Friday, 19 February 2010

The Sparrow Conundrum

Right, time to get back to normal. My brother’s posting more or less doubled the traffic to the blog but I can’t keep relying on him like that. So the men who read this must accept that role models come and go and, until Ron decides to start his own blog, they must retain that brief few days of glory when he was here before them, showing the way. For the ladies it will no doubt be more difficult. The swooning and vapours occasioned by his likeness at the head of his message must be suppressed and you must now content yourselves with strolling through cornfields or beside the river at dusk, stilling your beating heart and heaving bosom and sighing wistfully to yourself, ‘I once knew an Englishman who could touch ceilings’.

Back then to the prosaic and mundane. I refer to my own reflections on the changing business of writing. When I first started, long, long ago, I sent crap plays to the BBC, which returned them with personalised (not standard) rejection letters which told me they weren’t quite right for them. But always, somewhere in the letter, there was some sort of encouragement – with some they liked the dialogue or characters, they saw promise in the plot of others or praised my sense of humour. It was always enough to make me think ‘OK, I’ll try again’. And, one day, it worked and they broadcast the next five. Then came the novels and, once again, I sent the first one I wrote to an agent, who liked it and signed me up. He didn’t manage to place it but I wrote another and he liked that, too. But still there were no takers. And (unbelievably to me now), I changed agents – just like that. And the second agent got my third and fourth novels published.

So that’s what it was like in the good old days.

Today, the planet is full of writers, some of whom should definitely not quit the day job but thousands more who are very, very good and deserve to be published. But driven, understandably, by the need to make a living, agents and publishers don’t seem to have the time, patience or courage to take on individuals who have no proven track record. I was told that, if an agent tells a publisher ‘My client has already had books published’, the response is not ‘Are they any good?’ but ‘Did they sell?’ And so the whole climate is forcing writers to become PR and marketing specialists and generally whore themselves around.

Which is fine. In the halcyon days, many writers were unrealistic. They assumed that society owed them a living; they were as bad as the type of academics who lived in cushioned fairylands and didn’t know the meaning of real life or accountability. (I refer not to ALL academics but to the underdeveloped few.) But we’ve certainly swung too far the other way and it’s depressing to read, on peer review sites such as Authonomy, excellent novels which really do deserve to be published and yet which languish in slush piles. (I’m mixing metaphors to show how good I am at it.)

So, we have to resort to stratagems such as that to which all the above is an introduction. I’m not sure how long this has been going on but there’s now a fad for fan pages on Facebook. I’m a fan of lots of writers whom I admire there and I started wondering whether I should start a fan page myself. I started messing around with it but realised that all I was doing was duplicating the page I already had. So instead I started a page devoted to The Sparrow Conundrum. I’ve mentioned this before but it’s a totally reworked version of that first ever novel which got me an agent way back. But how do you entice fans to sign up to something which doesn’t exist? Well, my idea was precisely to use that as my gimmick. So I wrote the following introduction:

The Sparrow Conundrum exists, but not yet in any accessible form. To become a fan is to show faith in something you just have to take on trust. And those among you who are now shaking their heads and dismissing it as yet another religion must disabuse yourselves. Apart from the occasional taking of Someone’s name in vain, it has no religious or mystical pretensions.
And yet its Coming has been predicted and should the day dawn when the fathomless workings of absurdity evanesce sufficiently for it to appear in corporeal form, you will be one of the happy band who may glory in (or regret) your allegiance to it.
Predecessors have sprung from the same literary loins but none of them shares the Sparrow’s linguistic or conceptual DNA. Some acolytes have glimpsed parts of it, others have actually absorbed its spirit in its entirety but none, as yet, has taken possession of it.
If there is a Sparrow-shaped gap in your life, becoming a fan is the first step towards plugging it. If there is no such gap, you are truly fulfilled and the wishes of the rest of us go with you as you pass by.

And that was that.

I'd thought of writing it in the style of the St James Bible but realised that that would offend people and, since this is all supposed to be enjoyable and fun, I didn’t want to do that. Next, I added some actual comments taken from a peer review of it on another website. They were:

“Your adverbs look corny and misplaced.”
“Your story does not stand up in this century.”
“You show clearly you know nothing about IT, mobile phones or modern crime.”
“My personal opinion of your story is that it is not particularly funny or even marketable.”

