’ll go on banging out blog posts until the day when, well, the day when I don’t want to bang blog posts out anymore, when presumably I will either have found something more enjoyable to do or just shuffled off into the next world.

Of course I do want people to read my work and every time I get a new comment or a new ‘like’ it feels good, in fact it feels very good indeed, even though my blog is probably out there on the lower rung of popular blogs. Some of my WordPress colleagues have huge followings and I have to admit to a feeling of envy when I see their posts with lots of comments and lots of likes.

One of my fellow bloggers has a large following even though he posts things that wouldn’t look out of place on a Facebook status post. Things like My favourite Bowie song is ‘Changes’. Now that particular post, which garnered about 80 likes last time I looked, took very little effort even though there wasn’t a picture of David Bowie or a link to a music video which he could have easily added, like this:

I do spend a lot of time on my posts and my deadline of 10am on a Saturday morning keeps me on my toes. It makes me write when I could very easily be watching TV and sometimes, a lot of the time in fact, I do need a hefty shove to get going. Some of my posts have been written with a sense of urgency on a Thursday afternoon or even Friday night and strangely, those last minute posts always seem to do well. A while ago I published a post about Watergate which I researched very thoroughly, reading various Watergate books and watching a few documentaries on the subject. The resulting post which I personally loved, didn’t get a great reaction from the blog reading public.

On the other hand, 3 Films about Films, which I wrote on a Thursday when I knew I would be busy Friday and Saturday did very well indeed. There was minimal research because I wrote about three films that I loved and have seen many times and apart from checking a few dates and spellings online, I knocked the post out in one fell writing swoop.

3 Films About Films netted about three times my usual readership and the annoying thing is that I don’t know why. It was lovely to have that extra readership and I’m glad readers liked it but I still wonder why my Watergate post didn’t go down so well. Perhaps, unlike me, people aren’t really interested in Watergate. Perhaps I didn’t include the right keywords in the title or use the most appropriate tags or just made some elementary blogging mistake. Those little blogging mysteries do make me wonder.

Every week I seem to pick up the odd new follower here and there and one day, hopefully I may move up into the stratosphere of popular blogs. I do like writing and blogging and that is the reason I keep on going, as well as to publicise my book Floating in Space for which, as usual, you will see a short plug down at the bottom of this post. Floating came from a love of writing too and I enjoyed writing it even if no one ever buys or reads a copy. The fact that people have bought a copy and read it and enjoyed it is a great feeling, even if my plans for using the proceeds to buy a penthouse in Barcelona have been put on hold for now.

This in some ways might be a breakthrough week for me as a writer. I have to stress the phrase might be though. A while back when I hit a bit of a blank wall whilst writing, I decided to look back at some of my older work. A few years ago I wrote a script  which went from psychological drama to murder mystery and while reading it I thought of a great idea for an alternative ending. I re-wrote the ending (added some ch-ch-changes) and thought great but what can I do with the script now?

Well I decided to list the script on Inktip.com a US site that puts together a newsletter that is read by many film industry professionals, at least that’s what they say. It was a mere $40 to list my script on the newsletter and all I had to do was create a logline, a short phrase that encapsulates the whole scenario. OK, that was sorted but then I find that the log line has to link to a script or synopsis and to add that it’s another $60. OK I sorted that but then it turns out your script has to be registered. Registered how? Well you can register a script with the Writer’s Guild of America which ensures no one can steal your ideas. I registered the script and that was another $20. If any film producer decides to option my script I’ll let you know. That could well be a hundred and twenty dollars (£92) well spent, on the other hand . . Well, I might just keep my options open on that Barcelona penthouse, you never know.

Getting back to my blog and Floating in Space, I do wonder about views and likes. Perhaps I need proof that I’m doing things right or that my work is engaging. Over on Twitter I have roughly 6500 followers but most of those are bloggers and authors and amateur video makers just like me and only a small portion of that following has ever bought Floating or even followed me here on WordPress. Sometimes I wonder just what is the point of Twitter? Is it just a collection of thoughts and comments that go off into cyberspace never to be heard of again, unless of course you are someone the world seems to takes notice of. I was thinking perhaps of Donald Trump whose Tweets seem to be reposted and commented on endlessly. Then again, maybe that isn’t really a good example but Trump really seems to have cracked what I might call the Twitter bubble.

I spend a lot of time wondering not only about my posts but also about my book. Who is buying it and why? How can I sell more books? Should I perhaps edit it again or perhaps do more advertising or make more promo videos?

