On freedom, a very special parrot named William, and Indie publishing

It appears that Indie publishing has somehow become all things to all men.
There are those who claim it has freed the artist from the shackles of conventional publishing, others who claim it has brought a decline in literary standards, the like of which we have never seen before.
For many, previously established authors, it is the devil. For those who once sat languishing in Rejection Slip Land* it is deliverance. For those who have published and been damned, by the fickle whims of amateur critic and book-buying public, it is a cruel and heartless judge of literacy and creativity.
A pet adult Congo African Grey Parrot in Norway.
But, there is another way to view the Indie revolution, and to do that we first need to meet William.
I met William on a number of occasions, and considered him a very special parrot and a very special character. Sitting in his cage by the bar, of the aptly named Port William Hotel in the picturesque North Cornish hamlet of Trebarwith Strand, William entertained passing clientele with his own special and unarguably ribald, commentary.
English: The Port William, Trebarwith At one t...
Each syllable had been learnt, in true parrot-fashion style, from a succession of smiling faces, many of whom were the worse for drink. They would stand before his cage, and repeat vulgar and inane words and phrases, ad nauseam, until he had dutifully mimicked the sounds. Only when he had modulated his own high-pitched squawk with their inane commentary would they chortle in triumph and leave William to his solitude.
However, few of those who peered through the bars understood that lurking beyond William’s chirpy and cheerful facade was a depressive bird, with a dark and unhappy secret. What each of them failed to realise was that when William was alone he would cling to the bars of his cage, and peer out of the window across the rocky North Cornwall coastline to the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
In those moments of loneliness and solitude William would dream his dreams of fresh air and freedom, and remember a time long ago when he had been as free as the endless expanse of fresh air and space that he now so secretly coveted.
But then, one day, two humble cleaners gave William the opportunity he had dreamed of during all those years of captivity. While cleaning his cage, one cleaner had let him out to wander around the bar area, not realising that the other cleaner had left the door to the outside world open.
A Congo African Grey Parrot flying. Deutsch: G...
William took his chance. Like a shot he was out of the door, into the air, and away.
He flew first over the cove and along the cliffs, and for a while they thought he might return, but then William did the strangest thing. . . he turned to the west and headed out to sea.
It was only a matter of seconds before he began to tire; only a matter of a few hundred yards before untrained wings, left weak through so many years in that cage, began to fail him.
William was swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean that day. Some say he was disorientated and lost his bearings, others that he was just a bird-brained parrot who knew not what he was doing or why.
I disagreed. I believe that William chose freedom over servitude. I believe that, whether he had made it all the way to his homeland and natural habitat or drowned in the Atlantic Ocean, William cared little, because for those few brief moments of fresh air and ozone he was truly free.
I choose to believe that, as he headed out to sea, William resolved that he would never again be confined to amusing the drunk and the moronic from an ugly cage in a smoke-filled bar.

English: Tintagel: near Treknow Looking toward...And that, to a certain extent, is how I and a great many other Indie authors feel.
We have no idea how successful we may or may not become. We may become best-selling novelists, or sink and drown in the deepest oceans of our own inadequacy, but there is one thing that we are certain of. . . We will never again be caged, and abused, and patronised, and ignored, by agents and publishers and those inane guardians of the literary slush piles.

Have a good one.

*For those unfamiliar with the term, Rejection Slip Land did actually exist. It was a dreary and depressing island, with many hundreds of thousands of brutalised subjects. All were furiously writing the next blockbuster novel, and all had applied for literary asylum with less astringent regimes. It boasted a governing Presidium of six, who occasionally accepted proposals but rarely acceded to the enclosed entreatment, and an Olympic team of one, whose entry for the ‘20 yard dash from study to greet the postman’ was declined on the basis of an incorrectly worded application (I blamed his editor).

