Monthly Archives: May 2008

What price morality?

An independent author’s quest


Does spreading the literary word ever justify law-breaking?


The scenario: You’ve written a book, lovingly given a year of your life to honing narrative and plot, subsequently been unable to get an agent for love or money and lounged in dejection for a while before finally deciding to finance it yourself. Shelling out seemingly endless cash you’ve overseen design, hired an editor and typesetter, met with printers, chosen paper quality, cover finish, filled your tiny house with thousands of paperbacks and proudly mailed all your friends to brag about your achievement.

    Six months on you’ve picked up some great reviews (as well as one that’s truly abysmal), and blagged your way onto local radio, but only shifted a few hundred copies. You still can’t get into the spare bedroom for fear of being killed in an avalanche of your own creation, and you’ve been rumbled by every online forum in the western world for shamelessly touting your own wares.

    What to do?

    Surely fortune will shine on you and reward your gutsy bravado?

    It’s at this point that the protagonist (in this case – me) asks ‘OK. You’ve come this far. Now, what are you prepared to do?’

    It’s classic character-arc – like the cop on the edge throwing down his badge and going after the psychopath alone, the bank-robber lured by one final job, or the poet going after a forbidden love no matter the consequences – only with books and spare bedrooms.

    Growing up in the 80’s there was an anti-smoking campaign featuring a villain called Nick-O-Teen. His tag-line was ‘Go on…just one…one won’t hurt.’

    I hear his voice the night I illegally fly-poster the London Underground.

    Back at home feeling excited about this minor infraction as only the middle-class can, I tell myself ‘No real harm done. It was actually a good thing if you think about…being daring and going after the prize.’

    A few days later I am discovered Blue-jacking mobile phones in Piccadilly Waterstones with messages suggesting that people go up to the first floor and check out my novel. I hide in the toilet until the heat is off before making my getaway.

    Go on…just one…one won’t hurt.

    I inhale. It feels so good.

    But do the ends justify the means?

    Imagine the scales of justice. On one side there’s the belief in my own work and the positive feedback from readers who have submersed themselves in The Melting Pot. On the other hand you have swift, metered, unflinching punishment.

    Not to be overly-dramatic – this is hardly the stuff of adrenaline junkies. To date my punishment has been restricted to chastisement by Daily Telegraph readers for corrupting their blog with blatant marketing, and the worst of my crimes would only ever result in a fine of some description. On a guerrilla marketing scale I doubt Che Guevara would give me the time of day.

    But then comes ‘Bustagging’ – zig-zagging through traffic and slapping posters on mobile billboards, and ‘Brandalism’ – unabashed copyright infringement. Where will it end? Hostage-taking? (‘Buy my book or the pretty blond gets it.’)

    And here’s the nub of it. I could make the statement, ‘It’s not as if I’ve murdered anyone,’ and justify my actions by saying that in the grand scheme of things my actions are pitifully small. But if this is the case then where am I on the moral-sliding scale? ‘Fathers-For-Justice’ recently ran a publicity campaign by dressing up as super-heroes and breaking into heavily guarded buildings such as Buckingham Palace. As far as they were concerned the law-breaking justified the message they were trying to get across. If I dress up in a gorilla costume, wander over to Westminster and ambush the culture minister can I claim the same?

    Do you see my dilemma? If guerrilla marketing isn’t as bad as murder, then what is it equal to – a mugging, mild sexual harassment, giving someone a Chinese burn? It’s a moral conundrum in which I’m flying blind.

    Or am I merely looking into this too deeply?

    Or is this in itself a form of marketing?

    Are there no depths to which I won’t stoop?


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Book chuck…

Ways you could help me…

1. By not ringing Ronald the burger clown*

2. Facebookers – By adding the applications i-Read, looking me up under international books (it’s an American app) and ‘chucking’ it at your friends like so:


 *Having said that – he may sue and, in the ensuing bankruptcy, I’ll gain huge notoriety…

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Know your audience…

Googling oneself…marvellous.

Yesterday’s query threw up the following from ‘The Birth Club’ at  

 Now I know my target demographic (alcoholic mothers) this should make marketing a whole lot easier…

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I’ll have what he’s having…

A friend of mine had an idea to walk from London to Rome over a six month period – sauntering through the wine regions, taking in the culture, losing some weight and writing a book about his experiences. On a whiteboard behind our desks we are currently counting down to the birth of his first child – a fantastical event, but one that also effectively puts his Rome idea on ice for at least a decade.

A number of people have commented recently that they envy me for my freedom to up-sticks and move about without dependants. Meanwhile I’m planning to go off on an adventure at the end of the year, but am keen to settle down.

Everyone wants what the other has…

That’s not to say we all miserable – far from it – but restlessness is a curious human condition – seemingly nothing to do with flight-fight / hunter-gatherer and everything to do with matters of the soul.

I for one write my best prose when angst-ridden, and yet am striving at all times to be happy!

I’ll be climbing Kilimanjaro in July. One of the people doing it with me is in Tanzania tagging turtles(!). This morning she sent one of those ‘follow your dreams’ type e-mails. Whilst she herself recognised the sentiment as cheesy I found myself annoyed at my own cynicism.

