Friday, 20 September 2013

My Blunder into Social Media Heaven or Hell

I was using FaceBook search recently to look up an old friend, knowing only his name and town and was instantly taken to a profile page containing only the town location and a photo of a black dog. To my surprise all posts were public and so I began to read hoping I would gain some clues as to whether I was on the right track.

After a few minutes, I began to feel very uncomfortable and then during and after I realised what I had read, I experienced every emotion I had ever experienced. Some of them I am not so proud of.

The posts were daily, some 2 or 3 times per day and often during the early hours. I will not repeat what I read but give you only the gist.

"I couldn't sleep tonight and sat up in the conservatory just staring at where you used to sit. I thought I saw you sat there."

"I went for a walk in the fields today. Remember how you used to love walking in the long grass. It rained and I could smell the fields. Do you still go there?"

"It broke my heart. I hope you understand. I gave your bed to my daughter. They needed it more than me. At least it will be used."

It was only when I read the next post that it dawned on me:

 "I bought a cake today and lit a candle, Happy Birthday. I couldn't eat it though so it's still in the fridge. I'm so sorry old friend. I couldn't see you suffer. I couldn't look into your eyes each morning. You were the only friend to give me strength. You knew didn't you?"

I then looked at the photo of the black dog, deciding not to read any more. This couldn't be my old friend could it? I then decided to read one more post.

"Remember I'm always here for you as you were always here for me and Ivy. We both had to watch her suffer in silence. You were still here for me after Ivy went. What would I have done without you? What will I do now?  It was for the best."

I won't continue. Ivy had died of cancer a year ago. Her husband had posted her birth and death date. She was 68 went she died and they had been married for 48 years. It wasn't my old friend and I felt I'd intruded.

What was most surprising of all is that not one post had a reply, it was as though they had been written to the thin air. Had anyone noticed or was it only me? 

Immediately, I left his page and exited Facebook like someone who had just poked their head into someones open house door and taken something. But, I couldn't stop thinking about him and his old friend all day. I'm such a cynic that I guiltily thought: 'What a great idea for a book or film.' Then, I had to have a stiff drink, disgusted I'd even thought it.

I could have posted a reply, but what would I have said? Me, a total stranger and a writer to boot. Would it have been intrusive? It even crossed my mind that being elderly, he might not have known how Facebook worked. I wondered if even his family knew about it?

From that day I've seen social media in a different light. Perhaps it can be a portal into something else. If nothing else, then this post is my apology and I send it into the thin air.

This was our old dog 'Lass.' We kept her collar.

Friday, 13 September 2013

My Needful Books, My Midlife Crisis

Upon my bookshelf are 4 old childrens books. Why are they there? This is a question I cannot yet answer fully.

I caught Scarlet Fever when I was 11 and reluctant to remain in bed, I commandeered the living room sofa where I remained enwrapped in a crochet-squared blanket. My Aunt Bridie brought me a box of books her own children had outgrown, a full set of Bancroft Classics.

There were 48 of them, all abridged but nevertheless a meaty read and I got through a good chunk while wrapped in that crochet blanket. Within a few months I had read all of them.

They were the books that forged my reading taste and not only did I hang on to every word but each hardback cover boasted a beautiful printed scene and I would gaze at them long after I'd finished reading.

I arrived home from school one day to find they had gone. My mother told me: "But you'd finished reading them and they take up so much room." Grief didn't quite cover it.

Years passed and the books were forgotten until this year. I found 2 volumes in a broken cardboard box beneath a flea-market stall. They cost just 10 pence each. As soon as I picked one up, memories and emotions became so thick it was like brushing away a thick cobweb that entangled me. I recaptured one of the few happy memories I have of childhood and reconnected to a Godsend that shaped my future.

I found another in a Whitby antique shop and one recently in my local olde worlde bookshop, it was lying on a wooden spiral staircase. My mission is to find all 48 BUT not via the internet, that would be too easy. I prefer the hunt, rummaging around in dusty places, the thrill of knowing I have a mission whenever I got to somewhere new.

