63 UP, ITV, directed by Michael Apted.

7 Up.jpg

https://www.itv.com/hub/7-63-up-uk/2a1866a0001

‘Give me a child and I will show you the man.’

That old Jesuit or ancient Greek aphorism is alive and well. I’m at 56 and UPward myself and one of my classmates, George Devine’s funeral, was on Wednesday. Arthritis creeps around my bones, but I’m still gloriously alive. When I went to school Mrs Boyle taught us that 9 x 7 = 63 (UP). My life has been in eight instalments, but I’ve followed the nine episodes of this soap opera and read into it things I already know. Class is alive and flourishing in Britain as it was in 1964; a half-hour documentary made by Granada, a World in Action, looked at the state of the nation through children’s eyes.

The villains of the series, as in life, have always been to me the upper classes. I’m like that old priest in Father Ted that when drink is mentioned his eyes glaze and he jumps out of his chair. With me it’s Tories. Fucking, Tory scum.

The first series (7UP) shows us three boys representative of that class, aged 7, Andrew, Charles and John.  They are shown singing Waltzing Matilda in Latin.  In their posh English accents they also boast about what newspapers they read. The Financial Times and Guardian. And tell the viewer exactly what prep school. public school and universities they will attend. And this all comes to pass with Biblical accuracy.  A world away from North Kensington, Grenfell Tower, the same rich South Kensington, London borough, where these boys hailed from.

The exception to the rule was Charles. We see him in 21 UP, long hair, hipster, telling the viewer how glad he didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge and attended Durham University instead. And he was glad of that because it gave him a different view of the world. Ho-hom. He does not appear in the subsequent programmes. Being educated at the right schools and having the right connections, of course, he went on to become something big in Channel 4,  something big in film and theatre and  threatened to sue his fellow documentary maker Michael Apted for using his image. This shows no class at all. Apted being one of those national treasures, like David Attenborough. Imagine, for example, a beluga whale suing Attenborough for impinging on his right’s images and all because of a bit of plastic.

Andrew went on to become a partner in his solicitor’s firm at 31, by that time he’d married outside his class to a good Yorkshire lass, plain Jane and they had two sons, Alexander and Timothy. His firm was taken over by a larger corporation and he regretted spending so much time at work, but in his modest way, admitted those were the choices he made. I quite liked Andrew.

I detested his and my namesake John. Of all the upper-class twats that little Tony wanted to punch, he would have been my prime candidate. I hated everything about him. The way he looked and sounded. His pronouncements that (Luton) car workers with their fabulous wages could afford to send their children to public schools. His life went exactly to the book, his pronouncements, aged 7 UP, realised. He became a Queen’s Council and gained his silk robe. He married the daughter of a former ambassador to Bulgaria and admitted his great grandfather, Todor Burmov, had fought against the Turks to gain independence and had been Prime Minister. No surprise, the gone, gone, gone girl, Teresa May, who attended the same Oxbridge institution, and helped create the hostile environment for immigrants didn’t exactly rush to deport him. John had the wrong accent, the right register of the Queen’s English, fabulous social connections and the pasty-white colour of skin favoured by immigrant officials. Two of his friends were Ministers in the Government.  Even Nigel Farage, the ex-Etonian, would have complained if John had suddenly been napped and put on a flight to Sofia, but then a strange thing happened. I didn’t mind John so much, and actually admired him.

He was one of the few that didn’t tell the viewer whether he had family or not. The reason he kept appearing in subsequent programmes was to promote a charity that helped disabled and disadvantage citizens in Bulgaria. He admitted modestly that he’d worked hard. While that usually would have me thinking nobody had worked harder than coal miners who’d powered the Industrial Revolution and paid in silicosis and black death, or Jimmy Savile who prided himself on being a Bevin boy and working (hard) down the pits and incredibly hard with his charity work and had other interests. John mentioned his mother had needed to work to send him to public school, in the same way that tens of millions of mothers have to work to put food on the table. John gained a scholarship to attend Oxford University, with the inference he was poor. I’m not sure if his mother was a Luton car worker, but I’m sure she didn’t work as a cleaner in a tower block in South Kensington. I didn’t exactly like John, but I understood him better, which is the beginning of knowledge.

