After Writing that Novel: What Now?

Once again I find myself in that twilight world between books or as someone who occasionally mixes his metaphors just to annoy: in that no-man’s land. It is an odd place, a place you have looked forward to arriving at for several months if not years; a place where you thought you would feel the shackles of the project you have been encased in quickly fall away. And yet, in that lightness of spirit as your final draft is batted back and forward between you and your editor, something else arrives. Instead of the nagging guilt you get when you stop working deep in the process of either creating – sometimes before you have even delivered your last book – an odd malaise begins to descend. This uneasiness comes quietly. At first, whispering in your ear like a lover waking you from slumber but soon it begins to hector you, politely at first, until before you know it, it is screaming across a room full of people at you: What Now!? You need to write, get writing, if you don’t start writing soon then you are no longer a writer, you are in danger of becoming that midwife of a million good intentions and still born books: a Procrastinator.

Don’t I deserve a break? Now I have stopped teasing and tweaking my last story like a plate-spinner, who has kept a few dozen plates spinning precariously aloft for years – am I not entitled to a rest? Am I not entitled to that final thrill of stopping and letting the crockery smash all around me? A reasonable answer, when the sun is streaming through my window and the last of my pomegranates are waiting in the garden to be picked is: yes of course you are. But at 4am, that annoying time that drags me from sleep far too often nowadays, the answer is less forgiving, less accommodating, less reasonable. You could stop but: You may forget that other story – you know the one you promised to consider; or, you could stop but, you might lose that drive and never write again; or, you could stop but… Welcome to the duel world of the fiction writer.

In the end it’s about trust of course, trusting yourself. Although the infuriating voice, that subconscious noise that declares it knows you better than you know yourself may be entitled to worry – it is after all the voice of the epic struggle that got you off your ass and into writing in the first place – it is not always right. In its over compensation of not allowing you a moments peace to slip out of the hard built habit of telling a story, it can also become a hindrance or even a danger. For where do the new ideas come from if you are always immersed in a story? Yes ideas do come but they have little chance to take root, as more often than not they are jotted down and put in your own little slush-pile to sift through at a later date, a later date that all too often never comes if you immediately flick from one project to the next.

Reality and the now is something that needs a little time, a little respect if we are once again to become the truly blank canvas we need to become in order to start building our new story, our tale from nothing upon. A Blood Red Moon has taken me almost 4 years to write and in that time many things have happened: friends have come and gone or more sadly died, wars have started and ended but all too often everything was subservient to the story that filled my head every morning. Although I love the story I’ve created (and hope you will to!) the fact it was set a century ago, meant my own reality has been skewed beyond what writing something more contemporary may have done. I took breakfast and walked every morning then spent the next 4 or 5 hours in an unfolding drama from a hundred years ago. Then I would have lunch and try and switch back to the present although not always successfully. Sometimes, perhaps in company or at the pub, the talk may be of politics or football or the tittle-tattle of a small village but my thoughts far too often drifted back to half forgotten wars and the family drama’s of my long dead characters, who were just as alive for me as if they were sitting beside me. Such is the schizophrenic lot of a writer.

Maya Angelou quote

The answer, my answer perhaps not yours, is to ignore that guilt inducing voice and to just get right away from myself and any familiar surroundings. Then, and only then can something new be conceived, something new and exciting can be born. I say exciting because whatever you decide upon must not only sustain you in those first exciting weeks of creativity, when the story rushes onto the page but it must also be still worth persevering with many months or even years later, when you’re quite sick of hearing the story and the voices of even your most interesting characters. My last story was born during a grand tour of South America. I am hopeful my next one can be born in the sunshine of my approaching winter trip to south east Asia. If not then perhaps my hectoring conscience will have be proven right all along. Perhaps my writing days are at an end. Then what? Back to sculpting or painting… possibly. Maybe living in one reality, instead of two would be nice for a change. But do writers ever really retire? Yes we can stop writing but what happens when your nagging voice turns up one day with another fresh and exciting idea? As the late Maya Angelou once said:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Happy Holidays and good luck to you all in 2016. I hope those of you who are still looking finally do find your muse.


