A friend suggested retraining to teach English as a second language, and then hop on a plane to China.
Actually, it was that easy but I didn’t hop on a plane to China, I boarded a train for Toulouse - I speak French and I felt more confident trying to get things done in a country where at least I spoke the language. Turns out to have been the turning point in my life.
Backtrack to the last few days in London prior to leaving for France (19th December 2008). My best friend and I were having dinner.
He said, “Are you planning to write a journal?”
I replied, “I’ve thought about it ...”
“Try something different; by all means write a journal but instead of doing it ‘diary-fashion’, why not write a story that incorporates all of the people, places and events that you will hopefully encounter?”
“Give it a go ...”
In December 2008, I was 43 years old and had never written a word of fiction in my entire life. I had, however, spent 25 years writing technical reports, so the act of writing was not alien but fiction was a dark ocean, threatening to engulf me. I also had no home, no job, no car - but I felt free for the first time in years. I also had just one medium-sized suitcase, a laptop and a certificate that said I could teach English.
Roll forward to February 2009 and Toulouse - I was failing to get teaching work and had decided to pack up and try something else. Seated in an Algerian café, enjoying what was probably going to be my last coffee and pastry before heading off somewhere else, I looked across the small square and noticed an old gentleman, seated in the window of his atelier, working on a violin.
It was like an adrenalin rush; the story (The Dog and The Eagle) hit me between the proverbial eyes like a locomotive. Two years later, I had finished a 1,200 page crime thriller trilogy that incorporated as many of the people, places and events of my travels up to that point as was possible. That trilogy is waiting to be re-edited and republished - perhaps the fact that I have ‘moved on’ is one of the reasons why I do not have the same enthusiasm for the story as I once did. I have promised myself that I will try to get the first part back out on the shelf by the end of March 2017, and the whole trilogy done by 31st March 2018 - 10 years to the day.
In September 2010, I found myself at a Buddhist retreat in the Vosges Mountains of France - a work exchange that turned into an odyssée. On Christmas Day 2010, I took up residence in a small, neighbouring cottage, which had no power, phone or internet connection, and spent the next three years working the land to grow my own food (generating a surplus to exchange for things I couldn’t grow), and generating my own power so that I had enough electricity in my batteries to have light and laptop for three hours every evening so that I could write.
Writing had transitioned from an interesting way to record my travels to a path to achieve a kind of enlightenment. The stories were - and mostly still are - the ongoing narrative of the journey of a 51-year-old gay man, seeking to be and remain happy.
At Christmas 2012, a stray comment by a guest at the retreat led me to investigate the idea of self-publishing - the rest is history as they say.
I find that I cannot go a day without writing - it is a drug; it makes me insanely happy, and I still incorporate as much of my journey into the stories as I can. However, whereas the early stories incorporated a lot of my experiences up to that point in an almost autobiographical way, now I have transitioned (perhaps the best word) to using the feelings and emotions I felt/feel as the essential fuel of the story I am writing, which itself has become more of a matrix and less of a linear narrative.
I write, publish (via The Carter Seagrove Project), and collaborate with my fellow authors - it is a fulltime occupation - as is the marketing and publicity for the Project. It means that I have virtually sacrificed everything else I once held dear for this indie author’s life.
It never feels like a sacrifice despite having sacrificed almost everything to get to this point - I have no permanent home, no car, and no reliable income - I have one suitcase - smaller than before, a laptop and a Kindle - if you can’t carry it, you don’t need it! If needs be, I could write on the Kindle, so I could afford to kiss the laptop and the suitcase goodbye.
Happy to the point of delirium - how?
I think about this a lot. Many of my stories deal with ‘issues’ and the process of resolving them. I resolve nearly all of my issues through writing them out of my head. However, we all have issues and they don’t all resolve neatly, so staying happy is about being honest about how I feel, confronting my fears, exchanging my energy, and helping as many people as possible in as many ways as possible.
Personal mantras - Energy follows intention. Honour your gifts.
I have frequently been asked the following questions, so I thought I would answer them together in this blog as they seem to fit.
How Do I Write?
I used to write one story at a time; there may have been times when I had a story waiting to be reviewed and a new one on the desktop being worked on actively - that changed. Now I have at least twelve manuscripts open on the desktop at any one time, and I spend my time flitting between them all - sometimes adding a single word, a sentence, a chapter, or ten thousand words, but it would be rare to spend the ‘writing’ day focused on just one project. I am a dedicated Pantser. Outlining a story is an alien concept to me.
Typically, I will be writing to music - the story will dictate the type of music that I want to listen to - often opera/classical, rarely vocals because they distract me. I’ll have a stack of short films and any number of YouTube vloggers latest posts to watch throughout the day. I’ll be flitting between at least six books on the Kindle ... and cooking. I’m vegan, and cook a lot for myself - love it!
How Do Stories Arrive?
Often, a line of dialogue will pop into my head. For example, ‘four shot tall latte, please’, is the opening line of The Great Dane Saga - a gargantuan body of work - 150k words from memory - now only parts 5 and 6 are waiting to be re-edited and republished. One line of fairly innocuous dialogue gives rise to a tome of 500 pages? Yes. And that is just one of many examples. The (mis-)Adventures of Captain Du Bon Le Phare, arose as a consequence of reaching for a tube of my favourite harissa paste - the name of the brand sparked a thought that has turned into a steampunk-ish style chronicle of an anti-hero. Will it become a series? I would not be surprised - the muse is mute on that point just now.
Literally everything comes into the realm of inspiration. The death of a coral reef, reported on the internet, spawns a safe sex fable (Juxtaposition). One of my favourite films - Dead Ringers - gives rise to a dark story of sibling rivalry (The Two Piece Jigsaw). Emma Kirkby’s rendition of Dido’s Lament births an epic love story (Grand Affair); also awaiting re-editing. Finding a Stone Age arrowhead in my garden produces a fantasy series called The Map Stick. Every story has a trigger, and it seems to me that of late, almost everything is giving rise to a new story - there are tonnes of them parked in my head right now. Parked suggests an orderly queue - I so fucking wish!
How Do I keep Going?
Writing is food, energy, sunlight, water, air, earth, and peace - above all, happiness. Writing is my entire Universe (which also involves posting a 100 tweets a day) - and when I am not writing my own stories, I’m collaborating with my best buddy Chamber Mars, to produce the Inspector Fenchurch Mysteries (as Carter Seagrove), or I’m translating Chambers’ two series ‘Zac Tremble Investigates’ and ‘The Life & Times of Johnny Santé’ into English, or I’m co-editing the work of Morgan Starr and Shannon M. Kirkland. Quite possibly, designing/co-designing a new book cover or book trailer, processing the edits on the latest audiobook recordings sent in by the voice talent, working with other artists to produce original abstract art narratives for some of the stories, which will be used for book trailers/short films.
And there are the films! Principally, ‘Tonight It’s You’, a short film being made between The Carter Seagrove Project and ASPD films. The film is being released on YouTube on Halloween 2016.
Writing has led to the formation of so many partnerships and friendships - probably my least expected outcome of self-publishing but the most cherished.
The journey of the last four years, fuelled by self-publishing, has been the most satisfying that I can ever remember.
If the next four are even remotely as rewarding, I shall be the happiest man alive, also hugely grateful and busier than a busy thing that’s ever so busy!