Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Posted on: February 18, 2009

coverChristmas Eve, 1976: a man dies, tied to his bed in a Victorian Mental Institution… Andrew saw what happened. Eddie saw what happened. But their severe learning disabilities prevent them from communicating what they have seen. There is an answer… but it can only be found in fragmented clues about the men’s pasts. Can these clues be put together before one of them becomes the next victim?       
 Tasting the Wind…  Available NOW on Amazon  or for
                                               free delivery worldwide go to: Book Depository

Tasting the Wind took me ten years to write.  I now want to give it away to you as a free e-book…

 The paperback would cost you £8.99 on Amazon. Click  HERE  to see it and to read some excellent reviews.

 

So why am I giving it away?

 

There are 3 reasons:

 

1)      We are living in difficult economic times. I want to give you a free read. If you want to check out what it’s about and if it’s any good, click on the link above.

2)      Because we live in difficult economic times the powers that be will be looking to cut essential services. ‘Tasting the Wind’ is partly set in a 1980s institution for people with learning disabilities. I want to raise awareness of what life could be like for people with learning disabilities if funding cuts force them to return to institutional styles of living.

 

3)      The profits from the paperback go to Derian House children’s Hospice. If you keep your copy of the e-book I would ask you to give a donation (as much or as little as you like) to Derian House. You are under no obligation, but if you wish to do so go to: http://www.derianhouse.co.uk/donate.html

To get your free copy click the following link which will take you to Smashwords, where you can download your book in one of several versions including Kindle:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/5061

And finally: although I do not wish to make money from this book, I do have an ego. Please message my blog,  add reviews on Amazon, and join my Facebook page:

                                                                                                                                                               http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=56190762166

 Let me know what you think, and how far round the world this has travelled,

Thanks,

Allan Mayer

 

 

 

 

 

If you were to ask me how my weekend was I wouldn’t know where to start. Moving? Funny? Sad? Inspirational? Well yes, all of those things and a lot more.

Let me start at the beginning.

Most people who know me, or have read my blog, my novel or FaceBook page, will know that back in the mid eighties I worked with a very talented and gifted human being called David Heffer. He worked passionately and tirelessly in helping people with learning disabilities move from institutions to a better life.

In the early 90’s he was killed by the IRA when they bombed a pub in Covent Garden. He was only 30.

 David was one of those special individuals who you are fortunate enough to come across once or twice in your life who are so true to themselves that the tune they dance to gets inside your head and stays there.

When I started to write ‘Tasting the Wind,’ which is set against a background of  movement from institution to community, it was obvious that David’s spirit would loom large. I dedicated the book to him, and included him as a character.

A couple of months ago I started to receive messages through every conceivable web-based route: there was a message in my e-mail, on FaceBook, and in my blog comments. It said: I am David Heffer’s mum. Can we meet.

 

So this weekend we were host to David’s Dad, Brian, his Mum, Lesley, and her husband, Ivor.

We spent the most amazing evening just talking and looking at photographs. There were photographs of David from all corners of the globe. There was a photo of him in a programme from his beloved Arsenal, passionately cheering his team on. In fact everything he did he did with passion.

In addition I discovered what a good writer David was. He kept a fascinating and humorous journal of his travels around South America. It includes accounts of his journeys through scenes of great natural beauty, of being threatened by gun-toting locals, and eating fried guinea-pig.

Although I knew that David had been asthmatic, I found out how he had been so bad that he spent two years of his childhood in a sanatorium (where the diverse curriculum included shoplifting.) He survived the Asthma. He also survived a serious motorbike accident when he was living in Australia. It took a coward with a bomb to end this amazing life.

We laughed a lot at things that David had written- his accounts of his travels would not look out of place in a Sunday Travel Supplement. Our meeting was of course tinged with sorrow, but we were prevented from becoming too serious by the antics of our dog, Barney, who seemed to have developed a lustful obsession for David’s Dad, Brian. Life isn’t like a novel- it doesn’t come in a single genre.

