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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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!


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Making the VLOG (or I’m Ready for my Close-up Mr De Mille!)

2016-01-28 (2)edOne of my very favourite movies is ‘Sunset Boulevard’, the Billy Wilder classic about an ageing former silent movie star who gets involved with a struggling writer. Gloria Swanson played the silent movie star Norma Desmond, William Holden the struggling writer and in an inspired piece of casting, Erich Von Stroheim played Norma Desmond’s butler and former silent film director. Inspired, because of course in real life, Von Stroheim actually was one of Swanson’s directors in her silent movie days and clips from some of their films are used during the movie.

It’s an outstanding film and due credit must go to the great Billy Wilder who not only directed but also wrote the screenplay, and he even got famous director Cecil B De Mille to play himself in the movie. Even if you’re not a classic movie buff like me, you’ve probably guessed that the quote in the title ‘I’m ready for my close up Mr De Mille’ comes from the movie. There are some even better lines from earlier in the picture when William Holden recognises Norma; ‘You’re Norma Desmond, you used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big’, to which Desmond replies, ‘I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!‘ They just don’t write dialogue like that any more. Anyway, over to the other part of this post, the bit about the vlog.

I follow a number of you tube channels and one of them is ‘I’m Emily’. Emily makes a Vlog, a video blog, every single day! That’s pretty impressive, I mean, I only produce a blog once a week and sometimes I’m pushed to make that target but a video blog, that includes not only recording the content but editing and uploading and so on, all on top of her full time job. I take my hat off to you, Emily.

On my you tube channel, my videos are mostly about my book, Floating in Space. They are all mini adverts I suppose, usually with me talking to the camera explaining why you should buy my book and sometimes why you should try my web page and point your browser at posts just like this one.

Anyway, while on holiday in Lanzarote I wrote once again about my holiday book bag so I thought, hey, I bet I could make that into a vlog too. Should be easy enough. The blog is about my five holiday books, so I imagined myself talking to the camera with the five books all handy in front of me. Sounds easy enough. The aforementioned Emily shoots her vlog on an iPhone which of course has a self facing camera, so if you are filming yourself you can see exactly what is being recorded. Now my video camera is pretty good, it’s a Panasonic HD camera but the screen naturally is at the back and you can’t see the video image as you film. However, whilst out at the market in Marina Rubicon here in Lanzarote I came a cross a sort of selfie gadget: A clamp that clips onto a table or some other support, grips your camera or camcorder at the other end and has a sort of bendy bit in the middle so you can position everything and then record or photograph yourself. So, one sunny day after breakfast I got set up. Table, chair, books and camera all positioned nicely with the swimming pool in the background. I soon found it was not that easy to frame your shot as the clamp on the selfie gadget masks the camera screen so after a few ‘testing 123’ shots to find the best camera position I was ready for take 1.

Take 1. OK, went pretty well, I blathered on a bit and forgot the author of one book so time for take 2.

Take 2. OK but I’m holding the books slightly out of camera shot.

Take 3. I lift the books higher but gradually as the take goes on the books are getting lower and dropping out of shot. Cut, I shout, getting my director hat on.

Take 4. I’ve reframed and lowered the camera a little. I’ve actually cropped off the top of my head but the books are centre stage. I fluffed one of my lines calling Noel Coward an historical figure instead of a theatrical one but recovered that one OK with a little laugh at myself. I also say the Germans were ‘disappointed’ with Hitler at the end of World War Two when discussing a book about Albert Speer, one of Hitler’s ministers. Bit of a understatement there, I meant to say shocked or devastated, anyway, time for take 5.

Take 5. Start to stumble a little here, perhaps I need cue cards. Dorothy Parker wrote what for New York Magazines? Check the blurb on the back of her book again and time for take 6.

Take 6. Looked pretty good. Wait a minute, did I really say ‘my holiday book blag‘? Time for take 7.

Take 7. Radical re think needed here I think so I’ve smarted up a little, put on my favourite holiday shirt and re positioned the camera and my clamp gadget. Wish I’d brought my tripod along! Anyway here we go. Action: ‘Hi I’m Steve Higgins and I’m here in . . er . . ‘ CUT! It’s Lanzarote!

