Tag Archives: Paul Hawkins

Diary of a First time Author #11 – On Crushing Rejection…

Periodically an article does the rounds on my Facebook news feed.  It’s actually a number of different articles from a number of different websites but the subject matter and examples used are inevitably the same.  It’s an article on famous rejections of people who would later become famous and here is an example of it.

 

Now, when you see an article like this, I think there’s two common ways to react to it.  One is to see it as reassurance that everyone starts bad and improves over time and the second is to see it as reinforcement of the idea that publishers don’t recognise talent and perhaps the problem isn’t that your work isn’t good enough, but that nobody can see just how brilliant it is.  The second view is, of course, reinforced by the numerous stories that circulate that, for example, J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books were rejected several times before a small publishing house took a chance on them.

 

I think the second view is a dangerous one to take.  Yes, there will always be Potter-esque exceptions – and I actually don’t know whether  or not J K Rowling made changes in between the rejections – but generally speaking, if you are being rejected time and time again, Occam’s Razor would dictate that probably there are improvements you could make to your work.

 

This doesn’t have to be cause for despair, however.  I’ve been rejected on several occasions myself and in retrospect pretty much all of them were the right decision.  I’d sent in work that wasn’t ready – probably several times as a writer I simply wasn’t ready – and the people involved politely declined it.  The better ones – or perhaps the ones with a bit more time on their hands – gave some feedback on how I could improve in the future.  Ultimately it does take a lot of time to become a good writer and understanding why your work is being turned down is as an important part of improving.

 

I’d also challenge the idea, in most of the examples on the articles, that the publishers/record companies involved couldn’t recognise talent.  To me, the only person who comes out of that article looking foolish is the person who rejected Animal Farm (the guy who rejected Gertrude Stein comes across as a bit of an arsehole but that’s a slightly different thing).  Assuming the responses were sincere (and I’ve no reason to assume otherwise) I’d say Jim Lee, Sylvia Plath, Madonna, Tim Burton and –to an extent – Kurt Vonnegut Jr all had more reasons to be encouraged than discouraged.  Yes, their work was rejected but there was pretty positive feedback acknowledging the merits of the work and claiming – rightly or wrongly – that the writers simply were not quite ready yet.

 

So generally speaking I think rejection should be taken as a sign of a need to improve and not a sign that publishers are all foolish.

 

There is caveat to this however and that’s that staff of publishing companies also have to consider both the commercial viability of the work and often whether it fits in with the company brand and image.  I realise I’ve just used three words (four if you could viability) that many aspiring writers will hate but the brutal reality is that, if you want to write and get your work published free of commercial considerations, self-publishing online may be the route for you to take.  Even the most independent and ethical of publishers won’t survive for long if all the books cost more to produce than they make in sales.

 

Where this causes a problem is when you have someone like J K Rowling or Kurt Vonnegut Jr doing something unconventional and outside what publishers are used to receiving.

 

I realise it sounds ludicrous in hindsight to call the most successful book franchise of all time ‘unconventional’ but, at the time, you would have had this unknown writer who’d created this brand new and fully-formed world to tell her story in – I think detractors frequently fail to acknowledge the ambition and audacity involved in an unpublished writer pulling that off and making it accessible.

 

Ultimately it’s much easier for a publisher to guess how commercially viable something is going to be if there’s obvious precedents for it so I do think there are cases where strong writers can be passed on because the originality of the work involved is such that nobody can quite see where to place it.  So I do envisage that Vonnegut or Rowling would have had a harder job getting their work accepted than someone who was writing something more in keeping with existing styles and fashions of the time.  However, even if you are an outstandingly original writer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your work cannot be improved.

 

The reassurance here is that J K Rowling and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. both got published eventually and, of course, went onto have successful careers.  And I genuinely believe that, if your work is good enough to be published and you send it to enough publishers, eventually someone will pick up on that and publish it.  But, if you do find yourself getting rejection after rejection after rejection, the best thing is to use that rejection as a motivation to improve.  Bitterness and anger seldom get anyone anywhere so there’s no harm at all in viewing rejection as a positive experience.

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Talking About Disability #4 – On Songwriting and Disability

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So far I’ve talked a bit about having disabilities but how do they affect me as a musician, in terms of the work I actually create?

To answer that, I’ve put together a podcast of songs I’ve written that I consider to stem from my disabilities interspersed with my good friend Felix Hunt, who plays in one of the two bands I’m in – the Count of Chateau Noir – interviewing me about the songs and what made me write them.

This is quite an in-depth discussion and I’ve taken a decision not to edit too much to allow it to remain fairly in-depth but I realise, because of the level of detail, it may not be for everyone.  But, if you are interested in songwriting or disability issues or anything like that,  I think we do have an interesting discussion – especially around The Yellow Castle on the Hill.

