Decide my fate

city v sifnos

It’s important to know where you stand; it’s important to know where you place your feet. And where I stand today is in between. I stand in two places at once, two heres, two nows. I stand with one foot in London and another foot in Sifnos. Two parts of me, and as I lean towards the one, the other draws me back. I am a pendulum, but this lovely swinging motion is making me a little dizzy.

So I’m leaving it to the universe; I’m leaving it to fate. I’m leaving it to you. I am your puppet on string: you can do with me what you want.

After 18 months of playing the reclusive author in Sifnos (and writing two books), and six months back in London, I find myself in Sifnos once again. But do I stay, or do I go? Where do you want me?

I can treat this trip to Sifnos as a holiday, eat some good food and get a bit of a tan, and go back to London in a couple of weeks, and do the things that people do there, and wear a raincoat a lot. This option will please my City Girl persona, who’s been looking very nervous ever since we arrived on the island, and keeps flashing her Oyster card at me at regular intervals.

I can stay here, and take it one day at a time, and write about those days as I did before, and see where that takes me. This will invariably involve frequent philosophical musings, posting lots of photos of beaches, clouds and sunsets, and possibly adopting stray kittens, in defiance of anything that can be described as common sense. It will also mean giving voice to Sifnos Chick, who has absolutely no sense of style, but knows all the best places to pick fresh herbs on the island.

So – should I stay or should I go?

Please vote for City Girl or Sifnos Chick in the comments below. 

 

On the wings of a Bentley (100 days of solitude: Day 48)

the-flying-bentley

 

I know a man with a flying Bentley and he’s going to fly it all the way to Sifnos. This is not science fiction: in the world this man lives, a world I travel to sometimes, flying Bentleys are just as possible as any other mode of transport. I have long ceased to be surprised.

We originally thought he should go for the next model up, the all-terrain Bentley, suitable for journeys on land, air and sea. This is not too difficult to achieve: apart from the standard engine (which is anything but standard, obviously, this being a Bentley), the all-terrain model is also equipped with two powerful propellers, suited to both aeronautical and seafaring purposes, and a set of fins that, at the touch of a button, unfold into wings, enabling the vehicle to float on the waves or glide on the clouds, respectively. It really is wonderfully simple. And comes with soft leather seats and a bitching sound system, as standard.

 

The all-terrain Bentley is a pretty advanced piece of technology, but it’s not the top of the range. That would, of course, be the space model, aimed at the universally minded traveller who doesn’t want to wait until the moon shuttle is ready to take bookings from the general population. It is still in the development stages, and a prototype is available for purchase, for which there is a waiting list. Early adopters are required to sign a disclaimer because the space model is limited in its functions: it is capable of launching into space, like a rocket, and then joining the orbit of one of a number of preselected planets, by killing the engine at the right moment (the car’s sensors pick this up, and a red light flashes on the panel behind the steering wheel to warn the driver), but no provisions have yet been made for further navigation or returning to earth. Very few of these prototypes have been released, but they are out there, circling the planets up above; with a telescope, you can sometimes catch a glimpse of their taillights as they go round.

I’m sure this man could get himself right at the top of the waiting list for the space Bentley if he wanted to; he has a way of getting what he wants, perhaps because he figured out, early on, that it’s essentially just as easy as not, and it’s simply a question of what you put your energy into. He doesn’t need to, however. He lives in a spaceship, and he can take himself up to the stars whenever he feels like it. He does that sometimes. But he comes back, with stories to tell.

 

We had settled on the all-terrain model, but then we realised we had fallen into the trap of conventional thinking. We were approaching the question in terms of a standard journey from central London to the village of Eleimonas in Sifnos: the drive to the airport, the plane ride to Athens, a cab or train or bus to the port, a journey on the ferry to Sifnos, and then the final stretch of road up to the house. Land, air, sea. But, of course, the beauty of a Bentley is that you can park it right outside your home and take off from there, flying it high above the London skyline and through the clouds, over the seas and mountains and cities and valleys of Europe and all the way down to Sifnos where, guided by the blue dome of the church next door, you can land it directly on my roof. There’s plenty of space up there for a Bentley, and the beams are strong; they can take the weight.

