Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Archive for April 2009

The field of learning disabilities has a long association with Political Correctness.

Although political correctness if often- and in my opinion rightly- derided, it has  its place in the history of learning disabilities in that it consciously and forcefully reminds us that the way we talk about people, the labels we give to them, influence how we see them, how we group them and ultimately how we behave toward them.

As an aside, I can remember the confusion I felt when I sat next to a colleague who just happened to be black (it is important to the story) who  put two fingers on the table and said ‘What’s that?’ I said I didn’t know, and she said ‘a kit-kat.’ That was twenty years ago. The confusion I felt then is mirrored in recent times by the use of the word ‘nigger’ by rap artists at a time when white people don’t dare to use it in any context.

But back to learning disabilities…  Where I think that PC has actually made a valuable contribution…

When I first came into learning disability services in the 1980’s, the PC movement was in full swing, and the tabloids were presented with so many gifts, such as the London Borough where school children were taught baa baa green sheep in order to avoid the use of the word ‘black.’

As a worker in social care it was impressed upon you that you were not to say ‘The Mentally Handicapped’ but ‘People With a Mental Handicap.’ The former lumped people together, defined them by their hadicap, whereas the latter put people first and stressed that the handicap just happened to be something which they had.

I can go along with that. These days we talk about people with learning or intellectual disabilities. It is important that language moves on. If it didn’t, we would still be calling people spastics, mongols, idiots or imbeciles.

All of which leads me to a conversation which went on in a meeting I attended earlier this week. We were discussing a piece of literature produced by the service I work for, in which the phrase ‘service user’ was used. Someone asked if there was a better phrase, as the word ‘user’ had other connotations. At other times, learning disability services have used the word ‘clients,’ but this could equally have connotations. Finally, the suggestion was made that the word ‘people’ would be best.

To me there was an added dimension to all of this, in that it mirrored exactly a conversation that I included in ‘Tasting the Wind,’ which was itself based on a staff meeting item of over twenty years ago, (if you don’t believe me have a look at: or look at p.34 in ‘Tasting the Wind.’)

There must be a lesson in this. It could be that I am getting old, that I’ve been in this profession so long that the same things are coming around again.

Or it could be a demonstration that consciousness of language has over the last two decades become entrenched in our understanding of what we do.

Language is a powerful tool. In literature, Orwell’s 1984 provides a satirical window onto how governments can control the masses through controlling language. And in Nazi Germany the stereotyping of groups through language contributed to the eventual nightmare which was the holocaust.

The discussion of language and the labels that we use for people is now, as it was in the Politically Correct 80’s, a sign that equality and awareness of Human Rights is alive and well. Once we stop questioning the words we use, and that our writers, comedians, and politicians use, we are on a slippery slope.

And it is a slope at the end of which language not only offends, but kills.

I’ve had a really interesting week, mainly due to two things which could not have happened had it not been for the miracle of the internet.

The first was when I woke up to find that while I slept my blog had been mentioned on an American internet radio show. If you haven’t already, take a look at the comment on my previous posting. And if you are an author and want to feature on Bobby Ozuna’s show, follow this link:

The second was quite moving, and I will share with you here as a transcript without comment…

I was sent a link to your book “Tasting the Wind” which I will attempt to read.
My query is related to your commemoration to David Heffer. Might this be the same Dave who was killed in Covent Garden by the IRA? I worked with Dave and shared some good times with him. Of course there can always be more than one David Heffer, though this one was pretty unique! I’d be keen to know.
Good Luck with the book.
Kind regards
Rob Lee

Hi Rob,

Great to hear from another person who obviously has such great memories of David. Yes, it is the same person. Where did you work with him?
I only worked with him for a year, but he left such a huge impression, and I was knocked sideways when I heard of his death.
Thank you so much for planning to read ‘Tasting the Wind,’ how did you hear about it?
As well as the dedication, there is a character in the book by the name of ‘Jamie Heffer.’ All of my characters are based upon 3-4 people, then are allowed to go there own way, but Jamie certainly has a large proportion of David about him.