I have to admit to making some elementary mistakes in self publishing. A while back I made a big update to Floating and rather than getting an increased readership, sales dropped back to nothing. After a couple of months I did a check on Amazon and found that due to a slip of the keyboard Floating was retailing for £70.10 rather than £7.10! That mistake was quickly resolved and sales gradually began to move again but I felt like such a fool.

A few weeks ago I had a message from an old schoolfriend saying she had read Floating in Space and how much she had enjoyed it. The lady in question was (all names have been changed to protect the innocent) a girl called Stella Smith. Now Stella and I were in the same class together in Junior school and High school and except for a few chance meetings here and there, I don’t think we have have ever met up since our schooldays.

Stella was a popular girl and it was nice to talk to her again via the internet. When we had finished talking about schooldays and Manchester I asked her how come she had bought Floating? Had she seen one of my Tweets? Caught one of my YouTube videos? Had she seen one of the occasional advertisements I have tried on Google? No. None of these. She had been told about the book by another schoolfriend, a guy called Laurence.

I didn’t know Laurence or at least didn’t remember him but Stella mentioned that he had ‘friended’ her after talking on a Facebook page dedicated to our old school, Sharston High.

I joined the Sharston page and looking through it I found a number of interesting posts relating to old teachers and pupils and so on. After I had posted something myself Laurence commented on it and we got talking. It turned out he was in the year below me which is why I didn’t remember him. He mentioned how much he had enjoyed Floating. How had he heard about it I asked? Facebook? Youtube? No, he had been told about it by his old friend Eddie White.

Eddie wasn’t a former pupil, he was a colleague from my bus driving days. He and I were in the bus driving school together and while we weren’t great mates we were friendly. Eddie was a mate of Brian, another busman who I am still friends with today. Brian had told Eddie about the book, Eddie told Laurence and Laurence had told Stella.

Holy smoke, am I wasting my time with YouTube and Twitter! Perhaps I need to make some marketing ch-ch-changes . . .


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James Hilton, Winston Churchill and the Lockdown

When I get stuck looking for a new idea for a blog post I sometimes look back at my old ones just to see if anything there might inspire me. Sometimes I’ll think of something I could have said about a particular subject which I didn’t say at the time so I’ll start writing about that and then I’m off. Sometimes a writer just needs something to start him off. In fact over on Twitter I sometimes use a meme that goes like this

Some old posts can also be re-purposed. That is to say an old post can be given a new lease of life by a re-write, a few new paragraphs, some new pictures and maybe a link to a relevant video. One old post I looked at tapped right into a long running daydream of mine. Imagine me, a writer from the north of England getting the chance to go and work in Hollywood, writing scripts. I can just imagine the trip over on a Jumbo Jet or whatever passes for a jumbo jet these days. Arriving in Hollywood and looking at all the sights I have read about and imagined over the years, The Brown Derby restaurant, Romanoffs, Schwabs drugstore and maybe even catching a glimpse of Pickfair, the old Fairbanks/Pickford mansion on Summit Drive, the home according to David Niven’s book Bring on The Empty Horses of many of the great stars of the golden age of Hollywood.

Alas, every single one of those places has gone eclipsed by the passage of time. Even the new owners of Pickfair, actress Pia Zadora and her millionaire husband, decided that after aquiring such an historic place, the best thing to do would be to knock it down. Termites had ruined the property, or so they claimed.

One other thing that is real enough is the bit about the writer from the north of England making his way over to Hollywood. No, it wasn’t me, it was James Hilton, the author of one of my favourite books of all time.

James Hilton is one of my personal writing heroes and yet his name may be unfamiliar to many of you reading this blog. He was a journalist and an author and made the trip from his home in Leigh, Lancashire, (now Greater Manchester) in the UK to the Hollywood hills in the United States to become a screen writer. He is probably more well known for his book ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ which was made into a film with Robert Donat (actually another northerner from Didsbury in Manchester) but my favourite of his books and quite possibly my all-time favourite book is ‘Lost Horizon’.

Lost Horizon is a book I found in a second-hand shop many years ago. A battered 1940s paperback I paid twenty-five pence for and yet that small investment has paid me back many times over for sheer reading pleasure as Lost Horizon is a book I re read every year or so and I often pull it down from my bookshelf when a current read fails to entertain me.

Lost Horizon is a completely original idea and is about British consul Robert Conway in the dark days before World War II. Conway is helping his fellow British citizens escape from civil war in China and he and his small party escape in the last plane only to be kidnapped and taken to a distant Tibetan monastery. Conway meets the High lama and after a time it is revealed that the Tibetans  want to preserve the best of world culture and art and make it safe from the coming war.

