Monday, October 31, 2011


It's now approaching 11:30 on Halloween. Originally, it began at sunset rather than having its main focus at midnight. The Celts and other ancient races would light a bonfire at the start of the new day (at sunset) and as it died down, they'd leap or run through to cleanse themselves of the demons they might have picked up during the year. Sunset on this night marked the start of a new year.

The Celtic approach was appealing, I think. The day started at sunset, the year started with winter. So all the dark and the cold was out of the way at the beginning of the day or year and the rest was something to look forward to.

It had nothing to do with witchery or calling up spirits. Quite the opposite, it was a time to clear out all those ghosts and demonic entities that might have attached themselves to people throughout the year. That link though, that connection of the time of year with an association of the living and the dead, was always there.

It was always a time of great spirituality even though its meaning has changed over the centuries.

Now it's just another excuse for selling crap and making a bloody nuisance of yourself. This year I have been less welcoming to trick-or-treaters than in previous years. I know, it's hard to imagine that could even be possible. Those who know me will regard my idea of 'tolerant' as not planting tripwires and mines on the path to the house and not pouring boiling oil from the roof.

However, even as recently as last year, I was prepared to give out sweets to those small children. They had made an effort with their costumes, they would tell a terrible joke, and they were polite. This year it's nothing more than roaming gangs of yobs demanding money or treats with menaces. They are not 'trick or treating', they are making the rounds to demand protection payments.

The 'tricks' they apply now have led to calls for the entire event to be banned. My default response to any kind of ban is that it is another example of control freakery and ridiculous State nannying. In this case, it is a response to the actions of the children themselves. When they use an event to terrorise their neighbours they can hardly complain when their neighbours start calling for a ban.

I know they are not all like that. In the recent past, none of them were like that. In my youth, pumpkins were unknown in the UK so we hollowed out turnips, cut faces in them and put candles inside. The stench was incredible. Pumpkins are the same but bigger, so their lids don't char quite so fast. We tried to catch apples in water or hanging from strings. We did not hammer on neighbours' doors until they opened and then proceeded to demand a treat in exchange for not vandalising their home.

Here, money collection was associated with the following week's event, Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th. The Christian church moved the bonfire there so the common folk still had their bonfire, but now it was separated entirely from anything spiritual and associated with a man who tried to bring down Parliament. We used to call him 'traitor' but we don't now. Anyway, kids would make a life-sized dummy and wheel it around asking for a 'penny for the guy'. That money was put towards the fireworks. At no time was anyone threatened with tricks or bricks.

Costumes used to be home-made, now they are on sale in huge racks in supermarkets. Pre-carved plastic pumpkins and rubber bats and puppet skeletons are everywhere for at least a month beforehand. It's not as bad as Christmas yet - Christmas stuff went on sale even before the Halloween things.

Tonight used to be about spirituality, with an element of fun for the children. Now? Now it's an excuse to go marauding and terrorising and vandalising and their parents excuse it all with 'it's just a bit of fun'

Well, when I send your child home in instalments, that's just a bit of fun too. A fun way to put the death back into Halloween. We used to enjoy Halloween as children, and there's nothing wrong with a bit of fun.

Demanding payment with threats is not a bit of fun. It's a criminal act. I don't want to see the whole thing banned, so children, stop behaving in a way that will get it banned.

The current ban-freaks don't need much of an excuse, you know.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Writing about demons.

I am well aware that many people don't believe in the existence of ghosts or demons. Even those who might have experienced the attentions of the supernatural can often simply reason it away as imagination. I don't blame them, it's easier to just push it aside and just get on with life.

I am also aware that many of those who do believe in their existence of demons will have nothing to do with them. Again, I can't blame people for this, demons can be dangerous and are best avoided.

It does, however, make books about demons a hard sell. Especially for those like me who insist on using the researched demons rather than just making one up. I know the Jehovah's Witnesses will never buy any of my books because their rules forbid even passing contact with the spirit world.

So it's nice to see a good review of one of those books once in a while.

As to the experiment with free stories, that seems to be generating very interesting results. A third story should produce some data I can actually analyse. Then again, in the lead-up to Halloween, the demand for this kind of story might be skewed so I'll have to continue after Halloween to see if the trend continues.

I like writing. You can do it indoors, in the warm, with the lights on.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The appliance of science.

Since I know nothing at all of marketing methods, I decided to apply scientific ones to the selling of books. An experiment, in other words.

Smashwords is the best place to do this because they let you see how many pageviews you're getting on each book. At this early stage, this information is even more useful than sales numbers.

