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Michelle's corner

Michelle Knight. Writer, photographer, programmer, truck driver and general, all round nut case. Life is a journey and that's what this blog will probably end up being. Let's see where we go, eh? ;-)

Currently reading

Science and Philosophy in the Indian Buddhist Classics
Dalai Lama XIV, Ian Coghlan
Progress: 23/433 pages

The battle of commercialisation and art

Today, I came across an article written by Luke Epplin in August 2015. - https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/selling-newspaper-comic-strip/ - warning, it's a long one; and necessarily so.


One of the things with writing is the question of, "why write?" For the sake of the art of doing something? For riches? For fame? Why? And I have found myself asking the question that, if I'm not going to achieve riches or fame, then why am I going to the extent and expense of publication? Why am I making any effort at all to protect the works and get some scraps of money for them, instead of just giving them to the world and getting on with life?


In Epplin's article, he focuses on the contrast between Watterson's artistic, non-commercialisation approach of, "Calvin and Hobbes," and Shultz's controlled commercial attitude to, "Peanuts." Thrown in for good measure is Jim Davis' unabashed exploitation of, "Garfield."


But one of the larger problems for Watterson was that syndicates forced cartoonists to give up the copyright and ownership of their strips before they agreed to peddle them to newspapers. Undoubtedly this arrangement helped aspiring cartoonists find their footing in the business, but it came with a significant concession: reduced leverage in how their creations were represented in the marketplace.


It does seem to be a case of sacrificing everything in order to get power... enough power to be able to command a return of all that you've sacrificed in the first place. A fight which ultimately drained Watterson.


In 1991, after nearly six years of sparring, Universal reluctantly granted Watterson complete control of the strip and assurance that no unauthorized Calvin and Hobbes products would be made. Despite this triumph, Watterson was too drained to celebrate. His efforts to reclaim his characters had soured him on the industry. Looking back two decades later, he wrote: “In my disillusionment and disgust at being pushed to the wall, I lost the conviction that I wanted to spend my life cartooning.” Four years and two nine-month sabbaticals later, Watterson put down his pen.

Tied up in all this, is the primary reason for creating the art work in the first place. And that is a question which I believe plagues all artists, in all fields.


The larger ambitions that Watterson harbored for his strip were bound up with artistic expression, not monetary gain. Watterson viewed comics as an art form that, when printed properly and taken seriously, rivaled any of the so-called fine arts.


But when is artistic expression, an expression of self, and when does artistic expression actually become that life? And at what cost?


Schulz died in early 2000, the night before his final strip was published. Until then, he had completed one strip per day for nearly 50 years, taking only one five-week break during that span. Neither divorce nor open-heart surgery caused him to miss his daily deadline.


If you have the time, I really recommend reading that article. It was quite an insight into their worlds; the article itself opining, at the end, that it was perhaps a unique fight which can never be fought again, because the battle ground has changed.


Personally, I have to disagree with Epplin on that score. True, the internet has widened the pool of skilled artists, just like it has done with photographers, writers, musicians and every other field... but so has it widened the audience. The opportunities for commercial exploitation of brands still exists; maybe it is even stronger than before. However, the ability to get works out there, without needing the weight of the print industry is now beyond measure.


Battles of popularity are now waged on many fronts on the internet, and no one, "has," to commercialise any more in order to garner a fan base. As long as they have another means of putting food on the table.


But to return to the question I posed myself. Why publish? I suppose it is protection of my work. The pirates are going to pirate, no doubt about that. But if someone attempts to turn my work into a commercial success, then publishing is a way of ensuring that at least some of that money comes my way. There is a difference between actively hunting for something, and having opportunity knock at your door.


To be honest, I'm not sure how I'd react if fame stumbled upon me. I've seen enough of social media fame to know that it comes at a price. But I take solace in something that Norman Lovett said to me at a fair some years ago. "Don't worry. You'll probably be famous after your dead."

5,000 well formed words

"The Wrap," is starting to take shape. I've got the first four chapters forming nicely. Tripped over the 5,000 word mark and another 750 from sections further down the pipe line.


