For Love of Lulu

As a self-published author, I go where the readers are.  Which means, of course, that my prime medium for sales is Amazon, with their CreateSpace publishing arm for paperback books, and Kindle for ebooks.

Now a lot of authors knock Amazon, but I never have and I’m not going to now.  Certainly, they’re not perfect and some of their policies regarding reviewing and so forth have caused considerable frustration and upset to some friends of mine.  But when it comes to getting books in the hands of readers as quickly and as cost effectively as possible, they really can’t be faulted.  And that’s what it’s all about.  An author should never forget that a good service is a service that’s good to the reader, and readers love Amazon.

Their pricing and royalty rates are pretty good too.  They’re not the best that are available to self-published authors, but they’re plenty good enough.  The quality of their printed books is high also.  Probably 95% of my book sales are made through Amazon and it’s a working relationship I am very happy with.

But if people ask me where they can get hold of my books, I often direct them towards Lulu.  This is because I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Lulu, for the following reasons.

  • They were one of the pioneers of self-publishing, one of the very first companies to say, “Hey, authors should be able to publish and market their own books!”  I admire that pioneering spirit, that visionary zeal, so all my books still have a presence there.  Indeed, Lulu is usually the first place that a new book of mine will appear.
  • Lulu are good to authors.  Their royalty percentage is very good, higher than Amazon’s, so I get a little extra every time someone buys from Lulu.
  • Lulu are good to readers.  There is ALWAYS some sale, discount, free shipping or other special deal going on.  Discounts of 20% – 30% are quite common.  If you’re planning to buy, always check Lulu’s home page for their current deals and grab yourself one.  If there’s not one that meets your needs, come back the week after and there probably will be!  You can save big time if you buy using Lulu’s regular discount codes.
  • This one’s a biggie for me:  Lulu publish hardbacks, but Amazon don’t.  My own shelves creak under the weight of beautiful hardback editions of all my books (and they really are beautiful quality books).  So if you want the best possible quality edition, you can only get it from Lulu.

dscn0658

The only things I don’t do on Lulu are ebooks.  The advantages offered by Amazon for exclusivity in their Kindle Select programme are too good to be ignored, for myself and readers alike:  all of my Kindle titles are free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

But if you’re looking to buy a print book, take a look at Lulu.  You’ll also find a whole load of titles there that simply aren’t available anywhere else, so take your time and browse.

Lulu’s home page can be found here, where you will find details of their current deals and discounts, with codes.  And my own Lulu author pages can be found here (hint, hint, wink, wink).

A New Way Through the Labyrinth

As readers of my perverted series of comedy fantasy novels, the Rampant Damsels range, will know, I always like to indulge myself by including one chapter which is formatted as a ‘choose your own adventure’ escapade, allowing the reader to steer their own course through a section of the story, using their ingenuity to select a path through the atrocities and depravities secreted within the numbered paragraphs.

So far, readers have plundered a dungeon to battle the Demon Lord at its heart; attempted to rescue a kidnapped Elf-maid (who had no intention of being rescued until she’d succeeded in seducing her hunky kidnapper); tried to get laid in a brothel (considerably more difficult than it sounds, apparently); guided a vicious, foul-tempered old codger through a desert; tried to find a way back to their home reality from a multi-dimensional nightmare.

I am currently writing the sixth book in the series, Starship Damsels, which features the alternate universe sci-fi alter-egos of the usual characters (first introduced in book #5, Damsels and the Dark Arts).  I’m half way through the book, the ship has crashed on an artificial planet made of space junk, the crew are scattered and must find each other and effect repairs and … it seems like a good candidate for this title’s ‘choose your own …’ entry to me!

In the past, I have always painstakingly flowcharted the adventure before beginning, then I’ve numbered all the options, then written the numbered sections, then reallocated the numbers, then gone through and changed all the links to match the new numbers, then playtested thoroughly to make sure I haven’t missed or mistyped a link …  You get the picture.  It’s a lot of work, even for a single chapter length adventure, with less than a hundred options.

