Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like there’s nobody watching. And blog like you can’t be arsed.

Oh, it’s YOU. Hello, you!

It’s been Can’t Be Arsed Theme Week, here in Trodiland. Not so much at work (that’s actually been quite fun this week, mainly because I have been assigned a task that people actually Care About, with a deadline that Actually Matters, with a difficulty level that’s Stretching But Not Impossible), but my downtime has been just that for once. No commitments. No diary dates. No freelance assignments (ah, the good old Music Biz Summer Lull). And, what with K gadding about the US all week (contemporary art in the Catskill Mountains, TV interview in Pittsburgh, watching Little Feat in Missouri, the Richard Serra exhibition at MoMA in NYC), I’ve been all on my ownsome, and, well, lovehimtobitsandallthat, but it’s been NICE. A rest is as good as a change.

Telly. Pooter. Doing some mix CDs for this weekend’s Big Fat Civil Partnership Engagement Party in Clapham. Preparing mentally for predicted excesses of said forthcoming weekend. Recovering from predictable excesses of the last weekend, spent visiting Alan “Won A Blogging Award, Can No Longer Be Arsed” Reluctant-Nomad in Amsterdam.

Ey, it were great in Amsterdam. Bar crawling on the Friday, ending up down the Cockring, as you do. I’ve changed my mind about that place. Sure, you get a lot of drunk desperate people, stumbling around upstairs in the Last Chance Saloon – but down in the clubby bit in the basement, the vibe is relaxed and friendly. Stripped down funky tribal house, with warm, throbbing basslines and no cheesy breakdowns. Kinda womb-like. On an even level.

My New Best Friends were from Eindhoven and Leicestershire. Mr Eindhoven was all Boggle Eyed Thumbs Aloft Wa-hey, so I assumed heavy pill-age. Not so, not so. Somewhat unecessarily, Mr Leicestershire warned me about his rampant sluttishness. “That’s cool!” I reassured him. “I am taking it for what it is!” I do so love flirting, when there’s no question of a sticky follow-through. You know where you are. It’s a kicky little ego-tickle, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Over to my right, a blandly handsome and very drunk young man in a sewn-on singlet was not taking Alan’s No for an answer. (It might have been a Maybe, until certain rather outré, not to say messy, sexual suggestions were hissed in his ear.)

Opting to beat the 5am rush, we stumbled home, Alan once again displaying a quite astonishing lack of direction. How many months has he been there now?

Saturday shopping was quite mass market, by my foofy standards. A short sleeved check shirt from Dockers, and a slight variation on the same theme from H&M. Hell, I know my range. People of a certain age do tend to restrict themselves to the outfits that they wore in their heyday, and I seem to be no exception. Gorgeous, gorgeous Diesel jeans, just the business for that night’s Big Gay Circuit Party at the Odeon.

Dinner with my new desk neighbour E, also visiting for the weekend. She and I had hatched a plan to introduce our respective ex-pat Britgay friends, and it all seemed to work rather well. We were also joined at the dinner table by a couple of charming heterosexual pornographers, who run their own special-interest website (caveat clickor).

“And do you… sometimes… er, possibly… appear in front of the camera?”, I asked the female half of the couple, a petite Thai lady, choosing my words carefully.

“Of course I do! Well, come on, look at these!”

Goodness, I had quite failed to spot the capacious boobage below. Quelle faux pas! She seemed almost affronted.

(Etiquette tip: when meeting lady pornographers, a suitable compliment upon “the rack” is considered de rigeur.)

(Remember when One Track outed me as a knocker clocker? Perhaps I’ve been trying a little too hard to mend my ways. You can’t win, can you?)

The Big Gay Circuit Party was agreeable, if initially a little up its own arse. But then Amsterdam doesn’t have any regular major gay dance clubs, so there was bound to be a certain over-awed sense of occasion. Things loosened up nicely, though, despite a dodgy “retro hour” of the sort of horrible late 1990s/early 2000s trance which sent me scuttling off to the sanctuary of rural Derbyshire in the first place. And we did like the go-go dancers, led as they were by a middle-aged, barrel-chested, overweight Grotesque, be-wigged and be-horned, who revelled in a kind of imperiously sinister auto-eroticism throughout. As if to say: I Am Your Future, Circuit Boys, and I Care Not One Flying F**k What You Think. A neat and necessary little subversion of the proceedings, so it was.

