Self-publishing: Have I changed my mind?

I have been reading a great deal about self publishing and self published authors recently. I don’t know why but I am taking it as a conspiracy of fates and posting some of my thoughts.

I’m not a self pubbed author. The closest I have come is chapter one of a piece of fun fan fiction on my blog serial ūüôā And while obviously that is brilliant and must be read by anyone who loves a good time – I wouldn’t feel comfortable with myself¬†for charging. And that at the end of the day is what self pubbing is, isn’t it? Its not fan fiction, its not a¬†saturday club, its a job. And even if you do elect to give away your books for free periodically, even if it is only 99p full price, you are asking the general public to respect your offering as a professional.

I’ve said before that I have reservations regarding self pubbing. I wrote a piece on it back when I first started my blog, raising those concerns and asking for honest (non trolling) feedback. At the time it seemed like there was a war brewing – self-pubbers on one side and the gatekeepers on the other. In fairness I saw no indication traditionally published authors were interested in getting into the mix. No, it was merely those storming the gates and those defending the gates. Of late, while self pubbers are still vocal in defending their approach I have heard less from the gatekeepers. Perhaps they aren’t feeling quite so threatened as they were initially?

A new term is emerging Рthe hybrid author. So even as the efforts to legitimise self publishing against all doubters continue, some of its biggest success stories are openly admitting to its limitations. Traditional publishers (and their gatekeeping pals, the Agents) still maintain a stranglehold on certain areas, namely print books, translations and film rights. They have in some ways become, much like the old Hollywood studios, less the gatekeepers of quality and more like distributors. Putting your book into bookstores, much like putting your film into theatres, is all but impossible without cutting them in.

But (you knew the but was coming..) seeing the two sides starting to reach a mutually agreeable solution isn’t filling me with the¬†same enthusiasm as everyone else.¬†I never had an¬†issue with gatekeepers, even if those gatekeepers rejected me (and they did,¬†daft bastards!) as long as they were led by a genuine love of books. Even if that love was underlined by a need to turn a profit, turning a profit was surely a measure of satisfaction in and of itself.

If gatekeepers aren’t threatened anymore, is it because they are in fact liking their new roles and the possibilities? Not to mention the reduced work load. I keep hearing reports from agents that suggest this shift to distributor is being whole heartedly embraced.

When I last attended an agent convention the question of whether a subbing author should hire an editor was raised. It was met with a shrug and ‘well it can’t hurt’ attitude. Now apparently its being advised as a must-do. Self publishing used to be seen as a sure fire way to scrub your book off any agents list, to the extent that writers were reluctant to post online in case it qualified as a form of self publishing. Now I can name a well respected imprint which has only previously self published titles on its list.

The main concern of course is still the bottom line, so a book already out there and read by only your mammy and aunty isn’t going to impress. You need mass downloads. In recent years we have seen the rise of the celebrity novel, the idea being that there is a ready made fan base. Is the self-pubbed success¬† story just another celebrity? A sure-fire hit rather than a must-read love?

I don’t know if you are noticing the common thread running through all of the above..¬†

price points to maximise downloads

..gatekeepers basing decisions on current sales

…¬†new¬†business models¬†to access¬†all¬†markets

When do we talk about the books?

I was rejected by the big six and while it stung I am – actually truly – glad I was. Because my book was not ready. I have no doubt there are great writers out there but if no one tells them the hard truths how many rush to publish long before they or their work is ready? What if like me they have no marketing skills? Rejection comes in that ultimate form – lack of sales. The writer ends up believing they have nothing to offer, while the author who knows how to get those free downloads moving and friends reviewing, prospers.

It used to be that to become a success the only option you had was to rewrite. Keep working on your book or your next book, now it seems more to do with working on your marketing. And the irony is, if you choose not to then it might well be a good bet that marketing is the problem. Good books get ignored, that’s a sad fact. Do we need to revisit the whole Van Gogh died penniless story to prove it? And there are more books out there than ever before, with absolutely nothing standing in the path of the slush.