But now I’ve discovered The Gamebook Authoring Tool.  It’s a great piece of software that allows me to simply start typing.  Every time the path splits and there are multiple choices, it generates the new locations, allots them numbers, displays them on a detailed flowchart and labels them with the text of the choice that leads there (which is adjustable if desired to provide a better memory prompt).  All I need to do is write the damn story, with all of its meanderings as the whim takes me.  I can see at a glance where everything separates and comes back together, it’s obvious which threads I’ve left hanging and need to go back to.  And best of all, when I’ve finished, it will randomly reassign all the numbers (except those I assign as start and finish, and any other specifically designated as immovable by me) as many times as I want till I’m satisfied, updating all links to match automatically.  It then generates a text file in one of several formats, which I can paste into my manuscript and format to suit.  All of that fiddly nonsense gone and dealt with, all I have to do is write!

dscn0626

The Gamebook Authoring Tool

This is so amazing, so time-saving, and if your gamebook comes in at less than 100 numbered references, it’s even free!  To date, all of the Damsels  chapters have been less than 100, this one may be too (though maybe not; I notice I’m producing a lot more material since I don’t have to chart and track it all by hand!)  But I’m going to pay for the Pro version with my next pay anyway.  It’s pretty cheap, only £39, and it’s quite simply a piece of software that I’m pleased to pay for and support.

If you write this kind of thing, give it a go.  You won’t be disappointed.

Rekindling Old Fears

Every self-published author knows the importance of editing.  But when publishing ebooks, there’s an additional element to take into account.  No matter how perfect your manuscript may be grammatically, no matter how precisely each word may be spelled, no matter how immaculately each page may be formatted, you may still be thwarted.

When a file is converted to Kindle format, it undergoes all manner of changes.  If you prepare the print version of your book first, preparing a print-ready PDF file, then choose CreateSpace’s default options to create an interior file suitable for Kindle, the resulting ebook will lose much of its formatting.  The simple fact is that although their use is encouraged, the Kindle conversion process does not treat PDFs kindly (pun intended).

My early ebooks were all produced from PDFs in my naive innocence, and I wondered why the page breaks were lost, with one chapter sometimes running into the next; formatting was lost; text justification was scrambled; the fonts I had employed to display runes etc. were stripped away…  despite the painstaking work I had put into my initial document.

With time – and many more books – comes knowledge and experience.  So here are a few tips for those of you who may be preparing your first ebooks:

  1.  Always use a .doc file, not PDF.  This way you will retain the majority of your formatting.
  2. Remember to remove any blank pages at the front or rear of your document, between chapters, etc.  Blank pages on Kindle just look like errors, so tighten up the document and eliminate the blank space.  Also if you are in the habit of starting chapters half way down a printed page, bear in mind that on a Kindle display, this may push the beginning over onto the next display page, so strip away any empty lines at the beginnings of chapters.  Get rid of drop capitals too, they display very weirdly on Kindle.
  3. Remove all headers and footers and page numbers, or there’ll be tears when they pop up right in the middle of random sentences.
  4. If you use specialist fonts, Kindle won’t display them, converting them to a default font instead.  The only way to get around this is to insert any special text in runes or whatever as a graphic, or if their use is extensive, see the paragraph below.

If your book contains many illustrations or a lot of fancy fonts, or if the retention of the precise layout is particularly important, there is now an alternative.  Amazon have now made available ‘Kindle Textbook Creator’ software, which will create a Kindle book which is the exact image of the print volume.  The downside is that the cost of the resultant ebook is increased and that these ebooks will not display on the original Kindle ereader:  they will only be readable on a Kindle Fire, iPad or other tablet, or a PC or Mac.  Nevertheless, for certain titles, this is a godsend.  I could not have produced an ebook edition of my Runes of Mann without this tool.

With all that I have learned of Kindle publishing, I have started revisiting my earlier ebooks and uploading fresh files for them, which will display much cleaner formatting, making them that bit easier to read.  Aegishjalmur has already been done and today I have updated For Fear of Little Men, my collection of dark Celtic folktales.  The other titles will follow suit.

If you have already purchased these ebooks, you will be able to freely download the updated version by going to the ‘My Account’ section on Amazon, choosing to manage your digital content, then instructing to download to the appropriate device.

To celebrate the reinvigorated Kindle edition of For Fear of Little Men, here’s a video of me reading a complete spooky story from the collection:  Moddey Doo

For_Fear_of_Little_M_Cover_for_Kindle

The Hero of Our Own Story?

What do you do when you discover a great new book, or a fantastic author?  You tell your friends, right?  Or that’s what I’ve always done.  The number of times my friends and I have run between each others’ houses, frantically waving some amazing new literary world that we’ve discovered, wanting to share it with each other.  Because the more minds a story lives in, the richer it becomes, every new reader adding a little bit of themselves to their perception of it.  That’s the magic of stories; it’s real.

Increasingly, I find that the books that really fire my imagination simply aren’t found on the shelves of my local bookshop any more.  They’re small press titles, or they’re indie titles, or they’re published overseas.  I need to rummage on the internet to find the kinds of stories that thrill me.  And the internet is a big, wide ocean of stuff, where it’s difficult to find anything except by chance.  But still we find our little treasure troves of titles and recommendations on here, and we find stories and authors that enchant us anew.  And yes, we want to share them, don’t we?

