Friday, 28 December 2012

I've sold my soul to the Devil

Last night, in the middle of the night, because I couldn't sleep, I abandoned Smashwords and went over to the evil empire that is Amazon Kindle.

I've been on Kindle via Amazon KDP for about a year and I started on Smashwords about a month before that, so I have sales figures for the whole of 2012 to compare the two channels.

If anybody doesn't know Smashwords is an eBook aggregator that converts your book into all the eBook formats and then funnels it out to all the online suppliers such as Apple, Sony, B&N, Kobo, Diesel, etc. Smashwords doesn't go out to Amazon because Amazon prefer to do that through their own Kindle Direct Publishing service. Therefore, to reach all the world's eBook readers you have to do the production twice.


Yesterday I was promoting The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil as a freebie to anybody who has a Kindle, iPad, Sony Reader, Nook, etc. Then I noticed that another author was doing the same on Amazon Kindle. On investigation it turned out I couldn't do a promotional giveaway on Amazon unless I signed up to Amazon's KDP Select service. To do that you have to agree to sell your book through Amazon exclusively, which sort of goes against the grain for a pinko leftie like me.

However, in the middle of the night I wondered what the real difference is between sales through Smashwords and Kindle. I know Smashwords sales had been sparse but their stats are quite hard to understand as a giveaway can be described as a sale as it goes through the sales channel with a 100% discount. I've done a few discounts through the year on Smashwords and I laid there in the dark wondering if I'd been doing myself a disservice by being so ethical and avoiding KDP Select.

So, in my dressing gown I sat at my PC at 3.45am and looked at the figures for both channels. Amazon had generated a steady stream of eBook sales through the whole year. Not many, but enough to show that they were worth the effort and each sale was paid for, no freebies as I hadn't signed up to the KDP discount deal. However, Smashwords had a stream of downloads for free but had generated just two real sales over the year. Shocking!


At that point my ethics went out the window. To sign up to KDP Select I had to remove all references to other eBook suppliers, take it out of the back of the book, take it off the blog here, etc. I uploaded it again to Kindle and by the time I got up, at the crack of lunchtime, Amazon had approved it for the KDP Select service. I've unpublished the book from Smashwords and I'm having serious doubts if I'll ever go back.

Have I sold my soul? Yes, probably, but KDP Select will set me up for short term lending so that people can download my book for free, thus increasing my readership and hopefully generating more reviews. Amazon already has the biggest collection of reviews for the book so far. All the free downloads on Smashwords generated just one review on the Smashwords site. All those free copies generated no result. Something for nothing, perhaps, has no value? How do I feel about selling my soul to the Devil? Well some people might imagine that's what I write about, writing about the occult. I don't actually write about the Devil, but now I'm in league with him.

Here's the Kindle version on

Here's the Kindle version on

Just to maintain a shred of ethics I tried to link to it as a paperback on B&N, where it clearly was before, but I can't see it now. You just can't help these people.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

The state of ceremonial magic in the twentyfirst century

A few years ago I went to a magical conference having heard about this fantastic event populated by proper magicians in a spectacular location. I say proper magicians because I'm drawing the difference between magicians and the sort of people you get at many other 'pagan' events where the goddess phenomenon seems to have taken over completely.

This is a post that I wrote for their forum after my second visit. That visit left me a bit disappointed. I've published it here because I found the notes for the post while I was cleaning out some old files from my PC. I've tried to remove any direct references to the event (no names, no pack drill) as I want this to be a more general comment on the state of ceremonial magick today but the experience leaves me with some good examples of how things might be going wrong. After I posted this on their forum some members posted some valid reasons for using that temple as a lounge and I sort of understood, but other responses were less constructive and more unwelcoming of criticism; still, each to their own. The organisers may have resolved some of these issues as I've not spoken to them since but my point is about the way magick is going generally and that point still remains.

When I first went to the conference I hoped to find serious magick practised by people with experience and a care for the outcome. For years I've attended rituals where there seems to be little thought about structure with some consideration of symbolism but not applied in a way to have any real impact. Further, since the advent of magick that is less hidebound than it was 50 or 100 years ago there seems to be lots of rituals where magick is treated so lightly that it simply isn't magick any more. Simply put, the magick seems to have been thrown out with the holy water.


So in 2009 my girlfriend and I went to this conference with high expectations. When we arrived we were not put off by the cold castle (as it was promoted) that was really a fortified house built for the shooting parties of the landed gentry converted into a school/prison camp/whatever, because it was still a really cool place even if the castle bit was slightly over sold. We were not put off by the uncomfortable beds and scruffy, draughty interiors. We were not put off by the spiders falling on the two of us while we were trying to have a shag. We were not even put off by the 600 mile round trip. We were certainly not put off by the ticket price with excellent, all inclusive food and great fellowship.

At the end of that first weekend someone asked us what was our high point. My girlfriend had to stop me half way through my response when I was about to say it was our trip to Steel Rigg on Hadrian's Wall. (Honestly, if you have never been to Steel Rigg, you have to go some time, even in the rain. In fact the wind and rain might actually make it better so long as you are dressed for it.) Her concern was that my high point was something that was nothing to do with the conference, but that was true. So I smiled nicely and gave a diplomatic response and said something polite about the venue, or the food, or the effort the organisers make to get it all together. However, I couldn't bring myself to praise the rituals so I said nothing about them.

I made the 600 mile round trip for the rituals; I went for the magick; I went for the magicians; I went for the people. However, I was disappointed, not by the people, but by the way the people treated the magick that is the very reason for my being.


In 2011 I went again, actually because of the castle/food/spiders on the ceiling/600 mile drive/great food at Tebay motorway services/getting lost in the corridors/spending time around the wonderful open fire. I went for all that. However, on that visit I didn't go for the magick. My expectations of quality magick have diminished over the years and I've become a bit cynical about it.

