Old Age, Editing and a Touch of Variety

Week after week, I knock out a new blog post all in the mostly vain hope that my readers will watch the promotional video down at the bottom of this page and either buy my novel, Floating in Space or my poetry anthology A Warrior of Words. If one of those videos should perchance ‘go viral’ as they say and get some huge viewing figures then those viewers might even be suitably impressed enough to go out in great numbers and buy my books. Then I’d make a huge load of money and quite possibly depart for the South of France with the intention of trying some new wines and new cheeses at pretty frequent intervals.

You might think that once I had those royalties in the bank I might not bother about this lowly WordPress blog anymore. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. This blog and my one deadline of Saturday morning at 10am is the fuel that gets me writing. So far, nothing has stopped me putting out a post, apart from the odd occasion when I have forgotten to press the schedule button or pressed the publish button instead by mistake. The other thing that has sometimes curtailed these blogs is that moment that must come to all writers, the moment when a blank page stares back at you and you have nothing to fill it with.

Now it just so happens that I have been a little stuck for a blog post this week so what I’m going to do is combine this post with a half written post about favourite comedy sketches. Now of course you might be wondering how this is going to work so I suggest you think of this post like you might think of an old variety show, you know, those old Saturday night TV variety shows with a mix of singing, dancing and comedy.

Here’s the first clip from The Two Ronnies, one of my favourite sketches, seriously well written:

 

Last week I wrote about my latest radio interview which was only for a local community station but even so, it was an interesting experience. I am still off work and still suffering with pain in my right shoulder and arm and it’s not so easy to type but I’ve found that by getting into a semi prone position on the couch (some would say that would be my default position anyway) I am actually reasonably comfortable.

Due to Covid 19 it was not possible to go into the studio for the interview so we had to do it by telephone. I had written up a few notes to help me and make me sound reasonably intelligent, a difficult task as you can imagine. What made it more difficult was that the previous night I had slept really badly due to my sore arm and had finally nodded off round about the time I should have been getting up. Anyway, I did get up, got ready for my call and waited and waited for my trusty laptop to fire up. Fire up it did and then displayed a message saying ‘do not turn off your computer while Windows is updating’, not that it fires up particularly quickly anyway. Yes I always seem to get either that or something similar whenever I need my laptop in a hurry. In fact, come to think of it, scrap the South of France idea I mentioned above, I think I’ll spend a huge amount of money on an all singing all dancing new laptop before I venture off to France.

Time for some more humour. This clip is from the Monty Python team and I must add a quick personal story first. Years ago I used to work in the GM Buses control room. I was employed in the enquiry office taking calls from the public and we had the far corner of the control room to ourselves. Opposite me was Jed, a guy who hated the job and sat scowling at his desk waiting for his next call. Two young girls sat in the corner chatting and across from me was Mr Nasty, so called because of the various arguments he used to get into with the public. A young lad called Andy sat in the other corner.

Jed took a call quickly and efficiently, giving out bus times to the customer then quickly finishing the call. Next was Mr Nasty but his call clearly wasn’t going well. This was my first week in the job and I remember wondering whether or not I had made a good career move. The enquiry opposite me began to escalate into an argument and just then my phone rang. I picked it up and said ‘Hello, GM Buses’. A voice then asked me ‘Is this the right room for an argument?’

What? I looked around and my eye caught Andy quietly giggling to himself. I answered ‘I’ve told you once!’ just like John Cleese in the original Monty Python sketch. I had found another Python fan.

 

Okay, where was I? Of course, the root problem is age. If I wasn’t so old and knackered I wouldn’t have had the shoulder problem, I would have got up on time and started my laptop off good and early. The big problem is the inconvenience of getting old.

Yes, seriously inconvenient. Old age comes along just when you don’t want it. You have a few years on the clock, you’ve gained some experience of life, a lot of experience of life in fact. Some wisdom, some money in the bank. Retirement beckons and if you have been smart and invested in a private pension plan, retirement might even come earlier and sooner than it comes for most people. Of course, maybe the mortgage has been paid off and you may be sitting on a prime piece of property. You could sell it, downsize, buy a place in Spain or the south of France, maybe even in the USA, after all, over there they mostly speak the same language.

