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.

 


 

2018 and All That

OK so there it is, 2018 all done and dusted and we look forward to 2019. How was your year? Good, or bad? Was it all that you expected, or not? Here’s a quick look back at my personal 2018 with some of my blog highlights thrown in for good measure.

In January, Christmas and New Year quickly receding into the murky past, Liz and I were looking forward to a long break in Lanzarote. Lanzarote is really lovely at this time of year. Sometimes it tends to get a little windy and a few times in the evening temperatures dipped a little causing a flurry of fleece jackets to appear in the bar we frequented. The bar I should add was substantially an outside rather than inside bar and we sat alfresco under an awning while we drank, ate tapas, nibbled on olives and nuts and listened to some soothing pop classics performed either by a local pianist or the local sax player. I went into more detail in Thoughts from a Lanzarote Sun lounger but it was a very relaxing time.

The only problem of any significance was some annoying keyboard issues with my laptop. The letter O key was not working which caused some difficulties in producing a TV themed blog called ‘Putting the ‘O’ in Columbo’. Columbo being the famous TV detective played by Peter Falk and one of my very favourite TV shows ever. I had taken the laptop to my local computer store who had replaced the keyboard but when I arrived in Lanzarote ready to pound out some more blogs and possibly even add a few more pages to my new book I found the keyboard misbehaving again! I was not happy and a lot of the blogs I wrote while I was away were produced mostly on my Ipad.

There were some lovely restaurants in Lanzarote but in one of them the antics of one of the waitresses put me in mind of an old friend of ours, a waiter called Giorgio. He was a lovely fellow Giorgio. As a waiter he just wasn’t one of the best but he always made us smile and one sunny afternoon I took a break from the pool to write a post about him and some similar waiters called ‘The Giorgio factor.’

Back home in the UK I was spending an increasing amount of time looking after my elderly mother who was 89 in 2018 and has the beginnings of dementia. Only two years ago or so, I used to call up Mum and say I was coming to stay. Arriving there after work I would find my little box room all neat and tidy with fresh covers on the bed. My Mum is probably the only person I have ever known who irons socks and underwear and it is sad to see her today with her memory loss getting worse by the day and it is me who irons things for her, and me who puts the fresh bedding on the beds. In Some Random thoughts on Boxrooms, Stormy Daniels and Action Man I talked about how good it felt to return to that room, surrounded by the old books, vinyl records and cassette tapes of my past life. When I am there I sometimes feel that I have never really grown up.

I had a small health scare earlier in 2018. Nothing exciting just that a check up revealed slightly high blood pressure. The end result was that I was advised to check into the gym and see if a little work out might help. The practice nurse handed me a free three-month course at the YMCA which was my very first introduction to the world of pumping iron, the gym and physical exercise which until then I had completely shunned. I actually enjoyed the course, it was nice to feel healthy (well, healthier) and I jotted down a few remarks about the experience in a blog called Working Out That Sweet Illusion!

In May I was working hard on one of my videos, a look back at the places which inspired my book Floating in Space. I visited Manchester on a few occasions and shot plenty of video, a great deal of which, sadly, wasn’t of a particularly great quality. One of the problems in shooting video on a visit to Manchester is that I tend to combine filming with a tour of my old pub haunts in the town, as well as visiting some new ones so at the end of the day my hand tends to become a little rocky on the lens when too much beer has been downed.  Eventually after a number of false starts I put together a short film about Manchester and added a narration compiled from some old blog posts, text from Floating in Space itself and some new observations. I still wasn’t happy with the video and was struggling to get it right so I decided to use the narration (re-purpose I think the correct phrase is) in a blog post entitled Manchester, 41 Years On.

If you want to see the video which I eventually finished, click here.

Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Anyway, in June I decided to turn to something much more interesting than my little life and write about two of my most enduring interests, books and the Watergate Scandal. President Nixon must be one of the most interesting figures ever to become President of the USA and his journey to the Oval Office was remarkable. Nixon spent two years as vice president to Eisenhower, looked like winning the election in 1960 from relatively unknown John F Kennedy but it was Kennedy who pipped Nixon to the prize. Nixon ran for governor of California and lost, declaring to the press politics was over for him: ‘You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore!’ However, in the tumultuous year of 1968 he was back, once again the Republican candidate for the presidency and this time he won. When Lyndon Johnson left office he advised Nixon to make tape recordings of his conversations as he had done, saying that they were invaluable in preparing his memoirs. That advice proved to be Nixon’s undoing.

In a post called ‘Writing and the Big 300 I published my 300th blog post, a small milestone for an amateur writer like myself. I concentrated on the flip side of writing; the continual search for content and some of my other writing projects, things like my scripts. In particular I talked about a sit-com idea I had that I submitted to the BBC Writer’s Room web page. Alas, after many a month in deliberations the BBC decided my project was unworthy of putting into production. Pity really because I thought it was rather good.

Getting back to my holiday travels, Liz and I journeyed back to France once again for a wedding in the Alsace area of France. We went in Liz’s new motor home and after the wedding festivities were over we travelled through the north of France taking in many of the famous World War One battle grounds and cemeteries. The summer as you will no doubt remember was hot, in fact very hot indeed and I put together a post about our travels in the motor home, my impressions of visiting the military cemeteries and my frustration with mobile wi-fi! I also had time to make a short video about the military cemeteries which you can see here.

In August I turned my attention to Manchester Airport in a post called Airports and Things. As a schoolboy, Manchester Airport was one of my favourite places and my friends and I spent many a happy hour cycling down the quiet lanes that back on to the runway where we jotted down aircraft numbers. In 2018 the Airport Authority introduced a controversial drop off and pick up charge of £3 which caused many complaints from the public and in the post I argued the case for a larger number of smaller airports rather than fewer huge airports.

A lot of my posts are inspired by the books I read and one fascinating volume was a book by Noel Botham about the death of Princess Diana. He claimed the Princess had been murdered by elements of M16 loyal to the Royal Family and went on to explain various issues with the accepted story of the Princess’ death. Whether the Princess was really murdered or not, numerous parts of the story do not add up and they all contributed to a story of mystery and intrigue.

To round up my personal 2018, a meander through my old diaries prompted a post called Dear Diary and just to get in the festive mood in December my brother and I went on a pub crawl in Manchester In Search of Dark Beer. You just can’t beat a perfect pint of mild!

Well, that was my year. How was yours?


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.

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.

Another Slice of My Life

A while ago I published a post called ‘A Slice of my Life‘ which was in fact a homage to a similar post by one of my favourite bloggers, a fellow from the USA. You might be thinking OK, Steve’s run out of ideas, he’s got to pinch something from some other blogger. Well you’re free to think that if you want but I’m sticking to my version, that I was so impressed by that rival blog I produced a ‘homage’. In music terms we could say I ‘sampled’ his post which is when you get a great record that has pinched something from a much better original. (Did he say ‘pinched’ I hear you asking?)

Anyway, as I’m a little short of ideas, I though I’d revisit that theme again, this time, no pizza involved.

This week Liz and I visited a psychic event. It was some kind of charity function and consisted of three mediums who demonstrated their psychic powers to a small audience. Liz and I and another couple arrived early and grabbed front row seats although sadly the bar was closed for the duration of the event. Pity because I quite fancied a pint of lager, however it was thought that activity at the bar might disturb the vibrations from the ‘other side’. Oh well.

The event kicked off with the first medium. Unfortunately this particular lady looked very like a character from a short-lived sit com that Liz and I both loved. It was called Early Doors and revolves around a small public house in Manchester called the Grapes and the group of regulars who drink there. Two of the characters are Eddie and Joan who always sit in the corner and discuss issues like temporary traffic lights, Joan’s mother’s cats and ‘chippy’ teas. Joan was the absolute spitting image of our first medium and it was all I could do to keep a straight face. Anyway, this lady started off by picking up vibrations from a lady who had passed over to the other side. No one seemed to recognise this lady until our medium focussed on a lady in the audience who she was ‘drawn’ to. Eventually the lady in the audience recognised her father from the vague descriptions given and seemed pretty impressed with the information given from the other side.

