On how words “Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.”

On how words “Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.”

Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not stay still.” TS Eliot, Burnt Norton (The Four Quartets)

 

Language is a slippery thing; it will not stay still. Words that meant something a decade ago now seem to mean something else. Remember when ‘cool’ meant chilled but not ice cold? Remember when ‘wicked’ meant evil? Recently, everyone’s favourite Sherlock, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, managed to tarnish his reputation by accidentally using the wrong words. The world exploded with outrage. I’m not even going to try and explain what he said because while I am a bit older than him, we belong to those now over a certain age, and it becomes harder to keep abreast of all the changes in what is and is not acceptable in areas such as race, gender and other sensitive issues. I was gently corrected for using the wrong terminology when referring to people who are deaf or heard of hearing. It’s become a minefield and I’ve become acutely aware that using the wrong term through ignorance could bring down the skies upon my head. There comes a point when it becomes almost impossible to keep up and remember all the correct terms when you’ve seen them change several times and seen what was once acceptable and even polite become something that will get you vilified.

Not only does language change, but we debase it. Let me take a word I use here quite often: DEPRESSION. Frequently now I hear the word used to refer to a state that is a fair old way from actual clinical depression. Too often, someone will say, “I’m depressed,” to meet the response, “What about?” Someone who has been affected by this hideous condition is unlikely not to know that there is no “about” when it comes to depression. But people are using it when they mean they’re fed up, down in the dumps and out of sorts. By using it for these normal, passing human states, the word has become degraded and, sadly, it affects how the illness is viewed. It diminishes it. I’ve heard terms like OCD and bi-polar used in the same way (I’ve even heard someone use bi-polar to describe changeable weather). It saddens me.

Another term I have heard that seems to hold totally different meanings to different people is WRITER’S BLOCK. For some, writer’s block is a mild thing, a pause or a hesitation that merely needs a bit of a push to get past it. Indeed, Philip Pullman (author of The Northern Lights trilogy, among others) dismisses it as a disease of amateurs, saying how there’s no such thing as Plumber’s Block, and it’s a case of if you write for a living, you get your words down. Yet, for others (myself included) writer’s block is a dreadful existential crisis that can’t be cured by a few days off, or a hot bath, or using writing prompts. The term is used for both; the closest comparison is perhaps to the way people use the term “’flu.” Real ‘flu kills. The Spanish ‘flu after the first world war killed far more than the war did. Yet people call a bad cold, the ‘flu, perhaps because it elicits more sympathy and time off work.

Real ‘flu wipes out thousands of healthy people. Real clinical depression kills. Real writer’s block destroys writers. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention to the way language has changed and perhaps coin new and better phrases that describe devastating things in ways that cannot be co-opted to lesser uses.

 

“Did I flinch? Oh, tell me I didn’t flinch!” On idolising stoicism

Did I flinch? Oh, tell me I didn’t flinch!” On idolising stoicism

The line in the title comes from Lark Rise To Candleford, one of my favourite books and a very rare insight into the collective psyche of the British nation at the time of Queen Victoria. Strength, endurance, stamina and stoicism were so prized that girls delivering their first baby would beg the midwife to reassure them that they had not flinched, that they had endured their pain and suffering in appropriately stoic fashion. Some of that came from the supposed Biblical decree that the daughters of Eve would bear their children with great suffering and we must endure it without complaint, but some goes beyond the austere Christianity of the time and has its roots much deeper in a cultural identity.

Mustn’t grumble” is a bit of a mantra in Britain. We’re good at the whole understatement and self deprecation; “Not bad” is often meant as high praise over here, much to the mystification of other English speaking nations. You’ll often see certain phrases in obituaries: someone passes away “after a long illness bravely borne” and the highest praise for someone fighting a life threatening illness is, “She never complains”. On social media, that melting pot of shifting cultural memes, complaining, moaning, whining, whingeing are considered so unacceptable that most of us put a bright, cheerful face on so that we avoid any accusations of being a bit of a moaner. People preface very valid statements with, “I know I shouldn’t grumble” or “I know plenty of people have it much harder than I do so I shouldn’t complain.”

