Tag Archives: Charles Bukowski

How Different Are Your Stories?

Fashion designer Coco Chanel stated:

Stories need to stand out in some way to be marketed. Even if you accept that there are only seven types of plot, you can still write unique characters who do unusual things.

A modern way of describing this is having a Unique Selling Point (USP) which can also be an elevator pitch, a term used to describe selling an idea for a movie to a film producer you’ve trapped for a few seconds in an elevator. An extreme example of this is Snakes On A Plane whose title alone summed up the plot.

I write in the crime genre because I like it, and, as it’s the second-highest selling genre I stand more chance of success; also, crime stories allow me to tackle anything in society. I deliberately chose to conform to the conventions of a crime series—a set location, reoccurring characters and compelling antagonists who commit dreadful crimes. Cornwall and its landscape become a character. I explore the lives of my main character and his detectives to encourage the reader to bond with them.

Where my books differ from the mainstream, is that the Cornish Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle is the opposite of typical sleuths who drink, womanise, gamble, smoke and bend regulations. He’s a Green/Liberal lover of nature and the arts, who rides a 10’ long black chopper and is clean-living and faithful to his woman; I didn’t give him a love life until the fifth book. In these ways, he’s a weirdo.

Will this make him stand out enough to be successful? I’ve yet to find out. Do readers want to find a main character who’s unique, as marketers suggest?

How different is your protagonist? What idiosyncrasies do they have?

Are your stories predictable or surprising in their twists and turns? They should always be plausible.


Cult Authors

The most common use of the word ‘cult’ is a dodgy religion, one which involves brainwashing and that excludes the world through secrecy.

Areas of the arts, particularly film, music and writing are breeding grounds for cults, with enthusiastic followers knowing about work which is largely obscure to the masses. Being labelled a cult author could be seen as a comment on how commercial you are, though there are successful writers who have cult books.

By the qualifier of sales alone, most cult authors write in a literary way. There are some, such as Haruki Murakami who prosper, and whose readers could be labelled a ‘tribe’ or ‘nation’. Even deceased writers, such as Charles Bukowski, still have healthy sales while remaining an acquired taste. 

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Some authors who wrote a book that once had a cult following, have achieved recognition from masses of readers. The best-known recent example is Stoner by John Williams. John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is the perfect example of a book that took years to be published, then won adulation for its deceased author, before becoming a novel read by only a few.

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Then, there are the less well-known novelists, who none the less have enthusiastic readers who hunt out-of-print titles and wait for the latest release.

Some of my favourites are Richard Brautigan, Mick Jackson, Brady Udall, Charles Lambert, Justin Cartwright, Tim Gautreaux and Donald Harington.

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If you’re looking for a laugh with richly-imagined situational comedy, seek out Brady Udall‘s Mormon novels or Donald Harington‘s Ozark Mountains sagas. Richard Brautigan’s style is unique and his stories can be funny, sinister and moving in their emotional intensity.

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Mick Jackson, Charles Lambert and Justin Cartwright are British novelists, whose fluid writing style is a joy to read, yet they’re largely overlooked in favour of hacks who’ve got lucky with a bestseller.

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Tim Gautreaux is a poet, short story writer and novelist, and his novel The Clearing is one of my favourites.

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Do you follow any cult authors?

What hidden literary gems do you know about?

The Laughing Heart

I’ve mentioned Charles Bukowski before, and here’s Tom Waits reading one of his most inspirational poems. 

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‘The Laughing Heart’, it should be the mantra for any writer:

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you. 

Charles Bukowski

How to hoax a book into being a bestseller

After the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchmanwhich became an instant sales success, there’s now a backlash with some readers demanding their money back, on the basis that the novel was misrepresented as being something that it isn’t:


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Personally, I always though that there was too much marketing smoke being blown around, with barely a fire for literary warmth, when it came to Harper Lee’s first effort at a novel. It made me think of the old warning adage – ‘If a thing sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’ 

And as Charles Bukowski observed


Image result for charles bukowski wherever the crowd goes

Whatever the literary worth of ‘Go Set A Watchman’, at least it exists. I found a story this morning, via my Quora.com feed, about a best-selling book that didn’t exist at all – until it did!


It could be viewed as the ultimate elevator pitch, I suppose, for it roused the interest of enough readers to propel ‘I, Libertine’ onto the New York Times bestseller list.

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Older Debut Authors

A new writers’ group has started to counter bias against older debut authors. As a sage if not entirely wise writer of 65, I welcome this development.

There have been some notable famous authors who started out late, including Penelope Fitzgerald, Mary Wesley, Henry Miller, George Elliot, Richard Adams, Raymond Chandler, Alex Haley, Charles Bukowski and Annie Proulx.

Prime Readers may be of interest to mature writers:



It’s long annoyed me that so much attention is given to those under 40 when it comes to prizes, bursaries and competitions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for encouraging young talent and it’s in my bones to pass on knowledge, but there comes a time in life when you start to feel like you’re invisible. A debut author of any age needs support, encouragement and recognition.

Anyone can write at any age. Mary Wesley is a shining example of someone who started out late, with her breakout novel The Camomile Lawn published when she was 72. Her last novel came when she was 85, and she was a very frisky woman: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Wesley

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