Ongoing Ramblings: Influences on my writing and the authors whose work I love…

OK, following on from my quite serious post last week about the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, I think it is time for something a little lighter in tone. This week I’m going to talk about the influences on my writings and the authors whose work I regularly enjoy. For now I’ll cover fiction and I’ll undoubtedly write more about the comic book creators whose work I love at a later date but I don’t want to ramble on too much so I shall limit myself to authors of prose. Anyway, a little while ago a kind person who had read my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, left me this review on Amazon UK:

“I really enjoyed this book, it’s witty, intelligent, and it has a good pace to it. If you like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett you will probably enjoy this book. Don’t take this book too seriously though, it’s a comedy caper, not a religious book, but it might have you thinking about life the universe and everything in a couple of places.” Here is the link to the review for anyone who would like to see it: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z.

Now, this is obviously, a very nice review but before long I expect to get some less pleasant ones, especially considering that my book satirises religion. My tweets advertising my book have even been retweeted by overtly religious people and so I think that eventually someone with strong religious convictions will read it and will let me know their thoughts on the matter. I doubt this will be very pleasant but having written and self-published this work I have willingly put myself in this position. This, however, is not really the point of this post. The point is to talk about the influences on my writing and those to whom someone else (not me) might feasibly compare my work.

Now, I should not really compare my work to anyone else’s for it is not for me to make such comparisons. But, for the sake of argument, I’m going to start with the two names mentioned above. Now, it is an honour and a privilege to be mentioned in the same breath as late greats like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and, though I cannot say if I have succeeded, I do not for a moment doubt that my work has drawn on them both. Writing a comedy novel that involves God, demons, angels and humans it would be almost impossible not to be compared to Good Omens, the wonderful work by Mr. Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and, seeing as I have read almost everything published by all three of these authors I would also say that it would be very difficult indeed for me to not have them as influences when I am writing.

And, of all the authors whose work I love, Mr. Pratchett, Mr. Adams and Mr. Gaiman are indeed those to whom I most aspire to be compared. I have read the entirety of The Discworld from The Colour of Magic all the way to the last book, The Shepherd’s Crown. I consider The Graveyard Book to be one of Neil Gaiman’s finest works and I own a lovely hardcover copy that I intend to get signed by him when I get a chance. And the Hitchhikers guide was not only essential reading when I was growing up but something that I regularly return to when the mood takes me. These are the writers who have had the largest influence on me by some considerable distance and being spoken about in the same breath as any of these wonderful writers is an honour.

But there are also other authors whose work I always read and who I also consider to be influences on my writing. I have written another book, a science-fiction novel entitled ‘Balancing Act’, and in doing so have drawn on my love of science fiction including authors such as Alastair Reynolds, Paul Cornell and Stephen Baxter, all of whom I have been fans of for some time. And of course the late Iain M. Banks, whom I would also love to have met. His work will and should be an influence on anyone writing science fiction for many years to come. I have also read every book published by Christopher Brookmyre and intend to continue doing so. Other authors I enjoy include Mike Carey, Mark Haddon, Phillip Pullman and Robert Rankin. In my opinion one cannot be a writer until you have spent many years reading and I, like many authors, have torn my way through one book after another for as long as I can remember. I expect that I always will although my interests are now split between fiction, comics and non-fiction.

Now, I have obviously missed my chance to ever meet Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and that I regret but there is nothing I can do about that now. Were I ever to meet Neil Gaiman, and I certainly intend to do so to get my copy of The Graveyard Book signed, I don’t even know what I would say. I suspect I would stand there, star struck and dumbstruck, wanting to tell him how much I adore his work and yet saying nothing. That is how I expect it to go but then he must get that all the time so I’m sure he’s used to it. I would also love to meet the other authors I have mentioned in this post and expect to be equally star struck by them. Actually, I look forward to it!

You know, now that I get towards the end of this blog post, I’m not even sure what the point of it was. But then it isn’t entitled ‘Ramblings’ for nothing, I suppose. I guess the point is this: if you read my novel, and I hope that you do, I am sure you will see influences in there that I am not even aware of. And if you do read it, and you enjoy it, then please let me know and post a review on whichever site from which you obtained it. I would very much like to know what you hear in my words and what you see in the story. I look forward to every review that someone sends me, even the ones that I probably won’t enjoy, but, as ever, we’ll see.