You see I'm a bit tired of so called rituals where we make a noise that somebody just thought up and wave vaguely in the direction of north/south/your spirit/your genitals /etc. That's not a ritual, that's something that is the same as music and movement from when I was in primary school. Why is that not a ritual? It's not a ritual because it has no gnosis.

The state of mind that the term gnosis describes, as I understand it as someone who hasn't read Liber YXZ, is an altered state that breaks (or thins) the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious mind. It may break other barriers too but if it does that much I'm happy enough.


Since the seventies there have been movements in magick to move away from the hidebound ceremonial approach. The ceremonial approach generates gnosis by its very nature with repetition and the comfort of familiarity, formality and reverence. That's why the Gnostic Mass is such a great ritual, as is a royal wedding, like it or not. It's what the big structured religions are so good at and probably why they have so many followers. Simply put, grand ceremony has impact and impact means that the event touches the observer in some way. Other traditional approaches use emotional tension, apprehension, fear, sex, etc. Modern forms of magick now embrace other forms of gnosis. Rule breaking or experimental magick has come into existence, once described as running barefoot in the head. So now we have gnosis from humour (difficult to manage but powerful so long as it's not forced), and other forms that would have been sacrilegious 100 years ago.

They tried to use humour at the conference. Now to use humour you don't have to be Stephen Fry, but it certainly helps. To make a situation funny on the spur of the moment is very difficult. To use humour with no structure and a vague hope for comedy is just not going to cut it. Using humour just by dressing up is more likely to make people cringe. They might laugh at such antics but that's more likely to be laughter in embarrassment and if that emotion is not directed it won't count for anything.

On one particular evening we sat down to dinner and another visitor asked about the pre-dinner ritual that had been listed in the schedule. When I pointed out that we had just seen the ritual her reply was, "That was a ritual?!" All I could do in response was to shrug. Later I couldn't even remember what took place before dinner in that so called ritual. Now let me point out the implications of that. The pre-dinner ritual had no impact whatsoever, in fact my memory has dumped it. Of course some might like to argue, in vain hope, that it had such impact that my conscious mind has erased it and its gone completely into my unconscious but I'd say that's hopeful bollocks?


Rituals that are silly all the time are just plain silly. They have no impact and are nothing more than street theatre. In fact street theatre has more impact because the participants are likely to be trained in drama and the audience often talks about it for ages after. A proper ritual is a special moment, not just drunkenness. A proper ritual has structure and gnosis. The structure contains the symbolism and directs the gnosis to where it will have its effect. (Please don't take me to task if my use of the word gnosis differs from your normal accepted use as I live in the magickal wilderness and don't mix much with hierarchical orders that have systems and accepted terminologies.) Gnosis is the oomph that drives the symbolism to where it is intended to work. Without the two there is no point. A ritual where we make vague air or water sounds to evoke air or water doesn't really do anything. Does making a vague gurgling sound make you feel emotional as water symbolism should? Does making a swooshing sound perk up your intellect and make you pay attention as air symbolism should? Both of these are examples from one of the rituals that weekend. Of course a given symbol operates at an unconscious level but made up sounds don't really do that.

Now of course not every symbolic act, noise or smell has an immediate effect. But if you read Crowley's diaries (or somewhere I read it) he says if you want to create Tiphareth you paint (or drape) the temple yellow, adorn it with the relevant plants, fill the air with the correct incenses, eat the food of the correct correspondences and do all those other things ingrained by centuries of repeated use. The point is, he says, that everywhere you look, every image you see, every sense of your mind/body/spirit is filled with the corresponding reference. If the symbolism for your intention is related to looning around then loon around, but if it's not then don't do it!


In the conference venue that I'm referring to they had a particular room that was used for the major rituals. The room was decked out with the trappings of a ceremonial temple, altars, steps, pillars, etc., all painted in the correct Masonic colours, black and white chequers, all the right details down to the Nth degree. (Again forgive me if my terminology is incorrect.) The effort these people put into building their temple is second to none and they are to be praised for that effort. However, the room was also used as a lounge and workshop venue and somewhere to chase through in something that I recollect as akin to hide and seek. (There's nothing wrong with hide and seek per-se, especially when everybody is a bit wasted in a venue that is a natural maze, but there are limits.)

There is a point to setting out some rules for keeping a temple as a sacred space, for having it consecrated from start to finish, for only entering past the sacred seal by those permitted in the correct manner with reverence and suitable justification to be there, for not partying in there, for not using the temple for workshops that are not sacred rituals, for creating the most high and respected position of temple warden who is the first to enter, so that person will enforce this discipline on pain of shame for those who break the rules. There is a point to all this. That point is that as soon as you cross the threshold of The Temple (not the room that is used as the alternative lounge) you will be able to taste the gnosis before you even start.

The room I am thinking of in this venue is a wonderful space. It has some history, an appearance of majesty that implies gnosis from the start. It has two magnificent entrances that could be allocated to priesthood and participants. It has everything that makes it special. To use it for other things cheapens it. To have a Temple in the way that I describe would begin to add gnosis to the whole weekend and start to do away with the music and movement aspect that the event is apparently cursed with. If you want to party in your temple then I don't want to practice magick with you and I certainly wouldn't invite you into my temple. If that is the case you need to look up the meaning of the word temple.


If the only people that return each year are the members of your order, plus a few mates, then you don't have a magickal retreat (or whatever you'd like it to be). You have a party to which you allow other people to buy tickets. People who come to magickal conferences, symposia, retreats and the like, expect some things; they expect magick and not just a load of messing about; they expect rituals that are properly thought out and not pasted together from a few vague ideas. In this case less is most definitely more. A policy of never mind the quality, feel the width doesn't work.

