So here's the thing! Let's talk about people. Not just any old people, but Internet people, cyber people, people who are out there - like the truth! You remember the X Files! Yeah, I wanted to believe, I really did! I mean who wouldn't want to believe Gillian Anderson? And the Smoking Man was a brilliant character, but those aliens were a bit uncommunicative! And that black oily stuff wasn't very nice.
Well, I've sat in my house meeting these people, conversing with them, cavorting with them willy-nilly, and you know what? They live all over the world, in far-flung places like Thailand, Antarctica - or is that the Arctic? I always get confused between the two. One's at the bottom, and the other's at the top - of the world dummy! Hey, I bet you're impressed with my encyclopaedic knowledge of geography! (As an aside, I vaguely remember winning a bird book (that's a book about birds not a book that could fly) because of my score on a Geography test in the first year at Secondary School, but everything went downhill from there).
Anyway, I digress! So, one has penguins and the other has polar bears (see below), but neither of those wonderful creatures are people. Maybe the people from Antarctica are Eskimos (or Inuit) and live in igloos. How can you keep warm in an igloo? Are there modern igloos with central heating and hot running water? Oh well, what about an Internet connection? I suppose they use dongles for a sat-link download via the International Space Station, but what happens when the satellite's elliptical orbit moves out of range? So many questions! And not only that, how will the people get down from the Space Station now they've mothballed the Space Shuttle? Bugger that for a game of soldiers!
So, I was talking about all these wierd people spanning the globe that I've been dancing the tango with. Not only do they stem from a potpourrie of countries and different walks of life, but they're all a cornucopia of ages, they all have a variety of backgrounds, use different Internet browsers, and eat different foods! And yet, we meet in various places on common ground and talk a load of rubbish. Well, when I say rubbish, I don't mean me, of course, but all those other people. Heavens! You should read some of the rubbish they write. Sometimes, I wonder how I stay sane! Anyway, there's a bucketful of wonderful people out there - and when I say out there, I mean in here! Well yes, because they're all in my living room. Now, I wouldn't mind except there's a good programme on the television and I can't see or hear it! Will you shut the noise up and go and stand on the patio!
Now, don't get me wrong, I invited them all in - through Facebook, Twitter, G+, Kindleboards, Kindle User's Forum, my website and blog, and all the other Social Networking sites that any self-respecting writer ought to belong to, but sometimes... These sites are like chatrooms, and believe you me there's a lot of chatting that goes on - especially between certain people of a certain gender - nudge, nudge, a nod's as good as a wink! So, children are warned about these chatrooms, and that's a good thing because there are some seriously deranged people out there, but adults aren't warned, are they? I know, how terrifying is that? I mean, there could be serial killers, stalkers, or chocolate thieves posing as friends or fans of your writing in these places, just waiting to pounce as soon as you close your eyes or become distracted. I know, it doesn't bear thinking about.
But... and here's the thing, let's talk about all the fantastic people who tweet without expecting a tweet back; who follow you because it's the right thing to do regardless of where you're going; who share your book reviews and write on your Facebook wall without any thought of reciprocation; who read your blogs and say nice things about your style, humour, and subject matter; who Like and tag you, congratulate you, and remember your birthday because it's in the public domain and they make a point of finding out and putting it in their calendar. Thankfully, I have no serial killers, stalkers, or chocolate thieves in my living room except the ones residing in my own imagination - Well, maybe there are some chocolate thieves, but I know who they are and I have the CCTV and satellites trained on them. Chocolate thieves are probably the worst kind of low-lifes because they eat the evidence.
One last point about people before I go - fans! Now, I've had emails! I know, you're thinking there's a fine line between a fan and a psychopathic stalker who wants to break your leg because you've killed off a character, but I suppose we all have to pay the ferryman one way or another! They've said things like, "I love everything you've written", "When are you putting a sequel out because I don't think I can wait much longer?", "Have you got anything I can read NOW, so that I can sleep at night without taking the pills?" Well, not the last one, but I've had emails along those lines. Hey, I have fans! Well, one actually. I'm a celebrity! Maybe Ant & Dec will contact me about appearing on the next "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" or Oprah Winfrey will... Will ya look at that! The minute I get a sniff at the big time, Oprah shuts up shop!