Our new ex-pat Britgay chum danced “ironically”, on a raised step, going through every move in the handbook. He’s big – nay, evangelical – on something called Neurobics, which involves stimulating the brain cells by peforming everyday tasks in unexpected ways. Getting dressed with your eyes shut, that kind of thing. We tried Neurobic dancing, me pump-it-pump-it-pumping with my left fist instead of my right. Hmm, still not convinced. Alan and I beat the 5am rush again, and got drenched to the skin for our trouble. Yes, they’ve got the rain over there as well.

Sunday was spent in Smart Café Recovery Mode, firstly with Caroline (celebrating an impending change of job), and secondly with Non-Workingmonkey, with whom I conducted the official Post Of The Week Exit Interview (N-WM was one of our regular judges for a while). N-WM has been flat-sitting for friends, in The Most Gorgeous Canalside Apartment That One Could Possibly Wish For. It’s going up for sale soon, and Alan’s looking to buy. Ooh, serendipity. Contact details were duly exchanged. I am going to be staying there next time. No, I think you’ll find I am, actually.

It’s Nottingham Pride tomorrow. There was a preview piece in t’local paper today, liberally furnished with quotes from myself, but it’s not online and I didn’t write it, so you’ll have to manage without. (It was basically an edited remix of this old post, which basically says it all.) I won’t be attending (Clapham, remember), but you should. It’ll be fabulous! We’ve got Bananarama and everything!

Right, that’s your hour’s worth. Beer time. Also, Boots “Shapers” Salad Time. (I’ve been losing weight for the London boys, and dipped under 11 stone for the first time ever yesterday morning. Major milestone.) Is it Big Brother yet? Busy busy!

Michael’s Big Day With The “Creatives”.

Life in a medium-sized city does have distinct advantages. “Large enough to be interesting, small enough to be friendly”, that’s what I always say. And so, when some bright sparks suggested arranging a photo-shoot in the Market Square for all of Nottingham’s “creative” types (writers, artists, musicians, designers, and yea, even unto can-we-say-humble bloggers), word was bound to get through.

All togged up in the nice smart Gieves & Hawkes jacket that I wore to the Lowdham Book Festival, I toddled along to the square just in time to squeeze myself into the back of the shots. Within seconds I found Dymbel, who was soon introducing me (as “blogger extraordinaire”, gawd bless him) to various authentically rumpled, literary-looking types. (Those crisp, tailored lines were such a giveaway.)

“Hello, I’m Mike! I’m an integral part of the mass amateurisation and dumbing down of culture, which threatens to obliterate the last shreds of respect for an intellectual elite! And you are….?”

Well, I could have said that. You know, all waspish-like, for laffs. But instead I came over all Aaargh This Is A Networking Opportunity I Cannot Cope, and fled back to the sanctuary of the office.

First thing I did: Google for the guy that Dymbel first introduced me to. (“You must know each other. No? Well, maybe you move in different worlds.”) Oh crap, he was only one of the most senior and well-respected members of the Nottingham literary community. And I’d just shaken my head and blinked. Well, he hadn’t heard of me either. Cuts both ways, dunnit?

An hour or so later, loins duly girded and best face forward, I was over at the Broadway Cinema for the official post-shoot canapé-and-fizz bash, getting there just in time for the last few seconds of the last speech. Basically, this was a launch event for something called the Nottingham Creative Business Awards 2007, which you can read all about over here. All neurotic passive-aggressive snark aside, I wish it well.

Before long, I found myself talking to a couple of published writers: Clare Brown (who doesn’t have a blog) and Nicola Monaghan (who has two: a fiction blog and a “creative process” blog). Naturally, both conversations homed in on the bloggers-with-book-deals phenomenon, the are-blogs-for-writers-a-help-or-hindrance question, and so forth and suchlike. Most enjoyable.

While Nicola clued me up on the Bookarazzi website, another resource for bloggers with book deals, a familiar face sat down opposite. “Just relax”, he said, pulling out his pad and pen.


