Interview with Denny Reader

By R Proffitt of iopan books, November 2016

 

RP: I am very pleased to be sitting with the author, artist, political and mental health commontator and personal friend, Denny Reader. Welcome Denny.
DR: Hello.
RP: We don’t have a great deal of time, so I’ll plunge straight into the first question: Going back to your schooldays, what were you like?
DR: Shubland Street School in Leamington Spa was my first school, I have many special fond memories of this place. As the school’s catchment area included many Asian families, I’d say that I had many Asian friends. The school was relaxed and supportive. It was only when I got to Milverton Middle School that I developed the sense that some people can be snobby – but again, I developed some strong friendships here and my time was mostly pleasant with many happy memories. But yes, I’d say that here was my first experience of social class – of what your parents jobs and income mean to others. As with many young people, the problems started for me once I attended high school, Trinity high school in Leamington. It was hell for the first two years. I was bullied and the school authorities did nothing about it what-so-ever. I felt neglected and at this time my mum and dad split up. Without my father, and at 13 years-of-age, we became homeless. I lived with a friend and his family for 8 months – My school work suffered and I began playing truant (which I must say, improved my credibility with peers!). But soon, I had a social worker. In the last two years at Trinity I made more of an effort and I discovered that I had a talent for Art & English. Also, I stood up to the bullies and made some good friends.
RP: Were you good at English?
DR: In the last two years of school I enjoyed English very much and this is partly thanks to having a good teacher.
RP: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
DR: I would like to pursue writing about spirituality and philosophy as well as continuing my poetry. I would like my writing to be of use to people, to be inspiring, to be a personal catharsis – and a catharsis for others. I value writing that shares experiences of mental ill-health; I enjoy raising awareness of mental health and environmental issues. I believe that writing can help people to develop meaning in their own lives and – of course – my ambition is to write ‘acting from the heart’.
RP: Which writers inspire you?
DR: The local poets Nigel Pearce and Tony Valley (street poetry) were instrumental in starting me off as a poet. I am also very fond of William Blake. I ran a readers & writers group in Warwick/Leamington and many of the people there influenced me. I enjoy the lyrics of Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Tracey Chapman, Led Zepplin and Robert Plant.
RP: So, what have you written?
DR: I have written many articles on ethical issues, I have a strong sense of justice. I have published in animal rights magazines, in ‘Mind’ newsletter, in a local magazine called ‘Wake Your Mind’ and in the Warwickshire Telegraph. ‘Art Saves Lives International’ have also taken some of my articles on mental health awareness. I have a previous book of poetry published in paperback called “Inside the Outside”.
RP: What are you working on at the minute?
DR: I am attending a writers group at ‘Old Bank’, Warwick. It’s run by the mental health charity, ‘Rethink’. I’m starting to write short stories and another book of poetry. I’m also drumming in a band called “Matter/Energy” (which is available on Cound Cloud) and I’m helping to run an art group at ‘Old Bank’ too, (‘Rethink’ again.)
RP: What genre are your books?
DR: Genres? I guess my main genres are poetry, art and positive affirmations with short fictional stories to come.
RP: What draws you to these genres?
DR: Poetry enable me to express myself in ways that prove difficult in other ways. A great draw for me is simply the love of creativity.
RP: How much research do you do?
DR: I regularly research and follow mental health campaigns and natural health issues. I like to keep in tune with environmental issues (For two years I ran the Leamington & Warwick branch of “Friends of the Earth”). I stay abreast of politics: Standing twice for the Green Party and, of course, being a day-to-day revolutionary!
RP: When did you decide to become a writer?
DR: I can’t give you an exact date! (laughs) Around when I was taking small acting parts with “SEZ-U” [a community theatre company run by Furgus Durrant]. I’ve always had a love of English and wrote a lot when I was a teenager, keeping a diary, noting down my reflexions.
RP: Why do you write?
DR: I write mainly for the cathartic experience. I see it as a means of offering people a window. This can be poetic, artistic, creative or indeed spiritual. These are all meaningful ways of seeing the world. I write to share beautiful things; to offer a different view of reality; to offer inspiration.
RP: What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
DR: The overflowing inspiration will always find an outlet. I enjoy the act of writing freehand which I edit afterwards. I’ve been keeping notebooks since the age of 16. Making a start can be quite straightforward, and when it’s going well it often feels that the words write themselves! I’ll often start with a single title or line - it feels quite intuitive.
RP: Do you write full-time or part-time?
DR: Part time – I’ve been caring for mother for three years. The demands of family life and social ties take up a lot of my time.
RP: Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
