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For those of you who don’t know, and for those of you who are interested, here’s a little bit about what I do with myself now…

I write for a living! I am the Writer and Web Producer for Fuel Brand Inc/Carbon Ads. Click on the picture to find out what that actually entails!

I’ve actually been doing this for a couple of months now, but haven’t blogged about it – unsurprising really when you consider that my last personal blog post was in July…

In short: I couldn’t be happier about this job. Huge thanks to Joshua Smibert and Adelle Charles for giving me this opportunity.

So… it has been a looong while since I blogged here, and for that I sincerely apologise. Since taking on the role of Co-Editor at Fuel Your Writing, as announced in my last post, I’ve been busy editing and running the site, along with something else.

That something else being: writing some things in exchange for money.

Last week I received my first ever payment in return for something I’ve written – and I’m really, seriously made up about it. The pieces in question are simply press articles, new pieces, written for Fuel Brand Inc, the company behind the Fuel Brand Network, of which Fuel Your Writing is a part. They’re not the most exciting pieces of writing ever, but they do the job. And I’m excited about them, and getting paid for them, and this is my blog so I’m going to shout from the rooftops that someone (thanks Josh!) gave me the opportunity to write something for payment.

Besides these articles, I also was invited to write some copy for some marketing materials, for a project that I actually can’t talk about yet because it isn’t up and running yet. I’ll let you all know what it was when the project goes live. It was awesome and exciting to work on it, especially as I was thrown in at the deep end on quite a tight deadline. I want to do more of this. Lots more!

I got paid for some writing I did. This is what I want to do with my life, whether fiction or non. I may be on the bottom rungs, but I can comfortably say I’m on the ladder now.

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Hopefully I’ll be back on the blogging wagon from here on in. For more regular updates on what I’m up to – check out my new blog on Posterous. I’ll be updating there quite often, as it’s just so easy to blog using Posterous (by sending an email) so I can do it from my BlackBerry really easily. I’m also going to be using that blog to host any pictures I would otherwise send to TweetPhoto or similar. As Posterous updates my Twitter when I blog, those of you following me will still be able to see any pictures I publish.

… and it’s me!

After six months and six articles at Fuel Your Writing, I’ve been offered a Co-Editor position, working alongside current Editor Eden Tyler. I accepted immediately, as I think it’s an awesome site, with a really great community of writers.

I’ve been dying to tell you all about this! I was offered the position nearly two weeks ago now, but there has been a lot of things to sort out since then. But now everything has been finalised, signed an online contract today, and I can officially tell you all about this.

So, what does all this mean? One thing it will mean is that I won’t be writing as many articles for Fuel Your Writing, so I apologise to everyone who has been reading and enjoying them. I shall still write some articles, but it won’t be as many I have been writing recently.

The job is going to involve not just editing (of the articles that are submitted by the regular contributors and guest posters) but also helping to grow the site. The community of people who contribute and read FYW is expanding all the time, and is really thriving. Lots of the readers like to comment on the articles, and many of them are hoping to join the team and write for the site. I’m really looking forward to helping some of these writers find a home and a voice at Fuel Your Writing, and taking the site to new levels.

And… who knows what else this new role will lead to? This is a big opportunity for me, and I intend to grasp it with both hands, and be proactive with it. If I do, being an Editor at FYW could lead onto some new and even more exciting things, perhaps even a whole new career!

You never know, but I can’t wait to find out.

Beautiful

I love books.

I realised this today while I was looking at this, my ‘To Read’ pile.

I’m talking about the love of books here. Not stories, or novels. Books. You know, those things on that shelf there (except There Will Be Blood, that’s a DVD), that you pick up and open and there are words written inside?

I can’t be doing with reading stories on an e-reader like the Kindle, or on an iPad. I don’t really want this blog post to be a point by point argument on why I prefer actual stories in physical or digital form, because the entire argument can be boiled down to one simple sentence.

I fucking love books.