I do wonder if it might be killing some of us, keeping in the anguish, not sharing how we truly feel.

Oh I know we don’t want to make a fuss. We don’t want to be thought weak or pathetic, but why? It’s not as if these days admitting you’re ill, unwell, tired, elderly, frail are going to get you left behind with rations for a day while the tribe marches resolutely onward, leaving you to either starve or be finished off by the cold or wolves. It doesn’t make much sense to me. No one wants to be a burden on others, yet as we get older, inevitably we cannot expect to retain the complete independence of youth and full health and we will come to rely on others to help us. It’s a cycle. We aid the frail and infirm and one day, we too will need the same aid. For some, the frailty comes sooner than for others, but I believe that we are being subtly indoctrinated by the prevailing philosophies espoused by government, into believing that all human worth is based on fiscal usefulness. The Nazis exterminated all those they believed to be “useless bread gobblers” and it’s that fear of being useless that I suspect is what drives the idolisation of stoicism over compassion.

It’s subtle most of the time. We all know folks who never seem to pull their weight, who constantly seem to scrounge and complain and demand attention and it’s unattractive to most of us. We don’t want to be seen like that. No one wants to be known as the one who won’t stand their round at the pub. Because I am no longer working full time, in paid employment, I often feel a sense of shame that I am not earning the kind of salary expected for someone of my education and experience. I fear that I have somehow wasted my education, have done nothing with it – SOLELY BECAUSE I CANNOT SHOW A FINANCIAL RETURN ON IT.

This is palpably ludicrous and shows how seductive that way of thinking is. You cannot measure in fiscal terms my contribution to the world. I believe that the world has been a better place, if only in a very minute way, for me having been in it. I believe that my books, my blog, have aided people in dark times and light. I don’t get any remuneration for blogging and that’s fine because I write it for what I can offer, not for what I can get. Call it a vocation if you like. I earn very little from my books; at one time a year or two back, I thought I might earn, if not a living, then a decent income from my books, but so much has changed and there are so many more authors out there, so many more books, and with a few exceptions, everyone is getting a smaller and smaller slice of the book market pie. I left one Facebook writer group because I got fed up of certain members boasting on an almost daily basis about how many books they were selling and how much money they were earning. Book sales, as part of personal worth, are irrelevant per se. I know some superb authors who sell few books, yet whose work is of enormous skill and is full of soul; the people who are succeeding are those for whom branding and self promotion are not at odds with their ethics and character.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t really have any suggestions. I don’t like complaining but you know what? It’s the squeaky wheel that gets oiled. I might try being more open about how distressing I find life at times and hope that people might cut me some slack and accept that actually, stoicism may not be the healthiest of philosophies to base your life upon.

“I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that”- promo no-nos and personal integrity

I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that”- promo no-nos and personal integrity

If you substitute the words “book sales” for love in that Meatloaf line, you’ll have a better idea of what I’m going on about. The last couple of months I’ve become a tad despondent about the amount of pressure to sell millions of books by any means available and legal. It’s as if authors really are starting to measure both their worth as people and the worth of their work in terms of how many units they have shifted that day, week, month or year. I’ve fallen into the bear-pit too often, lured into reading yet another article about how to increase your exposure and gain more sales. Net result is me feeling miserable and overwhelmed.

There’s no easy way to say this but selling books is hard. It might even be harder than writing them. It certainly gets in the way of writing them. There is an undercurrent of fear too, that says, take your eye off the game for a few days and you’ll lose traction and be swept away in the tsunami of slush and never be found again.