This wasn’t the first time that Brick had drawn a caricature of me – his splendid James Gillray pastiche (“All Broad Street trembled as he strode”), as commissioned by Dymbel and Dymbellina for my fortieth birthday, still enjoys pride of place in the cottage – but it was the first time that he, or indeed anyone else, had done so impromptu.

If you’re one of those people who comes over all self-conscious and coy whenever a camera lens is wafted in their general direction, then imagine having that feeling extended for ten minutes or so, while you try and make interesting conversation with nice bright creative types at a Networking Opportunity, with blues music blaring into your left eardrum, just loud enough to block out what was being said diagonally opposite. But I coped, really I did, maintaining both my posture (ooh, three-quarter face on the left hand side, the best angle!) and my brightest, most engaged smile.


An hour or so later, and we were on the top floor of Waterstone’s, awaiting the arrival of Armistead Maupin.

“Look at my new digi-dictaphone!”, I chirped to Dymbel and Dymbellina. “I hope it can pick him up from this distance.”

“Er, Mike, you do know that you’re not supposed to quote writers without their express permission? It’s not exactly ethical.”

I instantly rouged up. Call me naïve, but surely public events like these were, by their very definition, on the record? Evidently not. Well, too late to go asking around at the eleventh hour. I’d make the recording anyway, and then have a word at the signing session after the talk.

As expected, Armistead Maupin was pure delight from start to finish. (The article appears in the Evening Post on Friday, and on t’blog soon after that.) As the final applause died away, the woman to my right leant over. I’d noticed her looking over a few times, and had assumed that she was glaring at the digi-dictaphone, not so subtly wedged between my Pradas.

But no. This was K, a fellow German graduate of the class of 1985, whom I hadn’t seen for over twenty years – even longer than Armistead, come to think of it. With so much to catch up on, I didn’t make my way to the signing queue until perilously late in the day.

When Mike Met Armistead, then. It wasn’t quite the communion of souls that I’d hoped for. By this stage, over a hundred eager punters down, the great man was clearly flagging, and unmaskably disengaged from his immediate surroundings. I tried, of course – and in giving me his permission to quote him directly for the article, he was the very model of graciousness. Signatures were procured, for me and for sadly absent “fag-hag extraordinaire” MissMish (her suggestion, his dedication).

Ah, the creative life, how it takes its toll. The article took three hours, the recording just the right side of audible, the copy filed just before 1:00 a.m. Bloody difficult, but enormous fun. And I’m not complaining neither. It’s turning out to be quite a week…

Smokey Robinson, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, Sunday July 8.

(This review won’t be appearing in any of them thar news-papers, not never ever. Woo-hoo! Bring on the irrelevant asides, the superfluous adverbs and the gratuitous use of the first person! At last I am free, I can hardly see in front of me!)

Oh, the sweet relief of being unshackled from professional responsibilities. As the locally sourced string section trouped onto the stage (a particular feature of the tour, which could be seen as either a magnanimous gesture or a crafty cost-cutting ploy), I found myself automatically counting the number of players. Stop that! You’re here for pleasure, not duty! (Not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course…)

Thanks to some super-prompt ticket ordering manoeuvres, we had secured seats in the middle of the fifth row – so close that you have could have counted Smokey’s wrinkles, if he’d had any. My, but there’d been some work done: as Dymbel observed, the upper half of his face was all but frozen, setting off his weirdly perma-startled eyes. And oh, the outfits. Top Number One, a symphony in lilac, was so sheer that we could make out the Robinson nipples lurking beneath. There’s Up Close And Personal, and there’s Over-Sharing.

To be honest, I’d been worried all along by the cheese potential; worries that were scarcely allayed by the lovely lady backing dancers, both furiously channelling the spirit of Miss Anglia Television circa 1981 – or bearing in mind their relentlessly literal textual interpretations, perhaps it was more the spirit of Pan’s People circa 1973. For Quiet Storm, the duo pranced about in foxy rainwear, brandishing plastic brollies. For Night And Day, the lovely white lady wore a black gown and the lovely black lady wore a white gown… you get the picture? During the encore, an interminable “let’s divide you into two groups and see who can make the most noise!” excursion which was enough to put you off its central refrain (“I love it when we’re cruising together”) for ever and a day, I hissed seditiously in Dymbellina’s ear: “If Carol Vorderman and her mate come back in sailors’ hats, I might have to shoot them…

However, it was the last violinist on the right who tickled me the most. Perched at the end of the row like a fair-haired Mona Lisa, she strived for impassivity, but failed to mask her distaste for some of the more flagrant cavortings. Classy classically-trained lady, I was with you all the way.

