Thursday, 5 November 2015


Later in the blog I will discuss the issues of promoting and marketing your work. For now (and periodically through the blog) I would like to post some examples of 'adverts' for FESS that I posted on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, in the run-up to publication. Note that they all bear the website address where an interested reader can get much more background than could possibly be carried in an advert, together with all the contact and payment details which would similarly clutter up an ad.

If there is a common theme (other than the title and the web address) it is that the middle section always contains 'the hook' to engage the reader's attention and amuse or interest them. If engaged, (and particularly if they feel it might be reflect what the book is like) they may follow up and buy.

The overall design mimics the FESS cover, so there is a strong element of branding, and all the ads follow a similar template. It gives an instant recognition factor while also heightening awareness of FESS-related material on Facebook posts for example, or on Amazon.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015


When I wrote FESS I did it in a blaze of energy which came from the emotion generated by uncovering old memories: these were of events which I had not revisited for decades. And when that novelty lessened, there was the sheer pleasure of just getting my life down on paper (technically on screen, but let's not be pedantic).So it all came out in a rush though not chronologically, in the order that appears in the book. Tributaries started by different associations took me off in other directions - collateral benefit rather than damage. So by the end I wasn't entirely sure what I'd written, how much childhood, how much adulthood, how much sex, violence and rock'n'roll, how much boring but necessary dross - because actually there are enormous amounts of dross in our lives and some of it has to be included, or the book becomes just your Greatest Hits. And there should be some Greatest Misses as well, otherwise it's just a fake account of a charmed life, in which case why aren't you living in Hampstead with an Aston Martin outside your Georgian house? This is easy to say but, believe me, it's quite hard to pin up your humiliations for all to read. Frank Sinatra evidently had a troubled past, largely concealed; but his Mafia friendships became known and dogged him throughout his career. No-one is all good or bad and an autobiography should reflect both poles

                                                "Regrets, I've had a few   
                                                 But then again                
                                                 Too few to mention...." 


An autobiography which is just a PR job is pointless: nobody's that good, and so it would reek of falsehoods and have no credibilty. On the other hand you may have issues and experiences that are entirely personal and   private which the world does not have a right to know about, if you prefer that. It's only a personal view, but in FESS I have been scrupulously honest in what I have written about (with the exception of where I have, unknowingly, simply got things wrong), but also created no-go areas which I have deliberately not explored at all. For example, FESS has almost no coverage of my marriages and why they foundered. This does create a vacuum in the heart of the book, but I judged it to be unfair on my former partners - and even more so on the children. It was a sacrifice but a necessary one.

So when I had written most of it, I had a read-through to get an overview, to see whether it needed any reorganisation, extra bits or deletions, and to generally get a feel for how the whole thing would seem to a reader. I surprised myself with its diversity, the sheer number of topics I'd given some sort of coverage to, and wondered if it was just 'too much'. I started to note them down, and here they are in  A-Z form:

Andi O, arson, Bristol, Brown Clee Hill, beauty, criminals, CND, Davids, doctorate, dumped, East Enders, football, friendships, George Harrison, girls and women, Harvard, Israel, Jewishness, John Hurt, Kosovo, Lower East Side, masturbation, May 1968, murder, music, NYC, orphans, paedophilia, police, politics, PreRaphaelites, protest, racism, Romania, sex education (absence of), sadists, Shropshire, snogging, teachers, Special Branch, The Suit, Tottenham Hotspur, Udarnik, University of Westminster, vicissitudes of fortune, wasps, Xistentialism, yoghourt,  zero breathing, a.k.a.death.

It's nothing like a complete list, but even from this sample it's clear that there is no common theme they could be structured round.  Commonplace as it is, they just cannot be organised in any way other than chronologically. Some people liked the idea of making them completely random, but my Welsh influences insisted that they be very, very tidy.  Random presentation provides a nice element of surprise and variety but also brings some confusion through things happening in the 'wrong' order. Time's arrow probably hits the target.

Sunday, 1 November 2015


An autobiography is not a novel. It doesn't have a cast of characters who are playing out a plot from start to finish (obviously there are some characters, and there are some dramatic parts which may read like a novel, but it doesn't have the same narrative thrust). So it may be difficult to hold the reader's attention through many successive episodes which don't necessarily connect with the one before or the one after.

When I wrote FESS I tried to put a 'hook' on every page: something funny, sad, surprising, graphic, or just plain interesting that might go ping in the readers' minds and grab their attention, retain their interest, or just keep them awake. I didn't manage it in every case, but I think it's a good policy to implement if you can. Here is how one gag developed.

There is a section which describes a long and happy relationship with Shropshire, where we had the great good fortune to be able to rent a small and dilapidated cottage for next to nothing (see  FESS  #49:  To Gallop in Salop). As a very important part of my life it was a 'must' for inclusion in the book and it was a nostalgic pleasure to write. But maybe not to read: the potency of the scenery and the people might not work 'second hand' even though they were vivid and full of emotion for me. I started to search for things that would make it more graphic.

Shropshire is proper rural. Our part of it was as rural as it gets: open country, only two tiny villages in the vicinity, a clutch or two of houses, a sprinkling of people, many sheep and cows. So I wrote:

"In the area around the two hamlets in South Shropshire I came to know, farm animals definitely outnumbered humans"

Somewhere in there is quite a graphic image of the few people being submerged in a sea of sheep and cow. There was an implicit threat, which I had not meant to communicate, but clearly sensed by my eldest daughter in this shot (note: that is not our cottage)

In my head there was the notion that the cows might one day takeover. This would be an appalling prospect for any number of reasons, not least the disappearance of milk, beef and burgers from our diet. But given their numerical majority in the area, some kind of more inclusive democracy, maybe even bovine suffrage would perhaps be in order. That was the way I was thinking - well, possibly not thinking so much as freely-associating in a whimsical, even surreal way. (These kinds of flights of fantasy often become absurd, or lead nowhere, but occasionally they make bizarre connections which work and which you probably wouldn't have made in any other way. So the second formulation of the 'hook' was:

"In the area around the two hamlets in South Shropshire  I came to know, farm animals definitely outnumbered humans; and had they been given the vote, the first cow MP would have been returned to Westminster"

Maybe this was enough to convey this cow-dominated bucolic scene? No, the lily must be gilded. There was still something unformed, nagging at me, a natural connection that had to be made. Finally it came, just dropping into place like a piece of a well-worn jigsaw puzzle: I could make the point about Shropshire animal life I wanted to, and deliver a nasty sideswipe at my number one political bete-noire:

"In the area around the two hamlets in South Shropshire  I came to know, farm animals definitely outnumbered humans; and had they been given the vote, the first cow MP would have been returned to Westminster since Mrs Thatcher".

Not Mrs. Thatcher's time, Mrs Thatcher herself.

OK, maybe it's a gag which is not going to bring the house down at Live at the Apollo, but it works well enough to amuse and do what it's supposed to do: encourage the person to read on.