Q and A – the collective mind

Were you at all influenced by the role and impact charismatic leaders can have on the collective mind-set and the utterly devoted, almost docile, lemming like behaviour and following they can inspire. And how difficult it can be to say that the King doesn’t have any new clothes? Hope that isn’t too deep a question but it struck me as a theme.

Jackie, Northamptonshire

Thanks for your question Jackie! And I suppose the simple answer to it is – yes.

I did do quite a lot of research into cults and so on when I was writing the book. I was interesting in what motivates people to believe certain things and believe certain leaders.

475px-Goat_sacrifice_Louvre_K238When you look at the vast and bizarre range of religious beliefs people have held now and throughout history you could be forgiven for thinking that we human beings will believe any old nonsense – or at least that it’s possible to get some people to believe pretty much anything. I suppose the reality is you have to look at belief in psychological terms rather than in terms of whether a particular belief is right or wrong.

People want to believe in something I think – they want answers and the sense of community which comes from having ownership of the same set of answers together.  Charismatic leaders have long been preying on this propensity in human nature. Mostly this is pretty harmless I suppose – but at the extreme end of the spectrum it helps to explain how groups of believers can find themselves in the catastrophic mess that those did who were led to their deaths by David Koresh at Waco or by Jim Jones at Jonestown.

We look at tragic cases like these and wonder how anyone could be fooled in this way. The followers were many, the man leading them to destruction was one, surely they could have refused to do what they were told – walked out, got on with the rest of their lives. But the herd instinct is very powerful and once you have bought into something, particularly as a group, then getting out seems to be far easier said than done.

Of course we know this kind of behaviour happens everywhere there are human-beings. It’s in our nature to form groups and follow leaders and adopt a herd mentality, we do it in playgrounds and in political coups. So Sea God wasn’t intended as some kind of satire raging against this type of behaviour – it’s just a fact of nature, you might as well satirise rain.

I think the parts of the book where John Love manages to hold court and control the actions of large numbers of people are credible. People do that kind of thing all the time, there are mass meetings held over nothing. But it still strikes us as strange and alarming, in the way perfectly ordinary elements of nature often do.

Who, for example, has seen the vast gatherings of starlings which congregate in autumn and make elaborate shapes in the evening sky without stopping to wonder and look up at them? They are called a mumuration and are perfectly natural, but they still strike me as strange, fantastic even, every time I see them.

In the book my character John Love was trying to do more than just create a cult. Jim Jones’s influence died in the massacre at Jonestown, Koresh’s died in the conflagration at Waco. What John Love wanted wasn’t to be a cult leader, it was to be a god – and they have to leave a legacy. They sow the seeds of a belief which does not die with them but grows after they are gone and feeds on their legend.

GoldenBough(373x545)I’ve spoken before about the influence of the book The Golden Bough on Sea God. It’s a collection of myths and religious beliefs from around the world – and it illustrates, among other things, how the patterns of religious belief repeat themselves down the ages and across cultures.

The elements of the ‘create a god’ toolkit are all included in the Sea God – prophesies, disciples, miracles, a gospel and, of course, the death of the god.

So I wanted to write about people’s need for rituals, for magic and the mystery of things they can’t comprehend, but also their need to follow and believe as a group.

And – pick pretty much any religion you care to name and you find darkness in there. Incredible brutality often, violence at a Shakespearean level. It seemed to be almost recognised that when you stir these kind of elemental forces you don’t just find love you find hate and death too. So I put these things in my book.

Hope that goes some way to answering your question Jackie and thanks very much for it! If anyone has anything they wish to ask about the book, my blog, or writing generally please ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer in a forthcoming post.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Lucy Atkins – Author Profile

It’s my great pleasure today to welcome author Lucy Atkins to my blog. Lucy’s a book critic for the Sunday Times in the UK, a writer of non-fiction books and now a novelist with her book, The Missing One, just out. Welcome Lucy – and good luck with your book!

Lucy Atkins, photographed by Charlie Hopkinson © 2013.Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person?

Thanks for having me on your website Chris. I live in Oxford, UK with my husband and three children and various pets but I’ve spent time living in Philadelphia, Seattle and Boston. I really enjoy life in the USA but eventually I always get too homesick.

