A Baltic Odyssey

According to our local guide, Alexander Pushkin is to the Russian people what William Shakespeare is to us Brits. Although born in Moscow, he has strong associations with St Petersburg, which happened to be one of the ports of call on our cruise around the Baltic Sea.

We enjoy cruising and usually choose the Mediterranean for the sunshine. Occasionally, though, we opt to go north and have cruised to the Norwegian fjords and the Arctic Circle. This Baltic trip attracted us for the variety of ports in six countries we’d never before visited.

This isn’t going to be a lengthy post; it’s more an excuse to say a little bit about the cruise and show a few photos. But, to obey my self-imposed rules about what I post on this site, I have to include a link, no matter how tenuous, to reading or writing. Thus, Pushkin. I regret to admit that I haven’t read anything by him and, honestly, will probably never do, though at least he is now on my reading radar.

Anyway, the ports. My favourite? Based on what we did there and the sheer beauty of the place, it has to be Tallinn in Estonia. Here’s a view of the city—the black-domed church above is also in Tallinn.

Copenhagen is probably a close second. Once home, of course, to Hans Christian Andersen (another writing link; go, me), whose association is commemorated, amongst other things, by the statue of the Little Mermaid.

Riga (Latvia) is also beautiful; Skagen (Denmark) is chocolate-box quaint; Helsinki (Finland) gave the impression of being unfinished, there was so much construction work going on, though is still lovely; Kiel (Germany) is interesting, though a little strange (they have a park called Hiroshima Park, which contains a statue of Bismark). The port that made the deepest impression, for not necessarily all the right reasons, was St Petersburg, the city of many names.

Our first sight of Russia was underwhelming, sinister almost: row upon row of ugly concrete apartment blocks poking from the mist. We passed many more on our coach ride into the city centre, a lot of them in a state of disrepair. It was grim, a dystopia, Orwell’s vision of the future brought to life.

Then the sun burned away the fog and revealed a city of stunning contrasts. Fairytale churches and cathedrals; glistening gold-domed towers and spires; forbidding, official-looking buildings; imposing monuments. The square behind the Winter Palace, said our guide, is larger than Red Square in Moscow.

If you ever visit St Petersburg, take a tour around the Hermitage Museum. Formerly a palace complex of the Tsars, it has been preserved in much the same state as it was in 1917 when the city was known as Petrograd, the Romanovs held power (until the abdication of Nicholas II in February) and the October Revolution was signalled by a blank shot from the battle cruiser Aurora (coincidentally, the same name as the ship in which we had cruised into St Petersburg). Here are snaps of them both.

Apparently, if you were to spend 30 seconds viewing every single exhibit the museum holds, it would take you around eleven years to see them all.

We spent a few hours there and barely scratched the surface.

It was a jaw-dropping tour, marvelling at the lavish opulence—I’ve never seen so many grand chandeliers and ornately decorated ceilings, so many paintings outside of a specialist gallery by masters like Da Vinci and Rembrandt, more gold (I imagine) than even the Vatican—while privately thinking it was little wonder there was so much discontent among the masses to have such riches in the midst of what must have been at that time severe deprivation.

St Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) is also famous for the failed siege by Germany in World War II. This is the hotel where Hitler planned to host a dinner to celebrate his conquest. He apparently even went as far as having invitations printed with only the date left blank.

We only spent hours at a stretch in these ports, enough to gain a flavour. But, without exception, the places we visited were captivating. If you’re ever wondering whether a trip to the Baltics is worthwhile, I’d say, resoundingly, yes.

To finish, a snap of me supping a stein of locally brewed beer in Kiel. These things have to be done. Cheers!

 

Taking the Plunge

[First posted 21st July 2017]

I’ve long harboured a dream to make a living from writing fiction. That dream was placed on hold for a good number of years while I changed career, but was dusted down five years ago when I came to realise the possibilities made available by the revolution in e-publishing. No more having to submit sample manuscripts and stamped-addressed-envelopes (remember those?) to London agents. No more being in limbo waiting for the latest rejection. No more wondering whether the despondency was worth it.

