On Windover Hill – The Premier

It was Saturday 7th March, and we were in Chichester, Sussex, for the much-anticipated premier of Nathan James’ On Windover Hill cantata.

It took place in the church at Boxgrove Priory, in the village of the same name a few miles outside Chichester. Just over a month ago I posted here about a walk we joined at Windover Hill, viewing and discussing the Long Man of Wilmington – the subject of the cantata, which gives some of the background to this work.

Nathan describes this piece as ‘a result of 3 years of writing and research into the ancient figure and how it has inspired writers, poets, artists, and musicians’.

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Nathan introducing the cantata

It was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Harlequin Chamber Choir, and Corra Sound, conducted by Amy Bebbington.

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The cantata is in nine movements, with each movement scored around a piece from various times ranging from c 1340 BC to 1996. These diverse sources include English folk song, poetry, extracts from plays, literature, and even a piece from 14th century BC Egypt, used here because there is a carving on a chair found in the tomb of Tutankhamun which strongly resembles the Long Man.

The music has a very English feel to it, reminding me strongly at times of Vaughan Williams or Holst, another element that contributes to the sense of it being grounded in Sussex.

Much more about the music, and the story of the project, can be found on the On Windover Hill website, here.

Between several of the movements, there were readings chosen to help illustrate aspects of the mythology of the Long Man – poems, excerpts from books and an extract from an article arguing that the Long Man may have been, in fact, a Long Woman. All pieces by writers challenged by the meaning and significance of the figure. At the back of the church, too, there were a range of artworks inspired by the Long Man. And several times during the performance, a couple of dancers took the floor, their actions visually interpreting the subject of that particular movement.

This, what I might term holistic approach to staging the work, contributed strongly to the listeners total immersion in the work without, I think, distracting from it.

As well as the cantata, the program also consisted of several other pieces, all with a Sussex connection. It began with a beautiful piece by Thomas Weelkes (c 1576-1623) Hosanna to the Son of David. Weelkes, the program notes informed us, was frequently in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities and was ‘noted and famed for a common drunkard and notorious swearer and blasphemer’. Strangely, I immediately felt an affinity to the fellow.

There were pieces, too, by Frank Bridge, John Ireland, an extract from Goblin Market by Ruth Gipps, and a piece largely unknown today: Wyndore (Windover) by Avril Coleridge-Taylor which was its first performance in this country for 82 years.

The acoustics in the church were wonderful, an especially appropriate setting for a choir. It was a hugely pleasurable and satisfying evening.

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The Long Man, photographed on the pre-concert walk

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During the afternoon before the concert we wandered around Chichester for a while and I bought a few old postcards of Sussex from the indoor market including, by chance, this one of the Priory church, where the concert was held, about a hundred years ago.

It seemed to fit comfortably into the feeling of history, myth and tradition I felt that day.

Blogging vs Other Social Media

It’s a fight to the death!

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Well, okay, not quite that, but bear with me for a bit longer.

The other week I gave a short talk to my writing group on reasons a writer should be on social media and, more importantly, why they needed a blog. I’m not going to go into this in any detail now, but I promised I’d summarise what I said in bullet points, and then thought it might be worth putting up here to see if anyone felt like adding anything to it.

So…

Why?