Take 8. Slight camera adjustment as take 7 wasn’t particularly well framed. Forgot to mention who Albert Speer actually was. Will people know who he was? Well, if they are interested in history and World War two yes, otherwise no . .

Take 9. ‘Bleak House by David Copperfield’? What is this guy talking about? Cut!

Take 10. Not too bad, faltered a few times over some words, mumbled  a little perhaps but generally not bad. Sure I can do better though; still a little slow. Needs more pace.

Take 11: Whoa, slow down boy! I said pace not rabbit on and on without taking a breath!

Take 12: Not happening! Time for a swim!

Well, not quite as easy as I had thought it was going to be. I eventually settled for take 4. Better hold off with my application to the BBC just now, still, bit of practice, a few more videos and – ‘I’m ready for my close up Mr De Mille!’

Here’s the completed video blog:


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5 Steps to Creating that Post!

creatingthatpostOne primary question to ask yourself before you start blogging is this: Why do you want to write a blog and what are you going to write about?

It’s deep in the psyche, this need to communicate and express yourself but bloggers blog for a number of reasons. One is that we have a particular interest or passion that we just have to talk about. It might be a sporting interest or a hobby that we love. It could be a love of poetry or books. If you spend a lot of your free time cycling for instance you might want to indulge your love of this hobby by writing about it and discussing cycling issues or sharing information and tips about cycles. I subscribe to a lot of blogs about my favourite sport, F1 racing, as well as blogs about writing and my favourite movie directors for instance.

Another reason for blogging is to promote a business. There are many photographer blogs on the web, some are from amateurs who want others to see and comment on their work, some are by professionals who are actively promoting themselves and their business.

Authors are frequent bloggers, perhaps because publishing has been turned on it’s head by the internet and the digital revolution. No longer must we writers wait for the publisher to find us, we can get our work out there straight away and build up an internet presence which in turn benefits our self published works. Whether self publishing is a good thing I’m not so sure. I feel that personally I’ve rushed a little too quickly down the self publishing route but the experience has been good for me. I originally thought I had a pretty good manuscript but self publishing showed me very quickly that this wasn’t the case and I had to do a lot of work to update my grammatical errors and sort out problems with page breaks and other bits and pieces. The process I’ve gone through at createspace has been a big learning curve but as a result my manuscript has been well and truly re-hashed and edited. I personally love paperback books but it’s the Kindle version and it’s user friendly instant download facility that, in the case of my book, is much more popular.

Blogging for me is primarily to promote my work but I do love writing and I do love writing my little blog. One good thing about blogging is that it gets the creative juices flowing. It gets you thinking, what can I write about? What can I write about next time? So far the ideas have kept on coming and I’ve got six or seven draft blogs in the pipeline although I have to say two have them have been there so long I think they may be heading for the trash file shortly. Many people ask me how do I do it, how do I come up with a new post every week? Well, good job I don’t have to write a daily blog, I’d be pretty pushed to do that I can tell you! Anyway what I do is this, I keep an eye and an ear out for a blog idea all the time. I read a lot and one of my great loves is trolling round for second hand books so if I’m stuck I’ll write about books or writers. I’ve already done posts about James Hilton and Dylan Thomas, two of my favourite writers, and I recently wrote a second post about my finds in second hand bookshops. If ever I see something on TV that might inspire a blog post, I jot it down in my notebook or even sometimes on my mobile. In my car, which believe it or not, is a prime creative space for me, I have a small hand held tape recorder and I can be seen frequently jabbering into it as I drive to and from work.

Recently I switched on the television and an old James Bond movie was showing. Now, I’ve read all of Ian Fleming’s Bond books and seen all the films so that looked to me to be a prime target for a blog. A little research on the internet will tell you that a lot of popular posts will have a number in the title, things like ’10 different ways to promote your blog’ or ’20 ways to get more blog traffic.’ Ok I thought, how about ‘8 Things you didn’t know about James Bond!

