Babylon has had more letters from people looking for solutions to their personal problems…
I’ve just found my books on a pirating site. Again. Second time in a month, this is, that someone’s decided it’s OK to pass on my work for free. And this particular site seems to think that they’re doing something rather wonderful; with patronising little cartoons about how piracy isn’t ‘theft’ because with ‘theft’ you take away the original of something, whereas with piracy you only take a copy, the original’s still there, so you see, it’s all fine and dandy and anyone who believes otherwise is a big old silly.
Well, no, actually, it isn’t fine. The ‘copy’ argument is utterly meaningless. What you’re taking away is my living, mate. That’s actual money for things like buying groceries and paying bills that I now don’t get. Any copy of one of my books that’s stolen, not sold, is money taken from me exactly as though you’d taken physical coins out of my pocket.
Just because I didn’t sit down and write out every single word of every copy of my books by hand on vellum like a medieval monk, that doesn’t mean they’re not my work. Hours, days, months of work, that I spent trying to make it as good as it could be.
You’re also stealing the work my publisher did on it, like the many hours that went into editing. Work they did to make it a better story. They’re not a huge company. They’re not Monsanto. They’re just people – people like me who have mortgages, babies, bills. When you pirate you’re making it that much harder for a good publisher to keep going, to keep producing the stuff you like so much you’re prepared to stuff it under your jacket and walk out of the shop whistling.
Except you don’t even take that risk, do you? You sit safely behind your screen, merrily stealing away, knowing you’re extremely unlikely to get caught and making lots of self-justifying statements that only go to show you do actually know exactly what you’re doing.
You might like to define yourselves as some kind of revolutionaries. But me, I think you’re grubby little crooks, no better than someone who nicks a granny’s pension out of her handbag. You don’t make theft into untheft just by calling it something else. You can call the sky the ground, and spend the day walking around on your hands calling anyone who disagrees with you an old-fashioned misery-guts, but it doesn’t mean the sky is actually now the ground – it just means you’re walking around with mud on your hands and your arse in the air.
If you like it enough to read it, bloody pay for it. It’s only a few quid. If you’re so broke you can’t afford that, borrow it from the library – that way I still get something. Not much – pennies – but it’s better than nothing, and it proves you had enough respect for another human being not to steal from them. Borrow it from a friend! I have no problem with borrowing, I borrow and lend books all the time – it does mean that somewhere down the line the author and publisher actually got paid, if only once.
And you know what matters even more? It’s not just the money. It’s the fact that if you steal my work you’re showing you don’t care about me at all; you’re happy to exploit me. Just because you’re doing it at a distance, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And it hurts, emotionally as well as financially. I’ve been an obsessive reader since I learned how. I write for readers. I write to make a connection with them, to give them something fun, involving, a few hours out of the world. If a reader then acts as though it’s OK to rip me off, it’s like being turned on by someone you thought of as a friend.
If you like to think you’re not the sort of person who would come into my house and walk out with my mother’s necklace, then don’t be the sort of person who walks off with my book. And don’t be the sort of person who encourages other people to do it. That’s no more moral or revolutionary than a kid egging other kids on to nick a bag of crisps from the corner shop and run away laughing.
Grow the hell up. Stop stealing and pretending you aren’t. And stop pretending you aren’t hurting me by doing it. You are.
Eastercon Schedule is here: http://8squared2013.sched.org/
I’m a busy bee this year. Friday, 7pm, fantasy genre get-together at the Conservatory Bar, signing books and stuff. Then running really fast to….
Friday, 8pm, Head to Head panel on C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit in Rowan, Cedar Court. Where I will try and sound intelligent in some very intelligent company.
Sunday, 1pm, Advice for Writers panel on Setting, Boardroom, Cedar Court. Talking about worldbuilding and trying to come up with a more detailed response than, “Whee! It’s fun!”
Sunday, 5pm, Revolutionary Fantasy panel, Main, Cedar Court. Where apparently we are going to be storming some barricades. I wish I’d had more warning, I don’t know what I did with my pitchfork…
After which I can be found in the bar, probably.
I was in my last year of school. I wanted to do a creative writing degree. At the time I only knew of one, at the University of East Anglia.
My parents said no. I think their main reason for this was because they considered UEA an oasis of left-wingery that would drag their daughter down into some frenzy of drug-fuelled protest and anarchic sex.
