In my novels there is one piece of music that features several times. It is the aria: Je crois entendre encore, from the little known George Bizet opera: Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers).
This beautifully haunting aria sung by Nadir (tenor) in which he sings of his love for Leïla has always touched me deeply. Why is not so mysterious. It is simply one of the most spine tingling, hair raising pieces of music ever written.
The Pearl Fishers is rarely performed, the last was created by the English National Opera in London in 2010. However the Met in New York decided to present this production as ‘a live to cinema and radio’ performance on Saturday the 16th Jan. It has been 100 years since the Met put on this opera featuring the legendary Enrico Caruso. I only spotted this on the cinema listings at four the same day when looking for times for the film The Danish Girl. I quickly got on line and booked one of the few remaining seats. I rushed off and came in to the cinema at 5.30 for the 6.00 performance only to discover I’d come to the wrong theater!
I got to the right place at 5.55 following a fast and furious drive to the far side of town. I settled in a house packed with Irish opera lovers of advanced age; I’d say I was the youngest person there by a decade.
I had listened to this opera many times on my iPod but this was the first time I’d seen the live performance. I was stupidly excited and worried I might be disappointed. I was not. The cinema fouled up the lighting in the theater which took the edge off a bit, but I left delighted, uplifted and having had a supposedly unmanly blub just two times.
It confirmed for me the correctness of using this opera in a few high emotion romantic scenes in my novels.
It was fortuitous that I stumbled on this – it was without doubt a once in life time opportunity and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
It is almost a requirement of this time of year to reflect on the year past and the year to come – so – uncharacteristically I am going to follow convention and do that. This was my writer’s year:
The big interest in the past year centered on an experiment on the value of social media for book sales. I have long been skeptical about the value of social media to an author in generating sales. Facebook and Twitter in particular, are awash with posts that essentially say: “LOOK AT ME and BUY MY BOOK.” I have never bought a book as result of such posts and I know of no other person who does. In the main such posts get ignored, blocked or sent straight to the trash bin. Advice books for writers are full of how to use social media and how essential it is to any Indi author. You see this advice mostly in books being sold on-line about how to sell on-line. It’s very incestuous and mostly absolute bullshit! Indi authors rarely sell serious numbers of books and are an easy target for people telling them how to get thousands of sales.
Books sell the same way they always have – by word of mouth recommendation reader to reader. That is especially true for writers like me who are not writing about shades of grey, vampires or what ever the current hot formula or genre is. If one writes literary fiction and presents ones work with good covers, properly edited and designed; then reader’s recommendation is the only thing that sells that work.
I decided to put this idea to the test last year. I withdrew from almost all social media activity. No tweets, only a simple announcement of a new book on FB, my website and blog and that is all. I stopped blogging every month and did not participate on Goodreads or any other forum.
Result? My sales are better for 2015 than 2014 when I was doing the social media thang.
The lesson for writers is this: Don’t buy into all the hype. Make the best book you can and keep writing. You must keep new titles coming and they must all be to the highest standard possible. Then hope readers like your efforts enough to buy the next and tell their friends. Unless you are Random House and can throw huge sums at a launch, then huge sales are not going to come your way. Accept that and your life, as a writer, will be better, more satisfying, and more productive. If you are hoping for fame and huge sales as an Indi you are playing a lottery with very unfavorable odds of winning. Write because you must.
A slowly growing base of readers who appreciate my efforts; the smile I get every time I get a sale announcement from Amazon or Smashwords, and the steady trickle of money into my account is my reward. A good and genuine review is sure to generate a broad smile.
Last year I published the first two novels of the Butterfly Effect Trilogy. Bonny The Butterfly Effect and Lauren The Butterfly Effect. I also wrote the next novella in the Rachel series: Rachel’s War. I refined and republished The Prairie Companions and tidied up all my other titles. It was a very productive year thanks to the time freed up by my largely abandoning social media activity.
What of 2016? I have begun the next in the trilogy called: Chepi The Butterfly Effect. The cover of this is used here. The photo on which my cover artwork is based has been a puzzle.
It is well known image but I cannot find the person who might own the copyright to this photo. If you know please let me know. I may not be able to use this for the cover if I can’t find the copyright status of the image it’s based on. I have changed the image a good deal in this cover artwork but still I am reluctant to use images in this way with out the owner’s permission.
Apart from Chepi, I plan one other novella and perhaps I will finish: Beloved Warrior. This is about my family during the first war. It has been set aside three times and is proving to be a difficult subject, too personal perhaps?