In fairness I have never doubted that self published authors – those who make it a viable career certainly¬†¬†– worked hard at it. Going¬†into business for yourself is not a lazy man’s option. An entire support structure is growing around it, book covers, edits, marketing and much of it is incestuous. Many self pubbers are supplementing and supporting their work with work as editors, many others find they can trade with other self publishers to avoid editing costs. New collectives are being set up; from promotional twitter groups, to tit for tat reviews to platform websites, networking is a key part – perhaps the most crucial¬†part –¬†of the new process.

But working hard is not the same as working smart. A book without typos is not the same as a book without flaws. And some flaws no matter how good your grammar can carry a weight I’m not sure we can shrug off, a weight that might be putting the industry off kilter.

This isn’t an attack on those who choose to self publish, nor is it even necessarily an attack on those who rise to the top. No,¬†I am putting a big fat question mark over the new paradigm itself; the widely touted revolution that is changing the whole industry and asking is it¬†putting the emphasis where it shouldn’t be?

Every writer wants to be read, and now we are told every writer can be. But ereaders never fill up. How many free downloads gather dust in want-to-read lists? How many of us need to cross back over and be a reader again instead of a business owner?

As always I would love to hear others thoughts. Especially if you have experience of either side.



Is there still a place for literary criticism?

I recently read an article. An old man wrote it. He did what old men do. He grumbled. He doesn’t like this word, and he don’t much like that one neither. He made bad jokes and sighed despondently that the world just wasn’t as young as it once had been.. you know, when he was young.

Thing is, most old men, they do it down the pub. He did it in the Guardian.

I doubt it was intended as literary criticism, not as such, but the replies, the demures – oh my *blush blush* I would never – were very telling. It stands as literary criticism, intended or not.

There is a great deal of it around, more, by an unfathomable degree, than ever before. And most, like the above, shouldn’t be classified as criticism; it’s grumbles, rants, moans and opinions. But then isn’t it all just opinion?

Where does the line exist? Is all opinion self-indulgent? If a man says he hates xyz.. because he does… is it his fault if a bundle of writers immediately seek to remove xyz from their work, because hey, whether he does, doesn’t, should or shouldn’t, the Guardian thought he was worth listening to?

A writer should know better than to listen to any Tom, Dick or Guardian writer. Part of being a writer is being able to know when something works and recognising good advice. But a, a writer is not the person who decides what you get to read. Just like mr xyz, someone behind them has to uphold their take on ‚Äėgood writing‚Äô. And b, we‚Äôre all susceptible. We all question ourselves, second guess, aim to please those gatekeepers. So, while I never give a thought to the passive voice, I am always aware that my punctuation might let me down. The number of commas, I add, take away, add, take away.. If I had to send someone out to buy them I‚Äôd have bankrupted myself.

I’m an ornery wee sod yet when a black mark is laid against my own work I can become blind to everything but.

To quote myself (because no one else ever will)

Where I Begin was rejected. It was rejected by someone who liked it.. Where I Begin was where it ended. I don’t know if she was right or wrong, a little or a lot, I know only her opinion sits in front of my eyes like an ash tinted lens. Every niggling little line, every not quite perfect scene waiting to be tweaked, every uncertainty is now made certain: Certain it is ruined.

I don’t like being odd man out. I don’t want to be ridiculed and I don’t like failing. No one likes failing. And if we accept literary criticism we must also accept that no matter how much we succeed we will also always fail.

In an ideal world I would say its not about sneering arrogance. I would say that it should be about debate and discourse, respect for the intent of the author. We cannot measure anything except by how well it achieves its intent. A comedy is not a failure of tragedy and a tragedy is not a failure of comedy.

