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Greenbelt and me and that book of mine

Today is the official start of a festival known very much to a those of a certain Christian ilk. It’s been running over 40 years around various parts of England, sometimes in the grounds of stately homes, sometimes on a racecourse.

In the words of something very close to me

“Greenbelt was devoid of the very things that put me off all other forms of Christian holiday. It had a firm focus on music and the experimental, was theologically liberal to the point of sometimes being shocking, and therefore attracted interesting people.”

Born at a similar time to the festival – which also began in the same county – I went to my first Greenbelt in 1990, in Northants, just as I was becoming old enough to be autonomous. It was a rebellious thing to do for someone of my background. My Dad’s response to my wish to go was “pass the vinegar”!

I came back shocked and recall writing to the festival’s chair and receiving a generic reply, including things that I hadn’t. Clearly many others had been unhappy too.

I can’t remember much about why – just that Greenbelt didn’t match my idea of Christianity. One reason that was its focus on social justice, not gospel spreading, and its toleration of issues like homosexuality. Ironies coming up.

Curiously one thing I do recall complaining about (for his a book called “Cleaning the Bog and other spiritual gifts”) was a writer I embraced later on. I was reading the late Mike Yaconelli’s book “Dangerous Wonder” just last night. His talks involved the biggest queues of the festival, yet he was moved every year, and surprised, fearing that next year, they wouldn’t come. Perhaps I find his book a little juvenile now, with its stories of waterbombing and other pranks, but I love his spirit – real, passionate living, and a God who is much more into loving us than berating us and getting it right.

It took me 6 years to try Greenbelt again – now a postgraduate, a little broader of mind and less easily shocked. This time I had a little epiphany – one I couldn’t share with my housemate and I felt that her and her church – who’d tutted at me for going to GB – weren’t right, and I made some large and sudden lifestyle decisions because of that.

As a composing musician, the music at Greenbelt was important; a highlight was seeing Iona at the only full band gig of theirs I ever attended. But the book tent, people, the ideas and new ways to worship were also of interest.

I went back the next year, but felt that the mud and the lank hair and skank feeling of no proper washing outdid the things I enjoyed. I vowed I would not camp again.

Then Greenbelt moved – further from me, but into new student halls of residences for the over 25s – happily an age I’d recently passed – and onto the tarmac of Cheltenham racecourse. I enjoyed discovering Cheltenham – my first spa town – and having a town close enough to take a break from the long weekend of festivalling, which can get quite intense and insular. Spiritually, it still felt appealed.  At last, Greenbelt and I were a best fit, although it was smaller and less atmospheric than its Northants days.

Now that Safe Space for LGB Christians felt different.

I’m not really sure why I didn’t return for a while, but in 2007, I was living close enough to attend Greenbelt for a day. I started calling my spirituality Glastonbury rather than Canterbury. I was going to an offshoot of the latter communion who didn’t approve of the former. I was no longer in the Christian music loop – and by that I mean, contemporary bands – and found most solace in a tent of contemplation, and a spiritual advisor. I listened to Yaconelli’s son and felt that whilst the voice was recognisable, finding the ghost of the father through him wasn’t going to happen. Nor did Mike’s own books work so well for me now.

I now cared very about social justice and I embraced the inclusion that Greenbelt showed, but it strangely felt that it, not I, was more conservative. It had taken steps back to towards it more evangelical roots while I’d pole vaulted from mine. We had passed each other like comets, riding together for a time, and veering into disparate directions.

I wasn’t sorry to leave and to explore Cheltenham. I felt that I’d be unlikely to go gain – especially as Greenbelt left that site and reverted to camping.

So why is Greenbelt something I’m writing about now, except that it’s now happening?

Because those Cheltenham visits inspired scenes in my new novel, all about that Safe Space, those seminars where evangelical and liberal meet, where social justice and faith come together. It’s the final chapter.

I think it may be for me and Greenbelt. I approached them to share the novel – naturally – as I’d not only given them a few thousand words of space in it at the most crucial point, but its being all about the kind of things its attendees care about, such as modern church life and those that are a bit different.

But I found that the social justice they preach wasn’t being practised. The book tent has a contract to exclusively sell books on the site and it wants 50% of the cover price to sell yours – though it excludes self published ones when they’ve little space. I pointed out that most books don’t have that cut to spare and causes the author and publisher – which are both me – who has spend perhaps years at their own expense, to make a loss. I was asked to send, at my expense, a free copy to the team for a possible social media mention. A 40 year old festival commanding £150 a ticket for tens of thousands, asking a new self published author who’s been in financial struggle to send a book for them to consider a tweet? And that they were too busy to talk more.

