I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Big in America!

Well I am now a fully blooded veteran of the Free Section in the Amazon Kindle Store and it has been an interesting ride. I had something of an epic log on in the small hours of the morning whilst I was wide awake with insomnia. I guess it must have been four o clock or thereabouts and the house was like a fridge. I followed a few instructions care of Cally who has become my guide to the world of e publishing and lo and behold I came upon the list of the top free American downloads in the Political Fiction section and bugger me ‘Brief Encounter’ was sitting there at Number One. How completely ridiculous is that! Bizarre doesn’t even begin to cover the feeling. Before anyone gets the impression that ‘Brief Encounter’ was downloaded by the thousand I best front up and state the facts. After five days I managed just shy of 500 downloads which I reckon is pretty bloody good but I gather that in the great scheme of things it is quite pathetic really.

Whatever, I was suited enough. Maybe I should add a new strap-line to the description pages of all my books in the Kindle Store, something along the lines of ‘Big in America’!

Aye, right.

The effect on this blog has certainly been noticeable as page visits now seem to go up every day. Now over twenty hits a day land in from Russia and to be honest that seems oddly threatening! Interestingly a third of the visits the page now receives come from America and I always wonder what people make of my various rants about the crumbling state of Britain and the trials and tribulations of Liverpool Football Club.

Sales of my nineteen titles now average 4 a day which represents a 100% increase on where things were before the ‘Brief Encounter’ campaign. Four sales represent an income that threatens to break the £2 barrier so the high life is suddenly within reach. Ah well, small steps and all that.

The best thing about the whole process for me has been the realisation that a 60 page book is a completely viable commodity in the Kindle Store. I have written five books of this length for First Base, all of them set in the murky world of teenage drug abuse in the darker corners of urban Scotland. We give them away after our ‘Drug Awareness’ presentations in schools. Every now and then I get pulled up in the supermarket by nervous looking young people in their early twenties. They tell me that they once heard me do my stuff when they were fifteen or sixteen. And then we gave out one of our books and they took it home and read it. They say that if it had been three hundred pages they wouldn’t have bothered to pick it up. But 60 pages seemed a whole lot less daunting. Then they say that the fictional characters in the book were doing all the same stuff as they were doing in real life: Buckfast and blue valium and dope. And suddenly they got a glimpse of where their own lives might have been headed and they took the opportunity to make a few changes. I promise you, for an author it doesn’t get much better than that.

My short books are also a permanent fixture in the custody cells in Loreburne Police Station in Dumfries. For anyone unfamiliar with the realities of the weekend lock up, it goes something like this. On Friday night you get absolutely blattered on Buckfast and pills and all of a sudden it seems like the best idea in the world to set a wheelie bin on fire. Then the cops come and it seems like an equally good idea to call them every name under the sun and to have a go at being Mike Tyson. The next thing you know, it is 6am and you are in the custody cell which is four white walls, a gym mat kind of thing to sleep on and a white light that never gets switched off. And that’s it. For all day Saturday and all day Sunday and all the way to 10 am on Monday morning when you are presented to the Sheriff.

All in all you have 50 endless hours to kill and I gather they are as hard to kill as Osama Bin Laden. Well, if you find yourself all set for a ‘weekend lie down’ in Loreburne Police station you now get offered a choice of First Base books to help you to trudge through the long empty hours. Sometimes lads call in once they have been let out on Monday lunchtime to tell me that they have read all the way through one or another of the books. And they tell me that it has been the first time they have ever read a whole book. And they tell me that they have actually enjoyed the experience! As far as I am concerned, I’ll take that over any review in any literature section in a broadsheet newspaper.

The problem with sixty page books is that they are no use whatsoever for the shelves of a bookshop. Have you ever bough a skinny book like that? I certainly haven’t. It just wouldn’t seem right somehow, no matter how little it cost. It is a different thing altogether in the Kindle Store. All you see is the cover and the price and the description. And of course if you want there is the chance to read a few pages. The fact that thing costs a mere 77p is something of a giveaway, but 77p is hardly the biggest investment you’ll ever have to make. Hell the way my books are flying off the virtual shelf, I’ll soon be flush enough to download three a day.

I have to say I am completely suited with this idea. As a writer I really like writing books that are sixty pages long. Basically it means you can have a germ of an idea, let it roll around for a day or two and then crack on and have the thing done and dusted in a week or so. Then of course there is no pissing about with printers and deliveries and the like: you simply do what needs to be done in the publishing section and Bob’s your uncle.