Anyway, here it is:

Quick Footnote on the Yellow Castle on the Hill

During The Yellow Castle on the Hill – which the only one of the songs on the list that is overtly about the treatment of disability on the whole, rather than any kind of personal confessional – I talk about the history of Stoke Park Hospital in Bristol (i.e. the Yellow Castle in the song).  Stoke Park was a hospital for people with learning disabilities and there is a short documentary here which is worth watching, put together by a theatre group working with people with learning disabilities on the history of the hospital.   It’s a pretty powerful and damning description of the conditions in institutions for people with Learning Disabilities for much of the 20th Century and pretty much gives the whole context of the song.   As a newspaper headline in this documentary says, “these are all somebody’s sons and daughters” and the conditions endured by certain human beings in this country until relatively recently are one of the great unspoken human rights issues of the 20th Century.

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Talking About Disability #3 – The ACE Malone Procedure

This is the second and final part of my interview about the medical kit I use.   The Malone ACE (Antegrade Continence Enema) Procedure is a medical thing I do every one or two days to keep my bowels clear as the don’t completely open by themselves.  Again, I realise this is a bit of taboo subject for a lot of people (probably including me!) but it’s also one of these things I’ve never really seen anyone talking about and, especially given this is a relatively new procedure where patients pretty much have to figure out how it works for themselves as there are few clear guidelines to follow, I thought it might be useful for some people to hear someone speaking about it:

Once again this was filmed and edited by Tom Mayne.

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Interview with Attitude is Everything

Ahead of next week’s gig with Summer Camp and the Art Club for Club Attitude, Attitude is Everything have published a short interview with me on their website where I talk about the band, music and disability awareness.

 

The link is here:

http://www.attitudeiseverything.org.uk/news/introducing…-paul-hawkins-and-the-awkward-silences

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Talking About Disability #2 – Using a Catheter

One of the difficulties I had when I was growing up with the medical conditions I had was that I never ever saw anybody talking about similar conditions.  I think this is partly my conditions are slightly unusual but also, because they affect my bladder and bowels, I think it’s still seen as a bit unseemly to talk about such things.  Going to the toilet is a very private matter and one that most people would rather not think about or talk about.  And, when you do, it inevitably ends up seeming very crude or very childish.

Which is all very well and good but it does me make me think there’s probably people out there who, like me, have to use a catheter to urinate due to their medical conditions but never ever hears anyone talking about using a catheter.  Similarly there are probably people who’ve seen me or someone else using one in public toilets and have questions but feel it’d be a bit wrong to ask them.

For both those reasons, I’d decided to record a short video of myself talking about using a catheter for anyone who is interested to watch.  Obviously, if you do find the idea of inserting a catheter into yourself unpleasant to think about or talk about, you might choose not to watch it!

Here it is if you do want to so though.  It was filmed and edited by Tom Mayne.

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Talking About Disability #1 – Attitude Is Everything

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On March 26 my band, Paul Hawkins & The Awkward Silences, are playing at Club Attitude, run by the organisation Attitude is Everything.  It’s a gig I’m really looking forward to (and one you can get cheap tickets for by clicking this link).  It’s a utterly fantastic venue and I’m very excited about playing with Summer Camp and the Art Club but the main reason I’m looking forward to it is because Attitude is Everything are all about making gigs accessible for people with disabilities and hearing difficulties.

 

As a disabled person making music, this is a cause that’s very close to my heart, especially as my thoughts about my disabilities are something I wrestle with a lot.  My disabilities aren’t particular visible so I don’t ‘look’ disabled and how disabled I feel changes depending on where I am and what I’m doing.  I certainly feel a lot less disabled than I did when I was a child, a teenager or even my early twenties.  I rarely feel disabled at work, never feel disabled when I’m on stage, often feel disabled when I meet new people (especially when trying to chat up women!) and feel extremely disabled if I wake up with a hangover.  Ultimately I suppose it comes down to how much I feel I can or cannot do the things I want to do for health reasons.

 

When I was growing up, nobody really knew what the extent of my disabilities would actually be.  People seemed to assume the worst.  Shortly after I was born, my Dad’s work colleagues sent my parents a sympathy card, my local primary school didn’t want to take me as they thought I wouldn’t be able to cope in mainstream education and the worst case doctor’s scenario had me needing constant care for the rest of my life.  These aren’t things I tend to talk about these days but they’re very much there in my mind, especially in darker moments. I’m very grateful for the fact that my parents pushed very hard to keep me in mainstream education, get support from my school and to find ways that I could do pretty much anything that any other child could do.   Now that I’m an adult, I can pass for ‘normal’ and generally I do – certainly I’d guess there will be people reading this who know me but previously had absolutely no idea about any of this side of my life.

 

But nonetheless it’s still a big thing in my mind.  The effort I spent as a child and in my teens trying to get away with seeming normal took its toll psychologically and, even as an adult, there’s certain aspects of myself I’ve never quite come to terms with and quite possibly never ever will.  Disabilities tend to loom large in quite a few of the characters I create in my songs and I think that the struggle between trying to decide to appear to the outside world as ‘normal’ or be open about the fact you’re different is a recurring theme in my writing.