I guess like many other viewers I identified with Tony, this tiny kid from the East End of London, his dad a card-shark crook and he looked to be going the same way. Larger than life Tony from 7 UP was a working-class cliché. He was never going to make anything of school. Left at 15 and he tells you early he yearned to be a jockey. He was helping out at the stables and got a job there. I know how he feels. I wanted to play for Celtic and trained with the boy’s club at 15. Trained with Davie Moyes, Charlie Nicholas on the next red gravel training pitch. Clutching my boots in a plastic bag I wasn’t even good enough to be molested by Frank Cairns, although he did give me a passing, playful, punch in the stomach. I guess he was aiming lower down and the lower league. Tony in a later UP series told us he’d ridden in a race against Lester Piggot. He wasn’t good enough, and is big enough to admit it.

Tony with his outdated attitude to women. The four Fs. Fuck them, forget them and I can’t remember the other two. Debbie sorted that out. She gave him three kids and now he’s got three grandkids. Tony admitted he’d had an affair. Tony, plucky London cabbie, having done The Knowledge, as did his wife and son. A spell in Spain trying to work out as a property broker. I guess, I should have guessed. Tony admitted he’d voted Tory all his days and now he wasn’t sure. More of a Farage man. Fuck off Tony.

Tony got a bit heated when he thought Apted had accused him of being a racist. ‘I’m a people’s man,’ he said. ‘You know me.’

Then he talks about the Arabs, in the same way you’d talk about poofs and Paki shops. The Arabs were the only ones that were helping him make money. It wasn’t Uber, that was ripping him off, but Labour that were taking everything and giving nothing back. Fuck off Tony, read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and find out what part of Mugsborough you’ve moved to. Yet, there were his daughter, something that had gone wrong. Sometimes we’ve got to realise that although we circle the wagons, as Tony claimed, only a community can save us.

The old lies are made new again.

Let’s look at the girls from the same social background as Tony. My kind of people. Straight as a die, Lynn, attended the same primary school as Jackie and Sue. Married for 40 years. Two daughter and two granddaughters, Riley, only two-and-a-half ounces at birth. God bless the NHS. Lynn whose first job was in a mobile library. Lynn, who loved kids and loved helping kids to read. Then she worked in Bethnal Green in the library. Under the Tories, of course, we don’t need libraries; we don’t need women like Lynn. Her job was redundant. She was redundant. RIP.

Jackie was always the mouthy one in the triumvirate of girls pictured together. She  told Apted he wasn’t asking her the right kind of questions and patronising them – which he was, a product of his own class. Jackie, first married of the group. First divorced. Said she didn’t want children, but had three boys and ended up  in a council estate in Scotland, but separated from the father of the two of them, but still in love and in touch with him. Jackie, who had rheumatoid arthritis and told the camera, and David Cameron, if he thought she was fit for work then he should show her what kind of job. Disabled, she was classified as not disabled enough and fit for work. Tory scum. Here it is in person. Public policy without humanity and based on a lie. No great surprise the suicide rate on those deprived of benefits has rocketed. I wonder what Farage, who has never worked and continues to draw a hefty stipend from rich fools and from the European Parliament he wants to destroy thinks about that. We know what he thinks. He thinks what rich people tell him. Jackie can speak for herself. Speak for us.

Sue can think for herself too. She got married to have children and had two kids, but divorced their father because she didn’t love him. Karaoke singer, she met Glen and they’ve been engaged for twenty years or more. She works as head administrator in the law faculty of Queen Mary, University of London. She’s thinking about retirement and does a bit of acting and singing. A working class life, made good. But she worries that the world we’re passing on to her children and our children isn’t as good. Doesn’t have the same level of opportunity and social mobility. She’s right to be worried.

Bruce, representative of the middle class,  who when he was 7 UP claimed to have a girlfriend in Africa that he probably wouldn’t see again and wanted to be a missionary, always had that look on his face as if he’d missed something. His father, perhaps, in Southern Rhodesia.  Bruce was beaten at public school. He freely admits it and agonised whether Christianity was an outdated doctrine and whether it was liveable. I wonder about that too. I see the façade and under the façade more façade. The devil seems to me more real than any god and Jesus whose only weapon was love. Yeh, I like Bruce. For a start, although he was public school and went to Oxford to study Maths, he was never a Tory. He taught maths to children in Sylhet, Bangladesh and in the East End of London (Tony’s old school, if I remember correctly). Late in life he married and had two sons.