The next lady started off with another vague description but no one wanted to be a part of it. No one had relations overseas or knew a stocky gentleman who had passed over with throat issues so that one really died the death, if you know what I mean. Everything then stopped for a tea break. Now, you might get the idea from these remarks that perhaps I’m not a believer in psychic or mediums or indeed the afterlife. No, not true. I do believe the human spirit survives death but when the psychic looks like a character from your favourite sit-com, her credibility goes right out of the window.

One of the great things about my current semi-retired status is that I only work three shifts and then can look forward to six lovely days off. This weekend my three days on centred over the bank holiday weekend, which in one way was a bit of a pain, in others not so. It’s great to have time off like other people but when the whole country gets the same day off and the roads are crammed with traffic and when you get to your destination and that is crammed with people I sometimes think, what the heck, I’d rather be working and have time off on some quieter day when everyone else is at work.

The bit that was the pain was the fact that it was the Monaco Grand Prix weekend which was live on terrestrial TV’s channel 4. The Monaco Grand Prix is a sort of leftover from the days of classic motor sport. It is really rather wonderful to see Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso race on what is  essentially the same track as Fangio, Moss and Clark drove on many years ago. F1 race tracks today are frankly rather boring and the tracks that are pretty exciting are few and far between. Years ago the British Grand Prix alternated between Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Brands is a twisty up and down track and Silverstone, being a former airfield, is flat and full of long straights. In recent years the owners have added a number of twists and turns so Silverstone is not really the track it used to be, perhaps they are trying to make it more like Brands Hatch! Here’s a radical idea: Why not alternate with Brands just like we used to do?

Monaco though is the same as it always was but rather difficult for modern grand prix cars. They are too fast for the tight circuit and their wings and fins that seem to stretch out to hug the downforce are so vulnerable to getting knocked and bumped in close quarter racing. I have to hand it to Max Verstappen though. He started from the back of the grid after a shunt in practice but fought his way through to 9th. Pretty impressive.

Anyway, off the track Monaco is full of glitz and glamour. It’s great to see the former F1 stars who lurk in the paddock coming back to the old venue not as drivers but as visitors, lapping up the champagne, the yachts, the Michelin starred restaurants and so on. One day I will shell out some of my hard-earned cash and go to Monaco for the race and have a very expensive drink in the Tip Top bar where Graham Hill and other stars of my youth used to drink. (Nowadays it’s a glass of organic tomato juice and off to bed early for Graham’s modern counterparts.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I had to work over the weekend on the late shift so I had to avoid e-mails (numerous F1 website newsletters that might give away the race results) TV, (don’t want to see the results on the news) and friends (always ready to spill the results I don’t want to know) just so I could get home and watch the race on video without any advance knowledge spoiling the results for me.

I’ve spent some time this week as usual with my old mum. She is 89 this year and the days when she would cook my favourite tea, wash all my clothes, and make my bed with crisp fresh sheets are long gone. Now she has to put up with my cheat’s roast beef (boil in the bag beef and frozen roasties) and other meals I produce. Pity she doesn’t care for chilli because I used to make a pretty top-notch chilli.

Today my Mum and I have conversations like this:

ME: Mum, I’m off to work. I’ll see you later at about ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you back?

ME: Ten thirty.

MUM: Are you coming back here tonight?

ME: Yes, at ten thirty.

MUM: What time are you coming back?

ME: Ten thirty . .

Old age comes to us all eventually but I did find myself wondering this week if perhaps I could get one of those mediums to contact the living. My Mum for instance . .

After the bank holiday was over, Liz and I decided to head up north to Scotland for a short road trip in Liz’s motorhome. One of the great things about driving a motorhome is that other motorhome drivers always let on with a quick wave as you pass by. It’s like you’re part of a special group or fraternity, us motorhomers against the world.

