On Falling Trees

Godzilla frees the Evergreen supertanker from Suez canal.

Welcome to another fun-packed repository of useful tips and ideas. In this article, I share a few thoughts on guest writers and what it really takes to make a living as a self-published author. Spoiler alert: I am a long way from achieving that. However, all is not doom and gloom. But first, this wouldn’t be a proper Al Morton post if there weren’t at least a few wry observations on what’s been happening in the news. So, strap in tight as we plunge down the pothole of Brexit Britain to explore the mysterious world of flagpoles, giant boats, and beasts.

This week, the enlightened British press have been sharing with us how to rescue a stuck Japanese supertanker without the aid of Godzilla and what to do if your blonde girlfriend keeps asking for money after you’ve already paid to attend her penetrating IT courses. As an aside, I did read that one of a certain minister’s assignations described sex with him as ‘having a heavy wardrobe fall on top of you with the key still in the lock’. Ouch!

I am also going to touch on the new Tory plan to fly the Union Flag over food banks, homeless shelters, and fishing-community job centres. Well, who doesn’t love flags… 

Jennifer Acuri raising the Union Flag in the new Downing Street 2.6 million pound Russian built media centre.
Jennifer Arcuri raising the Union Flag in No. 10

Before I get to the main theme, I wanted to mention a mystery that has recently been solved. Have you ever wondered why every image of Priti Patel always shows her with a raised eyebrow? At one stage I thought this was an attempt to present herself as less shallow but thanks to her latest expenses claim, all is revealed. * It would seem that raising a well-curated eyebrow, cost the taxpayer an eye-watering £77,000. MPs are now worrying that a full Brazilian bikini wax could bankrupt the country.

*It is worth checking out the comments below relating to this. I am not a fan of Ms Patel, so it is possible that some political biases may have crept in. LOL!

On a more serious note, it is time for a change. I have been blogging for the last 20 years. At first, the intention was to connect with people trading the financial markets, then later, guitarists and writers. After a while, you reach a point where you ask, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I remind myself that I have a book and a second ready to go, so it makes sense to publicise my work. However, the handful of people who read the blog have already bought the book. I hope they enjoyed it and will be interested in the second when it is finally published. The wider demographic of my readers tend to be people who prefer to acquire their books from charity shops. There is nothing wrong with this but it does present a challenge to an aspiring writer as it is impossible to compete on price.

In my mind’s eye, I am writing because I have a story to tell and have no need for financial recompense. The first is true but the latter is not. We all have to survive and this year the issue has been brought sharply into focus. This is partly due to the pandemic but also down to the changing way we consume media. Not unlike the California gold rush, where the real money was made by those who sold the picks and shovels, we now have Google, Apple, and Amazon providing the tools and profiting from our collective desire to mine gold. In this overcrowded market, content providers including myself, are left with little choice but to give our work away. We want people to read our stories, listen to our music, and laugh at our inane jokes. However, if nobody knows about us, we may as well not exist. It’s the old tree-falling-in-the-forest argument: ‘If there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?’

The uncomfortable truth is that the majority of writers are not seeing a return on their work. However, self-publishing websites are one step ahead. They know the grim truth about publishing and have quit pretending to be writers in favour of lying to actual writers. The reason: pay-per-click advertising. They need you to believe in the dream, in the same way, that the world’s most wealthy individuals want you to believe that you are just one step away from joining them for cocktails on their superyachts. But ask yourself this: do you come from a line of multi-millionaires? Did you go to the right school? Do you truly believe that most lottery tickets will pay out ‘bigly’? I’m happy if you do, as I know an estate agent who wants a chat with you about a Spanish building plot. In truth, education, opportunity, and privilege all play a part in qualifying to have your books published by a mainstream publisher. You don’t even need to be a writer. I doubt that Trump ever read his book The Art of the Deal. Your agent will see to all of that, maybe a ghostwriter, or an Oxford graduate with a degree in English literature. I hope this doesn’t sound as if I am whining. It is merely a recognition of how things are. 

There is a well-known quotation: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’  Fun fact: Albert Einstein never said that. The saying dates back to the 19th century and was later quoted in a Narcotics Anonymous leaflet.

So with this in mind, I return to my original question. What is the real reason for writing this blog, or writing anything for that matter? Is it ego? Possibly, but that would be true for most artists. Is it a desire to perfect communication skills? Maybe, but there is another more compelling reason: as a writer, you are your brand. Your personality and views are of interest to people who enjoy your work. Let me ask another question. Why don’t I have guest writers on my blog??? Everyone does; I saw it on a YouTube video. The presenters of cunningly titled shows such as How to Sell More Books on Amazon, claim this is what we should all be doing. It must be true… Here is what I think (and do feel free to chime in): Guest writers and people who like to make videos of themselves talking on YouTube, are cashing in on wasting your time! 

