Celebrate the Ultimate anniversary with Brand Loyalty.

BLCOVERPast, present and future are all happening at the same time, all the time.

Is this a moral tale for our times?

3 years ago today the date was 20102010 and that was the date I ‘launched’ Brand Loyalty into the world.  The story behind it is much older.  Click HERE to download a free ebook and read more about it. For those on a tight time budget, suffice it to say that in its first incarnation it was to be a movie, then a TV series, and only the Channel 4 executives decision that it was ‘too bleak’ a vision of the near future prevented your viewing enjoyment.  It was the 1990’s  – no way would the future ever be bleak eh?

Come 2009 I decided that unless I get it down on paper the future would be the past and 20 years of thinking would come to naught. I was also at a point in my ‘career’ where I was looking to retire.  I couldn’t work out why my work didn’t  ‘fit’ and why I had spent so much of the past twenty years banging my head off brick walls, so I approached Brand Loyalty as the ‘swansong’ in my writing ‘career’, before I hung up my writing boots and rode off into the sunset.  But then, who can predict the future, eh?

While Brand Loyalty is ostensibly set in the year 2030, it in fact charts the span of my own life – 1960’s onwards – with a large part of it looking into a world I imagine I may inhabit when I hit 70. As such, sorry, it’s not a light and joyous read. Some lives just aren’t like that. For some of us we live with the reality that in the Ultimate world ‘all the good lives have been sold.’

I still see the future as potentially very ‘bleak.’ Not just my personal future, but the future of all of us.  And I’ve never been one to sweep unpleasant ‘truths’ under the carpet. In the heady years of the 1990’s that was an unacceptable position. I’m guessing a few more people agree with me now.  But the greatest irony of this novel is that the people who might learn most from reading it are the very ones who are least likely to do so.

When I started a writing career in the early 1990’s I truly believed I would be able to ‘influence’ the world through my writing. I soon learned differently.  You can’t fight city hall after all. Or to be more precise, you can fight, but you won’t win.  George Orwell taught us that in 1984. Brand Loyalty takes that ‘vision’ and updates it for our contemporary world. Brand Loyalty is much more about 2010 than 2030 and as such it’s already passing into ‘history’ so that I’m going to have a genre dilemma all too soon – from striving to avoid having it inappropriately labelled it as ‘science fiction’ because it’s set near future, to being inappropriately labelled as ‘historical fiction’ because we are moving inexorably into that near future and most of the ‘events’ have ‘happened.’  The biggest lesson I’ve learned since the publishing of Brand Loyalty is why it doesn’t fit comfortably into either the ‘genre’ fiction, or ‘literary’ fiction camps.  And here (for those who might be interested) is the reason why.

Obviously as a creative writer I understood that all writing has to obey certain rules of style and construction.  Focussing on learning the ‘craft’ and ‘skills’ of ‘good’ writing I missed one salient point. That  ‘the rules’ are as much to do with socio-economics and politics as about creativity.  Perhaps more so. As I now understand it, ‘literature’ has a set of ‘rules’. Some of these rules (I believe) involve notions of ‘quality’ which are spurious and instead mask a ‘truth’ which is that for something to be ‘literary’ fiction it has to aspire to the mores of, if not a modernist, post-modernist or intellectual view of the world, then at least something which does not aim to undermine and destroy the very fabric of the capitalist system under which literary fiction thrives.

Now, I was educated into this system. I was academically trained to understand ‘literature’ as something apart from ‘fiction.’  And I was trained to look down on the ‘popular.’  I fought very hard to get into that ‘system’ and I fought very hard to be ‘accepted’ by that system. And right up till I was forty something I never understood why I had failed.  I did consider it somehow my failure.  (Which is part of the whole beauty of the ‘system’!)

But however hard I fought, I remained an ‘outsider.’ And I didn’t really understand the rules. Or I wasn’t paying enough attention to the small print. I thought if I wrote ‘intelligently’ from ‘my’ perspective in a form that would be ‘accessible’ to the ‘general’ reader, I’d be writing ‘literary fiction.’ Wrong.  My fatal error was that I failed to understand that to write literary fiction you can’t undermine the very premises on which it stands. Which is what I realise I have done for most of my writing life.

The ‘reality’ I choose to believe is that the subversive nature of my writing means that I will never be ‘accepted’ into the literary elite (thank goodness, I don’t want to be now I’ve worked out what it is) and that I have been spurned by the ‘popular’ lobby for good reason.  They have thought that I’ve allied myself with the ‘elite’ while peddling some pseudo notion of ‘popular.’  How hypocritical that must seem.  But it’s not the case. I have now nailed my colours to my own mast. I was well educated into a ‘system.’  I didn’t realise how well they’d convinced me of something that I didn’t even believe in. How very Brand Loyalty. But in process of writing and post publication reflection about this novel, I’ve come to realise that my ‘voice’ is one that is out of step with either side in the debate.