But lets be realistic, in this world, that statement is proven wrong on an almost daily basis. If we open up the floor to literary criticism we have to accept the sneering arrogance, and jealousy and incompetency. That’s not to say that we can’t speak up against it, but we can’t shut it down. Then we wouldn’t have debate and discourse, we’d have censorship.

It is a very irritating truism that to have what we want in most things means accepting what we hate.

So is literary criticism worth it? Much as it hurts me, to give and receive, I think it is.

Here are two viewpoints, who I could paraphrase to keep only the parts I agree with, but in the spirit of my point, I’ll let them say it themselves.

Do we still need negative book reviews?

In defense of the synopsis

So as per GEITFUDO, I said I would, come the end of February, be looking to query. Its the 25th today and since there are apparently only 28 days in February (may re-count come the 28th..) I thought I should get on..

Like someone scared of heights about to bungee jump I’m trying not to think about jumping… I mean eventually I do have to¬†take that leap¬†but for now I’m focusing on the synopsis. The very necessary synopsis.

Before the commiserations come flooding in… Oh synopses.. I hate writing those… I’ll whisper.. I¬†quite enjoy¬†them


So whispering didn’t work…

I didn’t¬†always. I wouldn’t go as far as to say hate, at least not initially, as I didn’t pay them that much attention. I didn’t think anyone else would either. And¬†I have heard agents say this. Apparently no one writes a good synopsis and we shouldn’t get ourselves too wound up about them.

Before you feel too reassured, I’m going to say that while I have come to enjoy them I have also come to believe they are far more important than most will¬†admit. This is part of your presentation, if its badly written, leaves gaping confusion in the reader and –¬†the worst sin – ¬†holds back the best of your work, then you’ve just significantly increased your chances of being rejected.

In a world where we are continually told how little time an agent has to devote to reading submissions, while being simultaneously inundated with an ever increasing number, the short synopsis is your best friend. This is a chance to sell your story. Think about the Sixth Sense Рa film lauded and remembered for its end twist. But if they only saw the first few minutes before deciding they were willing to invest in it or not, would it be quite so compelling? The synopsis is your chance to put the best bits of your work, whether it is the hook at the end, the weird alternative world, or the kooky characters, in front of an agent and make sure they notice.

The problem I had when I first came to write them was simply this: I didn’t know what it was. I’d never seen one. Googling brought a myriad of answers none of which really clarified anything, 1-12 pages.. yeah no difference there! And the more I learnt of the submission process the more I realised that what the internet said and what agents actually wanted were two different things. Most if asked – and it would help considerably if they would put this on their submission guidelines – cite the shorter the better. Under 500 words seems to be increasingly the norm.

Googling will generally say that it is an outline of the main events of your story. And a bare recital of the plot is one of the primary mistakes most of us make.

Bob meets¬†Mary. Mary’s husband is away¬†on business. Bob and Mary start affair. Mary’s husband comes home early. He sees them kissing. He throws Mary out.

Is about the dullest thing you can imagine reading. If a synopsis ever was such a document, it aint anymore.  You need to explain that Mary is a bored housewife in search of excitement; Bob a retired assasin. Blending the why and the what, the emotional core that drives your story, is what a synopsis truly is. Doing it concisely is where the challenge lies.

You need to know exactly what details to put in, which to leave out, and you need to do it without leaving the reader, who hasn’t read your book, confused.

We Brits aren’t required to write a query in the same way that Americans do, however a good brief synopsis is actually very similar. The difference really is that a synopsis reveals the end while a query leaves you – hopefully- desperate to know the end. Apart from this they should be approached in much the same way. Officially you shouldn’t be looking to show off your writing skills, but¬†unofficially you are displaying that you are able to be clear, concise and that your voice fits the genre you are writing in. A chatty conversational tone when selling a gritty coming of age tale of abuse and survival.. not good. Overworked metaphors are a no no, but so are overused clich√©s..

