Sunday, May 15, 2011

"If you're good at something...

..never do it for free."

So said Heath Ledger's Joker in the Batman film 'The Dark Knight'. I confess I had to look it up even though I've seen all the Batman films.

I will never charge for an investigation of the paranormal beyond travel and accomodation and I don't need any of that first-class nonsense. I will travel by bus and I will sleep on your sofa. The biggest expense will be whisky, and bacon sandwiches. Most of the time I probably won't find a ghost anyway, just a rattly fridge, a dodgy electrical connection, a vent transmitting the neighbours' voices or a faulty motor in a fan. Besides, any attempt at charging will let the sceptics lump me in with sideshow fortune tellers and TV 'psychics' and that is not my aim.

I have other ways to earn money. One that was my hobby has now become a serious matter because the first novel is published. I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it proves I'm doing it right but on the other, it's not a hobby any more because the taxman is involved now. It feels a bit like having your train set taken over by the railway company and forced to run to a timetable. Sure, you can make more money but that hobby is now a job.

The little book called 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' really just happened because I was sick of reading books that tell you to form some kind of Mission Impossible team, with uniforms and gadgetry and battle plans. None of that is necessary and none of it is any use. There is no such thing as a ghost detector. Until we have some idea what ghosts are made of, such a device cannot exist. It hasn't sold many copies but I didn't expect it to sell any at all. People like to believe that their EMF meters jolt because there's a ghost around, not because the fridge just switched on and sent a voltage spike through the house electrics. They like to believe that their laser-aimed infrared thermometers read the air in front of them, not the wall they're pointed at. They don't like to hear that in the modern world, there are many, many things that might appear to be paranormal but aren't.

Most of all I was sick of hearing the idea that every investigation must produce a result, as shown on TV. Ninety-nine percent of investigations get you nothing more than cold and tired. Orbs are a delusion, not a result. They are bunk. If you can't see the little light, it's not there. Your camera does not have magical powers to see things you can't, it just has dust in front of the lens. I've been working on a new and extended version of that book but writing it was a hobby until now.

As were the short stories I'd been producing. They earned nothing or nearly nothing. I didn't do it for the money. I did it for fun.

When I put the first load of short stories into a book, I did it because they had dropped off the internet or gone out of print. Magazines, print or internet, only keep the stories up for a little while and then they're gone. Often, the magazine shuts down too so all trace is gone. I put a collection together so I wouldn't lose those stories and I did it with a hastily-made cover because it was only to be for me. I didn't expect it to sell so I made the download version free. It did sell. Not much, but it moved. So I updated the cover into something a bit more professional-looking and put a small price on the download. If you have the old cover with the blue sky, look after it. It might be worth something when I'm dead. The new cover looks like this:

It's the same photo I used for the old cover. I grafted in a new sky, darkened the image and added some lighting effects. The name? Never publish under your precise name and never sign books with the same signature you use on cheques. To a modern fraudster, that's worth a lot more than the price of the book. A nom-de-plume protects much more than your privacy these days.

That cover, and the cover of 'Ghosthunting' is the reason I don't like digital cameras. It is far too easy to manipulate a digital image to add in a 'ghost'. With film you have an original negative that can be verified as un-tampered but with digital you can change the image, change the date of the file, change anything and it's hard to prove whether it's real or fake.

One thing I have found is that people don't regard writing as work. This mirrors Southern Writer's experiences with astrology. People think that since they don't see any effort, they don't have to pay you for the work. I've already lost count of how many people have generously offered to read my writing as a favour to me, because that's all a writer needs. Writers don't need to eat or live in houses. All they need is someone to read the words they write. Readers aren't entertained by the stories, they are only reading as a favour to the writer.

Well... no. The taxman wants his cut and the electricity company want to be paid for running the computer I type on and food isn't free. Writing is work, even if it only appears to involve moving fingers around. If you don't want to read it you don't have to pay for it. I have no such option with taxes, food, utilities and housing.

It's not a hobby any more. It's another business and businesses don't last long when they're done for free.

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