The long standing magical orders that have names going back generations carry the torch of those that have gone before; fucking about with the flame will only blow it out. From what I can see there is but a glimmer remaining. Establishing a proper sacred space would start the process of rekindling that flame. Or you could party in your temple; continue pissing in the holy water, and wonder why nobody turns up any more.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The scandal of The Mammoth Book of Lesbians

Today I had cause to complain to Amazon, not because of their tax avoision, though it's worth complaining about, but because of their cavalier attitude to soft porn.

Dear Amazon

A couple of weeks ago I bought a Kindle book, The Mammoth Book of Lesbian Stories, or something like that. It was an impulse purchase and I don't really remember the details much. Today I got a call from my business bank asking about suspicious transactions. It turns out the transaction for the Lesbian Book of Mammoths, or whatever it was, went through to my business account and now everybody who sees my bank statements, including my book keeper and my accountant, will know I'm interested in lesbian mammoths!

I really don't remember being given a choice of which card I bought the book on but, while I admit I could have made a mistake, I usually make a judgement of which card it goes against by the delivery address. Of course with the Kindle there is no delivery address.

After receiving the call from the fraud department I checked my Kindle and browsed to the Amazon page for the Book of Mammoth Lesbians to find out what date I bought it. A few minutes later I discovered some other book on my Kindle, about submissives or some such, that I most definitely did not order! I don't even remember seeing the page or the title of the book! (I haven't looked at this book so I have no idea if these submissives are small, huge, mammorth or gargantuan, although I'm sure they are very nice in general.)

What on earth is going on? You seem to think you can set up payment options without proper consultation and place them on whatever card you like the look of.

What do you propose to do about this book that I certainly did not choose to buy and how are you going to repair my reputation with my accountant and book keeper, both of whom are women?

And if you are wondering about me publishing this blog after being concerned about my accountant knowing about my interests in mammoths, I'll say this. For a start the Internet is a very impersonal space, whereas my accountant gets to look me in the eye and say, "pay up!" However, the significant point is that I write stories about three blokes who go away for the weekend, drink way too much strong drink, smoke pot until it comes out of their ears and perform candle lit ceremonies that some people would mistakenly describe as Satanism. How bad can my reputation get?

Friday, 2 November 2012

Please write me a bad review, then we'll know we can trust you

Okay so I have a dilemma. I've been in touch with a magazine asking if they would like a review copy of The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil. They have written back asking that in return I support their magazine by buying some advertising. (No names no pack drill but I will say that I am NOT talking about Deosil Dance.)

I've been in publishing for over twenty years having written for newspapers, magazines, companies and myself; the rule has always been that you never mix editorial with advertising. That principle ensures editorial independence and readers know they can trust reviews or coverage of anything in the magazine.


However, when you are running a publication on a shoestring things are different. I know how hard it is to run a print magazine as I started The Philosopher's Stone magazine many years ago. It folded after three issues due to me being too much of a perfectionist and the magazine too much of a commitment. I can't remember if I ever asked for an ad in return for a review but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have turned one down if offered. I know I covered things without having associated ads.

But it really galls me to buy a review and I don't want to be seen to be buying one, would you trust it if I did? Of course I wouldn't be buying a review, but would they review me if I don't buy an advert. I don't know what they would say to this but I intend to ask them. I also intend to ask them if they will write me a bad review. Does the positivity of the review depend on the amount I spend? Is there a direct relationship, is it linear, inverse, a curve of some sort? There are so many questions. You know I may just buy an advert and ask them not to review my book just for the sheer hell of it.


Heaven knows I need more reviews but I know that one review on it's own won't be enough. (See my last blog for the somewhat disjointed and illogical sheep shagging argument about reviews and their efficacy or lack of it.) Watch this space. I'll keep you informed of their response.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sheep shagging - the future of publishing?

I once had a conversation with a guy who runs a small press who told me that reviews make no difference to sales. I can't remember the exact details but his experience was that a book had received a good review in a wide circulation magazine and he'd noticed no increase in sales. Now one review does not make a summer; or something like that anyway. We might assume that a series of reviews will have greater impact but that alone won't do it.

I recently heard that I've had a new review in Deosil Dance magazine but I don't expect it to make that much difference on its own. (That's assuming that the review is positive as I haven't seen it yet.) However, when the next order of books comes through, and I start mailing out samples to pagan book shops—hopefully in time for the Xmas rush, I'll enclose the press cuttings and perhaps it will make a difference. A book in a shop is worth two in the Amazon bush; or something like that.


People are like sheep and that's not to insult people. I'm sure I've met some very nice sheep and any aspersions on my character regarding my relationship with sheep are purely scurrilous. But basically we, like sheep, are social animals so we depend on the opinions of others to help us make judgements. It's not a perfect system but it probably allowed our society to grow in primitive times by sharing the responsibility of making judgements of new situations.

So big publishers take advantage of this and have concerted campaigns by getting reviews at the same time as organising TV appearances, buying space on bus shelters, etc. Of course small publishers can't do that but to say that reviews do nothing is to give up. However, using press clippings constructively, doing parallel Facebook campaigns or Google ads, perhaps even viral marketing, all these are within our means; they just take time.


So when a new book hits the market we can't make judgements without information to go on, but with a little bit of help, perhaps a concerted effort and some planning we can make a decision whether it's worth shagging that sheep.

In the absence of the specific review here's a link to other information on said book including links to previous reviews, Facebook, Twitter and other stuff.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

This is a Wednesday thing, I've no idea why, Wednesday's don't have any intrinsic value, they just are. (If you want to get into the philosophy of Wednesdays then please do so in the comments.)

Last Wednesday the very sexy, and equally blonde, Debbie Viggiano posted a blog in The Next Big Thing series. Like viral marketing and chain letters The Next Big Thing is a clever way of bringing fertile new ideas to people like you. I don't know how fertile Debbie is but I'm not going to go there because she has an Italian husband. Nuff said?

(Interestingly I talked about chain letters as information viruses in the first edition of Satanic Viruses in 1989, before anybody had ever thought of viral marketing.)

