Backstage Pass.

Warning. This post contains explicit Scottish Material.

Welcome Authors Electric

If you have come on over here from Authors Electric site, welcome. If not, you’re also welcome.  This (long) post is a reflection on some of my recent experiences of blogging, especially with Authors Electric, but it also wanders into some other interesting observational byways regarding indie publishing and Scottish writers in general.

Firstly I’ll address those Authors Electric readers. I’m guessing most of you just visit the blog, read the posts and go back to your lives.  Maybe you derive some humour (humor if you’re American) or edification from our musings or find something new to read. Maybe it just fills a gap in your day or displaces you from other activities. All as it should be. That’s the service on offer. A loose collection of independent writers sharing their experiences. Does what it says on the tin.

But organisations have rules. Or don’t have rules. By which people play, abide or generally kick against. Sue Price’s recent post gave you something of an insight into another writer organisation and the impact ‘rules’ can have on writers. Well, brace yourselves, dear readers. Even in Authors Electric, things go on under the surface. There is a ‘backstage’ to all that you read.  Sometimes the two environments clash in a quantum explosion. And it’s the backstage that I’m going to write about first.

I’ve been happily going along my way in the slipstream of life, sharing my thoughts, beliefs and experiences on the blog and behind the scenes without (as I thought) upsetting anyone. Certainly with no intention of causing offence.  But – I have to report that through the infinity of virtuality, a storm has arisen.  Authors Electric has been accused of being too Scottish influenced.  Does that surprise you? It surprised me because when you do a tally of group membership, as far as I know there is only one 100% born and bred Scot in the group.  Stand up and be counted Mr John A.A. Logan of Invernesshire. You are famous at last.  I’m not sure that many readers of the AE blog would be aware of the domicile even less the ethnicity of our member writers (or care) but my rough reckoning suggests that there are 5 Scottish domiciled AE members: Chris Longmuir and myself (born England brought up Scots of mixed parentage) Bill Kirton (English, Scottish domiciled), Catherine Czerkawsaka (can you guess she has some Polish parentage? Also domiciled in Scotland).  And the aforementioned Mr J.A.A.Logan.  The single malt to our distillery blends.  However, I suggest our ethnic label is not strictly relevant. Any more than the fact that some members of the group are women, some are of retirement age, some have health issues. If I dare speak for the group, I think the majority opinion is that the group reflects a fairly standard diversity.  (We don’t have a ‘token’ ‘person of colour’ and only ¼ of one of our members has Asian background (to my knowledge) but we’re not exactly over-run with Scottish ‘members.’ And yet, backstage, the accusation was levelled that ‘the Scots have too much influence in the group’ and ‘a certain person is a bully.’  As a writer I pride myself on getting subtext and it seems to me that most likely the ‘Scots influence’ comment is actually a veiled barb suggesting that I may be a ‘gobshite’ whereas I thought I was just a hard working group member who has ideas (above my station?) about how group dynamics might work most efficiently.  So a ‘gobshite’ I may be.

Does it take one to know one? (Na, na, na, na, na)

However, I am also a social advocate and as such committed to speaking up for people who have been excluded or undermined, so that being accused of bullying is something that cannot just be ‘taken on the chin.’  Assuming I am the ‘certain person’ since the cap doesn’t any more obviously fit any of the other ‘Scots’ in the group, I felt it couldn’t be ignored.  Said in public it might be construed as libellous, or defamation of character so it’s lucky it was said in private.  Bullying, dear reader, is a word that’s bandied about too freely in common parlance but to call a social advocate a bully is akin to accusing a writer of plagiarism. It’s not just a wee gripe which one should ignore. It becomes a serious accusation.

The dictionary definition:   bul·ly  /ˈbo͝olē/

Noun: A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Corned beef.

Verb: Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Adjective: Very good; first-rate.

Exclamation: An expression of admiration or approval: “he got away—bully for him”.

