To my eternal shame, I was recently coerced into watching 50 Shades of Grey. O me, O my! Not my thing. But we had a couple of hours to kill and nothing else was showing in that time slot, so … the hours were dutifully killed. I woke up in a panic at the sound of thunder toward the end. Mercifully it was only in the movie and not outside (where 2000 endurance athletes were competing in Iron Man).
Why 50 shades? The action (or lack of it) was predictable to the point of being mind numbing. I spent most of the time speculating whether Jamie Dornan’s left eye is smaller than his right. Apparently he won’t be starring in any sequels (I understand his wife has put her foot down).
This brings me to the “Why” of this post: It’s my belief that it’s crucial that we hang onto the fact that life has a billion shades of grey. One of those shades here is that I’m envious of anyone who can write a bestseller, never mind get it made into a movie. Plus, I also fell asleep in Pirates of the Caribbean, so my state of consciousness might not be a good reflection of the depth of any screenplay.
Iron Man (going on outside while I was at the movies) is another shade of grey altogether. It’s a mind-blowing feat of endurance that lumps together athletes of all shapes and sizes, strengths and weaknesses in one incredible melting pot. There is one medal for all who complete the 3,8km sea swim, 180km cycle and 42km run within the cut-off times. All finishers earn the title “Iron Man”, no matter what state they’re in by the end.What impressed me was the way Jodie Swallow (first woman to finish) came back during the final half-hour to hand out medals to athletes finishing in double her time. There’s someone who’s aware of “shades of grey”—who knows that every single finisher is a winner in their own right. Port Elizabeth, Mandela Bay, is also known as the Friendly City, and that spirit is only too evident during Iron Man. The spectators who line the route are there for everyone, not just their own friends and family. It’s their encouragement that helps many an athlete summon up the last scraps of courage to complete the course.
I did my bit of cheering. But this was also my holiday, so I think I was justified in doing a crossword or a Sudoku or two, eating junk food and watching a bad movie. How many newspapers are sold by virtue of their crossword or puzzle page? It’s certainly one way of getting people to read the news.I was sad to see that PE’s old colonial monuments are under threat. Apparently people find them a too painful reminder of the past. That in this day and age Queen Victoria reminds anyone of anything besides Emily Blunt is a puzzle to me, but … shades of grey, again … let’s make allowances.
What I can’t understand is why anyone would want to tear down PE’s famous horse memorial. This is a monument of universal appeal, a life-size statue of a horse with a soldier kneeling at its feet, which actually commemorates all animals that die in our so-called service. The inscription round its base reads: “The greatness of a nation depends not so much upon the number of its people or its territory, as in the extent and justice of its compassion.” Worthy sentiments, well worth preserving. Whatever we may push to the back of our minds, let’s not ever forget those little acts of kindness that got us through the dark days. And still do: Shades of grey.
“Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” — Anatoli Boukreev
Pick a mountain. Any mountain.
Life’s a beach. When tsunamis roll in there’s no option but to seek the rarefied air of higher ground.
At the moment I have bloggers block so bad I can’t even blog about why I can’t blog. So I’ve picked my mountain.
It’s one that takes a bit of preparation — an exercise regime, some attention to diet, that kind of thing. The idea is to keep focused on something bigger than the tsunamis. The actual climb is the easy bit. I’m no mountaineer. I never go further than base camp. This time there’s not even a base camp. I’m taking the scenic route.
So pick your mountain. Any mountain. And when you’ve climbed it, sit back and let go. That’s the hard part.
The main obstacle to self-publishing is the publicity. How do you hook people into reading your stuff? Way back in 2012 I was desperately trying all channels to publicize my book, Hillary’s Angel. An IT friend persistently told me to start a blog. Eventually, six months later, I did.
It was scary. Blogging didn’t come naturally at first, but one day I woke up with the realization that it had become a hobby — something I actually enjoyed. However, 18 months later I still have no way of knowing if it has helped sell any books. I tried unsuccessfully to get feedback from Amazon (at one stage there was a nifty chart on my Amazon author’s page, which sky-rocketed whenever I made a sale, but that was taken down for “upgrading” months ago and never replaced) and I’ve not had a whiff of a royalty from them to date.
The idea is (or, rather, MY idea is) that people who read my blog will think WOW I’d like to tuck into more stuff by this magnificent blogger and will then click on and download my Wonderful Book. Certainly I’ve really enjoyed several self-published books that I found on WordPress. Some great writing is not being published via the old-fashioned/conventional channels. In fact, it’s often better than the stuff in the bookstores (and a whole lot cheaper). But in my case I only have positive evidence that blogging has helped me sell one copy.
In another way (ie not sales related) I do have concrete proof that blogging has helped me publish. Early on it connected me with another first-time self-publisher who was far more blog-literate than I was and incredibly supportive with no prospect of financial reward (which still amazes me).
