Tag Archives: Twitter

Limbo

18 Mar

I seem to be in a strange kind of limbo, writing-wise at the moment. I’ve finished my latest novel, The Sarcophagus Scroll, and I’ve given it to my editor and a couple of beta readers (at their request), but as my editor has just given birth and beta readers (in my experience) rarely do much reading, there’s no news. It almost feels as if I never finished it and it simply doesn’t exist.

Then there are a couple of magazine articles that are due to come out in April – which in magazine terms actually means mid to late March – but as they’re out of my hands, and not yet out in the shops, they are sort of in limbo, too.

And finally there’s Twitter, where I usually chat to writer friends, and plug my books, and roll my eyes at everyone else’s book plugs. I decided to give up Twitter for Lent,* just at the very last minute, so I didn’t even announce it before I left. I don’t expect too many of my followers are wondering where I’ve gone. The sense of community on Twitter is largely an illusion. But it makes me feel cut off from the land of the living (or at least, the tweeting) which adds to my sense of limbo. I’ve started texting my brother-in-law more, because who else am I going to share my current-affairs-related mild witticisms, now that I don’t have about 600 perfect strangers to do it with?

At least my blog is no longer in limbo. And I have started work on a non-fiction book on alchemy (although that will be a very long road), so I am still plodding along in my writing career even if I don’t seem to be externally.

There’s a vaguely appropriate concept in alchemy called palingenesis, which involves bringing something back to life in a new and improved form. It would be nice to think something like that will happen to my visibility as an author, but as the techniques of palingenesis tend to be pretty extreme (you have to reduce the original thing to ash, and that’s just the start of it!) maybe I’ll just be patient a little longer.


*If you’ve clicked through to this from a notification on Twitter, don’t worry, I haven’t slipped; it’s just that I’ve got automatic notifications set up.

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The Great Hippopotamus Invasion of 1840

20 Nov

or
Who Wrote the Gospels, and Why?

 

I was inspired to write this post by a brief exchange on Twitter. As a platform it can be very positive and funny, and it’s stuffed full of writers encouraging and commiserating with each other, but it’s not always like that. There are also people (or bots) who are angry, nasty or crazy. But enough about Donald Trump…

Apropos of the Greggs sausage roll controversy, there was a wee discussion of the historicity of Jesus, and someone commented that he isn’t mentioned in any Roman sources. That’s not true, of course, so, thinking I would simply be offering an interesting bit of factual knowledge, I pointed out a couple of Roman sources that do mention Jesus. The reply came back that these sources (one of them the major source for early imperial Rome) were obviously “fakes”.

There’s no point in trying to have a rational discussion about ancient history with someone who thinks ancient history is falsified, so I just let that one drop. But what surprises me is the number of non-conspiracy theorists who don’t believe that Jesus existed. We have four biographies (that’s the Gospels, to you) ostensibly written by eyewitnesses or based on eyewitness testimony, lots of mentions in letters by Christians from the mid-first century onwards, plus a smattering of mentions in Roman sources.

Of course, you could argue that these are all fakes, that they were either written much later and presented as contemporary sources, or that extra bits were slipped into Roman sources by naughty medieval scribes. I’m not going to get into the historiographical arguments about whether the sources are reliable or contemporary, or this post would end up being the length of a book, and plenty of good books have already been written on the subject. (You could try The Case for Christ, for example. The author has a bit of an obsession with what his interview subjects are wearing, but otherwise it’s pretty good.)

No, what I want to rant (sorry, write) about is the logical side of things. During my degree in Ancient History I also studied a lot of Philosophy, which means that I tend to find myself questioning whether arguments are sound, and the argument that the Gospels were forged centuries later strikes me as very circular.

The theory goes that Christians forged these “eyewitness” documents in (let’s say) the third century AD. (You can’t really push it any later than that without running into far too many references to Christianity, including the Roman Emperor becoming a Christian.) Gullible people believed them, and a religion was born, despite the fact that Jesus may never have lived. The question is, why would someone make up not only hugely detailed stories about a shadowy figure they knew nothing about, and be prepared to be punished for following their new religion, but also claim that there were thousands of other followers of this brand spanking new religion all around the Mediterranean, where their forgeries would be read? What possible motive could they have to do something so rash?

The answer is “because they were Christians, of course”. But that doesn’t help. If Christians are people who believe that Jesus Christ is God, and died to save mankind from their sins, then these forgers are, by definition, not Christians. They are the opposite – people who know for a fact that the claims of Christianity are not true, because they made them up.

