Sheep In Wolf's Clothing

Over the last few months - which might even drift into years - there's been much talk of how nobody reads blogs anymore.  I have thoroughly wholesome opinions on this. There are many good reasons this is happening and the best of them all is that a huge percentage of blogs are nothing more than self serving posturing, devoid of content and treat their readers like idiot sheep... and your first mistake would be to think I was one of them.

A quick tour of some book review sites, for example, would have you believe that in order to get the maximum reading enjoyment from a book, you need pristine white sheets, a brand new mug filled with freshly brewed coffee everyday and flowers. I do not lie:

I for one, do not treat my books like this. If it's worthy of my time, I scowl at those pages from start to finish until they give up their secrets. My bed does not look like the one pictured above - it has paws prints on it today - and I sure as hell wouldn't leave a new friend by the riverbank with a broken spine just so that my blog looked sexy. 

What kind of person breaks the spine of a friend for a photo opportunity anyway?

It is however a fine example of how to distract a passer-by from the fact that you can't write for shit. Welcome to the new millennium in which you can invite yourself to any party you choose and pretend to be the host as devoted followers fawn at your feet.

There was once a time when you hosted a blog because you had something to say, then, as ever, bright sparks rubbed together and figured out how to make money from it and now they are full of keywords disguised as paragraphs. Their only purpose is to drive people to the cliff and eventually take their money or get numbers up for some reason - usually both.

Most of the people I would like to read a few posts a week from have hung up their gloves. Neil Gaiman is hanging on in there a little, Nick Hornby was self admittedly awful at it. Joe Hill killed his off. Many drift off to tumblr and twitter to say their piece - probably because it's an easy platform with a decent app on the phone - but the problem with that is the problem of all social media... your reader can, and will, wander off to another party in the blink of an eye and forget you existed in a second. These people I mention probably have better things to do with their lives than post regularly and are bad examples, but somewhere out there, there must be people who can write who have somehing to say. Surely the idea of the blog is not dead beyond repair. (Edit: Cherie Priest is pretty good at it still and she writes good books too, so the concept is not totally dead.)

It's not only book bloggers though - there are far worse culprits. I see my fair share of tattoo bloggers doing the same thing. Music bloggers are equally guilty. Take away the pretty pictures and what you're left with is a hollow shell of a person with a keyboard and a camera at their disposal standing naked in the shop window with a sign hanging around their neck that says "I Want To Be In The Industry Of Cool" - on the back it will say "And I Will Do Anything To Be Part Of It."

My friend John (morning Sir) recently dived into his garage to rescue hundreds of vinyl albums that had been in storage and had gone mouldy. It took him a few days to sort out, clean them up and sadly, some of the classics didn't make it. The pictures ain't sexy and damn, that would be a great blog/website. Album by album: did it survive? How much of a heartbreak is it to watch it go into the bin? Why did I buy it in the first place? Is this record even mine? He has better things to do than this however, but you get the drift. I would sign up for a blog like that pronto.

The dam however, is broken. You'll never get the beaten up genie back in the bottle and while I thoroughly endorse anybody with the inclination to put up a site and spend their time building a presence for their passion, I - and the rest of the sentient world - would appreciate it very much if you dug with a spade for treasure instead of kneeling in the sand and licking rocks.

Sion Smith
The Dark Stuff

I finally went to the store and bought myself some glasses. Do you know how difficult it is to choose a pair of glasses? Half an hour later thinking I had made the right choice, I took them to the counter to do the paperwork thing for the lenses only to be told I had chosen a pair that meant I could get another pair free.

After half an hour in there already, I didn't much have the stomach for that, so I just ordered two pairs exactly the same. They will be ready for collection at the beginning of next week. Will they help me play better guitar? Doubtful. Will they spark a chain reaction in my brain that fires up great stories that will bring accolades to my door? Also doubtful, but they may sharpen the edges on things I come across in the world... like exactly how close the car in front is. 


Last night, I discovered a horrible truth about myself. I have been keeping myself locked in an open prison made entirely of paper. 

I dug out all of the notebooks I had ever begun projects in and laid them out on the table - there were a lot and it looked impressive. All of them contained either vague story ideas, a few chapters of a book that didn't have legs, half written songs, lists of things to do... some of them had good stuff inside too. Poems, chapters of value... 

Anyway, I came to realise that somewhere inside of this head, I carry around the weight of all of these unfinished things like an albatross. Once I figured this out - and it was a bit of a lightbulb moment - I tore out all of the pages that needed typing up and threw all of the notebooks and whatever half-assed work was still in them into the box in the kitchen otherwise known as 'recycling'. 

