Quora Virgin

To bring my writing to a wider audience, and in an act of blatant self-publicity, I have started to respond to questions on Quora. It’s a strange place, occupied by a huge global audience of 100 million users, and gives a wonderful real-life view of the world. It is a large community. It is truly a global base.

If you don’t know, then this is how it works. It is very simple. A question is posted waiting for a community response.

What I find most interesting is the range of questions and the insight they give into the mind of the world. At one edge there are very technical questions.

Can I get a U.S. Federal Apostille for a letter issued from a U.S. consulate if there is only a consular officer’s signature, but no stamp or seal?

What if my U.S employer files a B-1 Visa petition with USCIS on my behalf to enter the U.S for a short stay and it gets approved, would I still be required to attend an interview at the U.S embassy in my country?

On the opposite edge, there are those searching for cheap erotic and vicarious thrills with sanctioned pornography.

What was the most promiscuous person you have ever met like?

What are the dirtiest secrets that you haven’t told anybody?

Have you ever let someone look up your skirt on purpose in public?

I am sure you will be pleased to know that if you feel inclined to answer you can go anonymous. If nothing else, you can quickly understand the norms of different cultures. A stolen kiss in India has the equivalence of sex in the open air in Europe.

If you are looking for a definitive answer to a specific issue, Quora is not your place. It is a community site and you can’t be sure of the credentials of the contributors. However, whereas Wiki is about facts, Quora is about opinions. Quora is like going down to the pub and asking your mates what they think. You will always get a wide range of opinions and then you have to judge where you stand.

I have joined and to recognise this here is my first answer to a question. It has been viewed just under 200 times in the 24 hours since it was posted. It is all good publicity!

You’re a successful writer. What advice would you give writers trying to write a book?

I have read all the answers already here and there are a thousand truths you should follow. I gave up a business career, and good money, to become a writer. I now have four published books, but little more money. They are all different genres because with each I was testing myself to find my limitations and, in the process, I discovered there are a great many.

I can’t disagree with any of the advice. A good story helps. Characterisation is crucial. Editing is essential.

Some will tell you to plan everything in detail. I tried that as if I was writing one of the many consulting reports I had written. It didn’t work for me and I turned to listening to my characters and let them take me on their journey. I remember writing late one night when one of them died. They were so much a part of my life, I cried and worked no more for two days.

But that was my way.

However, the best advice I received, and the advice I pass on whenever I am asked to talk about my work and books is practice.

The only way to get better at writing, and anything else for that matter, is to practice and make sure you take every opportunity to write. If you don’t know what to write, then write a blog. It happens that my fiancée lives 3,000 miles away in Kiev and so I write a letter to her every day. I treat writing those letters as if they were going to be published. I check them, I edit them and will rewrite them if I am not happy. It’s all a bit futile as they will be translated into Russian but that is not the point. they must be perfect when they leave me.

Very, very few of us are given the skills of a Shakespeare or Hemmingway and we need to hone the little we have to improve and be better at our profession.

It is never easy, and if you want to read a great book on writing read Stephen King’s On Writing. You will find it an inspiration and will motivate you. And, while referencing Stephen King this is an anecdote he tells. Don’t let this drive you to despair.

“A friend came to visit James Joyce one day and found the great man sprawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

James, what’s wrong?’ the friend asked. ‘Is it the work?’

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at his friend. Of course, it was the work; isn’t it always?

How many words did you get today?’ the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled face down on his desk): ‘Seven.’

Seven? But James… that’s good, at least for you.’

Yes,’ Joyce said, finally looking up. ‘I suppose it is… but I don’t know what order they go in!”

If anyone wants to read any of my novels they can be found at www.brovary.co.uk  Thank you.


The Fastest Way to Lose Money

If there is anything that comes between Sasha and me it is money, or more accurately my lack of money. I should be comfortably off, but the truth is that this crazy decision to become a writer has changed all that. Of course, nothing is quite as simple or straightforward as that, but in essence, that’s the state of affairs.