The flying Bentley has been ordered, in black, with tinted windows and heated seats, and a jack for plugging your iPhone directly into the built-in sound system. When it is delivered, he will pack a small bag and throw it into the boot, put some music on, switch the mode from “drive” to “fly”, and he will soar into the sky. He will be spared the traffic on the North Circular, and the discomforts of easyjet, the chaos of Athens, the indignity of the blue plastic seats of the economy lounge on the ferry and the long, cold wait for the off-season bus, and he will arrive in style, uncreased and smiling, in time for dinner.

 

This is not science fiction, and it isn’t fantasy. It’s just the way it is. There is a world where everything is possible and that’s the world I’d like to live in. Where getting what you want is just as easy as giving up on it. Where a man will fly his Bentley all the way from London to Sifnos and land it on my roof. He will come into the house and unpack the few items he brought in his bag into the space I’ve cleared in the wardrobe, and we will sit together in the warmth, while the engine of the Bentley cools down on the roof above. We might fly it to the beach every now and then, to spend some time looking at the sea, but mostly we will stay at home, together but a few feet apart, in a silence that contains all the words, and I will write stories about the lives we live on earth, while he thinks about his next trip up into the stars.

 

> This is Day 48 of 100 days of solitude. If you enjoyed reading it, please consider buying the book, in paperback or on Kindle. Thank you.

Day 101: December 24, 2014

photo 3 (16)

It is the day before Christmas. And quite a few creatures are stirring, actually, though mostly outside of the house. Slow, black beetles and skittery spiders and bees buzzing around the rosemary bush and a bright green lizard disappearing between the stones in the wall. Boy Cat rolling around contentedly is his favourite desk chair, and the Black Cat That Coughs leaping through the grass, chasing a pale yellow butterfly that she will never catch. Flies zooming in through the open windows, and out again, back to the light. There is a lot of light.

 

Christmas Eve in Sifnos and the town is all astir, despite the warnings and the scenes of mass exodus at the port. This is not a town of ghosts. Everyone who’s still here is here, it seems, picking up last minute supplies for dinner, and their pensions, and presents from the two or three shops that are open, with stars and snowflakes drawn in glitter across their windows. A lady in the supermarket is looking for fresh mushrooms, which cannot be had; the butcher’s is busy, the meat cleaver falling loudly, crunching bones. Cars crawl down the road, blocking it frequently as they stop to exchange words with other cars, or motorbikes, or people on foot. Everyone is going somewhere, but slowly, their mellowness in contrast to the jagged, manic edges of every other Christmas Eve I’ve known. I wouldn’t know, but for the decorations.

 

There is no Christmas Village in the square, but the village knows it’s Christmas, and tinsel twinkles everywhere as it catches the sun, sending strange reflections across the whitewashed walls. A nativity scene, lifesize, has appeared in the yard of an unoccupied building, and classical music drifts out the café up the road. Golden baubles hang in windows and over doors, dangle from pergolas and awnings, and dance in the breeze. The village knows it’s Christmas, despite the brightness that causes everyone to raise their hands up and shade their eyes, and the warmth that has them all loosening their scarves and wiping their brows. On every step and every doorway there is someone lounging in the sun, with sleeves rolled up to expose their arms to the heat. I take off layer after layer and end up sitting on a high wall in my vest, with a bundle of clothes rolled up beside me, looking over the edge of the land towards Paros, where our bigger island neighbours are getting ready for Christmas, like we are, but with bigger roads and bigger shops. I feel like waving, but I don’t. I’m getting enough curious looks as it is, sitting here in a pink vest and leopard-print leggings, and staring at the sea.

 

On the way back a transition, through the outskirts of town where houses and shops give way to fields and orchards, past the gas station, quiet, with long flags hanging limp from long poles, and those funny little bundles that are curled up cats, on ledges and rooftops, following me with their eyes, and several dogs, chained and free, yelping excitedly when I get too close, and then onto the ring road, private, sloping upwards just for me. I walk in the middle, along the white dividing line, trusting in the absence of cars and half-blinded by the sun, until I reach the top and the mouth of the grassy path carved by the stream that will bring me home. There I stop, and listen, and look: Christmas Eve in Sifnos. Mountaintops and sky. Bells, intermittent, as the animals shuffle from one patch of grass to the next. Little birds twittering in the bushes, an eagle flying silently overhead. A flock of doves, mostly white, cooing as they alight, in perfect synchronicity, on a telephone wire. A cock crowing insistently on a distant farm over the hill. In the valley below, the echo of a dull, rhythmic tapping, manmade. Fields of the greenest green dotted with yellow and purple flowers. A secret garden of citrus trees that I’ve never noticed before, walled in amidst the olive groves. A single tree on a hilltop outlined against the milky blue horizon. A stone dove house on the edge of a cliff, semi-derelict, triangle openings and flapping wings. And everywhere around mountaintops and sky. So much sky, for such a small piece of land.

