On this day in 2009…

…I posted my very first blog post.

I’d had the idea in mind for the blog title itself before I even knew blogs existed, but Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking took a while to come into being. I joined a co-operative blog, Cafe Crem, first, and after a month, I was ready to go it alone.

When I hit publish for this post, my stats will tell me I have done 970 posts in the eight years since I began.  There have been almost a quarter of a million hits. Thousands of comments, likes, shares. It’s been a huge part of my life. It’s where I began to reach out and meet people who (I hate the term) are my tribe. I’ve met a few wolves in sheep’s clothing too, got burned, got hurt. I hope I have touched lives for the better. There’s even a little book, intended as a part of a series using the essays in this blog collected thematically. The first book is on depression. There will be more (one day). There’s posts about my books, stories, poems, rants, paens, authors I love. So much here.

So, wish Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking a happy 8th birthday. Having seen many blogs begin, flounder, die, and disappear, I know that keeping going is quite an achievement and one I ought to be rightly proud about. Blogging is not longer what it was, as Facebook has taken the place for many, as a forum for sharing, but I will persist and hopefully, you will too.

Bless you all (in the true sense, rather than the wonderful passive-aggressive semi-curse of the American south) and thank you.

Dark Times at the Winter Solstice

Dark Times at the Winter Solstice

It’s been weeks since I was able to blog; in the years since I began this blog (in Feb 2009 FWIW) it’s been rare to let weeks and weeks slip by without a post. I’m more and more reluctant to share any original material; my drafts file here contains more than a few short stories and poems. But I don’t hit publish because it’s become a worry to me that work can so easily be stolen from a blog for all sorts of nefarious reasons.

As 2016 draws speedily to its end, I had this dream:

I am in a big empty wooden building, like a barn or a log cabin. It feels like it has once been full and is now devoid of everything but two things. On the wall hangs a set of ornamental shelves, for books or for objets d’art. The only thing on the shelves is a single large natural sponge, and when I lift it, it is feather light because it is bone dry; not merely wrung out but dried out.

That’s how I feel: empty, drained of all life, light, creativity and potential. It’s not merely that I don’t want to write: it’s more that there is nothing left inside to bring out.

This time of year is quite grim for many; I spoke of the very real concerns for the world generally in my previous post (Rumblestrutting) and those concerns are growing rather than declining. And in addition, there is the loss of light that is a purely natural phenomenon as we approach mid winter.

Mid winter is seen in a positive light as a time to rest, withdraw, recuperate, hibernate and husband our energies, but there’s aspects that we too easily forget that our ancestors may have better understood.

Amid the darkness of mid winter is another layer of darkness, a kind of residue of things unfinished, thwarted plans, hopes, dreams ambitions, a silt of the soul that leaks into the wider world. It’s full of the anger and the sadness and the disappointments that are all part and parcel of being human, sloughed off because we are not well equipped to integrate the side of human nature too often dubbed negative. It has to go somewhere so it oozes around, like the gunk you find accumulating in sink outlets and drains. Not evil exactly but unpleasant, smelly and completely undesirable. Like slime moulds, this residue has a kind of unexamined sentience; it can seem that it knows what it is doing (slime moulds are fascinating things, by the by; do go and look them up) and it has an unerring tendency to gather in the unlighted corners both of our psyches and our environments, seeking to be acknowledged, expressed and released.

You know the much-talked-about Christmas Day fights so common in most families? That dark residue is probably the culprit, nudging existing intolerances and tensions and putting a match to the blue touch paper.

There are many, many ways of dealing with this residue; too many to count, among all cultures that have at some level understood it. Lighting candles, burning sacred smoke of a hundred types (white sage, Frankincense, cedar and so on) banging drums, gongs, pots and pans, prayers of all kinds, dance, song, and a thousand other things, all help to defuse the end of year residue, and in the still moments of the turning year, they help to welcome the slowly returning light as the sun seems to stand still, poised on tiptoes, before beginning the long climb back towards spring time and the light.