You might also be interested in this blog from November:

Thanks for getting in touch, hope you enjoy the book and that it does justice to your memory of such a great guy,
Best Wishes,

Allan Mayer

The world of learning disability is such a small world! I worked with Dave or “Heff” at Bromham Hospital in Bedford, where I ran the Gateway Club as a full time position ( best NHS job I ever had) Heff had trained there. I was working with Mencap at the time of his death as had Heff but we were in different regions.
Some pictures used in the national press were of Heff on a camping trip we arranged and he volunteered his support. He was that sort of man. I have many fond memories including kidnapping him from hospital shoeless, climbing the shopping centre high street!!! An abiding memory (although I was unable to attend) was him arranging his birthday party at McDonalds complete with Ronald McDonald! They thought he was arranging it for a child!


If you don’t mind I will share this info with Rob Cooper to whom Heff was the closest. We get together occasionally and annually with others where a drink is always toasted to Heff. Being a character in a book will get a new angle on a discussion when we get together in July. I will have to have read it by then.
I noticed the blog though I have never accessed one – I don’t know why so maybe there will be a first time. I’ll get some others put in touch with your website.




Hi Rob,
I have just read your e-mail with a lump in my throat. I’m beginning to wish now that I had put more of the cheeky sense of humour into the character, as much of what I present is the side of him that was the staunchest advocate for people with learning disabilities I have ever met. To redress this I do have to give you a little ‘insider information’ : Another character, Martin, was also influenced by David, and it is there that you will find his more anarchic side. He once told me that when he worked at the hospital- presumably Bromham- he got into trouble for riding around the grounds with a patient on the back of his motor bike. In ‘Tasting the Wind’ Martin shows Eddie how to drive a car, but that whole scene was inspired by my recollection of the motor bike story.
Do tell Rob Cooper about it. Does anyone have any contact with David’s family? I always hoped that they would get to hear about this. And next time you drink a toast to him I will be there in spirit- I still think of him when I use one of his habitual phrases: Cheers Bigears.
Great to hear from you, and to hear your memories,


I have spent the last twelve months researching ideas about book promotion.

The fruits of my labours (and advice gratefully received from other writers) can be found below.


The number of ideas and links below may look overwhelming, so before you start to use them you need to formulate a structured marketing campaign. To help you do this I have created a free PDF of useful planning tools which can be downloaded from my website by clicking HERE.    

(Much of the content below has already been included in previous blog posts. New additions are marked with a  8))

Another important tip before you set off is to identify your target audience or audiences  8). Often in marketing this will refer to such things as age or social class. Another way of finding where your book will be best received is to make a list of the themes of your book, and work out to whom these will appeal. For instance- if you have written a children’s book starring an animal, how about approaching a zoo or wildlife sanctuary to see if it is the sort of thing they sell in their shop. Does your book have geographical settings or themes which would be of interest to people of a particular area?

Once you have planned your strategy and identified your target audience, try some of the ideas below:

1- Not using the internet…

●Contact local bookshops. They may have a policy or even a budget dedicated to supporting local authors. But remember to avoid visiting on Saturdays or at lunchtimes . 8)

● Investigate local groups who may want you to go along as a speaker.

 Make some promotional bookmarks or cards- hand them out, leave them around, always carry a few in your wallet or purse for when someone asks so what are you up to at the moment? I made my own on my computer, with a picture of the book cover on the front, and the details of where to buy it and my website on the reverse.

 Link up with a charity- this is a win-win situation. Offer the charity a cut of your royalties for inclusion in their magazine or newsletter.

● Always have a copy of your book handy- you’d be surprised how many people will ask if they can buy a ‘signed copy.’ 8)

Read books on marketing.

 Send a press release to local newspaper(s). Make this about yourself- not your book. This may sound like contrary advice, but you are more likely to get your press release published if it has a human interest angle. (One editor told me that the best press release for a new book is something like: local boy, dyslexic, written off by his school, has now published a book.)

●Contact local radio stations. Like your local paper, they are always looking for content- I know several writers who have done this, and they have never been refused.

● Approach your local library and ask them if they will stock/ help promote your work. Get your friends to request it.8)

● Approach local book clubs, offer them a chance to ‘Ask the Author.’  8)

2- Using the Internet…

There is a wealth of information and lists of sites that you can use on a range of Websites and Blogs. Just Google ‘book marketing’ and ‘book promotion’ and you will come up with enough ideas to last a lifetime. 8)

Visit these sites and get advice from authors who have already been down the same route. Some have newsletters which you can subscribe to.