Currently writing an action scene. Difficult to write. I have to balance the action between describing what's going on in a complex scene, but keeping it believable and moving at a good pace.


This is, perhaps, the most difficult part of writing, for me. Fortunately, there are only two main characters involved in this, and an enemy swarm. Some readers like their action fast and don't care about the detail. Others like to be carried through it, as if in a time warp, detailing every twinging muscle so that they can rebuild the whole thing, blow for blow, in their minds eye.


It is impossible to please everybody, so I'm going to have to write this, and go through numerous re-reads until I'm happy with the balance between progression, believability and complexity.


Dylan could feel the thundering of his own pulse as he chased after Greda through the water. Their hastened strides causing copious splashing; the pipe work junctions nothing more than a blur as they followed the lights towards their target. There was no time to think now. It was do, or die.

Writing again

"The Wrap" started months ago. I posted a very rough draft of the first chapter here in July. It then sat on the back burner, but it was never far from my mind.


For some reason, a few things have popped into my mind. I hammered out five hundred words which form some of the critical elements of the early story. Things that knit stuff together and form the framework of how what happens, happens.


Tonight, I'll paste those words into the working draft, and then re-work some of the earlier sections in order to make things a little smoother.


I'm sort of glad that I left it alone and let it just bubble away in my head while I got on with life. But I think I'm now in a position to really get the first few chapters well formed in a believable fashion.

UK benefits undermining authors

In the UK, our social benefits system is changing.


A collection of various benefits, paid for various circumstances, is being lumped into one, "Universal Credit."


A number of now-famous authors, wrote their breakout novels while on benefits, and as the market continues to change, author earnings have been dropping at a significant rate.


The Guardian reports on an All Party inquiry into the effect that the change to Universal Credit will have on new authors, preventing those with time on their hands from putting themselves to work as the next generation of writers... further hurting diversity and new talent - https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/30/universal-credit-could-silence-working-class-writers-mps-told

Solomon said: “We have a benefits system that doesn’t understand how writers work and now the minimum income floor means that authors may be cut out of the benefits system entirely.”

On the TBR pile

Rune Service - J.B. Garner

Some authors I follow because of their ethics, attitude and past dealings I've had with them. After quite some time with no contact, I decided to poke my head into J.B.Garner's world and have a look at what he's been doing.


Garner wrote about this... "Rune Service has been doing fantastic and it was probably the most fun book for me to write so far." ...so I'm hoping for a good, fun read.


Obviously, things are a bit nuts around here for the next few months but I'm hoping to sit down with this over the Chrimbo holidays.

A letter was removed....

It was on a forum, discussing a complaint that the publisher had received on their English, that they included a link (while sort-of-berating the complainant) that they included a link to a glorious article from 2008, where Giles Coren berated The Times for removing the letter "a" from a piece.


I thought I'd share it.... https://www.theguardian.com/media/2008/jul/23/mediamonkey


A Bit Of A Podcast

I have a very small podcast, and I'm announcing that I'm shutting it down, because there's a lack of listeners... and explaining my reasons why.


In it, I decided to talk about how we find out new material, and I ventured onto books.


I thought I'd include that piece of the script here for you. Apologies for any triggers. "Show Note" links are at the end. Also, apologies for grammar markings, these are timed for speech recording. I didn't really envisage publishing in this form.


Social media is, to some extent, a mirror of the book industry. I haven’t talked about that yet… have I?

Money has distorted that sphere as well. To be honest, the publishing industry has been distorted for a long, long time. Arguably, ever since the printing press. Where the power of the words you read, were dictated by those who were the gateway to the machines themselves. I am, actually, concerned by the amount of bias that’s being inserted by journalists in the last few years; but that’s another story.

Just between the USA and the UK, one new book is published every minute. I will go to my grave only having ever heard of the existence of the tiniest proportion of books. What I would have read, would have been infinitesimally smaller again.

We are being censored every step of the way. From what the librarians saw and see fit to put on the shelves, to what the newspaper reviewers decide to highlight that week, to the adverts on the billboards and the best seller lists. You can say we can always ask for a book that isn’t there… but without seeing it, we don’t even know that it exists, in order to ask for it, in the first place.

