Martyn K Jones

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One of the problems with writing….


One of the biggest problems with writing are not about grammar, spelling etcetera. As far as I am concerned the biggest issue is lower back pain. Most of my problems arising from poor posture for long periods, like sitting the wrong way in the wrong chair at the wrong height for hours at a time while writing. Which is an occupational hazard for anyone involved in the craft.

When you’re ‘in the zone’ and focussed on your work, it’s easy not to notice what you’re doing to yourself. Nothing matters but the web of ideas you’re spinning and the fact that your own hip and back muscles are about to turn traitor is immaterial. You leave sensible at the office door and spend long hours twisted and cramped into the wrong posture. Which is the source of my problem.

Now I’m not talking about some relatively mild discomfort you can shrug off with a good nights sleep or a couple of painkillers, this is the real deal. Pain like someone’s sticking a butchers blade into the top of your pelvis. Pain to almost make you cry. You can’t put weight on the afflicted limb. The discomfort is so acute it locks down your lower spine, making it impossible to bend, turn, stretch, walk up, or even down a short flight of stairs. Pain over the counter painkillers hardly make a dent in. A relaxing nights sleep becomes a stranger and every waking step becomes a purgatory in microcosm. It’s also depressing. When our new Canadian passports arrived on Friday I didn’t much feel like celebrating.

For the last two nights I’ve been tied in knots, hardly able to sleep and unable to get out of the house to visit a doctor. Now I’m fine. For a given value of ‘much better’.

The simple little video below came as a complete revelation. A lacrosse ball under the buttock? Who knew the answer to my problem was so simple? My relief was almost immediate, and a succession of cold packs further tamed the fierceness of my lower back’s agony to make it jump through flaming hoops.

Which is not to say that the pain is completely gone, simply reduced to manageable proportions where the painkillers work and I can actually function again. Fabulous.

Update January 3rd; Pain is gone. Completely. Last painkillers were taken 6pm 2nd January. Remarkable. Work chair has been changed for something a little more sensible.

Aids to characterisation


Whenever I’m writing a major character, I generally use a well known actor as my initial template. The question I keep in the forefront of my mind is; what would that person sound like speaking the words and performing the actions of that character? How would they play that role? What gestures would they use to interpret my character?

Today I’m working on ‘A Falling of Angels’ where Charles Hertford, spymaster and master manipulator is creating a situation where my hero can expose the bad guys and yet not bring down the government in the process. The physical template I’m using for Hertford is the current James Bond, actor Daniel Craig. In my head, I hear Craig speak Hertfords lines, see him make the gestures and generally perform the part. Likewise, my hero, mind reading detective Paul Calvin, loosely uses the voice and interpretation style of film actor Clive Owen. Which for me helps keep my characters consistent, and hopefully a little more credible. Chief Inspector Veeta Parnay for example, is based around the style of another Bond movie star, Naomie Harris.

It’s a bit of a cheat I know, but when you’re trying to avoid stereotypes it works for me. Having spent some time at drama classes I’m always reminded that a little spontaneity keeps a character fresh and hopefully interesting to a reader and I try to bear this in mind. Sometimes it all falls over and a character can feel a bit flat because this internal shorthand doesn’t translate very well to the page. Which is always the risk you take. Sometimes I’ll even try combining two actor styles and imagine a cross between say, Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman (Hertfords Boss) in a role. If I want someone mature and smoothly sinister, I’ll begin with a composite of say, Ian Richardson and Ian McKellan. In the theatre of my head, it’s always a great help to close my eyes and see the character I’ve created make the gesture and speak the words I’ve written. As they’re such familiar screen icons it makes it easier for me to wring the words out of my keyboard.

There is a school of thought that states one should always base characters on real live people, but that can and does backfire. Particularly in libel suits. For myself I’ll continue steering to the windy side of the law and imagine how a specific actor would play my character.

A paucity of inspiration


I can’t do it. I’m stuck. I’ve edited and re edited. Proofed and corrected, but as for new output, I’m grinding around in a circle like a tank with one track. Endlessly covering the same small circle. Under inspired.