The weather was gloriously hot and sunny and we motored serenely north and after a few sightseeing stops finally parked up in the car park of a welcoming pub called the Kings Arms in Ballantrae. Ballantrae is a small village and the only time I had ever heard of it before was in the Robert Louis Stevenson book, The Master of Ballantrae. I happened to mention this to my brother over the phone and being the classic movie buff he is he immediately brought up the movie version with Errol Flynn which was actually Flynn’s last film for Warner Brothers.

Motorhome life can be interesting. The next night we stopped out in the country by Loch Doon. We parked up with a rather lovely view of the Loch and set up our little barbecue and soon we were tucking into a veritable feast of steak, burger, sausage and salad. As the evening wore on and the sun began to sink behind the hills a number of midges, those tiny flies appeared. Time to pack up and settle down inside. Once inside we found midges trying to gain entry through any available area and we had to quickly lock down the vents, windows and pretty much everywhere. I don’t know if you have ever seen Hitchcock’s film The Birds where birds suddenly go on the attack but that pretty much summed up our situation and we fought off those midges with anything we could lay our hands on.

The next morning all was quiet on the loch but the midgies were gathered there on the outside of our motorhome resting before no doubt renewing their attack on us later. Time to make a quick getaway!


Enjoyed this post? Why not try my book Floating in Space set in Manchester, 1977? Watch the video below for a quick taster or click the options at the top of the page for info or to buy!

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.

Thoughts from a (Lanzarote) Sun Lounger

Travel.

This year’s  flight to Lanzarote wasn’t too bad at all. It was a pretty busy flight, busier than I had expected, but there seemed to me to be slightly more leg room on my flight. It was certainly better than on my previous trip, a few years back, so much so that I was actually almost comfortable. I’ve flown in January with Jet 2 in recent years and the flights have always been under subscribed which has been good, because as you know, budget airlines always try to cram as many passengers as possible into the limited confines of their aircraft and it’s nice to have a vacant seat next to you so you can stretch out a little. Happily on this rather busy aeroplane in the seat next to me was not a big non speaking, rather tubby fellow -like the guy I was stuck with a few years ago- but a pleasant, slim and quite small lady who was nice to talk to and gave me a little extra much-needed room.

Man Bag.

When I am off to European climes I tend to take my ‘man bag’ with me to carry my bits and pieces about. Much more sensible than trying to cram your wallet, phone, keys, reading specs and all sorts into your trouser pockets like we Brits do. There was some consternation at the airport when the bag went though the x-ray machine. That was due to a bullet key ring I had picked up some years ago and left in the bag. It was made using a world war one bullet, decommissioned of course but I was called to security, reprimanded and the bullet confiscated. Good job they didn’t find the Colt 45 cigarette lighter I was carrying! Seriously, airport security can be a bit of a pain but at least we are sure that we are flying safely.

Taxi.

The weather forecast for Lanzarote had predicted rain on our arrival but actually it was a lovely warm day although a little windy. We had arranged a lift from the airport to our accommodation by a Canarian fellow called James we had met some years earlier. He had claimed before we met that he spoke perfect English although the truth is actually slightly different. He actually speaks something that sounds like English, in the way a drunken Glaswegian or a speech impaired drunken Scouser speaks English. There are some familiar sounds there, even some complete English words, but most of what he says is completely unintelligible.

Numerous texts had passed forth between us detailing our time of arrival, our flight numbers and so on. James had texted back, ‘look for a Renault Kangoo van in white outside the exit’. Great, I thought, clearly his written English is better than his verbal variety. On arrival in Lanzarote we looked and waited quite a while but the van was not to be seen so I called him and he answered with a stream of unintelligible sounds, none of which were recognisable as words currently in use in the UK. One phrase did stand out, the repeated use of ‘no problem’. This of course is a new spin on that familiar phrase because there was a problem, that of getting to our villa down in Playa Blanca. Never mind, I said, we’ll get a taxi. No problem came the reply. Well, might as well delete that contact from my phone.

Lanzarote

Anyway, within a few hours we were sitting by our pool in Lanzarote, sipping wine and deliberating whether to plunge into the heated pool. A few minutes later I was regretting that decision as the pool was cold. Very cold! The villa company sent their man out to take a look and he saw that the pool had not been heated for a while and reckoned it could take a few days to get up to temperature so he cranked the heat up and by the next day the pool felt much warmer. So much so that I could actually just get straight in without having to gingerly slip in an inch at a time while I acclimatised!