I’m also aware that one of the most delicate of things is under more threat than you’d imagine. Integrity.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had a couple of emails that have troubled me. Most months I get an email or two about advertising on this blog, or guest posts from random strangers trying to (I think) build their portfolio or similar. I used to reply politely but now I just ignore them all. I have concerns about the concept of advertising in general; it’s a clever, devious business of trying to convince someone they want what you’re selling. I have things to sell here: my books. I happen to believe in them, and while I do want my readers to buy them, I’m of the hope and conviction that to some extent the books sell themselves. But to host other products on this space, that brings up a host of awkward questions I’m not willing to try to answer and most of those questions are about how those potential ads impact on my own ethics and integrity.

Back to the new emails. The first was from a company I won’t name, who sell software that highlights grammar issues and other such things. They also have a lot of humorous memes on Facebook and other places, about grammar misuse. The import of the email was to ask if I would like to host an info-graphic from them, about a hot topic. In return they would make a $50 donation to a children’s literacy charity. It caused me pause, you might say. I have what you might call a still small voice that tells me when something is bothering me at a subliminal level. So I did a bit of a look around and had a think. There was enough material out there concerning this company to make me feel uneasy. Not a scam, not really, but there’s times when something can sail so close to the wind that it might as well be. I can’t really say any more but the topic of the info-graphic decided me on saying no. I believe the term is “click bait”, a subject so emotive it’ll have people screaming the odds and as impossible to make any real conclusions as asking which makes the better pet, dogs or cats. Final confirmation of my decision came when I heard of other folks being contacted with the same email from the same company.

The second email was harder still to deal with. I received an email from a journalist at a big national newspaper (again, will remain nameless) that is infamous for its sensationalist approach and its somewhat flexible attitude to truth. She was looking for adult women who believed in fairies and having found my website (this blog) she wondered if I would be interested in being a part of this article. I assume she would have interviewed me or something. This really did give me pause. National newspaper exposure for Away With The Fairies is not to be thrown away lightly. I dithered for a very short time before being reminded of how this paper always make people look totally stupid at best and mentally deranged at worst. Do I want my beliefs and convictions derided and laughed at? So that email has also been ignored.

Perhaps you might think me too precious about both these invitations but as I said earlier, I believe in my books and I don’t think they or I would be best served by being pilloried by the national press, or by being caught up in a hurricane of acrimonious debate initiated by a company about whose ethics I have some doubts. In the end, I don’t think that potential book sales are worth compromising my own integrity over. There will be other opportunities at some stage that do not give me such concerns. In the meantime, I will write my books and know that there is more to being me, the author, than how many or how few books I sell each week.