So in between other blogs, I’ll occasionally highlight a book or author which has really bowled me over, shouting it out in the hope that others may shout their own discoveries back to me.  And for this first blog review, I want to shout out about Molly Tanzer and most especially her latest novel, The Pleasure Merchant, which is the best read I’ve had in years.

thepleasuremerchantfinal

This isn’t the first Molly Tanzer book I’ve read.  I’ve also enjoyed A Pretty MouthRumbullion and Vermilion.  These three titles (two collections of short stories and a novel respectively), whilst not precisely horror by any means, all fall into the category best described as ‘weird fiction’, and thus might be assumed to be more in line with my own weird tastes than The Pleasure Merchant, which is a more purely historical novel (albeit exceptionally weird in its own wonderful way).  However, much as I love the three earlier titles (and I do; I really do), Merchant is just such a special tale that I can’t relegate it to second place behind anything.  Hang on a second!  Am I in fact saying that this is the best book I’ve read?  EVER?!  You know what, for these past several months I do believe that’s precisely how I’ve been viewing it, though I haven’t said so much in words before.  But what is certain is that this is a book that needs to be read, and it needs to be read by YOU, right now!  This story needs to be felt across the whole world!

Okay, fanboyish exultations aside, what’s it all about?  Here’s the curious thing, it’s just such an oddity, breaking all the received rules about what a story should be, but doing so gloriously, hilariously, sexily and outrageously.

On the surface, the book is about an apprentice wig maker named Tom Dawne, who loses his job as collateral damage of a prank which causes a gentleman to lose face.  No wig maker’s business is going to last long if it goes around causing gentlemen to lose face, so although he is proven to be innocent of wrongdoing, Tom’s presence at the periphery of the event causes his master to fire him.

Tom’s fortunes take a turn for the better as he is immediately hired as a personal assistant and companion to another gentleman, swiftly rising within the household to be his new master’s confidant.  He gains social standing, money, fancy clothing, and all manner of saucy dalliances in the process, but he also forgets himself.  He forgets where he came from, he forgets the promises he made to others, he comes to think of himself as invincible and forgets that every good turn in his fortunes has been the result of pure luck, not his own judgement.

And here’s where it gets so very clever.  You see, although the book is all about Tom, he’s not actually the narrator, nor is he really the main character.  This focal individual is not properly revealed until half way through, and the titular Pleasure Merchant does not appear until slightly after that.

There’s a popular saying that we are all the hero of our own story, the story of our own lives that unfolds within our own consciousness.  This may be true, but it is the brilliant audacity of this book to reveal that Tom, whose tale it tells, is not actually the hero nor the main character of this story.  I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice to say that after winning so high through luck, the one time when he becomes arrogant enough to believe himself to be in control and to take the reins of his own destiny … well, he quickly discovers that he was but a passing character in a larger story after all.

It is a masterpiece of storytelling confidence to tell a tale like this from a perspective like this, subverting expectations (and subverting a lot more along the way too!)

Apart from everything else, it’s just so well told, so immersive, with enthralling characters and situations.  There are plenty of laughs, plenty of intrigues, plots and counter-plots, and a healthy dose of cheeky smut, set at just the right temperature to boggle the eyes and bring a blush to the cheeks.

So hey, pals, I’ve found a GREAT book!  Off you run and have a whale of time reading it.

Oo-er, Vicar!

I’ve decided to offer a naughty little promotion for my two sex comedy novels, Water Into Whine and Vicars and Tarts.  Today is the end of one financial year and the beginning of the next, and my finances could certainly benefit with a boost.  So I’m offering a little incentive if enough people purchase these two titles during the next month (ending 6 May).

The two books in question are a little on the smutty side, in fact they’re mind-bogglingly saucy and as explicit as it gets.  But it’s all in good fun, with loads of laughs along the way.  Ultimately, they’re feel-good stories.  In Water Into Whine, the Grace family move to a rural village, where the unorthodox ministry of the local vicar, James Redders, and his wife Miriam raises more than eyebrows as they’re plunged into a wild world of sex and debauchery, but always with the utmost gentility.

In Vicars and Tarts, the Graces visit James and Miriam at his new posting on a Scottish island.  Here they help him to win the favour of the reluctant locals, using their swinging antics to swing opinions as they tackle strict puritans, New Agers and a Satanist landowner.  The results are as hot as they are hilarious.

So … if I can sell just 50 copies of these two books (either title counts as one sale; it’s two sales if you get both), I will have a souvenir photograph of myself taken down beside the sea, masquerading as a naughty vicar, wearing only spectacles, vicar teeth (as in the image below), a clerical collar, a pair of clown shoes and a wholly inadequate posing pouch.  This photo will be posted on this blog for all to see and variously swoon over, drool over, vomit over or laugh at.  Think of the high value:  it should be good for blackmail purposes for years to come!