Anyway, I think I think its time to throw in a picture guaranteed to make all my fellow Brits back home in the freezing cold UK totally envious. Here it is:

Yes, that’s our dining area with the pool in the background.

Spectacles.

Not long ago I got myself some new specs. They are what I call the Clark Kent type, you know black and fairly square, square in more ways than one although they are actually rather fashionable these days. Anyway, I don’t like them and much prefer my old ones which have photochromic lenses which go darker when the sun gets brighter. I love those lenses and as I am rather sensitive to bright light they are perfect for me. For reasons directly linked to my reluctance to open my wallet I didn’t add them to my new prescription and I didn’t bring the old specs but I did bring instead a pair of clip on dark shades that are so worn I can hardly see through them!

Employment.

On this holiday I’ve decided to start looking and see what jobs are out there for an ancient four O’ level former comprehensive school boy like me. Looking for jobs in this digital age is a tad different from what I’m used to. No need to buy lots of newspapers and troll through the situations vacant columns, yes now you can subscribe to special job seeking websites which search available jobs for you. You can upload your CV and the site will pass any likely looking situations on to you via your inbox. Here are some recommended jobs that were sent to me recently

Strategic Insights Executive

Quality Control Executive

Care Home Deputy Manager

PHP Developer (What’s that about?)

Here’s a great one from an e-mail titled:  26 jobs available in Lytham St Annes, (1)  Driving Instructor, Liverpool (!)

Yes, perhaps I might have to put up with my current job for a while longer.

Laptop.

My Toshiba laptop is not one of the best. Perhaps it’s time to put my hand in my pocket and get myself a top of the range one and make my writing and video editing life a little easier. Just in time for this holiday I took my laptop in to be repaired as a lot of the keys, particularly the ‘o’ were sticking. A new keyboard is what is needed, the guy in the shop told me. They sent off for the part and the day before departing the UK I got my laptop back. Everything seemed in order, the culprit keys were all working and I was fully prepared to bang out my new book and churn out numerous blog posts. Now I find, a week into my holiday, the r and y keys are not working! A writer’s life is not easy . . .


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!

More about James Bond 007, and Me.

I spoke briefly about James Bond in a previous blog and thought I might write a little more about the UK’s most famous secret agent.

I started reading the Bond books when I was a schoolboy and unfortunately the very first one I read was the only one they had in our local library: ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, one of writer Ian Fleming’s worst Bond books. Fleming used to write his initial drafts of the novels and then write a second one, adding in all the details which make the Bond books so interesting. Things like details of Bond’s clothes, (the Sea Island cotton shirts) his food, (Bond always had scrambled eggs for breakfast) his cars, his cigarettes (the special handmade ones with the triple gold band) and all that sort of stuff. ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was published after Fleming had died and sadly he had not revised his original draft. I persevered though, did some research, found the proper order of the books and began to read ‘Casino Royale’, the first in the series. I have loved the books, and the films ever since.

004I didn’t see the Bond films until 1969 when I saw probably my favourite Bond film ever, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, at the cinema. It was everything I had imagined it would be and what I liked about George Lazenby, who played 007 in the film, was that he looked pretty much as I had imagined Bond. He had the authentic ‘comma of black hair’ as Fleming had always described Bond having and not only that, Diana Rigg was probably my favourite Bond girl too.

The Bond films were not then a staple of UK TV but there was always a Bond documentary, usually on TV at Christmas time which built up, as it was supposed to do, the public interest in Bond. It certainly built up mine. There was one documentary I remember which showed the viewer how Ian Fleming suffered with back pain and was sent to recuperate at a rest home where they put him on a back stretching machine which he later incorporated into ‘Thunderball’. Aha, I thought, this is how writers think!