Piracy, pricing and the pernicious effects of victim-less crimes

Piracy, pricing and the pernicious effects of victim-less crimes

Piracy is not Johnny Depp running around in kohl and dreadlocks, pretending to be Jack Sparrow. Piracy is a terrifying reality on the seas to this day but that’s not the type of piracy I’m wanting to raise awareness of. The type of piracy I mean is a so-called victim-less crime.
Piracy in the creative industry is the stealing of content without the consent of the creator. Every DVD starts with an anti-piracy notice; most you cannot even fast forward through. But I’ve heard people say it’s not a crime and that an artist ought to be flattered that someone has thought their content worthy of lifting. I suspect that most reading this will be on the side of the angels and I may be ranting simply to relieve my feelings. I don’t know if any of my work has been pirated; I don’t want to look, really. Cease and desist notices seem to have limited effects and to be honest, they’re a hydra – a many-headed beast that grows ever more heads each time one is cut off. It’s the mentality that sends people to pirate sites that needs addressing as much as anything; the implementation of DRM has done nothing to reduce piracy and much to inconvenience genuine users.
I had a friend who had in the past committed what he considered victim-less crimes of eating at expensive restaurants and then sauntering off without paying. The argument was that it was something that restaurants factored into their costs and it was therefore not really a problem. The same friend also used to steal things like pillows from hotels, again using the argument that such losses were covered by insurance, and that didn’t everyone do it? Excuse me while I bang my head on a brick wall for a while in frustration. Stupid and immoral doesn’t even cover the half of it!
Shops inevitably lose a significant proportion of their good via shop-lifting and the losses are adjusted by raising the prices of the goods. Smaller shops go out of business as a result of the rise in insurance premiums, the cost of replacing stolen goods and because of the sheer misery of being robbed constantly. It’s easy to forget that shops are not always run by face-less business moguls but actual human beings with feelings.
It’s the same for books. Even when it’s a big name author who is being pirated, they lose out. For independent authors, it’s even more striking. You might argue that writers write for the love of it and not for money, but you know what? It’s possible we do it for both. We all have bills to pay. I’ve seen the argument that books are priced so high that people cannot afford to buy them. Unlike food, books are not an actual necessity of life, though life without books would be dull and grim. Books are always freely available, either via libraries (you can actually request particular books to be ordered from your library) or from the vast array of books that are no longer subject to copyright and have been made available by such fabulous initiatives as the Gutenberg project. These are the only free books I get now, ones by authors who have long since shuffled off this mortal coil.
If it is price that puts people off buying a book, then I do not understand why quite so many bought, for example, J.K Rowling’s newest offerings when they were initially almost £12 for the e-book version. I know she has millions of fans, but honestly, £12 for an e-book? That’s prohibitively expensive. I’m still looking on the shelves of second-hand bookshops for copies of her detective novel. I appreciate that there’s few who will take a punt on an unknown author if the price tag is above a certain amount but it’s depressing to see that price is trotted out as a reason for not even trying. With Kindle, you get a decent chunk of sample for free to see if you like the style. I’ve already written about why I think free is a problem but there are a few things I would like to suggest in relation to free books. If you pick up a free book, resolve to actually read it. I’ve stopped getting free books for this reason; they are sitting on my Kindle, unread. The psychology of this is complex but basically paying for something gives it value and time is our most valuable commodity. If a book is free and is the first in a series, consider paying for the next instalment if you enjoyed the free book. Consider writing a review for free books; it’s one of the reasons authors make a book free, in the hope that reviews may come. Independent authors often have zero budget for advertising and reviews can be very helpful.
I said earlier than while writers write for pleasure, being paid for it is important. There comes a point when many authors actually stop putting books out, because the sense of futility can become overwhelming. I’ve heard of authors being messaged by people asking to be informed when the next book is going to be free. I cannot imagine anything more inducing of despair than such a message. It says, I like your books but you won’t catch me paying for them. There are shelves on Goodreads that in essence say the same: books I want when they are up for free (or so I am told. I don’t and won’t use Goodreads because it scares me).
One other thing. Pirate sites for books often provide books that are poorly formatted, incomplete and can be laden with viruses. Karma’s only a bitch if you are.

“She’s only after the attention!”

“She’s only after the attention!”

I bought a new chair a few weeks ago.

Bravo, you might say and then look puzzled. A new chair? Yes. Very nice. But why are you telling us about it?

Bear with me a moment. It’s a chair I’ve wanted to buy for about ten years but we never had anywhere to put it so it was never bought. It’s that classic design from Ikea, rejoicing in the delightful name Poang. You might know it; it also has a matching footstool. Neither are expensive and so I put one in our trolley on our last Ikea visit.

Poang armchair

Poang armchair

Poang armchair

When you sit in it, this chair seems to be tailored to fit your contours perfectly. Put your feet up and it’s even better. But the slightest movement results in a gentle, soothing rocking motion that is supremely relaxing as long as you’re not prone to sea-sickness. Once the chair was assembled, I sat in it and found myself rocking automatically, and I pulled a blanket over me and felt safe. The phrase “self-soothing” sprang to mind. Babies and small children are difficult sometimes to persuade that bed and sleep are good things, and part of what parents are expected to teach them is a process of self-soothing whereby the children can just go to bed and get themselves off to sleep without the endless round of rocking, cuddling, holding, bottle(or breast), music and so on. It’s part of the process of encouraging our off-spring to be independent beings who don’t need us for their security and sense of safety and comfort.

