So I Unpublished All My Books On Amazon

I’m a little embarrassed about how neglected my blog has been. Months and I haven’t found time to write a single word on here. I feel vaguely justified given how much harder my work life has been than normal, but still, I thought I was better than this. Turns out, I’m not. Turns out I am exactly this.

Even though I haven’t been writing on the blog at all I have been doing plenty of reading and more writing than usual. So, about four-ish years ago I got very excited about the idea of independent publishing (I wrote a bit about it on here) and published four books on Amazon. Two novels, two collections of five short stories each. I put a ton of effort into it, not just trying to get the books as good as I possibly could, but also on presentation, cover design and all of that other stuff that goes with it. There was a bit of a learning curve. The first cover for my first book was terrible, the second version was a lot better. The way I put the ebooks together was initially very clumsy and became more refined as I went on. I made paperback versions through createspace, which I think turned out very nice. But overall, the whole experiment was a bit of a failure. Sales were very low, free giveaway were respectable (mostly) but didn’t manifest into many reviews. So a few months ago I pulled the plug and unpublished all four books.

The idea was not to give up, but to try a different approach.  I loved the idea of indie publishing. I was inspired by indie video games and the way that people who made them used the platforms available to them to create new, esoteric forms of games that wouldn’t have been possible without independence. But indie publishing wasn’t working for me the way it was working for some writers, and I had to be realistic about it. What I realised, a little slowly perhaps, is that there was a place for the kind of books I was trying to write, and it was traditional publishing. All the books I love come from there. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it sooner.

(It’s not that indie publishing is bad by the way, I definitely don’t think that. My books just didn’t fit in there. That’s all.)

So once I had pulled my books down I thought I’d better get on with doing some new writing and actually start sending stuff out again. It had been ages and I had to remind myself how it was done. I even bought the latest copy of writers and artists yearbook. Then I wrote a new short story, the first I had done in a while, and entered it into the Bridport prize. I never expected to have any success with it so I kinda just forgot about it, but I ended up being shortlisted. This is by far the best writing success I have had and it has energised me. I am just getting ready for this years Nanowrimo by actually planning and getting myself all set up for it. I have never succeeded at nanowrimo, though I have only tried twice, but I am feeling excited to get started. I even bought a Bluetooth keyboard for my ipad so that I can write in coffee shops and libraries. I’m writing this blogpost on it now. If you have noticed typos, that may be because this keyboard is going to take a little getting used to.

I kinda miss having my books for sale on Amazon, even if no one ever actually bought them. It felt like I had done something. But taking them down has turned out OK so far. This is the most inspired I have felt for a very long time.

We Are All Politicians Now

On Facebook recently I saw someone post ‘Is it safe to come out yet, or is everyone still a politician?’ There has undoubtedly been an explosion of political discourse recently in the wake of some major political events. The UK’s In/Out referendum stirred up a lot of heated debate about some very emotive issues like immigration, NHS funding and sovereignty. So yeah, for a while Facebook did seem like it had become swamped with politicians. But you know what? In a democratic society we are all politicians. We should be engaged with these things, and we should be vocal about it because the issues at hand are big and hard to understand and we won’t get anywhere by politely keeping quiet about it all.


This week I read a book called Five Ideas To Fight For by Anthony Lester. The five ideas are Human Rights, Equality, Free Speech, Rule of Law and Privacy. Lester, a human rights lawyer and liberal democrat peer, goes over each of the five, giving a short historical account of the UK’s relationship with them and exploring the difficulties we seem to be having in maintaining them. Things that seem fundamental might be on shakier ground than we might think.

It’s not always easy to tell when change is for the better. Was the conservative policy of scrapping the European Courts Human Rights Act and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights an improvement or a dangerous slide away from the protection of those rights? Where do you draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Is government authorised invasion of privacy justified by security risks? It takes a lot of information to actually arrive at a well-formed opinion on these sorts of questions, and unfortunately well-formed opinions are not always easy to come by.

Five Ideas To Fight For wants to refocus our political discourse. We talk about border control but we should be talking about human rights. We talk about benefits but we should be talking about equality. Don’t lose the heart of the issue by surrendering to the details. Don’t act rashly and then realise the value of the things we just threw away. Especially when a lot of those things were so hard-won in the first place.

Even though Lester’s alignment with the Liberal Democrats is evident throughout one things shines clear through the book; the core ideals that form the bedrock of a civilised, free-thinking society are not the property of any of the political parties. They are the standards by which the actions of politicians should be judged, (and in a democratic society we are all politicians). The question of where we draw the lines is important because those lines are where our principles and our values lie. Fighting to keep them when it would be easier to let them go is what integrity is all about.

This book is absolutely worth reading.

You can buy it at Waterstones

Or at Amazon

Also, one of the nicest things to come out of what is often quite a bleak book is the small insight it offers into the House of Lords. Mostly the Lords are characterised as a bunch of unelected old men who sleep through the afternoon and get in the way of parliament. Anthony Lester offers a glimpse into a place where getting in the way of parliament is often a good thing, and being unelected actually has some valuable qualities to it.

Mr B’s Reading Year

If you love books (and I know that you do) then probably the best birthday present you could receive would be some sort of monthly book subscription where a bookseller takes note of all the things you like the best, and all the things you would like to try, and all the things you aren’t interested in, and then sends you a hand-selected book in the post every month. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?