As I write this I am two thirds of the way through the next offering and I am loving every minute of it. The working title is ‘Kenny’s Revolution’ and surprise, surprise it is all about Liverpool Football Club and there will be much more about it in blogs to come.

Here’s the thing. I had the idea for the story a couple of weeks ago and by the end of January it will be out there and available to every Koppite on God’s planet for the princely sum of 77p. And then for a few days it will be free. No need for publishers or printers or bank managers: only readers.

Like they say down on Merseyside these days, it’s 'well boss'.

Anyway. On the subject of short books I would like to recommend one to anyone who has stumbled upon these words. It is called ‘It Wisnae Me’, it is by Cally Phillips, it will cost you £1.56 and you can check it out by clicking right here.

I got to know Cally when she had a hugely arty role promoting wannabe writers like me across Dumfries and Galloway. She gallantly helped me in the quest for a grant from the Scottish Arts Council, a bid that ended in completely predictable failure – the fact that my stories appeared in paperback and were popular in Scottish Prisons was a complete death knell to any hope of funding. I mean how can it be called literature when a bunch of banged up Neds like it? Quite right too. As Cally says, at least I am still here and they are not. The Scottish Arts Council has been scythed down by George Osborne’s cutting axe.

Then we lost touch for a while as Cally headed three hundred miles north into the howling wilderness only to reconnect via Twitter. She has been a massive help in guiding me through the daunting labyrinth of the online book world and wrote a review of Brief Encounter which I appreciated hugely.

Having got hooked up to the idea of the short book I decided to check out one of Cally’s offerings. There is more than a little Irvine Welsh in ‘It Wisnae Me’ as it is written in unrelenting Scots which can take a while for a white settler from south of the border to get used to. But once you catch onto the rhythm of the thing the pages turn easily. If you are someone like me who grew up in the half forgotten years of the 70’s it is absolutely worth £1.56 of your money and a couple of hours of your time. It is easy to forget how kids were treated back then. The prevailing mood was that the harder we were treated, the better we would turn out. Getting caught by a copper when doing something stupid on a Friday night would lead to an inevitable trip down an alleyway for a quick kicking. Teachers must have spent many happy hours coming up with new and ever more imaginative ways to dish out corporal punishment. And parents wholeheartedly approved of their treasured offspring being generally knocked about and battered by a whole variety of authority figures. Such treatment was deemed to be properly character building. Sure there was a seriously dark side and some of this dark side weaves its way in and out of ‘It Wisnae Me’. For of course this was the era when Jimmy Savile and his ilk were able to go about their business without anyone noticing: the era of care homes from hell.

Kids were seldom listened to back then. We were generally bashed up and taught to get on with it. Did it build our characters? Are we all better for it?  Do we carry the scars to this day? I don’t know. I’m not aware of any, but then again I never ended up out of sight and out of mind in a care home or borstal. Maybe I’m biased, but it seems to me that my generation is the last generation to have the ability to take things in our stride. The miseries we experienced in the dismal classrooms of our formative years make us able to deal with the crap when it rains down on our heads. These days kids are treasured and listened to and protected and when the cold, hard reality of real adult life kicks in they find themselves completely lost in the supermarket.

‘It Wisnae Me’ offers those of us who grew up in the 70’s an E-Tardis back to those strangely threatening times. ‘It’s a Knockout’ and bombs in Belfast and footballers with perms and piles of garbage on the streets and nuclear weapons paraded through Red Square on May Day. Curly Wurlies and platform shoes and Morecambe and Wise.

Odd times and tough times. Times that shaped those of us who came to know the world through those harsh years when Britain learned the reality of its situation. They were the last times before Thatcher changed everything: forever.

Did ‘It Wisnae me’ make me nostalgic? No. Those days were too hard to be hankered for. Did it make me realise how those strange days shaped the person I turned out to be? I guess it did.

Have a read. I think you might find that Cally’s journey was a lot like your own.







  1. Hey, thanks for the mention Mark. I always knew you were a #1 kind of guy. For anyone thinking of delving into the world of scots fiction by me, you can get a free sample here
    (or if that's too hard just go to my website and look for the FREE stuff!

    The Stabbin 'o Rizzio is one of the stories in Voices in Ma Heid (the companion volume to It Wisnae Me)
    I'm glad we've made you bigger than the Beatles in America (for one moment) Mark. What next eh?

  2. i liked that, mark. i've had many a drunken night in dumfries when my partner/wife/girlfriend/consort was a lecturer at glasgow university and used to take a play down there once a year. never set fire to a wheelie bin, tho. ah, a wasted youth. but now i know about your shorty books i'm after them like a dog on a bone. i've got a son at glasgow university now who'll be able to translate!