More likely I will rewrite the novella called: Leotie Flower of the Prairie and turn it into the full sized experimental novel it was always intended to be.
I finished the second in “The Butterfly Effect Trilogy’. This will be: ‘Lauren The Butterfly Effect.’
The MS is with my editor Miriam for it’s final work and I hope to publish it mid-October.
The great challenge was finding a model for the cover, Lauren is an athlete and very muscular but also beautiful. Finding a suitable model and photographer has been difficult but I struck lucky in the end. The model is Olivia Moschetti and the photographer Tyler Porter both from Colorado. I’ve played around with the image a little to give the golden skin and hair described in the text but I am very pleased with the results. Olivia is closer to the younger Lauren than any other model I’ve seen.
This is the final cover as it will be on the paperback.
This book is out now for ebook and paperback on Amazon.
At the age of seventeen I began a love affair with a place. That place was off the Kinnahalla Road near the Spelga Dam in the heart of the Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland. I had been coming to stay in a friend’s old rented cottage for a few months and wanted to find a place of my own. I asked in the local pub and heard about an old farmhouse that might be suitable. I was directed to the owner’s modern farm and asked about the old place.
He pointed across the valley to a group of farm buildings surrounding a two-storey house. “It needs a fair bit doing. It has nae electric nor any modern stuff but if yee want it I’ll take ten bob (Ten shillings or 50 pence) a month aff yee.”
I rode my little 50cc step-through scooter down the rough lane and explored the house. It had water running down one kitchen wall from missing roof tiles, rooks nesting in the chimneys and one downstairs room had no floorboards. Water was from a well and it gurgled out a few black, wiggling leeches when I tried the tap. The main room had a little cast iron range of the Aga type. A sofa and two armchairs sat beneath a blanket of dust. Upstairs there was a huge high-ended double bed in the main wood panelled bedroom. Another room had two singles. The mattress looked astonishingly clean to my eyes and that was as well, since carrying a new mattress on a scooter would have been a challenge.I spent three days hooking twigs out of the flue and chimney of the range. Rooks are very industrious birds – there must have been a whole tree’s worth of sticks dropped down that chimney to make their nest.
The bedroom and the living room got a coat of white paint. Three paraffin hurricane lamps were bought for lighting. A big old enamel coffee pot sat on the now lit range and was always hot while I was there. Eggshells were dropped in the fresh ground Kenyan blend in that pot, it was supposed to make the coffee shinny and thick and it did. When the pot was three-quarter full of grounds, it got emptied and a fresh pot started. I smoked Capstan Full Strength un-tipped cigarettes and drank very strong coffee!
This place, hereafter known as the house in the Mournes, became a bolthole and refuge for me for the next ten years. Every weekend after work I’d escape Belfast and my family. So important was it, I once walked the thirty-five miles from Belfast when I had no transport. I walked in the blackness of night and enjoyed every step.
I explored the mountains and swam in the beautiful pools of the Shimna River. Screamingly cold but sensually stimulating to a horny twenty-year old. I brought my first serious girlfriend to the house but she did not appreciate the simple romance of it all. Coming as she did from a farming family, an outside toilet in a rickety shed and a chamber-pot under the bed for the night, paraffin lights and no TV had no appeal for her. The big double bed collapsed under us one night during vigorous use. The cloud of dust that rose round us, showed my idea of clean and hers was rather different. She didn’t come back.
This past week I took the beloved Brigitte to see the old house that had meant so much to me. The roof had fallen in and it was completely derelict but the range was still there and I could smell the brewing coffee as I stood before it, transported back forty years to the time when this place saved me from the madness of the Troubles and my wildly dysfunctional family. Brigitte said she would have loved the hurricane lamps, ever-hot coffee pot and even the collapsing bed. If only we’d met then – but – she would have been thirteen years old jailbait to me then? But since when have facts mattered when to comes to memories and romance?
Once such memory relates to the Mourne Wall pictured here. My father told me about his own father walking the sixty miles there and back to the Mournes from his home in Belfast every day. He and many others built this dry stone wall to enclose the new water catchment area known as the Silent Valley. This was a kind of unemployment relief for men like my Granda who could find no work after the Ist World War. So much for a home fit for heroes! The history of the wall makes no mention of this but simply says it took from 1902 to 1922 to complete.