Anyway, the idea is to answer ten questions about writing and the writing life, then pass the baton on to five more authors the next week. Now, I suppose, reading this blog you are into writers and the writing life; so here's the good stuff.

What is the working title of your book?
I'm currently working on the second novel in the Hidden Masters series, tentatively called The Hidden Masters and the Techno Knights. However, that might change as the story has shifted a bit under me as I've been writing it and it seems to have a bit more techno and a somewhat fewer knights.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The book is the second in a projected series of four about The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood. They save the universe at the weekends. In the first one they went north to Blackpool after which I hit on the idea of doing one for each of the compass points. I'd like to make the adventures relate to the correspondences for the directions as used in ceremonial magic. In the first book, in the north, they dealt with money so it was earth. I'm sure there is some system that places earth in the north. (Those who are not familiar with cabalistic correspondences may know about the Tarot or Astrology and understand that Earth is often related to money, and so on with the other elements.) In the second it's going to be Hay on Wye in Wales, so west, therefore the plan is to make it water. There will be a love interest in this book; a young girl in unsuitable shoes who starts off climbing a mountain on a dark and stormy night. So really the ideas for the books are beginning to be dictated by things like cabalistic correspondence and the like. I'm not sure who is pulling my strings here.

What genre does your book fall under?
The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is an occult adventure with trouser issues so I'm not sure there really is a genre for that; I certainly find it hard to categorise on web sites. Amazon seem to think that occult is part of horror but they clearly don't know shit! It's not horror because almost nobody dies and there is no blood. What's horrific about candle lit rituals with clouds of incense, guttural incantations and blokes in robes getting tangled up in exercise bikes? Otherwise it gets lumped in with fantasy but the books are set in Britain in the modern era and there are no non human races, perhaps apart from cats. Does that make it fantasy?

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Which book? It'll have to be a sentence about the first book, The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil, as I don't have enough idea about the second one yet.

Three apparently ordinary blokes, who are secretly master magicians, discover a plot to build casinos in Blackpool, so turning the resort into a seedy, tacky and depraved town; so they head north on Friday night to put an end to the plot, but they have to save the universe by Sunday evening as they have to be back at work on Monday morning.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
 I'm pleased to say that I'm now published by a small press based in Oxford called Twin Serpents.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first book took about three years to write and another year or so to get it ready for publication. Even then it wasn't really finished until I found a new editor a couple of years ago which led me to do a crisper, sharper new edition with a glorious monochrome cover and a whole new joke. The second in the series is slow going but I have a career writing other, more profitable but less entertaining, stuff for people that takes up most of my time and all of my energy.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Again with the genres! Okay well I'm writing comedy, or at least I hope I am. Robert Rankin writes comedy about similar subjects drawing on sources from religion, myth and the like. They describe him as 'a mix of fantasy, occult, urban legends, etc.' That sounds like me. People have made comparisons to Douglas Adams which I'm really chuffed about. There is quite a lot of drink and drugs in the first book so it's been described as 'Fear and Loathing in Blackpool meets the Illuminatus trilogy'. The word gonzo has been used. Some US reviewers have made comparisons to other Brit comedy such as Monty Python, and Red Dwarf being absurd and silly, and again I'm dead chuffed to have that said about my writing. Hold on most of those are not books. Am I allowed to say that? Sod it, I'm not changing it now.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I really haven't thought about this. I'm making a viral marketing video/graphic novel type animation (see my photos on Facebook) and I'm using images of actors to draw the faces from. I'm not sure that I'm prepared to say who I'm using as models as I don't want them asking for money but I will say that both actors have guested on Have I got News for You over the years. I won't enter into any public correspondence about who they are but privately I may be persuaded to say.

There's a review on that suggest Peter Sellers should play the part of every character in a filmed version similar to sixties British comedy films. (I'm beginning to see a theme here about how Americans view my work and I like it.) I suppose we could dig him up.

(By the way, If you read any of the reviews beware. There should be a spoiler alert against giving away some of the hidden gags.)

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I was getting drunk with these three stoner magicians one night and I decided to tell their story. Oh, did I not say, these guys really exist and they really do go to places like Blackpool and Hay on Wye for the weekends.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There's already sex and drugs and apparently satanic rituals with jokes, what more could you want? (It's not really satanic but some people might mistakenly imagine that.) Oh, hang on I know what else might interest you, Debbie Viggiano… Well no she's not in it but I could, but then again her husband would probably kill me.

Thanks to the following authors for allowing me to tag them. Do go read their blogs and their books.

Jaq D Hawkins:
Rebecca Emin:
Dave Evans:
M T McGuire:
Marilyn Chapman

You can find The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil here.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Top Secret

So I've been down in Rochester for nearly a month now, writing about things that I'd rather not write about. I'd could tell you but I'd have to kill you.

Good grief! I'd not realized what an over used phrase that is, still, I think Obama's delivery was the best.

Anyway, I'm living in Rochester during the week and getting home at weekends. It's writing, but not as we know it. However, they do give me large amounts of money, which is nice.


So the post and admin is building up at home and I nearly forgot to pay the broadband bill, which is worse than forgetting to pay for water; but there are compensations.

The Medway area is rich with history, particularly military history. I'm quite interested in this but my period is the late 14th Century, whereas Rochester has Rochester Castle which is the time of Magna Carta and King John (so a couple of hundred years earlier). However I was interested to discover that the Victorians built a ring of fortresses around the area just after the Napoleonic Wars. (By then Chatham was once of the centres of military ship building and it needed defending.) So when I heard an unexplained noise in my car I found myself visiting a motor mechanic in an old fortress.

