Here is the News!

So, it would appear self-publishing columns are like buses. I seem to have acquired two of them.

Passle is a fabulous platform for knowledge-based professionals (I think that means people who sit at desks in manager-speak). I’m running the self-publishing stream on it – you can follow it here. Right now, I’m running a series, posted on Thursday, offering a very abbreviated but I hope useful and thought-provoking digest of my book Self-publish With Integrity (which you can buy for Kindle here).

spi cover draft 10

And I have the incredible privilege of being the new News Editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors, which means I will be posting the “This Week’s Self-publishing News” column every Friday. You can read the first one here. If you have any self-publishing news, do let me know by emailing me at I’m particularly looking for stories that don’t have a US/UK slant so I can do justice to ALLi’s global audience.

If you’d like to keep in touch, do sign up here and I’ll send you occasional utterly non-spammy and, I hope, mildly interesting updates.

How to Write a Bestseller

Tomorrow is Author Day at Futurebook 2015 conference. I won’t be there this year, but I thought I’d share what I would have said if I had been there, a distillation of what I’ve learned from many years of attending writers’ conferences.

If you’d like to read my book on self-publishing, Self-publish with Integrity – Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve It, you can get it for Kindle here.

Thank you for a Wonderful Ride: Why I’m Still Not Taking Yes For an Answer

Writing has been incredibly kind to me, given me more than I could ever imagine, most notably of all a host of wonderful friends. And self-publishing has been a trailblazing blistering white knuckle ride, glorious and gobby and uncomfortable and frustrating and infuriating and delicious. But it’s time to move on. From the self-publishing writing world. Not, I hope, from the friends.

In 2006, I started writing a novel. By the start of 2008, with a  thriller under my belt and a passionate desire to write something that pushed both my own creative abilities and readers’ minds, I set myself a goal – flabby and ill-formed but a goal nonetheless. Five years to see if I had what it takes. I had no idea what that might mean though I wondered if it might mean winning a Booker Prize, because I’d followed the literary world all my life and that seemed like the Big One.


It was a typical kind of a goal for me to set myself. My life’s signature has been the “extreme, time-limited flit” to coin a rather ugly but very explanatory phase. Put in more regular terms, I find something I love, launch into it with absolute single-mindedness, and see exactly what I can achieve. I always over-aim. I always want to be not my best, but the best there is. I’m not hugely competitive in daily life. Not competitive at all, really, but I’m hugely ambitious when it comes to my hobbies. I think it’s for the simple reason that I enjoy myself more when I am pushing up against, and beyond, the limiter. My first such obsession was bridge. At school it was a mild obsession. By university I was up till 4 or 5 every morning practising with anyone who was interested. I managed to spend 2 or 3 years in the Great Britain juniors. Close, but not the very best.

After that, in my mid 20s, I migrated, still in the mental sphere, to mind sports. The Mind Sports Olympiad was just getting underway. The first year it was held, I went along for a laugh, and picked up a bronze medal in the World Creative Thinking Championships. I ended up winning the World Intelligence Championships and becoming the first ever “grandmaster” of intelligence. But that wasn’t the strongest year for the event, and unlike its sibling the World Memory Championships, it is no longer staged.

By my late 20s, I launched into my first physical obsession, strength sports. I ended up competing for my university’s athletics team. Good. But not exceptional.

It was in my mid 30s that writing, which had always been there in my life, from the love of literature instilled by my mother at the earliest age, through a teenage obsession with film and endless iterations of terrible goth poetry.


image copyright Sarah E Melville


Which is where we come back in. I soon realised that, having discovered thrillers were, in my case, for reading not for writing, the things I wanted to write weren’t the kind of thing publishers wanted to publish. And so, in late 2008 and early 2009, I got together a wonderful group of writers who felt the same thing, drawn from the darkest corners of the internet (well, from Harper Collins’ website Authonomy), and we set up Year Zero Writers, a collective intended to promote self-publishing writers who refused to compromise art for commerce.

At the time, self-publishing was far from fashionable, and it was relatively easy for a very vociferous, extremely dedicated group to cause quite a stir. We ended up in the unlikeliest of places like Nylon magazine, and eventually found ourselves performing live shows blending words and music at venues like Rough Trade and the Poetry Café.



It was a really exciting time to be a self-publisher, and we had incredible adventures. But all the time the self-publishing world was changing. It was becoming acceptable. It was becoming commercial. The place allotted to a bunch of misfits who wanted to smash down the walls and accost the world with their misfittery was shrinking.


I found myself struggling to stay on the outside. For every intimate, transgressive piece I wrote, every hand held out in the darkness to my fellow outsiders, there was a talk at a major publishing event or a piece in the Guardian or something that tried to mainstream me, to manipulate my content ever so slightly and make it just a little more palatable. I moved sideways, seeking out the wonderful outsider community of performance poets, started my own show, The New Libertines, and took it on tour to some incredible places, but acceptability seemed to follow me like a stalker.


cover for ebook

By 2012 I was spending more time writing blog posts about things that had as much edge as a buckie ball than I was writing anything that pushed me beyond my limits. What I loved was meeting wonderful writers, making incredible friends, and finding and championing some breathtaking work. But my own writing had stalled. And by 2013 it was clear my life as a slam poet was going nowhere fast.


019 Dan Holloway

I gave it one last roll of the dice and produced a book I still don’t quite know how I wrote, the single thing I have achieved creatively of which I am proudest. Evie and Guy is a novel written entirely in numbers. It is an attempt to question the way we construct narrative at its most basic level. It is intended to make us question the way we represent our own lives to ourselves. I will always be deeply proud of it. Many of the reactions I’ve had  have been truly moving, and that feels incredible. But Evie and Guy feels increasingly like a horizon moment. The culmination of my journey to the end of the rainbow. There are many places fiction can go from there. But I’m not the person who can take it there. I have reached my limits for the time being – I’m a good writer, possibly a very good writer, but the world has plenty enough of those and certainly doesn’t need another – though who knows what the distant future will bring.



I have also started to experience an increasing sense that I have been getting “comfortable” in the literary world. And, as anyone who has read my piece Never Take Yes For an Answer will know, nothing makes me as uncomfortable as getting comfortable. The final catalyst was being offered a consultancy by a self-publishing service provider. I am sure it would have been a wonderful opportunity, but I found myself seriously thinking about saying yes. And that pulled me up short. That is not the kind of comfortable opportunity that sits well with me. If I had become the kind of person who thought about saying yes to something that was so clearly saying yes to me, it was time to move on.