Peter, who went to the same school in Liverpool as Neil, was also representative of a different strand of the middle class. Both boys claimed they wanted be astronauts, but Neil hedged his bets and claimed he would be as equally happy being a bus driver. Peter went to university, got a degree and took up teaching. The greatest moment of his life was, he claimed, the 1977 Tommy Smith goal for Liverpool in the European Cup Final in Rome. No mention of his marriage or his teaching career. He dropped out of the 7 UP series after being targeted by the Daily Hate Mail and other right-wing publications for criticising Thatcherism. He later re-appeared, in 56 UP, having remarried and hoping to promote his burgeoning musical career. He claimed to be happy working in the Civil Service. Good rate of pay, good pension. He must be ecstatic now that Mo Salah and Liverpool have given him another greatest moment of his life in Bilbao. Anyone that sees through Thatcherism has walked in my shoes and I love my team, Celtic in the same way he loves Liverpool.

Neil never became an astronaut or bus driver. He did go to study in Aberdeen University, but dropped out in the first year and at 21 UP was living in a squat in London and working as casual labour on building sites. Neil makes for good television. Contrast the bright, beautiful and confidant seven-year-old boy with what he’d become, a shifty-eyed loner, with obvious what we’d term now, mental health problems, or as he admitted depression or problems with his nerves, madness. At 28 UP he was living in a caravan in Scotland. Then he was living in Orkney.  Neil never fulfilled his boyhood potential. But I guess that’s true of us all. Then somehow, in that long curve on life he seemed to be making a comeback. 42 UP he’s living with Bruce and later becomes a Liberal Democrat councillor in Hackney. 56 UP he’s moved again to middle England as well as being a councillor is a lay preacher in the Eden district of Cumbria. Able to administer all the rites of the Church of England, apart from communion. 63 UP he’s living in northern France, a house in the countryside he’s bought with money inherited from his parent’s estate. Neil has become a squire. Like me he hoped to have written something people would want to read.

Nick, educated in a one room school house in the tiny village of Arncliffe, in the Yorkshire Dales, a farmer’s son, who went to Oxford and gained a doctorate in nuclear physics, is a story of meritocracy and upward mobility. He didn’t want to run the farm, he said, perhaps his brother that was deaf, could inherit the farm. Nick wanted to change the world. A fellow student at Oxford commented that he didn’t associate Neil’s Northern accent with intelligence.  He was right, of course, intelligence has nothing to do with accent, and upward mobility has nothing to do with meritocracy. Nick’s comments that Teresa May would never have become Prime Minister if she’s gone to an obscure polytechnic would have at one time seemed inflammatory. But Nick lives and teaches in Wisconsin-Madison. Before Trump, and the moron’s moron continual twittering, nothing has ever been the same again. Nick had a son with his first wife and later remarried Cryss. But in 63 UP he admits to having throat cancer. He’s intelligent enough to know what that mean.

In 56 UP, Nick admitted having long conversations with Suzy, who had appeared in eight of the nine episodes, but not in 63 UP. Suzy when asked about the series when she was a chain-smoking, twenty-one-year old, thought the series pointless and silly. By that time her father had died, she’d dropped out of school and been to Paris to learn secretarial skills. Her upper-class background true to form meant she was a pretty enough catch. She duly married Rupert, a solicitor and prospered as a housewife and mother of two girls and a boy. After 28 UP she glowed with good health.

Symon and Paul were the bottom of the heap in the first series of 7 UP in 1964. Symon was the only mixed race kid in the programme. His mother was white. He missed her when he was in the home. She just couldn’t cope with him, but later they became close.

Symon went to work in Wall’s freezer room. He had five kids and was married by 28 UP. He wanted to be film star. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. At 35 he was divorced and remarried. He remarried a childhood sweetheart. They met in the laundrette. She had a kid and they had a son. They fostered hundreds of kids over the years. If you take away the money Symon has been the biggest success story and has given the most.

Symon and Paul kept in touch and they reunited in 63 UP in Australia where Paul lived. He emigrated, following his father down under. Paul worked in the building trade. He was always one of the shy ones in the programme. He went walkabouts with his wife Susan, who thought him handsome and that he had a nice bum. They had a couple of kids and stacks of grandkids. Their daughter went to university. The first of their family to enter an institution of higher learning. Paul and his wife work together in a retirement home.

The 7 UP series tells us about ourselves. When it began the Cuban Missile Crisis had been played out the threat of nuclear annihilation had passed. Or so we thought. With global warming and tens of millions of migrants on the move, the threat of nuclear annihilation is more likely, but for a different reason, because countries divert rivers and tributaries and claim them as their own.