Put simply, wherever I go in the publishing world, my ‘face doesn’t fit.’  However, I am happy to report that this no longer worries me. My response to such criticism is now simply, ‘it fits me, thank you.’

What I offer, through my writing is my personal voice.  This amounts to little more than saying: a person thought this and viewed the world this way once upon a time.  Read this and you’ll read my life and my heart and my beliefs and my hopes and my fears.  Which as such are of no significance as ‘mine’ to any other than myself, but may serve the wider world as significant simply because such a person existed.  A real Winston Smith passed by this way, recognised and refused to love Big Brother.

Brand Loyalty represents my ‘best’ attempt to marry literary fiction with genre fiction.  But that would be fighting city hall and so, guess what, I didn’t ‘win.’  However, for me, creativity is neither a commodity nor a competitive entity.  Brand Loyalty exists. What it says cannot be unsaid.  Whether it is a story of dementia, or the portrayal of a ‘fictional’ political dystopia, it exits. It can be read. Which in and of itself is an act of defiance against a ‘system’ and an act of ‘resistance’ to that system.

Personally in the last three years, I’ve moved on, refined and restructured myself and my ‘voice.’  It is not, surprisingly a literary elite voice. I am no longer ‘preaching’ to the masses, I’m one of the ‘masses’ standing up and saying ‘we’re being sold down the river here.’  The future is not bright or orange, the future (and mostly the present) is bleak, folks.  That’s the way I see it.  It is, I often feel, a voice calling in the wilderness.  So if you like such voices, you might like Brand Loyalty.

Now, I’ve got something to ask you, the reader. If you have read Brand Loyalty how about putting your thoughts down on virtual paper. I’m not asking full length reviews – just the odd snippet or two – something that tells the world how YOU connected with this book.  You can do this by commenting beneath this post.  You could join the list of Amazon reviews, but I’m not really one to buy into a five star system of reviewing.  You can do it by commenting below. I’d really like to know what readers think.  Writing, for me, is primarily a communicative act not a one way street. So here’s your chance to start a conversation.

If you haven’t read it – where have you been?  Don’t despair. For the rest of October I’m giving out a special offer.  If you  order a PAPERBACK copy of the 2nd edition from the HoAmPresst Site and I’ll send it directly to your home for the meagre sum of £10 including post and packing.  AND throw in the ebook version free.  How’s that for a BOGOF? (You can pay by paypal or debit/credit card- and this way we cut out the middleman who makes all the money from publishing!)

How can I make this offer? Because I am in control of my own means of production. It’s just another small blow against ‘city hall.’ So if you feel like you want to take part in an act of resistance against the mighty consumerist system, you can do it simply by buying the book. And no one will ever even know!  In 2012 I thought my proudest moment of irony was when I did a ‘free’ promotion for Brand Loyalty and within 24 hours hit #1 best seller (of free ebooks) on Amazon in the Political Fiction category WORLDWIDE.   That did make me laugh. Amazon didn’t care though.  Why would Ultimate care about me – or you? I’ve changed tack.  I’ve decided the only way to strike back is NOT to let them get their hands on my creativity – to tell you direct, to sell you direct and to hope that as part of this unmediated relationship of informed choice, you tell others.

Review time…

The one break I’ve had from WORK this month has been to read – and review – Julia Jones’ latest in the Strong Winds Series.  Word has it that she’s having ‘not’ an ‘event’ tomorrow, 18th locally to her to ‘launch’ the book.  So here, in advance of that, is my review.  Spread the word. Read the Book.

lsbThe Lion of Sole Bay by Julia Jones

In ‘The Strong Winds’ Trilogy, Julia Jones pulls off something quite remarkable.  To suggest it was conceived as an ‘homage’ to Arthur Ransome perhaps does both authors a disservice, because what Jones achieves in her trilogy of children’s books; in which the key features of Ransome also appear – sailing, adventure and the resourcefulness of youth in the face of an alien adult world – is something which will appeal to Ransome fans, but also to those for whom Ransome’s style and characterisation is locked in a bygone age. The ‘Strong Winds’ Trilogy is Ransome for our times. Julia Jones gives us 21st century children facing modern, everyday, real problems. Whether you like Ransome or not, you can enjoy ‘Strong Winds.’  These are contemporary stories, with ‘issues’ but without being ‘issue based.’ More than that, the adventures are founded in the reality of the lives of these very ‘real’ characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed all three books of ‘The Strong Winds’ Trilogy and could recommend them to both adults and young people alike. These are the sort of books you revel in reading for yourself and make the perfect present for other people. They are books that will sit on many a shelf for a lifetime. The only criticism I could have of ‘The Strong Winds’ Trilogy, is that, like all good things, they had to come to an end.