I look at my 4 old books and see beyond what they meant to me. Recapturing youth? Yes, but there is a deeper connection and I will call it my 'midlife crisis'. There's a greater significance and I can't quite yet put my finger on it.
My Needful Books


Friday, 6 September 2013

Publishing Headhunter & Novelist, John Hartnett

This week I interviewed Publishing Headhunter, John Hartnett who is also author of 'The Barbers Conundrum & Other Stories' and writer of a humor blog: 'The Monkey Bellhop.'

Authors are often only noted for their written work but John is a busy man with a rich and colorful background. He provided interesting insight to what makes him tick:
John Hartnett

"I'm a married father of two girls and one boy, residing in New Jersey and working as a headhunter in the publishing industry.
I've worked in the entertainment and publishing industries most of my career, starting out as a joke writer in the 90's and ending up here at 6:30 in the morning wondering why no one bothered to tell me all the coffee was gone."

What is the title of your book and what’s it about?
John's first book

"The title of the book is "The Barber's Conundrum and Other Stories". It's a humor collection, a mix of first person stories centered on family, relationships, everyday life and satirical pieces and parodies related to popular culture, entertainment and the afterlife, which from my humble perspective, is vastly overrated."

Does your work fall into a genre or a crossover?

"My goal as a writer is to entertain and make people laugh and the genre, if I'm doing it right, is humor."

Are you working on a new book at the moment and do you have a target date for completion? 

"Yes and no. I have assembled, no that's not the right word, since that implies organization - I have a ton of material, jokes, essays, parodies, a new one panel joke column called "Man vs. World" that I hope to cram into something that resembles a book people might enjoy. My goal is to have it out before the holidays but thankfully there are many holidays scattered throughout the year so like any good politician I can be truthful without saying anything specific or helpful with regard to an exact date, or month my opus will be available for public consumption. Actually I don't like to use the word consumption since it is also the name of a dreaded disease that caused people to gag. How about if I just rephrase it and say my opus will be available for public enjoyment?"

Would you say that you are still experimenting with different styles of writing, or have you settled into one uniquely suited to you? 

"I do have a certain style that is somewhat consistent and for the most part, it is writing from a first person perspective. In writing essays, my tendency is to approach them as if they were standup routines although the construction and use of language, most of the time, benefits more from being read than spoken."

 Which comes first to you, story or characters? 

"Always the story or situation."

How do you approach character development? 

"At this stage, the major character is a slightly exaggerated version of myself. That said, I do write from the perspective of other characters - parodies mostly -- and when the writing is going well, my brain kind of inhabits the personality of the characters and I find it relatively easy to switch back and forth between them, creating dialogue that reflects their motivation and perspective on the world or situation."

At what age did you decide writing would become your creative expression? 

"Even before I put pen to paper I was always writing jokes in my head. My brain never shuts off, thankfully I've always been able to make the payments on time, and while I'm in a conversation, there is always a part of me that is skipping around, thinking about what's funny. The one good thing about getting older and more mature is that now, if I think of something that is funny in relation to a conversation but inappropriate, I keep my mouth shut. When I was a kid and even into my twenties, I had no filter and as a result I learned to be a very good runner.

Outside of your family, who has been your greatest supporter?"

"There are several friends who have encouraged me from the very beginning and have done all they can to spread the word about my book, blog and even Facebook posts where I do a lot of short creative bits."

What do you see yourself doing in five years? Is there a specific goal in mind? 

"I have had a story in my head for well over ten years that I want to complete as a novel and I pray to God it doesn't take another five years to complete it."

What has been the biggest surprise about your success?

"The reaction from people who have read my book has been very gratifying. As an independent author, receiving more than 60 four and five star reviews on Amazon has been a great emotional boost, particularly when there are many traditionally published books that have far less"

If you had one piece of advice to share with a budding novelist, what would it be?

"I think it's important to find your own voice and to write to your own sensibilities and for your own amusement or enjoyment. Writing for yourself rather than a perceived market is a much more honest, and for me, enjoyable experience overall. I would also tell writers not to worry about the things that are beyond their control, namely making a living as a writer. If the money comes, great, if it doesn't, that doesn't mean the work isn't good."