Equally – and this was shared by most of the local string section, none of whom had met Smokey until that afternoon – she also found it impossible to suppress her delight at getting to perform with one of the truly great soul legends. Indeed, the delight fairly rippled round the room. His first ever UK tour? (No, really, it said so in The Guardian.) Just six dates? And one of them here in Nottingham, in the comparative intimacy of the Royal Concert Hall? How blessed we were.

At the age of 67, Robinson’s voice was as clear as ever, with none of the frailties that had affected Andy Williams’ performance last Thursday. Perhaps it was a little low in the mix at the start of the set, and perhaps both the performer and his audience needed to lose that initial stiffness, before getting their respective grooves on. However, if you are going to need a couple of warm-up numbers, then you can’t bank on much better than Going To A Go-Go, I Second That Emotion and You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me. With material of that calibre, we struggled through just fine.

Three songs in, I still feared that Smokey was going to be too much of a lightweight cabaret turn. Those oddly inexpressive eyes. That simpering, I’m-Motown’s-nice-guy smile, which has always slightly put me off the man.

And then, with the slow-burning ballad Ooo Baby Baby, it all turned round. Stretching the 32 year old song way beyond its traditional outro, Smokey embarked upon an extemporised coda which steadily increased in intensity, depth and emotional acuity. With eyes screwed up in concentration, he searched within and pulled out the night’s first evidence of true soul, as opposed to placatory showboating.

From that point, Robinson’s two sides – the showman and the soul man – co-existed in a more or less easy truce, which saw him reaching out to differing elements of his disparate audience, at different times and in different ways. For those that enjoyed being conducted in suspiciously slick “impromptu” singalongs, there was ample opportunity. For the soul-buff aficionados, there were enough off-piste song choices to keep heads nodding and mental check-lists ticked off. Even the extended plug for the new covers album (Timeless Love) passed without undue discomfort. Hell, even the Stevie Wonder impersonation made us chuckle; whatever it lacked in comic genius was more than compensated by the palpable authenticity of its affection.

The selections from Smokey’s demonstrably undervalued 1980s renaissance sounded particularly fantastic, the highlight being the deliciously easy-going Just To See Her (a Number 52 smash in 1987, and hence perhaps not the wisest of choices for another attempted impromptu singalong). Having already been performed in the same venue by Andy Williams last week, the song is a recent discovery and a current favourite of mine; it’s also one of Dymbellina’s personal favourites.

As the applause started up at the end of the number, Smokey’s smiling gaze fell in our direction. Smiling back, Dymbellina and I raised our hands upwards and outwards, nodding in appreciation. Our nods were returned with an equally respectful, somewhat courtly half-bow. It was a brief but luminous moment of direct connection – and in my case at least, unprecedented in thirty years of regularly attending live shows. As such, I suspect I shall always remember it with particular fondness.

During the statutory introduce-the-band section, one player – a magisterially impassive old fella in shades, with something of the grizzled blues veteran about him, who was contributing the loveliest of guitar licks throughout – was completely overlooked. What’s the story there, I wondered. Some sort of simmering backstage enmity? A silent, sulking stand-off, of Blair/Brown proportions?

Right at the end of the main set – which was fast approaching the two-hour mark – and accompanied by opening notes of The Tracks Of My Tears – which the grizzled old fella, now spotlighted, was repeatedly picking out on solo guitar – all was explained. This was none other than Marvin “Marv” Tarplin, resident guitarist for the Miracles all through the 1960s, and a co-writer and contributor to many other classic Motown hits. Thus revealed and warmly received, Tarplin led Robinson into the night’s most sublime, spine-tingling and unequivocally soulful performance. Who cared about the silly encore which followed? In the face of such awe-inspiring, oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-we-just-SAW-that magic, it mattered not a jot.

Lowdham Book Festival lecture notes.

