Words have power
My story so far, and the little I've learned along the way.
A story thirteen years in the making
I penned my first novel at seventeen, and I thought that was it. It was going to be huge. Good thing it wasn’t, because looking back … the novel sucked! And having re-read the first few chapters of it recently: I can confirm, it does.
Seventeen-year-olds can’t write good novels, period. Oh, but Eragon, you say! Yeah, well, Chris Paolini is the exception to the rule, and the rest of us, sadly, are just mortals. So let’s move on, shall we?
Write, write, and write some more
Since then, I wrote a bunch more books: In, Out, Immortalis, The Veil, The Thread, The Kingdom, You Can Never Leave, The Trade, several shifter novels for a publisher, a handful of erotica novellas for a publisher, the Iron Legion series for a publisher, two books in the Tilted Axis series for the same publisher, several non-fiction books on different topics, about two million words of various non-fiction during my time as a freelance copywriter, Hiraeth (my yet-unfinished magnum opus), twelve Jamie Johansson novels, Savage Ridge, and parts of three other books that are ‘WIPs’ or works-in-progress … Oh, and some other yet unannounced projects that are set to eat up my ‘24/25 schedule.
I think the consensus here is that I love to write, and that’s the truth.
But that’s not all
I also hold down a day job as an SEO Copywriter for a skiwear company, and I also founded and still run Grindstone Literary, but that’s not long for this world, unfortunately. Too many plates, and all that. So, with all this going on, why the hell am I starting another publication that involves writing? Well, the truth of that is down to the fact that my world right now is writing fiction that entertains, and non-fiction that inspires and informs in equal part, but not about the topics I’m really passionate.
It’s been a whirlwind, honestly.
Going from estate agent to shop manager, to barista and bartender, and then going back to uni to study, landing my dream job as a copywriter, and getting to seriously pursue my career as an author, it’s all been part of the journey that’s led me here, and I’ve been happy – oblivious – to the realities of this world. It took moving country and really taking responsibility for my life, my health, and my family to open my eyes to the frightening truth: life isn’t easy, it isn’t fair, and it’s full of other people’s stories.
I dedicated my life to writing words that can sway, convince, and bring people around to the exact way of thinking I want them to. In my books, I can make you like the bad guys, hate the good guys, justify foul acts of violence, and pray to goodness that the hero falls in love with the serial killer. In my non-fiction, I can make you think great products are bad, bad products are good, and that you’re getting the best value for money on something … if that’s what I want to do.
The responsibility of a storyteller
Words are powerful, and stories are even more powerful. And with social and mainstream media pedalling stories in ways that are designed to convince and misinform, bring you around to, and align you with their narratives, values, and beliefs, it’s no wonder we’re all feeling confused and scared. And, sadly, that we all feel like garbage all the time. The things they tell us are good for us aren’t. The things they say are safe in our foods aren’t. The things they put in our water to protect us harm us instead. And yet, with a little finagling of the story, we just go along with it.
But, this time, I’m not spinning a story for you. I’m just laying things out as they are. This time, it’s up to you to decide, armed with a new opinion, a new experience, perhaps.
It’s called the truth.
Hold your horses, cowpoke
Before we go down this rabbit hole, though, I want to bring you into my head, and give you some more insights on the journey I’ve had to get here, the key moments that have shaped my own story, and have really begun to crack open my skull and let those preconceived notions and crafted narratives spill out.
It’s been a long year
I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last year or so, about my writing and how it’s changed, but how that’s always informed the way I looked at the world. I think that one of the most interesting things about it all is that the first book I wrote, simply entitled ‘In’, penned at seventeen years old, personifies my current outlook of the world. It’s a dystopian novel that tells the story of a young man named Gideon Graves. He lives in a world he believes is good, and transparent, and just. The only thing he takes on blind faith is the pill he has to pop every morning and every night. Just a little white pill that keeps the world turning as it should.
Though, when he misses a dose, the fog lifts and he begins to notice things about his world that niggle at him. And as his mind continues to clear, he realises that nothing is as it has seemed, and though the world around him goes on and on and on just as it always has, he can no longer see it in the way that ‘they’ desire him to. He’s thrown off the shackles of his former existence, and his entire life, and mind comes unravelled.
Fox Moulder, eat your heart out
The reality of his situation is much, much darker than he knows. And as he goes on a mission to discover the truth, he sacrifices everything he ever had. The stability, the safety, the ease and comfort of his former life. And though the world outside of his little bubble is nothing like the one inside, it doesn’t matter, because now he knows. He knows the truth, and having that, having control over his own thoughts, having true free will … that’s worth everything. Living is not the same as existing.
Life is all circles
When I re-read the opening, I began to remember the story in full, and thought, well, jeez, I think I knew more when I was seventeen than I do now. But then, I was just a moody teenager penning a moodier dystopian novel. Now, I’m Gideon Graves. But the road between then and now is a long one, fraught with missteps and stumbles.
And to go from an emotional teenager writing away at midnight because I thought that’s how all the greats succeeded in putting together tortured works of art, to a thirty-year-old pumping out consumer-focused crime thrillers to pay the bills, I can’t help but feel like there’s both stark progression and regression at work. And, honestly, it irks me.
Can we be both self-realised, chasing our dreams, claiming we’ve rebuked the shackles of our media-controlled world, and yet still be such obedient cogs in the machine?
Honestly, I don’t think we really have a choice.
Rebuke, revolt! Rage, rage! But, you know, still pay your taxes and stuff
I knew that I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid. Creative writing was always the thing I looked forward to most in class, and I used to write short little novellas in my teen years, print them out our old HP Inkjet printer, cut them to size, and then glue them back to back to form real pages, because our printer was so crappy and old it didn’t do double-sided prints. I don’t even know if that was a thing for home printers back then.