Now, once you get an idea like that, a factual idea, you need to do a little research. I quickly jotted down the few things I knew about Bond and then researched the rest on the internet. I put together my facts and figures, made sure it all made sense, added a little graphic and there’s the next blog post ready. Of course, if you write something, it stands to reason you will want someone to read it so make sure you promote your posts on Google+, Twitter and Facebook and anywhere else you can think of.  Have a look at the infographic below:

The Creative Processs-2

It’s quite easy to make your own infographic, just as I did on http://www.canva.com

Enjoyed this post? Then why not click the links at the top of the page and find out more about my book!

100 Great Movies you Must See!

I really do love movies. Well, my movies, my own personal favourite movies and I don’t always care for other people’s movies. I tend to like classic movies rather than modern ones, not that I’m denigrating modern film. Anyway, I started off trying to work out my top 10 and ended up with, well, a hundred!

Yes, I can also tell you that because of the list maniac that I am, I decided to make the list into a spreadsheet which is great because I can sort the data and throw certain things back at myself, or in this case, at you, the reader. Here are a few examples; A Number of directors had multiple entries, people like Oliver Stone, Michael Curtiz, Martin Scorcese, John Ford, and David Lean (all with three entries.) My top two directors came out as Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick each with five entries. Woody Allen, Robert Redford and Humphrey Bogart were my favourite leading men and Liz Taylor and Mia Farrow my favourite leading ladies. My favourite years for movies appears to be 1946 with four favourite films and 1956 with five. Anyway, the complete list is below, in no particular order:

A Kind of Loving
A Taste of Honey
Alfie
Blithe Spirit
Broadway Danny Rose
Casablanca
Charlie Bubbles
Dead of Night
It’s a Wonderful Life
Lost Horizon
On the Waterfront
Radio days
Rebecca
Saturday night and Sunday Morning
Serpico
Seven days in May
Spartacus
Sunset Boulevarde
Sweet Smell of Success
The Bad and the Beautiful
The French Connection
The Last Picture Show
The Long Arm
The Maltese falcon
The Man in the White Suit
The Quiet man
The Searchers
The spy who came in from the cold
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The VIP’s
2001 A Space Odyessy
A Hard Days Night
A Man for all Seasons
A Matter of Life and Death
Alien
All the President’s men
Angels One Five
Angels with dirty faces
Annie Hall
Around the world in eighty days
Awakenings
Back to the Future
Billy Liar
Bullitt
Citizen Kane
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Dances with Wolves
Desperately Seeking Susan
Dog Day Afternoon
Fail Safe
Fatal Attraction
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Get Carter
Get Shorty
Giant
Gladiator
Goodfellas
Great Expectations
Green for Danger
Gregorys Girl
Hannah and Her Sisters
JFK
Kes
Lawrence of Arabia
Little Man Tate
Lost in Translation
night Of The Demon
North by Northwest
On Her Majestys Secret Service
One Flew over the Cuckoos nest
Paths Of Glory
Platoon
Pulp Fiction
Rocky
Shane
Smokey and the Bandit
Snow White and the Seven dwarfs
Some Like it Hot
Taxi Driver
The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Big Sleep
The Candidate
The Cincinatti Kid
The Cruel Sea
The Dambusters
The day the Earth stood still
The Godfather
The Graduate
The Great gatsby
The Ipcress File
The King of Comedy
The man who shot Liberty Valance
The Misfits
The Shining
The Silence of the Lambs
The Thief of Bagdad
The Third Man
The Wizard of Oz
Three days of the Condor
To Catch a Thief
Viva Zapata
Wall Street
Whats new Pussycat?
Whats up Doc?
When Harry met sally

Hope you enjoyed the list. What are your personal favourites?

If you liked this post, why not try my book? More details on the ‘Floating In Space’ link above.