I rediscovered my urge to write. It had never really gone away, but had lain dormant and now awoke with a vengeance. I began wrting in evenings, at weekends, during leave from work. I completed a trilogy of apocalyptic science fiction novels, which sold well enough that I could consider going part-time in my regular job. I dabbled in marketing, not especially successfully, but sufficiently that sales continued to tick over.

Then things went a little pear-shaped when life—or, more accurately, death—intervened. My uncle died in June last year, having appointed me to be the executor of his will. I used to do such work for a living so it was a smart move on his part as it would save the family many thousands of pounds in legal fees. I didn’t mind in the slightest, but it was a fairly complex estate with a house to be sold and tax to be paid so involved a lot of time-consuming work, which I’ve had to fit in to the spaces previously occupied by writing and marketing.

Something had to give. Much of my writing time disappeared along with all the time I used to spend marketing. My book sales have suffered, especially in the States. But I’ve now almost completed administration of the estate. Most of the time-heavy work has been done and I’ll be ready to finalise everything as soon as I receive final confirmation of the estate’s tax affairs.

At last, I can return to writing and this week I’ve cut the hours in my regular job by half. In truth, it’s more of a risk now than it would have been twelve months ago, but if I don’t do this now, I may never.

Yesterday was my first ‘writing day’ and the first time I’ve been able to write in a block of four hours without feeling guilty about the jobs around the house or family stuff I should have been doing instead. Afternoons of writing days are to be devoted to things like editing, research, business administration and, of course, marketing. Perhaps I will at last get to learn a little about how to effectively promote my books, which to me means making readers aware of them without feeling I’m shoving them in their faces.

Here’s a snapshot of what is now my office for two or three days of each week. At least until I can write full-time. Or, God forbid, until I have to go back to my regular employer, cap in hand, and beg for my full-time hours back. Shudder…

[Update, July 2018: I finalised my uncle’s estate a couple of months later. And apart from a few more books lying about, that writing space hasn’t changed much.

Since becoming a part-time writer a year ago, my output hasn’t been as great as I’d anticipated. It went well at first – I finished the novel I was working on, Jack’s Tale, wrote a collection of dark, Christmas-themed short stories in time for a late October release, began and finished the final novel in The Elevator trilogy, The Lord of the Dance. I began a new novel, a dark tale set in post-war Britain that hasn’t yet made up its mind if it’s going to be horror or science fiction. In addition, I posted regularly to my blog.

However, in March came a couple of events that somewhat derailed progress. My wife underwent a double knee replacement and I parted company with my publishers. For a while, I found myself playing the part (willingly, I should add) of carer for a temporarily disabled spouse – she’s now almost fully recovered and far more mobile than she was before the op. More significantly, I found that I needed to revise and revamp my entire catalogue – more of that in later posts.

The upshot was that my writing and marketing time once more disappeared, along with my website which had gone poof! in February. In effect, I’m around five months behind where I’d planned to be. But now that my catalogue has been revised and self-published, and my website’s back, I can turn once more to the horror/sci-fi novel and hopefully publish it before Christmas.]

Normal Service is Resumed

Long story short: I have been unable to post to my website, or indeed access it, since late February 2018 due to issues caused by an update followed immediately by issues caused by my hosting company.

At around the same time, I parted company with my publishers and found myself up to my eyes in learning how to produce my own paperbacks. Fair to say, I doubt I’d have found the time to post regularly even had the site been working.

But that’s all behind me now. (See the forthcoming posts about publishing paperbacks for more details, if that sort of thing interests you.) I have a new website host and, fingers crossed, everything seems to be back to normal.

I have, however, had to rebuild this site from scratch. That’s why there are no blog posts. Fortunately, I have copies of most of the posts that appeared on my old site and so can begin to repost them, with dates they originally appeared where relevant.

Posts will be loosely categorised according to their main theme(s) – writing, reading, publishing, marketing, etc. If you’re only interested in, say, posts about reading, you should be able to click on the reading category and only find the posts categorised thus. At least, I think that’s how it will work. We shall see…