Contribute to writers’ forums– don’t go on there to announce that you have a book to sell- this will just put people off. Go on to ask questions or contribute, and if you have a blog or website then you will get visits from other forum members.

How about making an audio book on YouTube? This is easily done- all you need is a webcam and microphone (I used a Skype set which only cost me £20.) Just follow the upload instructions on YouTube, and leave details of where your book can be bought. Again, you are guaranteed hits from anywhere on the globe, and if people like what they hear this could even lead to sales.

Have you got a blog? This is free and easy to set up. Write about how you wrote your book, your quest to publish and what has happened since. And don’t forget to Ping! Use a service like ‘Ping My Blog’ or ‘Ping 45’ every time you blog.

Put out an online press release. There are sites where you can do this such as the one set up by wordpress.  Write quality articles for ezine articles and leave links to your other sites. If people like what you have to say they will look you up and maybe even buy your book.

  E-mail all of your friends and colleagues with information about your book, and get them to email theirs (Keep it with friends and friends of friends to avoid SPAM!)

 Talk about your book on social networking sites such as FaceBook and Twitter. These sites also have groups that might be relevant to what you have written.

And don’t forget the importance of finding your target audience or audiences.  Find groups on social networking sites and elsewhere on the internet that might have an interest in the themes of your book.  This could include interests and hobbies, but it may also be the case that you have written about a geographical area. Does that area have community pages or a FaceBook group? 8)

And what about  business networking sites such as Ecademy and Naymz? As a writer it may come as a surprise to think of yourself as a business- but you have got a product to sell now, haven’t you? So look up some of these sites, get advice from established members who are in PR, and put details about your book and where to find it in your profile.


3-An alphabetical list of places to market your book, to showcase it or to get ideas on book promotion.

I have tried some but not all of these links- so be discerning, especially if any of them ask you for money, and please let me know if you have any bad, or good, experiences.



B  8)   8)



Is for Confidence coaching…  Work on having a positive mental attitude. Marketing your book will need perseverence- how about getting a confidence coach? I can recommend:






I  8)








P 8)   8)


R   8)  

S  8)

T   8)

V 8)         Added 27th April 09





I’m sure that this list is not exhaustive, and new marketing opportunities are emerging on the internet all of the time. I will be updating this from timw to time and would be grateful for any more ideas. So go for it- put yourself out there, have fun… and maybe sell a few books. 




A lot has happened since I started my blog one year ago this month…

This time last year I was still sending out the letters and submissions to agents and publishers and getting them returned (or not) with the standard rejection letters. Each manuscript provided exactly what each agent or publisher asked for, not a chapter more or less, an introductory letter, a synopsis and stamped addressed envelope. I never compromised on presentation, even when a friend of mine who has published a series of bestselling books told me that his break came when a publisher dished his submission out to a student, who just happened to enjoy reading it on a tube journey.

It was  advice from published writers that made me think that perhaps I was looking in the wrong place with ‘Tasting the Wind.’ One of them said that a writer’s first novel was more likely to succeed it it was ‘high concept.’ Another suggested that publishers were put off by mixed genre. A novel can be well written, but if a publisher perceives that it will not sell in large numbers it will not be taken on.

It was then that I decided to try a different route.

I had started my marketing early- about nine months before I had a published book- and that preparing of the ground proved invaluable. In August I was invited to speak at Stafford University, and it was there that a lady who later turned out to be a publishing consultant asked me who my book was aimed at, and by what time was I hoping  to get it published. For some reason I said ‘Christmas.’

It wasn’t long after this that I got an e-mail from my friend, Dominic Took, informing me that a publisher, YouWriteOn, were offering free POD publication,  before Christmas to 5000 writers .

There was never a chance that they would get 5000 books out in that time, and I wasn’t surprised when ‘Tasting the Wind’ didn’t appear until well into the New Year. So to fill the gap I carried on marketing, and through the process have met some great people. Some of them are writers who are only too happy to share ideas. Others are people who have contacted me from all corners of the globe to express interest in my work.

If you are planning to self-publish or POD publish a book, you will probably be told that it will only be bought by friends and family. I can assess this assertion in one word: WRONG. This may have been true in the days before the internet, but not now. Of course you won’t make the sales of a mainstream book- that’s a given- but if you put the work into marketing (and no one else is going to do it for you) you will find that people you have never met will buy your book, and even write reviews on it.