Why Writers can’t do Without Dreams

image courtesy fotolia

image courtesy fotolia

Dreams; there’s a subject. I woke up a few mornings ago in sunny Lanzarote (sorry, just had to rub that in) after a crazy dream in which I was out with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, and somehow, don’t ask me how, I had lost all my clothes. We had been out drinking and were walking home then something happened and I woke up somewhere without any clothes. I woke up then but that wasn’t the end of it.

The next night I had a sort of follow on dream. I was wandering around with no clothes, although I had come across a blanket somehow and with me was Michael Portillo (yes, the ex-MP who hosts a show on BBC about railway journeys.) Well we ended up in this hotel and I was starting to worry. Well, who wouldn’t? No clothes, no wallet, no mobile. Who could I call? Should I try and cancel my bank cards? What happened to my keys? Where am I and what has Michael Portillo got to do with it?

Michael was standing nearby and using his influence as a famous former MP. Someone brought him a phone and he started chatting into it. Clothes were brought for him and I could hear him chatting to his bank. It actually brought to mind that sequence at the beginning of one of the Bond films where Pierce Brosnan has been in a Chinese prison, escapes and finds himself in Hong Kong. He walks into this posh hotel, his hair long and unkempt, his clothes in rags and the guy at reception says “Will you be wanting your usual suite Mr Bond?”

Some people just have that manner about them don’t they? Me, I’d have been unceremonially kicked out of that hotel, assuming I’d even made it past the front door! I can just imagine the scene:
Your usual suite Mr Higgins? Just a moment please?”
The manager beckons to a large man looking similar to Oddjob from the Bond movie Goldfinger. The next moment, Mr Higgins hurtles through the front door. As he is propelled into the street he murmurs, “that’s a ‘no’ then is it?”

I often wonder where dreams actually come from. What is it in the deep recesses of the mind that produce these spurious dramas? When I was younger I don’t really recall ever dreaming that much. As I grew older I seemed to dream more but tended to forget most of my dreams very quickly. These days I do dream quite a lot and I dream pretty sensible things too. The ending of ‘Floating In Space’ was something I dreamt one night and I typed it up and replaced the original finale which, although inspired by real events, was a little unbelievable. Also, I have an entire story which I’ve partly written into a screenplay which I dreamt one night and which played out in front of me as vividly as if I was sitting at the front row of a picture house. It is about a man who appears one night wearing a white suit and who gets involved in some strange circumstances. So strange that those around him begin to believe the man is a kind of Saviour; a sort of new Jesus figure, and his companions become disciples in the way of those who followed Jesus himself. I still have my notes from that dream and the story is on my ‘to do’ list to finish.

Dreaming a story and making it into a novel or a screenplay isn’t quite as strange as it seems. In 1898 an American writer, Morgan Robertson wrote a story about an unsinkable ship called the Titan which sailed from England to the USA, hit an iceberg and sank. The story was published fourteen years before the Titanic disaster. I remember reading the story of this writer years ago, even that the writer saw the story played out in front of him like a movie but all the research I did on the internet for this blog seems to imply that the author was a man who knew his business where ships were concerned, felt that ships were getting bigger and bigger and that a disaster like that of the Titanic was inevitable.

Wikipedia describes dreams like this: Dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. It’s easy to think that perhaps the basis of dreams, the make-up of dreams comes from within but it’s possible external forces can affect dreams too. Paul McCartney once said that he didn’t write his songs but that they were out there, waiting for him to catch them; to pick them up. Perhaps dreams too are there just waiting for us to dream them.

One other kind of dream is the daydream and T E Laurence once said that those who dream in the day are dangerous men: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

I have to confess to being a daydreamer but as for being dangerous, well, I think not. I do have a persistent daydream though, one of becoming a best-selling author.

Of course, you the reader could make it happen, just by clicking the links at the top of the page to buy Floating in Space!

 

Five basic steps for Blog Success!

There are a heck of a lot of blogs about blogging. How to start blogging. What to blog about and so on. The thing is though, if you don’t know what to blog about you shouldn’t be blogging. You have to have some idea what you want to talk about, some subject or interest that’s close to your heart, otherwise, what’s the point?

quotescoverb-jpg-39My blogs are pretty diverse but generally they are funny or at least mildly humorous observations on life. They usually get serious when I talk about things like the Bobby Kennedy shooting or the JFK assassination or even when I look at my writing or film heroes like James Hilton or Woody Allen.