Driving down the track I pulled up at one of those boxes where you press the button and talk to the receptionist. The car was perched on the edge of a moat at least twenty feet deep and perhaps thirty feet wide. Ahead were two massive oak doors in an archway that you could drive a lorry through. It was like a Victorian version of those giant mountain tunnel entrances like you see in the X Files or Stargate. The receptionist told me to drive across the bridge (where once there was a drawbridge) as the gates swung open driven by some hidden mechanical contraption. The bridge seemed to be made up of loose timbers of sturdy but alarmingly insecure planks of wood. The timbers clattered as I gingerly drove my two-tonne 4x4 across, half expecting to tumble into the chasm below. (Honestly, I know I'm flowering this upas I do when I write, I just can't help itbut this is exactly what it was like.)


Inside it got better. I found myself in a massive tunnel, perhaps 100 feet long, large enough for substantial vehicles to pass each other. Ahead was daylight but I didn't get to see what was at the end because the receptionist had told me to turn left at the crossroads and up one of the side tunnels. So now I'm driving around inside an underground complex that would have made Blofeld proud. Meanwhile the doors closed behind me with a red flashing light above, presumably to ensure people don’t get squashed as they open and close.

Up the side tunnel I drove, alarmingly narrow and just wide enough to allow me to drive without pulling in the wing mirrors, and out into the daylight with the sound of the my diesel making a delicious echo. Here was a series of arches that had been converted into workshops like they do with railway arches.

The rest was remarkably mundane, with people apparently unimpressed by the surroundings. Cars arrived up the tunnel and people took no notice. I had my suspension fiddled with and meanwhile I explored a bit, finding another tunnel nearby that seemed to go round a corner and into somewhere at the back where the big tunnel came out.


As I left I encountered one of those small electric trucks, headlights twinkling out of the gloom at the crossroads, that looked strangely right for the surroundings. So I made up my mind to have my car serviced there next time so I can have a proper explore. When the oil needs changing I'll let you know how I get on, meanwhile there's Rochester Castle and the old dockyards where there's a submarine that I really must look at as Clint from the Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is an ex-submariner.

Turn the sound up before following this link:

Monday, 6 August 2012

Scorpions in the Post Office

I was in the Post Office the other day and I discovered, much to my dismay, that they had rearranged the whole place and introduced a new queuing system. The idea of queuing systems, in themselves, are a bit on an anathema but to be taken by surprise by one is that much worse.

So I walked through the maze and found myself immediately at the front and stood there waiting for a vacant counter. After a few seconds the nice man behind a counter to the side waved me over from where they sell all those peripheral things that aren't stamps and parcel deliveries but the Post Office depends upon for its survival. As I approached he pointed up at the ceiling to a sign that explained that this counter could also be used to buy stamps and parcel deliveries as well as all those peripheral things, etc.


In response to the nice man gesturing at the sign that was by now directly over my head, and therefore completely out of view due to the fact that it was end-on (or rather bottom-on if you'll excuse the inference) and thus unreadable, I suggested that the sign was not really very useful to people as people don't look up. The nice man weighed my two promotional copies of The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil that I was sending out to reviewers and while he was doing so I explained that people looked at the floor because that's where all the scorpions are. I think, at this point, the nice man decided to give the whole situation up as a bad job and refused to communicate any further and just pretended that he had missed the whole of the preceding conversation. I was equally happy with this result as by now my packages had been weighed in the balance and, having been found wanting for twice two Pounds and seventy Pence I completed the transaction, made my excuses and left. However, I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to explain myself. So I'll explain it to you.

You see I heard something on BBC Radio 4 recently (where one eventually hears everything of any interest if one waits long enough) that said that the human head naturally tilts forward such that the field of view is 15 degrees below the horizontal. I think they put it down to the weight of the brain or something but I put it down to scorpions.


You see if you are walking through the African savannah in bare feet, because you don't have any shoes due to the fact that they aren't due to be invented for another two million years, you need to be looking at the ground just so that you don't tread on a scorpion. Of course you could tread on a snake or big spider or anything else and these things could also drop on you from trees so looking at the ground exclusively would be a bit of a problem (and that's not counting the sabre tooth tigers) so field of view is a bit of a compromise as things far away might also be important, such as rapidly approaching sabre tooth tigers. But the point is we have perfectly good reasons for looking at the ground and it's not just to spot dog shit, although that's a very good reason especially if you grew up in the seventies.

So when they design signs for Post Offices or supermarkets or airports, perhaps they might like to consider what life was like on the African savannah two million years ago before the advent of cobblers, which might be what you've just been reading.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Who are the Hidden Masters and where do they come from?

I had my first media interview on Tuesday evening with Bill Thompson of the to talk about the recent global release of The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil. The experience was a little nerve-wracking but not as bad as I might have imagined. (As the experience recedes I suspect I'm forgetting the worst of it.) Naturally I feel I answered some of the questions better than others but one question sticks in my mind.

The concerning question was how the main characters, the very Hidden Masters described in the title, got to be the people they were. For those of you not in the know, the heroes of our adventure are apparently perfectly ordinary individuals whom you might meet in the pub. Their only difference being that they are practiced in the arts of the occult to the point that they save the universe at weekends before going back to work on Monday mornings. They are extraordinary individuals who do not look like the people they actually are.


However, when asked how they came about I was stumped. I do have some back story for them, Clint was in the Royal Navy and now drives a road sweeper, Wayne sells beer for a living and might have cheated his school entrance exams and Nigel, well I still can't remember his back story but I'm sure I put one in. I also had ideas about where they get their extensive knowledge about everything under the sun with one constantly hanging out in museums of all kinds across the world, one having an uncanny ability to find any information on the internet no matter how obscure and the other addicted to Open University courses but he never bothers to take the exams.

But how did they get to be these guys? I simply hadn't thought about that. When asked the question I blabbered on a bit about people coming to paganism from all sorts of paths until I realised I was talking generally about paganism rather than the characters in the book. Since then, while I was painting the windowsill in the room upstairs the answer occurred to me.