Joni Mitchell once wrote ‘We’ve got to get our way back to the Garden’ (of Eden). I need to get there via some beaches, a few sunsets over the Pacific and a stack of manuscript paper…

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Mocking the afflicted…

This morning on the way to work I saw an old colleague who suffers from a condition called Petit-Mal (little fits). He was hit in the head by a hockey puck ten tears ago and, as a result, periodically blacks out mid-conversation; staring into space for 4-5 seconds before finding his way back to the original conversation.

He reminded me that whenever this happened (to my eternal shame) I would interject with an entirely new conversation e.g.




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What happens…when gardens ATTACK?

Being a thirty-something there’s nothing I like more than mowing the lawn before complaining about a bad back and then having a sit down with a nice cup of tea…

…So imagine my consternation when I fired up the fly-mower at the weekend only to have it burst into flames and billow noxious fumes into the air. I took off a shoe and used it as an extinguisher before dragging the charred and now obsolete object into the shade to cool down (leaving it outside as I’ve already set fire to the shed once before – another story).

Retiring defeated and hopping to the lounge I considered the randomness of what had just occurred. The result was a short story called ‘Pragmatism’ – which has no connection with the above whatsoever!

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Come with me on a journey through mediocrity…

I could have been on the set of a horror movie – moronic ghouls lurching and traipsing and dribbling. Instead I was in Burger King on the M5.

‘Do you want me to cook it myself?’ a friend complained as he lamented the death of customer service.

‘Ogggg uurrrgg,’ the ghoul replied.

It had been a superb bank holiday spent climbing Snowdon, mooching around Conway castle, endless food, and now we were addling back to Reading, eyes flickering in the grip of a meat-coma and contemplating both the loss of fresh air and a return to work.

A change of scene and a complete (work-related) cerebral shut-down gave rise to gargantuan inspiration and a realisation that I have been slacking of late in my literary quest. Subsequent ideas for short-stories include:

‘Perception and reality’ – a elderly actress is involved in a car accident and mistakenly pronounced dead. Waking up she reads a series of damning obituaries about her endless failure and sets about proving otherwise / turning the tables on the journalists who dismissed her achievements.

‘The one true religion’ – reads like a joke – a priest, vicar, imam, rabbi and Buddhist wake up in a sealed room with no idea how they got there.

‘All the food groups’ – black comedy – plane crash survivors huddle in a dingy and spectacularly fail to get on.

‘Plate-spinning’ – deja-vu, too much work rotations and repetitions.

I’ll post them on as soon as they’re ready – plus am recommencing entering some short story competitions…

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Random story…

Ten years ago I was a graduate working for a bank. One of the main aspects of my role brought me into regular contact with a senior manager called Mr. Scoffield – a man who perpetually ate and was so large that he was more commonly known as ‘Scoffer.’

Scoffer had no time for graduates and would mock me and the other ‘lambs’ at every available opportunity. On our infamous final meeting he said ‘You are useless, but then that’s what you get for sending a boy to do a man’s job,’ to which I replied ‘As opposed to you – sending two men to do a man’s job. Manage a project? You can’t even manage your waist-line.’

During the ensuing bollocking my boss attempted to keep a straight face whilst telling me that my comments were inappropriate.

Anyway…years later I bumped into an old colleague. We started reminiscing and Scoffer came up in conversation.

‘How’s he getting on?’ I enquired.

‘Sadly he passed away.’

‘My God, what happened?’

‘A vending machine fell on him.’

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The Eponymous Double-flush (or ‘Escape from the Middle-class’ part 1)…

A group of us spent the bank holiday in Betws-y-Coed, Snowdonia preparing for a planned trek to Kilimanjaro in July. My mental training began early when I was subjected to a seven-hour gay-anthem / disco-odyssey on the way up from London.

There was a momentary respite from The Village People in Abergaveny where we stopped for lunch – a strange town that boasts a fancy dress shop, but no open restaurants (the former allowing us to replace ‘The Sombrero of Shame’ – an essential for any bloke weekend).

Arriving in the evening we immediately started loading up on sugar (beer) and protein (cheese-burgers) to see us through the gruelling assault.

The next morning one of the guys announced that he’d recently fallen off a horse while playing polo (!) and was unable to climb the mountain – Instead he would catch a train to the summit. He was quickly overcome in a torrent of abuse (‘God is punishing you for attempting to escape from the middle class’  and‘Throw another poor person on the fire Sebastian‘) etc.

A dodgy breakfast resulted in a condition branded ‘The eponymous double-flush’ (a gesture that implies you are trying to banish something truly monstrous).

…And so – deafened by Donna Summer, limping, hung-over and violently ill, we began our ascent…

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A blackened mind laid bare…

…Back in June when I first started touting my wares I joined a large number of online writing forums. Only now have they begun to pay dividends (if by dividend you mean being bombarded with early morning e-mails from insomniac scribes tinged with lunacy).

We in the amateur writing community are encouraged to send our literary efforts out into the ether in order to gain constructive feedback. In the last seven days I have received the following stories:

  • ‘The first time I killed a man’ – a gory account of bludgeoning a maths teacher to death
  • ‘Fear’ – the tale of a boy who wakes to find he has turned into a duvet.
  • ‘Untitled’ – a man shaves his balls in preparation for a date who subsequently doesn’t turn up.

I replied to the latter one with ‘You have scarred me psychologically…in a good way,’ and am considering posting a story called ‘Where I buried the ex-wife.’



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