So, here's the thing! I got a 4-star review of A Life for a Life today! I know, after six five-star reviews (nine if you count the US ones), I should have been happy. I mean, a four-star review is good, isn't it? It's not a one-, two-, or three-star review, which are horrible, nasty, despicable things, but one star below a five-star review.
The trouble is, I feel sullied. I feel as though someone has trampled over my allotment - I haven't got an allotment, but I might have had one. My wife is growing carrots, lettuce, peas, and strawberries in pots in the back garden, so an allotment would have been a boon, but alas we have no allotment. Anyway, a four-star review is like - Well, like you've been burgled! I know, call me irrational, but that's how I feel. I put all of me into writing my books, spend inordinate amounts of time working on plot, characterisation, grammar, sentence-structure, tying up loose ends, cliffhangers - you know the stuff, and then someone reads it in a couple of days and says, "Yeah, it was OK!"
Ha! My wife cooks me a wonderful meal that delights the taste buds and slides down the old gullet like jelly on a hot tin roof, and she looks askance at me! My usual response is, "Yeah, it was OK!" You can imagine the tongue-lashing I get! So, I now have a lexicon of adjectives such as - fantastic, wonderful, superlative, fantabulous, supercallyfragilisticexpiallydocious - is that even a real word?
Anyway, I had this thought that reviews might be helpful in writing future books. I mean, reviews are not just about stars are they? Some wonderful people go to the trouble of adding some critique. So, I sent Parish & Richards to investigate the reviews I'd received, and here's what they discovered.
'You're kiddin' right, Chief?' Parish said.
'It's time to give something back to the community, Parish.'
'Isn't solving murders giving to the community?'
'That's a different type of giving. Remember, one day when you're old and wrinkly you'll want to write a book about your experiences. Richards will be a DI by then.'
'Do you really think so, Chief?'
Parish pinched her on the arm. 'Stop interrupting, Richards.'
'You're so mean, Sir.'
'So you want me to investigate what the readers think make a good book, Chief?'
'Are you still here, Parish?'
Richards eyes opened wide. 'It says no sex, Sir? I like sex!'
'Your sorties into relationships are hardly the stuff books are made of, Richards.'
'Do you think I'll ever get a man?'
'No, I don't think so. What's next?'
'Do you enjoy being mean to me?'
'Will you stay on the tracks, Richards. This is difficult enough without you veering off every time your mind wanders. What's next?'
'People like cheap books, but if its a good story they're happy to pay full price.'
'Full price, what does that mean? In this self-publishing, digital, topsey-turvey age, what is full price? Next?'
'Do you want me to answer the question?'
'Do you know the answer?'
'If you're writing a gritty police thriller, readers don't want to read about nice people.'
'You're too nice, Richards.'
'Do you really think so, Sir?'
'Yes... So, we're going to have to toughen you up.'
'What, like send me on one of those Army training courses with all those hunky men?'
'No, Richards. I was thinking more of personal trauma, grief, hardship.'
'I don't like the sound of that.'
'The readers like the characters to have complicated home lives - the more grief and strife the better.'
'There you go then, your life is about to get a lot more complicated.'
'What about your life, Sir?'
'Yes, unfortunately my life as well. A number of people are going to try and kill me in the next book.'
'Next? In fact, I need a four-sugared coffee, this is thirsty work.'
'Slavery ended year's ago, you know?'
'The police force are always behind the times.'
'You're so mean,' Richards said storming out.
'Next?' he said taking a swallow of his steaming coffee.
'They like well-written books.'
'Goes without saying. Next?'
'A believable storyline with strong, believable characters that are likeable or hateable.'