But what happens? Your back hurts. Your neck hurts. Maybe you need a hip replacement. You might be experiencing a little deafness or poor vision. Yep, old age can be really inconvenient. What has the government done about it? Yes, they have increased the retirement age rather than lowered it. What were they thinking? Lower it and straight away a whole raft of jobs becomes available to all those out of work people hoping for a job and as for us older people, we can jet off to somewhere warm and relax before our aches and pains get the better of us.

You might be thinking this might be a good spot to add another comedy video. I thought that too but in my draft post, 10 Classic Comedy Sketches, I had only got as far as number 3 and when it comes down to it, I’m not sure that number 3 was actually good enough to get into the top 10. Anyway, so as to continue the variety theme, here’s a little music from another unfinished draft; 10 Great Beatles Cover Versions;

Getting back to my interview, it seemed to go off reasonably well and like the seasoned blogger that I am I started sharing links to the interview over on Facebook and Twitter. What else could I do though? How else could I promote the interview and me at the same time? What about making it into a video? Difficult I know! If I had been really on the ball I could have set myself up at the table in front of my camera and videoed things from my perspective. I hadn’t, so how could I make it into a video? Well, I could easily add the soundtrack to a still picture of me or my website logo but that would be a bit boring. No, what I could do was to pretend to be doing the interview on camera and lip sync to my recorded answers. Genius!

How hard could it be to lip sync? Back in the sixties many films, especially European ones were made with only a guide soundtrack and all the dialogue was dubbed later. A prime example would be the spaghetti westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Dubbing was pretty much the norm in European films, as many times they would be dubbed not only in their native language but in other languages too so as to facilitate sales in other countries.

Another interesting example is the James Bond films which surprisingly contain some excellent audio dubbing. Gert Frobe who played Auric Goldfinger was German and did not speak English well. His voice was dubbed in the film by another actor. I think I mentioned in a previous Bond blog post that Ursula Andress who played the first ever Bond girl Honeychile Ryder in Doctor No was dubbed in the film by Nikki Van der Zyl who did voice overs for many Bond girls. Apparently, Ursula Andress was felt by the producers to have had too strong a German accent.

Shirley Eaton played Jill Masterton in Goldfinger and it was she who was famously covered in gold paint. Jill’s voice was dubbed by Nikki in order to give her a softer voice. French actress Claudine Auger who played Domino in Thunderball was also dubbed by Nikki.

Not long ago on one of my promotional videos, I decided to lip sync myself when some unexpected wind noise ruined one of my recordings. I have to admit, the result was only partially successful even after hours of work. Actually it would have easier just to reshoot on a less windy day. Anyway, all that experience would pay off now and I could lip sync my new interview. Sadly after a few hours of lip syncing and coming close to smashing my beloved video camera and laptop to pieces I decided on another tack. I filmed myself talking but with the phone covering my mouth so my lips couldn’t be seen on the finished film. What a directorial film making genius. Why Hollywood has never signed me up I’ll never know?


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Diana, Meghan, Nixon and Me

As I’ve mentioned in a number of blog posts, it’s not enough to simply write a book, you have to get out there and start to sell it. Marketing is the bane of any self-published author’s life. Videos, Tweets, Facebook posts and WordPress blogs; I’ve done them all endlessly trying to bring my two short books into the media spotlight and flog a few copies.

Now that the lockdown has eased, I thought that perhaps I should try something new. In a local freebie newspaper in my home town of Wythenshawe in Manchester, I noticed a small article about a local writer who had recently had his work published. I contacted the paper asking if they might be interested in writing about me. We exchanged a few emails and I told them how I had self-published Floating in Space and how Cyberwit publishing had approached me offering to publish a collection of my poems.

After a few emails that was apparently that and I heard nothing more until in my junk mail I spotted another follow up message saying that the paper might have enough space to write about me and did I have a picture of me with my poetry Book A Warrior of Words?

Quickly, with a speed I am not usually associated with I put on a smart shirt, grabbed a copy of Warrior, shoved a camera into Liz’s hands and got her to snap off a few pictures of me with my prized book.

