The Brendan Gisby Effect.


A funny thing happened yesterday.  Apart from turning 50. That’s just old now. And yes, thank you I did have rather too good a time as my head and stomach attest this morning. I’m feeling delicate. But I don’t have to go back to REAL work with the new publishing company till Monday, so I can take a bit of time to recover.
AWIP45coverBut the really funny (and very nice) thing that happened yesterday was that off the back of Brendan Gisby’s review of Another World is Possible, I sold 4 copies of the ebook.  Hurray. That’s (hopefully) four more people who will get to experience this novella in all its strange glory.

Shall I tell you a bit about it – I mean, we’re on a roll here and I’d hate you to miss out.  It was first
written as what one might call a blog novel in 2007.  That was the 40th anniversary of the murder of Che Guevara. I marked the year by blogging daily on world politics – picking different countries that Che had been involved in – Bolivia, China etc – but as well as that I wrote a serial novel online.  I doubt anyone read it then.  I privately printed 20 copies.

Encouraged by fellow writer Mary Smith, I had it published by YouWriteOn – I experimented with them as a  ‘distribution’ channel. Distribution is still one of the key issues for non mainstream writers.  It sold some. Not many. I moved on to other things.  I wanted to write a novel. And AWIP wasn’t long enough. I’m not keen on going back and revising things that have LIVED in one way but with the epublishing option, I  thought about bringing it out in that format because ‘size’ wouldn’t matter so much.  Then I had an idea to make it part of a trilogy. Then a trilogy in four parts. Now I’m giving myself a lot of work!! And because of that I didn’t actually epublish AWIP, saving it till I had at least one of the other parts ready.  However, I’ve just had to radically restructure the rest of the series – things to do with narrative voice and the like (only interesting to fellow writers) and I thought maybe I shouldn’t leave AWIP sitting there on the virtual shelf.

For the 45th anniversary I brought out a ‘special’ edition where I played around with the story – giving readers the option to read it either chronologically or episodically or both – but I think this was a bit too far for most. Certainly a fellow writer I respect just couldn’t come to terms with it that way. She found it too difficult.  And I decided I don’t actually want to make life difficult for readers. Challenging yes, difficult no. So I’ve withdrawn that option and simply put up the original.  And that’s had better response. Can I name names?  Rosalie Warren read it and liked it – and she gave me the title for one of the other parts (still to be written) which will be the companion part to AWIP.  It is The Revolutionary’s Daughter. She also helped me by giving me suggestions of other writers to read who tried more experimental styles.  I now know the work (and the pitfalls) of B.S. Johnson.  Reading his work was both enlightening and saved me a lot of time as I saw things I thought I wanted to do and didn’t like the way they did/didn’t achieve effects I was/wasn’t after.  I have been dabbling with Dennis Potter’s novels as well.  But I’m not sure that this is the way I want the trilogy to go – though it has given me a whole new ‘style’ of writing for short pieces. January Blues and Love Chocolate (in Fair Trade Fiction and on McStorytellers Feb 25th) are both examples of this ‘new’ style which quite excites me at the moment.

Other writers who’ve read it have given me good feedback.  Ingrid Ricks said it was ‘uniquely original’ and certainly I guess I’d agree with her there.  And Brendan’s review is the icing on the cake.  Read it here if you like.  Brendan describes it as a set of Russian dolls and he’s right there. Brendan is a man who understands the complex layering of narrative within novels (and how easily people can miss this and simply dismiss something as ‘huh?’ ) He picked up and picked out in his review the conundrum of exactly who is telling what story? Whose truth are we looking at?  And just exactly WHO is Che Guevara’s love child?   In fact Brendan in general (in my opinion) is a man who sees depth where others don’t.  His McStorytellers site is a true revelation. I shall write more coherently on this another day. McStorytellers offers so much more than just free short stories. It offers a whole new range of voices writing short stories.  It’s not openly challenging the ‘mainstream’ but actually I believe it’s starting to represent something that will be quite important to the future of publishing.