 

Up until now I’ve largely gone down the route of appearing ‘normal’.  For a few years now, I’ve thought about being more public about discussing my disabilities – and indeed when I first met with Attitude is Everything a couple of years ago, it was because I was thinking about entering into a public discussion about the experience of disabled musicians and fans in small venues and was going to start a blog where I shared experiences with other disabled musicians.  In the end, I refrained from doing this as I don’t really like labels as a general rule and I didn’t want myself or anyone else to wear one.

 

But it was a big thing for me during my childhood that there were few disabled role models around – and certainly not ones with the same conditions that I had – and I’ve always been aware of a certain contradiction that, on the one hand, I’d quite like to talk about my disability more, if only just to let young people know that disability need not be a barrier to achieving the things you want in life but, on the other hand, talking about it risks getting you pigeonholed as that disabled musician, which doesn’t really seem to remove any barriers at all.

 

But ultimately talking about disability and promoting disability awareness is important and worth doing – especially given that, as I said earlier, how disabled I feel depends on the extent to which I can or cannot do what I want to do, due to health reasons – if other people feel similar then it strikes me as a good reason to make any simple adjustments needed to help people feel they can do as much as possible.   So whilst the absolute last thing I want is to become preachy or be seen as ‘that disabled author’/‘that disabled musician’, I do want to start spending a bit of time on this blog taking more about my disabilities.

 

So what will I be doing?  I’ll be writing some articles and doing an interview of the Attitude is Everything website.  I’m also going to upload a couple of videos of me taking about my disabilities and the equipment I use and also a podcast of some of my songs that are influenced by disability and me talking about them. I’ll also be writing more articles about being a writer and musician and other stuff to avoid any risk of me just ‘banging on’ about being disabled but hope, if it is a subject that interests you, the articles’ll be useful and informative.  I’ll try to make them reasonably entertaining too!

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“Bad Santas…” Advent Calendar Day 24 – Thomas Nast

 by Thomas Nast

 

Coca-Cola’s billboards might have spread the image we have for Santa Clays today but the person usually credited with creating it was Thomas Nast, the cartoonist at the influential Harper’s Weekly magazine in New York in the mid-late 19th Century.. Nast’s father was a Protestant from the traditionally Catholic German state of Bavaria who had fled to New York for political reasons when the boy was six years old. Nast’s drawings embodied both the way that old Catholic traditions of St Nicholas were being rapidly redesigned through Protestant eyes and the way that traditions stemming from fourteenth-century Europe were reborn for the society of nineteenth-century America.

Nast’s first image of the character that came to be embraced as Santa Claus appeared on the front cover of Harper’s Weekly in December 1862. It was the height of the Civil War and a low point for the North, who had suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Fredericksburg only a few weeks before Christmas. Nast was a fervent supporter of the war and the battle against slavery but drew an image to reflect his sadness at the separation and loss that the war caused in everyday families. Nast, who had spent time in England, may have been influenced by the way that Father Christmas had developed as an expression of sadness for lost Christmas traditions and hope for a better future. He drew a powerful, striking image of despair as a wife sits praying at her window whilst her children lie in bed. Many miles away sits a weary, ageing solider. He has the beard and rotund gait that was already familiar in the pictures of the Christmas Men and would soon be known around the world as Santa Claus. But, far from the joyful personification of Christmas, he slumps sadly with a letter in his hand. Even 150 years later, it is a moving and heartbreaking image of longing, hope and loss.

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A year later, Nast drew the same figure again, this time clearly identifying him as Santa Claus. He dresses in a Unionist flag and hands out presents to soldiers who are separated from their families.

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After that, Nast continued to draw Santa for the next thirty years. Once the war was won he seemed to cheer up considerably and he gradually became the man we know and love today. Nast’s German roots meant that he was aware of European folk mythology and his residence in New York meant that he was also aware of the Clement Clarke Moore poem. Nast’s drawings were the point where European traditions and Irving’s and Moore’s writings came together to create something new.

St Nicholas was no longer an austere saint but a jolly toymaker. His assistants were no longer angry fearsome devils but friendly elves. He did not judge children but simply stored their hopes and wishes in a giant ledger. He liked food being left out for him but he was not going to punish anyone who failed to leave him an offering. Nast was also the first person to encourage children to write to Santa and to locate Santa Claus’s workshop at the North Pole. Nast’s grandson Thomas Nast St Hill speculates that the reason for this was the combination of a neutral location, so that Santa could not be appropriated as a political figure by any particular country, and the fact that the North Pole made it easy for Santa Claus to access both the United States and Europe – even at this time Santa’s status as a global gift-bringer was beginning to develop.

Nast helped put European folklore back into the heart of Santa Claus, albeit in a much nicer and more child-friendly form than it had ever appeared before. In doing so, he helped ease the way for Santa to supersede the same myths he had been inspired by. It was through his drawings that Santa Claus became generally accepted as wearing red.

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“Bad Santas and Other Creepy Christmas Characters” by Paul Hawkins is available now from Simon & Schuster.  The images above are all by Thomas Nast.

 

 

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