What’s It Worth To You? The Ebay Edition
In Leaving Eden, I detailed the beginning of the odyssey that was the writing of The Absurd Demise of Poulnabrone. Upon leaving Eden, or in a less biblical sense, (but no less dramatic), Peru, I had arrived, with Ursula back in Ireland, to settle in, settle down and work on the next part of our lives. I had my tome to write and we both had to figure our place and our path through the world. How to support ourselves, how to lay down roots when you’ve presented yourself with a challenge?
I, of course, was completely naive. Everyone who climbs a mountain for the first time, does so with an immense burst of optimism and a sense of strength, of character and will. How little would be done without that first thrilling sense of enthusiasm. I had earmarked six months. I would work nights in a quiet hostel, alone with my ideas, the computer screen, the pen and paper. For my part, I would provide alongside my wife, and also set my stall out for the future. I had pride.
There are many great things about this modern age, not least the tools it provides for a whole host of projects and adventures. The computer on which I am writing this post is a case in point. Yet I found that the old fashioned way, of just scribbling in my notebook, would prove to be a great way to start, to find a point from which the words would well. The keyboard and screen would be the tools of a different method, the editing into existence of a page.
Stories are not always fluid things. Sometimes they can run, river-like, helter-skelter. At other times they come in pieces, swirling about like some carousel of mind waiting for the music to stop. I would often write a piece and wonder. Where does this belong? Is it of itself, or just a part of something greater. Is the world I’m creating complete enough to offer place? A scene once written might not find itself used for some years, or it may be an immediate infusion, a vital source of fluids from which currents run.
I would learn these things, these processes over time. I was also learning that what I had thought would be a simple project was anything but, and that the quiet hostel I would work in was quite large and active. There would be time to write, but it would not be a simple or smooth process. There were characters to deal with, events, disturbances, joys and frustrations.
Some of the characters where immense. A lady, who lives in the hostel, is to this day an enigma to me. I was reading Kafka’s novels, The Castle, and, The Trial, and she was drilling into me the minutiae of her quandary with the European state of which she was from. Trials, judgments, personal vendettas, criminal acts, and all stemming from the simplest of bureaucratic decisions. I still can’t decide if she was truly persecuted or completely nuts, or even still if one doesn’t necessarily exclude the other, both persecuted and nuts; and that’s not to exclude the possibility that one may well preclude the other. What I do know is that she was very forceful in telling me of her struggles.
Another was a writer of historical crime novels who I enjoyed engaging with, but had a bulletproof sense of self. I wish him well. There were students, actors, soon-to-be barristers, arriving and staying, some on and off, some for quite some time. From the lone individual to the well organized groups, visitors came from all over the world, each with their idiosyncrasies, often with their stereotypes, sometimes with habits that I hadn’t known of, and of which they themselves appeared unaware. A curious example of such, is the propensity of Germans to stand in doorways, and cluster in groups at the bottom of stairwells. I observed no-one else doing this with any frequency.
Depending on the week or the arrangements set over an extended period, I would work three or four long nights a week. That Ursula, of course, worked in the daytime, presented me with a challenge. So every week, I would switch to the world of the living and back again, a feat the equivalent of doing a round-trip to the land down under. Fatigue is an old friend.
Whilst doing this, I was also working on a play called The Widening Gyre. A series of monologues, I entered it into The Maguire International Playwright Competition of 2009. It got long-listed. I sent it to a number of theatres in Ireland. The national theatre The Abbey sent me a lengthy critique. I read it. I learned.
It was whilst in the process of turning The Widening Gyre into a novel – renamed as Let All Lie With Her, and in need of a rewrite – that Ursula became pregnant. I was delighted. I had one of the most surreal drives to work when Knocked Up by The Kings of Leon was played on the radio. Everything at times appeared as if in a movie; Radiohead’s atmospheric In Rainbows, a stalwart soundtrack to my evening commute, would inevitably play Nude by the time I stopped at the lights of Tara Street bridge in Dublin city centre, the red neon of Kennedy’s pub casting a glow on the smokers at the door who were enjoying a puff and a chat. There’s a magic quality in such moments, when the world seems as a set, and your life a role in the unfolding narrative, witnessed by yourself from outside. A very post-modern rendering of an ancient tale.
I was almost finished writing The Absurd Demise of Poulnabrone when my daughter was born. Almost, but not quite. I was three quarters of the way through the third draft and I was going to antenatal classes. We were in and out of the hospital – the pregnancy wasn’t smooth. By the time she was born, I’d had an hours sleep inside the previous two days. But then there she was, the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, completely and utterly dependent, listening to me as I spoke in hushed tones whilst holding her by my shoulder. Life in such moments has meaning. It is a thing of itself. Ineffable.
Everyone was fantastic. I’ve never come across such good will from people. My family were fantastic. My friends present. My employers and colleagues both excited and generous. Strangers we would randomly encounter would offer us support and advice in the most unexpected ways. Women, in particular, would appear as though from the woodwork. They had done so throughout the pregnancy, requesting to touch the bump, offering counsel as to the child’s gender by the roaming their hands to determine the shape, but they were ever more present with our newborn. I took a break, and took my long accumulated holidays so to spend time with my new family.
And so, a friend and colleague’s partner who works as a copy-editor took it on as a first project on a novel. Her name is Katie Cox. She did an excellent job. Any errors in the text are my own. I set up a business: Jagged C Press. Bought some ISBN’s. Dealt with Amazon and Kobo myself. Employed the ebookpartnership to deal with the rest. Established an account with Lightning Source, to create a print edition. I joined Goodreads.
All of this takes time and energy. It takes a commitment, an investment that’s not merely emotional. It doesn’t just affect your own life, but also the lives of those you love. And they recognise that. They know there is an investment there for them also. They become your champions, telling everyone they know, reading. They’re happy for you. So, I bought a stock of a hundred books, thinking that it would be a good start, to have promotional material, something for the local stores, for friends and family.
I soon found I couldn’t shift them. One local store took some copies, others used distributors as a shield. On a more personal level, I had friends that whilst expressing interest, were in some cases reluctant to even accept a copy as a gift. I found that people I had expected to not be interested were very much so, and vice-versa, but for the most part the indifference was profound.
So, I let the book lie for a while, to see if it would find its own place. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. Eventually, I turned to a good old fashioned book raffle. I would enter a Goodreads giveaway, and make the number large. The books were sitting in boxes taking up space in my small apartment. It was time to have them read, to get someone to at least tell me if it was any good. I’m not a forward person. I don’t like intruding on people. I don’t like a lot of what I see on Goodreads. So, I decided to let people read the book whilst I disengaged. I didn’t wish to be a presence whilst they were
reading. I like honesty. I want people to feel free to tell me what they really think.
It’s been a long journey to where I am now. There’s been high points and low moments, but in all that time, I’d never expected to see this…
So what’s it worth? I have had some great reviews. They’ve made me smile. And despite my pleasure that others are actually getting something from my work, I was always aware that I could get some bad reviews, and legitimately so. There’re all types of tastes in the world, and I’m not so arrogant as to shower myself in praise. We all have our blindspots and I don’t need delusions to be proud. Equally, I was aware that some would choose not to review, having little or nothing to say after reading. There are many books I have read that I have liked but felt no desire to review afterwards. That some would choose not to read it at all, I could even grudgingly accept, although I would wonder the motives for entering a book giveaway contest. But this, I was not expecting. That someone for a measly $6.50 would enter a giveaway, solely for the purpose of gaining that extra item to sell on Ebay. I guess for some people, there’s just no worth in anything at all. Thanks a lot sister!!! You’ve made my day.