For me as a writer the greatest pleasure I can get is to find a reader who ‘gets’ what I’m writing. I don’t need or want to win awards. I’m not convinced that an awards panel really represents several readers who actually think your writing is fantastic and who understand the message of your heart you are pouring into the pages.  Cynically I think there are other considerations at the heart of the awards culture.  Same with ‘bestselling’.  You could do worse than read Alasdair McPherson  on this. On McStorytellers of course. It certainly made me laugh. And think.  And I think  I’d rather be best loved or best appreciated than best selling. For me it’s about quality of response rather than quantity. In other words I’m happier to hear from people that the book really made them think, laugh, cry, angry than bask in the financial rewards derived from a million lemmings who will toss the book into the charity shop after they’ve shared their water cooler moment being fashionable.

BIG IDEA ALERT. It’s about reading folks. Not about sales and awards. For me, anyway. And that’s why it made my day that Brendan’s honest and heartfelt review got me four new readers yesterday. I’m hoping that at least some of them will make contact with me after reading – either by writing reviews or directly commenting here or elsewhere to tell me what they thought.  And I’m looking forward to meeting Mr Brendan Gisby and shaking him warmly by the hand, some time in the not too distant future.   Here’s a thought. Favourite books become friends over your life don’t they? So why should it be strange that favourite writers could also become friends?  Think about how great an idea this is.

It’s one of the truly great possibilities of the epublishing revolution. It is now possible for the writer/reader relationship to be live and unmediated.  Yes, of course there is the sock puppet, troll, downside to this BUT I think we should all shake this off.  This is a great new opportunity folks. Live readers can talk to live writers and share their thoughts, opinions and views.  I have often imagined being able to tell Emily Bronte what Wuthering Heights has meant to my life.  Or George Orwell.  I wouldn’t be saying ‘now Emily that generational thing gets a bit complex, and the dialect used by Joseph and Nelly…’  no. I wouldn’t be giving her tips to ‘make it better.’  That’s not what it’s about.  It is simply that I’m a real person who has read and been moved by novels. And whose life and understanding of it have been shaped by many, many books. And I’d give almost anything to be able to engage in conversation with Emily about how clever I think her use of narrative devices is, and exchange views on the ways she uses dogs within the novel; or to talk with Eric  Blair/George Orwell on his opinions regarding totalitarianism and whether the clock striking 13 has a deep significance. And what does it really mean to say we love Big Brother?

And guess what, I’ve just woken up to the fact that this is the opportunity staring us in the face as a result of the digital publishing revolution.  We don’t need to be mediated by Goodreads or Amazon or mainstream publishers or awards or anything else. As a writer with a blog and perhaps a Facebook Page one has a public forum where people (however few or many) can actually engage with us as real people.  I think this can be a joy for both writer and reader. Are there rules? Is there protocol? Well, not really, this is an organically growing thing. But I think we can take as read that I’m talking about positive interaction here. There’s no point saying to a writer ‘I didn’t get your book it was rubbish.’ Who wants to get into that conversation?  But I’m more than happy to engage with readers who question aspects of my work and how/why I made the narrative choices I did. I’m more than happy to talk to readers about any of the aspects to be found in Another World is Possible. Of course I am. I felt and still feel so deeply about the things in that book that I was compelled to write it. I’ve lived with it for six years, and actually in some ways for my whole life.  It doesn’t just cease to exist for me when it’s been published. It takes on a new life. It becomes part of a relationship. And for me that communicative relationship can be life affirming and enhancing for both reader and writer if we embrace it and start developing unmediated relationships where we talk about our writing.

So my suggestion is that both writers and readers have a good hard think about this and that we start developing positive ways in which to talk about writing and reading and books we’ve loved. Without the fear of the giant corporations or mainstream cultural rules or any of that malarkey. We don’t need it. We can make new relationships and new friendships using the tools available to us. And won’t that be so much better than only using social media for trivia?  Well, if you agree I hope you’ll open a dialogue and start a relationship with me through any of my books.  I’m in each and every one of them and I care deeply about them all. And I’ve got plenty to talk about.  But I’d rather it was a conversation not just me pontificating. I want to build communicative relationships. It’s why I write. And we can bring that out of the I do it here and you do it there. We can meet together and SHARE the relationship. That’s my hope anyway.  I’m already doing this with a few of the ‘new’ writers I’ve discovered during my time wading around in the digitial revolution.  And these relationships have become important to me. Not as ‘editors’ or ‘beta readers’ or a ‘self help group’ but as real friendships. Reaching out and communicating with other human beings to talk about why the world is as it is and how we want it to be and… well you get the drift.  When I write reviews, this is what I’m doing actually. Putting out feelers to say to the writer ‘this is what I think about what you’ve written and what I love about it and how I respect and acknowledge what you are doing.’   When I read reviews that’s what I’d like to feel too. But you know, it doesn’t have to stay at the formal exchanging reviews level. We can make writing personal again. And not be afraid of the consequences.  Give it a try!

