I was going to write about an invisible cat. It's a true story too, and we all like true stories about invisible cats. I know, I'll put it at the end. What a showman!
But then something got me thinking about something else. A limp. Isn't it great living on your own? You can do whatever you like.
So this limp...
Ten years ago I had a problem: Can I really write convincingly to an audience of adults, or does my natural tendency to be flippant ruin it all? It doesn't sound much like a problem, I mean, there's just been an earthquake or two in Indonesia, so struggling with such ethereal concepts as portraying adult themes in fiction isn't something to get too het up about. But it was a problem for me. Ten years ago I worried about such things (I've got over it).
To solve the problem I imagined my audience as children and then I could let go of such silly constraints and have fun. I wrote and wrote and all my fears and woes subsided. I ended up writing a book that adults like. Then I wrote a real book for adults. Go figure, as the Americans like to say.
However, I now had a book that adults like but it looks like a kids' book. Is that a problem, I wondered? Would John le Carre have been successful if Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy was a pop-up book or made from fuzzy felt?
I asked the internet. I wish I hadn't.
One of the replies said it was ridiculous to think I didn't know enough to write for adults because we have the internet now and you can look anything up. D'uh. It's not hard!
He was trying to help I suppose, and genuinely thought that my angst was because I had never heard of Google. How could I be so useless, he thought.
The reply got me thinking. The internet has given us the ability to look up anything but as a writer, is that a good ploy? Does it enable anyone to think they can write convincingly about anything because they have access to Yahoo Answers? If so, it's going to seriously erode the quality of writing for ever.
Here's what I mean. There was once an actor, and I was pretty sure it was Freddie Jones but I can't find any evidence for that on the internet, so I might be wrong. The story is true though, even though I can't remember the details. This actor who might have been Freddie Jones won an award for portraying a character with a limp. Richard the third? Not sure. Someone famous with a limp anyway. What did the actor do to get this performance absolutely perfect? He walked around for an entire month with a stone in his shoe. By the time he got on stage, he had a limp. If only Freddie Jones (or whoever it was) had got that role in the internet age. He could have typed, “What's it like to have a limp?” Job done.
When Michael Caine was at acting school, the teacher told him to get on stage and be a drunk. The young Michael climbed up before the class and began to sway, to bump into things, to slur his words. The teacher shouted, “STOP! What do you think you are doing?”
“I'm acting like a drunk,” Caine said.
“I didn't ask you to act like a drunk, I told you to BE a drunk!”
I once heard that Kenneth Branagh, when playing Richard III in a radio adaptation, wore a fake hump. ON THE RADIO.
The reply that suggested I was simply too lazy or brain-damaged to look things up on the internet got me wondering. Do the bulk of modern writers see the internet as a quick solution to any problem? What will become of us when authors settle for internet answers to life's experiences? Freddie Jones (or whoever) would stumble about saying ,“Ouch!” to portray a physical impediment that affects so much more than just walking. People wrestling with alcohol addiction will simply slur their words and bump into things. You don't need to wear a fake hump on the radio, but writers and actors need to dig a bit deeper. I think it's important.
The first thing you are told is, “Write what you know”. Perhaps that will change to, “Write what you just looked up on Google.”
I have a subscription to Nyetflix. I call it Nyetflix because Netflix in Slovenia only has a small percentage of what's on offer in the US or the UK. I therefore have to watch things I wouldn't normally watch. One such oddity is Zoo, a remarkably silly series about animals running amok and ganging up on humans because humans are bad. The first animals who've had enough are in Africa, because the internet told the writers that animals in Africa are scary. The second place for this apocalyptic event to spread is...SLOVENIA! I was heartened that Slovenia has finally found a place in the world of quality drama. Slovenia, according to Zoo, is a grey place of soviet concrete and people denied the liberation and beauty that only America could bring. That was the impression I got. Zoo has people in Africa attacked by lions, and in grey soviet Slovenia people are attacked by wild dogs.