I got my first real introduction to writing when I joined an O.R.P.F, a leftover from a bygone age now. It stands for Online Role Play Forum. The concept is simple. Each forum has its own universe and rules for that universe. You join, you create a character, and then you interact as that character, joining in the stories of others, and hosting your own if you have the storytelling ability. I joined long after its ‘hay day’, and witnessed a lot of reminiscing and nostalgia there, people talking about writers and their characters who’d simply … grown up. And grown out of it. But, for the three or so years that I was involved, it was a huge part of my life, and a pivotal moment in my progression as a writer. It was another writer there who actually mentioned and introduced me to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is what I did to complete In, my first novel. Written in 30 days flat, complete at 51,000 words. That is what NaNo is all about, and it’s what really showed me: you can write a whole novel if you really apply yourself.
From that moment on, I was destined to make something of my writing. And with each finished novel, I prepared my pitches and synopses and then hurled them at every agent in the UK with an email address. This is generally the process all writers go through if they’re trying to get published. The problem is that each agent receives hundreds of submissions per week/month/year depending on their renown, so it’s very, very difficult to stand out from the crowd. Especially when you’re stating you’re seventeen, you’re pitching an unoriginal manuscript that’s just 50k long, and there are four spelling errors in the first two pages. But alas, I was young and thought the sun shone directly out of my backside. Hint: it didn’t.
If at first you don’t succeed
It wasn’t until much later, after many failed attempts at novels that I realised there was probably an issue with me, not the industry. So I decided to re-enroll in college to take creative writing, and then pursue writing and literature at university. During my time there, I learned a lot, and ended up doing my dissertation on narrative theory, which taught me even more about how a story is actually constructed and what goes into it. During this time, I also moonlighted as a freelance writer, taking every job I could. There was a lot of erotica writing, mainly because it paid well and was abundant! But I also got to write YA fantasy, and, eventually, science fiction.
The gentle clink of silver
And this is where my real writing journey began. I was writing novels for money. Real, tangible money. And everything was going well, but then, after we’d released eight books, the head of the publishing house announced that revenue wasn’t where he wanted it, and was shuttering the business, effective immediately. It turned out that I was under contract for another book, and had written two-thirds of it by that time. It would never come out, but my contract stated I needed to get paid for the book, and contractually was owed both my advance and due royalties.
There was a cash-flow issue with the business at the time, so the deal was made that if I wanted to pursue writing something for myself with the mind to self-publish, the company would pay me for that instead, allow me to keep the rights. There was a little back and forth, but we managed to work out a plan where, if I agreed to not be paid what I was owed for a period of time, to ease the company’s cash-flow issues, they could finance the marketing of my book, on the proviso I gave them a little kick-back on the series.
They loaned me a little bit of money then with the agreement to give me all the money I was owed later. Eventually, it did come to me, by which time I’d launched three failed crime novels, spent what I was loaned, and more – pretty much everything I had. And I was staring down the barrel of a total collapse of my personal finances, and ultimately, my dreams.
Glutton for punishment
But, I had one last book idea, and one last chunk of ‘emergency savings’ left over. I sat my partner down and said: look, here’s the deal. The books are losing money hand-over-fist here. I’m crashing and burning. And she asks: is it time? Is it finally time to stop, and just … get a job? Work on some passion-project evenings and weekends, do the whole becoming a writer think the same way everyone else does? And I looked inward in that moment and thought hard. The words came to me from somewhere deep inside.
I said; I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to live with myself if I don’t know. If I don’t really know that I gave it everything. I’m down, but I’m not out. Not yet. I have this one last book idea, and I have a little bit of money left. I just … I just have to know. Once I’ve given everything, spent all my money, and I have nothing left; mentally, emotionally, financially. Once my spirit is truly broken and I am flat on my back. Then I’ll give up. But I’m going to keep fighting until then, keep trying. If I don’t, then I’ll always regret it. She listened, she considered it, and then she looked at me, and just said, ‘Okay.’ She smiled, nodded. ‘Go do it then.’
That book was Angel Maker and it’s sold over 100,000 copies to date.
So it’s all roses now?
And while I’d love to say that since then, I’ve managed to leave the rat race behind and live my best life, the reality is that every day is a grind and a struggle to keep going. The remote nature of my day job along with the sales of my books allowed my partner and I to relocate to Canada and scrape together enough to buy a house. It’s a wreck that needs total renovation, and after a year of doing it, we’re now out of money, and the economy is crashing. So, despite all the ‘success’ of the books and my partner and I’s hard work, we’re being forced to abandon what was our dream of moving here, and head for somewhere … cheaper.
The knife twists
It’s an unfortunate turn, not a fairytale – the opposite in fact. It’s reality. But that’s just it. Rising interest rates and food costs, rising electricity bills and property tax. Rising cost of fuel. Rising costs of everything. It’s nail after nail in the coffin, and we just can’t afford to live here anymore. So we’re gearing up to put the house on the market, sell it, hopefully break even on the money we put in, and just … leave.
Distant shores await
So where to? Well, that’s the million dollar question. We’re headed to the UK in the Spring and from there, who knows. We think Spain sounds nice. My mum lives there and if we were to have kids in the next few years, having family nearby would be a wonderful thing. But we will be in the UK a lot of the time, too. My partner is going to be doing her Doctorate in Psychology, and I want to be more involved in the UK publishing and literary scene. So, all in all, we’ll be bouncing back and forth.
How that all shakes out, I can’t say. But, what I do know, is that all this is good fodder for writing, and the journey has already proved that to be the case. Though, honestly, I don’t know if bell peppers costing $3 each or a dozen eggs being $10 makes for a very good crime thriller plot. Actually, though, it does make for pretty good horror!
There’s lots to come, and I can’t wait to share it with you.