So how do I feel? Happy to have found out more about David Heffer and to have made new friends with his wonderful family. Angry that a series of random events led to him being the only person to die in that bombing. Inspired by his unique energy and ability to pack so much into his life. But sad that last night our main guest, the one who had brought us together, could not be with us.

I try not to blow my own trumpet- I know where it’s been!

Thanks to Simon Jarrett for doing it for me in my latest review on Amazon:

Tasting the Wind by Allan Mayer.

 I read this book after hearing Allan Mayer read some extracts from it at a conference – and I’m so glad that I did. Anyone who was around during the ‘big resttlement’ of the 1980s will cringe as they recognise many of the absurdities and contradictions of the time. These are beautifully captured by Mayer in the debates about language and ‘real choice’, the early experiments at social integration ending in tragi-comic farcical outcomes in pubs and shops and his hilarious minutes of residential home staff meetings. He also gives a riveting portrayal of the utterly, bizarre, other-planetary world of the long-stay hospital: that asylum where people were anything but safe, the hospital were people weren’t ill and didn’t get treated, the NHS facility where most of the staff were more institutionalised than the patients. If you weren’t around at that time then this book will give you a searingly honest portrayal of what it was like, including the mistakes and the new absurdities perpetrated by some of the well-meaning but at times over-zealous ‘liberators’ who supported people out of the hospitals. However the book is much more than this. At different times it had me shaking with laughter, welling up with tears and consumed by rage – sometimes within the space of one or two pages. He is a gifted comic writer, but never at the expense of the people of he is writing about and has created a world of believable, rounded people, including the people with severe learning disabilities who are the stars of the novel. Although very, very funny at times this is not a comic novel – it has very serious themes and an underlying poignancy. To have created a thriller in which the stars are two people with severe learning disabilities, one of whom can’t talk and the other seems to chant nonsense, is some achievement and gives an identity to people which no amount of worthy ‘values’ training could ever achieve. Allan Mayer captures something very important about the post-hospital experience of people with learning disabilities and the people who work with them. However progressive and ‘person centred’ the thinking, we seem to find ever more ingenious ways of not listening to what people with learning disabilities are trying to tell us, even the most progressive amongst us. Some would say especially the most progressive amongst us. I share other reviewers experience of the at times bizarre layout of this novel, with strange gaps and rogue paragraphs floating up or down to where they shouldn’t be. I believe it arises from this being printed to order rather than in bulk. However for me it somehow reflected the world it was written about – it’s the sort of book layout you’d expect to come out of the strange world of the mental handicap hospital.

Thanks Simon, Much appreciated.

I have just had the great fortune of attending the Social History of Learning Disability Conference at the Open University in Milton Keynes.

I delivered a paper about resettling people from longstay ‘Mental Handicap’ hospitals in the 1980s, illustrated with passages from my book, ‘Tasting the Wind.’

 I came away feeling that I was seeing things in a different way (surely the mark of a good conference) and wanting to share what for me were the highlights.

 Where do I start? People spoke from such varied angles: some about their work with people with learning disabilities over the decades, some about their first hand experience of receiving services either in the large institutions or in smaller settings.

 Daniel Doherty had lived at Calderstones from the age of 6 to 16. He is still only 42. After I read a passage from ‘Tasting the Wind’ about a Hospital ‘Punishment room’ he told me how he had been locked in one of them on several occasions and was subjected to electro-convulsive treatment.

 Ebbw Hreinsdottir came from Iceland and spoke to us through an interpreter. She had rebelled against the staff, rejecting their assessment of her as ‘retarded’ and was classed as challenging because of that. Ebbw now lives with her husband.

 Rob Henstock told us how he has worked with people with learning disabilities since 1973. He recounted how in his first job the staff encouraged him to beat up a random patient to show the others that he was not to be messed with. He refused, and as a result was locked into a time-out room and given an injection.