Of course, if one cocks up the timing of one’s talk so badly that large chunks of it never get aired, one can always stick one’s lecture notes on one’s blog afterwards. Because, naturally, one abhors waste.

These, then, are the notes for the second half of Saturday talk, which relate to bloggers and book deals, and the differences between blog writing and book writing.

(Most of the first half can be found here.)

Much of what follows was inspired by (and on occasion, directly lifted from) phone conversations which took place last week with Clare Sudbery and Zinnia Cyclamen (“proper” writers both), to whom much gratitude.

There is something which has recently come to be seen (in certain quarters) as the Holy Grail to which every personal blogger must aspire.

Two little words, which have an almost mystical hold over certain sections of the blogosphere…

…and I’m going to say them now…


The first UK blog-to-book: Belle De Jour (2004).
– Scandalised the blogosphere by winning the Guardian “Best British Blog” competition.
– Major national press guessing game re. her true identity, which to this day has never been revealed.
– BdJ to be played by Billie Piper on ITV2 series in the autumn. (The ultimate accolade!)

A couple of blogging compilations in 2005 and 2006, mainly sourced from the “political” wing.

In 2006, the “blogger with a book deal” phenomenon began to emerge in earnest.
Girl with a one-track mind
Petite Anglaise
– Tom Reynolds: Random Acts Of Reality –> “Blood Sweat & Tea”
– David Copperield: The Policeman’s Blog -> “Wasting Police Time”

Reactions to blog-to-book boom.

People are now aware that book deals from blogs can happen.
– some cynical reactions from certain sections of the blogosphere
– introduces a hierarchy into what might have been seen as an egalitarian model (although it basically still is?)
– ramps up the competitive element
– why aren’t I good enough / what’s so great about them / they’re a self-glorifying clique, etc.

Example: Wife In The North.
– £70k deal with Viking Penguin, less than 6 weeks after starting her blog
– shock, horror, had previously worked as Sunday Times journalist
– hence suspicions as to legitimacy of “buzz”, cf. Sandi Thom in 2006
– conspiracy theories: it’s a PR stunt, etc.
– highlights emphasis on perceived “authenticity” and purity of motives

However: there are no blogging equivalents of Jordan!
– the blogosphere is a meritocracy
– you can’t schmooze your way to the top if you’re crap
– although there are scores of overlooked gems, the most popular personal blogs are popular for a good reason
– consistently well written and engaging
– have something which makes people want to come back for more

Emerging outlets for blog-to-book publishing.

The Friday Project.
– niche publishers in blog-to-book market
– much kudos within the blogosphere if TFP picks you up
– can they compete with the majors in terms of PR/marketing/distribution?
– depends on the extent of your hunger for world domination!

– ideal if you’re not into world domination, and not looking to shift mega-units
– sold online only
– you set your own rate of royalties
– though sales will be smaller, your percentage will be higher than going through a normal publisher
– benefit of immediacy: as soon as you submit your Word document or PDF file, the book is ready to order
– no start-up costs; books are printed to order and sold directly by self-publishing website
– you don’t need to pre-order, so no risk of being left with boxes of unsold stock

Leading self-publisher is
– have coined the term “blook” (ugh)
– concept is promoted via the annual Lulu Blooker Prize
– I used them for my own venture into self-publishing: Shaggy Blog Stories (see below)

Could we see a rise in self-publishing and a move to grassroots? operating like an indie record label distributor?
– Maybe, but no sign of it yet.
– You can surf Myspace and quickly find a whole host of hot new bands, but you’ll search in vain on Lulu for hot new writers.
– Still in the realm of vanity publishing – no reliable indicators of quality – low volumes of sales. (SBS sold 500 copies and is in the all time top 200 best sellers, if that’s any indication.)
– No distribution network, and no marketing clout outside the Lulu website – you have to do all your promotion yourself.

Shaggy Blog Stories.