Synonyms: splendid – dandy

Silly me, maybe the ‘critic’ was suggesting I was ‘very good’ and ‘first rate’ or ‘splendid’ and I’ve missed the point entirely. I think not. If I considered in any way I was a bully, my whole reputation would be undermined and I would cease being a social advocate. And if it’s not true, it is a potential instance of bullying in and of itself surely and something that should be stood up against  – whether it was directed at me or one of my fellow Scots.  Get real – I know it was directed at me (I have evidence!!) And I know it’s not a well founded comment.  I may be a gobshite. I am not and never have been a bully.  In any sensible use of the word.  Thus I am able to refute the accusation in the strongest terms.  Should anyone have ever felt bullied by me I would be most happy to discuss the matter with them personally and put straight any misunderstanding.  But sometimes, dear reader, people bandy about such phrases, without thinking of the implications, just, dare I say, to cause trouble.

Personally I try to avoid trouble, but it seems to have found me even when I wasn’t looking for it, so with my advocacy hat on I felt I should face it head on. With my writers hat on I’m just somewhat bemused.  Because at the same time as this wee ‘spat’ has been running in private (unknown to our ‘dear readers’ and thankfully sensibly sidestepped by most AE members except in terms of a humour (or humor)ous response, ) we’ve seen another example of something one can only suggest might seem exclusionary.  And at the very least is ‘a bit odd.’

The ‘offending’ article.

An article recently came out in a Scottish Literary Magazine giving (at least that’s how I read it) an overview of  contemporary Northern Scots epublishing ‘talent.’  The now famous John A.A.Logan once more got a mention (way to go John) as did former member Linda Gillard (proudly English, domiciled in the Highlands.) I agree they are both well worthy of the ‘titles’ accorded them in the article. However, the article’s ‘North’ focus then slipped somewhat and mentioned several other writers who (while they may all have Highland connections I don’t know about) are scattered all across Scotland and in one case now (I believe) domiciled in Spain. That’s fine. I’m sure they are all great writers and doing great work for the furtherance of indie epublishing. I have no beef (bully or otherwise) with any of them. I’m just confused as to the aim of the article. Because it failed to mention other North of Scotland based writers who, in my opinion, had as much right to be brought to the reading public’s attention as the aforementioned. Bill Kirton, for example. Both he and I live in Grampian which is North enough for some companies to put additions on postal charges on grounds of ‘Highlands and Islands.’  And if we open the net to include all of Scotland (as the article did) Chris Longmuir and Catherine Czerkawska (familiar names to you here!) might also have been mentioned.  As might Mark Frankland (21 ebooks and counting!?) And doubtless many others who I am not aware of.  I’m sure these people weren’t excluded because they are not Scottish enough!  I’m just pointing this out as a concerned gobshite, you understand.  When  talking of short stories (as the article did)  how Brendan Gisby could have been missed out I cannot imagine.  Scratch Mr McStoryteller and you’ll find a whole cacophony of ebook publishing by Scots from all over the country.  One even in Greece. So it begs the question why were all these writers overlooked?  I’m not a conspiracy theorist and it may just be oversight (quite an oversight) but the only commonality I could find between those NOT mentioned that I know (obviously there are more) is that they are not members of Alli.  I have no idea if all those mentioned are members of Alli or even if it’s a valid link.  I have no axe to grind with Alli as a group. It’s just that readers were directed towards Alli as the place to find out more about indie epublishing/authors at the end of the article.  So that is where people will go, isn’t it?  But many independent professional authors choose not to be members of Alli.  Writers who have won awards, held fellowships and residencies and yes, published award winning and ‘bestselling’ books. Some such writers have spent years in the ‘business’ and don’t feel they need membership of Alli.  Which is fair enough isn’t it?  Some are members of Society of Authors, some members of nothing at all. That’s the democracy of being an indie publishing writer isn’t it? You don’t have to ally yourself with any organisation to prove your worth. Or that’s what I thought?  Gobshite I am, I’m simply trying to understand what the criteria for selection in this article were, and why it is that many readers may now have a somewhat inaccurate picture of the Scottish epublishing  ‘scene.’  Perhaps I am being a ‘bully’ by mentioning my feelings about the article? I see it more as standing up for those whose voice hasn’t been heard by it. Who I firmly believe should have been included in any such article.

Returning to my original point, the article shows that some Scots writers clearly have more influence than others but I don’t think any AE Scots writers have enough, never mind too much influence, in or out of the group.  And many of them clearly have little or no influence with certain sectors outside AE.

Whose side am I on?