So why would they do it? For the fame? Hardly; if the Gospels weren’t written by the people whose names were on them, then we still don’t know who wrote them. For the money? Nope – these documents were spread around like the common cold, not sold to the highest bidder. For larks? Well only if your larks include living a strict moral life and potentially being thrown to the lions (or at least duping other people into doing those things).

Let’s make up an analogous fictional situation. In philosophy this is called a thought experiment. It’s less exciting than a scientific experiment, but it’s also cheaper, and there’s a lower risk of explosion.

Let’s say that I set out today to fake eyewitness accounts of the Great Hippopotamus Invasion of 1840. I’ve decided to fabricate eyewitness accounts of the time that 5,000 talking hippoptami invaded Birmingham and denuded the city’s ponds of all their carp. The king was summoned from London and managed to save the city by promising an offering of carp every week to the hippo overlords.* I’m going to say that thousands of people now observe the weekly carp-sacrificing ceremony. I’d probably have to get a couple of friends on board too, to write other “eyewitness” accounts, unless I was extremely skilled at mimicking different writing styles.

But I’m not going to do that, am I? Because that would be daft. I have no reason to invent the Great Hippo Invasion, and, once the RSPCA and Birmingham City Council get involved, plenty of reason not to. I don’t think I could persuade any of my friends to join in either – maybe if it was a fun hoax and there would be a big reveal, but not in order to get generations of people to devote their lives to appeasing talking river horses by killing ornamental fish. And no one would believe it. I mean, do you believe it?**

According to the theory about the faked Gospels, my motive would be that I and my friends are hippoptamists, these deluded fools who go around sacrificing carp. But there aren’t any hippopotamists. Have you ever met one? No, because I just made them up. But that’s presented as a real motive for why Christians would want to invent accounts of Jesus’ life.

Now, if you still wanted to stick to the line that the Gospels were faked, you could argue that the (let’s say) third century authors who wrote them were Christians, and were trying to provide (fake) written evidence for things they’d only heard orally, but believed. That makes more sense, but then you’re accepting that there was a surviving oral tradition about the life of Jesus passed down in an existing Christian community – which still constitutes historical evidence for Jesus. And then you’re back to the same basic problem – how do fake (oral) accounts about Jesus arise without a Jesus for them to be based on? – just pushed back a bit closer to the time, so it would be even harder for false stories to be believed, even if anyone had a motive to make them up, which they didn’t.

I’m not presenting Anselm’s Proof here, and I’m not even going to go into the question of the miracles and Jesus’ divinity (again, that would turn into a book). I’m just trying to show that dismissing the existence of a well-attested historical figure on the basis of the argument:

Christians invented Christianity because they were Christians

is silly. So please don’t.

***

*Yes, it was a queen and not a king on the throne in 1840. But why bother about historical accuracy when you’re inventing 5,000 talking hippos?

** If I set up a Wikipedia page about it I suppose a few people might believe it. But then, some people believe that Finland is a Japanese conspiracy, apparently.

The Five Deadly Sins of Writers on Twitter

10 Feb

Before we get into this, I’d better be upfront: I joined Twitter because I am an author, and apparently it’s one of the absolutely essential things you have to do. Tweets drive traffic to your website and, so the theory goes, that increases sales of your books. I’ve yet to see the proof of this, but I stay on Twitter anyway because, annoying as it often is, it’s good for up-to-the-minute news, it’s sometimes funny, and you should see how much faster companies work to sort out your customer service queries when the details are on the web for everyone to see.

However, as a writer on Twitter I’ve become aware of the ways in which writers abuse this extremely abusable medium in a variety of irritating ways, so I thought I would have a little moan about it (which, naturally will increase sales of my books. Hmm.). Here are the five commandments for writers using Twitter.

bull horn

1) Don’t tweet about your book all the time.
I know that’s the reason you joined Twitter, but this isn’t a billboard or a TV screen for you to advertise on. It is, in a loose sense, a community. People follow you because they are interested in at least some of what you have to say. If the only thing you have to say is “Buy my product, buy my product!” they will very soon get tired and stop following you.

That’s not to say you can’t mention your wares at all, but keep a strict limit on it – one every ten tweets, say, or once every five if you absolutely must. In between times, find interesting things to say. If you can’t do that, the question is not “why are you on Twitter?” but “why are you a writer?”

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

2) Don’t only follow authors.

And don’t mainly follow authors, and especially don’t follow authors just because they’re authors. Yes, it might be nice to share the joys and sorrows of your profession with like-minded souls, but that’s not why you’re following them, is it? You’re following them because they’ll probably follow you back. And so they will, because they’ve read the same advice you have about building up your Twitter following to drive traffic etc. etc.