Oh, I’ve already said that? Here’s why:

Books are sold in bookstores. Now, I’m not saying I don’t buy books online, I often do – partly because they can be quite a bit cheaper. But I also buy books in their natural habitat, the bookstores. Even when I don’t buy a book from a bookstore, I absolutely love spending time in them. From Waterstones, Smiths and Borders, to odd, pokey little independent bookcaves. I love them, I can spend ages in them browsing about, picking up random books, flicking through them, feeling them in my hand, checking the first line, chatting with other people and the staff about books, buying a book and sitting in the accompanying coffee shop and starting to read it.

I really don’t like the idea reading words from a cold, shining screen, holding a hunk of metal and plastic between my hands. Okay, some of the designs of e-reading devices are quite cool and aesthetically pleasing, but they are all (even the iPad) ugly pieces of shit compared with any book you care to mention. Books are beautiful things, often fronted with incredible covers that are works of art in themselves. The paper on which the words of the story are printed feel tactile between your fingers as you turn each page, like a connection between the reader and the story, between the reader and the writer. This is a rubbish analogy, but it’s like that hair/tail syncing thing tha Na’vi do in Avatar. A bit. You know what I mean.

Plus, books are meant not only to be read but to be collected.

This isn’t all the books I have, but it’s some of them. They have become a literal part of my room, a part of me. All these different books on these shelves represent part of who I am, or who I was when I bought them. There’s softback and hardback, fiction and non-fiction, reference books, graphic novels and comics, sci-fi and fantasy, horror, some classics, some books I haven’t even read yet! And a whole load of other stuff that makes up these shelves: notebooks, my Rubik’s Cube, various figurines (including Starscream, Will Shakespeare and the Buddy Christ), and random things like the t-shirt tube from UT in Tokyo filled with Yen. These things mean the world to me, as do the books.

The photos in this post are of me, essentially.

So, I’ve had this rant building for about two weeks now, ever since Rob shared this news story with me. Initially, I was too angry to coherently express my opinion on this matter beyond the garbled raging that you can see represented in the title of this post. I think I’ve calmed down now (a bit), and I’m ready to comment.

Please read the news article, and then come back.

Done that?

Good. Here goes. Please be warned, there are a few more swearwords in this post than I normally would use.

Aarrgghh, this is still difficult to formulate into words. Despite what you may read, Richard and Judy’s Book Club is NOT a good thing for authors. Okay, let my rephrase – it is an INCREDIBLE thing, for a very few select authors. When I was studying my Creative Writing Masters, we looked at the bestsellers list for that year (which would have been 2007). Unfortunately, I can’t find it (either in my room or online) because I wish I could share it with you. Taking the top ten, there were several Harry Potter books (of course), Angels and Demons (of course), and the rest of the top ten was pretty much taken up with books taken from that years Richard and Judy Book Club.

Fuckers.

The selling figures for these books were astronomical, and dwarfed those of all the books below them. This is patently ridiculous – Richard and Judy say that these books are awesome, so EVERYONE goes out and buys them?! Why so many people put their faith in these two people is beyond me. It just shifts the balance even more for the types of books that end up in Richard and Judy’s Book Club (for there isn’t much variety here) – authors who write about anything different now have an even bigger challenge in getting their works published and, even if they do, a harder job convincing anyone to read them.

Besides, why do people need someone like Richard and Judy to tell them what to read? I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to any recommendations, that’s absurd, but there is SO much literature out there to chose from – the vast majority of it a lot better than the books that become best sellers. The books that you might have to look a little harder for, experiment with, take a chance, browse your bookstore and find something new. It will more than likely be better written, more interesting, push more boundries, make you feel more emotions.

But putting the Book Club aside, what has REALLY fucked me off here is the news story itself. The poor struggling author (newsflash from the No-Shit Sherlock newsdesk: MOST of us authors are poor and struggling) hands Richard Madeley her manuscript, he reads it, likes it, writes a review, which gets her a book deal.

This. Should. Not. Happen!