On negative reviews and hidden agendas

I have always maintained that e-book reviews, and particularly negative e-book reviews, so often tell us more about the people who write them than they ever do about the work under consideration.
You don’t think so? O.K. so imagine this. . .

So, you’re sitting in a fancy new restaurant and about to treat your family and friends to a special meal out. Money isn’t flowing from your ears and so you pick a salad, followed by something made with chicken, and hope the others follow suit.

The waiter arrives and takes your order.
You ask for the wine list.

It arrives, courtesy of a pompous-looking sommelier, who then hovers in suspended judgement as you peruse the fare on offer.

You look at the prices. Wow! Not cheap.

You briefly scan the left-hand column, and then carefully peruse the right-hand column. You privately wince as you dismiss the vintage Champagnes, first growths and chateau-bottled, skip past the grand crus and premier crus, on to the next page, and the next, and the one after that, along and down, past the basic Burgundy and Bordeaux sections, through the Italian, Spanish, and German, past the New World and Eastern European, and on to the bin-ends. Still pretty pricey. Hmmm, too many guests for a half bottle, and you don’t want to look like a cheapskate.
You close the wine list and hand it back to the sommelier, look knowledgeably at your table guests, and say. . .
“Tell you what, let’s be different tonight. Let’s not start with the same old Grand Cru Chablis, move on to Chateau Lafitte, and finish off with the same old boring Chateau d’Yquem.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve not tried this place before, and I always say the house wine tells us more about a restaurant than anything else, don’t you?”
They all nod. They’re on a free meal, what else can they do? You smile a smile of knowing superiority and look up, to where the sommelier has clearly read your every thought, and say. . . “The house wine. . .  what is it?”
“The sommelier explains that it’s an unpretentious little paint-stripper from the slopes to the south of Mount Otgontenger in Central Mongolia: grown, harvested and pressed by a distant cousin of the owner’s next-door-neighbour’s pen-pal. You nod wisely. “Good, good.” You recall a re-run episode of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ and say “Oh, yes, Otgontenger, in The Hangai Range.” And then, while everyone does a double-take, you press your good fortune. “In that case I think we’ll start with a couple of bottles of the house white, and a couple of the house red, see where we go from there.”

A Sommelier decanting and serving wine

You dismiss the sommelier, smile broadly at the semi-circle of dumbstruck features looking back at you, and privately hope that by the time they’ve drained a couple more bottles of Mongolian paint-stripper most will have forgotten all about your mentioning of Sauternes’ finest.
The wine duly arrives. You check the label. It certainly looks Mongolian. The sommelier checks the quality and temperature, and then passes the final decision to you. You sip, swill, savour, swallow, and savour again (no, you don’t spit), and then nod appreciatively and say to your spellbound audience. “I tell you something, that’s not at all bad. I reckon these Mongolians know a thing or two about wine. In fact that’s really rather good. I think you’re going to like it.”
English: Relief map of Mongolia Equirectangula...
Now, I guarantee that, when you sum-up your evening, whatever criticism you might consider valid about food, service, ambience, and price, and whatever damning judgement you might otherwise levy at the meal’s conclusion, you won’t be offering anything other than complimentary murmurings about the wine.
O.K. So now, having read that, you all know that if I ever offer to take you out for a meal you will politely but firmly decline. I don’t blame you, but what else do you know?
You know that when you are given a description of the goods, allowed to actually sample the goods before purchase, and instantaneously supplied with the goods as sampled, it is very difficult to legitimately complain. . . or is it?
Now, let’s move on to e-books, and talk about those people who choose a genre, look at the book cover, read the blurb, consider the author, download three sample chapters (often around ten-thousand words), then buy the book and proceed to write a scathing review.
Why would they do this? They had every facility and chance to make an informed buying decision. They were offered every opportunity to sample prior to purchase. So why then buy and decry?
Perhaps the first three chapters bore no relationship to the next twenty or so. It can happen. Perhaps the rest of the book was a genuine stinker. Perhaps they made an honest mistake in the purchase, and now feel obliged to prevent others making the same mistake? All perfectly legitimate.
English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
Or perhaps they are writers themselves, taking time out to damage the competition. Perhaps they feel insignificant, and want the author and the rest of the world to sit up and take note. Perhaps they need to somehow validate an otherwise unfulfilled life. Perhaps they read something in the book that touched a nerve, from childhood or some previous unhappy experience. Perhaps they have some sort of hidden pain, and are taking the opportunity to relieve the symptoms by transferring a little of that pain to the author. Then again, perhaps they are just sad people who delight in hurting and damaging others.
So the next time you see a negative e-book review, especially one among numerous positive reviews, don’t just take it at face value, take a closer look. Don’t just read the words as written, but see if you can read between the lines. It may well be that he or she genuinely didn’t enjoy the remaining chapters, and that’s fine, but so often it’s something more, something that lies dormant and undeclared.
Try it, and see if I’m not right.
As an author I don’t write book reviews, either good or bad, because I refuse to say bad or negative things about the work of my fellow authors, and if I only ever said good and positive things my stated opinions would, quite rightly, be treated with suspicion.
I’m also in agreement with dear-old Walt Disney’s Bambi, and the endearing Thumper who once so famously sang. . .

