Taken at the Flood

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there is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

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over a decade ago, in 2002, river Vltava flooded.

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people called it a Hundred Year Flood (some said Four Hundred Year Flood) meaning a flooding so extreme that it occurs only once in a hundred (or four hundred ) years.

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 it was a truly strange time. 

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back then, I lived with my partner in the enormous, shabby glamour of his fifth floor family apartment. Much of Prague city center had been drowned, blacked out and evacuated. We, on the periphery of the center, were also beginning to be evacuated. In the end, as it transpired, we were not forced to leave because our apartment building was on a hump in the street, which lofted us above the high water mark.

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when I leaned out the window before most of the street was flooded, I saw people moving and meeting in clots and singly in a slow chaotic dance that bore little resemblance to the purposeful hither and thither of normal days  Even at that distance, it was possible to see something had changed.

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later, when we went out to try to find out if we were required to evacuate, we called into one of the cafes higher up where many people gathered, with their dripping umbrellas and raincoats, talking from table to table, sharing news. To understand the strangeness of this, you have to live in Prague and learn how neighbors barely acknowledge one another the way strangers do not speak to you unless you force the issue.  Yet here they were not only talking, but smiling.  There was a curious sense of solidarity in the day, and also a distinct, almost festival air of excitement, that I felt as static electricity on my skin.

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 a decade later, it is raining again.

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now,  we live on the third floor, in an apartment building several streets higher than before, though in the same district. The predictions of flooding are less dire and this time, the city is ready.  It took five years after the last flood, to install a system of barriers along the river, and although the city moved sluggishly enough tin setting them up that the Kampa was once again submerged before they managed to activate the barriers, all have now been set up.  They are not so much designed to hold back the river as to redirect it back to its course, as much as that can be managed. Besides the barriers, everywhere you see banks of hoses connected to pumps, all pointing into the river. There are sandbag barriers around many buildings. All of the Metro stations and many low-lying roads are closed. Tram routes have been torturously and in some cases inefficiently altered. Some routes see trams running empty while on others, every tram is packed like a sardine tin. Police with fluttering tape barriers, man those streets where the river had begun to invade the city. This seems an absurdity for what does the river care for uniforms and police tape?  Each day the police cars sit higher and the tape barrier is moved.

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it rains non stop for days.

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my daughter goes by bus to Croatia. One thousand kilometres and she reports that it rained all the way. One thousand kilometres of rain is a lot of rain, my partner murmurs.  And all the while it rains on Prague.

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one day, sick of reports and unsteady footage on the internet, I take a walk to the Vltava.  It is wide and brown and smoothly fast in places, churned to caramel in others. Barrels and sticks and oddments of flotsum float by. Along the edges tree tops shudder as the river creeps higher up their trunks and plucks at their foliage with a bullying playfulness. The water looks strangely bare and then I realise it is bereft of boats save for one lumbering two story Botel lashed to the shore on the other side, its gangplanks half submerged. There are a lot of people doing what I am doing, coming to look, taking photos and film clips with camera and phones and ipods.

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again I am struck by the general sense of suppressed excitement and the unspoken hunger for more. As if this flood is a story that is unfolding, and spectators are caught up in a desire to know what is going to happen next. They want the next installment.

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along the river bulky, official looking men with number 2 razor bark into two way radios. People line the barriers and bridges, peer and point. ‘Remember 2002,’ they say and then they tell where they were and what they saw.  My partner says later, marveling, that every single person he had passed was discussing the river.

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they are waiting for something to happen, I think. Of course they don’t want it to be anything very bad, but you get the feeling that the current level of flooding is not quite dangerous enough to feed their illicit and unspoken hunger. The tourists whose holidays have been blighted at least want something for their money. A little danger and drama, some good pictures.

 

‘we are very disappointed,’ one couple on their anniversary trip from London are reported as saying.

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the sound of police and ambulance sirens are constant.  They are evacuating the hospital nearest the river. Later, we hear they have begun to evacuate the zoo- two tigers escaped for a short time before sleep darts put an end to their adventure. I try to imagine how it was, to be briefly free in the drowned world.

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my partner tells me they have evacuated many animals already and none were harmed but a flamingo that broke a leg. He tells me a complicated story about a flood tower at the zoo through which tranquilized gorillas were passed up to a higher enclosure. The alpha male gorilla is furious and attacks the keepers who try to feed them.