  • As a writer, you need to have a social media presence to sell books, to get known. Even if you are a published author.
  • On a social media platform, you are aiming to get shares for your posts. The more shares, the more people will see them.
  • It’s all about engaging with customers, fans and critics.
  • There are a huge number of platforms, but just a few examples that I have experience of:
  • Facebook is the biggest, and the most active, with a high rate of engagement. Having an Author Page is a good way to engage through backstories, questions, surveys and daily updates (yours or your work), ‘Behind the scenes’ articles.
  • Linkedin has many users, but a low rate of engagement. A business page can be useful.
  • Twitter is short and succinct. A sort of ‘Marketing Lite’. Posts appear fleetingly and then are essentially gone, though, unless they generate lots of likes and retweets.
  • Goodreads is like ‘background’ media – people need to seek you out to find you.
  • But the number one way to be found is through blog posts.
  • Like all good social media, blogs encourage visitors to return. Unlike ordinary websites, they are updated regularly and the reader can be alerted to each new post.
  • There are many other reasons to blog, viz:
  1. Teaches you to write more professionally – you have an audience
  2. Discipline
  3. Practice
  4. Feedback from people outside your usual circle
  5. Networking with others
  6. You can upload links to other social media
  7. There is space to write more in-depth than on other social media
  8. To review work for other writers
  9. To explore ideas and get feedback on these
  • A blog is simply a website with posts being regularly replaced, although the old ones are still on the website to read.
  • There are many blogging platforms, but I use WordPress.
  • One advantage of WP is the ease by which readers can see you have a new post.
  • Whichever platform you choose, it should have clear instructions and / or tutorials to help you set up.
  • It should also allow you to block spammers, remove adverts (by upgrading), monetise your site, and change the layout. In other words, have as much control as possible over its appearance.
  • It can be really helpful if the platform provides diagnostics on data such as page views, visitors, likes, comments, and links to and from your site. This helps you plan and refine how you run it.

How?

  • Purchase your own address! It is not very expensive, but it makes your blog more personal, more professional, and the address more memorable. And the host cannot arbitrarily close it down, which might happen with a free site.
  • Start by going and looking at other blogs, to find what you like and might work for you. then use your Site Builder Tool to create your site.
  • Once you begin writing your first post make sure you are using a clear font that stands out.
  • Keep the post around 500 words, certainly under 1000. When you have a decent following, you may get away with more, but new readers will be put off by longer ones. (As a guide, this post has 945 words).
  • Add a picture or two to help it stand out and look less daunting, but not too many. And not just dozens of selfies, unless you are an established celebrity. It’s a real turn off.
  • Make the post interesting! Put some good stuff in first, to get the readers’ attention. And don’t save all the good stuff until the end, as readers might not otherwise get there.
  • Use categories and tabs on each post to help new readers find them.

Issues

  • Don’t feel under pressure to post to a fixed schedule.
  • Don’t be afraid to change the subjects you post about – it’s all under your control and there are no rules on it. Let it develop organically.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a break if you need to. It’s very easy to get into a mindset where you think you need to do all these things to a rigid schedule.
  • Don’t obsess about the number of followers you have or likes / comments you get. Chasing them is counter-productive.
  • Find some blogs YOU like, and follow them, commenting when you have something to say. That way you will begin to get visits in return and then, hopefully, follows back. It is pointless following a blog that doesn’t interest you, just hoping to get a follow back. You want followers who will be interested in what you have to offer.
  • And on that subject, if a new follower has a site that doesn’t interest you, there is no obligation for you to follow them back.
  • And don’t feel obliged to comment on / like / or even read every post on blogs you follow.
  • Do remember that copyright law applies exactly the same on the internet as it does in the real world. If you copy a photo or article from the internet without permission and post it on your blog be prepared for possible legal unpleasantness. I always use my own, just to be safe. I think it looks better, too.

Here, This Is For You – NO! Don’t Touch It!

Now, here’s a thing.

A blogger posted recently that he was offering one of his books for a week or two as a free download.

Later, he posted angrily that lots of people had downloaded his book for free and why the devil could they not have bought it from him?

I do wonder whether I am missing something here.

The debate rages (I say ‘rages’, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration) over whether we should give away books for free to promote ourselves, or to promote other books in a series.

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Now here’s a thing.

On one side, there are those who say that people are attracted to free downloads, and this will help to get the author’s name known. Then after the book has been read for free, the reader might be more likely to buy another book by that author.