Young adult Thumper thumping his foot from Bambi

Young adult Thumper thumping his foot from Bambi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
Reviews are important. The people who write them are important to any author, be they famous infamous or unknown. A constructive and informed review will significantly help the buying decision. I know all that, agree with all that, heartily applaud those who write them, and heavily rely on those same constructive reviews and reviewers to sell my books. I am extremely grateful for them.
But let us not allow the review to be an excuse for hidden agendas, self-aggrandisement, and vitriol.
Perhaps I should leave the final judgement, on my mistrust of scathing e-book reviews and the people who write them, to the deliciously immoral Mandy Rice-Davies, who, when confronted in court with Lord Astor’s denial of their alleged affair, is often quoted as saying. . .
“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
Well, of course I would.
Nevertheless, you take my point (and if you don’t it was probably that last bottle of Chateau Mongolia 2013).

Have a good one.

On conspiracy theories, those lunatic conspiracy theorists who give us all a bad name, and the truth behind the Bilderberg Group

As something of a conspiracy theorist I am often amused, and occasionally infuriated, by many of the people who share that same frequently-scorned and wildly-diverse platform.
I recently watched a UK television interview, conducted by political and publishing grandee and all-round BBC smart guy, Andrew Neil, who, along with London Times columnist and Conspiracy Theorist Witch finder General, David Aaronovitch, had chosen to discuss the Bilderberg Group.AN

To add some ‘balance’ to the ‘argument’ they invited the much maligned Alex Jones as a third man (pun intended) to sit between them, and a flanking attack on the voices of dissent was ready to air.meeting
Now Alex Jones is part of the sometimes endearing, but more often than not ridiculous and annoying, conspiracy theory lunatic fringe.
His radical views are aired, or more frequently screamed, at any microphone or camera that is placed in front of him. The result is an often amusing, and more often tiresome, tirade of fanatical nonsense that may or may not be intended to convince.
This particular interview was brought to my attention, because it had apparently been watched by a great number of people in a very short space of time, or ‘gone viral on YouTube’ as those with nothing better to do than further pollute an already sadly polluted English language were saying.
Now The Bilderberg Group is a clique of supposedly influential individuals from both sides of the Atlantic, whose raison d’etre was first mooted in the fifties by Polish political exile Józef Retinger.
Retinger enlisted the aid of Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands, and a couple of other European heavyweights, who in turn enlisted the aid of CIA chief Walter Bedell Smith, and another of Eisenhower’s advisers, former OSS member and psychological warfare expert, General Charles Douglas Jackson. The group then went on to further enlist the services of the crème de la crème of U.S. and mainland European political, economic, and social society. . . The Bilderberg Group was born.

