When I was a kid, growing up in the 1970s on the outskirts of London, there was a TV sit-com that I adored. A quirky, optimistic show with wit and warmth, in the best tradition of British comedy. It was called The Good Life, with Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers.
It was the story of an irrepressibly resourceful couple in a snooty middle-class suburb of London, who absconded from the rat race in pursuit of self-sufficiency. How I loved that show, and the curiously romantic idea of ploughing up one’s lawn to grow potatoes and keep a brace of pigs …
Australia-bound for the Good Life
When my wife and I moved to Australia in 2001, we finally had the space to pursue our own Good Life (sans porcine companions). We were keen to grow a significant proportion of our own fruit and veg.
Writing fiction is my favourite creative outlet right now. Although I’ve been a professional writer for many years, I’ve only recently started writing stories for my own and others’ entertainment. I wish I’d started sooner, because it’s a lot of fun!
I’m even kicking around the idea of getting together a collection of short stories for formal publication as an anthology. It will have to wait until I’m less busy with the ‘day job’, so probably next year, but it’s something I’d love to do.
I’m slightly daunted by the inevitable but complex question: to self-publish or to seek an agent and a conventional publisher?
In the meantime, while I’m figuring this out, you can find a selection of my stories for free, here on this site. Please have a read and leave a comment.
How well does the platform perform for fiction writers?
I started publishing stories on Medium back in February of this year. So far, I’m pleased with my time as a Medium writer. I thought it was time to reflect on some of my experiences. If you’re considering publishing your work on Medium, you may find these observations useful.
I see myself primarily as a writer of prose fiction, with occasional memoirs and essays thrown into the mix. I’m a minority writer on Medium, therefore, and inevitably limiting my readership.
Readership is heavily genre-dependent
Factual pieces seem to get the most traffic. If you write how-to articles about starting a business or making money, opinion pieces about feminism or sexuality, commentary on current affairs, you’ll be tapping into Medium’s core readership and, with persistently good writing, could build a steady following.
It’s not that I’m a lazy bastard, honest. Maybe I’m just an optimist, perpetually looking forward to tomorrow, when stuff will actually get done. And if not tomorrow, then there’s always tomorrow’s tomorrow. Übermorgen (‘overmorrow’) as it’s called in German.
procrastinate (vi) — to put off or defer action, [C16: Latin procrastinare from pro- in favour of + cras tomorrow]
‘Procrastinate’ is first attested in English in the sixteenth century, so I wonder what they did until then. Probably they just ‘putte it offe unto the morrow’.
It’s more difficult than you’d suppose to mix potassium nitrate and sugar in the right proportions for an explosion. Twisted toilet paper is not a good fuse system.
Bullies don’t back off when you stand up to them. They thump the crap out of you. They choose smaller and weaker victims for a reason, and when you’re a kid, there’s always a bigger kid.
If a smaller boy is a bully, he’s probably a psychopath. (Lookin’ at you, Dave. Scary little guy. That high-pitched giggle when a fight kicked off …)
Laws of physics, dude. You ain’t gonna beat Jeff. He’s six feet tall and has fists like half-bricks. He likes using them on kids two years younger and half his size. The best defence is pretending to be a harmless, babbling fool. Easy when you’re scared shitless.
I’m not much of a night-owl when I’m in company. While other musicians head for the late-night jam, I head for bed. I’m the guy asleep in the corner of the sofa at parties.
So it’s strange, perhaps, that I love the night. Yet I do.
As darkness falls, the visual world is stripped of its third dimension. A stand of eucalypts becomes a flat silhouette in black paper. Is that pinprick of light a few feet away, or half a mile?
Conversely, sound gains depth as the white noise of daytime fades. The dog barking to its fellows over at the next farmhouse; the insistent chirp of crickets in the brush; the squeal of tyres as bored teenagers run the gauntlet out on the highway. Noises that tell of goings-on beyond my vision and my knowing.
I’m not a person to rush into new things, but I’m easily led into them by more intrepid souls.
It was the beginning of the Nineties, and I was already in my late twenties, when my friend Nikki introduced me to music festivals. I was a shy young editor: a single, bookish, southern English fish-out-of-water in northern, family-oriented, no-nonsense Wigan.
Her programme of education for me was eclectic, including the Llangollen Jazz Festival and the London Fleadh in Finsbury Park.
We drove down to London in her battered old car, parked in one of the terrace-lined side streets and joined the stream of pedestrians heading in the direction of the music.
The Fleadh was a beery, cheery, Irish-dominated revelation. A tide of happy people washed from one musical experience to another, surging to the beat of the music, breaking on the shores of the front-of-stage barriers, eddying around the beer tent. It was a day of being carefree, gregarious, entranced by music and humanity. One glorious, euphoric day!
As I mentioned in last week’s post, ‘An Odd Sort of a Job’, I write fiction as part of my work as an educational writer. It’s mostly basic stuff: little stories and dialogues, as a vehicle for teaching English or German.
It follows that I’m not inhibited about sharing my creative writing or getting short imaginative pieces published. Still, writing a novel, a novella or even a substantial short story is, as they say, a different kettle of fish.
Over the years, I’ve had a few goes at writing a novel, and I don’t think any of them have got past a single chapter. Probably just as well: they would have been desperately dull.
You see, I was following the standard advice about planning a novel. You’ve read the kind of thing:
First, decide what story you want to tell. Next, envisage your reader … Write a short synopsis / cover blurb … List your major and minor characters … Do background research … Structure your story … Write a chapter plan … etc etc etc
That might work for some writers, but it sure as hell wasn’t working for me.
Here’s my alternative recipe. It seems to be working out (early days!) – maybe you’ll find it helpful too?
Often when I write an answer on Quora, it’s out of irritation. I’m a sucker for a trollish question. Usually, I end up wondering ‘Why, Steve? Why??’ as my impassioned answer languishes in a dusty corner of Quora with 0 upvotes.
More rarely, Quora can be a lot of fun. Just often enough to keep me hooked.
Thus I enjoyed answering ‘By describing it badly, what is your job?’ a while back:
One family member I was close to, particularly as a troubled teenager (is there any other kind?) was my paternal grandmother, Elsie May Fendt, née Bent, known to me as Nan.
Elsie was an interesting, intelligent woman. She had led a somewhat colourful life in interwar London. She often used to tell me of her exploits with my grandfather Percy, whom I never got to meet, as he died of cancer in the late 1950s.
Percy was a solicitor’s clerk, a short, dapper, dark-haired, barrel-chested man and well … a very naughty boy, to put the most favourable slant on it.