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This blog is now analogue

Image

I’ve become a bit overwhelmed by technology recently and gone analogue as much as possible. Of course, it’s not very possible.

One advantage of being analogue is that I had to search through my cards and games to find ways to amuse myself without a computer, which led me to my long lost Barbara Walker tarot deck. To celebrate, I thought I’d take a photo of some of the cards and post it here. Unfortunately my desk was a bit cluttered with an analogue game I’ve been playing and I couldn’t find a suitable place to lay them out. Well, actually, the tarot cards were mixed up with this game in the first place, which is why I couldn’t find them. So I thought, why not photograph them together?

As you can see, I’m not a very good photographer, which is why most of the pix and photos on this blog have been stolen from elsewhere.

The game, by the way, is called Legend of the Five Rings (or L5R in digital forums).

Even in the analogue world there is innovation fatigue and this game is an example of something that induces it. I stopped playing this game in 2007 because the publishers of the cards kept bringing out new sets. Every new set brought new things to learn and forced you to forget things that were no longer allowed. Every so often they would even change the backs of the cards so you couldn’t mix in some of your favourite old cards with the new ones. Bastards!

In spite of them, here is Hida Sukune and Mirumoto Taki mixed in with Baal and Kali.

Barbara Walker chose Baal for the King of Pentacles and Kali for the Queen of Swords. For some people this kind of mish-mash is sacrilege. But the tarot was never pure and probably never holy. It is constantly being reinvented, just like L5R, wordpress, word, and windows bloody 8.

It was windows bloody 8 that drove me towards analogue. But it was Barbara Walker who brought me back to digital. Perhaps there is a kind of poetry in that.

I thought I’d better say thank you to everyone who bought and read my novel, Winternights.

It surprised me by leaping to the upper rankings in both the US and the UK charts in the horror/occult genre.

It swiftly disappeared from the rankings after its dizzying ascent. This may have had something to do with the fact that it was only free for two days.

Whatever. I really enjoyed the thrill of international fame and acclaim while it lasted and I look forward to connecting with new readers in another year or so after I have written my next book.

Thanks once again. I love you all.

Some people are already complaining that I didn’t put a link in my last post to where you can download my book.

If you’re in the UK you can get it here: Winternights (UK version).

If you’re in the United States, you need to go here instead: Winternights on Amazon.com.

If you’re rich enough to be an Amazon Prime customer, the book is free to borrow at any time.

If you’ve a Kindle Fire HD device, you’ll benefit from the special hi-res cover image that cost my designer a huge amount of effort to get right. Her original design was not hi-res and she had to change it when Apple brought out their retina display. She wasn’t happy about it but what can you do? Technology is advancing faster than we can think these days.

(The low-res image is being used in this post.)

The book is not yet available in the Apple Store. It mangled my format somehow so I’ve withdrawn it from sale there until I can iron out a technical problem with the table of contents.

Proud of my profession

I wonder sometimes if I’ve done the right thing. I advised my daughter to become a writer.

Philip Roth was quoted in The Guardian this week telling a young writer ‘Don’t do this to yourself.’

But if you want to make a living these days there are very few respectable professions left.

I used to think my teaching qualification would stand me in good stead throughout my career. Now teachers aren’t to be trusted. As if being threatened with knives and bits of furniture in the classroom isn’t enough, teachers always have politicians on their backs trying to make them prove they’re good enough to teach our kids.

Politicians! Ha! My teachers always considered it the ultimate career goal to become a politician, or even Prime Minister. But we know now they’re all tax dodgers and expenses cheats who abuse our trust while they go off in pursuit of personal gain and illegal sexual gratification.

Social workers are always in the firing line, too, aren’t they? Whenever a child is beaten, a social worker gets the blame. Were some young girls groomed by paedophiles? Oh, it was the fault of their social workers. Social workers are nearly always criminally negligent.

Nurses? Murderers. Doctors? Incompetent.

Banking used to be respectable. Now anyone who works in a bank is guilty of causing the complete collapse of the global financial system in 2008, which destroyed all our pensions.

Seventies pop star? Radio DJ? Dear God!

Priests? There are more paedophiles in the priesthood than in politics and pop combined.