'Hateable? Is that even a word, Richards?'
'If it's not it should...'
'The story should be easy to follow without too many twists and turns that confuse the reader.'
'Those twists and turns are your fault, Richards.'
'I don't think...'
'Exactly, you make suggestions that send us down the wrong road.'
'I'm not going to talk to you after we've finished this.'
'I should be so lucky. Next?'
'You're so mean. The writer should keep track of the characters.'
'Well, where they are, I suppose.'
'Not changing the character's name, hair colour, and other things half way through the book.'
'Okay, I think I've got the hang of that. Next?'
'Readers want a strong ending. Maybe a final twist, a shock... But it shouldn't finish too quickly, and the writer has to make sure everything is brought to together - no loose ends, answer all the questions.'
'Any more, I'm losing the will to live?'
'You just want to go home and have sex with my mum?'
'I thought you said we couldn't do sex?'
'They appreciate good research, dialogue, description, stylish writing, pace, and...'
'Let's not tell them how to suck eggs.'
'They like dramatic tension between nasty characters, a bit like you, Sir.'
'Natsy! You haven't seen nasty yet, Richards. Maybe I'll be nasty in The Flesh is Weak.'
'No, never to you, Richards.'
'We're done, Sir.'
'Right, let's give this report to the Chief and go and have fry-up.'
So, here's the thing! I've had my Hawaiin mug since 1982 when we went to Wakiki Beach from Hong Kong on a two-week holiday, and I've used it continuously to drink my coffee out of since! I know, how fantastic is that? I'm thinking of applying to the Guinness Book of Records - unless you know of a mug that's lasted longer, of course?
I mean, I'm sure there are mugs out there that are older, but I bet they've been kept in cupboards wrapped in tissue paper, cotton wool balls, and knitted socks! I don't know how many other mugs the wife has bought whilst I've been merrily drinking out of my Hawaiin mug - What a mug! Also, I wonder if its worth anything? Maybe its an antique! Maybe one day someone will find my mug in an antique shop and say, "This mug belonged to the famous writer Tim Ellis!"
In fact, I've been in continuous use since 1953. I know, how old am I? But... maybe I'm an antique! Maybe I'm worth something! Maybe one day someone will find my skeleton in an antique shop and say, "How much for this bag of bones, matey?"
Anyway, what's been happening? Well, I've been slacking again! I know, but I have a reasonably sound excuse - I was peddling my bicycle in the twitterverse, out there meeting people, providing samples of my works of art for people to... well, - sample, you know the thing - It's called 'slapping the flesh' - well I thought shaking hands was called that, but apparently not because a search reveals that it's something to do with preparing human flesh for eating - yum, yum! No, don't call the doctor yet, I've remembered now - it's called 'pressing the flesh'! Don't you just love those fantabulous idioms?
So, I did write something this morning, finally stumbled over the 45,000-word line like a clapped-out cross-country runner, and had great plans to reach for the 50,000-word milestone, but I petered out, got ambushed by life. Maybe tomorrow... but that's it, isn't it? We have all these plans, ambitions, goals, but life gets in the way. I suppose I'm lucky though, because there's not a lot of life left to get in the way anymore - son's got his own life (at last), no work to wear me out and suck the creativity out of me, the wife shops on ebay, QVC, and a million other Internet places whilst I'm writing (or procrastinating). She says, "How many books have you sold now?" I tell her, she gets the calculator out, and then buys another pair of shoes, dress, bottle of perfume, or a Toy Boy! Ha, ha - not really! If she read that I'd be dead meat. Then of course, there's our babies - the five Shitzhus (Chinese lion dogs) - I'm the pack leader! There's only four here - the mum (Mim) is missing. From left to right - Buddy, Coco, Daisy, and Frodo (the dad).
So, I remember reading somewhere that self-published authors could count themselves lucky if they sold 250 copies of their book! Don't ask me where it came from, I don't know. Why 250? Who knows, maybe there was anecdotal evidence, but the point I'm making is that maybe with the advent of the ebook and the eReader that's all changed - or has it? If a book is not up to the mark in any number of areas will people still buy it? Probably not. Is 250 a reasonable ceiling? Probably!