So, as things stand, one year on ‘Tasting the Wind’ is making modest global sales. Of over 400 YouWriteOn published books it is number one on the Book Depository chart and number two on Amazon. The immediate future is looking hopeful, as some of my biggest marketing initiatives are now in the pipeline- they include two reviews, one  in a regional magazine and another in a national.

Do I regret going down the POD route? Not at all. People are reading my story, so I consider that I have achieved what I set out to do.

Anyone who is considering POD or self-publishing must go into it with their eyes open. The chances of being ‘discovered’ by a major publisher are almost non-existent.  You will not make enormous sales, but if you work hard on promotion and find a niche market your book will not be read only by people who know you and your work will not languish on your hard drive.

So let’s see what the next twelve months bring.


Is Novel Writing Character Building?

So we have estabished the novel’s setting and it’s genre. Now to people it with characters.

Your story should be character driven, in which case you will find that the situations which start to form in your mind already come from what those characters are ‘about.’ All novels, whether they be thrillers, romances, Science Fiction, or whatever, should reflect life in that they deal with what happens when person A, with a certain agenda, meets with person B, with his particular motivations.

Some characters will mix well, but what really drives the story forward is conflict.

This doesn’t mean that your major protagonists always have to be a ‘goodie’ and a ‘baddie.’ Conflict can arise between characters who are really well matched- Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy being the classic examples of this.

As I am no Jane Austen (and who is?) I have stuck with clearly defining who wears the black hat and who the white from the outset.

But it is still important, having said that, to remember two things: firstly, unless you’re writing pantomime, characters never believe that they themselves are wrong or evil, because people in real life don’t think that way. Apparently Al Capone saw himself as a great public benefactor, and I’m sure that Robert Mugabe will think that he has been a great president.

Secondly, a character MUST have shades- even a bad guy has endearing features, and a good guy has flaws and even vices.

I once read a suggestion in a ‘how to write’ book that you could keep your characters differentiated by basing each one on the characteristics of a different star sign.

Now I wouldn’t want to knock someone who has taken the trouble to write a book which helps people to create, but personally I would find basing my characters on the supposed characteristics of their star signs about as useful as basing them upon those of the seven dwarves.

The problem with using this sort of formula is that it could lead to you not creating characters, but types.

Yes, you need consistency, and yes, the old cliche is true that there is a point where the characters take on a ‘life of their own.’ BUT… realistic characters, in literature as in life, have contradictions.

I have just been reading an article:

where this very subject is being discussed with reference to film characters. Hannibal Lecter tops the list- a monster, but a cultured gentleman. Similarly, there is the much earlier example of Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ He takes part in gang warfare, rapes minors, terrorises an elderly intellectual, but doesn’t half love a bit of Beethoven!

And these contradictions not only give depth to the character- they are the hook upon which the whole premise of the book hangs.

In ‘Tasting the Wind,’ Della causes the death of a patient in her care (listen to this in the first video on this blog.) It would probably be classed as manslaughter. Without giving too much away, when we next meet Della she is a born again Christian. She has also developed from being an abuser, to the level of potential murderer. How are these related?

The backstory that emerges is of her seeking absolution, being told at an evangelical rally that her sins are forgiven, and spending a lifetime being tortured by her attempts to balance this against the weight of what she has done.

So if star signs and the Seven Dwarves don’t work for you, where do you get your characters from? You could always do what successful writers have done down the ages, which is to use a combination of experience and imagination.

It is well known that Shakespeare based his Falstaff on a man called Sir John Oldcastle, that Thomas Hardy drew heavily upon his background, D.H. Lawrence based the characters of ‘Sons and Lovers’ and ‘Women in Love’ upon himself, his family and his social set and (this one’s for the kids,) Andy Cope’s ‘Spy Dog,’ Lara, is a family pet.

I never met Della. She is a combinaion of 3-4 people I have known (not all female,) plus a large dose of imagination.

Obviously, if you are developing an unsympathetic character based upon someone you know, no connection should be left which can be used in court! Think what you want to say about the character. If your model is an obese woman, make your character a thin man. You can do that without losing essential elements of the character, and it will open up other avenues which will add complexity.

There are even bits of me in Della: large frame (Euphemism alert!!!,) love of gadgets. but that, hopefully, is as far as it goes.