I heard nothing back but while I was shopping at Asda, I saw a stack of the free paper The Local Voice and picked one up. To my surprise there I was, beaming at the camera on page 8 proudly displaying A Warrior of Words to the unsuspecting reader. If that small article will get me any new sales only time will tell. Until then I’ve put the order for my new Ferrari on hold. I have to say though that seeing my picture in the paper did give me a sense of pride, just like whenever someone presses the ‘like’ button on one of my posts. Writing gives me a sense of accomplishment and like everyone, the occasional pat on the back – or picture in the newspaper – gives me that feel good factor.

Just while I’m on the subject of newspapers I sometimes wonder how they have kept going during the digital revolution. Many years ago, I used to buy a newspaper every day. I’d read it on the way to work if I was travelling by bus or train. I’d read it on my break and do the small crossword and the word games, trying to find the nine-letter word and make as many smaller words as possible out of the letters. I’d even scan through the sports pages in case there was something in there about motor racing.

My mum and dad used to read the Manchester Evening News from front to back. Once, when scanning through the births, deaths and marriages section, she spotted the death of the mother of an old school friend, contacted the newspaper and as a result was able to meet up with her friend again.

Now I rarely buy a newspaper. I read them on the internet but whenever my quota of free news has been reached and I’m asked to pay to read more, I always decline. I can read the news on the BBC website for free as well as some excellent articles on the Guardian website so why should I pay? How do newspapers survive I wonder when people always go for the free option? Well, if you want to read quality journalism you have to pay for it and although many newspapers and magazines occasionally give you a snippet of an article for free, if you want regular content, they will always ask for a subscription. Even some of my favourite racing magazines like Motor Sport and Autosport are both now only available digitally.

I am happy to report though that one outlet of quality writing is still free, yes, you’ve guessed it, you’re reading it!

Advertising brought in a great deal of revenue for newspapers in the past, indeed motor car sales and estate agents must have funded most of the free newspapers we used to see but now specialised websites for property and motor cars have appeared and all that advertising revenue has been diverted to them. Nice to see that some free papers are coming back though, especially one with my picture inside!

Another spin off from that small item was a call from a local community radio station wanting to do an interview with me. Covid restrictions meant that I couldn’t go into the studio which was a pity because I did rather want to be invited inside. I could actually imagine myself as a DJ. I think the late night shift would suit me, playing chilled down music as the sun slips down, perhaps even mixing in some poetry and some chit chat to go with the tunes. Oh well, enough day dreaming. Denise, the local DJ and I had some introductory chat and went on to talk about my books. Unbeknown to Denise, I had just arisen from a dreadful night’s sleep, my arm and shoulder had been hurting and had kept me awake most of the night. I’d finally nodded off when it was time to get up and only just got to the phone at the agreed time for our telephone talk. I didn’t have time to crank up my laptop and access my notes, ready made in advance with useful hints about writing poetry and also about how Floating in Space took shape.

This was only the second time I’ve been interviewed so I’m hardly an expert. The first time ever was a few years ago on Salford City Radio and the DJ and I planned the interview in advance, in fact he asked me to give him a list of questions that he should ask me so I had my answers already rehearsed and also had a list of some facts and figures about blogging which I could quote when we got talking about that subject. That was a really interesting experience and I was able to bring my video camera and mini tripod along so I was able to make it into a YouTube video.

Afterwards I started looking at TV interviews in a different light, how rehearsed are they I wonder? Did Oprah give her questions to Harry and Meghan in advance? Did they give specific questions to Oprah to be asked on air? I was watching a documentary the other night about the late Patrick Swayze and he was interviewed on TV by a US TV host I’m not familiar with. His friend advised him to be careful because the host was known to ask questions that surprise the subject, even to the point of them crying. Swayze dismissed the advice but when they were on camera, the interviewer asked Swayze about his new ranch and his father who had just passed away. Swayze choked up straight away as it was his dad who had got him interested in horses and he had bought the ranch specifically for his dad to manage. That interviewer had certainly done her homework!

