No, you don't need to adjust your sets. The Internet is not broken, and nor is your computer/tablet/phone. I really am reviewing my...

No, you don't need to adjust your sets. The Internet is not broken, and nor is your computer/tablet/phone. I really am reviewing my own book.

It has been almost 4 years, you see, since I wrote and self-published my first short story collection on Amazon, and almost that long since I've read it. In that time, my writing style and habits have changed, and my opinions on many of the authors I used to love (whose work heavily influenced my own) have changed too. So, now that I've published the book in paperback for the first time, I thought I'd read it again, and take an honest look at the writing, and what I'd do differently if I were to turn back time.

I've changed a lot since I wrote this book, too. I've had a couple of very anxious episodes and I've met the love of my life and I've finished the best unpublished novel I've ever written. So, really, it's best if we all think of it like I'm reviewing a book written by a total stranger.

So let's do that.

Everything Around Me is Destroyed or Damaged is a collection of 23 short stories by half-arsed blogger Aaron Kane Heinemann. It starts, as lots of mediocre books do, with something to shock us and grab our attention - a story of bloodshed and defecation in an office environment. And to be fair, that one is quite amusing, so I can forgive the cheap trick.

From then on, we're treated to stories about a range of topics from drink and self-loathing to regret and romance. The only trouble, in my opinion, is that the quality varies just as widely as the content.

There are stories that are just fine, and from which you might come away feeling like you've read the work of someone who understands and cares about people quite deeply, and has a grip on writing that is above average. Examples of these are The Harshness of Life, Alley Dogs and An Imagined Affair.

Then there are stories that are a bit sillier, clearly not intended to be as deep or serious, and are therefore - excusably - a little lower quality (Saved, Town Hall, The Slightest Hint of Moisture). That's okay, they're still enjoyable, and we can't all be pretentious and amazing 24x7, no matter how hard we try.

The stories I have a problem with are the ones that don't fit into either of the above categories. The ones that aren't written well enough to blow you away, but aren't entertaining enough to excuse the dip in quality. Stories like Against Nature, and maybe Watch This. I know why the author wanted to have 23 stories in there - because he thinks it's a cool number - but filling it out with stories that shouldn't have made the cut isn't the way to go about that. If it were me, I would wait, write some more, delay the book if necessary, to make sure I had 23 solid stories, instead of allowing the average rating to be dragged down by a couple of low-scoring borefests. It's a shame he didn't think like that.

But I do have one more good thing to say. There are a couple of stories - namely, Note to a Former Lover and Reliving the Future - which are very obviously about the author's previous relationships, and the regrets he has about them. The impulse, when reading these insights into his past and the way he feels about it, is to feel like it's all a bit too raw, a massive overshare, and cringe away; but I think that's a good thing. Writing has to be about truth, about real traumas that real people go through, even when it's dressed up as fiction. That's how you make readers feel things and make them think about life. And these stories do that, without a doubt. Even if they are a bit… too much. And not that well written.

So, when you add it all up and divide it by the number of stories, I think you have an alright collection, here. Not the worst self published material out there, by any means. Probably worth the 99p or whatever Amazon is charging for it. Definitely worth downloading during one of its rare free download promotions.

But it's not world-changing, either. Personally, I wouldn't want this to be the first book I ever published, giving people less-than-incredible blackmail material to drag out and parade around when I was famous and celebrated for being an amazing author. It'd make me look too human, like I'm not perfect after all. Ew.

The third post in the Writing IRL series. You might remember, if you read my blog regularly (hi mum!), that in September last yea...

The third post in the Writing IRL series.

You might remember, if you read my blog regularly (hi mum!), that in September last year I wrote a piece on blogging properly, in which I set out a fairly vague plan to do so.

That would have made a nice Writing IRL post, actually. Except, without that, Writing IRL wouldn't exist, since it's a product of that plan. So I can't really rebrand it now. What a pickle. Anyway, enough about that. What was I saying?

Oh yeah. It's been 5 months since I published that post, so I thought I'd give an update on how it's all been going.

First, a recap

The post, in case you can't be arsed to go and read it yourself, was pretty much split into two sections. The first was aimed at new bloggers, and partly at myself, and gave advice on how to blog successfully. The main points were:
  • Post regularly. Even if it's not perfect. If you want people to feel engaged, you need to be there often and be interesting.
  • Make it colourful, visually stimulating, easy to read. People are going to turn away if all you can offer them is stock-font text on a plain old standard-issue Blogger template. Or worse, bright flashing colours and hideous Flash effects.
  • Be present on social media. No one ever sat there flicking through Blogger or Wordpress to see what blogs they might be interested in that day. The only way people are going to get there to read your blog is if they see it on their social network of choice.
The second section detailed my plan, which I've shortened for you right here:
  1. Write for an hour every night.
  2. Publish a blog post once a week.
  3. Start reviewing books.
  4. Post more to my social media accounts.
  5. Post updates on the implementation of this plan.
So, with that in mind, let's go through the plan and see how it's going.