Having teased you with the fact that AWIP is only one part of a much bigger story I should maybe just give you a quick summary of what the rest will be.

I have rough cover images for the other parts.

butterflycover therevdone got awayI have 100,000 words of Tom’s story The One that Got Away which has just received a big thumbs down from me and joint editorial ‘needs to be written in the first person’ from more writers I respect Kathleen Jones and Catherine Czerkawska. Both of whom were charming enough not to too openly agree with my judgement on the novel as it stands that IT’S JUST BORING.  It is boring. Unless you really love development economics in the raw.  I don’t.  I know Tom has a great story to tell, it’s just finding the ‘voice’ and the structure and style. And that will happen. In time. But you can’t rush this stuff.  And the final one is called Butterfly Dreaming. I hope that Dennis and B.S would like that one. It’s too ‘difficult’ for me to write at the moment, never mind too difficult to expect you to read!

The idea now is that there will be 2 stories of Roisin and 2 stories of Tom told from a variety of perspectives. I know that hardly sounds thrilling and certainly it’s a big mountain for me to climb in the writing. But I like a challenge. At the moment they are ‘parked’ while I get on with more pressing issues. Although now I’m getting some interest in AWIP of course I’m kicking myself that I don’t have the other three ‘shelf ready’ (isn’t that the phrase of the moment?) for readers. Sorry. You’ll just have to wait. I think I have other ‘easier’ stories that you may like just as well which I can produce more quickly.  I am certainly beginning to understand the concept that we ‘live a storied life’ (which is key to AWIP) in a deeper way.  And In the meantime, I hope to build a friendship with more readers and the works I already have out there.  There’s a reasonable range to choose from. Not something for everyone perhaps but something for a lot of people.



About callyphillips

10 Responses to The Brendan Gisby Effect.

  1. dennishamley says:

    I shall have to read this three more times to get the full flavour of what you are saying, but the first time was impressive enough. I may comment again when I’ve fully digested it. AWIP will be on my Kindle before the day is out. I’ve read Brendan’s review and, quite apart from the subject, I want to savour the ‘Russian Doll’ construction. Yes, I know you can’t separate them but you’ll know what I mean. I’m intrigued to hear that I will especially like Butterfly Dreaming: can’t wait to see why!

    • Glad to hear it Dennis! Yes, it was an epiphany that kind of crept up on me by surprise. Sometimes things just make sense all of a sudden. I think this may be simple and profound at the same time. And needs some teasing out and in depth thinking! But at its core I think it’s GOOD. As for Butterfly Dreaming. You and me both. Maybe I should get you to write it come to think of it!

  2. It was a lovely surprise to see my name up in lights, Cally. Thanks for all the mentions, particularly of McStorytellers. AWIP will be a bestseller yet!

  3. ronasewell says:

    A belated happy birthday Brendan. May you have many, many more to celibrate you success in the writing world.

  4. jan needle says:

    i need time, too. as i explain on my ae blog today. it must be something in the scottish water. bigger brains. doesn’t work the other way, tho. son wilf managed to take debit card from home to glasgow after coming for my birthday. still not managed to remember to send it back again. i wonder if i’m bankrupt yet?

    • How can you even WONDER at that? File straight away. I’ll save my coppers for you. Liked your blog today. The word ‘promotion’ and ‘self promotion’ seems to give people trouble. It’s just BEING NICE and SHARING work we like with other people we think might like it. Just making friends with readers. But there is a bigger idea in there somewhere – well, more a kind of mind shift I think. This one will run and run and run… should we call it the Forrest Gump theory?
      As for what’s in the Scottish water – we just gave all George’s monthly salary to the agricultural plumbing folks to sort out our private water supply. Not so private it doesn’t get bunged up with mice and frogs who all want to be minced through the pump. Hey, maybe I can sell the bits into the food chain. Okay. That’s enough. It’s too late on a Friday night for me to be engaging virtually with the world. Back to reality. In my case BED.

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