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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A Biography of Depression

There is this pit which,  I believe, we all walk around the edge of at some time in our lives. Though the lucky among us may never notice they are doing so, the worst they may experience is a cold shiver on the back of their neck, and an urge to tread carefully or even tip toe around for a day or two, without even knowing what it is that makes them feel that way.
Others will only perceive the pit, tread carefully for a while and then move on.
Others still may find themselves walking around the edge for a long time at different parts of their lives, but through luck and perhaps the odd guiding hand they never slip into it.
For some, however, occasionally the ground will give way under their feet, and they will stumble. If you're really lucky at that point, you might catch yourself, or you may find a hand hold or a ledge to abate your fall. Someone may reach out a hand and grab you, pulling you back to firmer ground. Yet they still may find themselves slipping down into the pit all the same.
And some of us just fall when the ground gives way. 

It's dark down there in the pit, dark and cold, and a long way down. The people walking around the edge seem like shadows, which taunt you and remind you that you too were once only walking around the edge.

Yet even in the deepest parts of the pit, you can see the sunlight. That’s why you can see the shadows. You can still see the way out, for all the sides are steep. You can still imagine that if you call out someone may drop a rope to you, and half pull, half drag you back up to the rim. There is, you see, allows hope while the sun shines…

Except at night there is no sun, at night there is only darkness, and those shadowy figures of hope are but noises in the distance. Half forgotten. Until even the sun is but a memory, daylight a myth.

It is there, in that darkness that I have dwelled more than once in my life, dreaming of the days in the sun I can no longer remember.

Depression can take anyone.  It's not what it seems, it's not what people say, it's not weakness, it's not just a dose of the blues either. It is all too human, and few, lucky people have ever passed through their lives without glimpsing that pit at some time. Many may never fall down the whole way, but most stumble at some point, and all too many fall for a while.

As for myself, I am perhaps more inclined towards it than most. Some of us just are, it's in our make-up. For me, to the extent for a long time that pit has been my norm. Something I have only come to realise of late, because when you dwell in the pit, or around the side of it for a long time, the norm is what it becomes. 
Knowing that does not really help a great deal, save that in recognising the place in which I dwell for what it is, I can try to find a way to climb out and walk in the sunshine for a while. 

Image result for pit of depression

The first time I dallied with none existence, with seeking an end, was in my early teens. I am not sure I recognised it at the time for what it was. It was not a desperate cry for attention, as some would consider it. Nor was it some expression of teen angst taken to extremes.
More than anything it was an aspect of control I could exert upon my life where I had none. I made a choice to survive, to continue, and not to end it. It was a choice in my hands that it was being able to make that choice I believe saved me from the ultimate expression of the logic of nil-isum. I did not choose to end my life, because I could choose not to.

Both my novels draw influence from my own experience. As the old adage goes, 'write what you know'.

In Cider Lane both the main characters have their struggles with the pit. In the case of Susanna, the pit is morphed into the cave of her psyche. That dark place to which she retreats. While hope and the sunlight play a major part, it starts to form the pit in many ways.

Passing Place deals, among other things, with the grief, the main character feels after the death of his wife, who herself took that ultimate choice we all have. While the novel covers many other things, my pit looms deep with its pages also.

One of my favourite reviews of Cider Lane states
' Hayes captures the essence of trauma to perfection in his book Cider Lane: Of Silences and Stars. It's a difficult feat to write emotion. First, you must submerge yourself within the walls of the pain that we try so desperately to avoid.'

It’s a strange review to be pleased with perhaps, but it makes me feel that I managed to put across some of the themes I was aiming for.

Why and I taking about all this?
Well for several reasons, including the desire to write this stuff down, as writing things down is one of the ways I deal with the world. Which is probably why I feel driven to write novels and just in general. It's my form of therapy.
But also a recent Facebook post from a friend reminded me of an organisation I have never used, but who's number I carried with me at times when I walked the pit. It was a simpler post with a few words and the phone number of the organisation. 
The Samaritans are a charity that takes its name from the biblical parable of the good Samaritan. They have their detractors and plenty of mockers, but it's an easy target to mock because no one wants to believe they would ever need them. Even those that dwell in the pit.
As I said, I carried their number about for years, in a fold of paper tucked in my wallet. I never rang them, but the number was there if I ever felt I needed to. It helped, in a strange way, and was enough to have the number.
For many others just having the number is not enough.
Samaritans respond to more than 5.4 million calls for help every year. If even a fraction of those calls actively prevented a suicide attempt, then that is still a terrifying number.

The pit is deep, and dark, and sometimes you cannot see the sun, but there is always someone standing on the rim, waiting for your call.

You can call Samaritans for free anytime from any phone (UK) on 116 123  (USA) 1 (800) 273-TALK  this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill, email, or visit to find details of your nearest branch.