Actually, for the edification of American producers of drama who dare to venture into Europe, Slovenia is bright, beautiful, clean, efficient, safe, kind, and sprinkled with a kind of magic that Americans could only dream of. I know. I've lived in both places. I've never seen a stray dog in Slovenia, and if there was one it would be instantly scooped up and loved.
I guess they wanted a place that wasn't Africa and thought, um, Slovenia was communist once, wasn't it? Communist was grey and poor and miserable wasn't it? They don't have lions do they?, but I bet it's full of starving dogs...
I think it's important to get things right, to try a little harder, and to doubt yourself. To ask more of yourself.
Okay, okay, the true invisible cat story.
When I lived in America I supplemented my income by taking a job pet-sitting. I loved it, actually. It got me out of the house and made me feel useful.
The job involved walking dogs and feeding cats. Most cats in that part of America never leave the house, which I found to be sad, so I made a fuss of them. I was sent to this one house with two black cats and owners who were off to the Jersey shore for two weeks. I went to see them, to meet the cats, to do the paperwork.
On that initial visit I only saw one black cat and asked to see the other but the owners said it would be hiding somewhere. Okay, no problem.
On my first real cat-sitting visit I saw one black cat, and the food was only half gone.
On my second visit I saw one black cat and the food was only half gone.
I texted the owners with my concerns for the health of the other cat.
As they were not too far away, he came back and texted me that both cats were alive and well, so not to worry. Phew.
On my next visit I saw one black cat and half the food was gone.
Repeat for the rest of the two weeks.
On my final day I entered the house to find the owner back a day early. He was grateful for my visits and all was well. He was holding a black cat.
“Where's the other one?” I asked.
“Oh, he'll be hiding somewhere,” he said.
In all of my visits to the house, I never, at any point, saw two cats. Is it possible that they don't actually have two cats at all? Do they see one and always assume the other is hiding somewhere? Maybe, like me and Google (apparently), they don't know how mirrors work.
I have just looked up “How to take care of a cat that you can't find,” on Google.
“Call your local animal shelter and humane societies – most have a computerized lost and found service (check our Area Shelters web page). Take the cat to the local animal shelter or veterinarian to have it scanned for a microchip.”
I began my self-publishing adventure in 2012, first uploading a 20k science fiction masterpiece (Like Minded), then a 40k kids' book that only adults like (Linus Bailey) and then Dudley Chalk, my main man at 120k. I toyed with Amazon Kindle, then Smashwords, then both together and all other permutations you can think of. Then I made the print versions. I even made an audiobook. The magic and mystery of self-publishing is that payments in dollars sit in a dollar pile until you reach 100, and then you get paid. The same happens with pounds. If a random European stumbles across my literary marvels and buys a book I get some Euros, which will sit in a dusty corner, solitary, wondering when or if they will ever reach the magic 100. All my book sales are spread across several vendors and across several currencies, waiting, forever waiting...
Until now! This week the dollar pile for Kindle e-books tipped over the magic 100 and they sent me my very first cheque, to the value of $105. The process doth grind exceeding slow (well, in my case), but it does work. I'm chuffed, as we Brits say.
And on that very day, the day that Kindle bestowed upon me great fortune (I seem to have turned into Jane Austen), I was invited to a writing group, consisting of a multitude of ex-pat women who serve cakes and scones. This could account for me turning into Jane Austen. I was the only man at the table and because Kindle had so recently showered me with gifts, I did not have to pour my own coffee.
It was a good introduction to the local writers and I'll go again, not just for the excellent cake. I don't know if any of you out there like to write (I know some of you do) but writing is a living thing and it needs company. Without lively conversation and lashings of jam it can easily become a Gollum-like creature that lurks in the dark and comes out all wrong. If not jam, I had lashings of lively with Cassandra, Mitchell and Bill in America -- we didn't write much during our meetings but the pleasure of their company made the subsequent writing better. It was good to find other writers here, and hopefully they will keep me on my toes. They are keen. They produce things to read out loud. I need to dash off another novel fast or they will think me a fraud.
Slovenia, writing, other things