Looking back, I could have objected. I could have tried to go anyway. I could have applied for financial support, got a job…but I was a naïve, fearful, rather childish 20 year old. I was used to having my life run for me by other people.
So I applied for English Literature courses and eventually got onto one at Swansea; which, being as it was in south Wales and these were the Thatcher years and the era of the miners’ strike, meant I did get involved in left-wingery and protest. Though the sex wasn’t very anarchic and the main effect of the occasional foray into illegal herbage was to make me sit around talking rubbish and giggling a lot, rather than getting out and doing anything to change the world.
I enjoyed bits of my course. I wrote a little. I read a lot. I wondered what it would have been like if I’d gone to UEA, and blamed the fact that I wasn’t there for my lack of writing success.
But the real reasons for my lack of success were rather closer to home. I wasn’t actually ready, for one thing. I had a lot more words to write yet. Also, I was lazy and unfocussed. I didn’t spend the time to educate myself about publishing, I didn’t finish half the short stories I started, and I submitted even fewer. Nor did I get off my bum and actually complete the elephantine fantasy novel I would end up working on, on and off, for another nine years. It was so much easier to whinge to myself about how hard-done-by I was than actually to do anything.
But when I did write, it was stuff I wanted to write. Fantasy, with occasional excursions into horror and soft SF and poetry and even rarer ones into what might tentatively be called literary fiction.
Had I gone to UEA, I suspect I would have been…discouraged. Because everything I have heard about other people’s experiences of creative writing courses, especially at that time, suggests that my love of all things supernatural, of the swash and the buckle, the swooning romance and high adventure and happy ending (or satisfyingly gruesome one), would have been regarded as rather grubby, childish follies. That I would have had to smuggle my favourite books around hidden in the covers of The History Man.
And, (being naïve, and childish, and desperate for approval), I would have tried to please my tutors and fit in with my peers by putting fantasy aside and attempting serious literary fiction.
Maybe I would even have done well enough to pass. Maybe I would have got a story or two in literary magazines. Maybe. But even if I had attained that measure of success, I doubt I would have gone any further. I think it unlikely in the extreme that I would ever have succeeded in writing a publishable novel that would have been classed as serious literary fiction. (That in itself being as much a genre as fantasy is, or isn’t – which is a whole other discussion).
Because I read a lot of literary fiction, and I love a lot of literary fiction, but it isn’t what I love to write. And I believe all good writing, all readable writing, is driven primarily by passion.
I look back now and I think – I was lucky. I was also naïve and lazy, and far too ready to let other people run my life and then blame them when it didn’t go the way I wanted, but – lucky.
Because I’ve ended up doing what I care about. I write about issues not uncommon in literary fiction – sexuality and gender roles, culture and family and religion – I just do it in a way I enjoy. And I write about love and honour and sacrifice and vengeance, magic and swords and sex with two-penised lizard men. And I love it. And I don’t have anyone telling me I should be writing something else.
A creative writing course might have been what I wanted. But back then, as an under-confident writer desperately trying to find out who I was and what I wanted to write about? No. It really wasn’t what I needed.
It has to stop.
You know what I’m talking about.
You knew I needed to find out about the publishing industry, and wanted to talk to other writers so you introduced me to absolutewrite and Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi and Making Light; and they were sharp and funny and full of useful information.
And sometimes I needed to know stuff like how to get somewhere or the address of a restaurant and there you were, giving me the information almost before I had time to ask for it. It was so easy. I didn’t know it could be like this.
It was all going so well. I began to wonder how I’d ever managed without you.
All right, I wasn’t spending so much time with my other friends. That reading pile by the side of the bed wasn’t getting any smaller. And I was beginning to spend time with you when I should have been working. But it was all vanilla stuff, just harmless fun. I was happy, wasn’t I?
Then the other things started to creep in. You started to make suggestions. And I – well – I went along with it.
At first, I enjoyed it. I was ashamed of myself, yes, but watching people act like idiots – especially in a publishing context – it did something to me. Gave me some kind of sick thrill. But I should have known – once you get that first taste of schadenfreude pie, you need a bigger and bigger slice every time. Soon I couldn’t get enough of the comments. I was reading late into the night, watching people get angrier and whinier and make bigger and bigger fools of themselves.