This is like the “celebrities” that we have now who are famous for being famous. Or, more specifically, because they know someone famous. And these celebrities get book deals now too, being published is the in thing. Katie Price and her biography about all that is vacuous and shallow and disgusting. Apparently she’s got a novel out now too, I think I saw on the shelves the other day. I couldn’t be sure. I turned away as quick as I could for fear of my eyes being burnt out. Had I opened it no doubt my face would have melted like in the climactic scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The publishing industry is ridiculously unfair, and Richard and Judy’s Book Club (and this latest “find” by Madeley) is a big, fat, prime example of that unfairness. That one man (for if anyone has power/sense in that couple, it’s Madelely, fuckhead that he is) has come to wield that much power, when he isn’t even involved in the publishing industry, it’s just plain wrong. He has become, in Rob’s words, like the gesticulating Rupert Murdoch of the book world.

Perhaps I’m getting angry at the wrong people. If anything, the REALLY fucking annoying thing here is that one author was able to bypass the stressful, frustrating and often soul-crushing rigmarole of submissions and rejections before being awarded, on her own merits, some sort of publishing deal. I know, like I just said, the publishing industry is unfair. But this takes the fucking cake.

I’m not sure whether my opinion on whether or not this author’s book is any good or not should matter in this debate, but here it is anyway. I bet her book is shit. It is, in her words, “…loosely based on my own experience of dropping out of the rat race and running away from London on a whim to Cornwall.”

Fuck off.

C’mon. Hardly sounds original, does it? Or even interesting. To me it sounds like most of the books of this type, of the kind of bestsellers marketed at the middle-aged woman/housewife audience, the kind of books that always end up on the Richard and Judy Book Club list. All these kinds of books are the same, and they’re all shit. Of course, that’s a monstrously big generalisation, but it’s how I feel.  (See how mad this whole thing makes me? It’s making me use horrible, unwieldy adverbs like “monstrously”…)

I know, I know. I hold up my hands here… I sound bitter, don’t I? It’s bloody hard not too. I can hear it in my own head as I write these words. It’s a horrible feeling, and I don’t like writing this. Maybe I am bitter. I have to accept that the publishing industry is incredibly unfair, and a difficult one to break into. I do accept that. But Richard Madeley, one man, should not have this much say in what gets published. Plus he’s a smarmy, self-congratulatory twat.

And breathe.

24 hours unplugged. No Internet, no phone, no TV. Here’s what I did, and thought, on my digital fast.

I didn’t finish work on Saturday night until after the fast had started at midnight. When I get in from work, especially after being there all day, it is normally automatic for me to walk into my room and fire up the laptop, even as I am dumping my bag and taking off my coat sometimes, especially when it’s late. I’ll jump onto the Internet, and check my various inputs of information – Twitter, Facebook, emails and feeds – to see if any interesting has been going on, and I’ll jump on Skype to talk to a certain someone and usually gripe about how work’s been shitty, and generally chit chat while I wind down from work before bed.

NOT doing that on Saturday night was admittedly very odd. Not as odd as it might have been, due to the fact that I had finished a longer shift than normal (over 13 hours, in fact). It had been ridiculously busy, and I was absolutely shattered. So, in contrast to my normal desire to chill and wind down before bed, I was ready to just crash and sleep. Which I did.

Waking up I did reach over to my phone, as I would normally, but of course it was off, and I remembered what day it was. Digital exile! Was weird, again, not to turn on my laptop as soon as I woke up. Which really emphasised to me how automatic it has become to use these toys/tools that we have at our disposal. Mobile phone and computer use, connected to the whole world through those devices, is now natural and automatic. It is part of who we are, this generation, pretty much digital natives. Our children certainly will be. This isn’t wrong or bad, of course, but not connecting, after the initial shock (‘shock’ is perhaps too dramatic…) it felt liberating.