The original stated intent of the group was to combat anti-Americanism in Europe, and presumably smooth the ongoing passage of cultural imperialism that has subsequently proved such a blessing to each and every one of us on this side of the pond.
The actual result was to bring together a group of rhetoric spewing politicians, favourite sons, and media luvvies, to act as a sort of decoy, catalyst, and general punch-bag for people like Alex Jones and the rest of the conspiracy theorist lunatic fringe.
Or so I had previously thought, and that brings me to my, somewhat laboured, point.
Conspiracies are, by their very nature, complex and secretive.
If they weren’t they wouldn’t be conspiracies they’d be failed plots, and easier to spot and piece together than the dismembered body parts of Guy Fawkes. Conspiracy theories require a degree of cynicism, much time to develop, vision, lateral thought, in-depth research, and the application of rationality and intellect.
Cynicism apart, I didn’t see or hear any of that on this particular episode of the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show, but if you’ve not already done so you can judge for yourselves by clicking on this image.b021nq42
Now if there is a conspiracy to be unearthed in the activities of The Bilderberg Group, it won’t be found in a Sunday screaming match at the BBC.
Nor will it be found by ‘Alex Jones and the gang’ hanging around outside the group’s published meetings and haranguing the contributors as they come and go.
However, it just might be found in the actions of a an extremely clever BBC television interviewer, and a respected London Times columnist, on a mainstream political chat show.
Did the BBC bring the discredited figure of Alex Jones on to said mainstream political programme because they respected his rabid point of view? Were they adhering to the timeless wisdom of Voltaire, or did they feel The Sunday Politics Show was a little too dry and needed the debating equivalent of a Whitehall Farce to spice it up a bit?

Or was it because the easiest way to negate a point of view is to turn the spotlight of ridicule on those who purport to represent and adhere to that point of view?
Despite the obvious parallels to The Council on Foreign Relations, I have never bothered with The Bilderberg Group in the past.
You might think that, after listening to the Andrew Neil and Alex Jones Punch and Judy show, I would have even less interest in it now, but you would be wrong.
I don’t know the truth of The Bilderberg Group, whether that truth be malignant or benign, but when I have finally finished with The Etzel Trilogy I think I’ll look into it.Etzel Seal

And so, thank you Alex Jones and Andrew Neil and David Aaronovitch and the BBC, you have heightened my curiosity and maybe even outlined my next project.
You see, that’s the nature of the true conspiracy theorist, as opposed to the lunatic rantings of the Alex Jones’s of this world. We research the facts behind the headlines, and consider the motives of those who are or were chartered to govern, influence, or inform. We do that not just in a superficial way, but in every way, at some depth, and from every angle.
This can lead us and those who read our work into a complex maze of impossible scenarios, implausible hypotheses, and unanswered questions.
But it can also lead us to the truth.
For example. . .
images (1)What is Alex Jones’ role in all of this? Is he, as Andrew Neil and David Aaronovitch would have us believe, a loud-mouthed and incompetent idiot with a lunatic point of view, or is he a misguided and misunderstood champion of intellectual freedom and true democracy? Or, then again, maybe he’s an establishment stooge, put in prominent place to hog a fickle media’s attention and overpower any rational assessment of The Bilderberg Group by drowning the great unwashed in a sea of unpleasant noise and irrational rantings?
And why did someone at the all-powerful BBC feel it necessary to illuminate and ridicule such an already acknowledged figure of scorn, and, ipso facto, by applying that same indiscriminate process, tar and feather every other Bilderberg Group conspiracy theorist?
It might be that they genuinely thought it in the public interest. It might simply be a case of incompetent programming and human error at the BBC. It might well be nothing more than one loud-mouthed fanatic being given a public platform through lack of proper research. . .

Or it might, just might, be something that is far more complex and sinister.

Have a good one.