Blogging is something that I started just to promote my book, Floating In Space, and my blogs are mostly written in the same style as the book so they give the reader a sort of taster of what they will be in for if they decide to purchase a copy but now I’m starting to feel almost like, well a professional journalist! I have my deadlines, well my deadline, my one deadline and that is to have something written ready for Saturday when I post. Throughout the week I’ll usually jot something down then edit it into something like a readable piece of work prior to Saturday, and when I say prior to Saturday that usually means Friday night!

Recently I returned from six weeks in Lanzarote and I had planned to write so much and in fact did so little. I started work on another book and another radio script as the last one was rejected by the BBC (what do they know anyway!) I didn’t make much headway in either of those areas but what I did do is a huge amount of networking and I boosted my twitter profile and quadrupled my followers and signed up to Linked In. Actually I was already on Linked In but never used it that much but there are quite a few writers’ and bloggers’ groups worth joining. I’ve also started posting my blogs on Google+ which has substantially increased my network presence. Has it led to more buyers for my book? Well, the exposure has certainly helped with my free promotion but sales are still not quite where I’d like them to be. I’m reading lots of blogs about blogging and book promotion but I’m sorry to say that the chap who promised that he could boost my sales by 1667 % in seven days did not deliver! Well, I did follow most of his advice but stopped just prior to the bit where I should hand over a substantial amount of cash for even more help!

Anyway, after over six months as a blogger here are a few handy tips!

1. The important thing I’ve learned about writing is this: be disciplined. If you plan to write on holiday then choose a time that is good for you and try not to be distracted by e-mails or the internet. In Lanzarote I’d get up early, switch on my laptop with all the best intentions and then start checking e-mails and tweeting and so on. What I should have done is set aside a time for that later, switch off the internet, write for an hour or two hours, or whatever your allotted time is, then go to the internet later.

2. Try to have something visual in your blogs to catch the eye of a potential reader, even it’s only a graphic showing the blog title. There are plenty of places online where you can sort out a graphic, places like www.picmonkey.com, www.pinstamatic.com or www.quotescover.com. You might even want to create a video. Take a look at one of mine made on the www.animoto.com site, created from still images.

3. A good headline pulls people into a newspaper and the same is true for a blog post. Think about your title as much as you think about the content. You also need to get some vital keywords in the title too, just so google can pick up your post, so if you’re writing about motorcycles, get a snappy title in there using ‘motorcycle’! 10 things you should do before starting your motorcycle engine! Try that one and if you’re stuck for a headline title or even content, try this site at portent.com, tap in a few keywords and it’ll come up with a title for you!

4. Create a blogging schedule. There’s a reason why your favourite TV show is on every Friday at seven thirty: So you’ll know when to tune in. It’s the same with a blog. Some people write every day, some people knock out a random blog every so often. My blog comes out once every week, on a Saturday so my small band of followers know when to look for a new one!

5.One final thing you might not have heard of, it’s the ‘call to action.’ So what’s that? Well it’s the thing you want your reader to do, buy your video, buy your product, or even, buy your book, so it might go something like this . . . .

If you liked this blog, why not buy my book? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

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Blogging the Blog

quotescover-JPG-15So just what makes us bloggers and why do we blog?

Well, if you write something, it stands to reason you will want someone to read it. It’s deep in the psyche, this need to communicate and express yourself but bloggers blog for a number of reasons. One is that we have a particular interest or passion that we just have to talk about. It might be a sporting interest or a hobby that we love. It could be a love of poetry or books.

If you spend a lot of your free time cycling for instance you might want to indulge your love of this hobby by writing about it and discussing cycling issues or sharing information and tips about cycles. I subscribe to a lot of blogs about my favourite sport, F1 racing, as well as blogs about writing and my favourite movie directors for instance.