The thing with everything I’ve launched myself headlong into is that each of those pursuits has tapped into something that’s always been there in my life, simmering, waiting to explode. I’ve never had the sense that I wanted to be a particular thing in life, like a surgeon or a lawyer or an athlete. Just the sense that I wanted to push myself, that moving, straining, learning, excelling, discovering where the limits lay was the way I had to do everything. And each of the things I’ve tilted after in this fashion has stayed with me, left deep trackmarks of passion in my veins.

I wouldn’t be without any of them. And that in itself is the fatal flaw of the “too many aptitudes” character as Hank Pfeffer calls it in his wonderful article Danger: High Voltage (read it, I know so many of you for whom it will, as it did with me, create an “aha!” moment). I get really good at something really quickly. But I will never have the focus to get truly exceptional at any one thing. There are too many other things I’m itching to push at for that. Which is unfortunate, because I am also driven by a deep sense of competitiveness. I don’t really want to be “good” at something. If I take something on I don’t want to do it well. I don’t want to do it exceptionally well, and I don’t even want to do my best. I want to be the best there is. Of course, it’s a target one will never reach, but it stretches you to places you would never otherwise go, and it is that stretching that turns out to be the most important part of all. The journey is always, it seems, more important than the goal. A journey that has some very simple characteristics – the sense that you are always stepping foot in uncharted territory; the sense that you are about to blow yourself apart through effort and come out the other side as something transformed; and the feeling that you are always an outsider, that being accepted, that having a “home” in a traditional milieu would be the most horrifying thing of all, that “being on the outside, straining to escape even further” is my true home, that whenever acceptance comes in any form the shocked but appropriate response is to decentre, to run for the hills.

In my case, I am literally running for the hills. The final factor in my decision to withdraw from the writing world began last summer when I went for my “40-plus” health check. Despite being mammothly (adjective used advisedly) overweight and having a family history of heart disease and a long personal history of asthma, remarkably every single test came back clear. “So I can exercise?” I asked, without really thinking why I was asking. “Yes,” said my doctor. “Is there any exercise I can’t do?” “No,” she said. “Not even extreme stuff?” (which I qualified by adding “I should warn you that what I mean when I say extreme probably isn’t what other people mean.”) “No.” No “except”s, no qualifications. A clean bill and carte blanche.

That night I set myself a challenge. Not “get fit” or “be healthy” though those would be the by-products. I was going to do an indoor row. 100 miles. In one day. That was over a year ago, and I’m now just a week or so away – you can find out more about it and the wonderful Apopo, the charity I’m doing it for, here.

apopo feeding

The truth is I felt like I’d been given my life back. I’d always assumed I was a ticking cardiovascular time bomb. I wasn’t going to throw away all the opportunities that had just opened up in the discovery that I wasn’t. So that, and the knowledge that at 42 I am still young enough but won’t be forever, was the final step that has pushed me into endurance exercise. In the year since I made that decision I have already met some incredible people, mainly writers who also push their physical boundaries, I’ve read a vast amount on the subject, and I’ve rowed a lot of miles. A LOT. And I’ve fallen in love with another journey, pushing my mind and my body to places I would never have dreamed it was capable. I want to follow that path as far as I can while I am still physically able. My target, to run the Badwater 135 – 135 miles. Non-stop. Through Death Valley. In the hottest part of summer (though very recent health and safety events are casting a shadow over the event’s future). The aim is to achieve this before I’m 50. And I’m going back to mind sports, setting myself a similar kind of endurance target of competing at the world memory championships and mental calculation world cup in 2016.

Will I still write? Of course. I may even submit something – shudder – to a publisher one day, and I look forward to blogging about my new directions – writing and presenting non-fiction is one of my true passions. I will never lose my love of literature and I will never lose my longing to provide a hand held out in the darkest, loneliest part of the night to my fellow outsiders. I hope at least some of my books, such as Songs from the Other Side of the Wall or (life) razorblades included will continue to do that, and maybe my continuing journey will also be able to. I also want to devote myself properly to essay writing, developing the love of creative and critical commentary I’ve touched the edges of in blogging and journalism, and build on my teaching and speaking experience by doing some coaching and talking on decentring, the art of thinking and acting as an outsider.

I certainly hope to remain friends with the hundreds of wonderful people I’ve met through writing. And of course you may still buy my books. I hope you do, I’m extremely proud of them. It is with regret that I will be saying goodbye to the other parts of my writing life – reviewing, championing, beta reading, blogging, writing columns, first and foremost self-publishing new books – though the regret is more sadness that I wish I could do more for the wonderful writers out there than regret at a choice badly made. My ambitions for my writing changed somewhat along the way. What I really wanted, by the end, was to make a difference, if only to one person’s life. To let someone feel they weren’t alone through my words. I don’t know if I had the skills to achieve that, but I gave it my best shot.

I very much hope some of you will come with me on my new journey, that others will continue to discover my books, that others still will read the exploits of a crazy man and set out on their own journeys. It would be impossible to thank everyone here by name who has helped me on this remarkable literary adventure, and if I try I will leave out people who should be there, which would be unforgivable. But thank you all. Making literally hundreds of wonderful writer friends has been the most remarkable thing of all. I hope many of you will carry on being friends with me now I’m on civvy street.

A final piece of advice to the literary media, if anyone is listening – it is your duty to seek out the strange and unexpected, the unheralded and unknown, to overground the underground, and to champion what everyone else hates, and to do so because you love it and shrug off the ridicule. Please stop letting your readers down.

And to writers, and everyone else, I’ll leave you with what continue to be my mottos:

– As writers, it is often our duty to speak when with our every fibre we long to hold our peace, but as human beings, it is often our duty to listen when with our every fibre we long to have our say.


– it is better to try to be extraordinary and fail than to try to be ordinary and succeed.

– never be afraid to draw a line and move on. People will tell you over and over “keep going, you’ll get there.” But most of us won’t. If the goal isn’t going to happen and the journey has stopped being a joy, sometimes the answer is to start another journey before it’s too late.



Finally, a single book has changed the self-publishing debate

There are many reasons why the success of Eimar McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is wonderful news. It is a brilliant book. Quite possibly the best book to win a major literary prize in a decade or more. It will inevitably mean other publishers raise their eyebrows, and have a little “hmm, let’s have a think about that moment.”