The problem with this logic is that they are not interested in your books! They are not going to buy them! They just want you to buy theirs. Do you plan on buying even one book from each author you follow on Twitter? No? Well use a bit of that writerly empathy to understand that the same applies in reverse, and stop trying to sell coal to coal miners.

BSZpsnx3) Don’t offer a follow for a follow or a like for a like.

For the same reason that you shouldn’t follow authors, hoping they’ll follow you back, please don’t say “follow me, I always follow back!” or “like my author page and I’ll like yours!” Anyone who follows you just to get followed, or likes your page just to get liked, is probably not really going to engage with your tweets or your webpage, and is almost certainly not going to buy your books.

It’s worse than that, though. To my mind, this kind of self-interested mutual back slapping is meaningless, pointless and vaguely incestuous. It’s also a little dishonest – a step down the road towards giving each other reciprocal positive reviews, regardless of what you thought of the book. Yes, you might get fewer page likes and follows if you refuse to play this game, but as we used to say on Team Starfish, “at least we kept our integrity.”

hard-sell-confused.com-0074) Don’t begin a relationship with a sales pitch.

If someone follows you on Twitter it’s nice to say “thanks for the follow” and it’s also nice to comment on some interest you may share. It’s not nice to say “Buy my book!”, “Visit my website!” or “Love me, love me, love me!”

Yes, I know that’s what you want in the long term, but take things at a steady pace and read the signals, ok? Think of it like meeting that special someone for the first time: it’s probably better to begin with “Nice to meet you” than to go straight in with “How many kids should we have?”

father ted5) Don’t give us the gory details.

This last one probably only applies to the writers of erotica, horror and especially gritty thrillers. You want to entice the inhabitants of Twitter to read your new masterpiece, so you give a short summary, and what better to include in those few characters than the most shocking and titillating bits?

Well, anything really. Twitter is public. Your followers may see it (although they may well not, but Twitter algorithms are a topic for another day) but so may anyone else in the whole Twittersphere. People with weak stomachs. People who’ve had traumatic experiences. People with strong moral views.

Although our culture sometimes seems saturated with violence and sex to the point where it’s no more shocking than a PG Tips advert, there are still plenty of people who don’t want to get wet. And don’t forget that, despite the popularity of things like Fifty Shades of Grey, there are still people who see erotica as being just as morally reprehensible as porn.

It’s entirely possible to provide a pretty good impression of what sort of book you’re plugging without giving it both barrels. Save that for your own website, where you’re likely to get a self-selecting bunch of people who actually like that kind of thing. In advertising your wares graphically on Twitter, you’re not gaining new readers so much as alienating potential followers.

And who knows, maybe followers are good for something other than buying our books? Maybe they have value in themselves as human beings. A radical thought, but one that, if embraced, might make us all more pleasant and charismatic members of the Twittersphere.

(By the way, if you do want to follow me on Twitter, for reasons other than sins #1 and #2, my handle is @kcmurdarasi.)

An Unexpected Guest

1 Aug

One of the things I love about the internet are the random connections it throws up. I clicked through from Twitter to a list about books that are better than the films (as a writer and a film fan that’s the kind of clickbait I’m very vulnerable to.) Of course, one of the things that is very irritating about the internet is the difficulty in finding anything again, unless you’ve bookmarked it, so I can’t give you the link to the list, I’m afraid.

Anyway, there were two books on the list that I hadn’t read. One was Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, which I have ordered from the library, and the other one was I am Legend by Richard Matheson. And just like that, I have added a name to my list of favourite authors, because it turns out that this man, whom I thought I’d never heard of, not only wrote the story Somewhere in Time (or Bid Time Return), which I really enjoyed but had completely forgot the title and author of, but he also wrote the screenplay of one of my favourite films, The Incredible Shrinking Man! (Yes, it sounds awful, but it’s actually a very thoughtful and touching film. And the fight with the giant spider is great!)

Continuing the theme of random connections, in the book I am Legend the narrator makes a joke about the last man on Earth being Edgar Guest. Not having the first clue who Edgar Guest was (although I could tell from the context he was probably a wordsmith of some kind), I naturally reached for my smartphone and looked him up. He was a poet, as it turned out, and the first poem of his that I turned up (courtesy of the Poetry Foundation), I rather liked. It’s also a very good fit for the book, in which a man keeps going in almost overwhelming circumstances. So here it is for you to enjoy, and I hope that my blog will also be a source of serendipitous connections in the vast internet.

It Couldn’t Be Done

BY EDGAR ALBERT GUEST

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.