Indirectly, thanks to her encouragement, on 21 December I finally delivered another book. This time I published with Smashwords (following my blog-friend’s example) in ebook format only. This is SELF-PUBLISHING in the true sense of the word. Along with the (minimal) effort and the risks involved it has one major advantage: I can now tell exactly how many books I sell. This time around I’m not uploading to Amazon and I’m not asking folk to review me (if they do it will just be a bonus). So for me 2014 will be an honest experiment to see if blogging really DOES help self-publishers connect with readers.
That said, I can tell you what (in my experience) does NOT sell books. First and foremost, a book launch. Rubbish. I had a great party, but didn’t sell a single copy. In fact, if you asked my friends I don’t think they’d be able to tell you why we had the party in the first place. Secondly, book reviews. I had at least three four-star reviews but suspect I was the only one who read them. Next, bookshops. As a self-publisher I found it next to impossible to get bookstores to sell my books. (Another reason why I’m opting for ebook-format only this time round.) I sold three books at each of the two stores that very kindly put Hillary’s Angel on their shelves.
Then we come to “friends and family”. All the publishing guidelines recommend that you do NOT give friends and family copies of your books. Thing is, they don’t tell you how to get these friends and family to buy their own copies. In the end I gifted copies to most of mine.
So what do I hope to achieve by the end of 2014 (apart from the obvious massive sales to all you supportive WordPress bloggers)? Well, firstly, I’m already deep into a Mills and Boone type romance (publish or perish) to be published anonymously. And secondly (and sadly) I’m thinking of awarding a special prize to my friends for the most inventive excuse for not buying my books. The list is growing daily. (And yep, that would be a book prize.)
On a more serious note, so far I’ve sold two whole copies of my new book Upside Down. Both to family, who bought them solely in an attempt to “cheer me up”. One was bought by my daughter, who doesn’t read books anyway, and one by my husband when he heard I’d reduced the price to $1. No, these are not tears of joy …
A walk in the park
Some day when life’s edges unravel
go bravely without a backward glance
memories implode cascading in
aromas of apples and croissants
unmade beds siestas “Closed at Noon”
treasures once so carelessly exchanged
tucked into a beaded evening bag
for a stranger to rediscover
dust off at some future antiques fair
reminding passers-by that affairs
have a way of coming to an end
heaven forbid that steely scentless
state reserved for others less loving
one day when we part it will be a
good-book-waiting goodbye a walk in
the park where we’ll leave regret behind
like a roses on our favourite bench
Most (but not all!) of the photos I use on my blog are my husband’s. There was a time when we were quite competitive about our photography. I did it as part of my job and took mainly black and white while he took colour slides, but we’d still spend hours trying to out-do each other. When the babies came along I had so much kiddie-litter to carry I usually left the camera bag at home, and he stopped taking slides and switched to photos, because we never got to look at slides anymore. Which just goes to show how life dictates most of our decisions — so much for “free will”.
It’s only recently that I bought a digital camera and started over. I went for high speed, light weight and compact, because I’ve learnt that holding a camera actually distances me from what I’m watching. I miss stuff. Sometimes that can be an advantage. Watching my daughter compete in showjumping made me very nervous, but when you watch through the lens it makes all the difference. You kind of remove yourself from the scene.
Even though I’m using a camera again, I don’t put the same amount of effort into it that I did thirty years ago. I’d rather have less to carry and more time for my own mental snapshots. Which is why I rely on my husband to take those perfect shots. Although (as I said) not always.
So when it comes to mental snapshots, I have plenty, but I’m only going to describe three. My first is my earliest memory (I guess we all have one). In technicolour. I must have been in a pushchair because everything is much taller than me — the yellow and red cannas, the boys in khaki. It was either cadets or scouts. (So my mother tells me.) The second is in 1986. I’m standing outside on the lawn down by the sea with my baby son in my arms. It’s about three in the morning on the day he was christened and Halley’s comet is spread across the sky in front of me and I know that the next time he sees it he will be seventy and all I’ll be able to do is knock on the top of my coffin. And the third? A fish eagle flying over my head (from behind), the day before yesterday. And then, another one.
Jersey’s Glass Church has the most effective use of glass and light that I’ve ever seen. Of course, that’s to be expected, because René Lalique used moulded white glass, or verre blanc moulé-pressée for most of the furniture, including the font, windows, altars, crosses and screens. Even the Lady Chapel, ceiling, lights and vestibule feature his work. He was commissioned by Lady Trent, to create a new interior for St Matthews in memory of her late husband, Baron Trent, founder of Boot’s Pharmacy. It took two years and was completed in 1934. Jersey architect AB Grayson, who is well known for his Art Deco style houses, designed the pews, pulpit and lectern.