By Susan Roberts
Can you imagine making a movie career out of deliberately avoiding the camera’s line of vision? It’s a bit like flapping along in the shadow of Icarus, staying out of the sunlight, refusing to fly too near the brightness. No fame and glory, but the payoff is surviving to tell the tale.
Years ago I read a book called Shake the Stars Down by Yolande Donlan, a memoir of growing up in Hollywood. The author and her dance partner appeared as dancing extras in a multitude of Hollywood musicals, but if you watch those movies you won’t see those two because they danced everywhere that the camera wasn’t!
Why? Simple. If they had actually been captured on film, they would have been paid off at the end of that day. On those old epics, producers would not risk the audiences recognising an extra in more than one scene because it broke the illusion. Donlan made a flourishing career out of being invisible, because it enabled her to stay on the payroll for the duration of each movie she signed up for.
Inspired by this theme of invisibility, I once considered writing – but not publishing –my own theatre memoirs. I figured that I had so much dirt on everyone I had worked with that I would make more money from blackmailing certain people who would pay me to NOT to write about them, than from selling my tell-all memoir to a publisher.
Of course, that was before I realised two things: first, actors will do anything to avoid spending money; and second, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Make that three things: third, no publisher ever buys a book by an unknown author.
I generalise, of course, but you get the idea.
I have a friend who calls himself a failed novelist because his sales on Amazon haven’t been as good as he would have liked. I told him that he is NOT a failed novelist because a failed novelist is one who fails to write a novel. He, on the other hand, has written a novel. Two, in fact. Actually more, but he hasn’t put them all up on Amazon.
We might both be failed booksellers, but that’s not quite the same thing. No one walks past a bookshop gazing in awe at the thousands of books adorning its shelves, and then says, “The people in that shop are failed booksellers, because they have been unable to sell all those books.” If we don’t berate the booksellers for not selling, why do we do it to ourselves?
Rather than think of myself as a failed novelist, I prefer the term Invisible Novelist. Since I became a writer, the idea of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak has struck such a deep chord in me, that I could almost swear J K Rowling invented that bit just for me. Me and the millions of other novelists out there who are invisible to the world.
Millions? Yes. Here are some interesting things I came across on the Amazon Kindle forums used by authors. According to one writer, a year ago Amazon had around 20 000 new e-books uploaded per month, but that figure has since quadrupled. How can our books compete against a glut of over 80 000 new titles every month?
While everyone is bemoaning the fact that sales are down, someone found a book that was ranked in the 11 millions. Another author posted a link to a book on Amazon that was ranked in the 12 millions. This was not mere supposition – we could click on the link, go there and see the ranking for ourselves. One author commented that if any of us had a ranking of under one million two hundred thousand, we shouldn’t lose heart, because that meant we were in the top 10% of book sales. That may be flawed logic, but I’m going to cling to it all the same.
And then there is the problem of the memory card. In the last few weeks two people that I know have just acquired new Kindles. Are they buying books? No, because each of them has some well-meaning friend (different people who don’t even know each other) who has just presented them with an SD memory card – like the ones that you stick in digital cameras – crammed with over 800 free books. No need to buy what someone gives you for free!
I took a look at one of these memory cards, and these are not free classics like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. There are 823 books by modern best-selling authors: John Grisham; James Patterson; Stephen King; Patricia Cornwell; Douglas Adams; Dean Koontz; JK Rowling; JRR Tolkien, and so on. The other recipient says her memory card has different authors, and she has spent two months whittling down the 900 books on it to about 200 that she thinks she might enjoy, but she admits that she probably won’t read all of them.
What is certain is that neither of these new Kindle owners will be buying a book for a very long time. In the almost fifty years that I have been amassing my own book collection, my total is just under 1100 actual books, 600 of which are non-fiction; 500 fiction. Since I bought my Kindle a year and a half ago, I have purchased 57 books on it. Can I repeat that? I have PURCHASED 57 books. Okay, 53; four were freebies. I’ve read 57 books in a year and a half; that’s an average of 30 books a year. Maybe I read slowly, but 900 free books would take me about thirty years to get through. That’s the equivalent of someone’s lifetime, and I probably won’t even live that long!
Yes, it’s hard work being an invisible novelist, but that doesn’t mean we must give up trying. I do try to make myself known through my website, my two blogs and the odd posting on Facebook. I give away advertising bookmarks and I check my sales, rankings and reviews for my three books on
I probably don’t do as much as I should to get my name out there as a writer, but I am primarily a novelist and not a bookseller. Happiest when writing. And like Yolande Donlan dancing behind the scenery for all she’s worth, I shall continue to write out of sight and make my books the best that I possibly can, regardless of the fact that few will read them. Those few who buy are important to me, and I want to give them the best that I am capable of.
Just another invisible novelist…
I mean, we all know the stories about fast food. It’s high in sugar and trans fats. It’s deep fried and liable to cause clogged arteries. Fast foods have been tagged as being responsible for obesity, and
increased diabetes in children especially.
My research has taken me from the websites of the various restaurants to criticisms of their menus. I have studied some of the controversies, and tried to ponder the relationship between kilojoules and calories.