But what interests me most is that it has changed, in a single, scalpel-sharp focused scything swoop, the discourse around self-publishing.

Many of us have long argued that self-publishing is of greatest value to readers because it offers daring, original, undefinable fiction they could not get elsewhere. We have pointed to the conservative tendencies of traditional publishers, the dropping of the midlist, the impossibility of getting the awkward and experimental even seen. By contrast self-publishing is an unfettered land of artistic freedom, burgeoning with a billion blossoms of brilliance.

Of late, many of us have had our original enthusiasm somewhat dampened by the incessant droning on on the one hand in the media about self-publishing’s bestselling icons and genre fiction superstars, leaving large parts of the landscape uncharted, and on the other hand by self-publishers themselves pleading that their books are “as good as those in the mainstream” as though the prospect of being as good as something already overly-abundant was somehow an irresistible, intoxicating prospect.

Where, we have cried out, is the art? Where is the recognition of the difficult, the experimental, and the groundbreaking? Increasingly I have felt that actually these things are more to be found in small presses and not in self-publishing.

What A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing has done is to throw down the gauntlet. “Publishers don’t publish…” is patently not true. What we need to show now is that “self-publishing does produce…” IS true. The new venture between the Guardian and Legend Press to find a self-published book of the month is a brilliant opportunity to do just this.

But it’s not just an opportunity. It’s an imperative. This is a competition that Legend’s Tom Chalmers, an indefatigable campaigner for self-publishing quality, has set up specifically to redress the balance of self-publishing coverage towards quality. He states:

“My concern is not that quality doesn’t exist, but that there’s no mechanism for it to surface; that a hugely talented writer without self-marketing skills could be missed in the sales clatter.

And it was with this in mind that we set up the Self-published book of the month”

That’s a wonderful objective. But it HAS to deliver. And it has to deliver not just books that are as good as those in the mainstream. If self-publishing is to continue to make the case that it is the true home of the daring and the experimental, then this prize has to deliver a book that can sit alongside A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing. If it does not, then we have to have a post mortem that will conclude either “shame on the judges” or “shame on the writers”. But whichever we decide, it will be shame on someone.

So I make three pleas.

– Writers, please submit your boldest and most daring work.

– Tom, please make the rules more flexible in terms of the length of work to avoid missing things.

and most crucial of all

– judges and readers, please do your duty and foreground not the excellent and the polished, not the “good enough to be published” and the accomplished, but the daring and the sui generis and the flawed but brilliant.

Only if all of these converge can self-publishing hope to continue its claim to be the true home of creative originality.


Collaboration and Clarity: Asking the right questions of your writing

spi cover draft 10
(available for your Kindle in the UK here, the US here, and from all other Amazon regions)

In the short space of time since I launched Self-publish With Integrity, it has been my great pleasure to have been asked to contribute to some wonderful websites where I’ve been able to talk about the book, and most important where I’ve been able to build upon the advice given in the book. (It’s also been a source of incredible pride to have picked up some truly marvellous reviews, which I have found both humbling and a vindication of what I have been trying to do with this book). I thought that this would be a good time to collect all of those pieces together in one place both as a useful reference tool and in order to introduce people here to some fabulous blogs. In keeping with both these sentiments, I have pasted the first couple of paragraphs of each piece here to give you a taste, and then linked to the rest of the piece.

Learn to Be a Bad Listener – at Author CEO

(Advice on how to ask the right questions of your beta readers and others so as to ensure you get the most helpful answers)

I followed an interesting conversation on a private authors’ forum earlier this week. It’s the sort of conversation you’ll hear every day of the week in such groups, and it’s a large part of the reason I wrote Self-publish With Integrity. A writer was looking for thoughts on the cover of a book she will be bringing out this spring. What happened next was one of those oft-repeated scenarios that makes you want to tear your hair out. A long thread quickly built a head of steam as people each contributed well-meaning advice – “the figure suggests erotica” (really?), “the colour suggests something much darker” (really?), “the texture suggests imprisonment” (REALLY?), “the font doesn’t work” (fair point).

And so on. The thing is that each of these pieces of advice would be useful in helping the writer to achieve a target. But they’d be different targets. And most of them wouldn’t be the writer’s! The problem with advice is that 90% of those who give it do so from their own experience and perspective, which may be very different from yours, and by extension very different from your readers’. The further problem is that some of the advice you get is actually really good advice (the font really did need work in the case outlined above), so throwing everything out, or not bothering to ask, whilst it might not land you in as much trouble or confusion as going along with everything, is hardly the optimum strategy. (read the full piece here)

Create Something Together: Artistic Collaboration in Action – at The Creative Penn

(How working with people in other fields of the arts can benefit your writing as well as your grow your – and their – audience)

I guess I was naïve when I started self-publishing, not really knowing many others who were doing it at the time other than the close group of friends I had at the Year Zero collective, which 22 of us had started up in January 2009 in protest at the publishing world’s lack of opportunities for new literary fiction, and Guy Gonzalez of Digital Book World, who when he wasn’t talking digital publishing was one of the US’ leading slam poets.

So I didn’t really know that writing was writing and other stuff was, well, other stuff. What I knew was that I loved indie rock music, the musicians I’d met at gigs shared pretty much exactly the same artistic ethos as I did, that one of the writers I respected, and still do respect, most in the world, Marc Nash, used to work at the iconic Rough Trade in Brick Lane, and that one of my good friends James Rhodes was currently taking pops at the Classical music scene by making his concerts more gig-like and doing rather well out of it thank you.

Which meant, when I came to organise the launch of my first book, which was to be my first ever reading, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to get in touch with my favourite acoustic musician (I had at least figured out that fully-amped and bookshop wasn’t a match made in heaven, though that would change in time…), the wonderful Jessie Grace. I borrowed a trick from James and made a minimalist and beautifully laid out set of A5 programme notes, and Jessie and I split the night between us, each with two fifteen minute sets, alternating music and reading. I should add, for those of you who only know me as a performance poet, this was a long time before I discovered poetry. This was prose at its prosaic prosiest. (read the full piece here)

Only You – with Lisa Scullard

(Why, if you want to do right by your readers, you should only ever write for yourself)

Spend a little time looking through advice for self-published writers and you will soon find yourself inundated by advice on what can best, if loosely, be labelled branding. How do I make myself discoverable? How do I appeal to the right readers? How will people respond to my cover? Am I saying the right things on social media? Does my writing hit all the points on the genre’s expectation list?