All of this got me reflecting. My USP seems to be that I am an invisible gobshite.  Which felt like a strange concept. Then I realised I’m not the first Scottish writer to be seen as too influential while being too invisible.  And I expect I won’t be the last.  The answer (as always) was staring me in my invisible gobshitey face.  Dear reader, (to use Jane Austenesque ironic style which surely can offend no one) I am currently engaged in publishing the work of ‘forgotten’ popular Scottish authors.  The kind of authors that I think pretty much all of the writers mentioned in this post (apart from Jane Austen) will be 100 years from now. Sorry if that’s burst anyone’s bubble but my research suggests that far more ‘successful’ writers than hang around AE go out of fashion and disappear – Julia Jones’ Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory about Herbert Allingham is a case in point. Even Dennis Hamley’s recent George Gissing post suggests the same ugly truth. We are not formed for longevity folks. We will be forgotten. Better men (and women) than we are have trodden the same path. But why does this happen?

There is a bigger picture of course. Changing fashions, changing publishing mediums etc. But there is also, I suggest, a closer to home answer. It’s that there is too much of the factionalised, competitive spirit amongst too many people who could actually achieve more if they worked happily together (as AE at best strives to do).  Ironically, it is this very factionalism which is likely to speed the ‘forgetting’ because the strength of the ‘indie’ lies in working together for a common goal not in competing each other off the stage.

It seems, dear reader, (dear patient reader!) that the ways of the mainstream are seeping into the nice clean river of independence. Our freedoms are being threatened. We are, to put it prosaically (this is for you Jan Needle, as requested) shitting on our own doorstep when we don’t support each other as best we can.  Being part of an ‘exclusive’ group is surely against the whole democratic ethos of the ‘indie’.  We should be big enough to accept and acknowledge that there are people with diverse ethnicities, goals, writing styles, concerns and points of view and be prepared to champion ALL of them.  We shouldn’t be drawing the wagons into a circle and shooting arrows out at the ‘Indians.’ None of us should be doing this.  If we are in groups we should be supportive of our fellows but never forget that we are more than members of any particular group – we are fundamentally independent and so share commonality with all other independents.

What would J.M.Barrie do?

Like I said, I don’t court trouble or controversy, but it seems to like me at the moment.  Therefore  I turn once more to precedent. Another Scots playwright turned novelist with whom I would be happy to be associated. J.M.Barrie is famous for having said ‘there are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make.’  I bet once he’d said it he felt like I feel now.  He has been roundly abused and vilified and misunderstood ever since partly because of this remark. He’s been accused of everything from parochialism to paedophilia!  My discursive reading of his ‘line’ from his early feminist play ‘What Every Woman Knows’ is that he was being IRONIC.  J.M.B was big on irony. As was Jane Austen of course, but she got away with it.  In his own time J.M.B was variously accused of being twee and parochial Scots, and of being (in our modern parlance) ‘a gobshite’ upstart who defected to England where he continued to either ‘bang the Scots drum’ or sell a cheap and inaccurate picture of Scotland.  That a line from a play should give so many people so many angles to attack is rather sobering, I think. But makes me feel in good company. As I understand it, J.M.B wrote honestly (and with humour) about his own personal experience of growing up in a small weavers’ town. He wrote about his family, he was ‘political’ in so far as he stood up for the rural ‘worker’ against the rich landowner/capitalists and he was an early adopter of women’s rights. He did not so much ‘follow the money’ to England as go where the opportunities arose.  But any and all of these attributes made him in his own time, but more importantly, in history, subject to some of the most overblown and ridiculous antipathy I’ve ever encountered.  He was variously vilified: because he was Scots. Because he didn’t write what the mainstream expected. Because he ‘cracked’ the mainstream. Because he was popular with ‘the masses’ but not the elite.  Because he was part of a ‘group’ who dared to stand against modernism and intellectualism.  He was probably accused of being a bully somewhere along the line. So, right now, I ask myself – what would J.M.Barrie do?

And my answer is – he’d write a story about it. And he’d go fishing. So that’s what I’ve done.  I’ve gone fishing with my friend Jack MacRoary (also known to some as the Bard of DrumTumshie and currently Scotland’s leading cultural satirist, despite being only eleven years old – and I may add a published ebook writer) and I got Jack to write the story because he’s on his Easter holidays now and I’m busy publishing other forgotten dead writers and dodging the bullets from the live ones who find me too Scottish, or too verbose, or too independent or just too flipping annoying.  Jack and the story are filling in my Authors Electric slot this month.  And if he’s popular, into the foreseeable future. Although he may be another too influential gobshitey Scot and cause even more trouble.  Who can say?