The jobs that each one did will be redundant. Self-driving cars mean taxing will be for the birds. Amazon are already delivering by drone. Any kind of administration is child’s play for artificial intelligence. The bastion of law and medicine is based on pattern recognition. We can expect the new Google to run our health service, or what’s left of it. Nick, the nuclear engineer, might not have much of a future. The future is green, totally green. Those Arab states that rely on the mono-crop of oil will become bankrupt almost overnight, like a Middle-Eastern Venezuela. Russia has long been bankrupt, but without oil it implodes. Let’s hope it doesn’t take the rest of us with it. Money flows from the poor to the rich at an increasing. rate, like an ever-growing, speeded up, Pacman creating new wealth and eating it up more quickly. We are left with dysfunctional politics, tyranny and chaos. The centre cannot hold. Our homes will be battery powered. Plants and trees are already solar powered. They shall become our new cathedrals. Scotland should be green by then.  That’s something a celticman appreciates.

 

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Storyville: The Internet’s Dirtiest Secrets – the Cleaners, directed by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck

the internet's dirtiest secret.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003f2f/storyville-the-internets-dirtiest-secrets-the-cleaners

I’m a big fan of Storyville and BBC 4, in general. That tells you a lot about the type of person I am. Big data companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter (Amazon and Apple) mine data points for personal information the same way Archimedes used mathematics and mechanics (Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world) not only to tell us who we are, but what we are, or think we are. This is the shit end of the spoon, or fulcrum.

Whenever one of these tech gods deigns to appear before some select committee in Washington or London— Mark Zuckerberg refusing to appear before Members of Parliament for a third time at the end of March 2018—then they or their minions offer up a salve, they’re doing everything they can to clear up the internet, they’re not publishers, but providers. They take no responsibility, but because they’re good guys they’re going to help us create a brave new world by wiping clean the slates we leave behind.

Here’s the mechanics of it, our digital trace. Zero or One, remove or retain. Epsilon is the lowest caste in Brave New World and they live in Manila. Facebook, Twitter and Google, don’t employ them directly. Alpha tech in California hands that job to Betas, who delegate to Gammas and Deltas, all who take a cut and the poorest paid are those that labour in booths, looking at screens in our digital age. These are our smoking beagles forced to test the safest of cigarettes, that don’t really give you lung cancer.

For every worldwide scandal on the net the number of Epsilons increase, a knee-jerk reaction, until we look the other way. Forget about them. We don’t count them, or look at the ways tech companies like to hide their dirty washing.  They clean the internet for us in the same way the untouchables in India clean away the shit of the highest caste.

What do they do?

They look at porn. Child porn. A six year old girl sucking a man’s dick in a cubicle.  Remove or retain? Yes or No. Twenty-five thousand images a day on average. Maybe more. Do less and it’s the door. Hi-tech knows how to milk the flesh of our eyeballs.

Beheadings. Suicides. Animal cruelty.  Murder. Genocide.

Porn. Porn. Porn.

Hate speech.

Self-harming.

Classify terrorism according to the latest diktats from corporate heads, based on cash.

‘Algorithms can’t do what we do,’ a cleaner explains. Three strikes and the cleaner is out, sacked, offscreen.

Beagles don’t really get lung cancer and cleaners don’t really get post-traumatic-stress disorder and kill themselves. It’s just a job. Somebody’s got to do it.  Poor people don’t count.

Shaun Bythell (2017) The Diary of a Bookseller.

bythell.jpg

Remember them, booksellers before Amazon? On 1st Septmeber 1962, 250 000 Glaswegians gathered in the driving rain to pay homage to the last run of the tram cars. Who will honour our booksellers?

Shaun Bythwell likes being his own boss. He is the owner of The Bookstore in Wigtown, which he bought in November 2001. His employees like him too, which makes him one of the good guys. Amazingly I’ve heard of the Wigtown Book Festival. His bookstore is the second biggest independent in Scotland and his diary dates from 2014 when the nation had a vote on Independence. We lost, but maybe next time. Shaun is still there.

George Orwell also had a job selling books. His ‘Bookshop Memories’ acts as a counterweight to Bythwell’s diary musings. Here in February 2015, for example, Orwell writes of his experience during the nineteen thirties:

The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman. But the hours of work are very long – I was only a part-time employee, but my employer put in a seventy hour week, apart from constant expeditions to buy books – and it is an unhealthy life.