 

Christmas Eve, and now the church bells are ringing, summoning the faithful inside to sing the psalms of Christmas in yellow flickering candlelight, as the day grows dark outside. Boy Cat is still in his deck chair; he stirs as I pass him, and gives me a look that is almost trust. I turn the lights on, all of them; the house seems darker, somehow, at this time, just before sunset, than it does in the blackness of night. I will do some yoga now, and cook dinner, and wait for the church bells to ring again. I will not heed their call, but I will listen. They make a lovely sound.

 

Christmas Eve, undecorated. Of all the good decisions I’ve made or stumbled into, this is one of the best. Christmas Eve in Sifnos, with nothing much to distinguish it from any other day, and this is the one I’ll remember. Of all the Christmas Eves I’ve spent in decorated houses, houses much brighter than this, with presents and carols and tables laden with food, wearing the spiky garland of stress that we wrap around each other for the holidays, like fairy lights tangled up in the branches of the tree – this is the one. The only time I heard the church bells ringing; the only time that sound has reached my faithless ears, free from the noise of every other Christmas Eve I’ve known. I wouldn’t know, but for the silence. This is the one that means something to me.

 

It is the night before Christmas. And whatever it means to you, wherever you are, whether you’re where you want to be or somewhere else, make it a happy one. The church bells are ringing. You might not hear them through the noise, but they make a lovely sound. You wouldn’t know. But listen.

 

***

This is Day 101 of 100 days of solitude; it was part of the 100 days blog, but not included in the published paperback edition of the book. (The Kindle edition, however, includes 4 bonus days!)

frontcover-kindle

I am not a rebel.

“Think of the Indie publishing world as a team: we are all working together for the greater good of a collective.” Brenda Perlin, Indie Authors Unite: Instant Karma

I am feeling a bit rebellious right now. I’m feeling all kinds of slogans coming on. One of them is indie books rock! and I’ve turned it into a reciprocal support and promote site for indie authors, where members share their social networks to grow the pool of potential readers for everyone involved.

It’s been coming on for a while. Ever since I self-published my first book, 100 days of solitude, on CompletelyNovel last March, I’ve been involved in a one-woman marketing campaign in the social media. And I’m constantly looking for ways to do it better, while staying genuine and not feeling like I’m selling out in the name of selling my book. Connecting with other indie authors has always made sense: we’re all in this together. And then, last week, I came across an article by Brenda Perlin, entitled Indie Authors Unite: Instant Karma, and it all came together, and indie books rock was born.

The concept is very simple: authors list their independently-published books, and then promote the site to potential readers within their social networks, thus substantially increasing exposure for the work of all members. It’s like a little good karma community for indies, exactly as Brenda suggests. And it’s going well: the site’s been up for less than a week, and we have 17 authors and more than 40 books featured already. We’re not rebels: we’re just writers doing the best we can for our books.

Perhaps, then, the word is not rebellion. My decision to self-publish 100 days of solitude was not a rejection of traditional publishing. I simply wanted it out there, being read, rather than sitting on my hard drive as I searched for representation. It wasn’t an either/or decision, nor was it driven by rebellion at the time. But as time goes by, I am feeling increasingly conflicted about the conventional vs independent publishing debate. I always imagined that I’d eventually get an agent and publish my work through the conventional route, but I’m no longer certain. There are, of course, undeniable benefits to traditional publishing. There’s the validation, to begin with, and it’s a big thing. There’s the fact that you have an editor to work with. There’s distribution, and exposure: publishers have a wider reach. But support? Success? Many traditionally-published authors I’ve spoken to have confirmed my suspicion that the task of promoting their books once they’re published rests mainly on their own shoulders, and they’re out there, on the social media, along with us indies, trying their best to get the word out. And one of the questions that come up is whether chasing the dream of conventional publishing is worth it. Is the time and effort we put into looking for agents and publishers better spent actually writing?

Perhaps it doesn’t have to be either/or. Self-publishing doesn’t exclude the possibility of working with an agent and traditional publisher at a later date. But regardless of what the future brings, the decision to go indie is a choice that we make and I, for one, will stand by it for as long as I’m in it. I might remain conflicted, but for now I’m a proud member of the indie community and the good karma it brings. I’m not a rebel; I’m a writer, out there with the rest of you, indies and non-indies alike, doing the best I can. Chasing the dream.