If I can sell 100 copies between these two titles, I will post half a dozen such photos on this blog in a whole range of most provocative poses.

If I can sell 150 copies you might be able to persuade me to keep my clothes on!

author photo

Just for the record, Kindle Unlimited borrows will count as a purchase, but in order to clock up the necessary number of pages read, the book(s) would need to be read between the qualifying dates (5 April – 6 May).

Also for the record, I don’t normally sell anywhere near 50 copies of my fiction titles in a single month, so if you want to see me all pouched up and pouting, you’ll really need to share the shit out of this post and scream and yell at all your friends to get their acts together and buy these two books so that you can get hot and bothered with my photo (or laugh till your jaw aches – your choice).  So shout it out near and far, on Facebook and elsewhere.  Twist arms and pinch fleshy appendages until your victims submit!

And here’s where you can get them:

Water Into Whine –

Amazon UK, Paperback & Kindle Editions 

Amazon USA, Paperback & Kindle Editions 

Lulu, Paperback Edition

Lulu, Hardback Edition

Vicars and Tarts –

Amazon UK, Paperback & Kindle Editions

Amazon USA, Paperback & Kindle Editions

Lulu, Paperback Edition

Lulu, Hardback Edition

So don’t delay, and in the meantime I’ll go and choose my posing pouch!

So You’ve Just Self-Published Your First Book and it isn’t Selling?

Indie writers, eh?  We’ve all been there, we’ve put the finishing touches to our first novel, our veritable masterpiece, we’ve uploaded the files and ticked the boxes to complete the self-publishing process, we’ve converted the files for Kindle and now … now we sit back, checking our Amazon reports every 5 minutes, rubbing our hands together as we wait for the sales to start flooding in.  Which they don’t.

Don’t be disheartened.  This is how we all begin.  We’re one among millions and nobody knows who we are or why they should risk their hard-earned cash and time on us.  We have to learn how to make our book noticed, how to make people willing to take a chance on reading our work.  It takes time and effort.

I’m not pretending to have all the answers, because I simply don’t.  Seven years on from the publishing of Rampant Damsels, my first novel, I still wish I sold many more books than I do.  Having said that, I’ve progressed from being someone who sells 3 or 4 books per month to someone who sells about 300 books, with royalties of £600 – £700 per month.  So I guess I’m doing something right and that it may prove worthwhile for me to share a few observations from my experience here.

Forget the Mega-Bucks

Don’t be fooled by the stories of people publishing their first book on Kindle and selling hundreds of thousands of copies.  It it happens at all, it happens to one person in a million, by sheer fluke or by having huge industry connections in the first place.  Progress will be slow – very slow to start with – and as long as you realise that this is perfectly normal, you won’t become so downcast about it.  In time (and I’m talking years, not weeks) you may earn enough from your writing to cut the day job back to part time hours, as I have, with a view to becoming a full time writer just another couple of years down the line.  You’re unlikely to get wealthy, or even comfortably well off, but with persistence and determination you may eventually be able to make a modest living doing what you love:  writing.  Be realistic and you’ll keep going and be able to avoid disillusionment.

Effective Marketing

You’ll read all sorts of marketing tips and be exposed to all sorts of advice which once worked wonders.  But my experience is that most of this advice is hogwash.  It probably worked once, but has become over-saturated and doesn’t work any more.  Twitter is a case in point.  When Twitter was new and fresh, tweeting the details of your new book could bring in a flood of responses, I’ve no doubt.  These days it’s clogged solid; anyone who subscribes to one of these book-tweeting services is going to find their Twitter feed choked and – just like me – they’re going to scroll rapidly through without pausing to look at any of them.  Sad, but true.  So if you see those ads promising that for a small fee they’ll tweet your book details to a guaranteed 250,000 followers, nab a sales-related money back guarantee before you try it, because the results are likely to be zilch.

The same goes for Facebook groups which promote authors and their titles.  You’ll find that the only members of these groups are other authors, who are each only interested in plugging their own babies and won’t spare a second glance for anyone else’s.  You’ll find precious few readers there.  Maybe once, but not any more, it’s glutted, loud and ugly.  Be honest with yourself and assess how you’d use such a group and you can be sure that others will be using it exactly the same way.  You may dutifully browse a couple of other posts for the first day or two, but after that you’ll simply post your own then move on without a second glance.  You won’t have time to do anything else.