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i can’t help but remember the most tragic moment of the last flood, when an old and grumpy elephant unable to be moved, was fed buns by a weeping zoo director until he had to be shot because otherwise he would have drowned.

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people died in that last flood, too.  Not many, though that would be little comfort to the bereaved. People have died this time, too; one an old woman whose house collapsed around her, two whose raft was overturned.  There are pictures circulating on the internet of the waters flowing over the river banks, covering streets, drowning signs and statues with a kind of magnificent, blank, brown disregard.

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today I go out because I have promised to meet a friend.  It is chilly and damp and dark and rain is falling. I think to cut over the hill through Letna Park so I can see the river for myself. To my surprise, there is police tape forbidding entry to the park. I remember that my partner told me the much lower Stromovka Park which runs to the Zoo, is closed. There are policemen stationed at the entrance with their tape barriers to ensure no one enters.  I remember that last flood, the whole of Stromovka Park was dramatically under water, and afterwards many trees fell or developed rot which required them to be cut down. The park was never the same afterwards.  The flood tamed it. Yet now, standing at the rim of Letna which is too high to be troubled by flood waters, people are forbidden and as I gazed into the dark, still, quiet under the trees, bereft of humans, the air seemed suddenly strangely dense and wild to me.

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this is what Little Fur came from, I remember, ten years ago.  That other flood and the disruption of it – a city cracked open to reveal a hidden wildness. The sense of the inexorable potency of nature roused, which foolish humans forget to take into account.  As I turn to seek another way to the part of the city I want to reach, on the other side of the river, I hear someone say in English that it is a disaster. There is distinct excitement threaded through the voice and I think yet again how there is something about disaster that thrills us, tasteless though it might seem.

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perhaps it is because, for a time, normality is broken and in the cracks things can happen that could never otherwise have done so.

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i remember once, back when I was a journalist, someone telling me that there had been a significant spike in divorces and separations after the Ash Wednesday fires. I had been commenting on the divorce of a couple about whom I had done a feature article some years before.  The woman had been an artist and the man an incredible wood worker.  They had lived in a mudbrick house in the Otways and had seemed blissfully happy and creative. But after their house burned down, they divorced. It was not a matter of money, because there was insurance, but it turns out this is a common statistical aftermath of any disaster. It is not so much that the disaster or even the destruction and financial hardship it produces, causes the estrangement of couples. It is that disaster produces unexpected possibilities. The chance to change paths and try a different life.

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for some, it opens a crack through which they can fall and disappear, perhaps never knowing until that moment how they desired to escape their lives. Another statistic in the wake of disaster is a rise in disappearances.

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for others disaster provokes change simply because it produces extreme situations that force us to see aspects of ourselves (or of others) that would never have revealed themselves in ordinary circumstances: Fortitude or patience or kindness or compassion or courage or cowardice.

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of course for some, sometimes for many, disaster can mean an end- to love or wealth or a way of life or a certain life or to life itself.

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it strikes me that writing fantasy, in many ways, attempts to do what disaster does. To fracture reality in order to produce extreme situations in which things that would not ordinarily come to light, are revealed.

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Wings of Desire

 

 

one of the most beautiful, moving, poetic films I have ever seen is Wings of Desire..

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i mean the original Wim Wenders version in German with subtitles  (German title literally translates as Wings over Berlin), with a script chiefly written by the brilliant and controversial Austrian writer Peter Handke. Not the hideous American remake starring the Nicholas Cage as an angel and dandelion haired Meg Ryan as a brain surgeon.

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wings of Desire is one of those exquisite films you can see over and over, but not often for it is very potent.

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everything about it is beautiful;The idea, for a start.

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it is the story of two angels, Damiel (played by the sublimely perfect Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (played by Otto Sander) who hover over and move about Berlin outside time, witnessing all thoughts that occur to humans. They live in a parallel black and white world, and are unable to feel or be seen or felt by humans. Then Damiel falls in love with a beautiful tightrope walker.

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made just before the wall came down, the theme of  divided worlds permeates the film on many levels. It exploits the tension between the overlapping states of angel and human, but Wenders’ angelic realm does not conform to traditional ideas of angels.