Accountants? Well, they’re the ones who make all the corruption in the world possible. When they’re not massaging balance sheets to disguise a company’s sickening losses, they’re advising global behemoths how to avoid paying tax. Who ever heard of an honest accountant?

Oil company executive. Tobacco manufacturer. Pharmacist. Food producer. Distiller and brewer. Can any of them hold their hand up and say they are working for the greater good of society?

What about policemen? We’ve just had some elections in the UK to elect a new type of official to keep policemen under control. They’re already under attack for taking a job that pays £100,000 a year without getting a clear mandate from the electorate. Is it their fault that no-one bothered to vote? Clearly it is, since the Home Secretary is already having to defend them.

The journalists reporting on all this greed and corruption are at least doing a good job, though, aren’t they? Oh, wait, I forgot. The newly-appointed Director General of the BBC has just had to resign because of poor editorial controls. First they covered up a story about a paedophile in their ranks and then they pointed a finger at the wrong man. We now have a news organisation in complete chaos, turning on itself with naked acrimony. At least the wronged parties have managed to find some good lawyers.

Good lawyers. Now there’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one.

Which brings me back to writers. I know writers are evil. They spam you on Twitter and cause fake reviews to be written on Amazon to con people into buying their books. They disparage their rivals and spread lies and libel in order to achieve their ends. They abuse your friendship on Facebook and ambush you on Goodreads. They split infinitives. They make stupid spelling mistakes. They are too lazy to proof-read. They devalue literature by selling novels that took them 2 years to write for a mere 87 pence (including VAT — which Amazon doesn’t pay, by the way) or 99 cents or even for nothing at all!

Nothing at all? Yes! Writers sometimes GIVE BOOKS AWAY! Incredible isn’t it? How can they be so irresponsible, so dirty, so … so CHEAP?

Well, for better or worse, I’ve advised my daughter to become a writer. She’s busy writing now. Poetry, as it happens.

And in order to fund the education for her future career, I’m giving away copies of my novel Winternights. It’s free on Amazon today and I hope Amazon bloody well accounts to the UK government for all the VAT it collects from my years of hard work.

But I don’t feel good about it. I feel immoral, to tell you the truth. I’ve failed as a parent. My book itself, besides being free, is the spawn of the Devil.

In fact I think I’m going to spend the afternoon beating myself with birch twigs and cutting my flesh with a dull razor blade. Then I’ll sit down to write the sequel.

Where do ideas come from?

One question writers seem to dread is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

Stories are everywhere but sometimes when you are sitting at your computer and facing a blank screen wondering why it is taking so long to come up with a thousand words, the ideas can simply vanish.

One way to get them back is to relax and stimulate your subconscious. There is far more going on in there than you know. The trick is to get at it.

One way is to use tarot cards. I like Barabra Walker’s tarot cards, although the deck is currently out of print. I used them to construct the plot of my novel Winternights and to tease out more detail about the characters.

I found this image of the Babylonian fish god, Dagon, on a blog called Mandrake’s Rootwerx. Interestingly, the writer says on his blog that it’s one of his favourites for constructing plots and for overcoming writer’s block. I’ve chosen this image because it features in my novel. It comes up during a tarot reading and helps the protagonist track down the murderer.

Many people are frightened of the tarot. They are frightened to look at the cards or to touch them. This illustration of Dagon does have something a little scary about it. It has a primal, jarring quality. There is even something diabolical about it.  I won’t put an image of the devil card here in case it really freaks you out, but if you search for the picture in Google Images, you will find dozens of different horned creatures set against fiery backgrounds and with worshippers or abject slaves at their feet.

That fear or even revulsion that some people have is a sign that the cards have a lot to tell them. I was very scared of the tarot at first. When I was a teenager, my parents wouldn’t have it in the house. It is this emotional relationship with the images that makes them so powerful.

A popular tarot deck is Robin Wood’s. He has written books on the tarot but he says

“I advise you not to look at the booklet, for my deck or for any others. I find it works far better to look at the card, and assign it the meaning that feels right for that particular reading.”

I agree with this. Although I am very literary and read dozens of books on everything, the best way to use the tarot is to let each card speak to you through its imagery.  In fact, I have trimmed all the writing off my Barbara Walker deck. I just use the pictures without any text at all.