Beware of Putin’s Trolls

Twitter is a strange animal as many users will attest. Some love its immediacy for following unfolding news or social events, or for stalking certain celebrities legally. While others will say it is nothing more than an annoying distraction they would prefer to live without… and yet they keep their accounts live. As a writer I suppose I fall into both of these camps; I do use it to track events but I also tweet about this or about that from time to time. My Tweets are sometimes serious or hopefully educational although I often prefer to lean towards the more humorous or self depreciating. In that sense I feel it represents a good flavour of who I am, or who I see myself as. However, some other people see Twitter, it’s freedom of expression its immediacy and mobility as not just an annoyance but as an actual menace. Living as I do in Turkey it would be very easy to go off on a tangent about how, when it isn’t shooting down Russian jets, Turkey’s ever more authoritarian government is the instigator of more complaints and Twitter service bans than any other country. But no, today I want to comment on a darker, hidden side of Twitter.

I'm gonna troll you hard

Trolls and abuse and porn and bigotry are unfortunately daily facts of life in the Twitterverse especially if you follow quite a few accounts. The answer to most of these problems is to simply stop following the offender, or, if it is really offensive to block or even report the user. Although this is not always successful, especially with the pond life known collectively as Trolls. However, there is also a dangerous subset of Trolls that I have unfortunately become familiar with over the years namely the state sponsored Trolls.

In the two and half years I have been on Twitter I have collected almost 20,000 followers, which is a few above the average. Some have come after reading my books or my blog posts or because they want to engage with one or other of my tweets. However, some people follow simply in the hope that you will reciprocate and follow them back. I will usually follow if I notice a good tweet or read an interesting profile or sometimes, if someone asks me politely too I may also just follow them back. In all I now follow about 7,000 which feels like a just about manageable ratio of 3-1. Anymore than this and your Tweet feed would wiz by a little too quickly to be of any real benefit. From time to time you have to weed out the old dead or dying accounts – inactive ones, where the user has abandoned Twitter or ones that may tweet only once or twice a year. I may then follow a few more accounts. In my first year I was more in the habit of following simply because they were following me. This is something, as I said, that many new users do unless they are some kind of star, which sadly I am not.

In that first year or so I noticed that whenever I put out a political type blog against countries like China or Russia I would suddenly get a lot more Russian and Chinese speaking followers. In my naivety I wrongly put this development down to support for one position or another that I had perhaps described in a blog so I would then follow them back. Unfortunately, as time went on my account began to suffer from a series of regular suspensions, which I could never quite figure out. Twitter Help is – as anyone who has ever tried to use it – an extremely hands off service and virtually impossible to engage with satisfactorily if your are expecting anything more than a computer generated response.

I was not breaking any Twitter rules and I was not tweeting anything overtly offensive unless you are a dictator or a dictatorship with a very thin skin of course. In the end, after a number of computer generated replies I did manage to get a human response and also discovered after searching online that other people had reported similar things happening to them. Over a period of a few days I gradually learned that certain blog accounts like mine were repeatedly reported, blocked or complaints raised until that account was suspended. The three blogs of mine in question, for which I suffered temporarily suspensions featured China on two occasions and Russia, namely Putin and his policies on all three occasions. Effectively what was happening was that several of my legitimate looking Chinese and Russian Twitter followers, were in all likelihood state sponsored trolls, who then worked in concert to log complaints against me. They did this because they know that the Twitter computer code reacts robotically once a certain level is reached and suspends such accounts, pending investigation. Of course any investigation would eventually discover that no Twitter rules had been breached – but because such automatic suspensions could take up to a week to sort out, I was effectively denied my account.

Both Russia and China are very well known for such negative online activity as well as their zero tolerance to any public criticism. So I will not elaborate any more here. However I was surprised that they even bothered themselves with such a small time user like me. As State sponsored cybercrime and intimidation get ever more sophisticated and damaging, all bloggers should be aware that if they post negatively about certain totalitarian regimes like Russia and China that an army of dark trolls is just waiting to be unleashed upon them.

In the end of course, despite knowing that one or two followers must have been genuine I reluctantly decided to strip out most of my Russian and Chinese followers and block those that I noticed had all followed me at about the same time or looked just too generic: the same smiling face or a brief profile that would read the same in several different accounts. You learn to recognise them in the end. Since then I have not followed a single Russian or Chinese account and to date I have not had my account suspended once in over a year and a half. Coincidence? Don’t you believe it.

So if you do have a Twitter account be very careful who you follow and just as importantly be more aware who is actually following you.