The way Smashwords and pretty much every other self-publishing distributor operates is that their front page shows the latest releases. So if you put a free story on there, it appears on the front page but rapidly scrolls off. Smashwords allows readers to select by genre and by price so those looking for free horror stories will see it scroll more slowly than those looking at the general list.

What happened with the first free story was that it peaked after two days, both on pageviews and downloads, then dropped away to a level of around two to three views/downloads a day, and then it died altogether after three weeks.

What's interesting was that the pageviews for the two collections followed the same pattern (these are advertised at the end of the free story). There was no remarkable boost in sales, but the free story means that a lot of people who didn't know the collections existed, now know they exist. Whether they come back and buy them, only time will tell.

I put up another free story on Friday morning. That has, so far, followed the exact same pattern with the pageviews on the collections following again. This time, it also boosted pageviews and downloads of the first free story - so those who have both stories now have two sets of ads for the collections. Will it improve sales of the collections? They are modestly priced, so it's possible.

It might take a few free stories to get those books moving but so far, it seems the best way to do this is to put up a free short story every 2-3 weeks or so. Too many and you're doing too much free work, using up time you could be applying to full-size books and collections, and swamping out the paid books. Too few and people forget about you.

Am I wasting short stories? Well, if you sell a short, you'll get a small one-off payment and that's it. No multiple sales, no royalties, just that one payment. Giving the shorts away free is not going to lose you the cost of the mortgage. Maybe the price of a beer.

If you publish in a magazine, your story is surrounded by the advertisers who pay the magazine for space. There's nothing wrong with that, it's how most magazines stay alive. On the other hand, if you give away the story yourself, that advertising space is all yours and it's free.

At this stage the free stories are not getting the other books sold but they are getting them noticed - and nobody can buy a book unless they know it exists. The experiment is in its early stages so it's too soon to say how well this will work, but it's costing nothing more than time. Time to write and edit the short story and time to produce a cover. Both of these must be treated as if they were for a 'selling' book. Don't think 'Ah, it's free, this'll do' because the advertising is not confined to the 'by the same author' part at the end.

The advert is the entire story. If it's rubbish, readers will assume the paid-for books will be rubbish too. You haven't just wasted a story, you've done terrible harm to your reputation. The idea is to get readers to think 'That was good. What else is there?' rather than 'Well, that was terrible. I'm not paying to read his other stuff'.

So these free shorts get edited, they get proofread, they get rewrites and tweaks just as the full books do. The covers take time and with little artistic ability, I use photographs and Paint Shop to make them. I only use photos I've taken myself so there's no issue of copyright. They take time but the cover is the first thing anyone sees. If it looks awful, that 'back' button is just one click away.

The sudden surge in sales of 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' is entirely separate, and mostly applies to the Apple iBooks which I can't access. My fiction is under the name 'H K Hillman' so nobody would see an immediate connection between that and the ghosthunting book. That surge is, I suspect, due to the approach of Halloween and I wish I'd had that second edition ready! There might still be time.

I also (obviously) include ads for Jessica's Trap but as that's published by Eternal Press, I don't have instant access to sales or pageviews. I can only assess that one on the basis of quarterly reports, of which there have been two so far. The first was dreadful, the second was less dreadful, the third might reach the dizzy heights of almost good. I'll know at the end of December. For a first novel by an unknown author, it would have been surprising if it had done any better.The silver lining is that it's making money, not costing money. Not very much but it's early days.

The second novel has progressed to a full-manuscript request which is good (but not certain, not yet) and the third is just about ready to start going through the process. Hopefully this experiment will translate into the world of publishing, where the appearance of the second novel boosts interest in the first.

Publishing is just the start. Nobody can buy your work if they aren't aware of its existence and that's what marketing is supposed to achieve. I have no idea how to be a marketer so I'm applying the techniques I understand instead. Experiment, modify and experiment again.

Eventually I might get this right.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hallowe'en is coming.

I always enjoy Hallowe'en even though it's not the same as when I was small. It used to be about ducking for apples and scary stories at the fireside. Now it's all dress-up and street begging and sweets and plastic skeletons.

Still, it's fun, and the remembrance of the day keeps the ghostly aspects in everyone's mind.

I know there are people who don't like Hallowe'en although I didn't realise there was a rare phobia whereby a few people are actually terrified of it. It can't be physiological because nothing physiological happens. Like the irrational fear of the number 13 it must be a learned phobia.

It could be instilled by a religious upbringing or by an overbearing parent and it would be a very hard one to cure by traditional means. The event only happens once a year. Not much scope for getting accustomed to it.