Sean Connery was the first movie Bond and he did a great job in setting out the 007 ‘stall.’ The Bond movies are as much about Bond’s colleagues as they are about Bond and in the original films we had some great supporting actors, Miss Moneypenny, played by Lois Maxwell, ‘M’ played by Bernard Lee, and the long serving ‘Q’, played by Desmond Llewellyn. CIA man Felix Leiter was always played by a different actor in each of the movies, which never ceases to surprise me. A good Leiter would have been a pretty good idea for US cinema goers, surely.

George Lazenby was selected to play Bond when Connery tired of the role. However, he was new to the industry and advisers told him that the Bond movies were on the way out. Friction occurred with his movie bosses when he grew his hair long and sported a beard and eventually Lazenby was sacked. Connery returned to the Bond role in ‘Diamonds are Forever’. With Lazenby that would have been such a good movie but Connery played a tired and lacklustre Bond and after the serious and fast moving ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, ‘Diamonds’ perhaps appears a little tame. Worse was to follow however when Roger Moore was selected to play Bond. Moore plays Bond as a sort of smooth talking fashion icon and some dreadful Bond films were produced in the 1980s.

Timothy Dalton took over for two movies, ‘The Living Daylights’ and ‘License To Kill,’ and after that the film franchise was in limbo until it re started with ‘Goldeneye,’ which after OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie. Brosnan doesn’t overdo the comedy unlike Connery and Moore. He seems like a pretty tough customer yet looks good in a finely tailored suit and, like Sean Connery, he has a wonderful troupe of supporting actors to help him. Judi Dench plays a female ‘M,’ Samantha Bond plays the faithful Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Lewellyn once again plays ‘Q.’

I was sorry to see Peirce Brosnan go because I can’t really say I’m keen on the latest Bond films although I have seen them all at the cinema except for the latest offering. The aim of the producers was to re-introduce Bond to 21st century moviegoers and to show Bond as the hard man he must really be. My feeling is that they have succeeded too well and the films have a hard edge that I don’t really care for. Let’s have another villain like Goldfinger or Doctor No. Not trying to take over the world perhaps but with a really clever criminal scheme for Bond to sort out. And give me some good espionage gadgets, please! Yes, I’m sorry to say that Daniel Craig isn’t my idea of James Bond. Fleming himself reckoned that Hoagy Carmichael was how he imagined Bond and he wanted David Niven to play the part, which he did although it was in the spoof version of Casino Royale back in 1967. And it’s my considered opinon that Bond was based on one man, yes, none other than Commander Ian Fleming of Naval Intelligence in World war II.

Anyway, it was nice to see that in ‘Skyfall’, a good set of supporting actors was established and instead of one actor departing and being replaced, the introduction of the new ‘M’ was handled well and an interesting element was the story giving some background to the Moneypenny character.

Spectre is the latest Bond movie. It was released in 2016 and although I always try to see the new Bond at the cinema, I somehow managed to miss this one. I have not seen it until now as I recently managed to pick up a cheap second hand DVD version for a few pounds. It’s a very well made glossy movie although it is a little lacking in the story department. Yes, the fights scenes are great, as are the car chases although in recent years the Bond films have stepped away from reality slightly. In one scene Bond and a young lady are having dinner on a train. A Spectre assassin comes to assault Bond and a frantic fight scene ensues in which a great deal of the dining car is destroyed. Bond eventually gets the upper hand but the next morning, Bond and his companion are dropped off at the station as if nothing has happened.

One good thing was the return of Ernst Stavro Bolfeld who comes complete with a backstory linking him to Bond’s earlier life. I suspect somehow that Blofeld will return in another Bond but will Daniel Craig?

One annoying thing about Spectre was I felt that the scriptwriters had somehow confused Bond with the character Jack Bauer from the TV show 24. As you will know, if you’ve ever watched the TV show, Bauer is a sort of maverick agent who disregards any instruction or advice from his superiors, even the President, his commander in chief. He always goes off at a tangent and is a complete loose cannon. That is exactly how Bond starts out at the beginning of this film, he is at odds with ‘M’ the head of the secret service but, just like Jack Bauer, he disappears going completely his own way and later he gets colleagues within the service, like Miss Moneypenny and Q, to follow him just as Chloe O’Brian was an insider for Jack.