This isn’t about your literary skills as much as your marketability. Your ability to learn and adapt to the formula demanded means you persevered where others gave up, it means you are flexible and it means you did your homework. For the agent this means you are someone worth working with. For you, it means you got rid of all the reasons they might use to reject you and put your story in the spotlight.

Which makes the synopsis a tool that benefits you, the writer, as much as it does you, the wannabe published. Writing¬†one before you finish your book is a really useful trick. It stops you starting writing something only to find 40,000 words in that its going nowhere. It teaches you the ability to separate out the main strands of your story, to check the internal logic of your world and consistency of your character development. I’ve never written a synopsis that has led to me abandoning or completely rewriting a story, but as a means of clarifying what I want to achieve¬†¬†I find it invaluable. I’ve even found subplots lurking under the guise of plot holes.

I will look more in depth at how I write a synopsis, just in case its useful, but where I started and learnt most of my tricks was Querysharks blog. LIke I said, a query is just an unfinished synopsis. Beyond that I would simply say, keep going. Perseverance is what separates the serious writers from the hobbyists.

Wishing you a very literary christmas…

Christmas: chocolate for breakfast, dinner in pjs and sparkles for supper; fat men with presents, flying reindeer and a valid excuse to wear bells on your shoes..

I still write a letter to Santa. This year its mostly DVD box sets which made a friend raise her eyebrows and ask if HMV were my Christmas charity case. She’d the download queen – Netflix and i-tunes – but I like owning them. Being able to hold them in my hand, watch them at a whim even if my internet provider is playing up, and since I live in the middle of nowhere, it happens ..¬†usually I get it back up and running to be told.. this option ran out while you were screaming at the little black box…

Got me thinking about books. Will the rise of ebooks benefit or hinder sales this Christmas? I imagine there will be a few Kindle Fires and Nooks under the tree but wrapping up an ebook? The present that makes gift vouchers look exciting?


It might translate into real book sales – those like me who still want to hold something tangible. There is something not quite real about virtual possessions, something¬†that sometimes gives me an urge to check¬†my i-tunes in the middle of the¬†night not sure they haven’t just faded away..

I’m sure I’m not the only one with a sticky, red nose, just like the Royal Mail who this week surveyed the contents of Santa’s letters, before sending them on to the North Pole.¬†¬†Lego is making a comeback apparently.¬†And I will be reading any and all conclusions¬†with interest, nothing will sound the deathknell of print quite so loudly.

I’d like to hear silence. The sound of hundreds of hungry, busy eyes. Christmas and stories seem welded together in my mind – they are both about myth and magic and hope. Whether you are religious or capitalist or medieval, its a time of rebirth; where ends and beginnings meet. For gathering round fires and taking stock¬†of where we have come from and conspiring where we might go. It is also a time when much of our days and world are shrouded in darkness, bleak and lifeless and as hidden as the recesses of the internet. What might lurk out there is a question that could throw up¬†monsters, but it speaks to the hope in all of us that it also grew into Santa Claus.

So it surprises me¬†to realise how ¬†few books about Christmas¬†there actually are. When I went on Amazon to look all I could find were children’s pictures books and a few chick lit¬†tales, which I would guess have far more to do with what happens under the mistletoe.

home-aloneEvery year we let this holiday turn our lives upside down. In the depths of harrowing snow storms and endless dark nights, family brussel sprout wars and in-law high councils¬†we are¬†surrounded by sparkling, red nosed and round-bellied idealism. It is the most fertile ground literature has ever not been sown in, emotionally, visually and viscerally. One of my ambitions in life – on that list of things I must do – is to make a Christmas film.. THE Christmas film… redefining the legends in a Tolkienesque manner,¬† set in the heart of Sinterklaas land, the snow globe beauty of Vienna, the ornate elegance of¬†Prague and the endless polar nights of the north… Maybe I should start with a book. polar

In the short term knowing my blogs will get thinner as the nights get longer,  I thought I would do a short series on Christmas: the literary side. The most fun research has ever been.