Hilton is one of those few people who have invented a word or coined a phrase that has become part of the English language. In this case it was the name of the Tibetan monastery, Shangri-la which has since become a byword for a peaceful paradise, a distant haven. Camp David, the US President’s retreat was originally called Shangi-la until renamed by Eisenhower for his son, David.

Hilton’s journey from Leigh to Hollywood must have been a magical one and one I envy, especially as his time in Hollywood was a golden age for movie making. Lost Horizon was made into a movie by Hollywood director Frank Capra and starred Ronald Colman as the urbane British diplomat of the novel. It’s a movie that was restored some time ago and is a great DVD if you happen to see it. Colman also starred in another movie authored by Hilton; ‘Random Harvest ‘.

Hilton settled in Hollywood and wrote a number of screenplays for classic Hollywood movies such as ‘Mrs Miniver ‘. Sadly he died from cancer in 1954.

How would Hilton have coped with the Lockdown? Pretty well I should imagine. Professional writers are not like us amateurs, they are not governed by how they feel, if they are in the mood or not, if they are feeling creative or not. They just get on with it.

A few weeks back I decided that a good project for me would be to make one of my blogs into a video. I chose one from a short while ago A Letter to my Younger Self. I opened up my laptop, clicked on my Animoto page and began. I’m still working on it. It wasn’t as easy as I had thought. I could quite easily have read the post to camera but I wanted something a little more exciting and the good thing about Animoto is that they have a great library of stock footage and photos so combined with some of my own images the result should be good.

Here’s the problem though, and this is the big issue with technology that I come across time after time. Once the designers have put together a great peice of software or an electronic device, they just cannot leave it alone. Windows Sound Recorder: they replaced it with Windows Voice Recorder and all the things I used to do on there, I can no longer do. Windows Movie Maker: my favourite video editing platform: discontinued in favour of HD Movie Maker. The old version was so much better especially when editing sound. The new version is quite different. In the past I could position and reposition sound clips with the mouse now in HD Movie Maker the user can only trim sound or use the delay option. Oh well at least Animoto, the online editing platform I use frequently is untouched, or so I thought.

Wrong! This week Animoto unleashed a new version of its editing software on its users. Does it have improved features? Yes. Is it easier to use? No. Well to be fair it’s not bad but every so often the web page seems to crash and I have to reload the page and start editing again from the point my work was saved. Perhaps that’s the fault of my laptop although it never lost the page with the old version. There are some other litle teaks I don’t like too so I might just put that project on hold for now.

This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to ease the current lockdown. Now we can return to work and also travel around if we want to visit somewhere. Most businesses are still closed of course but it might mean places like Blackpool and other seaside resorts will be expecting daytrippers soon. Personally I think his advice is ill advised and we should be keeping the lockdown on for a while longer. The thing is, the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales seem to agree with me so if you are planning a trip to either of those places soon, forget it because the lockdown is still in place there.

The other night I stayed up late watching the film Darkest Hour which is about Winston Churchill and the beginning of his Prime Ministership in World War II. It paints a rather bleak picture of Winston’s premiership with the Conservative party apparently holding back from supporting him and a growing clique actually wanting to replace him with Lord Halifax. When France fell to the Nazis Halifax wanted to explore peace talks with Hitler which Churchill was violently opposed to. I’m not sure how true to life the film was and although I can imagine not everyone was 100% behind Churchill, I found some of this film a little hard to believe. There was a vote of no confidence in the commons in 1942 although Churchill won this by a resounding 475 votes to 25. In the film, conservatives still will not support Churchill in the commons until outgoing premier Neville Chamberlain signalled them to do so by placing a white hankerchief on his knee. By then Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement were totally discredited so would he really have had such sway over his fellow MPs? I doubt it.

What Churchill would think of today’s devolved government I shudder to think.

In these difficult times I take comfort from, as usual, Marcus Aurelius. I receive a regular email from The Daily Stoic and it is surprising how words of wisdom from the past can be relevant to today. One email I picked up this week went like this : All of us who are alive today are the last in an unbroken line of our ancestors who survived two world wars, the plague and much more. They kept calm, they carried on. They learned, as Marcus did, that things can only ruin your life if they ruin your character. We might not control world events, but we can control how we respond. We control whether we hold our heads high. We control whether we help our neighbors. We control whether we contribute to the panic or not.