Selling books is one of those jobs I could imagine doing. The thrill of the chase, the knowing and not knowing what you will find in the next book haul which Bythell experiences. But the long hours and the bad back hauling books. 172 000 miles on clock of his old van. 100 000 books in the shop. Nah, doesn’t sound that great. What is harder to imagine is how Bythell makes a living.

Amazon, of course, are like the orcs invading Middle Earth. ‘Cut-throat and barbaric’ notes Bythell in November 2014. An earlier entry 9th September states Amazon sells books cheaper, ‘for less than the cover price’. No book store can compete with that. No publisher can resist Amazon’s advance. No writer, with the exception of James Patterson, who campaigns against them, can fall out with Amazon. Amazon’s unique selling point is we’re cheap, but at what cost?

An analogy here is with Blythwell and his (ex-) wife Anna arguing against windfarms on Wigton Bay in a place dependent, almost totally, on tourism. Thursday, 22nd January:

At 4.30 p.m. a friend [who] lives right in the middle of the proposed site and estimates that if it goes ahead it will reduce the value of his house to almost nothing.

Scotland’s future, I believe, the future of an independent Scotland lies not in the black, black oil of the North Sea or the fossil fuels, but in renewable energy, wind and wave, but the land is owned by a handful of people with the murky past of the aristocracy. Here we have one of the smaller breeds of orcs, the developer of the proposed wind farm.

19th Janury…began by telling me, ‘I’m not here to try and change your mind’, then spent the next three hours trying to change my mind. Anna was very impressive dealing with him, asking how much he was going to get paid for allowing them to build on his land (over three times what the rest of community will receive each year) and whether he would be able to see them from any of the properties on his estate. He looked at the floor and sheepishly admitted that he would not be visible from any of the numerous properties he owns.

Standard bookish and Amazon fare, one guy gets paid more than the entire community, moves his money offshore, pays no taxes, but moans about it being too much and asks for a block discount, and doesn’t have to live with the monstrosity that he benefits from. Aye, right.

The leaven in the books is provided not by the customers, but mainly by Nicky, an employee who seems more like a member of Bythell’s extended family.

Friday 28th November: Nicky decided to stay the night so we could drink beer and gossip. Predictably we both drank too much. I offered her a bottle of Corncrake’s Ale and told me she doesn’t like any beer that has a bird’s name in it. This is the kind of logic that she applies to all her decision making.

Till total £62.50

5 customers.

I was surprised to read in the epilogue that Nicky had left The Bookstore for a job with Keystore ‘closer to her hovel’. Shaun Bythell split up with Anna, but they remain friends and The Bookstore goes from strength to strength. Ahh, a happy ending. Read on.

the digital economy

my notes.

Setting the scene

Move fast and break things enriches the already wealthy. The Schumpeterian idea is our future for better or worse. Children born now will be the most tracked in history. In some novels only the wealthy can eradicate their digital footprint. Paradoxically, not to be known, is to be somebody. The security risk of tracking devices in our home was touched on here. It’s not just phones, but our fridges, washing machines, kettles, cups. The danger of these being hacked increases exponentially. My guess is the future will be better for many, but us poor people, the largely disenfranchised, will be more easily monitored and controlled How ironic that an old blog post from a Tory MP calling for sterilization of the poor should crop up now.

Key trends in online activity

Evelyn Waugh (1988 [1930]) Vile Bodies.

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I bought this book for one pence on Amazon. I think it’s overpriced, but I don’t want my money back. The dedication in the book is to Bryan Moyne and Diana Mosley. I don’t know who Bryan is, but Diana, friend of Hitler, married Sir Oswald Mosley, Vile Bodies, indeed. I wanted to have a look at this book because Selina Todd mentions it, in her history, The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class. Characters in Vile Body, think here of spitting images, Diana Mosley and her fascist friends treat the General Strike of 1926 as a lark in which the can dress up and act differently. Of course they could. A government decree held that strikers and working people, in general, could be and should be manhandled in any way those Middle and Upper Class strike-breakers saw fit. They would not be prosecuted, but commended in beating the brutes and showing them who was boss. Shades of the miner’s strike 1984- 85. Winston Churchill’s plan to use soldiers to shoot strikers would, however, regarded as a tad excessive by Margaret Thatcher’s loose standards.

I’ve got off-track here. In the preface to Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh writing in 1964, says:

This was a totally unplanned novel. I had the facility at the age of 25, to sit down at my table, set a few characters on the move, write 5000 words a day, and note with surprise what happened…Vile Bodies caught the public’s fancy.