Anthology of comic writing from UK blogs.
– to raise money for Comic Relief
– but also “a book deal for all”, to widen the opportunity for bloggers to make it into print
– conceived and executed in seven days flat
book released at midnight on the start of Red Nose Day
– 300 submissions, reviewed by editorial team, 100 selected for publication
– DIY typesetting/editing/proofing – crash course – steep learning curve – great experience – much help offered and gratefully received
– 500 copies sold, c.£2000 raised
– supportive, waived their own royalties
– publicity: BBC Radio Five Live, Radio 2, some national press, but overhwelmingly via word-of-mouth and links from other blogs
spin-off podcast (complete and utter flop!)

Have also set up Post of the Week
– to promote great writing on personal blogs
– to draw wider attention to blogs which might otherwise have been overlooked
– one guaranteed humdinger of a blog post, once a week, every week

The curious isolation of the blogger-turned-writer.

Once a blogger lands a book deal, they face a new set of pressures/problems/bewilderments, a lot of which can’t be blogged about.
– not wanting to brag / to bore / to jinx things before “going public”
– “all your dreams have come true, stop whinging!”
– issues can be stressful and scary

Writers don’t tend to meet each other
– not introduced via agents/publishers etc
– there’s no club, but you do want to talk to people

Other sources of info/help:
– blogs which deal with the creative process (eg. struggling author, real e fun)
– people are approaching each other out of the blue with messages of appreciation/support, and some acts of real generosity take place
– but if you can’t blog and you can’t talk, maybe you need a support network?

“Bloggers with book deals”
– private discussion group
– enthusiastic responses when set up – active and busy group
– divides between pre-existing authors with blogs, and bloggers who have landed deals – mostly first time writers (or at least first time fiction writers)

“The Novel Racers”
– informal support group
– international
– has its own group blog, where writers post on the progress they are making, and generally cheer each other on
– pre-existing book deals not required!
– started as a “race” to see who completed their novel first, but since has widened its reach

Issues confronting the blogger-turned-author.

One big shock might be the sheer amount of hard work that has to be put in.
– not a simple matter of copy/pasting standalone blog posts into a Word document
– need for a unifying narrative arc / structure / start, middle and end

You’ll also need to work through various drafts.
– the idea of a draft is anathema to most bloggers
– after all, the vast majority of blog posts are first drafts!

Then you’ll need to edit yourself. You can’t be flabby, and you can’t waffle on.
– This was a problem I noticed time after time when editing Shaggy Blog Stories.
– Potentially strong pieces bogged down by acres of excess verbiage.
– Many digressions, which might be important to the author – and maybe to the author’s immediate circle – but not to the wider readership.
– Shut up and get on with the story!
– The clearest indication that once you transfer online writing to the printed page, that different standards automatically apply – it highlights the weaknesses in the prose quite mercilessly.

Similar issues are faced when moving into journalism.
– tightening up of writing style
– can’t use the first person
– have to stick to a word count
– involves ruthless paring down, which can initially hurt if you’re precious about each word
– your prose might then be hacked around by sub-editors

I welcomed the imposition of this kind of discipline.
– have learned to love the editing process, though painful at first
– made it much easier to swing the axe when editing Shaggy Blog Stories
– but also makes it much harder to return to the freedom of blog writing
– my voice has changed; can feel like a retrograde step to return to my old voice, where I can ramble/digress/parenthesise/stuff my sentences full with too many adverbs etc.
– maybe I’ve finally exhausted myself as a subject… who’d have thought it!
– maybe some bloggers-turned-authors will end up feeling the same way?

Another big issue: bloggers-turned-authors are generally writing about their own lives: memoir.
– Big worry is not breaching the confidentiality of others, but the fact that you’re exposing yourself.
– It’s the “getting caught naked in public” dream.
(NB: I only started having this dream when I started blogging!)

Also: potential exposure to a new level of criticism which they’re not used to.
– Readers will accept a lower quality of writing from a blog than a book.
– In a blog, roughness & immediacy is part of the charm – you can feel the heat of the moment. This won’t wash on the printed page.
– People will criticise books in a way that they generally don’t with blogs.
– You no longer have the safety of the fluffy comment box support group, which does have a tendency to over-praise.
– Put material onto the printed page, and it automatically raises the bar.
– Have to deal with resentment… “I could do that”…
– …or “you’ve only been published because [insert snarky theory here]”

Comments box politics.