Simon Jarrett felt that the institutions had destroyed existing networks of support and demonstrated this from Old Bailey court records from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. A man with a learning disability who had been charged with involvement in a riot in the 1700s was defended by a network of friends- all of whom had a different alibi for him. What is more, that man had a job- way before our concepts of supported employment. As time went on, the views of judges toward people with learning disabilities in the dock hardened until, in the 1840’s they disappear from court records. That was about the time that the institutions opened.

Perhaps the highlight of the whole conference for me was when Daniel gave his presentation and Mabel Cooper, who had lived in an institution at the other end of the country asked if men and women were kept apart at Calderstones. Suddenly there was an exchange between them which at one time could never have happened. ‘We used to put letters through the fence,’ said Mabel. ‘Want to know what we did?’ asked Daniel, a twinkle in his eye. ‘We went to the laundry room, and if staff came along someone would sing to warn us.’

 These were not prisons, but hospitals.

 One theme of the conference was that the hospitals had both good and bad staff, and that demotivation during the closure programme was understandable. But this did not take away from the confirmation of what we all knew- that many ‘patients’ were dehumanised and brutalised by the experience.

 So what do we learn from this? Surely the purpose of such histories is to preserve the legacy of a large number of people whose voices are at risk of never being heard. But what came over strongly was the realisation that an institution is more a state of mind than a building. Some people recounted happy days and good memories of staff during those days. Living in a smaller, community based setting does not guarantee non-institutional living.

We must learn from history, and do all that we can to prevent the worst institutional practices from returning.  That is a great challenge in these days of having to do more with less.

The one thing that should give us cause for optimism is that these days there are strong advocacy groups, and at conferences such as the Social History of Learning Disabilities conference ‘staff’ stand alongside ‘service users’ as presenters, which must mean a more balanced overall view and a shift in power. Let’s hope that this way we can prevent the recurrence of the nightmares of the past.

You can visit the Social History of Learning Disability website at http://www.open.ac.uk/hsc/ldsite/research_grp.html

Recordings of all of this year’s presentations will appear there shortly.

At the end of 2008, after years of rejection letters from agents and publishers, I decided to publish my novel, ‘Tasting the Wind’ in a ‘Print on Demand’ (POD) format.

POD is not to be confused with self publishing. If I had self-published there would have been a lot more donkey work- buying my own ISBN, submitting the legally required copies to the relevant libraries and so on. It would also- and I have this on the authority of self- published authors- be far more expensive. With conventional self-publishing the author pays for a print run and ends up with a garage full of physical copies. POD books exist in cyberspace, and can be printed off… well on demand, as the term suggests.

So how was it for me?

The down side.

So you can have a nice, glossy covered version of your work without having to suffer another rejection. But what are the down sides?

These are probably in proportion to your expectations. If you think that a POD book is going to make you rich and famous, then think again. Some writers (including myself at one time) will point out the occasional author who has self or POD published and as a result has been ‘noticed’ by a major publisher. These are so few and far between that it can in no way be relied upon to get your book into the bestsellers list. Also, once you have gone down the POD route you have used up your first publishing rights.

 The fact that the technological revolution has enabled you to publish a book which has had no editorial input or proof reading means that anyone at all, regardless of talent or lack of it, can publish a book.  Even as a POD published author I have to admit that I am very careful about buying POD  work, and like to find out as much as I can, including reading a sample if possible. In order to give others a chance to decide before buying ‘Tasting the wind,’ and because I believe it will stand the test,  I have put the opening chapters on my website, www.allanmayer.com  and you can read a whole 25% of it on Smashwords, where it can be downloaded as an e-book.

Even after ten years of work, ‘Tasting the Wind’ admittedly has some typographic and grammatical weak spots. Despite careful readings by myself, family and friends, seeing your book in a published form for the first time will highlight some obvious errors previously unspotted. *

The company that I published with – www.youwriteon.com , have had their fair share of criticism. Their original plan to publish 5000 books by Christmas 2008 was never going to happen in reality. For £39.99 YWO printed my book, bought an ISBN number and placed it on several online book sellers sites including Amazon and Book Depository. YWO get 40% of everything I sell. I am aware that I could have gone down other routes which would have retained me more of the royalties, but as I knew that these would not be phenomenal figures I didn’t get over concerned about this.