In other words Vile Bodies was a best seller. Think of every cliché written about vanity publishing and multiply it by ten. I’m biased. Normally, I wouldn’t read a book with upper- class protagonists and we don’t need satire when we have the moron’s moron as President. Vile Bodies. I was robbed your honour. I could give this book to a charity shop, but probably better pulped, less than a penny’s worth but more than the book’s worth.

 

Karl Wiggins (2015) Self-Publishing! In the Eye of the Storm!

karl

I’m not sure why Self-Publishing should have an exclamation mark! But I’m not going to argue with an exclamation mark. This book cost less than a pint of beer and more importantly I spent about five hours reading it. I dutifully followed all the links to some impressive Amazon sites that featured self-published authors have set up to sell their novels. I was familiar with some of the names featured. Joe Lawrence and East End Butcher Boy is mentioned, which is a terrific book. Vera Clarke, writer, is mentioned. Linda Cresswell and Denise Marr and the chief executive of ABCtales Tony Cook also get air-kissed. Karl Wiggins has according to Amazon listings self-published seven books. He has gained the experience necessary to give aspiring authors such as myself  advice. And he is generous in the praise of other self-published authors. The problem with Karl Wiggins is Karl Wiggins.

A typical blurb features in the same format several times. Someone is falling over and pissing themselves laughing.

‘…Anyone who …doesn’t mind peeing slightly when they laugh too hard…’

‘…you will have a damp patch in an embarrassing place.’

‘…Due to the laughter you owe my secretary one pair of knickers.’

‘…Best not to read this book on the train if you have a full bladder.’

‘Publishing is easy, but you need to get your name out there.’ The line between selling books and self-aggrandisement, where does it begin or end? Karl Wiggins tells the reader he is no Mark Twain, but he also tells us several times he has been compared to Socrates and Bukowski. What advice would the budding Socrates give Jane Austen, for example? No Facebook page or profile. No Twitter account.  She published her work anonymously and little is known about her life.  I’d be inclined to follow humourist like Twain and his suggestion:  ‘Any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen.’   Take him or leave him, Karl Wiggins is the equivalent of Bernard Manning talking about those coloured chaps with big lips is all he asks. Jane Austen get your tits out for the boys.  ‘…To use piss-taking humour to bring to the fore situations that don’t stack up.’ ‘Oh, the banter,’ as comedian Ford Kiernan as Jack in Still Game is apt to say, before raise his eyebrows to signal dramatic irony to the camera.

‘Can you imagine arriving back on a time machine in the 60’s [sic]  with the quick, ready banter from the 21st century while everyone’s still laughing at a pie in the face?’

Yes, I can, and it wearies me. The sixties were not ruff collars and Elizabethan England. The Rolling Stones as far as I’m aware are still touring. The theory that how the speaker perceives and reacts to the world is dependent on the language they have at their disposal (Whorf’s hypothesis) is not new. Humour was not invented in the twenty-first century as Mark Twain and Laurel and Hardy show.

Other straw men include chavs: ‘I hate toilet seats because they is better than me. At least they have a job’.

The beardie is the kind of highbrow that Karl Wiggin’s despises. He’s skint because of his ‘superior intelligence’. I’d guess an online group such as the Mc Renegades fall into the beardie category: ‘We’re a bunch of Scottish writers who have some things in common. We write for pleasure, not money…’ I write for pleasure too, but I’d be more inclined to follow Spike Milligan’s lead: ‘This book is dedicated to my bank balance’. But as anyone knows the average earning of an author are under £4000 per annum. Even ‘vegetarian bicycle wearing, [I’m not sure what a vegetarian bicycle is or how to wear it] frowning, long-faced, stupid hat, stupid beard, stupid glasses, miserable twat, disapproving wanker into the broken, bitter mind, that is Bearded Hattie’ or people like me, would find that difficult to live on.

Harpie, one of my favourite authors, but one or two punctuation errors such as putting ‘Lizards Leap’ in italics and adding apostrophes [one or the other, but italics for the modern writer is better] gives ready ammunition to Beardies that self-publishing is not real publishing. In ‘Delusions’, she put it this way, her son ‘has gone without to fund my vanity and ego’. Later she says ‘Amazon sales is the definition of fool’s gold.’ But for the self-publishing author Amazon’s algorithm is god. Twitter’s algorithm tells others who we think we are. And the Facebook algorithm is fairground hall of mirrors in which nobody looks at the same thing, but everybody seems to be laughing. This book is a hotchpotch of different elements drawn from different sources. It needs a good edit. Would the real Karl Wiggins please stand up?