Hello, Bond scriptwriter! Just remember who you are writing about, it’s Bond, former English naval officer turned secret agent and not Jack Bauer!

Final result: Enjoyable, good in parts but the next Bond would benefit from a more tangible back story.

 


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page or here to go to my Amazon page.

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!

Bankers, Potboilers and J. Edgar Hoover

Bankers, Potboilers, J Edgar HooverHow easy, or hard, is it to write a weekly blog post? Well there is no straight answer to that. Sometimes I just seem to get a whole host of ideas and other times I struggle to find one. The important thing is to keep jotting those ideas down, the ones that come when you are feeling creative or just full of ideas, and use them on the days when you don’t seem to have anything new.

One thing I try to do is have a few ‘bankers’ as I like to call them. Bankers are fully completed posts that I can use whenever I’m stuck for something to write about and that blog deadline is looming ever nearer. I’ve currently got two bankers in the pipeline and they give me that little bit of reassurance, that confidence that if the current blog goes wrong or is just not working, then the banker is there, ready for my Saturday deadline.

I also have a few ‘potboilers’. Potboilers are draft posts that have been going on for a while and need more work to get them right. Every so often I’ll review the potboilers, update them, do more research and add to them. I have two on the boil at the moment. One is about Oliver Stone and is part of a series about movie directors. The first instalment was about Woody Allen, my favourite director and although I‘ve researched a lot about Stone, and his films are great favourites of mine, the post just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t have –yet- that personal anecdotal connection I like to have in my posts. The Woody Allen post seemed to just work straight away but then I do so love his movies. I love that balance he maintains between the serious and the humorous, something I look for in my own writing.

Another one is about Watergate, the scandal that erupted around President Nixon in the early seventies. Watergate and the US White House of the sixties and early seventies are two of my great interests but Watergate is one of those things I know perhaps too much about. I wanted to talk about an interesting connection to Howard Hughes that I think explains a lot about the core of Watergate but now I find I’ve produced the War and Peace of blog posts! A little trimming is in order before I publish that one.

One interesting aspect of Watergate was the involvement of the FBI. Nixon wanted the FBI to do his dirty work, to wiretap his enemies and to provide all kinds of dirt on the people Nixon thought were against him. J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI chief, would not help and this was the reason for the creation of the ‘Plumbers’, the covert group who searched for leaks in the government and did Nixon’s dirty work for him.

Hoover, Gray, Higgins

Hoover, Gray and Higgins

J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972 and was replaced by a fellow called L. Patrick Gray and it has always made me wonder if I became the director, pretty unlikely I know, would I have to be known as S. Ralph Higgins?

The great goal of a blogger is to write something that really takes off and becomes, in internet parlance, ‘viral’. The nearest I have come to going viral was a post I wrote some years ago that suddenly cranked up 192 views in a very short while. All the views originated in Argentina so either ‘Floating In Space’ really rocked their boat down there or there is an Argentinian Steve Higgins who pulls in a lot of Internet traffic!

While I was labouring away last week to sort out the Watergate post I came up with an idea about book trailers and quickly knocked out a post about the making of these video trailers. I always seem to produce something in the nick of time, in fact, that deadline of 10:00 AM on a Saturday morning is good for me as a writer: it forces me to produce the goods. Still, a while ago I had five bankers. Now I’m down to only two!

A few nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night with a perfect blog in my head. I was lying there writing it mentally even though I was still half asleep. It was a cracking post: The title was Blog Heaven. It was all about blogging and writing posts and was full of quirky humour. I knew I’d quickly forget it all so I thought I’d grab my trusty tablet and send myself a reminder e-mail so that when I was fully awake I could crank up my laptop and knock out the post.

Later on I sat down checked my e-mails and saw this:

Viral writing- moulding the blog – blog viral- FBI J Edgar Hoover

Sound anything like the post you have just read? Well, it wasn’t half as good as the one I woke up with that other night!


If you liked this post why not try my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or watch the video below.