With ‘The Lion of Sole Bay’, Julia Jones has opened the sea chest again. Moving beyond the Trilogy ‘Strong Winds’ is destined to become a series – and I for one hope that Jone will find the time and energy to match Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series by writing (at least) twelve novels.

You can read ‘The Lion of Sole Bay’ as a standalone, and if you do so, you’ll rush back to read the Trilogy. If you have read the Trilogy in advance you’ll find in ‘The Lion of Sole Bay’ an author in full stride, completely comfortable with her writing style. This is a tour de force.  Certainly I have grown into the Jones style of storytelling over the past three novels and this time I sat down with some expectations, which were not disappointed.  Jones managed to far exceed my already high expectations. She has taken a ‘minor’ character from the Trilogy, Luke, to be the ‘hero’ of this tale.  In doing so she reminds us that there are no ‘minor’ characters, that everyone has a story.  Jones’ ability to present the world through the eyes of a twelve year old is impressive, and we get lost in Luke’s ‘imagination’ to the point that we start to ‘believe’ as he does.

‘The Lion of Sole Bay’ has two ‘heroines’, both unlikely – Angel has ADHD and Helen is being reared by a seriously demented mother. The result is the sense of a ‘community’ story, with characters’ lives interwoven and the reader feels every bit a part of the story.  Jones is, as ever, uncompromising in her portrayal of such ‘issues’ as drugs and disability, but the issues are so embedded into the narrative that they never jar or threaten the storyline. They simply make the characters more real because they have the ‘real’ flaws of ‘real’ people.  This requires expertise and sensitivity on the part of an author, and Jones never skips a beat.  I am particularly impressed by the way Jones draws adult characters such as ‘mad’ Peter, and Helen’s drug-fuelled mother Hendrike. While these are shown in a way that helps a child to make sense of them, they are also convincing enough portrayals for adults to stop and think about the relationship between adults and children. We see the child’s perspective and it makes us consider our own responsibilities.  Julia Jones draws both adults and children into her narrative web, and all can learn from the story.

As for the sailing, I leave it to those more knowledgeable than myself to debate the in’s and out’s of that aspect.  Given Jones’ knowledge and love of sailing I’m sure it’s all accurate and ‘ship shape.’ For an ‘armchair’ sailor like myself, I’ll simply say it’s all thrilling enough and interesting enough to form the basis of the story.  But there’s much more to it than sailing.

Structurally the plot moves along with perfect pacing. I found myself slowing down as I read to the end, not wanting the story to end, but desperate to know what happens next. That, for me, is the sign of a truly well written novel. Using a truncated time frame, round Halloween, worked really well on a number of levels and the linking of historical ‘fact’ with the present is an element I enjoyed immensely.

The central story is further enhanced by the opportunity for the reader to ‘engage’ even more.  The ‘Sole Bay Lectures’, delivered to the children by Angel’s father in their entirety (offstage so to speak) during a particularly tense time in the story, are written out at the end for anyone who wants to know more about the original Battle of Sole Bay 1672 which forms an historical backdrop (and in some senses a metaphorical parallel) of the modern ‘adventure’ part of the story.  We are left questioning the ‘fictionality’ of M.V.Vandervelde which is a writer’s conceit I particularly enjoy.

I get the feeling Jones enjoys writing her fiction as much as I enjoy reading it, and feeling that bond between writer and reader engagement is rare and powerful.   Julia ‘gives’ throughout the novel is so many ways.  She also gives us additional ‘material’  in the form of personal snippets such as reference to Ransome’s Picts and the Martyrs, and The Lady of Stavoren.  None of this reads like ‘research’ but all of it adds an extra dimension to the ‘story.’ As does the ‘Tales from the Wheelhouse’ section at the end where Jones explains her personal connection to the Red Lion.  Add to this a glossary of Dutch words, maps, pictures of the ‘craft’ and a set of wonderfully evocative illustrations by Claudia Myatt, and you are getting an absolute gem for your money.

I have a sense of sadness whenever I finish a Jones novel, knowing I’m going to have to wait a while for the next. But now, with four ‘Strong Winds’ to read again and twelve Ransome to keep me company till the next one comes out, I may just survive until number five hits the shelves? Next year please Julia!

I’ll be back with my monthly ’round up’ before the end of the month. I’ve just joined (I think) Tribrr, which as far as I can work out, means I’d better get my finger out and start posting more regularly.  Most recently my posts have gone up on McVoices, so if you want to read the first stages of my ‘journey’ into publishing ‘freedom‘ CLICK HERE

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