I’ll be sorry to see the end of ABCtales.com. Most folk will not of heard of it, or be that interested. In theory there’s almost 120 000 stories (poetry counts as a story) online, written by almost 20 000 writers. That works out at six stories per writer. But if you believe that you’ll probably believe some of the unbelievable shit I’ve written over the last eight years. It helps if you have no idea what moderation is. My normal day consisted of writing pages and pages of stories so fast I didn’t read them, or understand them, but I did publish them online. I’d push that button and wait for my brilliance to be uncovered. At that stage ABCtales had been online about eight years and only 40 000 stories had been published, 32 326 of them mine. Other writers were kind
Ewan, of soon-to-be-released Gibbous House, was an ABCtales editor. I didn’t know what an editor was, and I’m still not sure, but I did know an editor could give your work the magical glow of a red cherry. The equivalent would be when you were in primary 1 and the teacher pressed a gold star onto your jotter. It shone so bright you’d become blinded by the glory and pee yourself. Other dafties without gold stars were to be sneered at. Silver stars were OK for other people and bronze stars, well, you might as well wear a dunce hat and call yourself Noel Behan, who couldn’t put his shoes on without getting his left foot mixed up with his right. Ewan tentatively suggested writing in sentences now and again. My argument that it was bound to happen by the logic of numbers, letters and random full stops on the page, went unchallenged, but he was the first editor to cherry-pick my work. That was a mistake, because then I upped productivity tenfold and produced even more stories. Ewan couldn’t keep up, had a nervous breakdown and went to live offline near a donkeyless track in Spain.
I joined ABCtales around the same time as Claudine Lazar. Her online name was insertponceyfrenchnamehere, (‘wrong day-go back’ motif) yeh, smartass type. You probably think I hated her and you’d be right if not write, or so it is written in biblical language. Her stories of London life 1974 and 1978 were far better than any stories I was mass producing. Then she was made an editor. So I had to kid on I liked her. That ruse has worked well right up to the present day. She even attended my book launch. I picked her up at Glasgow Airport, but she didn’t recognise me at first because she’s never met me and I’m much bigger and have more byte than onscreen. She had to light a cigarette immediately. The air in Scotland is so clear and clean it choked her smog-filled London lungs. I had to wind up the windows in my van to create a decompression chamber. When my eyes started to smart so I couldn’t see, then we could drive to the venue. I missed the turnoff, of course, but kept on the right lane (almost). She was everything I hoped for, never bought a drink all night and tried to diddle the taxi fare. In other words, typical Londoner.
But it raises the question of whether an online friend is a friend. I doubt it. My offline friends aren’t even my friends. The affection I hold for my ABCtales crew is personal. It’s in the words they write. The experiences they create and share. The poetry of their live shaped by the frailty of normality. It helps if you’re nosey and want to know everything, as I do. I’m a reader first and a writer zzzecond. I’ll miss all these guys because they have become part of my life. You know Sooz made me laugh because her live was so shit and grounded in a reality that didn’t exist. And anybody that can write poetry, or even spell it, well, that’s special and you have telekinetic powers to move people. You know who you are. All I can say is wow and thanks for the help you’ve given me over the years. Most online writers max out at two years, I’ve served eight years. I’d give more or do more.
ABCtales needs around £20 000 per annum to break even. It takes in about a quarter of that in dribs and drabs. I sometimes shipped the odd £20 the sites way, which made me feel like Moses with the Ten Commandments, overflowing with righteousness. The truth is in the numbers. £20 per annum. I pay £3 per week for The Observer. £156 per annum. A pint of beer costs £3 and I drink one of those every six months. I’m guilty as the next man. Some ABCtalers have proposed a subscription. The problem is it would start costing money to chase those that don’t pay and what exactly would you threaten them with? But it’s more fundamental than that. When I joined ABCtales it was free. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I was sure I wasn’t going to be ripped off. In a word I was scared. Scared my writing was shit (it was and still is). And scared I’d be diddled and it was all a big internet scam. The expectation of readers is books and online stuff will be free and that creates a pressure. Footfall or clicks to sites that charge will be close to non-existent and the existing membership of ABCtales will not be renewed. No new writers mean death to a writing site. Simple economics has killed us. I’ll miss my old online gang hut. I’ll miss my old gang. What to do now? God knows.