Visit indie books rock to submit your work and/or discover great books by independent authors.

This article was originally written for and first published on CompletelyNovel.

#projectavalanche

projectavalanche

Ever since I self-published my first book, 100 days of solitude, I’ve been standing at a precipice, high over the world, scuffing at the edge with the toes of my shoes, and watching dust rise up and stones tumble down the slope. One, maybe two at a time. I watch them roll down, gaining momentum sometimes, sometimes dislodging a small rock on the way and taking it down with them. I watch them hit the bottom, the impact they make: another cloud of dust rising and settling again. Again, I nudge, pulling another stone from the soil; I get down on my knees, freeing one more with my hands and setting it loose down the mountainside. I watch. I wait. I start again.

I want an avalanche. I want a landslide. I want that magical, inexplicable something that brings my book crashing into the world with a great, rumbling roar. I don’t want it to be a wave, gently lapping at the shore and pulling back again, to disappear into the ocean. I want it to be a tsunami, a great sweeping mass of words and thoughts and joy, rushing into the lives of thousands. Millions. I’m done being waves and pebbles. I’m done being quiet and small. I want the magic. I want that something, that moment when my book goes from selling a thousand copies to selling a million. Because that’s all it is: a moment. A click that sets it all in motion. That’s all it takes: some magic, and a click.

Perhaps literary agents and publishers have the big, industrial machines that tear chunks out of mountainsides and cause landslides that bury the villages below. Perhaps they have massive ships that cut through the ocean, dislodging the seas, turning waves into tsunamis and drowning coastal towns in their authors’ words. Perhaps they do, and it’s not sinister; it’s just the way it is. But I have no such equipment. I am just a girl chiseling away with my hands, but my words are just as big as theirs, and there’s another way.

The world is changing, and we can make our own magic. We can make our own destiny. We always could, but perhaps we have turned a corner and we can see it, now. Perhaps the dust from their big, industrial works is beginning to settle, and we can see it. Perhaps we’re done being told what we can’t do. Perhaps we’re done waiting. Perhaps we’re done being lodged in the ground, calling out for someone to come along and kick us free. Perhaps we’re done being rolling stones in other people’s landslides. There are mountains enough for all of us, infinite oceans of possibility. We can be our own landslides. We can make our own waves.

I owe the phrase project avalanche to my friend Leo. We were having coffee, and I was trying to explain the magic moment, the click. “Avalanche,” he said, and I saw it. I’d known it from before when, in another magical moment, I suddenly understood, on a level entirely separate from intellect and real-world odds, that this book would go far. I’d known it, but I had no visual, and then Leo said that word, and it all came together and I saw it: the avalanche, the landslide, the tsunami. Sweeping into the world, graceful and magnificent; a natural phenomenon, but not a disaster, because it’s words I’m sending into people’s lives, stories to make them better. Because, as pretentious as it may sound, I really do believe that books can change our lives. And this is a book that’s all about changing, and finding your own path, and finding joy. This particular book has already changed my life. And it deserves its own landslide.

In real-world terms: this book, 100 days of solitude, that began as a humble blog recording my own journey, with no expectation of reaching any further, is going to sell a million copies and top the bestseller list. In real-word terms: money. But it’s not about that. It’s about having the means to carry on doing what I love, and this book is the way. Because another thing I believe – another one of my pretensions, if you like – is that we all have a purpose in this life, a gift, a thing we are uniquely qualified to do. And this is mine: writing. It’s what I do, and I do it well. And I deserve the chance to carry on doing it. We all do – whatever our thing might be. And the real-world odds can go fuck themselves. There is another world, where anything is possible. And it is just as real as you make it.

There is nothing noble in stoically accepting the odds, nothing admirable in admitting defeat before you’ve even begun. This gift, this purpose: it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It needs to be defended. I have written a book, and it’s a good book, and it’s no less humble because it’s being read by millions; it’s no less valid because it sells. If the thing that you love doing funds doing what you love, isn’t that the perfect way for the world to work?

I am done with odds. I am done being pebbles and waves. I am done being the tortured artist selling drinks and dreaming of words. I have written a book, and I’m standing up for it. Will you stand with me? All it takes is some magic, and a click.

click

(Click it. Don’t be alarmed: it’ll only take you to another page, where you can find out how you can help.)