If that's the case, then we all need to make sure that what we produce is the very best it can be, and I'm not talking just about formatting, punctuation, spelling, grammar, although you gotta get these right. I'm harping on about writing style, your voice, crisp and realistic dialogue, description that readers can see, taste, smell, touch, hear and drips off the page like honey, three-dimensional characters that we love or hate, a logical twisty-turny plot that grips the reader and doesn't let go until the very last word, a story that touches the reader in some way, and conflict and resolution - nothing left hanging.
You've done all that! Well, you could have said, instead of letting me prattle on like a fishwife! In that case, I'm done! What more is there to say other than, "Goodbye-ee!"
So, here's the thing! I'm getting tardy, Toady! I know, you're thinking, "Not you, Master?" but I'm afraid it's so. I've been lax, flaccid, and sloppy. One thousand words plus a day has been my mantra, my watchword, my shibboleth. I pride myself in being a shining light of military discipline - up at 5 a.m., write 1,000 words a day, finish a 90,000-word book in 3 months, edit it in the 4th month, and publish - Simples!
You're thinking, "My Master is the epitome of military discipline, and his books are so damned good." And you'd be right, Toady. But, as I said earlier in this despatch, my military discipline seems to have deserted me. Oh yes, I'm still getting up at 5 a.m., but you know what - I stray! Call me a weak-willed, lily-livered, good-for-nothing - it's true, I get sidetracked, averted, redirected onto branch lines, B-roads, and beaten tracks. I mean, here I am writing a blog and I still haven't finished my 1,000 words - how spineless is that? I'm a jellyfish! Here, take this branch and flagellate (and no, that's not another word for spank) me, Toady!
It all started with an email saying I'd got a new follower, I clicked on it and signed in to Twitter to follow this lovely romantic person from the back-of-beyond in Yorkshire, then I looked at my new followers, made a list to thank them, and followed some back. Yeah, and so it goes on... It trickled round to 8 o'clock and I made a note of my daily sales, transferred the total to my spreadsheet - , Remember, being an obsessive compulsive type of person I like to keep itemised lists, tallys, and inventories showing rows and rows of lovely figures from which fantabulous charts and mind-boggling statistics can be... Anyway, I found I'd sold some of my books after 8 o'clock - I don't know, maybe Amazon save a couple to make you feel good at the start of the day! Well, I feel good, but not very disciplined - makes note to self to stop shilly-shallying around and get back to writing. So, I checked where my books were in the lists - Those lists are beautiful, but I think they're driving me crazy!
So, the wife's here looking up her old cronies on Facebook. It all started because I got a skip delivered. I know, make yourself comfortable. Well, I cleared out the garage, and remember I told you I used to be into photography in a big way? Yeah, so I found all my black and white photographs and threw them away. I kept that one above - I know, not exactly Ansell Adams, but still... Next, we were on our way out to womble round town when my better half said, "Hey up, what's these photos doing in the skip?" (She doesn't really talk like that, but its my blog!) So, she starts to riffle through them checking there's none of her naked - Hey, I was doing life photography, which meant I had to take lots of photographs of the wife naked - and we were young! Haven't you ever been young, Toady? I guess not!
Whilst (or while) I've been writing this in fits and starts like a tired old runner, I also reached my 1,000 words target on The Flesh is Weak. I know, you want me to throw a party, get the balloons and beers out... Sorry, I need to lie down now, but tomorrow's another day so they tell me. I'm going to be more disciplined in the future though. I'm gonna write my 1,000 words and not get distracted by other thi... Sorry, I got an email, which turned into a conversation on Facebook, and then the garage repair man came, and whilst I was talking to him the dogs started barking to go out, but I couldn't remember where I'd put my keys, and... What was I talking about?