A simple contract

cherry

Anybody that knows me should by now know I’m under contract to UNITED AUTHORS PUBLISHING LIMITED trading as UNBOUND.  I’ve agreed to deliver a novel currently entitled Lily Poole and it will be around 72 000 words (ahem, 84 000, but that’s word inflation for you). The Deliver Date will be 1st October 2014 or a later date agreed between the two parties, or in more simple terms – whenever.  The production costs currently stand around £5 100 and I’m about 40% of the way to achieving that target. So far, so boring.

The agreement is made on behalf of three parties. I’ve already named two of them Unbound and myself, but I’ve also got an agent representing me, Luke Neima c/o of ABCtales.com, Burgeon Creative Ideas Ltd.  Well, Luke Neima is no longer c/o ABCtales, he works for Granta (or some other publisher) and also for Unbound. I’ve only met Luke once and he’s the kind of likeable guy that even guys like me that usually don’t like likeable guys, like. He is a secret agent.

You see in his short tenure at ABCtales he looked round for things to sell. It hasn’t really got any assets, runs at a deficit,  but that didn’t really stop some start-up companies going for millions in the  hyperinflated stock exchange bubbles in modern global economies of the late 1980 and early 1990s and as late as the banking-induced shocks of 2008.

Unbound belongs to this latter slow-growth period. But it bucked the trends of businesses going bust by recently announcing its publishing portfolio’s one-millionth pound sale of books and ebooks. Putting this into content Unbound as a publisher is the size of a field mouse. Amazon is, in comparison, a Shard-sized tyrannosaurus. It has what Joe Nye called ‘soft power’ and with each second that passes it adds more byte. Unbound and Amazon do not compete in the same markets. Unbound offers luxury goods-books that are priced accordingly.  But Amazon determines market prices, which most books can be charged.   Under monopolistic pressure it screws down prices so low that smaller publishers—and all publishers are smaller than Amazon—cannot compete and professional writers are generally being paid less and less. This is being reinforced by a greater number of writers seeking publishing deals, and self-publishing, which has never been easier or cheaper, and this is reflected in the price charged to the consumer. Often this work is offered free –which is the new consumer baseline price, or sold at discounted prices often around, or less, than the price of a box of Christmas’ crackers.  There are exceptions to the mass-quantity rule, in which an increase supply, while demand remains the same, brings down market prices. Superstars of writing such as Rushdie, Amis, and J.K. Rowling (fill the name in of your favourite writer here) get paid a premium.  There is another, what seems at first sight, a contradictory trend self-published writers epitomized by the aptly named Fifty Shades of Grey sell so many units of their self-published books that they too are paid a premium and join the pantheon of established writers working for more mainstream publishers. This is easily explained. Successful writers are only successful as long as they can consistently sell a certain number of units. Thank You for This Moment, for example, sold 200 000 copies in two months in France and the English edition is now out. The success of books, or luxury goods,  like Lily Poole are premised on pre-selling around 200 copies at around £20 for the first print run. When the figure for Valerie Trierweiler’s memoir drops, she too will be dropped. Success is all about the numbers. We inhabit different worlds, but with many of the same rules.

Author needs to write books that sell. Laurie, or Ewan or myself from ABCtales, for example, have been parachuted into this new business model of crowd funding, we need to write the books and sell the product we have made. Unbound allow us to legitimize our unpaid work by using their logo, or imprint, to help our selling.  How we do that is really up to us. But in a standard business model sellers are in search of buyers.  Unbound outsources direct selling but reaps the benefit of us harvesting family and friends. In simple terms, it is vanity publishing with a real publisher.

Unbound only sell a limited run of each book. Printing is outsourced. Most products under the Unbound imprint have tended to be more novella- sized than novels (well under 60 000 words) which tends to keep printing cost down.  Proof reading is outsourced to Luke Neima, and his zelig like transformation from ABC to Unbound, to proof reader, is complete when he also turns up to help make the provisionary video needed for promoting the book and the author to the paying public, which is added to costs. Books do not get published until all costs are paid for in advance by pledges.

Writing a book and selling a product are two different skills.  I’ll simplify the selling process for you. Online sales nominally depend of the use social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Sellers directly ask people for money or what is termed ‘pledges’ for our unpublished book. Success, or failure, is hypothetically dependent on how many people you know online and also to a certain extent on your online presence.