Liberated is how I feel at no longer having ghosts haunting me from the safe distance of a shelf. I have four notebooks left now. These have 'Big Work' inside of them that needs typing up but once I catch up with myself, these can go the same way and then, perhaps one notebook at a time is a good idea. I could always go digital, but that's not really me at all. 

A man who wears glasses should always be seen to be writing with a pen.


Before I forget, I discovered the talents of Peter Callesen earlier today. On the off chance that you might be feeling pleased with yourself about how talented you might be, here's some of his work:

...which certainly put me in my place. Man, I love paper cuts. 


Hmm. All of those words above, I wrote yesterday and meant to post it up this morning. The day kind of took over though and by the time I've gotten around to pressing the Go Button, my glasses arrived. That's pretty good in a world that's mostly not so good at doing what it says it's going to do. I'm impressed.

I'll take a picture sooner or later but I most definitely need at least half a shave before I attempt such folly. I have to tell you though... being able to see the edges on the world around you is quite the revelation. Who knew! 


With what's left of the day, I'm hitting the 12 string thing for an hour or two and then I'm going to bury myself in this - which I swear I only glanced at earlier to see what it was like and lost an hour. If you're lagging behind under the covers with a torch at night, this has turned out to be a great crime series:

THE END OF THE AFFAIR

I have finally finished The Novel (one of them anyway). It's taken me something like four years in all... I thought I had finished it a couple of years back and let maybe a dozen people read that version of it because, well, feedback is important when you're working in isolation. Nobody was sick, died, did a United Airlines on me or sent it back, so I took that as a good sign that at least it didn't royally suck.

The best advice I ever saw about writing a book is this: when you think you've finished it, throw it in a drawer and forget about it for six months before you read it again. This I have done. Twice. I guarantee, the distance between you and that 'final' piece of work will dictate how good your book is. If you read a lot, you'll see the holes in it easily... and those are holes you really don't want an agent or a publisher to see that's for sure.

Which brings me to the point of this particular post. The book now needs to be out in the world doing what books do... and to do that properly means being represented by an agent and on that front I discovered something else equally as valuable as that previous advice.

Some agents will ask for a few paragraphs in synopsis, some will ask for a full page... but some will ask for a detailed synopsis: chapter by chapter. So requested one of the agents I would love to work with. Thus, I sat down to work through the book and do this very thing. If you've ever done this, maybe you found the same as I have:

Chapter Sixteen: Jesus. Hardly anything happens in this chapter. There isn't anything to actually write about it that I want to tell anybody... that I can tell anybody...

Then you have two choices. Kill it or rewrite it. If there are some things that are relevant but most of it is dull, I guess you could include the important information in the previous chapter or work it in somewhere else but I found exactly this scenario with of my two chapters. I threw them in the bin without a second thought and honestly, it didn't make any difference to the story. I'm not even sure why I wrote them in the first place. There was some good material in there but it didn't add anything to the big picture. 

Just because there's chocolate in the cupboard doesn't mean you have to include it in the cake - particularly if there are stronger flavours already in there. 

Being an editor of a magazine, I do this a lot. Regardless of personal opinion or who wrote it or what the writer says about it. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. The only thing that matters - ever - is the person who bought your book/magazine. That's what the words are for... somebody else, otherwise you may as well keep a personal journal under your mattress and be happy with that. 

And as odd as it may seem, what you leave out is sometimes way more important than what you put in. I've read novels (and ditched them) that are drowning in paragraphs and chapters that are so dense it takes all the enjoyment out of reading. 

I guess at this point, we could all sit here and say 'but you've never published a book before' and you would kind of be right. My books here all went through this process anyway. I choose to publish them myself because there's a limited audience for afternoons I spent with bands and/or hard-boiled travel writing, but I didn't learn nothing at all from 14 years of editing magazines.

Just a few observations that might be useful if you're in a similar boat. 

I've never been through this process before. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. I suspect being a literary agent is a lot like being Catherine Zeta Jones lost in an all male sports college. Everybody wants to ask you out just because they are male.

Note to self: Don't ever write a book about analogies.

Sion Smith
Soul Guide

I have to say that in all my years of being drenched in music, I don't think I've ever seen anything as breathtaking as this, which is The Tea Party with Psychopomp.

Don't forget to turn up the volume before you press play and I'm not talking a little bit either. You need to go all the way.

I've seen it a few times now and repeated watching just pounds me even further into the ground. If the clip doesn't show up in your feed or the mailout, the link is here

The day I get tired of hearing this is the day it's all over.