Maybe that grouchy neighbour who will have nothing to do with the event isn't just being miserable. Maybe it actually terrifies them.

Perhaps, this year, I won't deliberately set out to scare them.


Unidentified flying seagull.

The photograph of the circular object has now been unveiled at the Cornwall UFO Research Group (CUFORG), which was founded by Dave Gillham in 1995
He said: 'The person who took the photo never saw anything in the area while taking the photo.
'It was only when he got home and downloaded it onto his computer that he saw an object - a disc shaped craft, hovering just above the sea.
'There appear to be two trails of water beneath the object which looks as though they are falling from it in to the sea. It could be that the object has just emerged from the sea.'

It. Is. A .Seagull.

An object lesson in loss of credibility parallelled only by the proliferation of 'orbs' and 'rods' since the advent of digital cameras. Proclaim an obvious piece of junk as proof and everything you've done so far, no matter how great, just falls to the ground.

The picture shows a seagull, and judging by the dark wings most likely a herring gull, flying from right to left across the camera. You can even see its eye. No more, no less, nothing at all supernatural or extraterrestrial here. It's a blurry photo of a bird. We all have those.

This UFO group have just destroyed any belief in their objectivity and hammered their credibility into the ground. Was it worth it? For a seagull? Really? Their 'trails of water' are the sails of yachts. That's what the photographer was trying to catch but they were too far away. The eyepiece of a cheap camera doesn't make that part clear.

I notice 'Ghosthunting for the Sensible Investigator' is suddenly doing well on the Apple iBookstore for some reason.

I hope it's because people are starting to take these things seriously. Time to accelerate the second edition, perhaps.

Friday, October 07, 2011

So... is it a scam or not?

The Northwest Passage across the Arctic is currently open to shipping. This is the end of summer so it'll be frozen soon. The fact that this route is possible is claimed as proof of melting ice caps and therefore global warming.

Take a closer look.

The Northwest Passage was impassable in 1978 even with modern icebreaking steel hulls. Now it's open. So that proves global warming, right?

But wait - it was navigated by a Norwegian in a wooden sailing vessel in 1905. No steel hull and no fancy gear. How is that possible?

Then there are the moths. A now-rare species, the flame brocade moth, has appeared in southern England this summer. It's come here from warmer climes in Africa. So, does that prove global warming?

Wait - look at this line.

The large numbers of the flame brocade moth, which used to live in Sussex in the second half of the 19th century...

So in the late 1800s, southern England was warm enough for this moth to be a natural resident but now it struggles to visit. Just a few years later, the 'impassable' Northwest Passage was in fact passed by a wooden sailing ship.

The article on the polar ice tells us what the ice was like thirty years ago compared to now. It does not tell us what it was like a hundred years ago when  wooden ships could sail through it and tropical moths lived in England. Afterwards, the moths left England for Africa and the Northwest Passage froze shut. Now we are gradually returning to the conditions seen in the late 1800s/early 1900s and we're not warm enough to compete with them yet.

Yet this is all presented as evidence of global warming caused by modern people, and as a reason to tax us all into the poorhouse.

For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I am not convinced.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Another Yeti hunt.

There is to be another expedition to seek out the Yeti in Siberia. It's an elusive creature, if it's real, but then Siberia is a very big place with not many people so you could probably hide a herd of mammoths there without anyone noticing.

One of the scientists thinks Yetis are surviving Neanderthals. I hadn't thought of that before. The Neanderthals were real but were outcompeted by us. It is possible that they retreated into those places we never visit and that a few small populations still exist. Not certain, but possible.

It's only recently that we've discovered the coelacanth, a fish thought to have gone extinct many thousands of years ago. Also the giant squid, the Kraken that ancient sailors were laughed at for describing. There are huge tracts of land on this planet where humans don't go, there are Amazonian tribes nobody has contacted, there is a forest in Indonesia where animals aren't scared of humans because they've never seen any before, and expeditions into these unknown areas are still finding new species. Is it possible that there are Neanderthals still? I'd say yes, it's possible.

Are they Yetis? Well, Neanderthals were hairier than us but not nearly as hairy as the description of Yetis (and Bigfoot, for that matter). Perhaps they've developed more hair, or perhaps they're wearing animal skins sewn into an all-over suit. Or perhaps Yetis are not Neanderthals at all. We'll just have to wait and see.

I wish the expedition luck and will be waiting here (a long way from Siberia) to hear what they find.

This time, I hope it's more than a few snapped branches and footprints in the snow.