Another reason for blogging is to promote a business. There are many photographer blogs on the web, some are from amateurs who want others to see and comment on their work, some are by professionals who are actively promoting themselves and their business.

Authors are frequent bloggers, perhaps because publishing has been turned on it’s head by the internet and the digital revolution. No longer must we writers wait for the publisher to find us, we can get our work out there straight away and build up an Internet presence which in turn benefits our self published works. Whether self publishing is a good thing I’m not so sure. I feel that personally I’ve rushed a little too quickly down the self publishing route but the experience has been good for me. I’m well aware of the state of my manuscript and it’s grammatical errors and I’m well on the way to sorting that.

I have to say also that the print version of Floating In Space will shortly have finished it’s re sizing and grammatical revisions and will be ready to hit the market soon. Blogging for me is primarily to promote my work but I do love writing and I do love writing my little blog. One good thing about blogging is that it gets the creative juices flowing. It gets you thinking, what can I write about? What can I write about next time? So far the ideas have kept on coming and I’ve got six or seven draft blogs in the pipeline although I have to say two have them have been there so long I think they may be heading for the trash file shortly.

popartpic1edQuite a few people have asked me about my novel. What’s it about? is a frequent question. Well, it’s set in the late 1970’s and it’s about a young man in South Manchester and his small group of friends. He goes from working in an insurance company to finding himself as a bus conductor in a short space of time and the background to the book tells us about life in the seventies: Music, drink, pubs and Mancunian night life.

Is it a science fiction book? No it isn’t.

Why is it called ‘Floating In Space’ then? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or, buy the book and all will be revealed!

Writing, blogging and the Power of Books.

Writing, Blogging and booksWhere ever I have lived or stayed there will always be a time when you will find me curled up in bed by the glow of my reading lamp, reading a good book. If I rewind all the way back to my childhood that is still where you will find me, with either a book or a comic. One of the first books I can remember reading was a book I got for Christmas, it was in two parts, one part was about the mythical King Arthur and the other about the legendary Robin Hood. I have been interested in both of those two people ever since, perhaps because of that book. King Arthur and his knights of the round table: Was there really a round table, was there a Camelot? Was there even a King Arthur or was it just the imagination of Sir Thomas Mallory who wrote the book Morte d’Arthur many years ago. Was there a man called Robin Hood? Well, those are just two stories that continue to fascinate me and are still with us in books and in the movies.

srfQGYLvEkOpm9pxXCkIUGTMhWN Errol Flynn played Robin in the wonderful ‘Adventures of Robin Hood’, Kevin Costner also played Robin in a more recent movie and when I was a schoolboy as well as reading about Robin I could rush home and watch the Robin Hood TV show with its cheery theme song ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen’.

Reading stories like that is the catalyst that makes someone into a writer. It’s not enough to read a great story, you want to tell one too. I have been a writer as long as I can remember and if there is a pencil and a notebook handy I will write in it. As a TV obsessed child I invented numerous TV programmes, wrote scripts for the pilot shows and cast all the characters. I wrote stories too and English was always my favourite lesson at school. I do a great deal of writing in my car. Well, not the actual writing but the thinking anyway. I’ll get an idea and think about it then I’ll store it somewhere in my head and return to the theme on my next journey. I have an old dictation machine in my car, a small hand-held gadget with mini tapes and I frequently grab it and mutter something into it. When I get an idea that I don’t have time to stew over or even when some phrase or line of poetry comes to me that I think is worth hanging on to, it is quite a handy gadget to have.

I started this blog as a way of publicising my self-published kindle e-book but now I think I’m more interested in the blog than the book! Because of this blog I’m becoming more of a seasoned and professional writer. After all, if I was a professional journalist or columnist I would need to be thinking ahead, what’s happening in the world, what can I write about? What can I comment about? Now, just like a professional writer I’m looking ahead and I always have two or even three draft blogs in the pipeline. Whenever I’ve started to worry about what to write next, something has come to me and usually it’s a couple of related ideas that I can make into two separate blogs. Blogging is increasing my output as a writer and making me think more about my work. Yes, I’m actually becoming a proper writer!

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