I’m on the Pink Sofa ~ come and join me

Today I am being graciously hosted on the famed Pink Sofa of novelist and blogger Carol Hedges. Carol is the author of a series of Victorian “sensation” novels, which will appeal if you like detective stories set in Dickensian London. I’ve read and enjoyed the first in the series, and now there are two more to look forward to. You can find Carol’s books here  and my guest post is below, so do go over, have a read and comment too.

http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-pink-sofa-meets-writer-blogger.html

Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking: first the book, one day the movie?

The movie bit was intended as a joke.

Finally, the project to publish some of the posts from this blog on the theme of depression has come to fruition. The bitterest of ironies is that it was delayed because I was fighting depression; yet, perhaps that in itself speaks volumes about the need for such a  book.

It’s not a self help book in the classic, “Follow these instructions and be free of whatever ailed you,” tradition. If I marketed it as such, I would be lying. It’s very tempting, though, as such books usually sell incredibly well, but that’s because there are vast numbers of people seeking help for their pain.

If anything, this is a book that asks more questions than it answers. All the posts are from this blog, but since they span a considerable space of time and are dotted in among over eight hundred other posts, finding them isn’t an easy matter. The fact that they are freely available on this blog, if you look hard enough, is why I can’t enroll the book into the Select programme, and why therefore it won’t be available to borrow via the Kindle Unlimited scheme.

This is the blurb:

“I’m a writer and poet and a long-term sufferer of depressive illness. I try to keep smiling but sometimes I fail. I love the natural world, and am a great fan of the vagaries of the English weather.” These words were the first attempts to define what my blog was about when I began it in February 2009. From these first tentative steps into blogging, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking has expanded into a wide-ranging and eclectic exploratory journey into what it means to live with depression. There are many posts on the subject now, and I decided to collect together the ones I felt were potentially most helpful to others affected by mental and emotional distress. They’re not intended as classic self-help or as a replacement for treatment but rather as a commentary from one person’s experience. Sometimes it can help simply knowing we are not alone in a journey, even when it feels that way. I’ve enjoyed the whole concept of the Zen koan, a short question that usually has no answer but is intended to provoke more questions and more thinking. Think of the classic one: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Most of my posts are written with this aim in mind; I just lack the compactness of a koan. I try to look at the world from another angle. I like (like? not sure I like it but I am inwardly compelled to do it) to ask questions, sometimes awkward ones. There is no final answer about anything. That’s the joy and the sorrow of it. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking contains twenty essays from the original blog and includes a foreword from Suzie Grogan, author of Shell Shocked Britain-The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health and editor of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days (Untangling lives affected by depression and anxiety)

It’s available here as a paperback:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Depression-Art-Tightrope-Walking-Zen/dp/1511921005/ref=la_B00766135C_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441304725&sr=1-1 

and here as a Kindle version: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Depression-Art-Tightrope-Walking-Book-ebook/dp/B014V7313A/ref=la_B00766135C_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441304796&sr=1-10

In a week or two, the two ought to be joined onto one page.

There’s a launch party on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/354508034737778/

It’s available across all Amazon stores. You can either enter the title in the search facility of your Amazon store, or (neat little trick this) you copy the URL, then change the bit where it says dot co dot uk to dot com or whichever *suffix* your country uses, and that should take you to the correct page.

As I said in my previous post, reviews very gratefully received. The visibility of books on Amazon is a very tricky issue but it’s known that a certain number of reviews increases visibility. 25 reviews triggers certain extra promotion from Amazon (or so it is believed) and 50 initiates more. The mystery surrounding how the great ‘Zon works is dense and impossible to fathom but the consensus is that more reviews (especially good ones), more visibility.

Buffering…

Buffering…

As I sit, summer is upon the British Isles and I’m doing my normal dodging the sun routine. I burn very easily, and I don’t like the feeling of sun cream so I only put it on if I am out for more than a few minutes at a time. The day they invent non-claggy, safe sun care for sensitive skins is going to be a very welcome one for pale-skins like me.