Everything has ground to a halt. Short stories, screenplays, novels, everything. Nothing is working: the ‘what if’ game, the get on with other things gambit, nothing. Fortunately I’ve been here before, and know that if I kind of take a sneaky sidestep, and quit battering my head against a metaphorical brick wall, I’ll see a way around or through. Sooner or later. Just take a time out, use my eyes, peoplewatch, walk, talk, do the Zen thing and the answers should present themselves. I hope.

So many profiles, so little time


Being a one man band has its downside. In short, self promotion. In between day job, looking for better job, writing, looking for new places to live, navigation and R/T courses, cooking and trying to do some research, I have to fit in updating all the profiles I’ve begun. There’s Authors Den (Hi guys), Goodreads (Profile needs completing) to mention but two of my multiple memberships. Never mind LinkedIn, and I can’t remember the last time I logged on to FaceBook properly.

Yesterday I spent three and a half working hours alone on my Authors Den profile (Including blog post) before four hours travelling to and talking to boat brokers and walking around various marinas looking at everything from an oversized dinghy to a minor gin palace as a live aboard, although the cost of satellite Internet is rather off-putting. Putting in over two hours editing the rough draft of ‘A Falling of Angels’ while cooking ribs to have cold for supper at work then working the graveyard shift at day job. Today I hope to get a few more hours at the keyboard before disappearing from just after four until after midnight.

That makes yesterdays total; five hours sleep; three and a half hours on Authors Den; just under nine hours including commute to and from day (more like night) job for paid work; an hour and three quarters in the kitchen; two hours writing; three and a half hours looking at boats; about an hour talking about boats and travel with Angie; half an hour reading one of my favourite books; an hour answering email, and I think I actually managed what our cousins down south call a couple of ‘comfort breaks’ during the day. I also managed a few minutes studying for an exam, but I’m not sure where I managed to fit that in. The bookmark has moved forward a chapter, so I must have done. What is that big expensive screen thing in the living room we never switch on?

Angie has noticed how tired I look, so I’m driving her down to Sidney and Victoria on Friday to visit yet another bunch of Marinas. More boats. More houses. More research. More job hunting.

I’d really like to be more active on these profiles, upping my visibility as an Independent; but then there wouldn’t be time for day job, looking for better job, writing, looking for new places to live, navigation and R/T courses, cooking, making time for my wife and trying to do some research.

Update: I forgot my dog. He needs me too. Walkies, food, time to sit at his master’s feet. There’s another hour a day.

Is online activity declining?


This is purely anecdotal I know, but since the Snowden / NSA scandal broke, with all the revelations about surveillance, I’ve noticed a significant decline in online activity. Not this site, because it’s always been pretty low activity. Really, what is less interesting than a self publishing writer in a niche market talking about writing and self publishing in a niche market? On various forums I read, once active posters seem to have dropped off the web, and I’m wondering if this is symptomatic of an overall decline which probably impacts on online sales. I mean for everyone.

I know that Internet use ebbs and flows like the tide, but one time enthusiastic users seem to be less enthusiastic than usual right now. This is nothing I can pin down, and seeing as it’s a developing situation there are few real resources. Alexa.com shows that Google search use basically fell off a cliff in early June after six months of increase. Facebook is 11% down in search activity. Yahoo also suffered a sharp decline in June. Bing a small increase. This could of course be due to the holidays, as the majority of Internet use is driven by a younger audience, and will no doubt be back up in September when school restarts. On the other hand I find myself concerned that we’re seeing the start of an ‘Internet recession’. An overall decline in Internet use as people drop ‘off grid’ in an attempt to avoid everything they say and do being logged and recorded.

Like I say, there are few reliable sources of immediate information, but I liken it to watching a change in the clouds a day before a storm rolls in. The harbingers are there. Once hyperactive users have gone silent. Companies are talking about taking their online business ‘offshore’ and even the antivirus company I use is doing deals on VPN (Virtual Private Network) connections. I’m halfway inclined to configure my router to anonymise web access like in this tutorial, but it’s such a pain to reconfig if something untoward happens at the other end (Loss of proxy, things like that).