With respect (and in some cases with absolutely no respect at all), unless you are writing purely and simply to try and earn some kind of a crust, because having one day job isn’t enough you’d like two thank you (and if you’re only in it for the money 1. why would you be reading something I’ve written? and 2. following advice of people who made money but probably didn’t set out only to do that isn’t going to help), all of this is, erm, misplaced.

Most people who write are passionate. If not about “writing” per se, then about something – exploring the lives and worlds of a set of characters who’ve wormed their way into your head, connecting with people who share a fascination with a particularly kooky slant you have on the world, just reaching out to someone to let them know they’re not alone. Whatever it is they’re passionate about, all the best writers I know have that one thing in common – passion. (read the full piece here)

What do You Want from your Writing – with Jane Friedman

(publishing guru Jane Friedman was kind enough to post the first chapter of my book on her fabulous website)

Do you know what you want from your writing?

Yes? Good. Now take a pause, and a pen, and a piece of paper, and write it down. It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds.

The interesting thing I’ve found is that whenever someone asks me that, I think “yes, of course I know.” And then I try to put it in a sentence. And I end up with a thousand-word article that throws up a hundred tangents. And the easiest thing to do is shrug, convince myself “I know really, deep down” and carry on.

Which is the opposite of what I should do. This isn’t like a toothcomb edit that’s best put aside till the first draft’s fully down. If you don’t know what you want from your writing, what on earth are you doing writing anything? How can you possibly tell whether your words do what you want them to?

It’s actually not that hard a question. It rests on a more fundamental one. Why do you write? Only we think it doesn’t, because in our head we think we can separate them out. “I write because I have to” is what most people will say, then continuing, “but I’d like to make a living.”

That won’t do. Why you write is always the key to what you want from your writing. (read the full piece here)

spi cover draft 10
(available for your Kindle in the UK here, the US here, and from all other Amazon regions)

More Open For Indies? What I’d Like 2014 to Bring

Happy festivities. In this season of round-ups and forward-looks, when Janus stalks the blogosphere, writers everywhere are musing and reflecting. And whilst I am happy to grinch along with the best of them, it seems churlish not to join in the speculation.

But first the important bit. Here is a present. Click the image below to download an exclusive pdf of SKIN BOOK, beautifully illustrated with 8 pictures from Veronika von Volkova’s stunning Grime Angels series.

SKIN BOOK pic-page0001

It’s been a fascinating year for self-publishers. At the start of the year I had just begun work on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Open Up to Indies guidebook. At time of writing, that guidebook’s release is imminent. But the backdrop against which it will see the light of day has changed – if not beyond all recognition then at least significantly. This autumn, Crimefest announced that it will be welcoming self-published authors next year. The Author Lounge at this year’s London Book Fair included self-publishig luminaries like Mel Sherratt. The Folio Prize, launched as the serious literary alternative to Booker, opened its doors to self-publishers, self-publishing conferences started talking about writing as well as marketing. And the Guardian has been running a self-publishing showcase giving blog time to indies for several months now. We’ve even seen a major serious writing award for the originally self-published A Naked Singularity.

The door feels ajar.

Whether or not it is, now that’s another matter. For me personally, it’s been a year of as much frustration as liberation. I still feel like the amusing pet as often as I feel like the welcome family member. It is getting easier to write about self-publishing. But as a literary writer and poet it remains as hard as ever to get the things I self-publish actually written about. I get to talk about self-publishing more than ever. But about my self-published writing as little as ever. There is still much work to be done to get people talking about self-published books rather than about self-publishing: the phenomenon.

These are the things I’d like to see for self-publishing in 2014.

1. Slow writing and the death of the algorithm

The best marketing for your book is other books. Write more. Be prolific. The tipping point to success comes when you’ve written x number of books. More books breed more discoverability. These have become more than mantras of self-publishing, givens that every writer has to take on board.

And these truisms are poison. Roz Morris wrote a brilliant post earlier this year about the slow novel, about the fact that some genres such as literary fiction spill their words more slowly than others. And yes, I absolutely accept that some genres are more sales friendly than others. But sales are not the be all and end all, and should not be the guide for whether or not a book receives coverage or acclaim.

One of the delights of this year in literature has been the domination of the literary press by slow novels – some, such as Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Girl, so slow their publishers have sent out search parties. And the year ended with acclaim for slow writer extraordinnaire Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – her third book in 21 years.

But this level of acclaim – and in the case of Seth and Tartt attendant sales success – is a closed book to self-publishers where worthiness of column inches is driven by the incessant demand to proliferate.

I would love 2014 to be the year of slow self-publishing, the year when writers who spend years crafting boxes of literary delights are plucked from the multipublishing masses and championed as self-publishing’s vanguard, by other self-publishers as well as by the media.

2. The media reviewing and talking about our books outside of the context of special ghettos set up on our behalf.

We have seen positive steps this year, with the Guardian’s self-publishing showcase leading the way. But there remains the suspicion that we are a curio, something strange and esoteric to be looked at in the confines of a specially controlled environment.

It would be wonderful to see self-publishing crawl out of its corner and into the features and culture pages. But this needs journalists to lead the way, to stop reacting, being embarrassed at the thought they might be championing something not quite respectable, to start having the courage of their critical convictions.

3. Self-published books are more than just digital

The overwhelming majority of truly great self-published books I’ve come across are not only available as physical as well as electronic books, but primarily physical books. From Sarah Hymas’ exquisite Lune trough Andy Harrod’s devastating Living Room Stories to Anna Fennel Hughes’ layered and profound illustrated masterpiece Crockett’s Fall.

And yet it remains the case that the overwhelming coverage of self-publishing, both amongst the media and fellow self-publishers, talks about ebooks, and there are many how to books and blogs that talk as if self-publishing and Kindle were synonymous – I have even seen posts suggesting as if it’s breaking news that self-publishers could consider having a paperback version of their book.

I would love to see the artisan craft of bookmaking celebrated, to see the beautiful zines and self-published illustrated and experimental manuscripts that are being produced receive the attention they deserve.