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 having carefully watched human beings from the beginning of time, the two angels know humanity better than we know ourselves. But while their realm overlaps ours and they can read the thoughts of humans, there remains a barrier experienced as such by both sides. We cannot see angels, or speak with them but they do not know what life feels like. Their world is in black and white, and they can never really touch things. Being angels that transcend time, they cannot know time either. They cannot know its human meaning.

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 unless they fall …

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falling is a powerful theme running through the film. We see it in the angel’s potential to Fall, Dameil falls in love with Marion, Cassiel tries to experience falling with a man who commits suicide by jumping from a building, we see a stunt fall in a movie and of course, Marion risks falling as a high wire trapeze artist.

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 “the angels’ curiosity about the true lives of men leads to desire. Their lack of real life, of the tragic feel of life, eventually leads some of them to want to shake off their eternity and join man in his time-bound state. The desire of the angels to fall is Wenders’ brilliant twist. Not to fall like Lucifer, by a denial of God, but to fall through a need for human warmth, through a curiosity or empathy for human life.

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 “the angels, in their perfection, can fall in love with man, with his compelling imperfection.”

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  (this is culled from a brilliant essay by Eric Mader-Lin which is WELL worth reading in its entirety as a meditation on many things as well as on this film. If you would like to read it, activate the link.)

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 having fallen in love with trapeze artist Marion, Damiel resolves to Fall, to join time; to taste the fruit of mortal knowledge – knowledge of mortality.

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heading off to Prague Book Fair, I move through the crowd as I always move through people here; as an alien and an outsider. As I and those about me wait for the fair to open officially, I study other people and wonder what they are thinking.  Like me, most seem to be alone,  perhaps because it is a weekday morning.  I find myself wondering what thoughts I would hear, if I could put my head gently against the heads of these strangers and tap into their inner voices – their monologues to themselves, the continuous song of their spirits in the midst of life on the way to death.

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i do not imagine myself as an angel longing for life as Damiel in Wings of Desire, but as an older, removed and invisible witness; implacable, loving. encompassing all the extremes of humanity without judgment, coolly gentle,  acceptant.

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here are some of the things my imagination witnessed, when I was an Armani clad winged angel.

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  …i don’t know why I can’t just be satisfied with what I have. Why do I always feel like I missed out.  Like life is happening elsewhere. Why do I never feel like I am at the centre of anything…

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…I am supposed to feel as if I am in control, but I don’t. I can’t let anyone know that. I have to seem in control, even when I am not. But sometimes I wish I could just let go and be whatever I feel…

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…why does he always look away when I look at him. He is my son.  Is he ashamed to face me?  What could he have done that is so shameful…

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 …i wish I did not feel so tired. Maybe that is why I feel so angry with them all, with how they just stand back and let me do everything without noticing or caring. I have a job like he does, I have homework and I am supposed to be a mother and a wife.  Sometimes I feel as if I am trapped inside my head screaming and screaming to get out. Maybe if I just walked in the park more.  Somewhere things are green. I could lie down and watch spiders drift on lines of silk…

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…sometimes I miss her so much. Even after all this time, I just want to look up and see her tilt her head and smile a question at me.  She was always so gentle. How can I bear the loss of that gentleness. The world feels so hard without her to soften it…

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i love the way the light stripes down and touches them where it wants, caring nothing for them but making them beautiful. Without it they seem so ugly to me. Why are they here?  It’s my job to be here, to take photographs.  The camera is the only thing that keeps me sane.  How did I turn out like this.  I used to like people once, didn’t I?  I mean, you don’t start out hating …

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 …i wish I could just discipline myself better and do what I want to do. I keep doing what I think I am supposed to do. I don’t want to live my whole life tripping myself up.  I am my own captive.  I am my own slave. Can there be anything stupider than putting yourself in a prison…

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 …if just once, she would ask me about myself. If he would ask what I think or how I feel about something. No one knows or cares what is inside me. They look at me and see a conventional middle aged woman they cannot imagine having interesting thoughts. They have no idea of the strangeness and richness hidden in me…

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 …i feel so anxious all the time.  I wish I would just stop worrying.  It doesn’t help. Look at me, now I am worrying about worrying…

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…she does not like me. But she does not think of me as human. Even her dislike is only the sort of irritation you feel for inanimate things that will not do what you want…