Each of us has no idea about the bloke who sits across the isle from us on the train every morning. He might be a mechanic in a bus garage or an administrator in a dog food company. However, more difficult to detect is the thing he does at the weekend. How often have you discovered that the person you meet in your first day at a new job has an extraordinary skill, perhaps being a wonderful pianist or a talented salsa dancer? They don't make any money at their skill because there is no way to do so but they have done the 10,000 hours practice that are said to be required to master a skill completely.

There are extraordinary people walking amongst us every moment of the day but we never know it. They're not gods or immortals; they're just ordinary people who are quietly getting on with life. They don't brag about it, they just do it. Aleister Crowley once said that every man and every woman is a star. The Three Hidden Masters, two from Hemel Hempstead and one from Bricket Wood, are extraordinary in that very way but it didn't take some miraculous back story for them to get there because, basically, they are just like you and me.

Find out more about The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil here.

See the You Tube video here

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A banker a jouranist and a security guard walk into the Olympic village

We've all been equally horrified with the revelations of phone hacking and bankers' irresponsibility.

Hacking celebrity phones was something we didn't get too worked up about over the years, I even remember the story of the phones of the royals being hacked and nobody cared too much. Then it turned out they had hacked the victims of terrible crimes, families of murder victims and we all got up in arms. Many of us have long felt uncomfortable with the self interest of the British press. Before the hacking we've seen stories with blatant bias or bare faced prejudice, but we've had to shrug and get on with life.


Meanwhile we've all felt that the financial services industry has not been 'serving' us for decades. There has been one miss-selling scandal after another: endowment mortgages; inappropriately risky investments; payment protection insurance; hedged interest rate risks on small business loans; churning; section 32 pensions; unsalable auction-rate securities; interest rate swaps; long term care funds; free-standing additional voluntary pension contributions; state earnings related pension opt-outs; and that's to name but eleven. However, we've all known this for years. We instinctively know this when the spotty oik in the electrical superstore tries to persuade us to take out an extended guarantee on the fridge we are buying. We know that the policy is just a financial scam to increase their profits and will most likely be a total waste of money. In short we know not to trust it.

So what's the connection between the two? Why have they been able to get away with this for so long? The answer is fairly obvious, they're both influential in the corridors of power.


The media are able to hold the government to ransom, that's any government of any colour. Don't get fooled by the suggestions that the previous government didn't regulate the media so this government aren't as bad as the last lot. They are all cowed by public opinion and that public opinion is massively manipulated by the press. If the press doesn't like what the government does, any government of any colour, they manipulate the coverage, sometimes in subtle ways but often less subtle, and make life hard or impossible for the government. And so they influence government policy.

The financial sector, meanwhile, hold the purse strings of power. Granted left wing governments are more likely to get funding from unions but by no means all of it comes from them and to survive in the modern world they have to have funding from industry. Plus once they are elected the markets have much greater power as we can see every day in the levels of interest paid by government to fund the country's borrowing. That's governments of every colour.

So the problem seems to be one of democracy. The people we vote into power don't really have any control over what happens. Governments can fiddle around the edges with tax and spending but they are ultimately operating at the discretion of the major corporations be they banks or the media.


As alarming as that may seem there are plenty of other examples. The Olympics (perhaps I shouldn't use the word lest I get my collar felt for naming the official brand?) is now on us and the event is sponsored by food manufacturers that peddle the sort of food that the athletes just wouldn't touch; McDonalds, Cadburys and Coca-Cola, laced with sugars that make us fat no matter how much exercise we do; Dow Chemical infamous for the Union Carbide disaster in India; throw in a couple of financial institutions, an oil company a credit card company and you get the picture. Then we hear that deals have been struck where the sponsors get exclusive use of the word Olympiks (while the café round the corner has to paint out the O and become the 'lympic café') and they get away without paying tax.

To state the obvious the thread through this whole series of issues is that the companies are too powerful and hold us and our elected representatives to ransom. However, there is a fight back and it's the Olypmics that might be showing us the way.


For the last week we've been hearing about the massive cock-ups at G4S the company tasked with supplying security staff. Consider that this is a mission critical responsibility. We’ve heard all sorts of stories about them not being able to recruit enough people. Today on the BBC Radio 4 World at One a reporter said, "Staff are paid only after they do the training and when they do the job." Then on the day significant numbers don't turn up for work. What could be the possible reason for this?

"Now Mr Smith, you've been on benefits for six months now so you have to take a job if it's offered." Mr Smith nodded cooperatively at the young woman opposite and kept a poker face while he waited to find out what the deal was. "There is a guarantee of work for you working for the security company at the Olympics. I think they are called S4C." Mr Smith looked a bit surprised having been to Prestatyn on holiday the previous year but didn't say anything to the clerk. "You'll get free training (but won't get paid for your time) and a nice uniform with a badge. Of course if you refuse to do it you might lose your benefit because it is guaranteed work. I'm afraid it's quite low wages but what else are you going to do? And I promise they won't take you to London and drop you under a bridge in the middle of the night and tell you to sleep on the pavement." Mr Smith looked unsure. "I promise Mr Smith, that won't happen again. Of course you have to be available for work and when it's all over you can go back on the shelf," Mr Smith looked taken aback by the sudden attack of honesty, "…err back on benefits." she added hastily. "And we expect you to be grateful, reliable and loyal to your new employers for the trouble they are going to on your behalf."

Anyway, I don't suppose it was like this at all, well not much anyway.


We are told that market forces are the way to run the economy. Laissez-faire policies came in with the deregulation of the financial markets in the eighties and that conventional wisdom has tied the hands of any politician who might have recognised we were in a bubble before the 2008 collapse. It didn't take divination skills to see that it was coming, the only doubt was when. At the same time we've had hands off regulation of the media, particularly with the Murdoch empire but others too and if any government tried to reign in the media they were crucified for their efforts. (The most memorable criticism I can remember of Neil Kinnock was that he had red hair! I mean what the fuck?) In the mean time corporations refuse to pay their tax or use their muscle to push governments into doing as they say.