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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Ongoing Ramblings: my thoughts on Corbynmania…

One of my passions is politics and last Saturday something truly dramatic happened in the UK: Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party. For those who don’t know who he is, which until recently was most of us, he is a socialist, left-wing MP that has served his constituency for thirty years but has, until now, never had a major role. His inclusion in the leadership race was reported to have only occurred so that the left-wing agenda got a hearing and he was widely expected to come, if not last, then second to last in the contest. But that did not happen.

As the contest dragged on, and it really was far too long, something remarkable happened. He began to take the lead and no one could believe it. Indeed, I could not quite believe it myself. Given the recent inaccuracy of polls in the run up to the last election this is hardly surprising but suddenly, anytime the media needed an opinion, he was the candidate they went to. And then he did indeed win. And he did so with a huge share of the vote, nearly 60%! The closest rival barely had 20%. It was remarkable and there is little doubt that Mr. Corbyn’s inclusion in the contest made for a much more entertaining race. I think, without him, the entire thing would have been widely ignored and instead of any of the other, cardboard cut-out candidates, we now have a widely popular leader and a rapidly increasing Labour membership.

So how did Mr. Corbyn win? Well, from early on in the contest there was little doubt that he was dramatically different than the others. When asked a question, he would actually offer an answer! This was so entirely novel that he quickly gained the attention of anyone watching and people began listening to him, even those who had drifted away from the Labour party or had been turned-off from politics in general. Then he became the lead candidate and reports emerged that a great many people were turning out to hear him speak, indeed overfilling the available venues, and of young people giving up evenings to spend them working at phone banks to help his campaign. This is truly impressive and turning this success into a social movement that continues to drive up Labour membership and brings younger voters into politics is now crucial.

I for one am glad that Mr Corbyn is the new leader of the Labour party but before I go any further I should declare my own interests: I voted for him to become leader, along with Tom Watson for deputy, so I’m not unbiased in this matter. I voted Green in the last general election and, had Labour know that, I might have been prevented from doing so, not that my absence would’ve been noticed given the scale of Mr. Corbyn’s victory. My hope, right now, is that we now have an actual Labour leader, a socialist who will fight for the good of the poorest in our society who are being so relentlessly attacked by this Tory government. For that is what a Labour leader should do, in my opinion. I consider myself to be a left-leaning voter though, as the Guardian columnist Owen Jones is fond of saying, left and right seems to be becoming a more and more outdated concept.

What I care about is the issues that affect my life and those of my generation including social mobility and justice, affordable housing, renationalising public services that should have been sold off, creating good quality jobs and the green agenda. And the current Tory government is dealing with none of these issues, actually making many of them worse. Hopefully this will change, indeed it looks like it already might be. Labour must set about opposing the Tory’s austerity agenda, which is idealistic dogma and nothing more, to begin building the houses that Britain desperately needs and defending the unions that are under such fierce and sustained attack from this government.

But now that Mr. Corbyn has won, no one can decide if he will bring about the rebirth or the end of the Labour party. I’ve seen commentary articles that make both of these arguments. So either he will lead to a split in the party so serious that it never recovers and collapses in on itself or he could bring about a resurgence. I’m betting on the latter but if Labour were to collapse it could also lead to the collapse of the Tories, at least according to some sources, and possibly about a fundamental shift in politics in the UK. Whatever happens there is little doubt that we suddenly seem to be living in more interesting times.

One thing is assured: Mr. Corbyn will certainly not be in for an easy ride. The inevitable backlash from the Tories, including the 85% right-wing media, was predictable and actually amusing in the ridiculousness of the things they said. ‘Corbyn is a threat to national security, economic security’ and (almost) world security. And some of these words came directly from our Prime Minister! They are trying to brand him in his first few days before he has a chance to define what the Labour party under his leadership is about. And they can succeed. They only need to persuade a small percentage of the population that this is the case for it to stick. So the challenge for his supporters is to prevent this from happening for if he is smeared, in a similar way to how Ed Miliband was portrayed as a geek who can’t eat a bacon sandwich, then we might lose any hope that he could win the next election years before the contest has even begun.