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 …i will have to take him to the vet tonight.  I am so afraid.  And the worst happens, I will not be able to bear it.  I feel such deep sorrow at the thought of losing him. I would never have imagined I could feel so much for a dog. I love him better than my children. My wife would say, Of course, if I told her. Will she be sad? We bought him together, after all…

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 …but how does she expect me to act now?  I don’t know what to say to her. Why do people have to burden you with their secrets…

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… i feel so happy I feel it will split me at the seams. Light will blaze out of me.  I wish I could tell them all, but they would not understand how a person my age can fall so irrevocably, hopelessly in love.  And be loved back like that. How it would shock them. I must keep it hidden.  Except when I am with her…

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 …what drives me mad is how she always cooks something that smells bad.  I come home to caulifower or brussel sprouts.  Never garlic and onions, never buttery mushrooms. I will leave her, but I will have to find another reason.  No one leaves their wife because of the smell of their cooking. I mustn’t make myself a fool…

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…i wish I could just go back ten years in physical fitness.  I would not mind keeping the lines and all the signs of age so long as I had the vitality I had ten years ago.It’s not like I am old, but I don’t have what I once had…

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 …i wish I had a tail.  Or wings.  Imagine how people would stare and wonder, and I would act like it is perfectly normal, because it would be normal for me …

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 …there is something wrong with her, I’m sure of it.  Something in her eyes when she asked for water.  An anger.  She was so brittle. I would not be surprised if she makes a scene…

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…i have such a desire to just be immersed in water. I would lie on my back and float. I would close my eyes and be held so lightly and gently. It would be how God would hold me, if only I could believe in him. I would feel the sun on my eyelids…

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…i have to tell her I know she is having an affair. I wish I could find some way to say it that would not sound like an accusation. I don’t want to accuse her.  I am not even angry.  But if she knew this, it would hurt her. I must make her feel she has hurt me, instead. I want to help her…

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…when I was a child, I wanted to be a scientist.  I was so curious about everything.  I was always asking questions. Once an aunt slapped me to make me stop. She said it made her head hurt to have me asking her this and that.  But I wasn’t really asking.  I was thinking aloud…

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 …i really like watching squirrels.  No one understands why I get so much pleasure out it.  It is the mischief in their faces. The way they move- that twitchy gliding. I always sit very still. I long for them to come and run over me as if I am a tree…

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 …i hate the person walking in front of me so slowly, meandering to the left and right as if deliberately blocking my way.  Or couples that hold hands and stretch out the space between them as if to bar the way. Absurd to take it personally, but some days everything feels inimical.  I brush my teeth and feel such a weariness remembering all the times I have brushed my teeth before. Isn’t it finally enough, I think…

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 …did that woman take a picture of me? Maybe she is just looking at what is in the camera. How everything changes. It’s like people walking in the street and on the trams talking to themselves. That used to be a sign that someone was losing it, but now they could be talking on the phone with a tiny blue tooth earpiece hidden under their hair. I could just talk out loud to myself right now, and people would think I was talking on the phone . Only I would have to wear my hair differently …

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…sometimes in the night I like to open the window of my apartment and lean out and look down into the street with no one in it. Silence, but for a car going by now and then on the road that passes the end of the street. I could almost imagine they are empty, too.  Cars, roaming at night, when their owners sleep…

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…i forget so much. It is like my life is emptying out of me…

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…i will leave him…

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…i am tired of being angry about politicians. Once they were ashamed to lie.  They pretended to tell the truth but now they just lie and lie and don’t care who knows it.  We have no power to change it.  How did we end up so powerless…

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…i want to feel something. There must be more than this. I need to feel something. Even despair would be better than numbness…

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…there was that song my grandmother used to sing. I loved it so much.  I wish I could remember the words.  Something about angels and flying.  Something …

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…sometimes I hear someone whispering my name. or feel a hand touch me lightly, but when I turn, there is no one.  Or maybe there is a flash of light or a falling feather you see from the corner of your eye…

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…apologies to all of these strangers whose faces I have stolen, but it is only a moment of an imaginary life I have given to each of you. And that is what writers do. We steal your faces for our dreams, for the endless inner story we tell ourselves.

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…because when we write, we can appropriate anything – even the wings  of angels…

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E book – an evolutionary step or a fork in the story road?

taking a walk around my neighbourhood in Prague one windy day last week, I found myself reflecting upon the online month long self destructing launch of my first self-published E book, Greylands, in the light of the sales figures I had just rounded up for the first time.