Reasonably Sasha wants to go on holiday sometime this year. She is also keen to understand how I am going to support us when I move to Kiev in September. To be honest it is a question I am also asking myself.

This is not the place or time to go into all the peripheral reasons for my pecuniary dilemmas, but I have worked a lot over the last couple of years in traditional jobs and not been paid for my efforts. It is a significant amount of money. Right now, that would make a big difference.

No, the real issue is that I am fighting with myself every day trying to find a balance between writing and what others call work. I write every day and I have to do that to catch up on all the years when I didn’t write. I need to practice.

I was talking about this to other guests at the wedding over the weekend among whom were singers and artists. They wanted to embrace me into this artistic community and encourage me to revel in the status of an artist. I was flattered but the truth is that I am still finding the label a difficult one to wear.

When I am asked what I do I answer, writer. That’s as far as I can go. I don’t see myself as an artist. I wish I could and then I could live in a cold and bare garret with the wind whistling through every badly fitting door and window. Then I could suffer for my art and I might then be an artist.

But it is not like that. I rent a room in a cosy and beautifully maintained house in Surrey. There is nothing painful about my lifestyle.

When I made this decision I always thought the larger of all my problems would be my ability to write. Then the first book was published, then the second, third and on to the fourth. At first, blogging was hard, but it becomes easier every day although if I will think the same in a year’s time is still an open debate.

Perversely, the problem is marketing and selling the books. I write but no one buys.

It’s very difficult to get statistics on how many books are published each year but I can tell you when one of my books was first published I followed the statistics on Amazon. It was ranked in the mid 3 million. That was so depressing I have never gone back again to check.

The gist is that I have entered into one of the most competitive markets at a time when it was never easier to publish.

The problem is that any art is a selfish indulgence except when a book is read, enjoyed, brings happiness and then it becomes something far more. To talk to someone who has read and enjoyed a book I have written is worth more and feels better than anything else I have experienced.

Sasha has only known me a writer and it is a disappointment that I can’t provide properly for her but then if she had known me in Version 1, the businessman, with no time for his family, in pursuit of success and pinstripe suits, maybe she wouldn’t love me quite so much?

About Writing

Do you ever look at Quora? If not, then let me tell you about it. It is a free, user-driven Q&A site on the internet. Users can pose a question and readers reply with their thoughts and observations on the World. Sometimes there are sensible questions, often they are very silly.

Is England a totalitarian State?  was an example that hit my email this morning. As you can see, often, it says far more about the questioner, but I am surprised how many gain serious answers.

I was amused by answers to the question, are British people in any danger if they visit the Republic of Ireland?  There was a consensus of answers that danger is only around the corner in Dublin where locals are totally fed up with stag night revellers.

Always under discussion as a core topic is writing. There are many questions on how to start or write the first book with something like I want to write a book this year, what should I do first?

The advice is worthy and always covers the range from, just start writing and blag it through to recommendations to plan everything in detail.

But all make it clear that whether you call it a theme, purpose or main character’s motivation first you must have an idea.

There are two things that I have to do every day. One is writing this essay and the second is write a letter to Sasha and so twice every day I face this problem of coming up with an idea. Where do I start?

I know that there are three different learning techniques

  • Listening learners heard their mother, believed the information, and never touched a stove.
  • Seeing learners watched their brother touch the stove, and never touched it.
  • Experience learners touched the stove; but only once!

President Reagan with his film and TV background was an extreme seeing learner and it was reported that all his briefings were put onto a DVD, so he could watch them on the television. Probably an exaggeration just as much as President Trump is getting all his briefings through the Muppet Show.

Most of us use a mixture of all three but have a preference towards one or the others.

I can remember conversations far better than I remember the written word. I can recall what someone has said to me many years ago, and I do it by remembering the situation and the event. I can recall the room, the people around us, my mood and then the words come back to me.

This is how I write. I imagine the scene. I can see the everything as if it was a film set and I am watching a movie and can hear all the conversation. My task is only to try and describe the scene. Sometimes I do this well but never as well as I want. Films start with a book or a script and then become action. My world is the other way around. I start with the film and have to turn it into words.