The problem isn't so much the colour of our government (although politicians that have connections with these corporations will be less likely to reign them in). Laissez-faire means letting the corporations have their way. If we want things to change we have to stand up to these people.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil in paperback

I'm pleased to announce that the new paperback (third) edition of the Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is now available.

This is the book that many of you will have read in the first edition with the green cover or the eBook edition with the black cover. This edition has been published by Twin Serpents of Oxford and is based on the tighter editing that was produced for the eBook which included the new dialog passage in the first chapter. The new paperback edition also includes one extra joke which isn't in any of the earlier editions.

The link here is to the Amazon UK page. It's also on, Barnes & Noble and other main retail sites. If anybody has any trouble finding it let me know I'll see what I can do to track it down in your area. (ISBN 978-1905524334).

Here's the promotional video on You Tube

Friday, 29 June 2012

Would the Daily Mail care how dead people write?

It's difficult for dead people to write in the first person. That's what I realised when I wondered about the writing style for my main web site. I checked some of my favourites but it was the fact that Douglas Adams can't write in an engaging voice that helped me decide. I don't write about comic science fiction but I hope to do for the irrationalities of paganism what Douglas Adams did for science fiction.

Daily Mail

Paganism is said to be the seventh largest faith group in the UK but we're still waiting the results of the census on that one. You'd think they'd tell you when the results are due but perhaps they're as afraid of the Daily Mail taking them to task as the rest of the world seems to be. Well I'll tell you this about me, I don't give a flying fridge magnet about the Daily Mail.


I write about the modern pagan movement that we used to call occultism. It's a very philosophical world and doesn't involve cutting the heads off of chickens, if you think it does you're confusing it with farming. Recently I've been concentrating on comedy stories about three blokes who go away for the weekend, drink way too much strong drink, smoke pot until it comes out of their ears and perform candle lit ceremonies that some people would mistakenly describe as Satanism. What can the Daily Mail do to me that I haven't already done to myself?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Satanic Viruses heads for fourth edition

Further news is that I've been working on an update of my first book Satanic Viruses: the fall of the Roman Empire and how to bring it about. This was published in 1989 and has been released in various formats since. It's an examination of the way the world is changing and has been said to predict the structural changes in society we are witnessing now. The final part of the book which sought to suggest a way for people to circulate their ideas through information viruses has now been rupersceded by viral communication on the Internet. It's this part that I'm currently working on. I have also found that there are other recent commentators, such as Alain de Botton, who have been expressing similar ideas to mine about the whole left in society by people's move away from religious perspectives. All this and more is to be found in the future release of the book.

One important change will be that I'm retitling the book. It's been suggested that the term Satanic Viruses suppresses sales in the US. This may be the case. The title was originally a play on the title of Salman Rushdie's infamous Satanic Verses although the two books have nothing to do with each other. The reference to Satanic is related to the book's reference to occultism which some people might mistakenly see as Satanism, though Satanism is a spinoff from Christianity so it's not really about that. The viruses references is about the information viruses to which I've referred earlier. Anyway, the plan now, is to title the book Age of Aquarius and use the old title in full as the subtitle. The book does make reference to the idea of the Age of Aquarius and, really, that's what it's all about so that's going to be the new title.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Ennui and the art of motorcycle maintenance

This appeared on Facebook a little while ago.

Interestingly BBC Radio 4 just broadcast a dramatisation of Zen the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (one of my favourite books) and it seems strangely apposite. I've read the book a couple of times but not for many years now and I'd forgotten a great deal of it.

I've always understood the dichotomy between reason and romanticism (as he describes it) but I'd forgotten that he uses the idea of quality as a resolution between the two. I know that some people have suggested that his ideas are flawed but I'm not a high level philosopher so the idea of quality has always appealed to me and in such cases I choose not to look too closely (to not apply too much logic) for fear of destroying the thing that appeals.

Only when hearing this dramatisation does it strike me that I've lived my life with the idea of quality as a guiding ideal. Being influenced by antiques dealers and collectors at an early age, getting drunk in philosophical conversations, being introduced to proper musicians despite my inability to play any serious instrument; all these things bear the same theme, quality.

Of course the ironic observation seems to be that he, Pirsig, was reacting to what he perceived to be a lack of quality in the modern world (he rails against what had gone wrong with the 20th century) yet I find myself feeling the same about the world of the 21st century. We live in a world of cheap fizzy beer, X Factor pop music, conglomerate industries feeding the public low quality high profit products; but he was experiencing the same in a time that we, today, might well look back on as having higher values and greater quality.

Or perhaps he was wrong and this is just an experience of getting older.

Here's the link for the broadcast. It'll probably be available for the next week or so. Not sure about non UK computers.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Hidden Masters on the move again

After a move away from self publishing early last year my books haven't been available in print for nearly a year and a half. The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil came out in eBook form at the end of 2011 but I've realised since that readers really do still prefer paper books.

So I'm now happy to say that my first novel The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil has just gone to the publisher this week. It bounced back once for some changes but hopefully that should be it for any more changes. For those of you who have read the first edition the new paperback edition is taken from the eBook that had tighter editing but this new version includes an extra joke. That's a brand new joke that wasn't in the first or second editions. Let me know if you can spot it but don't get too excited now.

In the mean time I've done some work on the second Hidden Masters novel (tentatively titled The Hidden Masters and the Techno Knights, set on the south Wales borders) and I'm really keen to get back to it. It's currently on chapter four or six depending on how I chop it up. It features a mad religious cult, a geek with a grudge and bad hair and hopefully some Morris Men with violent tendencies. As soon as I clear the other projects it's full steam ahead.