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the launch took place late last year and the story of my decision to self publish the out of print Greylands as an E book is reasonably well known.

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why did I do it?

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i wanted to see what it would take in time and money, in expertise and stress to turn a print book into an Ebook. I wanted to find out if it was inevitable that the layouts of E books were so lousy. I wanted to find out if it was mind bogglingly time consuming or hideously expensive or requiring stunningly difficult technological knowhow. I wanted to see if I could believe that Ebooks really were taking off as all the hype suggested, and were destined to make print books (libraries, book shops, book buses, book sellers, bookshelves) obsolete. 

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or not…

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if you don’t know the back story, I invite you to delve into the virtual cellar of this blog and dust off the archived Greylands Launch site with its thirty fantastic essays about E books by book folk ranging from writers to publishers, editors, artists, book shop owners, teachers, government people, journalists, kids … well, you name it.  The list of essayists is a who’s who of publishing.

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the point is that everyone HAD an opinion, and the essays and the sometimes feisty discussions unfolding under them contain a wealth of information about all aspects of E book publishing and anyone wanting to know how to put up an E book, could do no better than to read through the essays and their discussion threads. In truth, I was damned proud of what I had pulled together – a worthy, useful offering- not just empty fluff or puff, which is what a lot of hype is, when you strip off the razzle dazzle.

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as a result of my experiment, I learned a lot. In the first place, exactly how to do turn a ‘real’ book into an Ebook .

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 the actual business of putting turning an out of print paper book into an Ebook was difficult to begin with, because I am a Luddite with a dislike of having to learn new technology. I had to get over this reluctance to engage, and believe me, it was not easy. For people who are cyber savvy, it will not be difficult. For people like me, I want to reassure you that it is just possible.

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step one  was to  scan the book, since I no longer has a file of the out of print text. Lacking a scanner, and knowing something better would be required than the ones my friends had, I had my PA find a service. It did not take her long to track one down. The scanning was done by a company called Advance Record Management, in Corio, and the cost was $75  and one of my last remaining print copies of the book, because the process would destroy it. The last few copies I had, had been handed over when the book was optioned a while back. (That is something no one tells you, either- that if the book is optioned, the people optioning it are going to want a few copies. Another wise thing to do is to keep a final copy of the book on file, in case someone wants to option it or reprint it or turn it into an Ebook or a graphic novel-  no one tells you that, either)

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 i corrected the scanned file using my a borrowed print copy, taking in the mistakes my PA and a helpful fan had found on their read through of the scanned version.  The more eyes the better because everyone misses something and scanning introduced a multitude of mistakes, some of which could be fixed with a global change and some that could only be found by plodding  through the whole thing the hard way. The worst are mistakes were those that turned one word into another, sbecause they could not be picked up by a spell check. Once I was satisfied , I sent the file to a guy in India called Paul, whose written English in his response to my inquiry had been alarmingly idiosyncratic. But he had been recommended to me by the owner of a small and very good independent publishing house that had used him, and he was cheap. Only $45 to convert the word file into mobi and epub files.

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crossing over the river on one of the many bridges spanning the Vltava, a slight wind whipping my hair into my face, I note how easily I now think in these terms which were such a mystery to me at the start of this process:  mobi, epub, conversion. Learning about a process is learning a language that enables you to think more clearly about it.

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after an exchange of emails, Indian Paul agreed to make any corrections I wanted at no additional cost.   I might have managed the conversion myself- everyone told me so, and I had actually started the process, but for me it was astoundingly time consuming, hence the decision to  delegate.  Once Indian Paul had completed his conversion, I read though the file and sent a list of corrections, which he duly fixed. That was all very simple and smooth. In fact ironically, the hardest thing was to find a way to pay him – we finally managed it using Paypal, however the payment was never collected, so it reverted to me. My PA is still trying to figure out how to pay him.

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so, I had learned it was doable, and not too expensive to delegate some of the aspects I would find difficult or loathsome.  In fact,I later realised it could be costless and simpler still if you had the word file of an unpublished ms. More on that later.  For a self publisher, there could be no more money involved in putting up an Ebook than the cost of a good editor  which only a fool would eschew.