Not only that, the important thing to remember about the Corona Virus is that . . .


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10 Incredible Tips to take your Writing to the Next Level

As the writer of some 394 blog posts I thought it was perhaps high time that I tried to impart some of my hard earned blogging and writing knowledge to you, my esteemed readers. Not only that, I read somewhere that those ‘how to’ kind of blog posts get some great readership so here goes . .

1. Writing.

Now this might seem to be a bit of a lame subject to start with but writing these days usually involves a keyboard of some sort, unless you’re from the old school of pen and paper writers. Even then, all your hand written work still needs to be transferred to a computer so try this link which has quite a few handy keyboard tips.

27 Handy Keyboard Shortcuts Every Writer Should Know

2. How many words should you write?

If you are writing a novel how much is enough? Have you written too little or too much? Floating in Space is only a slim volume so maybe I should have written more. Click the link below to find out.

https://self-publishingschool.com/how-many-words-in-a-novel/

3. Displaying a link for your book.

Now when I search Amazon to get the link for Floating it is always a long, long link which takes up perhaps two lines of text. I usually try to hide an unwieldy link like that within the text so for instance, why don’t you click here. Let your mouse hover for a moment to see just how long that link is. To get yourself a much cleaner universal link, one that will direct your readers to the Amazon store relevant to the country in which they live, click this link https://books2read.com/

Using this link will direct you to a page where you can enter your page link and convert it to something not only a little leaner but also one that is universal. Here is my resulting link:

https://books2read.com/u/3LD92N

If you fancy settling down to read about Manchester in the 1970’s give it a click!

4. Stuck for Book Marketing Ideas?

Try this link for 119 ideas!

119 Book Marketing Ideas That Can Help Authors Increase Sales

5. Wanting to write a novel but short on ideas?

Try this link for 8 novel writing ideas!

8 novel writing tips from accomplished authors

6. Have you got a Facebook Author Page?

No Facebook author page? Can you really afford to ignore Facebook in this social media age? Surely not! Click the link below to get your Facebook page up and running!

https://kindlepreneur.com/facebook-author-page/

7. Are there any YouTube pages for authors?

Yes there are plenty. Here’s one from Joanna Penn, a writer who also has a blog page and a YouTube channel where she shares information and inspiration about writing fiction, writing non-fiction, self-publishing, book marketing and making a living with your writing.

https://www.youtube.com/user/thecreativepenn

8. Any Twitter Tips?

Twitter, in case you didn’t know is a great place to market your work and send it out into the world of social media. Here’s an excellent post by writter and blogger Rachel Thompson, 5 tips for marketing your book on Twitter. The one about optimising your author bio is one I’ve used myself.

https://writingcooperative.com/top-5-twitter-tips-to-powerfully-market-your-books-81de1a9af202

9. What about Instagram?

Try this link for information on creating an author page on instagram:

https://kindlepreneur.com/instagram-for-writers-and-authors/

10. How did I find out about all this stuff?

Well, some of it was pure research, some of it I just stumbled upon as I bumbled through the internet and some was by following some great author and writers’ pages like Roxanne who publishes a very handy list of helpful links every week right here on WordPress.

https://moonrox.wordpress.com/


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

 

 

 

How to Mix Poetry and Video using Animoto

I suppose that really I’m a frustrated film director but one of the great things about the 21st century’s digital revolution is that anyone can make a video, slap it up there on YouTube or Vimeo and call themselves a director.

Amateur or not, I take my video very seriously and I’m constantly thinking of what I can do with the huge amount of footage that I record. What kind of short video can I make with it? How can I use it? What kind of project can I work on for my next video? I will usually find something to focus on, even if it’s yet another promo video for Floating in Space!

Back in 2016 I seemed to have poems just pouring out of me. I was constantly coming up with something lyrical or what I thought was a great turn of phrase and creating poems. Some of those resultant poems may not have been prize winners or worthy of great poets like Dylan Thomas but they were mostly pretty reasonable and what the heck, I liked them and today with social media we can all bypass the editors of the book publishing world and publish whatever we want via the internet.

Anyway as most of my poems are pretty short I thought it might be a good idea to put a few of them on video and use them to further build up my media profile as a writer as well as giving my YouTube page a little more depth.

First off a few years back I just stepped in front of the camera and read a few poems. Ok, fair enough but a little basic. Here’s the kind of thing I mean, me reading a poem called Some Love.