Wider exposure opens up the comments box.
– petite & girl now get large numbers of comments from strangers all over the world
– that feeling of a semi-closed community is lost forever
– introduces an unprecedented new level of direct public communication between author and readers
– too many comments for readers to follow – makes the “conversation” too unwieldy
– not all comments will be supportive or welcome!
– sycophancy/abuse/self-promotion/various other dodgy motives
– introduces a need to hold comments for moderation, and to delete the worst (which can in itself generate more problems)
– you have to question what value you’re getting from the process
– plenty of reasons to retain comments, but it takes time/effort/courage

Rachel North/Felicity Lowde – extreme cautionary tale of a commenter turned stalker/harrasser.

Most authors continue to subscribe to the “tablets of stone” model.

But one of the big differences between blog writing and novel writing or journalism, is that blog posts are seen as initiating a discussion.
– old media journalists had to learn this when contributing to The Guardian’s Comment Is Free blog
– expected to hang around and participate, after publishing your article

Growing trend for bloggers reply to every comment they receive
– particularly newer bloggers
– becoming expected as a matter of course
– danger of being seen as aloof if you don’t?

Writer to blogger: reversing the flow.

Plenty of established journalists have seen the writing on the wall and set up their own blogs.
– raises their profiles; enhances rather than threatens their published work

However, very few published novelists have gone on to set up their own blogs.
– a growing number have their own websites, but not their own blogs
– even though blogs are easier to keep up to date with fresh new content
– also leads to higher Google rankings

Clare Sudbery
Penelope Farmer (Grannyp) – only recently “came out”
Kate Harrison – blogs about the creative process
David Belbin

Professional sniffiness?

Perhaps professional writers are somewhat sniffy:
– a lot of work for no income
– why would I give my writing away for free?
– is this “mass amateurisation” a dumbing down?
– blogging as distraction / displacement activity
– encourages looser, less structured, more undisciplined writing
– suspicious of the public exposure – why put a diary online?
– a threat to my livelihood?

Problem of perception:
– Blogs to books seen as chick-lit or toilet reading rather than serious literature.
– Perhaps this doesn’t matter – all the most widely read blog writing is populist in nature – maybe it goes with the territory.
– Blog reading is quick-hit, short-attention-span, coffee-break reading – it doesn’t lend itself to extended concentration or complex narrative structures.

Alternatively, and more positively:
– a testbed for new ideas, a play pen, a coffee break, a place to muck around and experiment.
– requires less motivation/commitment, so loosens you up.
– a place to offload all the stuff that won’t fit in your novel, that you might otherwise have tried to shoe-horn in.

Every blogging writer that I’ve spoken to has told me that blogging has been an immense help rather than an awkward hindrance.

“If I want to be noticed as a writer, should I start a blog?”

Don’t start a blog assuming that you’ll be noticed and snapped up.
It has happened – but it’s very much the exception.
Although if you’re good, people will discover you and start reading you.

Be prepared to join a community, as a participating member.
You get out what you put in, so discover your own favourite blogs, link to them, leave comments… the love you send out will return to you.

If a high readership is important to you, then:
– maintain a consistent style & theme
– update regularly, without fail, at least 3 times a week
– reply to your commenters – it makes them feel included
(I break all the above, and this costs me readers.)
– focus on your readership – read the blog through their eyes
– make every word count
– be patient – let your reputation build at its own pace

It can be a distraction; it can be a dead end. But equally it can help you to:
– find a voice
– develop your writing skills
– build an audience and a support group
– give you confidence to move onto larger tasks

Time and again, I’ve observed people whose style has developed and matured over time. You see a raw spark, you latch onto it, and you see it flourish. A rewarding process to observe.

You can treat it as a self-help/self-study creative writing course, with automatic mutual peer review. (But beware the sycophants!)
– Just remember – you can’t expect to be able to run a 5 star restaurant just because you can cook a mean pizza.
– Creative writing courses, Arvon foundation courses, writers’ groups and how-to books are all available, and blogging is no quick & dirty short cut.