I love reading – I’m a book critic for The Sunday Times newspaper and I read a lot. I watch far too many TV dramas, but I also do yoga to stay (reasonably) sane. I can balance on my head for a surprisingly long time.

Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?

I started out in my twenties as a book critic when I was working for Amnesty International UK. I studied literature at university and really missed the discipline of thinking about and writing about books. I went on to become a feature journalist for newspapers like The Guardian or The Times. I’ve written or ghost written several non-fiction books and The Missing One is my first novel.

THE MISSING ONE newest image (1)Tell me about The Missing One – what is it about and what makes it a great read?

It is a psychological suspense story about a British woman who takes her little toddler off to a remote island on the wild Canadian coast in search of her mother’s secret past life.

I’m really interested in the complexities of motherhood, and the overwhelming power of maternal love. I’m also fascinated by the lengths a woman will go to, when she needs to protect her child.

You hear stories of superhuman strength and courage, as women fight off intruders in the home, or lift trucks off their babies – extreme situations in which mothers do astonishing things. I love that – and so it’s there, in The Missing One.

Where can I buy a copy of your book?

The Missing One is available in some independent or high street bookshops, on Amazon, and also in Tescos, Asda and other British supermarkets.

Where can we find out more about you?

Try my website www.lucyatkins.com

or follow me on twitter @lucyatkins.

Q and A – Where did that plot come from?

Another in my occasional series of Q and A sessions today. Here I have a question about Song of the Sea God from a reader from the UK. Thanks very much to Sonia for the question and if you have anything to ask me about writing, publishing, my book – or indeed whatever else, ask them in the comments below or let me know on Twitter @ChilledCH or Facebook here.

How did you come up with the story for Song of the Sea God and how long did it take you to write?

Sonia from Gloucestershire, UK

Thanks for your question Sonia – and thanks very much for reading the book! One part of your question is easy to answer – the other part, perhaps surprisingly, is a little less easy.

The easy bit first. The book took me around two years to write. That’s roughly a year for the first draft then another year for the rewriting until I got it how I wanted it and was happy that it was ready for me to start looking for a publisher. It partly takes me that long because I have a day job and a family, but also – I didn’t see the need to hurry. I was happy to take my time and make it as good as I could. It’s tough finding a publisher these days, and even tougher finding readers, so you really want your book to be the best it can be.

As for the other part of the question – how did I come up with the story? Well, strange as it may seem, I’m not sure I know. One of the remarkable things about writing a book is that you can get to the end, leave it a little while, then come back to it fresh and it feels as though someone else has written it.

Bob-Marley-in-Concert_Zurich_05-30-80It’s as if it was summoned up by some deep-felt sympathetic magic – or the idea for the book was transmitted to me by friendly aliens. I suppose the effect in this case is particularly pronounced given the weird and wonderful nature of Song of the Sea God – the off-beat supernatural elements. So I could get swept away with some romantic notion of my book having come from the great beyond.

Some authors actually do go down this road – and other artists too. I once met a musician, for example, who genuinely believed his songs had been personally delivered to his psyche by the late great Bob Marley. I listened to his album, sadly it sounded as though Bob’s unfortunate demise hadn’t done his song writing skills much good.

But, wild and crazy book notwithstanding, I am a fairly straightforward guy and I know the that truth about where art comes from is more prosaic. So I suppose the most honest thing to say is that the idea for my book evolved.  It builds up, slowly and incrementally, really without you noticing. There is no big eureka moment, that’s the nature of evolution. You start with and ape and finish with a human being and think – ‘how the hell did that happen?’

I started out wanting to write a book about the nature of god and religious belief – what it means to people and how it affects them in an age when lots of people (me included) aren’t really religious in the traditional sense of going to church and so on. But we still might have a need for belief – or a feeling that there’s something more than just ourselves – a god-shaped hole in our lives.

I was thinking around that and at some point I came up with the idea of having a character who believed it was his destiny to become a god. So I had people who needed a god and a man who believed it was his job to become one – and the idea developed from there.

446px-Charles_Darwin_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron_3I decided to set it on an island – that added a whole bunch of ideas. I wanted a narrator who was an outcast, yet intelligent and wise (up to a point), that allowed me to do different things. As I say – it evolved.