What bothers me is that it seems to begin at birth. No sooner is the babe out of the womb than we’re encouraged to shove them in a cot or pram and expect the poor little things to cope with it. Imagine: your whole existence up till this point, you have been cocooned and held in warmth and have your every (albeit basic) needs met without having to seek it. Now you’re out in a world where you have to scream to be fed and held, and nothing feels right. You’ve never been alone before. No wonder babies scream so much.

As parents (if you’ve been lucky enough to have kids, that is) you have little or no preparation for this, and if you are like me, you have no one around you to advise except mid-wives, health visitors, and a few friends in the same boat, trying to figure it out and get sufficient sleep. You’re often bombarded by conflicting advice from relatives and from books and TV and websites(when mine was born, the internet per se did not exist) and the most common advice is that you bend the infant to your will, to your way of living. Don’t give in to this miniature tyrant who bosses you around and makes you do their bidding, is the general opinion, and you are told you will “spoil” your baby if you do.

I remember a close friend who had a daughter a bit older than mine, being told by another young mum that the child who was having a tantrum was “only doing it for attention.” My wise friend retorted coolly, “Then I had better give her some attention.”

Fast forward to the present day.

With the internet, cries for attention pepper the time-lines of Twitter, the pages of Facebook and are the staple of blogging. Indeed, to some, blogging itself is regarded as the most vile of attention seeking. I recall TV presenter Andrew Marr saying something of the sort.

A baby that does not have its emotional needs met in infancy usually is damaged by the experience. Bodies can thrive and grow but the spirit can be stunted and scarred by lack of attention. It’s a fundamental human need to be of value & importance to those around us, and when it is lacking, however much notional love is present in a family, there remains a void in the centre of a person’s soul.

I belong to the generation whose mothers were told to feed Baby and put them in the garden in their pram to watch washing blowing on the line and ignore their cries until it is time for the next feed. A friend of my mother’s used to put the pram at the bottom of the orchard, a considerable distance from the house, so she could not hear the baby crying. I was myself kidnapped as a ten day old baby. Obviously I don’t remember it but I do sometimes feel sure that the impact on me at the time has resonance to this day. My generation were not cuddled and coddled and the worst thing you could be as a child was an “attention seeker”, especially if you were a girl. The truth is that there’s a good chance that much of what is going hopelessly wrong with the Western world has its roots in children who grew up craving attention but seldom getting it in ways that fed the soul. To learn to self-soothe is still encouraged by popular psychology that dictates that no one cane truly help you except yourself. I disagree. We are a tribal people whether we accept it or not; we are not built to be totally emotionally and physically isolated. John Donne’s famous words, No man is an island, are true to this day.

So the next time you see someone attention-seeking, whether online or in “real life”, perhaps it is worth considering why they might be behaving this way and what deep need is being exhibited. Compassion for the self and for others might well be the best first step towards healing generations of people damaged by the myths of strength and independence that have filled our national identities and characters and have damaged the souls of so many.

Kindness and compassion. It’s a good place to start.

Why loving books is not the same as loving stories

Why loving books is not the same as loving stories

On a couple of occasions recently while watching documentaries there have been shots of various libraries from around the world and I have emitted involuntary noises of serious appreciation more suited to the sighing of eye candy of some sort. One of them was actually a library in Russia. Vast terraces of shelves of books, stretching into the distance, complete with ladders to reach the higher ones, and neat desks complete with lamps with poison-green glass shades. For one millisecond I could smell the wonderful vanilla aroma of old books mingled with the more animalic tones of the leather binding, and feel the pent-up expectant hush that comes with such places and the soft indoor breeze caused by the tuning of hundreds of heavy pages of thick cream paper.