Anyway, more discipline - 1000+ words a day! I'm on 41,000 words now, which leaves 49,000 words, or 49 days. It's the 4th July today (wasn't there something specific about that date? Mmmm, nothing springs to mind), so if I wrote exactly 1,000 words every day I would achieve 90,000 words on 22nd August, but once I'm on the downhill slope I can churn out more than 1,000 words, so I'll aim to finish the book on or very near 31st July. Hey, we have a plan. Will it work? Let's see if I can get to 50,000 words by Friday - if I can I think you'll be able to put the plan in front of the President for his approval!
So, here's the thing! Keeping this damned website relevant - as Simon Cowell says - is a full-time job. I was tinkering around with it most of yesterday - so who needs to write for a living when you can muck about with jpgs, html code, create and publish new pages, and so many other wonderful webmaster things?
Anyway, I thought I'd cobble together a blog although I've got absolutely nothing to say. I sold 1,399 books in June - thank you to all those wonderful people who bought one or more of my books - I'm filling up with plumptiousness.
A Life for a Life keeps slipping and sliding between 3 and 5 in the Police Procedural charts, and still bubbling outside the Kindle Top 100 - I wish it would make up its damned mind and put me out of my misery!
I haven't told you about my wife's Japanese Maple (we think) and all the things she keeps hanging on it, have I? Well, I'm gonna spill the beans now! It all started with a couple of candle lights, then fat balls and half-coconuts for the poor starving birds, and then some yellow plant pots, and today she's got some yellow buckets and a yellow watering can (she's got a thing about yellow!) The birds come from miles around for the bread, the birdseed, the mealworm, and to laugh at the things on the dangly tree! I'm beginning to wonder whether the wife has got one of those strange diseases that affect beautiful twenty-one year-old women - I hope its not catching!
So, let's get back to my favourite subject - me! I'm getting up early tomorrow morning. Well no, that's not strictly true, I always get up early, but instead of writing my thousand words I'm gonna sell all my books at a car boot sale and sellers have to be there by 6 a.m. I know, there's some crazy people about! And... you're wondering 1) What books?; and 2) How many books has he got? You're confused, Toady! I'm not talking about the books I write, you know - Oh no, no, no! I'm talking about all those useless factual books on psychology, sociology, management, business, theory, research, philosophy, quality, and... I'm sure you get my drift. When I was doing my Masters degrees and my Doctorate I collected books to read, to cite, to appear intelligent. But anyway, I don't want them now because I'm retired. Also, I've given up reading factual books unless its research for a book I'm writing, and they were clogging up my garage, so I'm gonna sell them at a car boot sale for a £1 each - I must have about 500+ of the damn things and now they're weighing down my car ready to go in the morning!
That's a picture of one of my five dogs called Buddy. I'm sure you've guessed, put your hand up to your mouth in shock and horror, and screamed "He won't be doing Sample Sunday!" Well, that's where you're wrong, Toady. Through the magic of technology I've scheduled about 24 (or so) tweets every half-hour from 0905 until about 1935 hours - my usual #SampleSunday tweets plus lots of others. I've created tweets so that people can sample the beginnings of all my 11 books, and put up two new pieces of work. The start of a crime novel called The Removal Man about a man that takes children from their homes, and the beginning of a thriller called The Gates of Hell about a team of archeologists that find the gates to hell in the Negev Desert. I outlined this book over two years ago! I need two clones! How much do you think two clones would cost me? Now, I don't want uppity clones like me, just brilliant writer clones to write my books and then get back into the closet!
Now, I know what you're thinking - you're wondering how I'm gonna retweet yours if you retweet mine. Am I right, or am I right? Well, I'm gonna be back from making me fortune Gov'nr at about 3 o'clock (1500 hours to us military types) and after I've counted all me money I'll be retweeting as if the Devil were burnin' my butt, Mabel, so don't you go frettin' none.
Hi, I'm Tim Ellis - I write a lot and I hope you enjoy what I write.