The truth is, there’s precious little that works except for paid advertising (and I’m not talking about Twitter, I mean proper ads on genre websites (not writing websites!) or in printed magazines) or the much better and more cost effective (i.e. free) method of connecting with your readers and encouraging them to stay in touch with you.  Sure, you’ll probably have an author’s page on Facebook, but encourage people to friend you on your personal page.  Let them get to know you as a person, and you can also share your writing progress and projects on your personal page.  Don’t ram it down anyone’s throats.  Don’t ceaselessly spam ads, just give updates every few days among your personal news and funnies, with maybe a direct book link when a new title is published, or promoting an old one once a week or so, sharing a particularly good review or some such.  Less can indeed be more.  Keep people engaged with you in a broad sense and they’re far more likely to pay attention when you post about your books.

Engaging with people in this way (which has formed the majority of my own marketing to date) will enormously enhance the next and crucial type of marketing:

Word of Mouth

Engaging with readers, having them like you and what you do, will result in them sharing the links that you do post, spreading the word far further than you could yourself.  They will enthusiastically talk about your writings to others.  Make sure you’re grateful and try to thank them for it when they do, because this is the type of marketing that money can’t buy.

Reviews

Book reviews are very important.  Every positive book review (4 or 5 star) on Amazon is worth its weight in gold.  Readers are far more likely to buy a book which has a few reviews under its belt instead of being an unknown quantity.  Here’s where I give a plug to the only Facebook writers’ group I bother with:  Writers Who Review.  They’re a fantastically friendly and helpful bunch and if you’re an indie writer, you should go take a look the very next time you log into Facebook and be sure to participate.  Be sure to read the group instructions first.  Take my word for it, you’ll love ’em!

Keep Writing

You’ve written a book, so you know you can do it.  Now write another!  And another!  And another!  Nothing gains momentum to your sales like an ever increasing number of titles.  Every time someone buys one of your books and likes it, they have others to try.  The more books you have out there, the better you will do, your sales increase exponentially.

Sequels are a special case.  Some of my novels are standalone, others (such as the Damsels series – currently 5 books) are linked.  With sequels, you’re playing a long game, one with short term bitter disappointment but long term rewards.  This is easily understood.  If you have only sold 50 copies so far of your first book, this effectively limits the potential market for the sequel to a mere 50 people, and only a small fraction of them will buy it (at least in the short term; some may add it to their list of ‘stuff to read’, but not get round to picking a copy up till two or three years from now).  So you spend all of that time writing a book that you know in advance that hardly anyone is going to buy (or at least not until the reader base of the original title has significantly increased).  But by the same token, if a sequel is planned or promised, you can’t hold it back for years till the first novel sells more, because those early readers will get mightily fed up and view you as ‘the person who doesn’t deliver’.  Your sequels are an investment for the future.  As word of mouth spreads and reviews come in and you start to attract more readers, if you have later volumes in the series already written and available, you’re going to make a lot of new readers very happy and very loyal, they’re likely to devour them all with relish.

It’s a simple equation and probably the biggest factor to take into account:  more books = more sales.

Try Non-Fiction

I learned very early on to intersperse my fiction titles with non-fiction.  Everybody knows a lot about something.  Write about the things you’re passionate about.  Consider a ‘How To’ manual.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be long.  I’m fascinated by runes, ogham and the occult arts and have written large series of books on these subjects alongside my fiction.

The truth is that non-fiction titles sell far, far better than fiction and at higher prices.  This is simply because the market is nowhere near so saturated.  You may, like me, adore writing your novels and wish to be best known for them, but you may nonetheless find that it’s your non-fiction that ends up financing your novel-writing, at least in the early years.  It’s something you really should bear in mind as a few good non-fiction titles can give you an enormous step-up.  I tend to alternate between fiction and non-fiction titles, the latter outselling the former by a ratio of at least 10:1.

Use the KDP Select Programme

You’re going to read differing opinions on this, but you should make the ebook editions of your titles exclusive to Amazon and enroll them in the KDP Select programme.  This means that people who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Lending Library will be able to freely borrow your books as part of their subscription and you will be paid for every page that they read.  With full length novels, the KDP Select royalties are generally higher than the value of an actual sale, given the prices most ebooks have to be sold at to be competitive (.99 to 2.99).

The arguments you’ll hear against enrolling with KDP Select revolve around “not putting all your eggs in one basket”, or not wanting to alienate those readers who don’t use Amazon.  Come off it.  Amazon rules online book sales by a huge margin.  My ebooks used to feature in other stores and less than 1% of my sales ever came from non-Amazon sources.  The royalties I get from KDP Select make a huge difference to my monthly income and you’d be crazy to miss out on this revenue stream.  It also allows you to promote your books as ‘free to read’ for folks who subscribe to the service.  If someone can legitimately read your book without paying for it – and you still get paid! – that’s a powerful incentive.  “Come on!” you can say.  “Give my novel a go.  What have you got to lose?”