Well, you’d have thought that would pull in the crowds, wouldn’t you? But no, not yet. So far I’ve gathered a whole 17 fans, most of whom I knew already and are probably giving me the sympathy vote. I mean, it’s not as if I were soliciting virtual groupies. At this rate I shall have to get my family involved.

But this is far too long already. Thanks for your patience.

Next time – did I survive 7 classes of kids between the ages of 5 and 12 when I went to their primary school to do stuff with them on writing? That's what's happening next Wednesday. Pray for me.


  1. interesting stuff, Bill. I shall avail myself of your new fan page. Cos, like, I'm a fan.

    And oooo, liking the "next time..." thing. You old tart you.

  2. Michael, thank you. I take 'old tart' as a compliment.

  3. Hi, Bill. I became a fan, just because I like your posts and comments. You, authors of detective stories, can't imagine how many people learn English by your books. Because only a page-turner can make you stick to the book when you don't understand around 10% of what you read. So, in addition to the function of entertainment, detective stories actually perform some kind of scholastic function.

  4. The St. James Bible, sounds cool. What agent?

  5. Interesting, sofisticos. It never occurred to me that that might be the case. The only thing I'd say is that you obviously need to choose your authors with care. Some crime writers deliberately use a pretty ripe vocabulary because (obviously) it suits the genre. But I admire your persistence - I think if I didn't understand 10% of what I was reading, I'd give up.

    And Donnie, I'm not sure what you're asking there. But I didn't actually write the Bible, nor did my agent get me a commission to do so. I hope that answers your question.

  6. Sofisticos reminds me that I need to look for your second book. And I too would like to see your version of the St James Bible, lol. Maybe you'd have found an agent right off if you'd written that!

    Do we have to wait til Wednesday or Thursday for another post from you? Awwwww.

  7. Marley, you wouldn't believe the number of things it occurred to me to write in response to your notion that I should have written the Bible - none of which I can use for fear of offending people. For the record, even though I'm a non-believer, I was brought up on that book and I love its language and rhythms and stories. It's also too easy to parody (you just need to drop in a 'Lo', 'verily', 'spake unto him', 'behold', etc., etc.).

    The fact that you're going to get another book of mine makes me think I should do a wee blog about the sort of reviews you find on Amazon. I've read some of which have made me wonder whether there were two books with the same title and author because they bore no relation to the one I'd read. Oh, and thank you in advance.

  8. Bill, surely the duty of a blogger is to offer an opinion/ differing view of the world despite the fact that it may cause offence?

    And you didn't answer Marley's question about how long we have to wait for another blog.

    Yours etc
    Impatient of Ayr

  9. Dear Impatient,

    May I refer you to a location (May Contain Nuts whose author’s manic scribblings have earned him a large and faithful global following. He is indeed blessed. (He has even directed some of them here, which makes me a groupie of his, dammit). I, on the other hand, have to try to hold on to the ones I’ve got. You will, of course, be familiar with the closing lines of Yeats’s He wishes for the cloths of heaven:

    ‘I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.’

    My desire in these scribblings is to tread softly. I am, in case you need reminding, a guru, and with veneration come responsibilities.

    On your second point, this clamour for more blogs is music to my ears but, alas, my sloth is impervious to entreaties.

    Yours (and no etc.),

    Tentative of Aberdeen

  10. You are amazing man! I'm glad I dropped by to say hello...

  11. And Still no answer to the original question...

    Yours TRULY,
    Persistent of Bayouland

  12. Welcome Jarmara and, while I obviously agree with your assessment of me, modesty compels me to lower my gaze, shrug my shoulders and say things like 'Aw shucks'. I'm glad you dropped by too.

  13. Dear Persistent,

    Your preoccupation with 'the original question' is heart-rending. There may well have been a big bang with Dark Matter and quarks and stuff and infinities which have edges; or there may equally well have been a Divine being who thought it would be a good idea to create inadequate mammals who'd gradually destroy something which took him a whole week to build. As I said, I have no wish to trample on dreams, so you'll have to choose which you prefer.

    And who knows when my torpor will permit me to blog again?


    Procrastinator of ... er ... um

  14. I'm also a fan who loves your intellectual humor. Thanks again for talking me into a fan page of my own. I'm not sure what to do with it, besides offer up writer quotations and news of publications, but it's certainly uplifting to know that someone appreciates my work. :)


  15. 'Intellectual humor' Jean? I can only repeat 'Aw shucks'. As for not being sure what to do with fan pages, join the rest of us in groping in the dark. I guess it's just that it doesn't do any harm to create one and we may be missing something if we don't.