Now you may be catching a bit of attitude here. No guest writers? Really? I am going to answer this question with another question (I should have been a politician):  How is your guest writer going to help people who are interested in your brand? 

‘Oh, but Alastair, other writers help so much!’ 

That, I doubt and here’s why: they are your competition, not your best friend. I do consider a few writers to be friends but I would still not be asking them to contribute to this blog. They are busy writing their own material and self-publicising. I find it frustrating when I go to an author’s website only to discover it is stuffed with content by people other than the author. It suggests there may be disappointment ahead. Just as with a restaurant that serves up different food to that advertised on the menu, people will vote with their feet.  

I am going to wrap this up by saying that I am still pressing ahead with the books. There will always be the odd article on this blog, plus daft guitar stories. However, it is time to try and reach out further. This is why I am also working on podcasts. Sadly the days of blogging are in decline, in the same way as the age of steam and traditional jazz have become a thing of the past. I recognise the symptoms from my time in the music business. I mean, who makes money as a musician these days? Not even the record companies and yet iTunes and Spotify are thriving. However, podcasts are an interesting case. They have a more diverse and growing demographic. If you enjoy this blog and book(s) then I urge you to continue but also to listen in. I know that many are not interested in political satire but there is also going to be a new series based on the fictional characters in my writing. Books and blogs will always be with us, just as steam trains and old bearded real-ale-drinking jazz musicians can still be found on preservation railway sites.

Mr Potato Head

 Episode 8 can be heard here: ‘Mr Potato Head’ (not a reference to myself nor the British PM). You won’t find it in any charity shop; it is completely FREE. This month, I talk about paying our NHS staff properly, question the wisdom of more nuclear warheads, poke fun at Carrie Symonds’ redecoration plans for No. 10, as well as the fountain of taxpayers’ money that is Boris Johnson. Also, look out for the podcast serialisation of my first book, Permissive Ink. It is being worked on right now. Have a great Easter and don’t forget to ‘like, subscribe, and comment’. It’s always great to receive feedback when you spend so much time shouting into the void.

2 thoughts on “On Falling Trees”

  1. Alastair, didn’t you fact check the Priti Patel jump-to-conclusions initial reporting? Firstly it wasn’t a personal expense, it was a departmental purchase of PPE, masks etc bought from companies which turned their production over to making equipment for the NHS when it was so hard to get it from abroad given that every country was caught short and competing for it. One of the producers had the word “salon” in it’s title. I can’t remember the name of the other manufacturer which changed it’s product to PPE, but I expect you could Google it. It was absolutely nothing to do with PP’s eyebrows, just nasties who thought they could take a swipe at her. The problem is it reflects very badly on the journalist(s).

    1. Thank you for taking time to comment. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. I checked the Reuters site and I think we can all agree that 77K on eyebrows is going some. I doubt anyone really believed it, maybe a few stupid tabloid readers, but this item was widely reported, hence my own purely satirical comment. However, you have to admit, there is a bit of a pattern emerging. Do I need to fact check the bullying allegations?.. or that in 2017 Priti Patel was fired from the May government for what practically amounts to treason – unauthorised meetings with the government of Israel which breached the Ministerial Code? Three of Priti Patel’s immigration detention policies were found to breach human rights rules. Do you remember the days when ministers would resign over such breaches? Worryingly, the UK appears to be on a trajectory that echoes Orbán’s Hungary: the ruling class, wallowing in corruption with total impunity. Peaceful protest and other freedoms are criminalised, with assistance from supine media.
      I am glad that you mentioned PPE. British doctors and nurses died as a direct result of the Health Secretary’s failure to provide PPE and a safe working environment. The ‘protective ring around nursing homes’ was another example of crass stupidity. The government’s own exercise, Operation Cygnus, clearly flagged that a flu-like epidemic could cause the catastrophic collapse of health services. However, the government’s response was to push ahead with deep cuts to NHS staff and resources. Meanwhile, a fact check of what the Good Law Project has been up to, suggests that British PPE suppliers, despite many attempts to contact NHS purchasing, were ignored. The court has already ruled that Matt Hancock acted unlawfully and we are now waiting to find out about his WhatsApp VIP stream of chums. All will no doubt be revealed in yet another whitewashed report.
      Speaking personally, I can forgive some of the incompetence; after all, who amongst us has not made mistakes? However, the corruption of this current regime would embarrass a banana republic. When many in the NHS saw a deadly pandemic and were worried about whether there would be enough PPE, there were those in government who said to themselves, ‘Here’s an opportunity to make a fortune.’ Ditto Johnson’s ‘operation last gasp’ and those nonexistent Dyson ventilators.

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