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having got the corrected epub and mobi files back from Indian Paul,  I got a kindle to test the download on- it being the cheapest kind of Ereader available and apparently simple to operate.  In fact, I requested it for Christmas, so it cost me nothing. Having got the kindle, I then had to set up an account with Amazon, so that I could enroll myself in Kindle Direct. I managed this without too much pain on Christmas day, and managed to download some books.  The immediacy and ease of bookbuying, and the cheapness of the books thrilled me.  I was in the middle of a binge of downloading when it struck me that this was what everyone who had got a kindle or an ipad or a kobo was doing. I wondered if, like me, most of what they were downloading were copies of beloved books I own, that I was elated to have in a form that I could keep with me at all times.

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i know now, though I did not know it then, that some reading devices require an E pub file and some require a mobi.  At that point I was annoyed to realise that I could not download my own books.  This may sound narcissistic, but in fact I wanted to have with with me to check things while I was working on the final book.   Turned out Penguin only had Epub files that worked on Kobo, with whom they seemed to have had some kind of deal. I was really annoyed at this and not backward in saying so, but these days many of my books are also now on Kindle.

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having uploaded the mobi file, which is the format Amazon requires, I learned that  needed a cover. I asked my partner, Jan Stolba, who is a very fine photographer (indeed all of the photos in today’s blog are his) and has done record and cd cover graphics, to make me a book cover for Greylands. He made four, which we finally narrowed down to one. We then uploaded it and various other required details.  I did not yet make it available. Having gone to all that trouble, I wanted to build some interest in the release. To this end I had a trailer made by Alchemedia, figuring the expense would be worth it. ( You can see the trailer with its original sound track in the archive.) Another generous and savvy friend offered kindly to build me a month-long launch site and manage it for me. I was incredibly grateful for her offer which ended up with her  basically spending a month of her life outside of a demanding day job, watch-dogging the launch. (One of the best things about that month was her companionship throughout- writing is such a bloody lonely business)  Looking for something to keep people coming back for the month, I asked  friends and colleagues for essays on The Ebook Evolution, which I called a debate, to ensure the pieces would be punchy. I had my personal assistant gathering them all and chasing them for pics and images, while I edited the essays and fielded any rewrites, and turned bio material into personal and anecdotal intros that I thought were the least I could do for them. I was touched and amazed by the depth of the essays and with the work and care people put into them,and into monitoring the site and interacting with readers, once their pieces went up. 

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i had almost all of the essays and bios ready to go before the launch site went live, and the month long launch was wildly successful if it can be judged based on how many people visited and revisited and how many people tweeted about it and reviewed it and commented, day after day, as each new essay went up. (You can read all of the comments under the essays, in the archived version.) And there was a very gratifying dismay when people realised that I really meant it when I said the site would vanish at the end of the month.

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of course you would not be able to run such a launch every time you launched an E book- way too time consuming and too much calling in of favors, for an uncertain return. That was a once only kind of effort, because it was an experiment.  But perhaps if I had launched a new book, which had never seen a print life, it might have stirred up enough interest in people who like my writing for me not to need such an effort. But how would they hear about it? Tweeting?  Facebook? Mass emails?  An ad? Suffice it to say that I do not want to publicize and promote my own books. I want to spend my time writing. That was not something I confirmed so much as reconfirmed for myself.

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 i had launched Greylands one third of the way through the month of July in 2012 on Amazon as an Ebook at $5.99. A couple of weeks later, with the help of two savvy friends, I also put it up on Book.ish and Smashwords. I put it up on Amazon alone, and on Smashwords with the help of a friend (discovering in the process that with this site, I had only to load up a word file, and the site would grind it out in mobi and in epub files- so no Indian Paul was needed for a conversion – mind you, there would be no one to correct the file, either)  But I had trouble and am still having trouble loading up the correct cover image size, for the Smashwords site to sell the book on its premium list. But it was pretty easy to follow the prompts wto upload book and a cover. One of the people behind Book.ish, put it up for me on this site, using the word file I sent, so it cost me no effort but a very tiny cut of the $5.99 that will ( or won’t) be made per book.

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 Amazon was the hardest to upload a book to, but this may be because I did it myself, and knew nothing. I did not manage, however, to get the notoriously elusive US tax exemption, so I pay a whopping 46% tax.  I am told I can claim this, somehow. I will try that, in due course and I will try again to get the exemption. But it is so very time-consuming to prepare an application that one can’t help but feel that its sole purpose is to provide serious discouragement.