I added a road trip to Lublin in Poland today. I figured it was time I went somewhere I had never heard of to write the next book in my 'hard boiled travel writing' series. I have no idea what I'll find there but I'm hoping it will set a precedent for whatever may come next. It looks like a beautiful place so that's a good enough start for me.

Almost Human - A Prototype

It looks as though I have been doing not much around here but playing guitar lately, but things are perhaps not quite as they appear. A few days back I figured out I had almost enough stories curated to release another book. I wanted this collection to be bigger than The Day The Sky Fell Down (don't ask me why, probably some weird mental thing about 'getting somewhere') so it's taken longer than anticipated to pull it off and so far, everything is virgin territory to the world. None of the stories inside have been seen anywhere... in fact, some of them, I had even forgotten I had written. 

Thus: I pulled together a rough/first proof to start going through it and here it is - at least in theory. This cover will likely go through some tweaks before I'm happy with it but essentially, that's what it will look like and if you happen to be curious as to why it's orange, that would be because I really like the way Kim Gordon's Girl In A Band looks on my shelf.

If you're a writer type and are wondering why this 'proof' looks like a book and not a huge bunch of pages churned out by Hewlett Packard, it's because I can. It's what I do. Much better to have something that looks like a book/finished product where I can better judge paragraph lengths and whether some of the stories need moving around for balance and you don't get that with a stack of paper. 

I could be labelled a control freak for doing this but I would prefer to call it 'getting it right' - when you're out there by yourself - looking for readers to love what you do and hopefully spread the word - it's the least you can expect of yourself.

Sion Smith
When The Music's Over

My new Ibanez arrived yesterday but I couldn't catch a break to spend some time with it so I checked it had arrived in one piece and put the lid back on until today... where we spent a couple of hours getting to know each other a little better.

I've been playing the 12 string for so long, I forgot how over-sized it was compared to a regular guitar. I think we're going to have fun together when we've ironed out some creases. 

The idea of putting Deadbirds together (keep up) won't leave me alone. I know I don't want to do the 'full blown thing' - I can't go down that road again - but I've been wandering through some great old unplugged video footage this week and the fire for something like that excites me. Four or five guys/girls with a bunch of guitars having some unplugged fun? I could handle that in the extreme.

Pending.


The writing has taken something of a back-seat because of this new love affair but that's OK. The ideas have been building up and sometime in the last few days, I did this:

Trying to figure out a way to promote your work in a world in which people like to look but can't stop for a few seconds to read more than three words is tough, so I figured I had best start getting creative.


To wrap up, I feel a need to drop this into the run too. This is beautiful work from Léa Nahon and deserves more than a mention. You can find her here.

Sion Smith
The Return Of The Analogue Man

This week has shaped up to be packed to the rafters . Two magazines sent to print, two birthdays celebrated, one guitar purchased, quest to save bears improved (more on that in a couple of days), the only two things I haven't done that were on the mental list are wash the car and get two years cut off my hair - both of which can wait.

Without going off the deep end here about the new six string addition to the family thats due to arrive tomorrow...

I changed my mind about the colour to go for. It's very possible that a man can own too many black things

I changed my mind about the colour to go for. It's very possible that a man can own too many black things

...I realise that this year has so far been about a lot of analogue love. I've fallen back into playing guitar (a lot) which has led to writing (songs - but not as much as I would like), spending a lot less time in front of a screen (which sadly includes posting here - file under collateral damage) and generally feeling as though I'm putting my life back together when I hadn't even noticed that it had come (slightly) undone.

I think there are books out there that call noticing these things 'mindfulness' - but honestly, if this happens to you, it's just plain careless.

Not that I've got time to add anything else to the list of things to get up, I thought I might add something to the list anyway.

I've never heard of Lomo before - if I had, I might have bought somebody one for their aforementioned birthday. Now, I'm thinking it might be a great tool for putting together a book of some kind... maybe one of the poetry book ideas I've got lurking at the back of my head. Pictured here is the Lomo Belair X 6-12 City Slicker:

They have a huge range of cameras and what's appealing about this - as opposed to shooting on your phone - is no matter how lo-fi it is, you've still only got a limited number of shots to choose from, meaning you need to think about what you're doing and I like that a lot.

On the other hand, they also have a great range in instant cameras - this Lomo’Instant Bora Bora delivers credit card sized photographs on the spot which could also be fun:

I think it's going to be the Belair. My photographer friends would laugh me out of the ballpark if they read this but I don't want to be Fin Costello. I just want to capture a few moments in a different way.

And now I must write something before I go to bed because are the rules of the house - no matter how short.

Sion Smith