I have written about depression before here, so this is not a new subject. The first post can be found at the link below.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Valuing your craft

How do you value the results of your craft?
It's one of those questions that's always hard to answer, and harder to answer as a writer than, for example, as a carpenter.
A carpenter makes a table. He cuts the wood, joins the pieces together, sands down the rough edges, lays on a few layers of varnish, then polishes it all up, Then if he adds up the cost of the materials, and ascribes some base value to an hour of his life, he can figure out how long he spent making the table. Add a reasonable percentage on top and voila he has his value, and can look to sell his table at a price that reflects its worth. If he is a highly skilled craftsman making bespoke furniture he can charge a little more, because people can see the value in his work, but ultimately they are paying for a singular item with a solid as you like value.

For a writer, however, the value of his craft is something much harder to ascribe. Ironically because while what is written is singular and unique in nature, the way we market it is not.
If for example, you add up all the hours I spent on thinking about, writing, editing, redrafting, proofing, final editing, typesetting, revising again, when I wrote Cider Lane. In the same time, our carpenter could have made a fair few tables I would posit, or else he would have made a very beautiful and very expensive table.
The novel it took me a year to write between the first word I typed on the screen and it reaching publication. Add up the hours spent and you get a rather large figure. One which a reader does not as a rule see, hence the iceberg below.

Despite this the craft of writing is for me a labour of love. I don't write to make a living, I have a full time job and writing is a hobby, though if I could make a living doing it I would, truly professional authors are few and far between. While I get my share of readers, I would need to sell a whole lot of books to replace my day job, and that's not going to happen any day soon.
This does not mean I do not want to be paid for my work, it's not how I pay the mortgage, but fair recompense for the work I put in would be nice. All the same it is hard to ascribe a value to your work. A balance between trying to find new readers and trying to get a fair return has to be struck, and unlike our carpenters table placing that value on our work remains a difficult proposition.

There is compensation, however, as when we sell a book we can sell it to more than one person. the words we craft are not carve into a stone tablet by hand after all. We can figure out the cost of paper and ink easily enough, print on demand sites will tell you exactly what the minimum is and we can just add a value to that to figure our the price of a book. I use Createspace for my own, though they are plenty of others. Some possible better, a few worse.
I'm a Bibliophile, I like seeing paper copies of my novel, and like selling them direct when I get a chance, though the paperback market is not where I sell most books, it is still somewhere I like to be.
E-books are however the main marketplace for new and aspirating self published authors. E-books which bring their questions of value. With the E-book it's not even a physical thing we are selling, just binary strings that hold together to form a readable text. We'll sell it, then we sell it again, it's a never ended supply of binary code. Which make it harder to ascribe a value, because ultimately your selling nothing but a copy of that code.

All the same, however, how do you place a value on a novel, it's not just about the time spent writing it. A novel, any novel, is a little pieces of the writers soul laid bare. I say this fully aware of how pretentious it sounds, gleefully aware in fact.

Market economists (a grey inhuman bunch, lack any real soul) would tell you that the market finds its own values, through supply and demand. (see note). they would advise however that if a new writer wants readers he is best advised to give his work away. Make it free and they may come.... create a free supply and your will be at the peak of the demand curve.

Which is true enough, but do people value anything they get for free?

I know myself  I have seen free e-books advertised and ignored they simply because 'if it's been given away its probably not worth anything' .  I am a child of consumerism after all.

yet if you set a price at the minimum ( on amazon that £0.99 ) it may drag in a couple more readers but still it suffers from the 'if it's cheap it must be worthless' factor.

Other readers have go so used to free books on the internet they just don't understand why they would have to pay for something. I have genuinely had people cursing at me on +facebook for saying no when they ask for a free copy. the world is ever a strange place, and people expect something for nothing for all they value it less for being free.

I recently dropped the price of Cider lane from £1.99  down to £0.99 in the hope of selling a few more books. Which is what inspired this ramble, or the mixed feeling I had about doing so inspired it at any rate.
I know that while I care nothing about money made from book sales, I do care about people valuing my work and the feeling of value I ascribe to it myself. Readers are important to me, I would not want one reader paying me the true value of my work  (I did the maths and on hours alone its about £20,000 worth of work in time). I would vastly prefer 20,000 readers, but it still feels like giving it away. As does the option to do just that on amazon for a week which I resist all the same.

Artists (any for of artist) seldom get true value for the work they produce. Less so in a culture that glorify's the average, pays footballers millions, yet wants movies for free.
But if we do not value our own work, who will...

Cider lane , available now on kindle for a fraction of the value of my soul, of which it is a slither...

Note, I am doing a degree in politics philosophy and economics. What I have learned is this.  Economics is politics with the humanity removed, people are figures on a spreadsheet, their hopes and dreams an irrelevant factor. They never consider if they should do something, only the effect it will have on the little green bits of paper they obsess about if they do. this is why few socialists are economists.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Nanowrimo 2016

The keyboards are cooling off, The maddening race is over,The final words are done, if your lucky. 

Congratulations to anyone who succeeded in the attempt, and the same to anyone who tried by fell short.
Cider Lane came out of a Nanowrimo three years ago, that fell short at the final hurdle, as I remember I got to 38k that year, the final novel, after a good 18 months more work, redrafts , edits and raging at the keyboard... was published at 86k, but that #nanowritmo started it all.
So if you fall short, don't despair...