Book Covers

The cover art for your book is enormously important and I’ve learned the hard way how vital it is to create a professional, eye-catching image.  I’ve tried to ‘do it myself’ in the past and have suffered with lack-lustre sales in consequence.  A lot of people tell me that my horror novel Earth Mother is one of my very best novels.  But its sales have remained dismal and the only reason this should be so is that its cover is dull and uninteresting.  I’m having it redone in a couple of weeks’ time and will share the results here then.

Good covers can cost money, and sometimes (as with the recent Damsels and the Dark Arts title) I’ll pay full price to get a really good artist to produce a work precisely to my specifications.  But if the cover image has some room to manoeuvre, there are a great many artists offering their services on Fiverr, who will produce a very decent cover at a great price.  A good cover will pay for itself, and these days you don’t need to pay through the nose for one.

dames and the dark arts cover with titles

Ultimately, there appear to be no secrets to writing success (provided you can write to begin with, of course) beyond hard work, perseverance and productivity.  There’s no pot of gold to be found here as far as I can see, but I have managed to cut my day job back to a three day week (which is a good reward in itself) and face the very real prospect of becoming a full time writer in the not too distant future.  My sales keep slowly but steadily rising and I keep producing new books.

I hope that this may have helped with some of the things to avoid, some of the things to do, and finding the best way forward.

Remembering and Remanifesting

I have just published Volume 3 of my memoirs.  Yes, I wrote volume 3 first!  There were three reasons for this.  It was the period in my life when I was a senior member of the Temple of Set, and my experiences during this time are one of the things I get asked about most.  Secondly, with the publication of other books, such as Michael Aquino’s two volume history, The Temple of Set, and Don Webb’s Mysteries of the Temple of Set, it is a good time to provide my own personal experiences.  And thirdly, it is the period which boasts the largest number of essays and articles which have not yet seen wider publication.  The book contains 200 pages of Setian articles and papers by myself in its appendices.

It must be stressed that it is a personal memoir, and is not designed or intended to give a broad history of the Temple during this period; it is very much my story.  But it is also a very warm and affectionate account of a time I look back upon with great fondness.

I wanted to share some part of the book with you here.  But which bit?  The introduction?  The account of a Conclave?  Ultimately, I have decided to cherry pick.  Below you will find one single paragraph from each of the book’s main narrative chapters (i.e. excluding the articles and essays), which will hopefully give some intriguing taste of these memories…

cover

So I have decided to ‘do a Crowley’ and write my own confessions. They will deal with all areas of my life and occultists who flick through these pages impatiently looking for the next ‘magicky’ bit had best be advised from the outset that the most important and life-changing processes never took place in rituals. A magician is not a magician by dint of doing magical rituals. A magician is a magician by dint of causing change and transformation to happen in life. We are measured by our results, not by our intentions. We are measured by what we achieve in the world, not by what we fiddle about with in secret. All facets will be incorporated in this memoir, because all are essential. I write this in the sure and certain knowledge that most occultists will disregard it. That’s not me being bitter, or disdainful, or judgemental, it’s simply the voice of experience, as you will see when you read the volumes of my confessions. But perhaps in mentioning it here, I may prompt one to look more deeply at causes and effects than they ordinarily would, thus manifesting real change. Because every one who looks into the Void is precious, provided they bring something back with them.”

I was also becoming disillusioned because despite having been quite active in penning articles and publishing a newsletter in Britain, I had never once received any kind of personal reply to any of my letters to the Central Grotto. With hindsight, it is easy to see why. I have no doubt that every time one of my missives arrived in San Francisco, LaVey (or more likely Blanche Barton) would groan and say, “Here’s another ‘Look and see how great I am’ letter from that berk in the Isle of Man.” I was trying too hard, being so very earnest and so enthusiastic that it was ridiculous. You know what it’s like when someone is trying so hard to fit in and to show they’re one of the crowd that they say the most stupid and asinine things and crack the most inappropriate jokes? Everyone feels embarrassed for them and just wishes they’d shut up, because they’re making themselves stick out like a sore thumb. That was me back then.”

Sleep that night was ‘interesting’. The previous evening, I had the living room to myself, sleeping on the couch in a sleeping bag. This evening, I retained that position (by dint of having been the first one there!), but the others also settled down in the living room for the night in their sleeping bags. One of the group – I shall not name names – snored like a beast. Fortunately in those days my own nocturnal noises were far less than they have become in more recent years. To be honest, I can sleep through anything, but it did amuse me occasionally when I stirred in my sleep and heard one of the others whimper a despairing “Oh my fucking God!” under their breath in the wake of the culprit’s latest trumpeting salute.”