That’s what I call a proper library. Shoot me if you like but I don’t like modern accessible libraries with their noisy children’s corners (that is to say, noisy areas for children rather than corners for children who make a lot of noise, though the two are pretty much synonymous) and colourful displays and internet desks. I haven’t even got round to joining the library here, only two doors away from my own front door because it’s that kind of library. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I know all the arguments in favour of making libraries places where people can chat and children can discover the wonder of books. It’s just not for me. I’m not comfortable with it in the same way I’m deeply uncomfortable with people conversing in normal voices about everyday topics in the period before a church service starts (after the service is fine. If I ever go these days, I bow my head and stay silent and apparently in prayer to avoid this sort of conversation.)

I LOVE books. I always have done. I was gutted when before moving to the coast in 2006, among the many physical things that were given away, a large number of books had to go or we had no chance of fitting into our new but MUCH smaller house. I own books I will never be able to read (though I did give my Hebrew Bible to a friend who reads the language) and I am haunted by inner visions of mysterious, heavy, leather bound books that hold secrets and wonders. It’s why, despite having a digital copy of Jung’s Red Book, I do one day want to own a real physical copy. The digital pictures have merely whetted my desire.

A book is an object of great beauty and it holds something that is beyond the story is turns out to contain. Books have themselves become a kind of archetype, something representing knowledge, wisdom, mystery and wonder, a vessel for enlightenment. I began some months back to write a small journal of my personal grail quest. I have painted a few pictures in it; holding it, with most of its pages still untouched, I am aware of the potential of the words I have written and those I have yet to find. There is something intrinsically HOLY about books. The notion of burning books makes me sick; throwing a book away will enrage me. I got very sharp with a student a few years ago as we stood at the Boreham Interchange services; I’d watched him read a book on the coach for several trips, and that day I saw him stand reading, finish the last page, shrug and proceed to THROW IT IN THE BIN. I went mildly ballistic and rescued the book. I have it still, regardless of the fact that my German is unlikely ever to be proficient enough to tackle it.

There is no such thing as a bad book. There are many bad stories, but the medium in which they are offered ought not to be tainted by this. In my opinion FSOG ought never have been printed; it’s now the volume that charity shops have ended up with stockpiles of. In its digital form it did not carry the same weight of existence as it does in paperback form, and now it seems that the idea of a “great book” is muddled up with great (ie: HUGE) sales, and the sheer numbers FSOG sold sets a measure all other books are somehow expected to aim at.

The argument between those who have embraced the digital era of the e-book and those who believe that it’s not a book unless it’s paper and ink is getting tired but there’s people like me who are happy that both are available. I love books but I also love stories. I love being able to hit “one click” and know that in seconds I will have a new story to enjoy. Some I then buy a hard copy of, either to give or to add to my own small library. Some stories are essentially disposable, read once and forget. In fact, the vast majority of beach-read blockbusters are like this, and I have been able in recent years to part with many(well, a few, anyway) of these indenti-kit novels.

But there’s always a huge part of me that is the girl who aged eighteen was so overawed that she was only able to stand inside the old British Library for a few seconds before the power of the books made her run away quivering ever so slightly. It’s that part of me that despite being a relative nobody in the world of books, I try to get my stories into book form, that paper-and-ink book baby, because the solid reality of a book you can cuddle* has a level to it that e-books can’t match, no matter how many are ever sold.

* Yes, I cuddle books. Doesn’t everyone?

There’s no such thing as a free lunch ~ on the rightful exchange of energies.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch ~ on the rightful exchange of energies.

I’ve seen a good deal lately about free books. If you buy e-books, you’ll probably have gathered a few freebies. Amazon allows its Select programme authors to make their books free for five days out of the ninety day exclusive period. Many authors believe that the exposure having a book available for free brings in sales later, especially if the book charts in one of the best-seller categories that run side by side, paid alongside free. When the opportunity to “sell” your book at the free option first came around, a lot of authors found that their books soared to the top of categories as people in their thousands downloaded it. As time went on, the numbers downloading became lower and the paid sales that came on the back of it dropped even lower too.

