THE ROAD INCREASINGLY MORE TRAVELLED
Brace yourself for a hackneyed opening line. Here goes: “I always wanted to be an author”.
Apologies for that. Now let me make it up to you by adding: “But the fact that I did very little writing and was too shy to tell anyone about it hindered this ambition.”
There we go, that’s spiced it up a bit and given me something to focus on instead of just rambling for a few paragraphs. So now I’ll elaborate on how someone who didn’t really write anything ended up being an author. Or I’ll give it a go, at least.
Whilst at college and university, I wrote a few short stories and a single poem (the latter being something which, at the time, I thought was a one-off), but I didn’t consider myself a writer until July 2008, when suddenly everything changed. Waterstone’s (my employer from 2002-09) were running a competition called ‘What’s Your Story?”, which invited the public to create a tale that could fit onto a single-sided postcard. The winners would then be published in a postcard book alongside famous authors the likes of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling and many others. I’d never taken part in a writing competition before but this really took my fancy, and the fact that I worked at Waterstone’s gave me that much needed thrust to actually take part.
Sitting at my computer, I felt dismay at the realisation that I had no idea what to write about. My eyes flitted back and forth around the room, finally landing upon the spine of Aesop’s Fables, this particular edition being illustrated by the wonderfully fantastical artist Arthur Rackham. On the cover, Rackham had beautifully captured an array of characters from the book, one of them being an anthropomorphised stork. This swiftly resulted in me writing a story based not around the fairy tale creature per se, but around a perfect couple who can obtain anything they desire, except for a child. This short story is called ‘Special Delivery’ and it’s the first in my book because I still hold it dear; but the version that I wrote in July 2008 went through many changes before it was published in December 2009, most notably the ending… and the beginning… and pretty much all of the stuff in-between. (One piece of advice I can give: even when you think a piece is finished, chances are it isn’t. There’s often a sentence or even just a single word that might need changing. Take a break, then look at it with fresh eyes. This can pay dividends.)
Having written a full story, I became insatiable! I wrote another called ‘Savage Competition’, which charts the barbaric feud between Polar Bear and Walrus, followed by many others of various styles. One of my favourites, and by far the simplest of them all, is ‘The Life in a Year of the Traffic Lights’, which I wrote at about 3am because I simply couldn’t get to sleep without composing a tale about sentient traffic lights. I’m an odd man.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I wrote the contents (obviously), designed the cover and overall layout (those pesky margins, page numbers, copyright page and so on), registered with Nielsen Bookdata in order to buy the block of ISBNs and list the book on their database, paid a printer to put ink onto paper, created an account with Gardners Books so that it could be sold to shops, which in turn I then had to contact one by one because I’m my own marketing and press departments, and generally spread the word like crazy! As much as I’d love to say “that’s that”, the process continues until every single copy has sold (I broke even a few months ago, so trickles of profit make their way to me now and then, which is a pleasant surprise).
Self-publishing can be a long and hazardous road (not to mention lined with expensive tolls), but by God, there can be a lot of interesting incidents on the way. And providing you reach your destination, the hard slog makes it all the more satisfying. So I would recommend self-publishing as a route toward getting your words in the public’s view as it’s worked out great for me, but do some research first to make sure that it suits your needs. There are websites such as Lulu.com that publish any book, NightPublishing.com that publish many books, and then there’s the DIY route that I took (I used the printer Think-Ink.co.uk, based in Ipswich). Again, take your time and find the method that’s best for you.
Oh, and that postcard competition – I didn’t win. In fact, I didn’t even enter it! Why? Well, because I decided that my story deserved to be longer than a single-sided postcard, simple as that. And who needs to be published
alongside J.K. Rowling? I’m pretty close to her in the alphabet anyway.
Take a collection of short stories that range from the sombre to the slapstick, with characters from the psychopathic to the fairy tale. Add to the mix a bunch of humorous poems, a ‘monologue for two’, a story written entirely in text speak and even one that includes a bit or Morse Code, and you have yourself ‘The Unitary Authority of Ersatz’.
Despite the contents incorporating very different genres, styles and rhythms, they all take place within the eponymous city (Ersatz itself), a place where flights of fancy come to land.
The book is now in over 100 bookshops across the UK, stocked by Amazon and Play.com, and available worldwide from the author’s website: http://www.ersatzscribblings.com/
About the Author
Richard Sutherland is the author of ‘The Unitary Authority of Ersatz’, a collection of eclectic fiction and humorous poetry.
He studied History and Art History at Hull University and has worked as a Frozen Food Assistant, a Market Researcher, an Electricity Salesman, a Waterstone’s Bookseller and is now in the Marketing Department at Hull Truck Theatre (so he’s accustomed to people dressed as anything from cheeseburgers to penguins walking through the office on a normal day).
His life revolves around a loving girlfriend and two insane cats. His favourite colour hasn’t yet been discovered by scientists and he has a worrying obsession with traffic lights.
To get a glimpse into his bewildering imagination, take a gander at http://www.ersatzscribblings.com/