Within the Order of Leviathan, James had written a document which became known as ‘the Chicago Letter’, prepared for the Conclave. In this, he set forth a new vision for the order, in which all the old props and paraphernalia of outdated magical methods would be put away and consigned to the attic. No longer should Setians in general – and Leviathanites in particular – call upon things which never were and weave rituals of fantasy to provide window dressing to their abilities. Instead, we should acknowledge the true understanding of magic that had been won, a magic worked “by force of Will alone”. This radical proposal sent shockwaves through some quarters, but it became the vision which was to increasingly guide and refine the Order of Leviathan throughout my time in the Temple.”

My first instinct was to seek out the paraphernalia of John Dee’s, such as the Sigillum Dei Æmeth and his skrying mirror, which were on display at the museum. I was fascinated by Enochian and so made a beeline for the Elizabethan displays … only to discover that Dee’s artefacts were not on public show at this time. That scuppered my plans, but there was a lesson to be learned from this which has stood me in very good stead over the years: magic does not work in the way we expect, and when we presume to know the result of a Working in advance, we very often trip over our own feet and discover that the actual result is something quite different and more wonderful than we imagined, but still appropriate to the Working. Once my preplanned ‘discovery’ was dashed, I just wandered about the museum, until I found myself drawn to a particular display. It was the spearhead of a Celtic chieftain, with fine gold designs worked into the blade, an object of incredible beauty and antiquity and power, that reached out and seized my imagination.”

It was a good time, focusing my Work in these areas, performing my Priestly duties and so forth. I really made my name known throughout the Temple during my time as a Priest. I do recall one anecdote James related to me, though, with some amusement, which emphasised that my name hadn’t percolated through to all areas yet. He told me that he had been discussing a matter that was before the Council over the phone with Lady Lilith. I have no idea what the subject was, but she wasn’t too happy about it. James started saying, “You know, this reminds me of something that Michael Kelly once told me…”, only for Lilith to interrupt him by demanding, “Michael Kelly? Who the hell is Michael Kelly?! He’s not going to cause trouble, is he?””

Don had asked me to write an invocation in Enochian for the main closing rite of the gathering. I even succeeded in memorising it. It was during this ritual that Lady Lance and I were Recognised as a Magister and Magistra Templi by Dr Aquino, in a sequence relating to Aleister Crowley’s vision of the Garden of NEMO in The Vision and the Voice, which is tended by the Masters of the Temple. It was a tremendously affecting Working. Of all the Temple of Set Conclaves and gatherings I attended, this one will always be the high point for me.”

When David first established the Order of Merlin, the intention was to use the figure of Merlin, as represented in the tales that have come down to us from such sources as The History of the Kings of Britain, the Vita Merlini, Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and The Mabinogion, as a kind of pattern and exemplar of the Initiated life. Thus the Order’s motto, Ab Uno Disce Omnes: from one example, learn about all.”

In the weeks leading up to this Conclave, James had let myself and David know that he was planning on standing down as Grand Master of the Order of Leviathan. He still planned to be active within the Order, but he had a lot of personal projects that he wanted to concentrate upon and he had now been helming the Order for very many years. He didn’t ask me directly; instead he asked my opinion of who I felt would be the best choice for the new Grand Master of the Order of Leviathan. Given my own affinity and the way my Work had been going, I suggested myself. He agreed with me, but he had wanted to hear me say it rather than put me directly on the spot. I think he would have been very disappointed if I had come out with some sort of false modesty crap.”

So Robert and I were having great fun back home on the Isle of Man and I was getting out and about more than I had for years, whilst still managing to keep up with my obligations within the Temple and its Orders and Pylons, though the strain did sometimes tell. I think some of the members of the Order of Leviathan – the ones who were never otherwise heard of – still viewed me as the ‘new boy’ and resented the fact that I had dared to take James’ position. Who was I to be calling the shots? For example, James had always had a policy that if somebody failed to contribute a single article to the Trail or at least a brief note to the Grand Master over the course of an entire year, their membership would lapse. I continued this policy, though neither he nor I ever actually acted upon it and dropped anyone from the roster (we probably should have done). Yet, when I reminded folks of this tiny requirement, this pre-existing policy, I had one guy resign in a huff over my tyrannical demands. And he was someone who had been in touch within the previous twelve months, he wasn’t even one of those being gently nudged to take a more active role!”