In terms of having an idea for a book I think it helps if you have a main character who wants to achieve something – he has a mission if you like. It gives the book drive and purpose. And in Sea God John Love very definitely has a mission he wants to achieve. John Love wants to be god – even though it is something most people would think was quite insane.

Did that answer the question? Hope so! What do you other writers and readers think about the creative process? Share in the comments below.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

How to get 5,000 followers on Twitter, for free, part two

KeepCalmAndTweetOne of my most popular blog posts so far was the one I wrote on how to get 5,000 followers on Twitter free and without scams. If you are just starting out on Twitter I’d suggest you first take a look at my original post.  You can read that one here.

I thought I’d offer some more Twitter tips for those who are interested as there’s clearly an appetite for info on how to grow and do well on this popular social platform. I’m fond of Twitter and currently have more than 15,000 followers at @ChilledCh these are all real people with no sock puppet accounts bought from some dodgy Twitter salesman. You’d be surprised how many people with large accounts on Twitter seem to have gone down that road!

My key advice for those looking to grow their Twitter numbers is this – try not to see Twitter in terms of ‘followers’ but instead think of them as two-way connections. You need first to follow and connect with people in order for some to connect with you in return.

Here’s a few things I find helpful to me when using Twitter which you might also find work for you.

Don’t overdo the product promotion!

Lots of people use Twitter just for fun, news, keeping in touch with friends and so on. Others, like me, also use it because they have something they want to tell people about. In my case it’s my novel Song of the Sea God.

But I’ve noticed that some people on Twitter do this extraordinarily badly. It’s perfectly possible to tweet the link to your book or other product every hour on the hour until the end of time, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you should do. Less is more as they say. You can put an audience off on Twitter just the same as on any other medium. I much prefer to talk about other things and promote my blog, which people can read for free, than promote my book. They can find that it they wish, and, to help them, I tweet an occasional link to one of the places they can download free sample  – never more than once a day and usually not even that often.

However many people you manage to encourage to follow you on Twitter you will find you lose them again just as quickly if you spam them.

Justunfollow

I’d say this is my favourite of the tools I use to keep track of my Twitter account. At its basic level it is free and you can use it to find who has unfollowed you, who is not following back, which accounts are long-term inactive and so on. Then you can react accordingly by dropping these accounts and finding other people who do want to interact with you on Twitter. You are limited to 50 a day for free but I’ve found that’s fine with the numbers I need to manage.

Hootsuite

There are a number of useful services out there which enable you to manage your output on Twitter. A very popular one is Tweetdeck which you download as a small programme. Lots of people like it and you might want to give it a try. Another one is Hootsuite, and that’s the one I prefer, having tried them both. You might think differently once you’ve tried them out – It’s a bit of a ‘you pays your money and takes your choice’ kind of a deal, except you don’t have to pay money as these are free services at their basic entry-level.

What Hootsuite does is allow you to manage your social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter all from one screen. But its killer app for me is the ability to schedule your tweets. Let’s say you want to tell people in a different time zone about your new blog post or about an American or Australian site where your book or other work is available. Or perhaps you want to reach people who are active on Twitter while you are out at work. Now you can type in the tweet and schedule using the calendar – simple. Don’t let it tempt you down the road to automated spamming though – that way madness lies.

Bitly

All Twitter users know the value of a link shortener in a medium where every character counts and if you go over 140 you can’t press send. In my view Bitly has an important advantage over the others available such as Tiny Url. And that advantage is the ability to track the number of people who have acted on your link. So if you have a link where it matters how many people look at it over time and where they come from then you can create a Bitly link and use it each time you need to tweet or Facebook the link. It’s great – you get a graph, a map of the world, and everything.

Klout

This is an interesting way to see how your social media is stacking up – and compare it to others in your circle. Basically it boils down your interactions on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms and expresses them as a simple score out of 100. If your aim is to grow on social media a rising score can be a clear indication you are achieving that.

So there’s some of what has helped me grow and develop my presence on Twitter – free to you for being kind enough to visit my blog.

If you were interested in this post you might want to take a look at these others which also offer tips:

How to get more views on your blog.

Advice on how to find a publisher for your book

An interview with my publisher about what they are looking for in a book they take on.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.