After breakfast I went for a run, something I haven’t done in ages. I couldn’t run as far or as fast as I could when I was running regularly, but I didn’t really suffer either. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, enjoyable simply for the fact that I would normally be at work at that time, and the run was great. I’ll be running again tomorrow – this was the kick start I needed back into regular running.

After helping out in the garden with my family, and having lunch with them, I sat down to read some of Matter. It was one of those moments where you only plan on reading a little bit (I was planning to settle down in the evening to finish the book) but the final section of the novel was so gripping that I just gobbled it up, and before I knew it I had finished. I also (later in the day) read the first issue of the comic Turf that has just come out. It has been written by Jonathan Ross, for whom writing a comic is clearly a dream come true. It shows – the comic (concerning gangsters, vampires and aliens in the Prohibition era, no less…!) is fun, fast-paced and well-written. And the artwork, drawn by comic-book artist Tommy Lee Edwards, is gorgeous.

Late afternoon I drove to the beach, to get some fresh air and to do some writing in my Moleskine. There were quite a few people at the beach, and lots of dogs (which I always enjoy watching), and it was fun to have a bit of a walk and take it all in. When I left to go to the beach I had gone to put my phone in my bag. It was a rather nice feeling to be able to leave it at home. After skimming some stones I sat down to write, but instead of StairJumpers I ended up starting a short story inspired by the day itself – of being ‘plugged in’ and of disconnecting from that for a short time. It is science fiction, and is turning out rather personal but a little self-indulgent. I’ll see what I think when it’s finished – you may see it posted here.

Sitting on the beach, I felt the desire to tweet about it. This feeling has become natural to me, completely natural, and to have the feeling without the means to actual follow it through – to share something with my Followers – was slightly odd. Makes me realise how that before using Twitter I would never have had this thought. And my Mum will never have that thought, as won’t most of her friends. Just shows how quickly technology use can become natural and automatic, once you have been using it for a while.

Another similar thing that was odd was not being able to look things up quickly. My laptop is pretty much always on. Yesterday, of course, it wasn’t, so when something came up in conversation with my sister that I wanted to find out, I couldn’t! Normally I would be on Wikipedia in a flash, and know the answer to my query within minutes, seconds even. Very odd not to be able to do that. I also really missed not listening to music – something I hadn’t even thought about. I compensated a little bit by playing my guitar.

A highlight of my day was cooking dinner. I really, really enjoy cooking – but I never do it. Like with my running, I’m hoping that by taking the time to cook a proper meal from scratch yesterday will help to kick start me cooking a lot more, practicing and learning and finding out what I like to cook. Yesterday I made a Thai Green Curry, something I would never normally make. Only this morning did I think to take a picture of it (slightly too late) – wish I had done because it looked really nice. Although the smell was what really was wonderful. The smells of proper cooking really do stimulate the senses and bring food to life, something that you totally miss when you cook frozen or pre-prepared stuff. The curry was a success, and I really enjoyed making it, even if I did send everyone (including myself) into a serious coughing/laughing fit when I first threw the chillies, garlic and spring onions into the hot oil!

The evening was spent reading (Turf), writing (more on my short story, but also on StairJumpers – as I am trying to write some of it every single day after an appalling word count for March) and pissing about with Lego. I wrote an article on the importance of creating and indulging in play here, but I don’t do it as much as I should. Not having the distraction of the Internet, or TV, I dumped my blue Lego bin of bricks out onto my bed, sat down and starting playing. Here’s what I came up with (apologies for the crap picture) …

In case you can’t tell, that’s (clockwise from the top) a snake, some traffic lights, a cheetah (without spots…), a spaceship, and a cart selling flowers and toilet rolls. Driven by Totoro (thanks Melanie!). Oh and that’s Bart Simpson in the middle, there.

None of these things I really set out to make. By messing around, rooting through the bricks and trying different combinations, these things just kind of made themselves. Which is wonderful, really. Creating things is like that. My writing is often like that, especially when it is going well. Keep moving the pen or the fingers over the keyboard, and stuff happens. Characters do stuff, places and scenes appear from nowhere. Especially if you take the time to let them happen. Which was kind of part of what this whole day was about, taking time. I felt like I was moving at a bit of a slower pace, which was relaxing, liberating and calming.