Summer usually results in a slow down for blog hits and also for many authors, a slow down in book sales. Yes, I know: people are out enjoying the summer rather than staying in reading blogs or books. Yet I have now been blogging for over six years and I have seen a change. My blog hits have slumped now to equal those of my second year of blogging, and I am sad. I have always chosen NOT to chase hits for the sake of numbers, eschewing learning SEO magic tricks and a whole host of other strategies that bring in greater and greater numbers. I don’t want that sort of engagement; I believe in serendipity, and synchronicity. I believe that people will find their way to the right articles on this blog by those avenues and not because I effectively collar them on the virtual streets, accosting them by telling them that THIS is what they were looking for.

I’ve been struggling to keep going with blogging. Not because I have nothing to say, but there is a feeling inside me that grows until it roars like an enraged tiger: hardly anyone is listening. That is not true. I know this. There are lots of people listening, and engaging. Yet the feeling is still there, and it keeps telling me to just shut up, that no one is interested. I do not know where the feeling comes from precisely, but this post is intended to try to explore it. Hence the title Buffering; often by writing down my thoughts, clarity emerges.

On one of my recent work trips I mentioned to one of the teachers that I did not understand why adults read books for the Young Adult market. The explanation was that after a long day at work, people don’t always want the effort of reading a book that demands more of the reader. They want an easy read that fulfils the need to enjoy a story without the need to wrestle with it. I cannot tell you how sad this makes me. Young adult fiction did not really exist when I was a young adult, and I probably wouldn’t have read it then anyway. Not that there is anything wrong with it, before anyone leaps down the internet to rip my throat out (virtually speaking) but because I never identified with any of the themes. I read Harry Potter because I worked with teens at the time (ditto Twilight; that’s a few hours of my life I’ll never get back.) I can’t say I didn’t enjoy HP, because I did, and it does grapple with some important ideas (though all the teen angst had me just shrugging and reminding myself I am not the target demographic.

No, it’s the fact that people are reluctant to read something that demands something of them as reader. They wish to be entertained, not enlightened. We all read for different reasons, at different times. Entertainment is essential. But then so is engagement and that’s the thing that seems (to me, anyway) that is being shied away from on a grander scale.

My own books have been described as thought-provoking, poignant and other epithets that unfortunately have become almost the kiss of death for books at the moment. Combined with the vast ocean of material on sale, is it not inevitable that their appeal is limited?

I’ve become also terribly weary of the effort of trying to sell my books. There are hundreds of blogs, tips, tweets and even books that explore new (yeah, right!) ways of reaching readers. One might spend all day following these ideas and yet never sell a book. Things that worked six months ago may well not work now, and with tens if not hundreds of thousands of authors exploring every possible method, each method soon becomes stale. In my view, the thing that is crucial is the loyalty of readership, of having readers who love your work, share it and talk about it. I know that I seldom ever buy a book based on a single tweet, but do because of personal recommendation.

I now believe that one of the things that keeps me from just saying Bubbles to it and going and growing marrows like Poirot in his retirement, are my readers. Wonderful people who ask me when the sequel to The Bet is coming out, who tell me how much Away With The Fairies helped them through a dark time, who comment on this blog and whose words of kindness have often brought me back from the brink of quitting.

I’ve realised also that the yawning maw of social media is something that has had a weird effect on my writing. I want the instant approval and acclaim when I write something, and I’ve had to step back from it all. I’ve taken to old technology for first drafts: pen and ink and Moleskine notebooks, so that I am not using a keyboard a whisker away from being on Facebook, hearing its siren song and the plink of someone messaging me. Truth is, I’m terribly lonely at times and my friends in social media world are a huge comfort to me. But from time to time my other friends, the ones who live in my head and not in my computer screen, will sometimes talk to me and their voices are quieter, like overhearing voices in the next room. So to hear them, I need to go into that next room and sit with them. The constant demands of the perceived career path of an independent author are getting in the way of me actually being an author.