We have also started to turn to book bloggers as a way out of the mainstream, but some of those are also biased; as it is possible to get an affiliate payment if someone makes a purchase on the basis of their reviews… And there isn’t any easy way to notice whether a blogger is doing this, unless you start analysing links.

At the moment, we’re starting to see large social media influencers get slapped on the wrists, if they fail to disclose that they are being paid for endorsements. I don’t see the same happening for affiliate links… so you’re never going to know whether a blogger is pushing a particular book … or rather… deliberately NOT pushing the books that they won’t get funding from.

I actually had hot words with some book review bloggers who had reviewed fifty shades, but wouldn’t review my books in the same genre, because they wouldn’t be of interest to their audience. So… hang on… fifty shades was a big tick, but not me. That should tell you all you need to know. So much is being driven by money and fame, that anything which isn’t pushed by someone, stands very little chance of selling a single copy.

The censorship and bias out there is unbelievable. Most of it in the name of money. And politics, of course. Links in the show notes, including one to a Politico report that the New York Times informed Harper Collins that it wouldn’t include Ted Cruz’s new biography on the bestsellers list, despite the considerable sales numbers it generated.

There are independent… or indie… markets out there. Not only indie books, but indie music, indie computer games, indie all sorts of stuff. The trick is that it takes time. Time to hunt them down. Time to get involved with the scenes… and the time… and money… to take a risk. Buy a book and read it, and risk not having enjoyed it.

In some societies, a few books are a necessary read simply to be able to join in the dinner table conversation. But that’s consuming the argument from the wrong end.

Julie Adenuga, a DJ on Apple’s Beats 1 station, stopped listening to the songs she was being sent because she was losing her – quote – natural connection to the music – unquote. It was because she missed having actual moments with music. Quote - "I want a friend to tell me about a song; I want to go out and hear it for the first time; I want to see an artist I've never seen before and go, 'This is amazing!'" - unquote

The music had become a commercial river. And she didn’t like that. She wanted to re-capture the natural discovery of music while living life. Link in the show notes to that article.

On a book forum, I’ve got 884 followers at the time of writing this. How the heck have I got that many people following me? I don’t know. The best conclusion I can come to, is that I’m reading the things that other people aren’t. A chunk of my reading, is outside the mainstream. That’s the only reason I can possibly think of.

I’m not daring, I’m not dashing, I’m not unnecessarily bitchy and I’m not entertaining. But I am reading things which are a bit off the beaten track.

And I’m doing the same with music as well. I’m actually signed up to an indie service. Once a month, a cassette tape turns up at work. I don’t know what’s on it. Certainly, a band I’ve never heard of. And I have an old Walkman that I’ve resurrected… so I can pop the tape in, and go out for a lunch time walk and listen to the music.

And I’m honest with myself. The majority of them are middle of the road. But now and then, I come across something really special. And that makes it all worth while.

Yes, that service is being curated as well, but fortunately the amount of music coming out by this mechanism is far, far slower than the number of books that are published. Could the book world do something similar? Probably not. The number of authors knocking down the doors of such a service, would be overwhelming.

I know of a number of reviewers who have tried to give honest reviews of new books. They’ve been utterly swamped. And haven’t received a penny for their troubles. Heck, everyone’s got to eat.

So here we are, stuck in a world where our time on this planet is limited, and we want to make the most of it. But if we really want to get off the popular roller coaster and have an adventure… then we’ve got to be prepared to work for it… and be ready to waste some time and be disappointed… if we really… one day… want to hold that undiscovered gem in our hands, like Indiana Jones and that rare, fabled diamond.

So, I’m not blaming anyone for not reading my books, or watching my videos, or listening to my pod casts. If I’m not sharing anything which makes people want to go, “wow!” then I can’t expect people to want to tell others about me. And I’m not going to disrespect either myself, or other people, by hyping myself up as something I’m not.

There’s an onus on me here, to produce something that’s worth talking about. But I’m not going to stoop to click bait and unnecessary drama in order to do it.

I will very likely have gone to my grave having never made it to 885 followers in the book forum… but so what. I’d rather live an honest, boring life… than a dishonest one where I’m always looking over my shoulder.