That’s all for this meandering. I must admit, regardless of what I said, the idea of bestselling novelists basing their characters on the Seven Dwarves has somewhat fired my imagination…


Originalyl published on Tuesday, 29 April 2008. If you want to know where this slightly perverse train of thought led to just google ‘the DaDisney Code.’



By George, I think I’ve got it…

Last year I set up a Twitter account, added one comment then left it, thinking ‘So what’s the big deal?’

Since then I’ve been receiving e-mails from business sites and reading blog posts which have indicated that Twitter is the up and coming social networking site.

I had wondered how this was possible- the idea of Twitter is that you can only write a limited number of words about what you are doing at that moment. Other people are using it more creatively- such as Steevan Glover, author of ‘The Frog and the Scorpion’ who is writing a novel with a friend, one snippet at a time.

So there I was, joined up but not using, when I got a couple of e-mails saying that people were following me on Twitter. So I’m thinking if they are following me I’d better put something on for them to read. So I did, and as a result got another follower.

Looking more closely at Twitter I found that there were groups on all sorts of things, and have joined one on book marketing. Also, as you can see, I’ve linked my blog to my Twitter account- click on the title of my Twitter Widget and you can go to Twitter and sign up if you like. I’m still exploring it, but it does appear to be fun and a good way to meet likeminded people.

See you there maybe.


So what do you know?

They always say- write about what you know. Strange really when you apply that to some best selling fiction. Did Frank Herbert know about space travel and the politico-religious structures of far-flung empires when he wrote ‘Dune?’ Did Martin Amis live his life backwards, as in ‘Time’s Arrow,’ and is J.K. Rowling regularly seen running through a pillar on a railway station platform?
Of course not. J.K. worked out that she would save a fortune in reconstructive surgery by leaving that sort of stunt to the imagination.
Now of course imagination is essential to good writing, but is a work ever one hundred percent imagination?
According to J.K. Rowling, the character of Hermione was based upon herself at the age of eleven. In the upper sixth, she had a friend called Sean who drove a torquoise Ford Anglia. That is a fact, and not particularly impressive, but what if that car could fly…

There is a school of thought which says that all writing is autobiography. You probably couldn’t extend this to shopping lists, but I can see what they mean.
Look at a little baby- look how they take it all in, processing everything which comes to them through their senses. We are programmed to do that, although it doesn’t carry on at that rate (imagine your capacity for learning new languages if it did!)
What I am getting at is that for some reason we are a part of the universe which has been gifted or cursed with self awareness, and as such we are constantly processing information, trying to make sense of it either through science, through art, through music, maths or literature.

I spent much of my academic career trying to make sense of the Bible. Theology- another way in which we process ‘reality’ through interpreting what we know (Discuss!)
Somewhere back in the mid nineteen nineties I had just finished my Master of Philosophy thesis on ‘Who wrote the Gospel of John?’ After 60,000 words I had concluded that I didn’t know. I didn’t feel that it was a waste of time, because it was now an educated ‘I don’t know,’ and I had a piece of paper to prove it.
But something was missing- big style.
I was no longer writing. The poetry I had once written and performed no longer seemed to satisfy. Seeing 60,000 words bound, with my name on the spine, feeling the weight of it in my hands, oooohhhh…. I knew that I had to write a novel.
Even as a child, this had been an ambition. At the age of thirteen I had tried to write a complex science fiction story, but had given up after several fase starts, realising that at that point I didn’t have the tools.
I left college in 1984, with a combined honours degree in English and divinity. Things had happened there which I thought would one be the makings of a good novel. But again, I wasn’t ready, so what will one day become my second novel, ‘Legion’s Daughter,’ was placed on the back burner.
The next ten years were taken up with making a career in the caring professions, and completing my M.Phil.
This brings me to where I started this post. It’s something like 1996, and I’m relaxing in a reclining chair on a visit to my brother-in-law’s house in Stafford. My mind is wandering to the idea of a novel, when the words come into my head: ‘Write about what you know.’
Well I didn’t think I could pull off a biblical epic. But what about a book in which people with severe learning disabilities are major characters?
In the mid eighties I had been involved in re-locating people from longstay ‘mental handicap’ hospitals. This was a world of which few people had first hand experience, and surely this quiet social revolution would provide a memorable backdrop for a unique story.
Thus ‘Tasting the Wind’ was conceived.


Originally published on ‘Blogger’ Thursday 24th April 2008

My Latest Twitterings