Have we forgotten how to read?

fresheditededited‘ie’¬†produces ee, that ‘gh’ is all but silent, the verb noun relation, all this we get, like putting feet to pedals, it’s instinctive once learned, but there was always more to reading than that. It demanded something more of us ‚Äď the internal balance between words and eyes and mind. It required submission and exertion. Have we forgotten how to maintain that balance?

I read little now for pleasure. Reading is my work; the unpaid kind. Reading is what I do with tired eyes after I have poured blood and soul onto the screen. I wonder if this is what students feel like, the ones that actually work; I wouldn’t know, I was a terrible student. It becomes more understandable why when you do have time to yourself you might chose a video game, bar or cinema over more written words. I do the same now too. But then I am reading stories, you’re memorising the life cycle of mice. And book sales are rising.

The balance for me has always been between reader and writer. For now, the writer is dominant, the reader subsumed by his critical eye. That’s okay. I love to write, but it feels a little like everyone loves to write, or shout, or tweet or pin. So are there any readers still out there?

Every word put out is meant to be read. And I love that it might touch you in some way, stir you, make you smile, make you stop and look at something familiar in a way you never have before. Isn‚Äôt every artist seeking a connection with their audience? Isn‚Äôt every human? And feedback can give us a tangible means of realising this. Self-published authors often comment on the public‚Äôs helpful (I may have¬†added this..) ¬†input on¬†grammatical errors, even story and character ‘errors’,¬†usually¬†offered up¬†through review sites.¬†Stranger to stranger,¬†producer to¬†consumer.¬†If I still remember your homophone in the third chapter, if I stopped mid read to make a neat little note, my pen and pad ready by my side‚Ķwas I¬†really reading?

I hear a great deal of talk within the writing community (which may currently be the world, minus my parents) of the role of social media. There’s¬†twitter,¬†telling people to read books; instagram, pictures of people reading books;¬†google plus, people selling books; pinterest, pictures¬†to help people selling books..¬†¬† Maybe I am too tightly wrapped in my writers bubble, writing sites are dominated by eyes stuck on critical zoom. But there is wattpad, that‚Äôs¬†actual books,¬†free for¬†the reader,¬†the 21st century version.¬†I have been there, I left quickly. Is that reading?

Agents do the book fair circuit, seminars and conferences with free lunch, offering their expert opinions. Pitch them in ten minutes, or better yet, hand them your book and they‚Äôll tell you where they stopped reading. One stopped at the first line once ‚Äď why? Because he didn‚Äôt like panama hats. That‚Äôs not a valid reason, it‚Äôs really not. Panama hats are cool.. REJECTED

The average is apparently 600 words, but that‚Äôs only if you got the letter right. If they don‚Äôt get the genre and word count on the first line ‚Äď don‚Äôt waste their time with introductions ‚Äď they‚Äôre unlikely to read further.

We’re buried under words, the writing is on the wall, and the screen, our phone, we text rather than call, pm rather than look up over the ipad and speak, but we’re not reading.

Serials are making waves once again. Long the preserve of times gone by, a cheap way of disseminating books to the poor classes, now they are being resurrected as a quick way of disseminating books to the time poor classes. Except I‚Äôm not sure we‚Äôre time poor, I think we‚Äôre attention poor. There‚Äôs too much, all demanding our eyes, we can only give our attention for a few seconds before something else is tugging on our interest. And worse, everyone knows what really matters isn‚Äôt what you read, it‚Äôs what you tell everyone you read. It‚Äôs what you are trending, and how high up the list you are; we‚Äôre reading just long enough to form an opinion. Truly we are the IMHO generation. Those serials ‚Äď they‚Äôre up for sale. The characters, the twists, the ending. The writer is listening to the reader; they‚Äôre reading the reader. As one such site, Unbound, tag themselves, Books are now in your hands.

