New Website - and a very Happy Christmas!

Just launched my nice new website, here, designed and built by Ayrshire company, Paligap  I'm delighted with it, although it has certainly taken me long enough to get around to commissioning it! And I'm well aware that an out-of-date website is worse than no website at all.

Paligap built my first site many years ago, when they too were just starting out - I remember visiting them, two pleasant and enthusiastic young men, in premises tucked away down a little back street in the town of Ayr. I was very happy with that first website, but as time passed, my work changed. I thought about changing the site too, but I couldn't justify the expense to myself, in view of the fact that I wasn't at all sure any longer what I wanted it to say! So I concentrated on blogging, while I thought about it, and wrote, and then thought about it all some more.

Paligap, meanwhile, expanded and grew. They moved to nice new premises, and then - more recently - to even nicer premises in an old but very distinguished part of the town. And they gained some very distinguished customers in the meantime. (They are still a very pleasant, friendly company to work with though!)

And I went through a succession of changes in my working life, what I wrote, what I wanted to do with it, where I wanted to go with it. The single biggest change, though, was signalled by two things - the collapse of the mid-list as far as conventional publishing was concerned - and the advent of 'indie publishing' - the possibility of publishing work directly onto Kindle and other platforms, avoiding the increasingly complicated strings of gatekeepers which had interposed themselves between the writer and his or her readership. Suddenly, there was a very definite possibility of getting the work out there instead of spending years and years rewriting it to the demands of an increasingly prescriptive industry - and that came like a wonderful breath of fresh air.

I've written about that change more fully elsewhere, especially in the Scottish Review, here - where you can read a longish essay about the concept of the mid-list - what it is and what has happened to the writers who belonged there. Just as I was assembling ideas for my new website, I read a wonderful little book called How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months (I know, I know, we should all be so lucky!) - but it's a lovely, entertaining, useful book, full of bright ideas. And the biggest, brightest idea of all, the best piece of advice - although there's a lot more, you should buy it - is that the writer should spend time thinking about/focusing on/building a relationship with his or her readers.

It was a moment of enlightenment. I don't know why, because it's kind of obvious when you think about it - but over the past few years, writers have been concentrating so hard on the long and difficult hunt for an agent, and then the equally long and difficult hunt for a publisher - that they/we seem to have neglected the person who really matters - the reader.

Fortunately, enlightenment came just in time for me to make a few changes to my new website (thank-you John Locke!) and it's now aimed fairly and squarely at readers, or potential readers. Which is just as it should be.

Meanwhile, this will be my last post before Christmas - so let me wish all of you a very happy and joyful holiday season - and a very successful 2012.

The Physic Garden - Just An Old Man's Story

There have been some very interesting blog posts and Facebook comments recently about the problems facing older writers when they try to sell novels which are not about the dilemmas of twenty somethings - especially this excellent and heartfelt post by Linda Gillard on the Do Authors Dream of Electric Books blog. I found myself identifying with this very strongly, and not just from a female point of view.

A few years ago, when I had finished a draft of a new novel called The Physic Garden, I sent it to my agent who sent it out to a young 'reader'.  The book - I'm planning to finish rewrites and publish it to Kindle some time in 2012 - is a historical novel, related in the mid 1800s, in the 'voice' of an old man called William Lang, who was once, many years before, employed as gardener in the physic garden of the old college of Glasgow University. The book is essentially about his relationship with one of the young professors, and is a tale of male friendship, class differences and extreme betrayal. I love this period, and I fell in love with my story - sometimes it seemed as though I was channelling William, rather than inventing - an uncanny experience, since there was a real William Lang, who was indeed a college gardener. I found out some things about him, but made most of it up. It could have happened that way.

But when my then agent, a young woman herself, gave the book to one of the agency's readers, another young woman, the only response was that it was 'just an old man's story' and a marked lack of enthusiasm. At the time, it hit home. And here, I find myself wondering all over again, just why even experienced writers such as myself, are so thoroughly lacking in confidence in our own abilities. Anyway, when I changed agents, soon afterwards, I also started trying to change The Physic Garden into a third person narrative, so that I could get away from that 'old man's voice.'

I was an idiot, and it was a complete nightmare. I  would lie awake, fretting about it. And in several months, I managed to change only a tiny bit of the book. It was like wading through treacle. William simply demanded to be heard and he wasn't having any of the changes. He was outraged by them.

Eventually, of course, I woke up to the folly of it. The novel is William's story and although there are plenty of other characters, and I do need to do rewrites so that they become more intensely themselves - still, the narrator is William and we are seeing things from his perspective, even if we, as readers, may not always agree with his judgement. But I'm left with the uneasy feeling that the real hurdle here was that very young reader's perception that nobody would ever be interested in anyone over the age of about twenty five. Linda is all too right when she asks 'What is this obsession with youth?'