My impression and opinion is that Britain’s Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, is no leader. He follows where he should lead and the next five years will present a great many challenges that will test the public’s faith in his abilities. Already this year we have had the ongoing refugee crisis, rumblings in Northern Ireland, and now a new leader of the opposition party who will likely oppose this government in a manner that Mr. Cameron has not yet faced. If Labour can unite behind their new leader then I suspect their fortunes may rise. I really hope they do. The poor of this country desperately need someone on their side and that is a position that the new Labour leader is sure to take.

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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Ramblings part 3: comics, more specifically digital comics and Marvel Unlimited…

So, having now written a couple of these pieces, it seems likely that future posts will be on one of a few topics: writing and self-publishing, digital media, politics or another of my passions, comics. This week I’m discussing digital comics. Right, first things first, I love comics. I think they are a wonderful medium in which to tell stories that could not be told as well any other way, and I read and own a large number of graphic novels, my preferred way to purchase them. I adore big, beautiful hardcover’s that I can collect and store in a bookcase, alongside my other books but that is not the point of this week’s blog post. As with previous posts exploring books published via digital means, I want to talk about digital comics.

Now, until recently I didn’t read comics electronically, I only ever read physical copies. I went through a period, many years ago now, where I bought single issues, or floppies as they are known, and I thoroughly enjoyed my weekly sojourn to my local comic store. Over time I gradually built a small collection of these and I also bought the collected trades so I was actually double-dipping on the series that I loved. When my wife and I moved to Canada, money being tight, I stopped buying singles and only selectively bought trades and only the stuff that I really loved: Locke and Key, Astro City, Mind Mgmt, Saga, that sort of thing. Mostly I borrowed what I wanted to read from my excellent local library.

So I would buy or (mostly) borrow trade paper backs, or graphic novels as they are also known, and then tear through them at an astonishing rate. Seriously. My library allowed me to request up to ten items a month and every month I would request the ten graphic novels that I most wanted to read, everything from Batman to Fables, and Hellboy to Criminal and all that falls in between. In this way I read an astonishing number of trades, my guess being that the number was in the region of 500 a year. But I think that is likely a conservative estimate and that, between rereads and the ones I actually bought myself, I probably read much more than that. As I said, I love comics!

Then my wife and I moved and I lost access to that wonderful library and became reliant on a much smaller and less well-stocked local library and on my own, also relatively small, collection of trades. Then we bought a well-known brand of tablet and I decided to give Marvel Unlimited a try and, in their efforts to encourage me to purchase a subscription, I ended up getting three months worth of access for the price of one. This was a bargain too good to pass up and over time I realised that this is a phenomenal way to read comics. I was already something of a fan of Marvel’s output so this was not a difficult thing for me to enjoy but it’s even better than I hoped. In the past few years DC has lost my interest with the relentless negativity of almost everything in the New 52 stable and I think Image is doing a stellar job of supporting creator-owned projects, many of which I purchase in trade form. You can also purchase these issues through services like Comixology but none of these publishers offer a service like Marvel Unlimited.

And I’m so glad I gave it a try for I have to say that I love it! In order to get the value from the service that I wanted I imposed a rule on myself that I should try to read at least 2 issues every day. And what I found is that this works for me. I keep up to date with current series and I have time to explore some things that are new to me. I have access to an incredible back catalogue of issues and runs and every Monday they update their services with new releases. So, in a way, I have gone back to reading singles, which I find interesting. I still read trades that I own or borrow but for me one of the really great parts of the subscription, besides allowing me to read comics that I probably would not have bothered with before, was that I could read story arcs that were either out of print or would require a substantial hunt to find: series like Peter David’s entire X-Factor run, or Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain.

I have to say that if you are interested in comics or Marvel Unlimited, then you should give it a go. In my opinion it’s worth the cost and Marvel frequently offer cheap trial period so you can almost try it for free. The other major comic book companies; DC, Image, Dark Horse, IDW; should follow Marvel’s lead and, were they to do so, they would have a customer in me. But then I would have quite a severe time-management problem so maybe it’s not a great idea. Actually, I hope they do but as ever, we shall see.