My experience is nothing much works. The Clydebank Post, for example, ran a story about my crowd-funded book Lily Poole. It featured a photo of me standing gormless beside a gravestone. Nobody pledged. I tried selling a free editing service. It wasn’t free, so perhaps ‘free’ should be in quotation marks, as I was seeking pledges before aspiring writers submitted their work to me. Then again perhaps the use of quotation marks around ‘free’ is an unnecessary affectation as nobody pledged using this route.

Yet this is contradictory. Unbound is a successful, publishing firm and Laurie and Ewan from almost the same starting position achieved sales targets of over 100% to my 40%. I’d explain that in a number of ways. The last 10% of sales is, in a sense, a free-sales run. Success is predicated on success. After achieving sales of 90% Unbound begin to advertise their latest successful product and, this is crucial, to a ready-made reservoir of book buyers. Laurie and Ewan for example are no longer dependent on asking  people that they know directly or indirectly for money.

Laurie had another marketing strategy for selling his product. He piggy-backed on a well-known charity. That way he could legitimately suggest he was not just selling himself and a book, he was selling for a charity. This added around 10% to the total cost of the book, but as this was paid through a slight increase in pledge levels so the cost was spread.

He also acknowledged he had hundreds of friends. Crucially, I’d argue, he also had the right type of friends. Let’s call them middle class people that own houses. Ewan, I’d guess, has similar middle-class friends and he also contributes online to UKAuthors who also supported his work.

Those that have pledged to Lily Poole, so far, have been immediate family, a few friends and fellow writers on ABCtales. My friends tend not to be middle class home owners. They generally don’t have an interest in books (or me, unless I’ve done something stupid, which I’d guess nullifies the friendship scenario. Loser!).

I’m working class, but a reader, so it’s also worth mentioning the idea beloved of certain types such as hedge-fund managers that there’s a hierarchy of human capital and they tend to be rewarded at the top with an income to match their skill sets and lesser mortals at the bottom.  I’m not in this elect group. I do know Laurie and Ewan spent more time online than me, translated into dour Presbyterian terms, which means they worked harder than me and deserved success. Whether they used a particular cultural skill-set, I lack, I can only make an educational a priori guess. Asking for money is never easy. Asking friends for money they don’t have, for a product they don’t need, is more difficult for non-home owning working class folk. Perhaps the laws of diminishing returns is applicable here. I like to think so.

ABCtales has been good to me in lots of different ways. I piggy-backed on Abctalers to help sell Lily Poole.   I don’t think of myself as a writer, but I like to write. Sooz, a fellow ABCtaler, expressed it so well. The need to write is almost a physical act, a bit like masturbation, but onanism has its limits and for writing to reach any kind of climax it needs a reader. ABCtales is a community or writers, but it is also (or should be) a community of readers. When I first showed my work online Ewan kinda ran the site himself. That might not have been other users experience but it was certainly mine. He was encouraging and very good at nudging me along with things I should be paying attention to, for example, spelling, syntax, sentences, meaning and what the fuck was that about? but all in a thoroughly nice way.  He disappeared as ABCtalers do over the years only to turn up later as competing for crowd-sourced pledges for publishing.

ABCtales act as my agent. They receive 25% of net profit. That’s the money that’s left after the costs of paying Luke and other zeligs have been met for editing, publishing etc. If you look at the figures for the first print run it’s not very much. But I’m sure Unbound and ABCtales would hope for the kind of Harry Potter magic that makes small publishing houses into large conglomerates.  I’m not a fan of agents. Their parasitical and cancer-like growth have outsourced many of the rights accrued to ordinary workers offer the last seventy years. But ABCtales has been a service I’ve freely used.  It has also given me the chance to get published.  I don’t begrudge and have no great interest in the possible and what remains more a hypothetical—rather than actual—profit, especially as it would subsidize other would-be writers.

Unbound take 50% of net profit. The average long-term return on capital investments stands around 5% per annum. ABCtales has offered writers’ content which Unbound need to keep growing.  Creative industries with around 10% of GDP are one of the few growth areas in the economy. Unbound needs to keep growing, making superprofit, and needs to keep selling to stand still. It’s a symbiotic relationship with ABCtales.

My concern is simpler, finish what I started, but I’m not sure I can. I’m not moaning about it, simply highlighting a trend based on factual analysis. When I write things down, as I have here, I understand them better with a cherry on top.