On the other side, there are those who say that most free downloads languish on disks and are never read, and that they create an expectation that writers will give away their work for free, thus making it less likely that the reader will buy more books.

At times like this, I do what I always do when I need advice and guidance.

I ask Bob.

‘Do I want a free book?‘ he asked me. ‘Of course I do! Have you got it with you now?’

‘I’m afraid it was a rhetorical question, Bob, but I note your reply. What if you were the author, though. Would you give it away?’

‘Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous!’

‘Well, that doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t that rather a contradiction?’ He shrugged.

‘Maybe. But you asked me the questions, so I answered them.’

‘Fair enough.’

‘But no wonder your friend was cross,’

‘They’re not my friend, Bob.’

‘Whatever. No wonder they were cross, if they offered their book for free and lots of people had the cheek to take up that offer.’

‘But that doesn’t make any sense either, Bob. What would you have done?’

‘Me?’

‘Yes’

‘I’d have taken the book.’

‘But would you have offered it in the first place?’

‘No, of course not.’

I knew I had been reminded of someone when I read the original posts.

It could have been Bob.

Sue me and I’ll have you killed!

…slowly, he inched his way along the ledge, his heart in his mouth. It was too late to even contemplate turning back now. The sun was sinking rapidly in the pale sky in front of him, dropping towards the distant plains that were almost hidden in the desert haze. It would be completely dark within the hour. For the first time, he knew real fear. He could never survive a night on this thin, narrow ledge – God knows, there was barely enough room to stand and almost nothing to hold on to. It was inevitable that he would slip off at some point. Even now, there was a thin skin of ice on much of the surface, and the terrible cold would descend as soon as the sun disappeared.

Gritting his teeth, he edged towards what looked like a slightly better foothold, and cried out in sudden terror as his foot slid into space, the momentum taking him over the edge and falling…

Hell, I can’t do that! Stop! Phew, that was close.

As writers, we have to be so careful, because nowadays even our characters have rights, did you know that? And we can’t just be doing this and that to them, just as we please. Only the other day, a lawyer claiming to be acting for a character in a well-known children’s series attempted to take the author to court and sue her for, literally, defamation of character.

This character claimed that the author had totally misrepresented his actions, and applied motives to them that could only be described as evil.

And she said he had no nose, which was just spiteful.

He has claimed damages running into millions of dollars.

If this character is successful, then it is difficult to know where we will see this ending.

The fact that the author has created said character is no defence in law. Really, they are like our children. And whereas a few hundred years or more ago, parents had absolute authority over their children, and, short of killing them, could do whatever they so willed with them, nowadays they have more rights than their parents. And I’m afraid that it may come to that with our characters, too.

‘Why should I be killed off?’ They cry. ‘What right have you…?’ And so they will challenge it.

It has even been mooted in some quarters that these characters should perhaps be able to resort to the legal process appropriate for the time and world that they have been created for. Thus, a dragon in a tale set in ancient times, peeved because the author claimed it ate virgins and had bad breath (not sure if the two are connected…) might very well demand that it meet the author in Trial by Combat, a trial that the author would probably be rather ill-prepared to face.

Upset a Tudor monarch or a Viking chieftain, and I wouldn’t give much for your chances.

And any authors writing tales set in the future, who had unwisely failed to specify what sort of legal process was in existence at this time, might find the lawyers, or even their characters, being given the right to specify this. And that might get very nasty indeed.

But there may still be one remedy open to us. If our characters hold the threat of litigation over us, we might, just might, be able to retaliate by threatening to make their next incarnation even more horrible than the one that they are prosecuting us over. Threaten to sue me for creating you with a flatulence problem? Go ahead, and see what problems you have in my next novel! Don’t forget I’m writing a series! You had quite a decent time in the last one, it’ll be the torture chamber for you next!

It might work, but I’m still nervous about it.

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So what am I going to do? I’m just going to write nice stories about pussy cats, from now on, that’s what.

Authors, you have been warned!