And then – there was the real hard stuff. The other comments columns. The articles. The ones full of rage and misogyny and homophobia and threats and hate. There were the links to terrible things that people had done and said; things that filled me with fear and despair.
But I kept clicking, didn’t I? I kept clicking.
I was doing it every day, every chance I got. I was getting paranoid and red-eyed and losing sleep. People began to ask if I was OK.
Well, I’m not. I’ve realised I’m not. I can’t do this any more.
So stop it, Internet. It’s no longer fun. It just leaves me feeling soiled, and ashamed of myself for belonging to the human race.
I think you need help, Internet. We can keep seeing each other, but no more of that stuff. If you can’t give it up, you’re going to have to do it without me.
I’m going to be over here, looking at kittens.
This is my morning routine, pretty much.
Feed cat. Make tea. Refill kettle and put back on.
Take tea back to bed. Faff around on internet and drink tea, while being headbutted by importunate cat.
Get up. Put on appr. 4 layers of clothing per limb, and extra on feet. Add fingerless gloves.
Go downstairs. Fill hot water bottle. Put kettle back on. Make coffee. Fill 2nd hot water bottle. Take coffee and both hot water bottles upstairs.
Settle at desk. Tuck 1st hot water bottle behind back. Place 2nd over feet. Tuck fluffy blanket around legs. Cat sits on blanket over feet (and hot water bottle).
Attempt to open document. Mouse strangely immobile. Extract mouse lead from under cat.
Resettle cat, feet, and hot water bottle. Retuck fluffy blanket.
Head hurts. Realise have not put glasses on.
Extract feet from hot-water-bottle/blanket/cat combo. Untuck fluffy blanket. Stand up. Trip over displaced and disgruntled cat. Go in search of glasses.
Find glasses (eventually).
Return. Resettle hot water bottle, blanket, etc. (Cat has now stalked off as my feet are obviously unsuitable for protracted sitting-upon).
Realise coffee has gone cold.
Go downstairs. Reheat coffee. Return. Resettle feet, blanket, hot water bottles.
Discover I need loo.
Repeat as before.
Possibly get some writing done before ‘hot’ no longer applies to hot water bottles.
Repeat ad infinitum.
It’s not as if the house is that cold. It’s just my weird personal thermostat; from about September to about May, I freeze from the extremities inwards as soon as I’m immobile for more than 20 minutes. Does anyone else have to dress as though they’re on a polar expedition before they start writing, or is it just me?
(“A good gulp of hot whiskey at bedtime – it’s not very scientific but it helps” – Alexander Fleming)
I’ve decided that, as a bit of a – connoisseur is the wrong word, since I am no-one’s idea of an expert, but addict is perhaps a little harsh – an appreciator, of good whiskey, I would occasionally witter about it, online, for the amusement of anyone who might care.
(Caveat – what I say may bear no resemblance whatever to what is written on the label of any given whiskey as a guide to flavour. I am not a professional taster in any way at all, and react on a purely personal level. Also, I tend to add water; no less than a half the amount of whiskey, no more than double. For me it brings out the flavours. I am aware that others may regard this as blasphemy of a high order).
Onto the whiskey; a birthday present recently received by the beloved.
The bottle itself is pleasing. It’s a fat, cosy, slightly squat shape. It looks friendly. The colour of the whiskey is rich and deep.
The nose is rich too – very sweet. Treacle toffee and the warm coconutty scent of gorse flowers. There’s another subtly floral aroma which was hard to identify – the closest I could get was the scent of pansies; a scent that only seems to emerge in sunlight.
The whiskey hits the tip of the tongue with spice, but the first impression in the mouth is very light and sweet. Then the spice comes back in underneath, strong and gingery.
Once you’re partway down the glass, there’s a slight aroma of peardrops – just a hint of sweet acetone – and Parma violets. It sounds unpleasant, put like that, but in fact it’s interesting and wakes you up again to the changing flavour. There’s more citrus in the spice now, the ginger still pungent but cut with lemon.
And, right in the last third – there’s a surprise – a sudden savour. Smokey bacon. Seriously. Proper, crisp, sweetcure bacon; just the flavour, not the meat, like an aptly-summoned and pleasing ghost.
Altogether a subtle, layered, interesting drink.