Barbara Walker, incidentally, wrote two very good books about mythology and symbolism:

The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (1988), Castle Books, ISBN 0-06-250923-3

The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (1983) ISBN 0-06-250925-X

She wrote many more books than these, in fact. I’ve found they are good not just for women.

Scarier than Halloween

I thought I’d write a scary book in time for Halloween. It’s called Winternights and it’s a murder mystery.

Winternights is like Halloween but without the candy. It happens in the Nordic countries. All kinds of ghostly creatures swoop down out of the sky and scare the living daylights out of you. In Scandinavia they celebrate this kind of thing.

But my novel is set in a little village in England, where a group of occultists are gathering in the home of an Icelandic shaman. It’s just like an Agatha Christie novel, in other words.

I wasn’t sure I’d finish it by October, which, like Halloween, is when Winternights happens. So to hedge my bets I put some Yuletide celebrations in there as well. If I haven’t sold any copies by December I’ll change my marketing plan and republish it as “The Christmas Murders.”

I’m not sure seasonal marketing is a good idea. The professionals start early. I noticed most of the Halloween articles appearing in online publications weeks ago. But there’s always next year, isn’t there?

Cunningly, I haven’t called my novel “Halloween” so I have some flexibility. In England we have winter nights for at least six months of the year.

If I appear flippant it’s because murder is a such a terrifying subject. In my novel you’ll find some very unpleasant themes. There are dark secrets, weird beliefs, shocking disclosures and sickening twists.

I hope it doesn’t give you nightmares. Although, in a way, I also hope it does.

Winternights is available at the following sites:

UK Kindle

US Kindle

Smashwords

German Kindle

French Kindle (dans le collection Joseph)

In the coming weeks you’ll also be able to find it on iTunes, Barnes & Noble and all the usual retailers.

Ruggedly Intellectual

Ian Rankin isn’t stupid. He may be rugged but he knows when he’s beaten. The publication of his new novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, has been postponed until November.

He hopes the fuss about J.K. Rowling’s latest novel will have died down by then and people will have some pocket money once again to splash out on his new hardback.

I have to admit, I have never read an Ian Rankin novel, though I do own a paperback copy of Knots and Crosses that I bought after hearing him enthuse about R.L. Stevenson on television some years ago.  R.L. Stevenson is a particular favourite of mine. I thought, if Ian Rankin can be so articulate and passionate about this brilliant writer, his own books must have some good in them.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t read one so I can’t comment. No hard feelings, I hope, Ian. I do follow you on Twitter, at least.

Quite a lot of people comment without reading, though, as I noticed when scouring the reviews of The Casual Vacancy. And I don’t just mean the rowdy public, who, predictably, were running amok in the comments sections of the dozens of reviews and articles I saw. Even professional and quite intellectual journalists were venturing opinions and judgements on the novel without having read it.

One of the attitudes that really irritates me, which I have seen voiced many times by critics, commentators and, sadly, publishers, is that children’s authors can’t write for adults. As if writing for children is easier. It isn’t. In my opinion it’s a lot harder. This is probably open for discussion. But the dismissal of a book on this basis isn’t. It’s simply wrong.

And another attitude that grates is that R.L. Stevenson is a children’s author. I did enjoy reading his books when I was 15 but I would never give The Body Snatcher or Markheim to a child to read.

I did, after much frustration, come across one review that seemed to be informed by a thoughtful reading of The Casual Vacancy. It was by Melvyn Bragg in The Observer and it began:

This is a wonderful novel. J.K. Rowling’s skills as a storyteller are on a par with R.L. Stevenson, Conan Doyle and P. D. James. Here, they are combined with her ability to create memorable and moving characters to produce a state-of-England novel driven by tenderness and fury.

It was good to see Melvyn paying tribute there to R.L. Stevenson as well as J.K. Rowling.

I still can’t comment on The Casual Vacancy because I haven’t finished reading it. But I’m afraid publication of my own novel, Winternights, will be delayed because of it. I was hoping to get Winternights published by 15 October but I have been so engrossed in J.K. Rowling’s novel that I haven’t finished editing my own.

I am still planning to get it out by the end of the month, though, because October is the month of Winternights and the moon, you know, is a harsh mistress.