Finally, and personally speaking…

You could argue that if you’re a natural writer, you would have found an outlet for your writing anyway…
…but without blogging, I would never have started writing again.
– I used to write for pleasure, but in secret – there seemed something vaguely shameful about it – and stopped at age 17.
– Zero confidence in my abilities – didn’t believe I could do anything useful with it – felt I had to grow up.
– Since starting 5.5 years ago, I’ve reconnected with an ability that might otherwise have lain dormant for the rest of my life – and I’ve had the opportunity to develop that ability, spurred on by the knowledge that everything I write has an audience.
– In fact, I’m so steeped in the culture that I can’t see the point of writing anything without an audience!
– Which would make me a very poor blogger-turned-author. All those months of writing in the dark? No thanks!
– Besides, I’m that fatal combination: a perfectionist and a procrastinator. Hence temperamentally ill-equipped!

Final word: I have it on good authority that the best way to land a book deal remains the same as ever:
Write a book!

Lowdham Book Festival blog-talk: supplementary links.


Yesterday’s little blog talk went just fine, thanks for asking. It was a modest turn-out, but certainly enough to make the event worthwhile, and thanks are due to my hometown posse (including JP, MissMish, Rullsenberg and Cloud) for turning up, lending support, and pouring ale down my neck in the pub over the road afterwards.

However, being my own harshest critic and all and all, my immediate post-talk thought was annoyance that I hadn’t managed to squeeze all my material into the allotted 45 minutes. As it was, I spent too long on the first half (essentially a 2007 remix of the talk I gave at Broadway Cinema a while back), and ran out of time to get stuck into the all-new second half, thus spluttering to a rather abrupt halt. Which was a shame, as the second half was all about bloggers and book deals, and the differences between blog writing and novel writing, and I’d spent a long time researching and assembling the material. In fact, it was the second half which I was looking forward to the most. Lesson learnt: do a timed run-through in advance, and chop your material accordingly. (I did this last time, but got a wee bit too complacent this time.)

That said, the talk went well, and I managed to strike the right balance between scripted and off-the-cuff material. It would also have been fun to have extended the Q&A session at the end, which did give me the chance to shoe-horn a couple of sections from the overly abridged second half. And it was good to meet Sally Morten (one of the Shaggy Blog Stories contributors), as well as a previously unknown regular reader (who asked me some rather penetrating questions about blog stalkers, before re-assuring me that his presence at tomorrow night’s Ted Leo & The Pharmacists gig didn’t mean that he was one of them, ahahaha, dear me no, thanks for reading, see you at the gig).

I left Lowdham with a very strong urge to do this sort of thing on a more regular basis, preferably with at least a 60 minute timeslot. So, readers, if you’re hiring, then I’m ready, willing and able…

Anyhoo, since I promised to do this yesterday… for the benefit of those who turned up, here’s a quick link-list of various points arising.

· Technorati: The State of the Live Web, April 2007.
· The “Online Disinhibition Effect”.
· Heather Armstrong on being “Dooced”.
· The Bloggies: 2007 Weblog Awards.
· Bloglines: personalised site feed aggregator.
· Hallam Foe: official blog for the forthcoming movie, which received a special preview screening for bloggers last month.
· Belle De Jour – the first UK blog-to-book success story.
· Girl With A One-Track Mind and Petite Anglaise – bloggers turned writers, whose stories both made international headlines in 2006.
· E-mail from Nicholas Hellen of the Sunday Times to Abby Lee (Girl With A One Track Mind).
· Random Acts Of Reality: ambulance worker’s blog, now available in book form.
· The Policeman’s Blog – another “job blog”, now available in book form.
· Wife In The North: offered a £70k book deal less than 6 weeks after starting her blog. (News story in The Times, February 2007.)
· The Friday Project: independent publishers who specialise in the blog-to-book market.
· self-publishing service.
· The 2007 Lulu Blooker Prize: literary prize for blogs-to-books, aka “blooks“.
· Shaggy Blog Stories: self-published UK blogging anthology, conceived and executed in seven days, to raise money for Comic Relief.
· Post of the Week: set up by myself and others, in order to promote great writing on personal blogs.
· Felicity Lowde sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for online harrassment of blogger Rachel North: BBC news story; Times news story; Rachel North’s reaction; interesting background article on Lowde and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”.
· allows you to set up your own blog in minutes, at no cost and with no technical know-how.


See also: Lisa Rullsenberg’s and Sally Morten’s write-ups of the event.