The last point is going to take a few more hours of brain power before I fully understand the concept. Kilojoules are what energy from food is measured in, and calories have something to do with exercise.
I have been comparing Big Macs and Rounders. Twisters and Subways. Debonairs vs Scooters.
McDonalds has been the most helpful company so far. Go into their website and click on any of their menu items and you are shown information on kilojoules, sodium content and saturated fats level. They also give out a tray liner that shows these facts as well.
Fast food is never going to be as healthy as homemade meals we make from fresh ingredients and few preservatives, but we can make healthier choices for those times when we absolutely have to have fast food.
And be careful… Sometimes what seems like a healthier choice is actually worse. For instance, the Grilled Chicken Foldover has a higher kilojoule level, more fat and more sodium than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
And the internet itself is a collection of contradictions. Just take the McBurger that lasted for a year on a shelf and didn’t grow mould. People freaked out when they read this article.
“What kind of preservatives does this food have in it? What is it doing to our children?”
But if you search a bit further, you read about someone who decided to do this experiment objectively. So they put a Mc Burger and a homemade free range mince burger on the same shelf.
And neither of them grew mould…
Not even the homemade-with-no-preservatives burger. The conditions were too dry for mould to grow, and the burgers simply lost water and dessicated. Put the similar burgers into a sealed plastic bag and the mould had a fat happy party all over the meat and roll.
So that sensational discovery kind of lost its oomph.
And no one can blame fast food restaurants for unhealthy lifestyles. KFC doesn’t employ people to force feed customers until they are about to pop.
One has to take responsibility for ones own health, and make sure we eat the right foods and exercise properly.
According to the exercise site, Endomondo, I have done 23 hours of exercise and have managed to burn off 14 burgers
I decided that there was far more I wanted to learn about the power of touch. In life, I have progressed from treating the hugs of strangers with a certain amount of distrust to the realisation that a hug can bring healing. I have hugged and been hugged into a bucket full of friendship.
An article by Roger Dobson in the Health & Families section of Health News, 10 October 2006, reported on experiments conducted by Jim Coan, Neuroscientist at Virginia University. Mr Coan ‘noted that the touch of husbands and wives reduced activity in the areas of the brains involved in fear, danger, and threat. It’s the first study of the brain’s reactions to human touch in a threatening situation, and the first to measure how the brain is involved in the health enhancing properties of close social relationships … Other research findings hint that, not only does touch lower stress levels, but it can boost the immune system and halt or slow the progress of disease.
The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, School of Medicine says it has carried out more than 100 studies into touch and found evidence of significant effects, including ‘… improved immune systems in people with cancer.’
I am currently a guest in a home where an uninvited one took up residence several years ago and was recently discovered and served notice. There is nothing welcome about cancer. Amidst the anguish, pain and trauma, precious people are at work touching lives. They are doing what they can do, and it is amazing.
I have learnt that there are teams who have dedicated themselves to hug children with cancer. Suddenly the biblical promise that, ‘they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover,’ makes physical sense. Could it be that people are rediscovering the value of what the faithful have known through the ages? Touch brings healing.
I once was the recipient of a flask of chicken soup when I confessed to being a victim of earthly elements. I’m not sure if it was the ingredients of the warming gruel or the pat of kindness that made me feel better and accelerated my recovery.
As with everything, there is a downside. Touch has to be loving and conveyed within relationship, or with deliberate and innocent purpose. Perhaps the world’s gradual avoidance of physical touch as a means of healing and love is due to the abhorrence of devious abuse. The power of touch and the desire for it is sometimes so strong that its purpose has been distorted. Touch should be handled with care as with the other four senses. It should bring healing, not harm.
When the power of words is lost, a hug is the answer to prayer.
By Sue Trollip
Later, I moved a couple of blocks away from the heart of the city into a flat with a view of walls, cars and people. I got a job and some responsibilities and life was still exciting. I could go out for ice cream at 9pm or to a movie on my way home from work. It was the ability to be spontaneous that gripped me so, but somewhere deep inside I felt caged. I longed for grass and a view with some distance.
Slowly, over the years, I moved further up the hill away from the city and while I haven’t yet made it to a suburb, I have graduated to a view. It’s a magnificent view of the ocean, the horizon, the blue world that does not end. My windows face east and there is nothing quite as spectacular as watching the sun peep over the horizon and turn the black world indigo, pink, orange, violet and red before the day begins. I also have a priceless front row seat when the storms hit. I love the noise of the cars slushing by, the windows rattling, the world shimmering as the rain thunders down. Afterwards everything is clean, the green bits glower and the white buildings gleam as the sky clears and normality ensues.
The odd thing is that even with the horizon filling an entire wall of my abode that caged feeling occasionally resurfaces. A short term solution is to find the botanical gardens, take off my shoes and smell the flowers. A better answer is to pack my bags and head to the country for the weekend. There I breathe in the dusty roads, listen to the birds and at night I lie in bed feeling the heavy darkness of the world without streetlights. I look out the window at a sky full of stars while contemplating the screaming silence of the countryside.
While I wouldn’t swop my city life, with movies, the theatre, cafes, late nightcafes, bookshops, people, lights, bustle and noise, it’s clear that part of my roots are still vested in the country, and I haveno problem with that.