Write for an hour every night

Not a good start. I barely get half an hour done on average. It seems I can dish out advice on making time for writing (see my previous Writing IRL post "Finding Time to Write"), but I can't follow it myself. But I will.

I have to, if only to fight off the frustrating idea that my dreams are getting away from me.

Publish a blog post once a week

I did succeed in this. Not a single week has gone by since Mid-September in which I did not publish a post. The vast majority have been WWWW posts, in which I simply summarise interesting articles and links from the literary world, across which I've stumbled that week; but still, that's good enough for me. As I said, I have enough trouble finding time to write, so I can't be expected to write a new novella every week.

The problem I have is engagement. I can see, thanks to Blogger's dashboard, that people (more people than ever; but more on that later) are visiting and reading my posts (and thanks for that, it's nice to have you here). But I have no idea if they liked what they saw, if any of them were repeat customers, if they have any suggestions or feedback. Perhaps they don't, because none of them have commented. But it would be nice to have an inkling of these things.

Ah well.

Start reviewing books

Check. This has been useful, looking at things critically and picking them apart to see what it is that made them enjoyable, so I can imitate that in my own stories. Definitely a good thing.

I did come unstuck, however, when the only negative review I wrote was found by its author, who left me a comment that had me shitting my pants, til I read it and found that he was actually incredibly classy and kind about it. It could have gone a lot worse for me, and since I'm the paranoid, confrontation-averse type, I'm considering not writing reviews for books I really don't like anymore. Maybe just the ones I do, so I can always be positive.

I've always been something of a believer in the saying "those who can, do; those who can't, review".

Be louder on social media

My social networking muscles need gym time. Major gym time - they're scrawny as hell.

Twitter  (@destroyordamage) makes me anxious, because people are always posting about hideous world events and death and politics, so I avoid it. I left Facebook a couple of years ago, and only maintain the Destroyed or Damaged page via a ghost account, because I find the whole place to be pretty toxic. Certain parts of Reddit, I like; but self-promotion is a minefield on there and once they think you're evil there might never be any coming back, so I just haven't tried.

The only network on which I feel safe and warm and comfortable, then, is Instagram (@destroyedordamaged). I've been posting with vigour onto Instagram, and because I've linked my accounts, those posts have found their way to Twitter and Facebook too, so I don't have to visit all 3 to have a presence.

And to be honest, I think this is probably the most impactful change I've made to my habits. By using the right hashtags, I get a good handful of likes on every post, and I see my site visits spike during particularly busy times. It's a noticeable difference. So this is something I'll definitely carry on. If I can just face Twitter and Facebook, and one day crack Reddit, the only way is up.

One thing though. I need to get my head around #bookstagram. Some of the people who post regularly on that hashtag have thousands of followers. People love them. But they have monthly themes and challenges they seem to pull from thin air, and they're all girls who wear long socks and post pictures of themselves reading in bed and stuff, and it all just seems like a world that has no place for me, a hairy adult male who doesn't read much YA. Maybe I should do a giveaway, buy myself some new friends...

An update

So, that was my first update. The bulk of it, anyway. All that's left is to give some hard figures on that improvement I've alluded to a few times.

Readership has increased by a huge margin. You might remember that as of September, I got an average of 377 page views every month. Well, in the 5 months since I made that first post and started to implement my plan, I've had an average of 1301 visitors per month, an increase of 245%!

This was partly due to a bit of a spike in December 2016 which I can't really explain, since I didn't do anything unusual that month, but which I am grateful for. But even if we pretend December never happened and strike it from the record, my average visitor count per month for the last 5 months was still more than double that of the 5 months before I started blogging properly and the same period in the previous year. I'm really pleased, and I think I'm on the right track to being a real blogger, instead of a pretend, half-arsed one.

Summary / next steps

So, what am I going to do next? Mainly, I'm going to stick to the plan I set out above, since it is working. But in addition, I'm going to:
  1. Get my head around #bookstagram, and try to worm my way into that community. I just want to be included!
  2. Try harder at Twitter and Facebook. And, yes, see if I can get onto Reddit somehow.
  3. Write more interesting content. Stuff like this Writing IRL series, which I really enjoy, and which definitely gets readers. I just hope it's actually useful to someone out there.
  4. Begin at least one serial this year. I want to publish a novel-type story, as I write it, chapter by chapter, on here. It wouldn't be perfect, but it wouldn't have to be. It's for entertainment, not the Booker prize. I can even go back and edit chapters if I want to - that's the nice thing about screens instead of print. I've had a few ideas and I've even begun a couple of them a couple of times, so I just have to write more and more until the idea and the execution is good enough to put up.
And that's it. I'll post another update probably on the one year anniversary of that first post. And if you're a blogger who's looking for advice, I'd say you should follow the modified plan, just like I am. Obviously. But personalise it - I'm not spoon feeding you, here; you have to do some of the work yourself.

Peace out readers, writers, everyone.

  "And if Glass believed in a god, surely it resided in this great western expanse. Not a physical presence, but an idea, something...