I feel quite refreshed after my Digital Fast. I’d quite like to make this a regular thing, maybe once a month or so, to unplug, to disconnect. I urge you to try it too! Only when you do it do you realise how much we rely on our digital devices, and how much work we do keeping our “digital selves” going – communicating through social networking sites and portraying ourselves in an online persona through blogs and websites. So take 24 hours, just for you. Disconnect. And then reconnect revitalised, energised, and with the knowledge that you can unplug completely, even for just a little while.

How many times do you check Twitter or Facebook in a day? In an hour? How many times do you check your phone, or log into your emails to see if you’ve got something more interesting than the latest offers from some website you bought something off once? How long do you spend slouched in front of the TV – watching nothing in particular? Friends repeats? Loose Women!?

On Sunday I’ll be taking part in Lifehack.org’s 24 Hour Digital Fast. I’ll be spending 24 hours completely free of the digital devices that take up our lives. That means none of the things in the paragraph above. No Internet, no laptop, no phone, no TV.

Of course these things are great, and in many instances vital to the busy lives that we live now. But we do (most of us, I’m sure) become too connected, checking our various sites and devices far too often. We need to disconnect every so often, and learn to be able to function without your social networking site of choice for a while. No more being a slave to your phone either. Sure, we need to be contacted sometimes, and mobile phones have become indispensable for contacting people quickly and easily when needs be. But, on Sunday, I’ll be letting mine ring. Actually, it won’t ring at all, because it will be switched off. All day.

So, what am I going to be doing all day? Well, for those of you who follow my novel-in-progress here will know that I hardly wrote anything last month. I’ll be using some of my time on Sunday to get some good writing done, written of course in my Moleskine with my Lami Safari fountain pen, given that I won’t be allowed to use my laptop. I’d love to write 2000 words on Sunday, which if I do achieve that goal will be more words in a day than I managed in the whole of March!

Also, I shall be going out for a run for the first time in quite a while. Rain or shine, I’m off out for a jog. In fact, if it is raining – bring it on. I love running in the rain. Once you get running, and start becoming a little out of breath, and you fall into a comfortable rhythm, running can be quite a zen experience, which is part of the appeal for me, besides the obvious health benefits. It can clear the mind, and having the rain battering down on you can numb your body and help disconnect the mind. As part of my Digital Fast, a run will do me the world of good.

I will be spending some time with my family too. If the weather is in fact reasonable then some sort of gardening work shall be undertaken, and I shall assist in this labour. Again, being outside, and spending time in the company of “real” people shall be thoroughly good for the soul.

After all this I shall be cooking dinner. Cooking something proper, not just moving something from the freezer into the oven. I make a mean chicken risotto (if I do say so myself) but I’ve rested on that laurel for quite a while now, and it is time to really get into proper cooking and learning the craft. So I’d like to try something new on Sunday, currently browsing through our various cookbooks (and the Internet) for something that grabs my fancy. Will blog on its success (or lack thereof)! next week.

Something else that I shall definitely indulging in on Sunday, perhaps into the evening with a big glass of red wine, will be reading. Currently I am reading Matter by Iain M. Banks, and it is just brilliant. Epic and glorious and has me completely immersed in the universe he has created in his series of novels concerning the interstellar society of The Culture.  I am getting towards the end (it’s a long book) and cannot wait to finish it.

Why don’t you join in too? I know this is short notice, and maybe you are doing something on Sunday that requires the use of digital devices and the need to be in contact with others through their use. That’s alright. But consider it, pick another day! Any day. 24 hours is a decent length of time to go when we are so used to using things like our phones and laptops, but not too long that our lives begin to suffer from our being disconnected. So, join me on Sunday?

Wish me luck in disappearing off the grid for a day. I shall blog next week and let you all know how it went.

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