Monthly Archives: May 2015

Jumping Through Hoops

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As a jobbing freelance writer, I’m a self-confessed media whore. I’ll write for whoever pays me. It’s what I have to do. I make a living through a number of channels, one of those channels being dark fiction. Dark fiction with a twist of sardonic humour, as reviewers often point out. I’m not going to lie. I don’t make a lot of money from it. I sell a few books a month, and place a couple of short stories a year in various magazines, ezines, literary journals and anthologies. It’s never going to make me rich. But I enjoy it, and I count myself lucky that I am in a position to make a little extra income to supplement my day job writing for sport and lifestyle magazines.

In order to have your work published in one of the many outlets there are, you have to submit your work according to the publication’s specific formatting guidelines. Some want a particular font, in a particular size, some want single-spaced copy, others double-spaced. Some request a cover page with your name and contact details, while others want ‘blind’ submissions with no identifying information. About the only thing all publications have in common, is that they all want something different. I don’t mind going through every individual story I have and changing the font or whatever if the potential pay-off makes it worth my while. The more a publication pays contributors, the more I am willing to do. Unfortunately, this is a practice that occurs right across the board, even down to ‘exposure markets’ that don’t pay any actual money. In fact, they are often the worst offenders. I once had an extremely bitchy email from the ‘editor’ of an ezine complaining that I hadn’t followed the guidelines not just in the manuscript I submitted, but also in my cover letter. He took particular offence at my use of the word ‘hi’ instead of the more formal ‘hello,’ and the smiley-face at the end of my email was a deal-breaker. He clearly wasn’t a fan of the friendly approach. When I checked their guidelines again, I saw how much they paid per word. Not a penny. Zero. Nothing. You would think a publication expecting established writers to work for free would be a bit more forgiving, but it served me right. If I’d read the guidelines properly I would have realised they didn’t pay and wouldn’t have submitted to them in the first place.

Anyway, I digress. On the face of it, it all seems like a massive ball ache for no good reason. I was always of the opinion that if a story is reasonably and legibly laid out, what difference does it make if its double-spaced in 12pt courier or not? But then I started thinking about it, and looking at the situation from the point of view of the publication. If a prospective contributor doesn’t pay any attention to the guidelines, why should the publication pay any attention to the prospective contributor?

The publication don’t put all these guidelines in place just for the sake of it (though some probably do take some perverse pleasure out of making you jump through hoops on their behalf). They are a test, designed to ascertain in an instant how closely you read those guidelines. Or if you read them at all. It reminds me of Van Halen and their infamous tour riders. In the decadent 1980’s, when they were among the biggest bands in the world, Dave Lee Roth and co insisted that all the brown M & M’s be removed from bowls backstage at their gigs. Years later, they confessed they weren’t just being pretentious dicks, but making sure the venue adhered to their requests. If they didn’t take care of the small things, they couldn’t be trusted to take care of the big things, either. In retrospect, it all adds up, and maybe these editors are thinking along the same lines.

Check out some of the times I jumped through enough hoops on my Amazon Author page:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christian-Saunders/e/B0034QAX0E

 


Mike Peters – The Year of Strength Live @The Globe, Cardiff

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“If a man can’t change the world these days,
I still believe a man can change his own destiny,
But the price is high that has got to be paid,
For everyone who survives there are many who fail,
I’ve seen my friends caught up in the crossfire,
All their dreams and hopes smashed on the funeral pyre.”

– Spirit of ’76

When the original Strength album was released back in 1985, it was a seminal moment in the history of Welsh rock. It was the sound of a band at the height of their powers, every chord, every word resonating with everyone with dragon blood running through their veins, and a fair few who didn’t. They were songs of despair and struggle, hope and triumph. Lyrically, it was an album born of it’s time, with songs about the the miner’s strike, growing up in a country with a dying industry, and working class life in the Iron Lady’s Britain. It wasn’t pretty.

“I’ve got ideas that I cannot deny,
If I stay I’ll be killed by the dreams in my mind,
Today I can’t find nothing nowhere,
Tomorrow I might find something somewhere.”

– Father to Son

The stadium rock sound of Strength marked a slight departure from the folky punk organized chaos of the Alarm’s debut, the songwriting was on-point, the playing tight and the production (by Mike Howlett, who had previously worked with Tears For Fears, OMD and Joan Armatrading) crisp and sharp. Absolute Reality, Spirit of ’76 and the title track all made the UK Top 40 singles chart, with the latter also becoming their biggest US hit. For a while, the Alarm were our U2, our Simple Minds. The Irish had the Troubles to sing about, the Scots had the Glasgow shipyards, and the Welsh had empty coalfaces. In their own ways, they all spoke for a lost generation. Every track on Strength is a classic, and it’s a mystery how the album didn’t sell as many copies as the likes of Unforgettable Fire and Once Upon a Time. It’s also a fucking tragedy.

Thirty years on, not that much has changed, except I’m not an over-excited ten-year old anymore. All the exuberance of youth has long since deserted me. Three of the four original members of the Alarm have also left, but the songs and the sentiments remain and are still as relevant today as they were in 1985. The band may be gone but Mike Peters still stands, guitar in hand. He even has the same hair cut. Despite his well-documented health problems, tonight he is in top form. It’s clear nothing can sap the man’s passion. As promised, he performs the Strength album in it’s entirety, though the songs have been re-imagined and rearranged. Some tracks are virtually unrecognisable from their original versions, but all have retained their power and allure. I must admit I was dubious when I first heard of the project to re-record Strength. If it’s not broke, don’t try to fix it and all that. But hearing the songs in this stripped-down form adds a whole new depth and clarity, bringing them kicking and screaming into the 21st century where they can be enjoyed in a new context.

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I’ve never been to the Globe before. It’s small. Very small. Intimate, even. Which suits me fine. I’m off the big soulless venues where you can’t see anything and the sound goes over your head. Maybe it’s a consequence of getting old. Set deep in the suburbs of Cardiff, the venue used to be a cinema, and it retains some of that old-school character and charm.

Peters is a born storyteller, and the gig is punctuated by long raps about the music business and his experiences. As well as the Strength material and the between-song banter, he throws in a selection of lesser-known tracks from his extensive back catalogue. Set opener Howling Wind goes down a storm and Strength-era b-side Majority, which has also been re-recorded and re-released this year on the companion album to Strength, is another highlight. There is the usual smattering of old standards like Unbreak the Promise and One Step Closer to Home, and the traditional set-closer Going Out in a Blaze of Glory to the delight of the partisan crowd. It just wouldn’t be a Mike peters gig without it. With no support and a two hour-plus gig, Peters gets more like Bruce Springsteen with every passing moment. He’s also the nicest rock star you could ever wish to meet, and possibly one of the busiest. The tour continues throughout the summer in Europe and the States. Catch it while you can.

Love, Hope, Strength

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