The turning point came towards the latter half of July, when I carried out the ‘vigil’ part of the Working, setting an evening aside to be alone and quiet, simply to focus upon its purposes. It was at this point I realised just how constricted and straitjacketed I had allowed myself to become, without even realising it. Here I was, getting up for work each morning, working through the day, getting home in the evening, then sitting in front of the computer answering mail, writing articles, preparing newsletters. And because I wrote so much, I thought I was being so productive, when in reality I was stagnating. There was no spontaneity or adventure in my life, no room for blasting out the cobwebs with a tremendous act of Xeper. This realisation stunned me, so insidious had the decay been, but it also brought a changed perspective into being, and a surge of enthusiasm and new vigour arose in me like a tidal wave as I sat there. I would sit no longer. It was no wonder things were getting me down and I seemed to be beating my head against a brick wall. On this evening, the magic came back. (I do tend to be a bit harsh on myself, and it had never really been away, just on a lunch break.)”

Magical Work begins with introspection and Self-Knowledge, whether pursued through ritual, meditational or other means. This quiet Work upon Self in the Dark places is the most essential ingredient, but in itself it is not enough. Once a Key has been discovered within, it must be applied within the world. Until it has been made manifest in the world, it remains unreal, a phantom only. Austin Spare referred to this process as the “incarnation” of an idea or obsession in his Book of Pleasure. Once an idea has been cast into the world, and has caused change there, affecting other people, it returns to its creator, who is enriched by it. The idea is no longer a static supposition, it has taken on flesh and become a living thing. It has grown and gained life through interaction with intelligences other than his own; it has inspired other ideas which will change and enrich the world still further. The returning idea triggers a Remanifestation within its originator, who thanks to his Work has become something more than he previously was. But while that idea is a mere notion within a ritual chamber, or a theoretical point to be argued among a close-knit group, it is nothing, and it does not lead to Xeper.”

“There were Workings held every night, which initially proved to be slightly problematic. We had been given a very nice function room, but it turned out that the restaurant storeroom was a little cupboard actually inside our meeting room, so we had kitchen staff wandering in and out at odd intervals, prompting an occasional outraged exclamation from ‘Evil Winkie’, the German Magister who had organised this Conclave This came to a head very early on when we had our first ritual Working. I had purposefully not brought a robe to this Conclave, I – and several others – simply dressed smartly and soberly in dark clothing. But some had brought their robes and were all robed up. We had just finished, but the lights were still low and the altar still set up, when a chef came wandering in. He was confronted by the 6’7” giant figure of Magister D.M., robed and cowled in black, towering over him, and stood quivering for a moment before running away. D,M, later found the man and took him aside, telling him that we were a Harry Houdini fan society who had been holding a séance for Harry. This explanation was deemed acceptable. D.M. was a soft-spoken giant of a man with a U.S. military background, who had enormous gravitas. He was a Councillor and had been a Setian for a long time.”

Just because we choose and shape our own purposes and destinies, that does not mean that those purposes and destinies are trivial. Quite the contrary. Rather, we should applaud the imagination and the Will that permit us to do so. Aleister Crowley wrote his celebrated text that “Every man and every woman is a star”. In this he was most correct. We chart our own course across the heavens, and our journeys and their feel and flavour are each different and unique. What strange and beautiful phenomena we are. The one tie that binds us is that of the Flame we share, that Flame which glints in the Eye of its Giver, and which allows us still to gasp in admiration at the glory of another Star which is not our own Self. All things for the viewing, all places for the going, all sensations for the feeling. There is a joy and a sorrow here to burst the heart.”

The closing Conclave Working was a profound one. As the new High Priestess of Set, Zeena stood in a central position, while every attendee took their turn to approach her and to swear a solemn Oath to assist her in her Work and to make her task easier, swearing also to accomplish one deed personally in remembrance of this Conclave. My promised deed was to publish more widely the accounts of the Secret Lover Workings and the magical technologies developed as a consequence of them, something that has only finally seen full fruition in the publication of this present book. This Oath taken and Working completed, the Helsinki Conclave came to its official end.”

The resultant ‘vision and voice’ were dramatic in their revelations and insights and were published in the second issue of the Order journal, and later in the book Apophis. In this series of Workings, the symbolic Seven Heads of the Dragon were upraised and their nature laid bare, revealing a clear curriculum of Work and a model of Initiation for the Order, which covered ground which had been previously untouched and which finally resolved in my mind the relationship between Set and Apep – between Self-Ordering and primal Chaos. This was the most exciting and important discovery in my magical career, which combined with my previous breakthroughs of the Magic of the Void and the Magic of Desire provided a coherent and workable Path to Self-Divinity. The Order journal was immediately devoted to the in-depth explanation and teaching of this curriculum, which had reached the Third Head’s instructions by the time issue 5 was published.”