Maybe it’s my bubble, but its a very crowded bubble. And a very noisy one. All those voices..¬†Everyone wants to be heard; many amazon reviews can stand as works of literature in their own right (after all blogs have made the transition),¬†and its usually the one-stars that truly revel in¬†vitriolic flair..

But I do still believe past the hype and the trends and the salesmen, people still love to read. I do. I just wish we paulwould remember that the power of books lies in our surrender.  And since I am speaking from within a bubble I guess the people I am addressing are writers, agents, publishers.  Readers might love panama hats..

The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why I Still Believe Ignorance is Bliss..

Dunning-Kruger-EffectA friend of mine posted an article on this a while ago, a year or so maybe, and while I found it interesting I admit I was also puzzled. I’m the kind of person who stands in line at Tesco’s, breaking the monotony by imagining what it would be like to work there and promptly breaks out in cold sweats. Those tills look confusing, despite my university degree, and that beeping – one loud long beep, all eyes swivelling to me… I have nightmares about that.

So I was intrigued to understand more, but unfortunately I lost the original post, couldn’t remember the name and my friend couldn’t either. No one else had heard of it. As such I put it out my head.

All of a sudden it seems to be everywhere. The effect no one knew about is suddenly the effect everyone is posting about.

Cribbed from Wikipedia:

The Dunning‚ÄďKruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes

Or as Shakespeare put it.. The fool thinks himself wise while the wiseman knows himself to be a fool..

While it would be really easy to just accept this – by their reckoning I am a wiseman ūüôā – I think what the study reveals is a little more complex than the quote above indicates. I hope so anyway, even if that does seem to be what people have latched on to. The easy digestible truism.

What actually interests me more than the study itself is the interest generated by the study, specifically within writing circles, and the sheer delight some seem to feel as they post it, most it has to be said with the presumption that it doesn’t apply to them. Always interests me to see how differently the same thing can be interpreted.

One particular blogger used it to illustrate his post on how bad most new novels are. A man, let us be clear, who had never written a book, whose advice to the author consisted off.. can you guess? yip… remove adverbs, don’t repeat words too often..monkeytype

He’s not alone though. Most of those advising writers on how to do their job have not written a novel, certainly not a best seller. On #askagent on twitter, on personal blogs, agents are extremely vocal about what they want to see and I am not talking about genre preference, but sentence structure, word choice and a whole host of other basic elements. One quite famous agent blogger refuses to read sentences which open with dependent clauses. They are also vocal about the ‘cadence’ of good writing and individual voices. I wonder if they are aware of how contradictory their advice is?

Interesting when you consider these to be the conclusions of the study

1.tend to overestimate their own level of skill; to recognize genuine skill in others;                                           to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
4.recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill. (this one seems a little obvious!)

They tested for humour.. How do you test for humour?? – Sorry, back to my point.. Everyone has also latched upon the second part of the truism – the idea that the wise underestimate themselves, however Dunning and Kruger actually identified this as an overestimation of other’s ability. So what does that mean for all those writers constantly correcting other’s grammar? I knew one wannabe, very educated by his own estimation, who loved to correct people on the distinction between its and it’s. Never once simply said, you missed an apostrophe. Another recently went into a rant after seeing then used in place of than. Again it never seemed to occur to him that it was a simple typo. None of these examples were even in books, just random posts on the net.

I think that for me what it really illustrates is that most people don’t think of themselves as idiots, regardless of how much training they have had. They presume themselves to be good enough and that seems a good thing, no? None of those in the top percentile considered themselves fools, less than they were, slightly yes, but not fools. I reckon confidence is an evolutionary tool. If we think too long about how hard everything is or how low we might sit on the competence scale, we’d never do anything. I also exist as proof of this. Lastly, but not leastly, it shows that there is no substitute for experience. Maybe it should be mandatory for all critics to write a book before they get to pass judgement!

Why I say we should sweetly, fervently, gleefully and quite thoroughly screw the critics..