Today I came across Erika M Szabo’s blog post explaining how she has people messaging her and asking her when her books would be free  http://lovetotalkalot.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/free-book.html I’m certain her experience is far from unusual. It would seem that the plethora of books offered for free has meant that a lot of readers now expect books for nothing.

Some time ago I stopped downloading free books, just because they were free. In fact, I stopped doing it within a few months of getting my Kindle. Most of the ones I nabbed remain unread, lost somewhere in the hinterlands of my device. I realised that the books that got put into the folder named Freebies seldom came out again. I have occasionally picked up a book that’s been offered free, but it’s generally ones I might well have bought. Currently I am reading a non fiction book about food in the books of Jane Austen. I’ll probably write a review when I finish it, as a thank you.

I’m sure if people thought about it properly they would understand that while authors do want their books to be read, they don’t really want to give them away. There’s something more complicated going on, something subtle and easy to miss. Giving away books can be part of a strategy to gain more readers: either on the off chance that those who grab it when it’s free will read it (and even better, write a review), or because the book has been given as an ARC (Advance Review Copy) in exchange for an honest review later. I know from other writers than ARCs often bring in poor returns; many readers never get round to writing the promised review. I don’t generally accept ARCs myself either because the time factor is such that if it’s a book I want to read in the first place, I prefer to buy it because that gives it greater weight in the sliding scale of what I an afford to spend time on. In my mind, a book I have bought (exchanged money for) is likely to be read far sooner than one that I have been given in the hope that I will review it. If I have paid money for a book, too, I feel that the basic exchange of energies is in balance. Once I have read that book, depending on how much I have enjoyed it, there is then a possibility that I feel the balance has been upset again. A book I have adored creates in me the desire to share it, to review it and to make up the deficit in energy. So a four quid book that I loved requires something more to settle the scales.

Of all the commodities today, for many of us, time is the most valuable. I’ve read scathing reviews of books that often refer to the time they have lost reading a book they didn’t enjoy, and often it’s only the fact that it was free or cheap that has redeemed it. But my time too is valuable. To write a book takes time and dedication and while you can argue that writers make that choice to use their time to write (and no one is holding a gun to their heads) I do believe that demanding unlimited free books is an obscenity. The motto of my faculty at university was Haec otia studia fovent which roughly translates as This leisure(wealth) fosters/favours study; one could use the same basic sentiment to declare that this leisure fosters creative works. Without the time taken out of other activities few books would get written. There are few authors I know who can write full time. Most of us have day jobs. We write for all sorts of reasons and while there’s some who write in the hope of making their fortune, I think most accept that very few succeed in that way.

My own books are the product of intense, focused periods of creative energy, with all the concomitant hours of extra work to polish and prepare them for public consumption. I have never made any of them free on Kindle and I probably won’t. However, I do happily give away copies to individuals and I have my own code for this. I don’t send out ARCs out before a book is published (but I may do something of the sort one day when I get all my ducks in a row) because I’d rather not create obligation in others. If a book has given enjoyment that is worthy of the very reasonable price, then I think that’s all square. The reviews that come in give me great pleasure and I’m deeply grateful for them.

Every free book has been the product of a lot of work and hope too. It’s greedy to gobble them all up and demand more of the same without offering something in return. An author cannot keep on churning out more and more of the same product endlessly without something going back to feed them, and for readers to see authors as mere providers of their favourite mental snacks will create even greater imbalance. Authors will get discouraged and they will give up. Many already have.

If you enjoy reading, whatever your preferred genres, remember that exchange of energy, especially if you “buy” free books. Make time to review the ones you enjoyed, or buy a book by the same author if you liked their style, let others know about books they may also enjoy.