In the mean time here's the link to the eBook:

Here's the You Tube promo video

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

No Names No Pack Drill - Splendid Isolation

I'm in the process of hiring in a service from an external supplier. I'll not say what the supplier is for reasons that will be apparent but it's caused me to make an observation. I may be wrong in my observation but I'll let you decide.

On phoning the reception I was told that I'd be put through to the woman's voicemail as she was not immediately available. I asked for her name before I was put through as I often forget to ask for a name in an introductory conversation and end up putting the phone down without any record of who I've spoken to. Now bear in mind that this is a service where I'm likely to be paying a four figure fee so I expect to do business on some sort of professional basis. However I was told that the company have a "no names policy on reception." Reluctantly I left a message and made my note of the company name with no idea of who I needed to chase if I have to call back. That, in itself, may be a factor in my decision of which supplier I choose to do business with.


Of course I understand why they have this policy. I'm guessing that they are concerned about weirdoes, stalkers, hawkers, all sorts of undesirables and general ne'er-do-wells. I understand that there are risks in the modern world but I wonder if there is a parallel here. The common comparison when we talk about risk management is often that of crossing the road. "Of course we take a risk every time we cross the road but we don't stop crossing the road do we." Well actually we did experiment with not crossing the road and since then we've seen the consequences of that experiment.

In the nineteen sixties, as traffic and pollution began to increase, we started to experiment with urban planning schemes. We saw pedestrian precincts, elevated walkways to remove people from traffic, and all sorts of great ideas to mitigate the risk of people and traffic being in the same environment. But what has been the result of those mitigations thirty years later? Housing estates with pedestrianized centres have become empty soulless places that people scurry through as quickly as possible, raised walkways have become muggers' paradises and pedestrian shopping precincts have become dangerous places to walk once all the shops have closed. In many situations it's even lead to the total separation of cars from people that has spiralled into the horrors of urban motorways running right past peoples' homes while pedestrians are reduced to subterranean dwellers in tunnel complexes beneath while the pollution it was supposed to resolve has increased consequentially


Of course protecting ourselves from stalkers and ne'er-do-wells is important. I've personally been the target of someone using the anonymity of the Internet to get information out of me and it was a horrible experience. But we have to ask, as we build further walls around ourselves, what will be the consequence of this increased security? If we want to cross the road safely perhaps we should remember to look both ways, judge the danger and speed of the traffic, in short train ourselves to deal with the new dangers. Where those dangers can't be mitigated install crossing points. In the same way, if we are concerned that we don't trust every individual who phones reception perhaps there are ways we can manage those new relationships rather than moving towards a situation where we are more cut off from each other than ever before.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Traffic crossing madness

For many years I've wondered why pedestrian crossings have a delay when you press the button?

Today I walked up to Screwfix to buy some screws, believe it of not, and had to cross the road on the industrial estate in the process. Pressing the button causes you to wait what seems like fifteen seconds, just long enough for you to get across the road if there is a break in the traffic before the lights change.

So pressing the button I duly waited the fifteen or so seconds, during which there were no cars coming and I felt like a lemon standing there and could easily have crossed the road twice over. After the delay the lights changed to red just in time for a few cars to come along and have to stop. How many times have any of us pressed the button only for there to be an immediate gap in the traffic so we cross the road and then the lights go red and there is nobody there to cross?

So why do crossings have this strange delay? I think about these sort of things because I'm a bit odd like that. Is it because the designers thought that the cars might be stopped twice in a row if there are more people wanting to cross and the lights would always be red? In which case just put a timer on the circuit so that it can't go red twice in a set period. Then you'd only have to wait if there were lots of people crossing. Drivers would never have to watch someone cross as they approach only for the lights to go red when they've finished.

It's just a thought, but a thought that's been driving me mad for years.

Monday, 2 January 2012

A personal appeal from Jack Barrow

Okay so New Year, new marketing push.

It's always been my plan to spread the word about the Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil via the pagan network. This is my core readership but the book is clearly attractive to non pagan readers as they see it as contemporary fantasy, it is pretty fantastical in places after all.

So I'd really like you guys to help me out. If you are a pagan who has read and enjoyed The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil I'd like to invite you to spread the word amongst your pagan friends. There are a number of ways you can do that. You can simply tell people about the book, and I know that has been going on, but there are now numerous pages where people can subscribe or click to indicate their support.

And of course you can click subscribe on the link further down this blog.

However, what would be really, really great would be for you all to start writing reviews on the pages where the book is for sale. Most of the significant links to the sales outlets are shown on the sidebar at the top of this blog. If you bought the book (no matter how long ago) it would be great for you to go to the web page where you bought it and write an honest review of the book. If you bought it from a shop of from a web site that doesn't sell it any more because they don't do eBooks then find somewhere else to write a review. If it's already been reviewed then add your opinion to those of other readers. (Please only give it five stars if you feel it deserves five stars. Pure five star reviews can look a bit unbelievable so just be honest.)

Finally, and this is probably where you will have the greatest impact, if you know of pagan web sites that do reviews of pagan books then try to get them to publish a review. If you've never written a review for a web site why not try it yourself and get your own name in print (well electrons at least). If you come across a pagan web site that hasn't covered The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil, then ask them why they haven't covered it. It'll probably be because they haven't heard of it. If they say they don't do eBooks tell them that it should be back in paperback soon as I'm working on that too (as well as working on the animation promo and all that jazz).

Please also try to ask your friends whom you know have read the book to do the same as many people won't see this blog. Please don't leave it to chance and please don't leave all the success to Dan Brown as you know I can write a better pagan story then he can. I know I have lots of fans out there. (I hate that word but it's the way this works). If you want to see the next book in the series (there's four books planned, one for each element and the next one is water) then I need you to get the ball rolling. Reading the book is one thing, saying that you've read it is the next, getting other people to read it and say that they've read it is what will ensure that I can keep this going, and keep you guys laughing out loud at the bus stop or in the office or any of the other places I've heard you tell me about.