4. Celebrating our Differences

This is happening already to some extent. As we get less and less defensive about being self-publishers, more confident that we deserve our places at the table, our agendas get less homogenous. We are no longer banding together out of sheer necessity, and as a result we are realising that often some of us have less in common with some self-publishers than with some who follow a more traditional route.

The real sign that self-publishing is secure will come when we’re ready to admit that we are all different, and all have different aims, some of which might actually conflict, and when we’re happy to disagree passionately with one another, knowing that such disagreements won’t “harm self-publishing”.

5. Stop measuring ourselves against professional publishing

There is an increasing number of sites springing up that are designed to help readers wade their way through the self-publishing mire by highlighting the best of indie. All too often “best” is equated with professional production standards, an ability to attain a certain level of craft in areas from editing and cover design to narrative arcs and managing info dumps.

These sites are very well-meaning and I’m sure there are readers to whom these things matter, but they reflect an insecurity that’s endemic in self-publishing. Too many of us want to hold onto the similarities we have with a world we have left behind and too few of us are ready to embrace the difference and shout them from the rooftops.

What’s great about these sites is that none of the books I’ve read there has been bad. Job done? Well, is that really what readers want? A selection of books that ranges, in my experience, from good to almost publishable in quality? Am I really that unusual as a reader in wanting books that blow my socks off?

What’s so sad is that there are self-published books out there that really will blow your socks off. Kate Tempest’s Everything Speaks in its Own Voice, for example, or Rohan Quine’s The Imagination Thief. I would love to see a landscape in which self-published books are no longer celebrated because they’re solid or serviceable, where adequate or professionally produced is no longer good enough to rack up the 5 star reviews and full support of their peers, where we celebrate the truly outstanding as measured by the subjective standards of our tastes – where we actually have the courage of our convictions not to worry what the world thinks about self-publishing but to say “I adore this book, you must read it” or “this is utter crap.”

Self-publish With Integrity

spi cover draft 10(available for Kindle in the UK for £1.88 and in the US for $2.99 as well as in all other Amazon territories)

So it’s here! After more than four years in the making, this is my contribution to the how-to-self-publish canon, filling a gap where a book is both needed and allows me to bring together the various pieces of my own particualr take on this fabulous, mad, messy new world we find ourselves in the midst of.

This is a book about how to find out what really matters to you in your writing, and then to achieve it, steering the treacherous path of helpful advice, books, blogs, and setbacks that are as able to send you steaming in the opposite direction as speeding to your goal. I’ve drawn on my years of experience and the many mistakes I’ve made, allowing myself to get carried away and as a result carried wildly off course, only to wonder why I seem to be “succeeding” but feel, deep down, anything but a success.

What I want most from this book is for it to give you the confidence to be who you are. Each writer is unique, and their writing means something different to each of them, so any rigid “do this, do that” guide has to be taken with bioblical portions of salt, which is why this is not a book that seeks to tell you what to do, but rather a book that helpd you to listen to the most important voice of all: your own, and to use that voice, so often drowned out on the journey, as the steady compass by which to steer you course through a long, rewarding life of writing that is a success in the only terms that matter: yours.

This list of chapter titles will give you a flavour of the book.

1. The Pressure to “Succeed”

2. Why Do You Write?

3. Is Self-publishing Right for You?

4. Never be afraid to be you

5. Dealing With Self-Doubt

6. Dealing With Self-Belief

7. Handling Praise

8. Producing Your Book: Picking the Right Partners

9. Building a community

10. The Whites of Their Eyes: Giving Great Readings

11. The Long Haul

Self-publishing Summit

Yesterday I had the pleasure of addressing New Generation Publishing’s Self-publishing Summit. It was a wonderful chance to catch up with old friends like Stuart Evers and Polly Courtney, both of whose passion and professionalism shone through their every word.


(l-r Stuart Evers, me, Tom Chalmers of Legend Press, Dan Cooke of New  Generation)

It was particularly interesting to have to prepare for an event like this as I also prepare to launch my book about self-publishing. It’s very easy, as a blogger and organiser of festival-style events, to get caught up in a bubble. We can imagine that the issues facing self-publishers are very different from the reality. So it’s essential to use opportunities like this to listen to the questions as much as what the panelists are saying. What struck me most about the questions was how technical and specific they were. There were questions about the most appropriate platforms for different formats, about the editing process, about the use of social media (a very interesting point from one audience member was that it would be incredibly useful to have a mentor – one of several areas where writing groups showed their value).

This was both encouraging and discouraging. Encouraging for me personally, because it showed the real gap for a book that takes you through not just the technical how-to but how to question, pin down, and then follow your dreams for your writing (a particularly astute point Stuart made was that any company that sells the dream often gives you nightmares – which is why it’s so important to be clear right at the start just what your dream is). Discouraging because it suggests that people aren’t thinking hard enough about what their dreams and aspirations are – what do they want to do with their work? How do they want to change the world? It’s always wonderful to talk to writers at these events, and of course their questions are skewed because they know they have a limited amount of time to ask them, but it’s interesting how rarely (with one notable exception yesterday) someone just has to tell you about their burning desire to do xyz.

spi cover 2

The conference was very niftily laid out to take you through the process of self-publishing, with panels that took you in order through a general survey, editing, production, and finally marketing. I had been asked to talk on the first panel, and then the summary panel at the end, so whilst other panelists came and went, I got a fascinating insight into the whole picture.

What was especially interesting was the emergence of particular themes across the panels.


(l-r Iain Broome, Polly Courtney, Catherin Coe, Julia Malone)

1. The absolute priority of craft. This is something we often hear given lip-service in blog pieces, but I was heartened by the unanimity with which panelists insisted that the first, second, and pretty much last task of the writer was to write the very best book possible. This was also given some interesting spins. Ben Galley reminded us that there is no such thing as an overnight success, emphasising the point the agent Meg Davies had made earlier in the day that it often takes 10 years for a writer to produce their very best work. Polly Courtney made the very important point that whilst ebooks have an eternal shelf life meaning that success can be slow and not instantaneous, you nonetheless only ever get one chance to win any one reader. It is, therefore, imperative that you finish crafting your work before pressing publish. Ann Moragn, who acquired a book deal from Harvill Secker from her blog A Year Of Reading The World, stressed that the project and your passion for it always comes first, that she had no idea or intention of a book deal when she started the blog.