I’m not sure if marketing should come under the downs or the ups, as it has provided an enjoyable learning experience. BUT it is hard work, and can consume a lot of your time. The best thing that can happen to a POD book is that it finds a niche audience or manages to get national press coverage (which to my knowledge two YWO books have done.) Talking of the down side, as I am, this brings me to my two greatest disappointments. Both ‘Community are Magazine’ and one of the Royal College of Nursing  journals showed interest then decided not to pursue the interview/ review. An appearance in either of these would have really boosted sales, but que sera sera… 

One last thing about  the downside: there were  frustrating delays in the publication of the book and the appearance for a short time of someone else’s cover with my information on some of the sites.  I don’t know if I’m particularly blessed with patience or just plain stupid, but at a time when people were panicking and withdrawing their work I decided to wait and see. The POD project was new to Ted Smith and the team, and they would be first to admit that there were teething troubles.

Then came the day when the first copy arrived, which leads me to…

The Up Side

I had heard all sorts of terrible things about the quality of POD books, including one of a writer doing a signing where the books were so poorly bound that they fell apart. No such problem with books published by YWO- I have handled several copies of ‘Tasting the Wind’ and books by other YWO authors and all have been sturdy and well produced.

I have made a lot of lovely contacts through developing my web presence. I received an e-mail from an Australian Speech Pathologist who was using parts of ‘Tasting the Wind’ in her lectures. The director of a company which specialises in workplace disability adjustments ordered signed copies for all of  his staff. I was also contacted by friends of David Heffer, a friend and colleague who was killed by the IRA and to whom ‘Tasting the Wind’ is dedicated.

Talking of web presence- I succeeded in what I set out to do by blitzing as many outlets as I could find. Google any combination of ‘Allan Mayer, Tasting the Wind and you will find pages and pages. Not that many people will Google those words, but I am pleased to say that if you also Google ‘Learning Disabilities novel’ I now appear on the first page.

Although, as I said, you will not earn fame and fortune through a POD novel, you may earn a small amount of local celebrity. I have appeared several times in local papers and have been approached by people who have seen the article and even bought the book. I am also pleased to have appeared twice in the magazine of  Derian House children’s hospice, to whom I was proud to give the first month’s royalties.

The critics of POD publishing say that only your friends and family will buy your book. This is patently untrue- living as we do in the world of the internet there is more potential than ever before for creating sales worldwide.

The most important thing is that my book is being read. It is not only being read, enjoyed, and not just sitting on my hard drive.

So how many people have read it?

Well, I once read that a POD book would do well to sell 100 copies. I was happy when I heard that I had sold 122 in the first six months. Fluctuations in my Amazon rankings (U.S. and UK) since then  indicate that it has continued to sell, and I know that some people have passed it on to friends. Having come to the conclusion that my book was not commercial and unlikely to attract a major publisher, I concluded that a small readership was better than none at all. At the end of the day it all comes down to why you write. Yes, fame and fortune as a writer is a highly desirable thing. But in this case so is the thrill of connection I have found when people have sent personal e-mails or written reviews which tell me that they get what I am saying.

I think that fame and fortune can wait until the next book…

(WATCH THIS SPACE)

*My purpose in writing this post is to give an honest account of my POD experience- not to put you off buying my book.  If you find this off putting please refer to my Amazon reviews, where people I have never met have taken the trouble to point out that despite these issues they would still recommend the book and have given no lower than 4/5 stars.

From today Tasting the Wind is available as an e-book. You can read it on your pc, Amazon Kindle or Sony reader for a mere $5.00 (about £3.00)

Go to:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/5061

In November I will have worked for Brothers of Charity Services for 20 years.

Recently we launched our new website, which you can see here:

http://www.brothersofcharity.org.uk/

Click on the ‘Having fun’ section and look at the video, where you will see some of the people I work with from day to day.

Then you may realise why I think I probably have the best job in the world…

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