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 my feeling at the end of the launch month was that the best thing about publishing Greylands as an E book, other than the fantastic and vigorous online debate about Ebooks, was that the process stirred up a whole lot of renewed interest in the book. It was re reviewed all over again- you can read both the old reviews from when it first came out, and the new ones from its re release, in the archive. It was again optioned  for a movie, the older option having lapsed, and it was even turned into a ‘real’ book again by the small but vigorous independent publishing house, Ford Street. I announced this at the end of the launch month, and just recently, I recorded Greylands with Bolinda as an audio book.  I am pretty sure that none of these things would have happened, if I had not taken steps to re released the book.

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i am now in the labyrinth of streets around the old town, and every now and then, I see  the river.  Eventually I walk along the riverbank, thinking to take a look at the site where a gas explosion occurred a few days earlier, injuring more than 40people and smashing the windows out of a lot of buildings. It seems slightly creepy that my daughter and I went to try out our first yoga class just a few doors away from the site of the explosion a couple of days earlier.

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there are a few swans gliding along on the grey water, and I wonder if it is true that swans mate for life. If wolves do, and how we know that. I see a man fishing and wonder if he will eat what he catches; if there is anything to catch. As always, I try to imagine what this city would look like, if I went back in time to when there was no city here.

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sm29

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 ‘May day is a day honoring workers,’ someone says, passing me. ‘…jako party’ someone else says to a man pushing a pram.

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i see a girl sitting on a chair facing the water. She is eating buchty and reading on her ipad. My mind shifts inward. I think about the site a friend alerted me to, where all of my books are available as free downloads. I went to the site and looked.  I downloaded a book to see how it worked.  It was easy and the book is whole and perfect. I had known from people more concerned and alert that many of my books were available on dozens of pirate sites. Every other minute it seemed someone was emailing me about another one. To begin with, it all seemed so ephemeral that it was hard to get upset over it.  I didn’t feel much of anything, really. But for some reason, seeing all my books, even the latest, downloadable, it finally hit home that there was a direct connection between the pirates and the drop in my income. The scary thing is that a publisher will act to have your book taken down as soon as you let them know about a pirate site, but the sites are like hydra heads. The minute you chop one down, there are more springing up. It DOES puzzle me a bit why someone would actually bother to set up a pirate website- what do they get out of it, after all, if the downloads are free? But whatever the reason, quite honestly, I can’t see how it is ever going to be stopped. Certainly the current slamming the gate after the horse has bolted method of takedowns when somehow reports a pirate is not going to do it.  Most likely it will be a technical fix- someone will figure out how to make it so a book cannot be read other than on the device for which it has been purchased, or on a device licensed to a certain purchaser.Which makes an Ebook even less flexible in one way, than it is right now. Certainly you can’t hand it to a friend to read- you can buy them a copy for their kindle or ipad, or lend them your whole device, but then what are YOU going to read?

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but- if E books are destined to be the only form of book available on the evolutionary reading road, as some suggest, why would anyone bother to pay when they can download a freebie? Which means that, unable to make a living, all writers will become part timers who do it for love and ONLY for love. I would still write, and so would a lot of people.  But a lot would stop, and some of those might be writers we would be sorry to lose. Some might say that writers should write for love and not for money.  Then real literature will return in the void left by  books written for money, which will blow away like so many dead leaves.

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speaking of money, what did  I make for the Ebook of Greylands on those sites? Breaking the  taboo that stops writers talking about what they earn (mostly because it is so little that they feel ashamed)  this is what I have sold:

Book.ish

 I earned $50, which is about 8 books.

Smashwords

 3 sold to date-  (but 60 downloads of the freebie sample)

 Total  earnings,  $14.07

 Amazon

 I sold 106 books at 70% of $5.99

I can be a little more specific and break the figures down month by month with Amazon, because of the way the Kindle Direct site works). So, the sales were as follows:

2013

4 sold in April

 4 sold March

 9 sold in February

 19 sold in January

 2012

 9 sold in December

 9 sold in November

 14 sold in October

 9 sold in September

 13 sold in August

 14 sold in July (it came out halfway through the month )

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keep in mind that this is a book that had a good healthy life in its first incarnation from Penguin, so a lot of people who read me, had already read it. But the interesting thing is the way it has continued to sell.  And note the hike in January sales – my guess: people got Kindles and ipads as gifts and some of them did what I had done, having a binge.