Hence I’m not at Boughton House near Kettering this weekend and may not be again.

But I do hope some festivallers – past and present – might enjoy relieving those Cheltenham years and joining in my fictional weekend at the pivotal point of other Elspeth’s journey.

You don’t know what I mean, and you’d like to?

Then go to http://www.parallel-spirals.webs.com.

More about the fairness of publishing will be appearing on this site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why I’m disillusioned with the publishing world

Although many publishers and agents claim to want to champion the work of writers (I am sure genuinely)…

We are told that 98% of agents reject submissions, and without one most big publishers will not look at your work.

Yet the publishser takes a bigger cut than the author, who gets only 8-10% of book sales, meaning that for 100,000 copies, (and all those years of soul inspired work), you’ll get minimum wage. (Agents take their commission out of the author’s royalties).

This is making me ask: why go that route?

I was against e-publishing and pro bookshops, but it occurs to me that it’s book chains who are damaging the book trade. They can discount too far and they stock only what they consider will sell. I know from being a former bookseller that where once the shop staff had the power to order their own stock, this is moving more to head office level. Range is sacrificed to large numbers of sure sellers.

This does not help the independent bookshops who cannot command the same discounts. It also affects small publishers.

And this affects what is written, or allowed to be publicly expressed.

Agents and publishers tell you you need an agent because it gives the agents work and saves the publisher doing it. They tell you there’s no kudos in self publishing, calling it “vanity” to degrade it. Self publishing and e-publishing tell you you don’t need agents; they will remind you of the tiny cut you get, the rights and control you may lose, and how hard it is to be published.

But if 80-90% of submissions are on the slush pile of what agents consider no good, what do those writers do with our talent and hard work?

I think some writers feel that agents are intimidating: there’s a huge disparity of perceived power. You the writer must do exactly as they say and if they deign to chose you, you must remember what gold dust of a chance you’ve been given and be submissive. There’s the feeling that agents are handlers, in every sense of the word.

Some agents want to know if you submit elsewhere. Considering the odds against being chosen and that agents take months to reply – “of course” is the answer! Would I be expected to say if I had applied to other jobs? If I need a job then I will diligently apply for them until I am offered what I want. If I wish to date, I will put a profile on as many sites as a I wish and chat with as many individuals as I wish. It’s only when things became serious (ie an offer is made) that exclusivity and openness cuts in.

Yes, we can only have one agent (though many people have several hats and lots of agents can’t represent acting, scriptwriting, and literature). And we need to get it right. This is a mini marriage, the person that looks after our babies. Which parent would allow a nanny more power and say over their child than themselves? Would they not feel the right to ask questions and withdraw an application if they felt unhappy?

We should never be in any unequal relationship, feeling we are so lucky to have a chance that we have no rights and say.

Agents and publishers need authors to exist. But we can write without them. Just as employers need to market themselves to new employees, so agents need to let writers know why they should submit to them. Yes we as writers need to know what an agent seeks and we need to do our own wooing. But who dates, feeling it’s all about their profile and they should have no choosing power of their own? It’s equally about being sold to, not just selling yourself – and remember the phrase – the highest bidder? That is not just in monetary terms, but care and empathy.

The culture of the agent (publisher/director/producer etc) having all the cards needs to change. With the internet, self publishing of all kinds (including music and video) is very easy and prominent, and understandably so.

It needs to be mutual from the start. And those who do not get chosen, rather than feeling crushed, should find other outlets. No one should be even thinking they have the right to destroy the career and confidence of another. Of course “you are no good” means “I think you are no good”. It is always a subjective statement, but hearing it once or twice can be enough to cause even suicidal feelings.

How many of us struggle to see the worth in a much lauded established piece of work? How many of us, as editors or producers,  would’ve passed over something that’s famous?

And how many famous people were constantly passed over?

The crushers need to be more aware and take responsibility for that. Of course, some who hear harsh words end up doing well and then publicly repeat these statements of woe, to the discomfort of those who said them.

(And in case you’re wondering, no-one’s said that to me, not that I would believe them anyway).

Here’s a review of a book that literary agents say they admire. You’ll see I don’t agree

http://www.bookstove.com/Drama/Enduring-Love-A-Review.273477

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