When I write to Sasha I imagine her sitting in a café, sipping a mid-morning coffee, and reading my letter. I can see what she is wearing, how she is sitting and even the way she lifts the cup to drink. I have this perfect picture in my mind. I write to make her mood better so that when she goes back to work she feels happy and empowered.

But back to Quora and how to write a book. I never post an answer. Although I am a writer I can’t class myself as a successful writer as I don’t sell millions of books. I know that advice is only as valuable the price you have paid for it.

If I were to answer I would say that you need to close your eyes and dream. You need to see the scene before you can describe it. You need to watch the movie of your characters and describe it.

It has always been like this for me. You may say I’m a dreamer. When you call me a daydreamer that is the truth but, I’m not the only one

Kiev Reflections – A Paradox Exposed

A fly through business trip leaves few memories other than the disruption to your personal life be and the continual desire to be home. A holiday in a far away and sunny climate leaves reminiscence captured and recorded on countless selfies and maybe, for me at least, sunburn on a balding head. But leaving a lover after a week of romance, sharing new friends, and being absorbed, and taken into a family, leaves the heart scarred forever.

Appropriate then that the weather yesterday, as we drove to the airport, was cold, dry, overcast, and heavy with snow-filled clouds not quite able to snow and show all their emotions. They reflected how I felt. It is never easy to say goodbye.

I like Kiev and I like Ukrainians, but I have a bias. No doubt had I fallen in love with a Hungarian I would now be feeling the same about Budapest. It is hard to be dispassionate in love.

Last week I wrote about the Ukrainians strength and stoicism and I think there is something almost unique in that. They are by nature serious and determined and whatever is thrown at them they take in their stride. I have shared that thought many times with those I met. On the plane home, last afternoon I sat next to a Ukrainian vet who has now moved to the UK and married an English man. She too reconfirmed my proposition.

But they are not dour people. Far from it and there is a happy and fun side to any gathering of Ukrainians. It is always a great party and normally well fuelled by alcohol. I remember a Polish girl I knew in my late teens and we went to a Polish wedding together. To this day I don’t think I have drunk so much. Slavic parties are invariably fun.

I didn’t want to leave but similarly, I couldn’t stay. It is not just all my wonderful family that draws me home but the continuing need to earn some money, and that raises the paradox which I am still trying to solve.

Sasha and I would like to be together and she is working hard to fit out a new apartment. I can see a life half and half between the UK and Ukraine, but that is not the problem. The problem is, as ever, financing it.

While the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil having money is a necessity. The issue is what needs to be done to acquire it?

Once that was easy; I would just find a job, get the train every morning, fill the eight or so hours and come home. That is still a solution I can aspire to although it is becoming more and more difficult as I get older.

My bigger problem is the conflict between what we could call a traditional job and pursuing a ‘career’ as a writer.

This all started more than 6 years ago when writing a novel was a unique personal challenge that was never meant to be more than a one-off. After all, everyone has one book inside them and it was going to be more of a sabbatical aimed at trying to dispel demons then inhabiting my mind.

During this first writing, I had become almost nocturnal and worked through every night. On the 24th floor of a Dubai tower block, the television always on in the background, the sound turned down low, empty cans of Pepsi strewn around the floor, an ashtray always full, I was writing.

I started writing like the consultant I had been the day before – yes, it was that sudden – wanting to map out the plot and all the characters before writing a word. That failed in the first two days. I wanted to write and not plan and so I wrote.

There was an exhalation as the story developed and the characters spoke to me. I learned to like George Cove and at times felt very sorry for him and his plight. Then one night there was a breakthrough moment, the sort of moment that makes it all worthwhile. I will try and avoid the plot spoiler, but I was working at my table, it was the middle of the night when one of my favourite characters, someone I always assumed would be with me until the end of the book, died.

I was shocked. It was never meant to be like that and for the last moments of that night, I did no more than properly inform George, her parents, and friends of her death. It was the least I could do in her memory. I stopped work. I cried and that night could write no more.