For you, dear reader, I believe Authors Electric does what it says on the tin. I take my hat off to all the members who remain truly independent and yet committed to group harmony.    Many of them I’m sure I’d class as friends if I met them in real life.  And that’s one reason why I decided to go on ‘fishing’ leave from AE.  We don’t all need to be in the choppy waters all the time. I’ve gone fishing so that the stooshie can die down while people reflect on what it means to be an independent author.  And where our futures, joint and several lie.

(I offer no apologies for the Scottish words such as gobshite and stooshie especially here on my own site where I can write freely.  I don’t even really apologise for the length of this post. I’d kept my gob shut long enough and I had rather a lot to say.  And as reader, if you didn’t like it you had the choice and the right to stop reading at any point along the way.) I didn’t bully you to keep going to the end did I? Nor have I forced you into buying any of my ebooks. But of course I’d be more than happy if you felt the inclination. There are plenty to choose from (Jack’s even written 2!) 


About callyphillips

9 Responses to Backstage Pass.

  1. Cally, you can easily find out who’s a member of ALLi by going to the website and searching for authors’ names.

    Mandy Haggith approached me about her NORTHWORDS NOW article. She said she wanted to review UNTYING THE KNOT and write about indie authors. I suggested she feature John Logan as one of the best and most successful indies in the Highlands.

    I also suggested she might want to mention ALLi as it’s the first professional body in the UK for indie authors and has played a huge part in dispelling popular (& media) confusion about indie/vanity publishing. I was a founder member of ALLi. I’m an ex-freelance journalist. ALLi is news, so I thought it was worth telling Mandy about ALLi. It was up to her whether she featured them. I presume she too thought ALLi was newsworthy.

    I have no idea why anyone else was selected for a mention, but I think we can assume Mandy was trying to produce a short article, not a catalogue of all the excellent indie authors working in Scotland. Personally, I was thrilled & grateful that NORTHWORDS NOW had acknowledged the existence of indies – any indies! – and had devoted a serious article to the revolution in publishing.

  2. It was outrageous Cally. It should be possible to speak one’s mind without being called a bully – but there are some sensitive plants out there………

  3. Dan Holloway says:

    Cally, “invisible gobshite” feels like the phrase I’ve been looking for to describe myself all my life – rounded upon for being too opinionated, rarely if ever talked about as a writer. And yes, the ways of the mainstream are well and truly crowding in on the indie scene and making anyone who is there for the genuine freedoms it brings feel deeply uncompfortable – I had my first big personal experience of it when I was approached to join a collective of bestselling indie authors for an anthology they were putting together. I sent them my best short story, the only thing I’ve ever actually won a prize for, and I was promptly told I should send something else, something a little more moderate. At which point I was out fo the door. Life is too short to try playing a role that doesn’t fit. Keep gobshiting, please

  4. brendangisby says:

    Bravo, Cally! If you’re a gobshite – invisible or not – you’re my kind of gobshite. As Dan says, please, please keep on gobshiting. As for ‘banging the Scots drum’, as loud and as hard as you can, please. We’re not a silent partner in their precious Union – not any more.

  5. Cally, that was terrific and really needed to be said. The accusation of bullying made against you was grotesque and the assertion that AE is in thrall to a Scottish cabal is too ludicrous even for mention. Whether you’re in AE or not any more (and I do so hope it’s only ‘fishing leave’ because we need you back) you have my undying support. By the way, a) I’ve never even heard of ALLi, which obviously makes me a complete ignoramus and b) I thought ‘gobshite’ originated in Ireland. The word, not necessarily the quality.

  6. Well said, Cally, and I assure you I read every word. Oh, and like Dennis, I’ve never heard of ALLI.

  7. There are quite a lot of us gobshites out there! I think it’s my word for today.

  8. Jan Needle says:

    Definitely anti English prejudice. I’m still not getting your posts via my inbox, Cally, and I’ve just written a long and brilliantly funny reply (trust me!) to your blog, only to be told I don’t exist. Went through a process to renew my password twice, and lost the lot. If this doesn’t work you’ll have convinced me – you ARE a gobshite. So there.

  9. Jan Needle says:

    aha. elle marche!

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