I have been engaged in an experiment of willful neglect. This blog and other social media have been little used this past nine months. I have, for a long time been deeply skeptical about the call to scream into the virtual void that is Social Media. It is accepted wisdom among the author/publisher community that one lives or dies by how often one screams in the void. It is said we should blog x number of times and tweet every day and give Face to the Book once a week at least. Then there is Goggle+ and Goodreads and Amazon forums and Linked-in and on and on. The list is near endless. This is how we make a brand. This is how we get sales and readers, expect— except it’s not. It’s just not.
There is only one way to sell books as an author/publisher – word of mouth. End of story.
How to start that momentum is tricky and one I’ve not fully resolved yet. But it starts with producing work that is as good or better than any mainstream publisher – I do that.
Then one needs to actually write – you know write books. Not blogs or tweets.
One needs to keep them coming so readers have a journey to make and that keeps them coming back. So one needs talent and persistence and a very good editor. Did I say how important that is? It’s vital and any Indi who thinks they can produce worthwhile books without a good editor is deluded.
Luck, yes luck. We all need a bit of that. Getting noticed by the right people is vital and impossible to predict or demand. No amount of tweets or FB or blogging will provide that. So has this willful neglect resulted in a drop off in my modest sales figures? NO.
I’ll repeat that – NO.
In fact, my sales are on a steady upward climb and what could be doing that? Readers speaking to readers. The age-old method that only a multi-million sales campaign can partially cheat.
Now I am clear about this and sure I’m right, I can get back to blogging about what I want, when I want and Tweet hardly at all and give Face only when I feel like it and not torture myself with guilt about not following the stampede to social media overload.
This is our new home in North Tipperary called Bhaile Argid this is Irish for Home Silver or Silver Home. Named for the hills it sits below – the Silvermine Mountains.
The house is over 200 years old but has been modernized and restored beautifully. We struggled to fit all our stuff, this house is large but is smaller than the huge place we left. All our art and clutter was a challenge to find a place for. Teh result is the kind of comfortable eclectic considered mess we both rather like.
We are settling and I am finally getting back to writing after a three month lay off. The location is a tiny and pretty village and the house is the center of it. There is an old thatched pup near but the clients are nice well behaved local people – so far!
I intend this blog to be more personal now I have my website up for the books.
I have been putting off writing about our extended US visit to Virginia and New York City. Now I’ve had time to digest that trip, the next few post will be devoted to those visits. All posts will be brief from now on, as I try to resist my temptation to let the creative juices take control. I’m told blog readers have a very limited attention span for posts! I’m not sure I agree with this social media accepted wisdom – I read all of a post if it’s interesting and can’t believe my literary minded readers are any different, however I will be doing this as a series of short essays rather than a young novel.
New York, New York it’s an icon. All the English speaking world knows New York or they think they do. Since birth we have been presented with images both visual and literary of this city. In film, song, books and later, TV, the streetscape are familiar and often better known than our own capital cities so when Brigitte and I had the chance of a week there we were excited and looked forward to seeing , smelling and pounding the sidewalks of this iconic place. We found an apartment for short term rent just off 2nd Ave in the shadow of the UN building. Lets say nothing about that other than it was a great location. The apartment its self was tiny, dirty, ill-equipped and expensive but it served well as a base to explore, mainly on foot.
Our arrival from Newark by bus, left us near Grand Central and we had what I suspect was a typical bad tourist experience with a New York Cab – he ripped us off for a three block journey. I learned quickly that if a cabby says he has no change you say ‘Not my problem’ and do not make the mistake of handing over a twenty for an eight-buck fare! He was gone before I could do anything. On our return to the same bus stop on leaving, we walked or in my case staggered with a suitcase with broken wheels – I thought I’d die! That arrival and departure were the only low points in an otherwise packed week filled with delights and strained necks from all the looking up.
New York was a deluge; a flood of impressions, an overload of stimulation and it left us breathless and excited but at times uneasy. Not fearful, the unease was a philosophical thing. Big cities and the life of big cities with populations much greater than the whole of little Ireland, are a shock to the system. One question kept circulating: “Why do people choose to live here?” There are many possible answers and many of them are based on the income of the people you are considering. Those near the top of the scale can have escape from the hustle and speed and I guess some have bolt-holes elsewhere to go and slow down. But for those in the lower reaches – it seems a grind. A relentless grind to make ends meet and to climb a ladder that may or may not be there in reality.
All cities offer that promise – the promise of an income, a living that does not depend on the weather and the earth and the strength of your back. But all cities also grind up these seekers and trap them and use the big promise to keep them working and supporting the beast – the beast of consumerism that must be fed low income workers to survive. Why do so many people live in New York? I still don’t know the answer.
Next time – a food rant and first impressions of the cultural icons.
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