  "And if Glass believed in a god, surely it resided in this great western expanse. Not a physical presence, but an idea, something beyond man’s ability to comprehend, something larger."

Hugh Glass is an experienced trapper and survivor who is working for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, when he stumbles across a very angry mummy bear who literally rips him to shreds. Unable to drag him along on their journey when they are sure he is going to die, but unwilling to mercy-kill him or leave him to rot, their leader offers a financial bonus to two men, in exchange for their staying behind with the dying man and burying him when he finally pegs it. However, virtually as soon as they're out of sight, the two men abandon Glass and steal his weapons, assuming he'll be dead by morning and never come back to haunt them.

They are, of course, wrong. Glass recovers, slowly, and drags himself back to Fort Kiowa, and begins a journey of revenge that covers the next 250 pages, or thereabouts.

At least, that's what the subtitle would suggest. It doesn't say it on my copy of the book, but the original subtitle was "A Novel of Revenge". There is a quote on mine: "A superb revenge story," it says. But I'm not convinced.

I mean, yeah, he does spend 300 pages trying to find the men who took his gun and his knives, and that is the whole point, but I didn't feel like I cared if he found them. I thought he was a cool character, but I still didn't find myself invested in his grudge, or even remembering that he had one, for half the book. Beyond the scene in which they leave him there to die - which was well written - I didn't feel like he really needed vengeance or justice; not like I did during some of Stoner's lows, for instance.

Not that I'm slagging off Punke's writing. I wouldn't dare. He's a very important man. He writes very well, and it's really clear that he knows exactly what he's talking about. His passages about survival techniques are proof, if you needed it, that research is key to brilliant writing. It's just that there was something missing for me, some connection I didn't feel.

It may not be his fault, anyway. It turns out - and I only learned this halfway through the book - that Hugh Glass was real, and this novel, though fictional, is based on things that probably happened. So maybe the real story just wasn't entertaining enough to hold my very limited attention. Or maybe I'm in a bad mood or something. I dunno.

Actually, one thing about the writing. There are a few points in the story - really, just a sprinkling of them - at which, in order to emphasise outrage or surprise, The sentences end with exclamation marks! I don't like that at all. In my opinion (and this may change in future with the direction of the wind or the ticking of the clock), exclamation marks are for 'Shouting!' or for SPECIAL OFFERS! and nothing else.

But that's it. Otherwise it was really well written and convincing... if you ignore the fact that it was supposed to be a gripping revenge story, because I don’t think it was that.

Now that I've finished the book, though, I can finally watch the film…


'Oh,' Doris whispered, and the ancient tortoise-woman sitting two seats away glared at her with what appeared to be intense, ...

'Oh,' Doris whispered, and the ancient tortoise-woman sitting two seats away glared at her with what appeared to be intense, disproportionate hatred.

SSSSSHHHHH, the tortoise-woman hissed.

Doris had struggled to keep quiet all night.

'Two and one, twenty-one,' came the caller's smooth voice, over the speakers in the ceiling.

Doris blotted out the number on her page, and pushed her knees together tightly. She started to hum as quietly as she could, and bit her lip and adjusted her position in the tired old bingo seat, hoping that these things would help to contain her, at least until the game was over.

'Three. On its own, the number three.'

'Oh, yes,' Doris said, blotting the number and feeling her stomach start to tighten, her legs tingling.

She was only two numbers away from winning the full house. Not that she had noticed. 

The tortoise-woman's head sprung up like a Jack-in-the-Box, and her tiny black eyes began to search for a member of staff to whom she could complain about this noisy woman ruining everyone's evening. But Doris did not care this time, because she hadn't noticed the squaw's reaction either.

'All the sixes,' said the caller, 'sixty-six.'

Doris felt warm and flustered, shaky and dizzy. She blotted out the number without looking for it. Without, in fact, any awareness of what she was doing, so lost was she in the feeling, and the effort of suppressing that feeling.

'Two and three, twenty-three.'

And then, she was gone. No longer able to contain it, Doris let out a scream that echoed through the bingo hall and drew all eyes to her, as she threw her head back and grabbed her necklace and lost herself in the pleasure. YES. YES. YES.

'We have a claim over there, to my right,' said the caller, his voice that same flat, smooth tone. Unfazed by Doris's yelping.

A member of staff, a chubby young girl in the unflattering blue uniform of the venue, approached Doris's table to check her pad. Still writhing in her seat, wailing and moaning, Doris was not even aware of the girl's existence.

The girl checked the pad, looked up at the caller, and shook her head.

'False claim,' said the caller, and carried on with his numbers. Some of the other players shook their heads and carried on. Only tortoise-woman carried on staring.

Once she had calmed down and the rush had subsided, Doris came to realise that she had accidentally made her third false claim of the night. She thought, with no small amount of embarrassment, that perhaps it was time to leave.

She gathered her things - purse, blotter, glasses - and stuffed them into her big brown bag, throwing her coat over her arm and praying that her legs were strong enough to carry her to the door.

Leaving the bingo hall, she shook her head and giggled at her own folly. Perhaps she should have left the love eggs at home tonight.