I am sure that those of you who have read the book would just turn the page and keep reading, passing easily over that moment and move on to the next chapter. I doubt, very much, you would have cried but these were my friends and I was telling their story. It may have started in my head, but it was real, and I was telling it for them.

There are now four books, a fifth half written and these pieces which someday, may also be published as a book. I write every day and feel guilty if I don’t but at what point does it stop being a hobby and start being who I am? When does a hobby become so passionate that it becomes one’s inspiration for living and all that you do?

I am now at that point and it was all brought into sharp relief over this week with Sasha, her family and friends in Kiev. The reality is that for only a very, very few is writing a career that pays its way.

Amazon has made it easier to sell books, but it has also made it easier to publish them. Publishing is a hugely competitive market. There are estimates that in 2014 twenty new titles were published each hour in the UK alone. Nor does it have huge margins. I publish through Amazon companies and the margin on each book is about €1.50. You can work out how many books I need to sell to pay for a night out.

I am driven to write because there are stories to be told and thoughts to be shared. I need to write, and it can’t be a sometimes, once in a while activity. It is something that needs all my focus.

Writing is selfish; writers put writing above most of everything else. As I am developing this skill the need to produce words which thousands and maybe even millions of people read, is a selfish and even arrogant drive. There is a strong emotional component about trying to succeed as a writer. I have never been able to draw and never been an artist, but I assume it is the same as they feel.

When asked by a stranger what we are, what do we do, I now answer unerringly, ‘writer’. It has been a transition but first and foremost that is what I am. I am a writer who sometimes is a management consultant.

This trip to Kiev has put all this into sharp focus.

We all know the stories of the artists that lived in frozen garrets with hardly a cent to buy food while all the money goes on paint. Later, and long after their death they are discovered, and their work recognised as masterpieces.

I am not quite in a frozen attic and my work will never move into the masterpiece category, but I am a point where I need to commit or quit.

It is not quite as blunt a choice between Sasha and writing but it is close. Sasha is undoubtedly my muse and without her, in my life, there may have been no books. I have told her I love her and her love for me is fully reciprocated but love alone will never pay for food and a home. Our shared financial needs include more than the basics and we want to share a few of life’s luxuries as necessities.

A rational, head-based decision would be to pack it all in, get a ‘proper’ job. I could stop writing and in my spare time carry on with the marketing, website development, social media etc. and make a few extra pounds from the work already done. Then Sasha and I could marry and live a happy life.

But would it be a happy life because I now see myself as a writer? Not only do I see myself as a writer, I am a writer with all the flaws, ego, selfishness and focus of a writer.

I love Sasha deeply and I will do all that I can for her, but it worries me that the emotional cost will be more than I can give. It worries me that she may not love the man who doesn’t write. Sasha has only known me as a writer and I am scared that if I stopped writing to provide the life we both want so desperately then the very essence of the person she loves will disappear.

So, here is the paradox.

Do I have to give up doing what I love for the woman I love, and maybe in doing that lose precisely what is now the very essence of my personality and basis of our love?

Reflections on Getting to Fifty

Soon, it will be nearly three months since I started this probably self-indulgent exercise of writing daily opinion pieces. This is the fiftieth and nearly half a novel. It is time to take stock and reflect.

It started with a frustration with the progress of my next novel. I am half way through, have written about 50,000 words and suddenly the plot fell apart. It is a story based around espionage, murder, intrigue, and State machinations around negotiations over an oil pipe line between Tajikistan and China. I was pleased with progress but then one night on a television documentary I saw pictures of cordial handshakes between Tajik and Chinese officials and my very own pipeline.  My story had gone. I knew that it could be recovered but it was a set back and I needed to rework my thoughts.

I was also frustrated with book sales and therefore how few people read the result of my efforts. There are now four published books and to be honest, sales aren’t great. There is long way to go until world tours and celebrity signings and to feed and house myself, I would have to sell in numbers putting me in the bestselling categories. But I would settle for less than that. You could always help my cause and when you have finished reading this, go to Amazon, and buy copies of each book for you and all your friends. Maybe while you are there you could add a few 5* reviews?

