Once upon a time I spent two years in Cape Town. Just a nineteen year old know nothing boy, off to the other side of the world, to pastures new and all that. I can’t deny I didn’t have a blast, because I did. The experience changed me, opened my mind up to the bigger world, and when I came home back to the UK I like to think I was a better person for the experience.
A few years later I decided to write about my time over there but I was unsure how I should start the book. There needed to be conflict from the off, conflict for the protagonist to overcome, and that came in shape of a relationship which had run it’s course. Now I remember really enjoying writing those first few chapters because they were fiction, made up, fun to write and set the scene perfectly (guy not enjoying his life, wants to leave it all behind and if offered the chance to do so).
Well aware I was basing this story upon my own life, there was of course the other side to that coin in the disgruntled girlfriend I was leaving. Now in real life things didn’t go down quite like I depicted in Checking Out, but why would they? I am a fiction writer, making shit up is what I love to do. The main character Rob, yes shares my name but he too is a character. I never kept a detailed diary of the two years I spent in Cape Town, innermost thoughts, worries, dialogue and all, so I had to make it all up. I know right, shock, horror, the cheek of it, making stuff up in a fictionalized account of a point in my life, how ever am I going to look myself in the mirror?
So the story goes, Rob hates his job, hates where he lives, hates his girlfriend, and wants to leave. In real life I didn’t hate my job at the time, it was the first time I had lived away from my parents so even though it was a shit stained flat on a shit stained council estate, I didn’t care because I was nineteen and I wasn’t living at home. The girlfriend thing was very off and on from what I recall, but then again it may not have been that bad really, it was a long time ago and it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the STORY, and character Rob having this conflict in his life certainly makes for better reading than loving his life and then on a whim leaving the life that he loves to fuck often thousand miles away. It would make no sense and there wouldn’t be a story.
When written, the book came in at 178,000 words. A ridiculously large amount of waffle even for me, and I did what I would always do back then when finishing a book, I’d say ‘well done Rob,’ (that’s me, the real Rob, not the fictionalized character in this book) and I would start writing the next one.
Checking out remained hidden away on my computer for ten years. Then one day I e-dusted it down (with my e-feather duster) and published it on Amazon. I’d like to say it set the world on fire but more people bought e-tumbleweeds than this e-book, and that’s ok, I had no clue what I was doing, I didn’t know about author platforms, marketing, being able to speak to you, my reader like this, social media, yada, yada yada. I put the book to the back of my mind and didn’t think about it for a number of years until I had published three other novels, had built my own website, was generating a small following, and was half way through writing my fourth novel.
One day, on a whim, I made a list of all my half finished and once published but hadn’t done anything with them for ages manuscripts, and Checking Out waved hello at me. By now I had a few people enjoying my scribbles and wasn’t sure whether they would enjoy this semi-auto biographical yarn and so I emailed my peeps and asked them.
This was just off the back of the successful launch of my novel Barman, and so there was much love in the air towards me from my readers, and I gotta say, my apprehensions about republishing Checking Out were trodden into the ground. I decided this time around to cut the huge manuscript into four novellas, giving part 1 away for free so my readers could decide if they liked the story before committing. I then went back to writing Escorting Eric and released each novella month after month, not really thinking about it too much.
A few weeks after the release of part 1 I received an email from a reader saying how much they enjoyed Checking Out part 1 and had signed up to receive part 2 for free as part of an incentive I had been running. Similar emails found their way to my inbox and when Checking Out part 1 reached number 1 in Amazon’s humour charts I thought yeah, ok, I made the right decision to re-release this book.
Reviews for the most part were positive, people appeared to be enjoying this little tale based upon a time in my life which I will always hold dear, and all was good in the world, I continued to make shit up and write it down, peace, harmony…and then this morning happened.
Now, I wasn’t going to write this blog post (I am the most reluctant of bloggists anyway) but it pissed me off a little and so here we are, and this is what pissed me off:
ByWas once a friendon 10 January 2017
If I could have given It a zero I would have. Childlike writing style, pathetic attempt to gain the readers compassion. Not to mention it isnt actually based on factual accounts. I was there as we’re many others that are mentioned in this pathetic manuscript. I suggest you start apologising to people you slated. They definitely deserve it.
As for Ruth. She wasn’t and isn’t who is depicted in this “book”. A silly boys fantasy of how things apparently happened. I should know, I knew her then and I know her now.
Yes, yes I know, ‘grow up Rob, it’s a bad review, get over it,’ and you’re right, only I never did grow up. Read the title by ‘Was once a friend’, they’ll tell you. This perpetual Peter Pan is getting shit for a fictionalized account of his life he wrote about over a decade ago and the problem is this person does not understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Like I said earlier, when I wrote this book I was writing a story. True there are certain accounts within the pages which are close to what happened, but even those are skewed by pace, characterization, and wanting to tell a more fun story than what actually went down. I’m a story teller. I make shit up and keep my fingers crossed that you like the shit I make.
This former friend who was and still is a friend of a girl who does not star in this novel, needn’t explain that this novel isn’t actually based on factual accounts because, well, there is literally nowhere in any of the four part novella series that states it is.
Was once a friend was there when my character Rob had a blazing row with his girlfriend Ruth, was there when Rob left for Cape Town, was there when he started colle…hang on a minute. Was once a friend shouldn’t have been stalking a fictional character, I’m sure there are laws.
I guess I should apologise to all of the characters portrayed in my novel, to all of you, and not just those in Checking Out, to all the characters I’ve made up over the years, I’m sorry. Every single one of you was in some way based upon someone I have known and I do apologise for having to use real people as a template for your incarnation. Your soul is not your own.
The last bit of this bad review (I don’t think Was once a friend has even read the whole novella series) actually agrees with everything I had just said.
As for Ruth. She wasn’t and isn’t who is depicted in this “book”. A silly boys fantasy of how things apparently happened.
Yes, yes it is true, it’s all true god damn it! Ruth wasn’t and isn’t who is depicted in this “book” (quotation marks, hurtful) because Ruth isn’t real. I promise, she is, as are all of my fictional characters, a figment of my imagination. I may put characters in similar situations to ones I have been through but that does not make the character real, it makes the situation similar.
And finally Was once a friend has only gone and hit the nail right on the head.
Yes this is a silly boy’s fantasy of how things apparently happened. That kind of sums up mine and every other fiction writer’s outlook on everything we write.
So, and I really do mean this…why did I only get one star?
Some people hey? You try your hardest to make stuff up for other people’s enjoyment, and you get these one starers spoiling it for us all.
It could be worse I suppose. In the six months or so Checking Out part 1 has been released over 8000 fantastic readers have downloaded it and many have gone on to read the whole series. I guess the moral of the story here is you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and especially not apparent former friends who believe characters you make up in a story for the purpose of driving said story forward, are real life people. Former friends who care so much about it that they leave shitty reviews on your book page sixteen years after you claim what didn’t happen, didn’t happen.
If you have already given it a go then this maker upererer will you show you undying love if you consider leaving your own review on amazon, itunes, hell scratch it into the park bench if you like, it’s all good. I have only one stipulation though, it must be an honest review, I’ve had my quota of disgruntled bias reviews for the day I’m afraid.