In my Twitter bio I set out to sum myself up in as few words as possible and managed to get it down to only four: Writer, Poet, Explorer, Mystic. To some degree all of these are slightly tongue in cheek but the one that needs most explanation is Explorer.
The word conjures up an image of a man in a pith helmet, wielding a machete and followed by native(of where ever) guides bearing parcels on their heads or on poles. Or possibly Ray Mears. It certainly
doesn’t conjure up a slightly overweight, forty-something English
teacher with slight tendencies to agoraphobia and a big problem with
depression and anxiety. To be an explorer requires courage, curiosity
and a fair measure of recklessness. People in real life would say the
only one of the three I have in abundance is curiosity. I’m one of
life’s natural wimps. I don’t even like travelling. But as fate(ha!)
would have it, I’ve ended up in not one but two jobs that require me
to travel. For the non teaching job I often travel to places I’ve
never been before, and show other people around. I discovered (to my surprise) I have a good sense of direction, and if you drop me in a foreign town I can usually find my way round quite quickly.
That’s not to say that going somewhere totally new doesn’t fill me with sudden and almost paralysing dread; it does. But I get through that. Preparation is the key, not to mention dear old Google.
But that’s just one aspect of exploration. These days, exploration of the physical world is a tame thing, filled with Rough Guides and blogs.
There aren’t many people who hack through unknown jungles to get to lost tribes; the lost tribes are usually wearing Reboks by the time
you get there. The physical world has shrunk; exploration is not the
same. Good job I was never aiming to be a real explorer; I’d be
weeping for more worlds to conquer by now.
Research has shown that our tastes in music, food, experiences have fossilised before the age of around thirty. It explains why parents seldom like their children’s music. We stick to what we know, what we’ve already tried, in so many things. But me, I’d got bored of books. Really, really bored.
Anyone who has ever visited my home will be shocked at that because apart from dust and cat fluff, books is what I have the very most of. Every available wall is covered with bookshelves, often double parked. The only rooms without permanent books are the bathroom and kitchen and then only for obvious practical reasons. I love books. I love everything about them (but the need to dust occasionally). So people were a bit surprised when I asked for a Kindle for my birthday. I was a bit surprised by it myself, to be honest. After three months, I am convinced it was an excellent move.
Let me tell you why.
I’d stopped buying books.
Yes, this book lover had been walking into bookshops that ten years ago I’d have come out of laden with books. For the last few years, it had become a rare event that I bought books. Or even borrowed them. Don’t get me wrong, I bought a few. And was almost universally disappointed.
Books had stopped thrilling me, surprising and delighting me. They gave me a sense of ennui beyond mere boredom. I was actually sick of them.The Kindle has changed all that.
One of the things I noticed quickly was that the books by my previously favourite authors were still often almost as expensive as the hard copies. There is no reason why this should be so. An e-book costs virtually nothing to distribute. As an independent author myself I have opinions about the whole sea-change in the publishing world, but basically the e-book means that authors can now reach readers without the intervening publisher getting in the way. They’re not subject to anyone saying “You can’t do that,” or “That doesn’t sell” or
“That’s not what readers want.” I had a novel rejected almost at
the last stage because the editor felt that there needed to be
payback for the baddies(I simplify) for what they did to the heroine.
I disagreed. Real life rarely provides neat solutions and
resolutions; closure is seldom forthcoming. Mark Twain once said
that truth is stranger than fiction and he was so right. Real life is
so strange and unpredictable and the fiction I’d been reading was
just that: predictable. It had become formulaic, to the point that
even if I didn’t guess the ending, I knew all the stages. It followed
the fads and fashions of the literary world to such an extent that
even reading the blurb was making me nauseous.
Where oh where was originality and daring? Where was risk-taking and being controversial? I’m not talking about the now-endless books about child abuse and rape. I’m talking about simply letting a story take you where it wants to go, not where the dictates of literary mores would have it go. I’m talking about Story as a living, breathing
symbiont of the writer, where templates, character outlines plot
conventions and other cookie cutters are instruments of vivisection
Welcome to the world of the independents. Welcome to a whole new universe of possibilities. Sure, some will be rubbish. But so is James Patterson.
I’m going to be reviewing books I discover, and sharing my favourites. By and large they won’t be about already famous authors (except in a few cases) even though in terms of blog hits, those would bring me many. My post about Susan Howatch is my highest hitting post of all time. No, that’s not what this blog is about. I want to showcase those brilliant and brave authors who don’t have a Juggernaut of a publishing house behind them, or a phalanx of marketing experts whispering advice at every turn.
So coming soon(in no particular order of merit) will be:
“Anomaly” by Thea Atkinson (the very first book on Kindle I actually paid for, having got hooked by the sample.)
“The Butchered Man” by Harriet Smart
Those are just my starters. If you have an suggestions for must-read
indies, please let me know. Being semi-fossilised already, I really
REALLY dislike romance, not keen on fantasy(though I have
enjoyed some) and classic chick-lit (of the shopping, shoes and sex
variety) generally has me reaching for the razor blades.
Anyway, I hope you will set sail for new seas and start exploring a strange new world of literature that didn’t exist even a few years ago. This kind of exploring doesn’t involve insect repellent, native guides or
Montezuma’s revenge (or Delhi belly even) but it has a risk all of
its own that you might not like:
It may open your mind.