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world which is out now at all electronic retailers’! Also, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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Ramblings part 2: self-publishing, and ebooks vs. physical books…

Right, so it seems that I’m supposed to post a blog entry weekly, which seems like a lot of work to me so we’ll see how it goes, but for now I’m keeping up. Here is my second entry, surprisingly on schedule, and this week I’m rambling about self-publishing through websites like Amazon and Smashwords, my chosen method for publishing my debut novel, and the future of physical books and ebooks as it seems to me.

OK, so I’m relatively new to the industry having only self-published my first book, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, a few months ago. I have a second book in this series, entitled ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, in the works and I also plan to self-publish this book when it is eventually finished. But I also have another book, ‘Balancing Act’, which I am currently still trying to publish though the traditional route of finding an agent and having them represent me to a publishing house. So far I haven’t had any luck, but in my opinion ‘Balancing Act’ is a much easier sell to these houses than my other works. It’s a science fiction story set in a near-future dystopia (yup, one of those!) featuring a man whose defining characteristic is that he has a split personality and lives with a significant number of ‘voices’ in his head. These ‘voices’ help him navigate the difficult world he lives in and, for now, that’s all I’ll say about that.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. I hope that I have more luck finding an agent to market this book, strange as it is, but if I am again unsuccessful I know that will not be the end of the matter, as it would once have been. And that is something that I like very much. I have to wonder how many great, unsold novels there are out there sitting in drawers, waiting to be discovered, never read by anyone besides the author. Now they can all be published on Smashwords (and other available providers) and the battle these days has shifted to getting your work noticed. I recently engaged with social media in my quest to find an audience and, if you are reading this blog that is likely how you heard about it. And though I may not yet be all that savvy as to its uses, I’m enjoying myself and exploring the medium and finding that it’s quite fun.

As for ebooks, well I think it’s becoming apparent that they are the future of publishing. My wife and I recently returned to the UK from living in Canada after almost 5 years and, having settled in, one of the first purchases we made was for a well-known brand of tablet that can be used to read ebooks. I also purchased a subscription to Marvel Unlimited at, in my opinion, a ridiculously low price and I can now read as many comics as I want on this device. Reading books in this way is new to me and I am of course still reading physical books, but I can now see a time when I might not. I’ve grown up reading physical books, I love them, I buy them, I borrow them and I keep them. I have a large collection of graphic novels but I can now see an end to this situation and also that ebooks are, undoubtedly, the future.

Ebooks sales have increased dramatically in the past few years (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/01/the-ebook-is-dead-long-live-print-digital-sales) and it’s looking likely that, as with physical copies of television shows, movies and music, physical books will likely not survive forever. When choosing between physical copies of the things we buy and electronic files that are easily accessible and do not require storage, the files will eventually win. And, despite my love for books and CDs, in my opinion, actual physical copies should not win. When there is a simple, easy and more direct route to reach your audience it is obvious that physical books eventually will no longer be produced.

However, one ongoing issue I have with buying ebooks is the price. It is not realistic, despite the wishes of the publishing industry, that an ebook, an electronic file that costs much less to make and distribute, should cost anywhere near as much as a physical copy. After all, you’re not paying for all that has gone into making the book: the paper, the printing, the shipping and the physical store (or online retailer) at which you buy the item. And if you take out all of those costs then the price inevitably should drop. The publishing industry knows this, but they do not wish to upset the stores that sell their merchandise, nor for the competition between physical and electronic versions to impact on each other’s sales. And, for the moment, the two seemed to have reached an equilibrium (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/11335718/The-Kindle-is-dead-the-book-is-back.-Or-is-it.html).

I also realised, from seeing people using ebook readers while they travel, that this was my (potential) audience, even without the backing of a publishing company. Indeed, one of the lessons of the rise of independent authors is that publishing companies might not even be needed much longer. Authors will always require the services of agents, editors and publicists but publishing houses are no longer strictly required. They, undoubtedly, can still do things that indie authors, for now, cannot but we shall see for how much longer that remains the case. Until that day I shall continue to seek their services for my, hopefully much more easily marketed, science fiction novel. We’ll see…

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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