(l-r Ben Galley, Samsun Lobe)

2. The importance of direct engagement and live performance. Direct engagement with fans is something I was expecting to hear about. And I did. But I was very pleasantly surprised how many people expressed the value of readings. I started off on the first panel by saying how bookshops were starting to get the hang  of just how exciting readings could be if they experimented with new formats – both agent Simon Benham (not surprisingly – he agented Ben Myers’ super first novel, Richard) and I talked about crossing over with music – but how many bookstores were still missing a trick and losing out to other arts venues like music stages and galleries. I also encouraged people to put an acting lesson into their budgets. Simon also stressed the success of readings organised outside of the bookshop and festival scene (there was much talk about how many more established festivals have lost their way, failing to pay fees and putting on very staid and tired formats of event – this provided one of several opportunities to talk about the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Open Up To Indies campaign) – village halls and pubs, especially outside of London, could be fabulous audiences. SF author Samsun Lobe stressed the importance of the conference circuit (rather timely given this week’s announcement that Crimefest is opening its doors to self-publishers) as a place where everyone there was there specifically because they like the kind of thing your write.

3. The importance of niche. Specialism was stressed again and again. Be it getting your genre right when you put your book onto a platform like Kobo, or simply knowing your audience exactly (though Stuart made the excellent point that this comes after the writing – you shouldn’t write for a particular reader, but write the book you have to write – THEN you need to know the readership, for which I pointed out the fact that the best place to start is to look at yourself and ask which of your own features drew you to that work). Samsun’s emphasis on specialist conferences was particularly relevant here.

4. A subdued approach to social media. Throughout, there was very little said about social media. The marketing panel was interestingly split. Ben Galley did an excellent job of tubthumping for it. Ann Morgan showed the importance of realising that social media is a very wide area encompassing blogs as well as twitter and Facebook and, of course, Goodreads. All were agreed on the importance of not using it to sell but to inform and interact. Stuart Evers made the point that you should never do what you’re not happy doing. He also made an impassioned stand against the notion of branding – yet again bringing people back to the priority of the writing.

Other points that emerged were the importance of retaining rights and exploiting them – for example in translation, and a general positivity about changes in the publishing industry. Meg Davies felt that publishers were starting to return to a more long-term model of giving authors a few books to find their feet, recognising the time it takes to reach their prime. Stuart Evers pointed out that the industry takes more risks than we think, but that many of them, the ones that don’t pay off, we simply don’t see.

All in all, a fascinating event, with much to be cheery about.

If you would like an email when my book comes out on December 16th, do drop me a line here.

Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve It

spi cover draft 10Edited to add – now available for Kindle in the UK for £1.88 and in the US for $2.99 as well as in all other Amazon territories

What’s this? Why, it’s my new book. And it will be available as an ebook from December 16th – the perfect Christmas present for anyone whose New Year’s resolution is to self-publish in 2014. Or even to start writing something they want to self-publish in 2015. It will cost $2.99 or whatever the equivalent is in pounds. I hope it will be worth every penny.

Many of you may have noticed I’ve been more active in my blogging of late. I hope you will have found at least some of what I’ve had to say helpful. One of the reasons I’ve stepped up my writing was the realisation that I was finally in the position to write the book people had been asking, many expecting, me to write for about four years. All that time, I shook my head because the pile of fabulous guides to self-publishing was growing and growing and the idea that I might have something to add on the matter seemed ridiculous. Then, some time this summer, I realised that maybe I can offer a different but valuable persoective. I think the realisation came during one of many conversations with fellow self-publishers where I felt like the deliberately awkward one, making obstreperous comments from the corner of the room.

What I realised was that all my awkward remarks boiled down to the same thing I’d said at the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors back at the 2012 London Book Fair when I was asked to give a single piece of advice – know why you’re writing and then stick to that through thick and thin. And it was soon clear I had five or more years of turbulent experience to draw on for that single theme. This book is the result.

Self-Publish With Integrity is a distillation of everything I’ve learned, both from getting it right and getting it wrong, about staying true to your goals as a writer when you put your text above the parapet. With sections on knowing what you want from your writing, defining success in your own terms, building a loyal community, using the internet in the way that’s best for you, fostering an economy of altruism, turning off your inner self-censor, performing your work, and avoiding the pitfalls of getting caught up in too much well-meaning advice, this addition to your how-to shelf is designed to keep you passionate about and proud of your writing for years to come.

To give you a flavour, here is the introduction. If you’d like me to remind you when the book is published, do leave a comment here, and I’ll put you onto a one-off mailing list for that purpose.

Self-publish With Integrity

Like a lot of people I know, I started self-publishing in 2009. For those of us who write literary fiction (for want of a better term – that’s a whole other book!), this was a nadir in the publishing world. Large publishers were dropping mid list and literary writers like a tree shedding leaves for winter, and we were yet to see the blossoming of the vibrant small press scene that in the past couple of years has breathed fresh life into adventurous fiction.

I had spent 2008 writing my first full length work of literary fiction (after stumbling into the world of the novel the previous year with a thriller, which I carefully put back under the mattress). By the late autumn, I was on version number 26, and had started to submit to the very short list of agents who specialised in literary fiction with an international flavour. At the same time, I was part of the Harper Collins-run website for aspiring writers, Authonomy. Through that site, and the sites Youwriteon and The Book Shed, I’d got to know a small group of fellow literary fictioneers all at a similar stage of their fledgeling careers. Having written and edited together, we were all beginning to submit our synopses, expectant-eyed and full of optimism.

And then, one by one we all started to receive the same kind of news. Like most people, I had a “fantasy agent.” And, two days after I posted my submission to her, I received the response, “I kind of have that little thrill of excitement I get when I think I’ve read something good. Can I read more? Can you send all of it?” And I wasn’t the only one. We were all getting excited nibbles.

And as the weeks went by, the excitement turned to disappointment as we each received similar kinds of follow-up. My own lovely let-down was typical: “I love the writing: it’s fresh and original and true. And there is a wonderful atmosphere here that almost convinced me to give this a shot. But I’m afraid there’s just not enough energy and narrative driving it forward to convince me that I’d be able to get you a deal for it in this climate.” I was encouraged to keep going, and told to submit my next project, but told that it should be something that would “make a big splash.”

On various forums we consoled each other, talked about what we could do to make that big splash, swapped ideas for projects and wondered if any of them had any potential to do what it seemed the market wanted to do.