Not such a bad poem but on a visual level I have to admit it’s a bit on the basic side, just me talking to the camera. What I felt I really needed was perhaps some images that relate to the subject matter and some background music. Also what about the words? I wanted to see the actual text of the poem being shown on screen.

A handy website that has helped me achieve this is Animoto, an on-line editing program that has built in templates that can be used not only for marketing videos but for anything really, but I find it perfect for the video poem.

Animoto isn’t free, but you can trial the site for free and see if it works for you. Anyway, I love Animoto and find it really helpful to make the short videos I use to plug my book (Floating in Space) and this website itself across Instagram, Facebook and anywhere on social media I can find a little spot for myself.

My latest video uses a poem I wrote some years ago called ‘I am That Seed’. It’s pretty short, as is most of my work and to start off I had a troll through the various templates on Animoto and chose one. Click ‘create’ and ‘choose template’ and you will find yourself with a screen something like the one below. The template I have chosen is actually designed to introduce a new family member but we can easily change that.

OK, so now what I’ll do is add my own text -in this case poetry- in each of the boxes after making the first box into a title page, in this case I am That Seed by Steve Higgins. Here’s the finished item below:

You can see that as well as using stock video and photography, I’ve also uploaded some of my own images, in this case a picture of me. I’ve also copied that title box and put the copy at the end of the poem. The whole thing can be tweaked using the buttons on the far left to change text fonts, size and colour as well as the music track.

Animoto have even made their own video showing how to use the templates; have a look below:

Now comes what is a little more difficult, getting the timings right so that the visual text matches up with me reading the poem. This takes a good deal of trial and error so I’ll just read the poem and time each section and then update the time each image stays on the screen. In the case of video, each clip can be trimmed to the appropriate time. After that, click ‘produce’ and Animoto will complete the video and then it can be downloaded.

Editing that sound!

Once you have the video on your PC or laptop then you have to use whatever video editing software you have to record your poem in voice over mode. If I’ve got all the timings correct then that is pretty easy, if not I have to either trim my video on my laptop software or, go back to Animoto, change the timings and then download again! Making a video can be a slow process.

After I’ve recorded the voice over, I usually send it to my sound recording software to cut out my usual mumbles and any background noises and I also sometime add a little bass just to beef up my voice and make it a little sexier!

After that there are two more options. I can send the resulting audio track back to Animoto and complete the video there or just finish the job on my PC by fading the background music down to a quieter level. In fact on the video below, I mixed the narration and the music together and uploaded the complete soundtrack back to Animoto and from there I can export the completed video to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or anywhere I want.

Here’s the final version on YouTube, and don’t forget that if you are doing something similar, make youself a professional YouTube video icon by using canva or another good imaging website.


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

Four Writers’ Homes

Clouds Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chartwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boathouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mendips.

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

Picture courtesy wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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


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

7 Questions for a Self-Published Author

Question 1:

How did you come to write your book?

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

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

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

Question 2

How did you go about publishing the finished book?

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

Question 3

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

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

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

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

Question 4

Tell me about your website and your blog

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

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

Question 5

What sort of posts will we find on your blog?

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

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

Question 6

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

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

Here are a few stats:

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

500 million people watch Facebook videos every day.

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

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

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

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

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

Question 7

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

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

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

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


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

4 Simple Secrets of Self Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Have you self-published at amazon?

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

4. One last thought.

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

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

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


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

 


 

Dealing with that Bad Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian’s review was short and sweet but positive.

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

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

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

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

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

Free sex and booze! I don’t remember writing anything about free sex but then again, then was some sex. It’s a book about young men and young men like young women and, at least back in the seventies, young men and women liked having a drink and a dance and they enjoyed the subtle and not so subtle arts of the ‘chat up’!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for one and here for the other.


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

The Self Published Writer’s Guide to the Radio Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

10 Books Rejected by Publishers!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had been written in Edinburgh cafes while author JK Rowling and her daughter lived on benefits. The book was rejected 12 times and was only published when one publisher’s daughter read the first chapter and then begged her father to produce the book so she could read the rest. The series may now have finished, but the Harry Potter franchise continues. Eight films, one theme park, and countless video games, board games and products later, Harry Potter is one of the highest grossing franchises of all time. Rowling is no longer living on state benefits and is reputedly worth 700 million pounds. I have to admit I have never read the Harry Potter books but I salute an author that has given the gift of reading to a new generation of young readers.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