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am I disappointed?  Not at all. Because this is a book that had a good life, and this was an experiment from which I learned a lot. Besides, the whole business stirred up enough interest that Greylands was optioned again and turned into a print book and into an audio book. 

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will I do it again? Most likely not. Because it did not earn enough money for me to want to bother.  I would rather let the publishers do it, and take advantage of their ability to publicise me.  Nor did it earn enough to tempt me to into turning a new and unpublished book into an Ebook. Not unless my publishers fail me spectacularly or refuse a book or drop me from their list altogether. In which case of course I would do it. What I will do, however, is to ensure in future contracts, that my print rights are tied to Ebook rights, so that both will revert to me at some point, when sales fall under a certain amount or when the book it out of traditional print. Another possibility, and it seems the publishers are open to it, is to ask for the print rights to revert when the book goes out of print in its traditional form, but leave the Ebook rights with them.

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because, with several months less time for sales than the Ebook r, the Ford street re print, distributed by Pan Macmillan, sold over 900 books! (Just as an aside,  Green Money Dreams, also re released by Allen and Unwin with a gorgeous new cover, sold even more books than Greylands and was also reviewed widely all over again.  So clearly it is possible for a book to achieve a second, if modest incarnation, as a traditional reprint. Aside from all else, my experience shows that there is more certainty of income from this source than from uploading the book as an Ebook..)

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 so, there are the figures, and my conclusions to date.  I resolve, as police turn me away from Narodni Trida where there is still rubble being cleared, to revisit the figures in a year, to see what they tell me.  I make my way down some stone steps and walk back along the river, wondering what sort of food is served in these floating beer pubs.  The ide of eating or drinking on a boat is romantic, but somehow I am never enticed. The wind is stronger now and whips the water into the occasional white frill. I wonder how rough the river would be, without the locks.

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i think how, at Bologna this year, the hype about Ebooks was bigger than ever. There was an enormous E book cafe where there had once been a film rights centre, that now shifted upstairs. Everyone on the Australian stand moaned about the noise from the nearby overbearingly nationalistic China stand, and beyond that, at the endless droning of presenters in the Ebook cafe, offering their thoughts and ideas and products.  I wandered up to listen to a few of the talks, but where last year I had felt vaguely excited by the E book stir, this year it sounded like empty rhetoric, and yet you could smell money in the air, or the hunger for it, anyway. It seemed to me people were saying the same things over and over, and that there had been said last year. And again, I saw nothing that excited me as a writer- nothing that I thought could help me tell a story better. Nothing that I wanted between my words and a reader’s imagination. All the enhanced stuff seemed like so much distraction. Walking against the tide, which seems to be flowing more swiftly as rain begins to fall again, I open my umbrella and think that perhaps the Ebook evolution is really a storm whipped up by people with money- not publishers or writers or editors or bookshops, but the money people behind the techs that invented all the expensive, shiny devices with all of their add ons and cool accessories. Perhaps what is driving this whole Ebook revolution is not the hunger of readers for new and better ways to read, but the need for the companies like Apple and Kobo and Amazon for substance to give purpose and reason  and soul to all that expensive hardware.

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the trouble is – the beauty is- that this soul and substance, this ephemeral, mysterious matter that comes from creators, no matter how hard the money men wish it, cannot be produced as if it were easily packaged boxes of Wheaties. Nor can it be sold to readers in that way.  (The fall of chain after chain proved that- great individual bookstores fell because someone far away decreed certain books were to be sold from all of the stores, regardless of the idiosyncrasies of different readers, different communities)

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as I jump on a packed tram to escape the blustering storm that has blown up, rain smearing the windows so the castle looming over the city seems to melt, I think of something someone said to me decades ago, when I was a young journalist  interviewing an educator of teachers. He was talking about computers and the perception that teachers had to learn how to use them and schools had to buy them and make students learn how to use them, because they were the future.  He said that this perception was a self perpetuating prophecy; that believing in and acting on it would bring it to pass. ‘The reality is that a gifted teacher could use an aardvark as a teaching aid, and teach brilliantly.  The computer is only a tool. Someone has to do something with it, to give it value and purpose.

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