But one by one we realised that we just weren’t that kind of writer. We didn’t want to “make a big splash.” We had a certain kind of tale to tell, and we were telling it in our quiet, atmospheric, not very commercial ways, and we really weren’t inclined to change the way we wrote on the promise of a potentially illusory carrot that might turn out – as carrots are wont to do – to be a poisoned chalice.

Self-publishing was the obvious answer. It was a way to get our work out to its natural audience despite the fact that we knew that audience was small. It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time self-publishing was still a fairly big deal. Admitting that’s what you were doing ran you a gauntlet of stigma and cat calls from your fellow writers – to this day, there are some writers who are now self-publishing evangelists whose blogs make me chuckle as I remember them taunting us as ne’erdowells back then.

A group of us – 22 from 8 countries – decided to form a collective, Year Zero Writers, dedicated to bringing great literary fiction, however obscure and niche, to its audience. We started a website (it’s still there, as is much of the original material, and it’s still well worth a look), we self-published, we chewed the cud about all things literary, we put new fiction up online every day, those of us who lived in the UK started to do shows together. It was exciting.

It also caught people’s eye. Jane Friedman, who in those days was still behind the wheel at Writers’ Digest, singled us out for praise as an exemplar of the power of the collective. Our shows graced the likes of legendary indie music venue Rough Trade, and the likes of Warren Ellis, darling of the graphic novel world, came to our shows at the Poetry Café. We even reached readers- we had books in the Smashwords top 10 bestsellers (this was in the days before Kindle hit the UK) list. And we got a nod from the hipster style bible Nylon.

But what seems like an unmitigated success was also the biggest Achilles heel in the project, and that was a cycle that was to repeat itself again and again during my time self-publishing. Success is fabulous. But it’s dangerous. Because, actually, “success” isn’t always “success.” The things you get praised for aren’t always the things you set out to do. Selling books, getting great reviews, increasing your coverage, getting invited to blog in prestigious places about marketing – these are all flattering, and they’re intoxicating, because they represent the kind of validation that very few of us can resist.

The problem comes when we start to set our compass by them, when our direction finder becomes externalised, is no longer the burning desire to communicate those quirky stories whose audience we longed to find. But we struggle to see it – we are so surrounded by an audience telling us things we love to hear that we lose sight of the much smaller audience creeping disconsolately out of the door – the audience for whom we originally wrote.

It’s only one day months, maybe years, down the line that we notice writing has become a chore. We look at the list of guest blogs we’ve been asked to write, the events piling up in our calendar, and we wonder why we’re not as thrilled as we should be by them, as we would have been by them when we set out. Now of course, no one is going to embark on a long journey and find every step as springy as the first. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the moment of realisation that we’re no longer even on the same journey.

If we’re lucky, we can reset our compass. It’s something I’ve had to do several times. But disentangling yourself from those wrong turns is a monumental task that both takes both time, and saps even more of the few resources you have left. And you leave a trail of damaged creative relationships and disappointments behind you as you go. It would be far better to steer true from the start. And that is exactly what I want this book to help you do. It won’t be an easy book to write – much of the time I’ll be extracting lessons from experiences that have left deep scars in my creative psyche. But I hope it will be a helpful one. And if it keeps the joy of creativity alive for just one person, then I will truly have succeeded.

There are many superb books that will guide you through the technical aspects of writing and self-publishing, and then marketing your work. But those things were never, for me, the biggest challenge I faced when I self-published. The toughest thing by far has always been knowing how to filter the deluge of information and great advice that comes my way, remembering always exactly why it was that I started writing, and remembering that the one thing that really matters in the whole process is seeing everything through that lens, from deciding what point of view and person narration are appropriate before you start all the way to looking for people to review your finished book, so that I didn’t get sidetracked by seemingly great opportunities that turned out to be time sucks. And worse still, threatened to suck out the love of writing itself, because they were drawing me away from the things I loved about writing.

I want this book to be just that vade mecum I needed, your constant companion through the process, nudging you back on track when you begin to veer, helping you to make key decisions – especially those you don’t even realise are decisions because they’re presented as “just what you do” by everyone around you – but most of all, inspiring you to keep going and helping you to enjoy your writing as much in ten years’ time as you do today.

Starttober: Sometimes It’s Better Not to Be Heard

Every month seems to have an associated tag these days. Next month is Movember, when those who don’t already have moustaches grow them for cancer awareness. It is also, of course, NaNoWriMo, not to be confused with the bardic equivalent, NaPoWriMo. And October is now, apparently, Stoptober.

Now, I love randomly-generated-by-not-quite-lunar-cyclical-means reasons to stop doing the deleterious as much as anyone. But it struck me the other day, that the thing I need to stop the most renders the nature of such quitfests somewhat, erm, porous at best. My moment of anagnorisis occurred as I was furiously bashing out an opinion piece on Jonathan Franzen’s recent attack in the Guardian on the literary landscape nurtured by Amazon. I was getting tired of what I saw as a deliberate misreading of the piece by a number of indie authors so that they could get on a bandwagon of condemnation. So I started railing about them.

And then I had a hang on moment, and started to count just how much of my creative time I have spent snarking. It’s almost a staple of being a writer these days. Especially a writer who has an outsider status – it is worryingly easy for us to start cultivating that badge of difference with a negativity and aggression that decries it, and those who bestowed us upon it, rather than celebrating it. “No one listens to me,” we wail, “and all because I’m an OUTSIDER.” “The system perpetuates itself and stands in my way, because I’m an OUTSIDER.” Well, of course it does. We’re outsiders. If everyone listened and opened the door to us, we’d be insiders.

The problem that faces the outsider in art (and elsewhere, I expect) is that often the only way to achieve any kind of visibility is to cause a stir. It’s a tactic I’ve used many times – see, I’ve written that and subconsciously used the word “tactic,” as though I have resigned myself to using negativity for a “greater good.” And it’s worked – from forcefully calling out prejudice againt self-publishers and ovetrwrought, overpaid mainstream fiction on the Guardian website to essentially turning up places and daring people to tell me “OK, you do better then” many of the gigs I’vegot over the years have come through this route. Never, I hasten to add, through trolling. Always being polite, always, genuinely engaging any points made, but basically using the “shout loud and bit like a mosquito to get noticed, then work on the good stuff once they’re listening” method. I’d go so far as saying I’ve built some really great and mutually respectful friendships that way with people I am convinced would never had looked at me had I segued differently into our relationship.