A number of searches on the internet brought up the magic rejection number of 38 for this novel. Rejected 38 times? Well I also found an interesting post by author Brenda Coulter in which she claimed the novel was never rejected. Margaret Mitchell apparently felt the novel would have little interest outside the South but happened to meet with someone from the MacMillan publishing group who immediately bought the publishing rights, much to the author’s surprise. The writer of the blog post went on to say this about publishing:  It just isn’t true that every talented writer will eventually be published if she works hard enough and waits long enough and believes. Novels don’t get published because their authors have faithfully paid their dues and waited their turn. Publication isn’t a bus that anyone can catch as long as they have the correct fare and show up at the right stop at the scheduled time. A novel is accepted only when some publishing house believes it can make money on the book. Period. So the difference between a published author and an unpublished one does not always boil down to talent and experience. Sometimes the difference is, quite simply, marketability.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Lolita was rejected 5 times. One publisher wrote that the book was “…overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” I read the book a few years back after reading a blog post about classic books I must read. I felt a little like a sort of voyeur reading the novel which is about one man’s passion, lust even, for a young girl. It was an interesting read and the excellence of the writing seemed to jar a little with the subject matter. ‘A neurotic daydream’ is probably a good description of the book.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Again, this is not a book I have read but I have seen the film starring Gregory Peck. Moby Dick was initially rejected by publishers Bentley and Son who wrote back to Melville asking: “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?” Melville decided to keep the whale although the young voluptuous maiden idea surely has it merits. .

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum.

It’s hard to say how many times this book was rejected but the author did keep a journal he called ‘a record of failure’ detailing all his rejections. The book was first published in 1900 and by 1938 had sold over a million copies. The book was illustrated by W W Denslow and both he and Baum claimed credit for the book’s success. The publisher only agreed to publish the book when the manager of the Chicago Grand Opera House, Fred R Hamlin, committed to making The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into a musical stage play to publicize the novel. The book was famously made into a film in 1939 starring Judy Garland.

Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth.

The novel was turned down by the first four publishers the author approached. Eventually Harold Harris of Hutchinson decided to take a chance on a modest print run of 8,000 copies. The Jackal became a sensation and only two years later Fred Zinneman was directing the movie version. Forsyth was a journalist in Paris in his mid-twenties and was aware of the controversy over the granting of independence to Algeria. He had befriended some of President De Gaulle’s bodyguards and had even reported from the scene of a real life failed assassination attempt, in fact an account of this real incident opens the novel. What would happen, thought Forsyth, if the terrorist group the OAS decided to employ a hitman to murder the President? The resulting novel has a gritty documentary style of realism that would influence a new wave of thriller writers.

Carrie by Stephen King.

Stephen King apparently received 30 rejections for his book before dejectedly tossing it into the trash. His wife Tabitha fished it out and urged him to try again. The book was published and became a classic of the horror genre. At the time back in 1973, King and his wife were living in a trailer, he taught English at a private school and his wife worked in ‘Dunkin Donuts’ as well as them both moonlighting in various part time jobs. Sales of the book were boosted by the film version and the paperback sold over a million copies in its first year.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

This book was rejected by 25 agents but was finally published in 2003 after the author sent the manuscript to a small San Francisco based publisher where the work found its way into the hands of a sympathetic editor. I have to say that this was an odd novel and took me quite a while to get into the book and understand the fractured timeline of the time traveller. However, it was an interesting and enjoyable read although a somewhat quirky addition to the sci-fi genre. Having said that, some reviewers regard the book as more of a romance than a work of sci-fi.

Roots by Alex Haley.

Alex Haley spent eight years writing the book and received 200 consecutive rejections or at least that is what some internet sites say. Others say Haley may have had 200 rejections but that includes his other work as well. His novel Roots finally became a publishing sensation, selling 1.5 million copies in its first seven months of release and going on to sell 8 million. Such was the success of the book that The Pulitzer Prize awarded the novel a Special Citation in 1977. Again, this is another book I have yet to read but I do remember the TV series from 1977.

Floating in Space by Steve Higgins. I sent my book off to 3 traditional publishers who all declined to publish it. To be fair, my manuscript was not in great shape but I have beavered away and every now and then updated the book so now I like to think the manuscript is pretty reasonable. After those three knockbacks, paltry compared to some of the rejections mentioned above, I chose to self-publish at Amazon. Should I perhaps have tried harder, spent more time on my covering letter, sent out the manuscript to more publishers? Still, just like Brenda Coulter says: Publication isn’t a bus that anyone can catch as long as they have the correct fare and show up at the right stop at the scheduled time. It’s about marketability!

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