These are the first six books that I got from my Mr B’s Reading Year. Every month they turn up wrapped in brown paper with the Mr B’s wax seal and it has become a highlight of the month. My personal bibliotherapist selects books that he thinks I will like from the answers I gave in my introductory questionnaire and so far they have been fantastic. The best thing about the books he has selected for me is that I had never heard of any of them before they turned up. I wonder if I even would have picked them up from a shelf in a bookshop or if my hand would have just drifted over the top of them. How many times has my hand drifted over them? This is a great way to find some excellent new books, and gives you something completely different from browsing bookshops, or even recommendations from friends. I know book recommendations can be clumsily given, because of the number of clumsy recommendations I have given. I usually just recommend whichever book I happen to be most excited about when asked, which is why I would make a terrible bookseller.

All six have been great, but The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury really stood out for me. Some of the driest, most subtle humour I have ever read, compounded by some truly heartbreaking stuff toward the end. I won’t spoil it, just check it out. I’d recommend it to anyone (even people who probably won’t enjoy it.) I read most of it one day over the Christmas break when I couldn’t sleep and got up at five am. I sat there reading it all through the morning and well into the afternoon.


I made a new shelf on my Goodreads to keep the books together, and they all sit side by side on my actual bookshelf too. I like this disparate collection of books that have only come together because someone thinks I would like them. Naturally, you can see the thread that runs through them. The literary/realistic/experimental quality that obviously came through in the things I wrote in the questionnaire. And you know what, the questionnaire was one of the most fun parts. You can gush about books you love as much as you want, and no one is going to ask you to shut up and leave them alone.

If you like the sound of it, check out the shop, Mr Bs Emporium of Reading Delights.


My New Years Tradition

I’ve never been very good at tradition. Sometimes they feel forced and contrived, sometimes they feel pointless, sometimes they feel anachronistic. Sometimes I feel like everyone else does them right, and when I join in I sort of spoil it a bit. This time of year is so full of tradition that I find it a little tiring. Christmas presents is the hardest for me. Every aspect of this tradition causes me some level of anxiety. Did I buy for everyone I was supposed to? Did I spend too much? Did I spend too little? Was I grateful enough? Too grateful? Should I have opened it right away?

If you have ever bought me a present and I seemed underwhelmed, don’t worry, I was actually very grateful. I just don’t show it very well. I panic a bit in the moment and choose all the wrong facial expressions.

For me, the few days between Christmas and New Years has become my favourite festive tradition. We hide away at home, nibbling on the left over chocolates, reading our Christmas books, playing our Christmas video games, watching some movies. It is quiet, and solitary and after all the hubbub of Christmas it is so essential. And New Years Eve is no different for me.

I know for a lot of people, New Years is a celebration. A big party. Going out, drinking, dancing, and being with all the people that are important to you as the year ticks over into the next one. I get that. That is a very understandable way to want to do New Years. In fact, that’s what I used to do to. But now I want something different.

In an average year, plenty goes wrong. I do a ton of wrong things, say a lot of things I shouldn’t and make a bunch of stupid mistakes. New years is a way of drawing a line under all that. You can put it all away. It’s still there, for reference. You don’t have to forget all about it, but you don’t have to live with it in the same way either. You don’t have to have it under your feet all the time either.

It’s about a clean start. How many times in your life do you get a proper clean start? A fresh beginning where an entire section of your life closes and a whole new thing starts? I think I have had three. Three really genuine fresh starts where if it was a film the scene would have ended on a fade to black. Those sort of fresh starts are really valuable but they are rare too. New Years lets you have a little one. It’s a little manufactured, sure. Nothing really changes. But it’s a way of taking stock. Who was I this year? Who do I want to be next year? And for me, a quiet new years eve, and a quiet start to new years day, gives me what I need to do this.

Happy new year, however you’re spending it.

Nanowrimo 2015

I’m having a go at Nanowrimo this year. A proper go this time. I pulled an old idea for a novel out and have set to work on it. I don’t honestly think I will make it to 50,000 words before the end of the month, but I’ll give it a good go.

I got into the habit a while ago of trying to write 600 words a day. 600 is pretty manageable and it was going well for a while. I did it most days. I think I am a pretty committed writer, I have been at this for a long time, but some days just don’t allow for it. Sometimes other things have to come first, like the day job, or the washing up, or making time to look out of the widow and remember your childhood and things like that. Sometimes writing isn’t the most important thing.

So 1667 words a day, the amount required per day to meet the target, it a bit more than I am used to but I am just ploughing on. I like the carelessness required to do something like 50,000 words in a month. You can’t really spend too much time figuring out just the right way to say something. I can spend a whole evening on a single sentence. Nanowrimo doesn’t allow for that. Just say it wrong and move on.

But it has only taken two days for me to develop some serious doubts about the novel I am writing. Who has time for doubts? November will be over before we know it, hell, next November will be over before we know it, so I’m trying to just keep going. My idea of Withnail and I meets The Shining meets Apocalypse Now sounded good at the time, but now it just seems… wayward? I don’t know. I’ll just keep at it, see what it turns into. I don’t think I have ever written a novel that didn’t turn into something unexpected (and, I can’t help but feel, better) by the time I was done with it.

I didn’t even plan it during October. It didn’t even occur to me. (My excuse, very busy at work. You can’t prove I’m not. (I actually am.) ) I popped on to the Nanowrimo website and saw a thread on preparation and outlines and stuff and immediately felt off the pace. Next year I’ll write an outline. And then ignore it, probably. My first drafts always look like I loaded all my ideas into a blunderbuss and fired it at the screen.

Anyway, December looms. Back to work.