Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Posts Tagged ‘Learning Disabilities

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.

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.

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…

This is perhaps one of the frustrating periods in my book marketing campaign so far…

I am waiting for the next phase of marketing for Tasting the Wind to kick off. I’ve explored so many avenues with varying degrees of success. Of over four hundred books rerleased by my publisher I have been up as far as second place on Amazon, and have held first place on Book Depository (on and off) for some time.

Now I am waiting for reviews. This is one of those areas over which a writer has no control. I have been offered reviews in all sorts of places, sent off free copies, and as yet not one view has appeared. The problem mis that these editors will have their own priorities and schedules, and I will just have to waitpatiently until the reviewer has read Tasting the Wind, written the review, and submitted it to an editor who will have their own priorities.

So far I have made an appearance in the British Institute of Learning Disabilities ‘Current Awareness Service.’ I am waiting for reviews in a national periodical, a regional periodical, from an American academic, from an Australian periodical, a charity magazine, and from a high-ranking celebrity.

And all I can do is wait. These people have their own lives.

In the meantime, if you have read Tasting the Wind I would welcome your review on Amazon. So far there are six (5 on Amazon UK and one on Amazon.com) only 2 of which are from people who know me, and I would be happy for you to read any of them (and maybe buy a copy if you haven’t already.)

As for the professional reviews- I’ll keep you posted.

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: http://www.allanmayer.com/Tasting_the_Wind_1-6.pdf 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: http://inotauthor.blogspot.com/

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

Allan,
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:
http://allanmayer.wordpress.com/2008/11/13/221/

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

Allan
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.

Rob

 

Allan.

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,


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