Which other TV interviews are remembered as classic ones? Well the two that immediately come to mind are the David Frost interviews with disgraced former President Richard Nixon and the famous Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana. That latter interview has been in the news recently as it has been revealed that Martin Bashir apparently falsified various documents in order to get Diana on board with the project. Devious that may have been but clearly Diana had her own agenda which was to get her story over to the public and gain public support and sympathy. The quote most often associated with that interview was when Diana said ‘well there were three of us in this marriage so it was a bit crowded’ referring of course to Charles’ relationship with Camilla.

The Nixon interviews were really compelling watching and what was just as good was the film version Frost/Nixon which starred Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. The film shows the background to the interviews, the financial stakes as well as the political ones and finally Nixon and Frost commence a verbal battle about Watergate in which Nixon makes his famous quote ‘when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!’

When I came review it, my interview was not quite as interesting as the ones I have mentioned above but at least I remembered some of my prepared thoughts and managed to get them over. I am always impressed when on TV and in films, people just seem to press a button and their laptops are up and running. My laptop takes a lifetime to get going and my notes appeared just as I was saying goodbye. Anyway, the good thing was that as the interview was recorded, Denise, my interviewer, should be able to cut out all my mumbling ums and ahs and make me sound reasonably interesting.

Well, I hope so!


What to do next: Here are a few options.

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Click here to visit Amazon and download Floating in Space to your Kindle or order the paperback version.

The Self Published Writer’s Guide to the Radio Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Metrics and the Art of Social Media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, with great power comes great responsibility!


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

The Ups and Downs of the Internet

As you can guess if you’ve read any of my other blogs, I just love the digital age. It’s enabled me to do so many things, share my writing with everyone here on wordpress, share my pictures on tumblr and flickr and my videos on you tube. What’s been a highlight in particular is that I’ve been a motor racing fan since I was a school boy and when I was younger I spent a lot of time at my local circuit, Oulton Park in Cheshire, watching motor races and taking pictures. I had a whole shedload of pictures that have only been seen by me and have been sat in an album upstairs in my back room for years and now flickr has enabled me to share them with other race fans and my Oulton Park collection has had hundreds of views, when a few years back it was just one.

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

image courtesy everystockphoto.com

Social networking is so interesting and varied. The main social sites are probably facebook and twitter. I’m on both of those sites but they are very different. Twitter is in a lot of ways a real time web site. Many people comment on sport and TV shows while the shows or events are still in progress but personally if I’m trying to comment on an F1 race I’m feel as though I’m missing the action while I’m tweeting. I suppose in that way Twitter is ideal for the smartphone whereas Facebook is something where you can post your status and then come back later or the next day and respond to further comments. On Twitter most of my friends are pure internet acquaintances, especially now as I’ve been promoting my blogs and book heavily on that site. I get other authors asking me to like their pages and posts and in return I like their pages and posts so we both benefit with extra web exposure.

The same thing has been starting to happen on Facebook with increasing traffic from non-friends, people who just like my blogs so I’ve had to create a Facebook page for myself as a writer so that I can keep separate my business and personal friends.

Another aspect of the internet is that it enables you to check out your old and long lost friends and a site like friends reunited is all about connecting with former school friends. Friends reunited was one of the early success stories of the internet but now it seems to have fallen by the wayside a little, it’s popularity overtaken by sites like the aforementioned  twitter and Facebook.

I’ve traced quite a few of my old school friends thanks to Friends Reunited, for instance one of my primary school pals that I made contact with emigrated to Canada, was successful in the computer industry and now lives in semi-retirement on an island off the west Canadian coast. Pretty good for a lad from a Wythenshawe council estate. That was an interesting find and my friend Paul and I have exchanged a fair few e-mails. Both of us are happy and literate writers, perhaps we’re really old fashioned letter writers now turned to e-mails but I find that nowadays it’s easy, at least for some people, to fall into a kind of text speak even on social media that sometimes slips over into messages.

I had one e-mail a while ago from an old school friend asking was I the same Steve Higgins that he knew at school. I replied back that yes I was and added a good few paragraphs about my life, what I had been up to in the intervening years and what I am doing now. Nothing came back for months and when I wrote again to say ‘did you get my e-mail’ a reply finally arrived. ‘Yes, great to hear from you LOL.’

That particular friend I’ve not seen for over thirty five years and I’m none the wiser about him now, despite him wanting to contact me! Oh well, that’s the internet for you!


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