Hungerford Bridge landscape 3So, you see, snark is effective. And it’s cathartic.

But what does it really have to do with the one thing that really matters – our art? OK, so if we’re purely or largely situationists – and I know some great writers who are – then the answer might lie somewhere on a scale of “maybe on a Monday” to “everything.” I’m not a situationist. My artistic passion is the struggle for identity and wholeness in the modern, fragmented world, and how each voice can be heard on its own terms. And that last bit really gives the lie to the snark path. I write poems and stories about outsiders struggling to be heard in their own voice, and not that assigned to them by their opressors or amplified by well-meaning advocates. I was falling into the trap I devote my creative life to writing about. Insiders, oppressors, majorities, adherents of the norm – all will allow anyone a voice, if it’s on their terms. In other words, they will happily allow you to debate the agenda they set. And by snarking, that’s exactly what I was doing – debating their agenda.

lullabies(One of the inspirations for this post is the wonderful poet Lucy Ayrton, whose casual and friendly but firm comments on Facebook have more than once reminded me of the value of championing the good over naysaying the bad. Click on the link for her wonderful pamphlet of modern feminist fairytales)

So, what I want to stop in October is negativity, snark (now, in the season of the conservative party conference, and general meltdown across the Pond, I want to make it quite clear that I won’t stop calling out the abuses of politicians – that’s a whole other story. Well, it’s not quite a whole other story, but the intersection between artistic and political life is for another post). And the first thing I want to do in that vein is to stop talking about stopping. Stopping doing something can be great – stopping smoking is, I concur, just about the best thing many people could do. But “stopping x” is still setting the agenda to “x.” It’s still speaking in somebody else’s voice.


So I want to start talking about starting. I’ve recently restarted a proper exercise programme (well, I say proper – what I mean is an-ab-short-of-a-six-pack-batshit-crazy), and for Starttober, I have added a proper stretching routine into it. But you don’t really want to know that (and I’d better stop rambling before I get into anecdotes from my powerlifting days). I would love for Starttober to be the, er, start of a run of unremitting focus on the positives of my creative life, of creativity in general. Only yesterday, I was watching again the video below by the remarkable Amanda Palmer (now, I have, in my time and to my shame, joined the snark about Amanda and her call for unpaid volunteers, and I have also – less to my shame probably – snarked plenty about TED). She is proof positive of what you can do when you keep refocusing on your own art in the face of an establishment that renders you outsider.

So, following Amanda’s example, I would love this to be the beginning of a step back from some of the things that have crowded out the best creative thoughts and ideas – a lot of my journalism and writing networks included. Even where I don’t use those spaces for negativity, there is a tendency to be pulled towards topics in the wrong way, and a tendency to be sidetracked as a result. But I don’t want to see that as a dropping of things I don’t want to do.

anna-nightmaring-spires(the fabulous Anna Hobson performing at the first Not the Oxford Literary Festival at the Albion Beatnik bookstore)

Rather, I want to fill my creative space with things I believe in, with things I can do well and see through to a conclusion. One of those projects will be working with the Albion Beatnik bookstore to curate a beautifully-made celebration of contemporary literature. And I want to take The New Libertines to new and exciting places, as well as making sure that next year’s Not the Oxford Literary festival brings Oxford the very best of culture it may not yet have explored.

I am also ridiculously excited by some of the plans I have for my personal creative projects. I am, as you read last time, dusting off my book The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes having been offered a dream-come-true opportunity to work on it with my fantasy editor Scott Pack and a beautifully produce trailer and cover. And I will be collaborating with two of my favourite artistic talents to create some wonderful live shows and books – you can see the stunning new video from one of Oxford’s finest bands, Superhand, at the top of this piece. I will be working on a live show with them in the very near future. And you will see dotted around here some of my collaborations with the brilliant photographer Veronika von Volkova. I am incredibly excited at the thought of working with her again in the near future.

I am also delighted that my online store has received its first order. I love being able to sell my books direct to people – there’s nothing quite so satisfying as going to the post office with a pile of packages for readers.  Having an online store means I can sell to people direct and give them a little more assurance that I won’t just take their money! You can buy Evie and Guy, and my two poetry/short story pamphlets (life) razorblades included and i cannot bring myself to look at walls in case you have graffitied them with love poetry. Obviously, I really hope you will – I love to give digital stuff away free, but I would also one day love to make a living doing this, so I love it when people buy things.

bet(Vivienne Tuffnell’s blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking is a constant source of creative inspiration. She’s also a wonderful author as you’ll find out if you click the cover of her book The Bet)

Starting is much more holistically fulfilling than stopping. Positivity is plain better than negativity. And if our outsider voices are ever to be heard, to be given space in a wider cultural discourse, then we have to forge our own path, stick to our creative visions, and make the effort constantly to refocus (how many times have I said that over the years – and STILL I need to do it again and again because I’m dragged this way and that!) on who we are and not be angry at what we’re perceived to be. But that comes, of course, with a danger. The danger is that we will never be heard. That the art we struggle for so long and to whih we give parts of ourselves so vital each work feels like a severed artery delivering our hit of life straight to the heart or brain. The thought that it will go unseen, unheard, unread just doesn’t bear contemplating – it is the thing that keeps many self-publishers (and many with full-on regular publishing contracts to boot!) awake at night, and the echo of that fear can be heard in the cries that haunt forums and blogs the internet over. We want to be read. We want our voices to be heard!

And yet. And yet, that’s the glorious, paradoxical, hair-tearingly frustrating nub of the thing – we want our voices to be heard. And that simple clause contains a deep-running tension. If we are to be heard, it is so much easier for that to happen by our speaking on other people’s terms – by our trying to prise open the door and cease to be outsiders, by railing against the forces that keep us on the outside and demanding they let us in. If we truly continue to speak in our own voices, on our own terms, to our own creative agendas, then we may never be heard. It’s not a circle that can simply be squared. It’s not a case of finding the best fit of “this much authenticity and this much compromise.” It’s often a painful, self-splitting choice – be heard or be yourself. I can’t tell you what to do. But I feel happier coming down on the side of the latter – it marks a decision to stop talking about stopping things, and to talk more about starting. The real key is whether, having started, we can finish any of those creative visions even when we are surrounded by silence.