Thanks to the Chinese government I had to rework my plot and there was a hiatus. I dipped into Stephen King’s book On Writing and one passage keep nagging at me. Writers, write. That is what writers do.

I had to write, and I wanted to re-impose a writing discipline and what better way than to commit to a regular, daily blog. I thought it would be easy. Every day I write a letter of about the same length to Sasha and that always comes effortlessly. Maybe it takes me an hour or so and only more when I try to watch a football match at the same time.

This experience is nothing like that. Getting to a piece that is coherent, consistent, and readable is taking far more of my day than I ever imagined.

I knew I would never write a daily diary. I know everyone has a book in them but if that is your own life story, forget it. Unless you have been the leader of a country or bankrupt company, a spy who has been caught, or the only active septuagenarian sex worker in your town, then the chances are your life story is only of interest to your close family and even then, that is not a guarantee. I am none of those and a diary was not the way I wanted to go.

I assumed I would listen to the morning news, flick through the internet and just like magic a subject for the day would spring to mind.

Today’s headlines are all about UK crime rates and how knife crime numbers are rising rapidly. I have an opinion on how to solve this problem: improve social care, an active role for the government in the family (but only where that impacts crime), remove the gang culture, decriminalise drugs, improve prison conditions, improve education, pay teachers and nurses more, reduce inequalities in regional spend, stop political parties squabbling and make them act in unison and, and, and.

Or, I could condemn President Trump with a wave of a hand citing his numerous late-night Tweets, his words on African immigrants, his alleged groping, or his famous Mexican wall. It would have been easy fodder, but it would also have been unthinking fodder.  To have any value I would also need to understand, for example, why 35% of Americans would still vote for him, his part in the dramatic growth in the American economy and, work out if he has he saved the world from North Korea or taken us closer to war.

These are all too big and too complex for a daily blog and the truth is that I don’t have the energy to do the research and write yet another university dissertation to give even half value to the topic. Nor do I want to join the Islington chattering classes complaining about Presidents, Prime Ministers, managing Brexit or child poverty unless I have something new to say, and can say it in a thousand words.

Instead I have worked my way into areas where I feel confident to give an alternative and possibly quirky view.

I enjoyed writing the series on the Seven Deadly Sins, but even these have each taken far longer than I envisaged. Even with topics I thought I knew, it has been an effort.

The last of the series on Pride is ready in draft but is not here today because there is still far more research needed. I faced the blank page with the idea that so long as Pride doesn’t become conceit, then as a sin it is a bit of a damp squib. I started my research, read a little and now know much more is needed. I now need to understand why Christians think of Pride as the ‘the greatest of sins’ and why St. Augustine said,  it was Pride that changed angels into devils.  Maddie has a first-class degree in theology. I must also speak to her.

It was the same when I wrote about Sloth. I ended up researching topics from Victorian attitudes to welfare, the Poor Laws, workhouses, through to modern social welfare policies. They all brought considerations and gave the piece an unlikely direction and definitely not one considered when I started.

I always wanted to illustrate a topic with my many business and life experiences, but that has meant making the pieces very personal, requiring tact. I know my own boundaries, but it is less easy when I write about the rest of my family.

Sasha and I have discussed this and so far, she is happy with everything I have written about our relationship, even though it is strange to make everything so public. It is one thing to profess love in private, but it is quite different to make a public announcement at least once a week. She pointed out that there hasn’t even yet been a marriage ceremony with public vows and I am reaffirming them to an audience of a 1,000 or more every day.

And Annie, my ex-wife and now great friend also gets frequent mentions. She is a subscriber to the blog and she tells me she enjoys the daily read. I take that at face value and don’t dig too deeply.

I hope I manage to walk that tight rope of honesty while staying on the right side of openness. It requires editorial discretion.

A thousand words every day is a burden but enjoyable.

I am still batting and here is to the next fifty and staying on through for my century, hopefully a double century.

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