I’m not sure where to go from here. My biggest hitting blog posts tend to be the ones that are about writing; I imagine they’re read mostly by other authors looking for tips or wishing to express solidarity. The next biggest are the ones about mental health. The ones that garner least visits are the poetry ones, which again tells me something interesting. Ones I write about my books vary hugely; I’m reluctant to write those often because I can just hear those voices in my head sighing and bitching Oh enough already about your wretched books.

I know I can write. I’ve always know that’s what I should do with my life, yet writing for a diminishing market is getting me down because my faith in myself and my path is easily shaken. In theory it should not matter to me if I sell no more books, ever. But it does matter to me, and for more than just money. My worth as an author is inevitably measured by external agencies by the number of books sold. It tends to be among the first five questions people ask you when they find you are an author: how many books have you sold? It’s intrinsically wrong that this is so, but then it is as it is.

Anyway, I’ve postponed the release of the book of essays till early autumn because summer is a rubbish time for a book launch for anything that isn’t a beach read or an airplane book. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking is in the final stages of a final polish before release. I’ve had the sequel to The Bet printed out by our local stationery shop, to start a proof read. It needs a concept for cover art before I can even think about contacting my last cover artist and I’m stumped to find anything. The title, by the way is One Immortal Diamond (but that could change). I’ve been plugging away with other stuff as well, usually longhand but some on the computer. One work-in-progress slipped past the 50k words mark and I’m pleased with it so far. There’s life in this old dog, but I’ve learned too many new tricks in the last years to have the energy for more. In the end, I’m just a writer and more than that is expected of me (marketing executive, publisher, formatter, social media expert etc etc) and they are all getting in the way of me actually being able to do the thing I am good at.

Six years of blogging – come celebrate with me!

Six years of blogging – come celebrate with me!

On the 9th of February 2009, I started this blog. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but it felt like the right thing. Six years and over 850 posts later, and I’m still not very sure what I’m doing, but it does still feel like the right thing!

I’ve seen a LOT of changes. Blogging friends who have burned bright, and then burned out, deleted their blog, started new ones, vanished utterly from the blog-o-sphere. The vital impact of blogging has waned, possibly under the sheer weight of social media outlets, yet still I continue because I have things I need to say.

My blog predated my publishing journey, and while that’s been a big part of my blogging, Zen and the Art of Tightropewalking has been more than just another writer’s blog. It’s not here to showcase my work but to share the essence of who I am. I’ve decided 2015 is a Jung year, and reading Man and His Symbols, I came across this quote from Wassily Kandinsky: “Everything that is dead, quivers. Not only the things of poetry, stars, moon, wood, flowers, but even a white trouser button glittering out of a puddle in the street….Everything has a secret soul, which is silent more often than it speaks.” I blog so that the secret souls can be heard, the voices of the stones, the trees, the beasts and the birds, and my dialogue with them is what feeds my writing.

To celebrate this anniversary, I’m offering my first published novel, Strangers and Pilgrims at a ridiculously low price (the same as for the short story collections) , worldwide, for about 48 hours, as a thank you to my readers. I’m very wary of the way many authors under-price their work so this is why it’s a very short period of discount, and the price will go back up within a few days. I hope you enjoy it; it’s my way of saying, Thank you for being with me for a time on this journey.

Interview and give-away

I’m gearing up for surgery tomorrow but I thought I’d share this interview that Sonya did with me this week. For the very first time, I am offering a giveaway. There are 3 copies of The Moth’s Kiss in paperback up for grabs for those who comment at Sonya’s blog, so pop over and have a read and enter the competition:

http://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/interview-vivienne-tuffnell/

I’m hoping to have a post  for Monday as usual but it depends how I feel. It also depends whether I’m home from hospital or not. I know I could schedule one but even after five years, I like hitting *publish* for a post.