Aug 2013 012For those of us who have bet the farm on a ‘web only’ eBook strategy, this apparent decline does not bode well.

Apropos of nothing; during a rainstorm over Dodd Narrows yesterday evening around 7:30pm, I was privileged to witness exactly what is at the end of the rainbow. On a full arc double bow.

Original image. No photoshop. This is what actually lies at the end of the rainbow.

I keep on hearing this….


Browsing through varying LinkedIn forums, I keep on coming across sweeping broad brushstroke statements to the effect that most self published works are poorly formatted and written rubbish. If this truly is the case, then why bother stating the obvious? Of course badly written, scrappy looking work won’t sell. But what is also true is that even brilliantly written, spectacularly perfect work may not sell either because it is not what the market wants right now, and as is repeatedly demonstrated, not even the ‘professionals’ get it right. Remaindered book shops being the singular living proof.

Yet, if we are to believe what some say, to self publish is to be forever damned by the traditionalists. Had the temerity to put a piece of work in the public domain without their consent? Only to be denied access to wider bookshop markets because the distributors won’t list a work with less than so many thousand pre printed stock available? Even then, will mainstream bookstore buyers touch self published works? Experience says no. Unless someone knows something I don’t, and I’d love to hear of a low cost entry level way into this section of the market. Apart from the eBook route.

So, what to do? Do I, as one who chooses to eschew the traditional publishing route of Agent and Publisher repeat what I did for so many years, write, submit, then wait, and wait, and wait, only to be handed a non specific “Sorry, no.” after three (or even on one particular occasion, six) months? Or simply go for it full thrust, transition, and try to blow a hole through the blockade like some of my characters repeatedly do in ‘Falling’ and ‘Darkness’? Should I ‘write for the market’ like we are all exhorted to do by creative writing classes and tutors? Okay, say I, but who defines what the market actually wants? What is ‘The Market’? I don’t know. The literary marketplace is diversifying so rapidly, I don’t think anyone else really knows, either.

‘Writing for a market’ might be the ‘safe’ option, but I’ve never really cared much for ‘safe’. If I did, I’d never have slung a leg over the saddle of a horse or motorcycle. Even after repeated falls and many bruises. Or handled bad tempered animals with teeth bigger and more dangerous than a large diameter circular rip saw. Or any of the other dangerous pursuits that get my heart pounding. So I write what I want. Not what others would have me write.

On the whole I think those who demonise independent self publishers do both themselves and their employers / companies a great disservice. Whenever I hear someone vouchsafing thus, it makes me extremely reluctant to deal with their company. To me they represent an elitist world view, rather like the voices who simply can’t bring themselves to believe that an English market town grammar school boy could become the most celebrated playwright in the history of the English language. Shock horror! The man never even went to University! How dare he! Yet the name of William Shakespeare echoes across time, even four hundred years on. One small town boy made good.

But then, we all have to start somewhere, be our journey in this life short and spectacular or slow and barely noticed. The only sin is not to try. Damn the dissenting voices.

On the move


No word from the Kobo people on the account settings, so the Kobo editions of ‘Sky’, ‘Falling’, and The Calvin series first offering ‘Head of the beast’ will have to wait until the jet lag fades.  For the next 24 hours plus I’m living in alloy tubes and airports, navigating the indignities of airport security, and trying not to laugh as Angie’s hip implants set off the scanners.  Then we’re more or less on the road for three weeks.  Of course I’ll hunker down where I can to put a few words to storyline and keep a weather eye on my email.

Had a good nights sleep last night, so I’m fresh and rested.  Maybe the jet lag won’t bite so hard this time round.

The eBook version of ‘Head of the Beast’ needs a reformat, so that will keep me out of mischief.  Just font and indent changes.  A few italics need inserting, but on the whole, the story still sends chills down my cynical back.  I may even put some more work in on ‘A Falling of Angels’.  Although ‘Darkness’, the third and final volume of the ‘Stars’ series needs the most attention.

Notepad, laptop, travel documents, money and other essentials are ready.  We’re off.  We’ll see what inspiration hits while we’re on the road.

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