I’ve been looking for inspiration as I am struggling with my writing – or rather, my ego, which is what I always run up against. I get stuck in and the voices start up and they keep coming until they form a big fat lump. So now I am stuck and the internet, full of writers, can surely offer some support?

Instead I found criticism and stock tick lists of what you should do, which still all amount to what you shouldn’t do. And they are always the same. Get rid of the adverbs, count your it’s and your was’s and your that’s…yada yada yada. I’m pretty sure you have heard it all before. And I got angry. Like stamp my little feet, rant at the birds, pissed.

I’m really, really, really tired of this. The whole world knows exactly how to write the perfect novel. The agents, the publishers, the self publishers, the readers and starter outers, the bloggers and tweeters. So why is no one writing it?

Because it is the easiest thing in the world to tear a book down. Creating one is an altogether harder task. Creating one someone can’t tear apart – impossible.

One of these individuals, who so kindly sought to put us all right, managed to hit on my pet peeve. He translated literally. I heard a writer snap at fellow scribe once, ‘rocks cannot be merciless’. My immediate thought, ‘tell that to Mary’. Blasphemous little sod that I am. But can you imagine a world in which words are translated literally? That’s not italics, I’m just shuddering as I type. I would have to start a revolution. Maybe I am..

I know there is a potential hypocrisy here – I write a blog on writing. I have been vocal about what I don’t like, what I would like to see more of.

This is not a tirade against better writing. This is not a tirade against critical thought. I’ve said it before, will say it again, question everything, absorb everything; think, feel, live it from every perspective you can.

This is a tirade against poorly thought out criticism. This is a tirade against every two bit over-inflated ego on the web who thinks they can recycle someone else’s words and set themselves up as an expert. I refuse to believe that ANY of these individuals ever sat down with their favourite King, Koontz or Grisham before flinging it in despair across the room, dropping head into hands and moaning, ‘I just can’t take any more adverbs’.

More than anything though this is a tirade against hate. Putting yourself out there is hard. Too hard maybe for me. I am so envious of those who have given it a shot, but I wonder how many more are like me? I’ve been a victim of bullying. I’ve seen tin pot hitlers abuse their power in all sort of places, the office, relationships, even on the internet. The guy yelling obscenities and threatening dark deeds with power tools is easy to spot and tends to take the limelight. True bullying is insidious, self-righteous and persistent. It grinds you down and it always has an excuse, plausible, making you question your own sanity. Perhaps the greatest legacy of my own experience is I doubt everything.

I’m not saying what we are seeing is true bullying, but it has a distinct odour I recognise. The same message hammered over and over again, the derision and disgust aimed at those who dare stray, the way so many quickly fall in line, eager to make it clear that of course the naysayers are right, they understand, they wouldn’t dare disagree. It’s not a pleasant odour.

That word right above sums it up more than any other, naysayers. These people aren’t even trying to offer constructive help. They want originality from stock rules? They want voice from a severely limited vocabulary? They want you to ignore every writer, every work of art that has held you entranced and every classic that is loved long after its author has passed and, instead, listen to them. They have English Lit degrees and an internet connection. Many just the latter.

How many ideas have been lost for fear they were too out there? How many writers have put their manuscripts back in the bottom drawer, convinced that inspired by Peter Pan, no one will take their tale of magic woven into reality seriously? And how will we ever know what we lost? It’s been said before that those with the greatest talent and skill are the ones who question themselves the most. I don’t know if that’s true, but if we continue to create this sneering environment we will likely never find out.

There is so much we can learn from one another. Think of the Bloomsbury lot. Writers across continents reaching out to one another should create the most exciting discourse history has ever known. Instead we’re all counting our adverbs. What would Virginia Woolf say?

We can rewrite the world. We can write pulpy erotic vampire nonsense and we can do it entirely in adverbs.. WE CAN…. Now the only thing any of us has to do is decide what we want to stick at the end of that sentence.