And don’t get me wrong. At one point I did want fame… but what changed was that others achieved it before me… and I saw what it did to them… and I thought… that’s not really for me.




Review - Do You Mind If I Smoke

Do You Mind If I Smoke - Simon McKay, Fenella Fielding

Fenella Fielding. A principled, wholesome person in both life and book. (which was released first as an audio book, if you prefer that format) If you're looking for the dirt, it is there but it isn't put on a paper plate, fluffed up and delivered to your face a'la Tizwas. For example she recalled about working with Norman Wisdom...

"Not a very pleasant man. Always making a pass - hand up your skirt first thing in the morning. Not exactly a lovely way to start a day's filming. Taking it for granted anyone was game. It wasn't confined to just me, of course. I remember Dilys Laye saying exactly the same thing. His attitude was: Female; fair game. No thought for, is he alluring? Are you interested? No matter. It was just, ooo-er! Female; go. Not very nice. And not the most attractive man in the world.

Other accounts, of which there are few, are dealt with in a similar manner. Well, that is except for the chapter on Kenneth Williams, of course. You are more than half way into the book before she even mentions the films from which she titled the book, "(I'll tell you about the Carry On's later on.)"

I can't imagine how it must be to have to sell yourself into roles and work contacts for auditions and parts on such a regular basis. McKay decided to write the book in subject order rather than strict chronological and I personally think that this was the wrong decision with Fielding's story, as I didn't feel like I got enough of an image of any single period of time.

However, when you've got skill and experience, it probably makes the volatile career as an actor or actress all the more enduring. There were points in her career where she was, "broke," as in extremely low on funds and at one point she  recounted the experience of claiming benefits. But Fielding certainly had both skill and experience. Knowing when to add a word here, or cut a word there, or how delivery could change things. As she said, "Later, I noticed that a bit in the sketches I did with Morecambe and Wise... it was the rhythm of them." The goal seems to be to do enough in the popular works, so that the residuals all add up by the time you retire.

She shares pearls of wisdom, including "Well, everybody can make some stupid decisions and perhaps that was one of mine, but it doesn't mean my life is a tragedy because of it," and, "You do pick things up if people are kind enough to tell you when you need it. They'll say, 'If you did it like such and such, that would make the point,' and if you listen it can make a real difference."

I even learned a new word, "hobbledehoy."

The book finishes with the last twenty -ish pages being her appointment diary from 1958 to 1968. Things like...

19th March - Costume fitting at Berman's
20th March - Rehearse at Dinley's for police concert
24th March - Voiceover Cool Tan

In conclusion, I would rather have had an extended piece about each period; the personalities of a particular time, the places she lived and what was going on. Without this, the book does get a bit ethereal, which I think is a shame. It lacks the up and down of a drama read; but that wasn't what Fielding was about.


As many in the acting world, she did far more than she was popularly remembered for and I get the impression of someone I'd have loved to have had coffee with. McKay definitely did us a favour when he upped the ante to ice cream.

Reading progress update: I've read 21 out of 202 pages.

Do You Mind If I Smoke - Simon McKay, Fenella Fielding

...And when I performed it - to a gay crowd, because it was a gay club - they were helpless with laughter, especially when I sang the bits we'd added: "Your fairy days are ending, when your wand has started bending," and "The glitter-dust they sprinkles but it just shows up the wrinkles." Now I know why so many of those "Widow Twanky" men did this number in panto; clearly it's not quite the song I thought it was when I was a child taking classes with Madame Behenna. And I suspect that more recent interpretations might have come as a surprise to Madame Behenna, too.

Marcia Lewis--Nobody Loves a Fairy When She's Forty, 1977 TV

When someone enjoys the journey...

Someone who has just finished the BDSM series, reported that they enjoyed it. Knowing my history and that it's based on my life experiences gave them an extra connection and even though some of the twists and turns were darker rather than lighter... they enjoyed the journey.


I might actually write another book on this subject... but based on a more real life couple. That, however, would be several years down the line. I've met enough people and seen their relationships start, form, develop and end, as well as the relationships that I've been in myself, to be able to write a solid and truthful story. But I'm not going to make the same mistake twice... I'm going to nurture my abilities as a writer first.


This year has been a year of having to dot I's, cross T's and I've been doing a little photography and web design to supplement the old bank balance. As a result, there hasn't been the space for any real creative energy. And there's little chance of that changing throughout the rest of 2018.


But overall, I'm looking forward to returning to the creative process when things clear up.

I think I've worked it out

For years, you could ask me the question of what would make me happy, and I genuinely wouldn't be able to respond. Now, after watching the making of, with Ernest Cline behind the scenes of, "Ready Player One," I know what I want in life.


I'd love to go on that creative journey. To meet people and witness something I had written, come off the page and come to life. I can totally empathise with Cline's reports of having to stop his heart jumping out of his chest, during the process, because of the people he was meeting and the power of the creation process.


The description of Spielburg as someone who's tall that doesn't make you feel small, resonated with the clips of the process in action, and everyone working on various sets to make things happen.


Truly awe inspiring.

Two days...

Cheaper than Amazon, 5 day delivery free... and it reaches me in two days !!! ... Now that's what I call... "Smoking !!!!" :-D


Do you mind if I smoke?

Sadly, Fenella Fielding passed away a few days ago. She reached a good age, suffering a stroke at 90. Her life was quite unusual and I decided to buy the book she released last year, titled from one of her best scenes in, "Carry On Screaming," where she asked her visitors, "Do you mind if I smoke?" and when they confirmed that they didn't mind at all... her body was enveloped in steam from a dry ice source. Good joke.


Her obituary on the BBC is here - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/45409341 - and is worth a read, IMHO.

The only thing that rankled was when she met fellow actors - and there were many - who'd been asked to do adverts with a "Fenella Fielding-like" voice. "Bloody cheek," she would say with perfect comic timing. "Why didn't they ask me?"

What is unusual about this, is that I got the book cheaper from Hive.co.uk, than I could from Amazon. Purchases from Hive also include a donation to an independent book shop. Lesson... always shop around, because Amazon isn't the cheapest, especially now that postage isn't free for orders less than £20. Add to that, the Hive order was free postage for 5 day delivery. What's not to like?!


Tribute Art for The Dark Crystal

I'm looking forward to reading this one. There are various artists involved in this tribute work, and as such the styles vary considerably. Some true to the original work, others with their own takes which go towards the surrealist.


Review - Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art - Scott McCloud

McCloud has done very well with this book.


Using the medium of comics, to teach the history, composition, creation, properties and philosophy of comics, is perhaps the only way that these things could actually be taught. McCloud is actually able to demonstrate, right there, what he is discussing.


He had a lot to bring to the table, but I'm not sure how much of that is in the version I read; with the original being published in 1994. Approaching sixty years of life, he has spent the majority of that in the world of comics, with a long running relationship with manga also. The art of symbols, language and everything that they became and sometimes decayed into, is summed up here in a book which, I have to admit, got a little heavy for me in places.


The representation of himself that McCloud chose to present in the book, would fit with his age at the original writing. I do find myself sitting back and wondering if he would change anything about the wisdom that he presented back then; or whether he reached the pinnacle of his understanding of comics at that point. So many years have passed.


I get the impression that he is a man for whom his life and his art, are one in the same; and the wisdom he expressed is from the very early days of the internet, and I find myself wondering if he had a crystal ball...


In conclusion, the book does a very good job of deconstructing comic art and bringing an understanding of the mechanics to the reader. It will ensure I take a step back when evaluating a new comic, and I feel like it has opened a door in the artwork, to the mind of the artist beyond. I do wonder about the breadth of audience for this book, however.

I'm literally crying right now.

Feedback received, via the friend I originally gave, "Check Mate," to... from the lady they leant it to... to read.


Thanks for sending it to me but my heart sank initially as science fiction is not usually my preferred genre. However I did enjoy it, the lady obviously has a technical back ground and a great sense of humour as the characters were so beautifully drawn and very funny.  The solution was so blindingly obvious but didn't occur to me remotely, so very clever. I will recommend it to my ladies in the book club


Yeah, I'm literally shedding tears.