DR: Generally in the evening – although the ideas often come when I’m active and walking – when the weather is pleasent, I sometimes write in parks or outdoors in Nature.
RP: Do you write every day, five days a week or as and when?
DR: It has peaks and troughs.
RP: Where do the your ideas come from?
DR: From my experiences and from research. Having schizophrenia offers me a plethora of experience, much of it being quite mystical.
RP: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
DR: I’ve gained experience and knowledge of poetic form. I have also expanded the various ways in which I creatively express myself.
RP: What is the hardest thing about writing?
DR: When you lose belief in yourself writing is impossible. If you judge yourself too harshly or in a negative way then your creative output will suffer. I tend not to do this with writing but with my artwork, yes, sometimes I do. Things for me are a lot freer with writing.
RP: What is the easiest thing about writing?
DR: Going into the ‘enjoyable zone’ – Being fully absorbed in the creative moment.
RP: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
DR: Well, my first book took me eight years. My current book was four years in the making.
RP: Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
DR: Visit places that inspire you. Be loose on themes and keep a diary… however simple. Keep up the act of writing, try to keep a dream diary. Allow your ideas to flow and don’t judge yourself. Any writing you do is good.
RP: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
DR: I tend to read a lot of self-help books and books about spirituality. I enjoy Stuart Wild and I’m also fond of Eckholt Tolle, David Willcock and Neil Kramer.
RP: For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
DR: For longer books, I prefer paperbacks. They are comforting somehow to physically hold. With shorter items I’m happy with reading from a screen. I must admit that I still don’t own a kindle!
RP: What book/s are you reading at present?
DR: Russel Brand’s “Revolution”. “Bringers of the Dawn” by Barbara Marciniak. I’m also always dipping into Buddhist literature.
RP: Do you proofread/edit all your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
DR: Both.
RP: Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
DR: Yes I do, but the first book was rushed a little.
RP: Who edited your book and how did you select him/her?
DR: My editors are trusted and valued friends. For “Wondering Whispers” I chose Tom Taylor, Bill Sankey and you yourself, Richard. I also go through my books many, many times, self-editing.
RP: Who designed your book cover/s?
DR: I made the artwork, the paintings for both covers are taken from my portfolio. The publisher Chipmunka styled the first and the second was formated by iopan books.
RP: Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
DR: Well, yes, it has to be eyecatching.
RP: What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
DR: With a traditional publisher, I found much of the process was out of my control, choice of fonts, pictures, utilitarian cover, promotion. With self-publishing, I gained more control, had more choice. Although it is a high work-load.
RP: How do you market your books?
DR: Social media, poetry magazines, mental health organisations, friends, word-of-mouth, newspaper interviews and there's a possible pod-cast to come.
RP: Why did you choose this route?
DR: e-books are getting more popular these days and more and more people are choosing to read on Kindles and online, now more than ever. Also there’s a lot you can do digitally with an e-book that would cost a bomb if you got it printed in a paperback or hardback.
RP: Would you or do you use a PR agency?
DR: I would consider it, yes, but I do not use one now and haven’t in the past.
RP: Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
DR: I suppose to just use every avenue possible to get it out there and get it seen. Work out your main audience and organisations that connect to your subject matter and send it off to the suitable places. Also there’s a lot you can do on social media, sending it to newspapers, to magazines, websites, asking people and companies to review the book etc. When you really start to research it, they are many avenues you can take.
RP: What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
DR: Not much right now, as the second book has only just been released.
RP: What do you do to get book reviews?
DR: Send them to the relevant people and places.
RP: How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
DR: I’ve had a review of my first book in a county wide magazine called “Mosiac”. They did a very good review of my book, I was very happy with what they did.
RP: Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers?
DR: No, not at the moment, other than to send them out, be polite and relate to their subject matter, relate the content of your book to associated organisations and people etc.
RP: What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
DR: Yeah, if you get a bad review early on, it can be dis-heartening, but keep trying, send it out to a few other people and places, and try your best to get some good reviews, because they can be the difference to whether your book sells or not.
RP: Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?
DR: Yes, well I sent my first book to the local Courier and the local Observer for them to do an article on my new paperback with Chipmunka Publishing, both published an article about my book and myself. The Observer did a great article, and the Courier did an awful one that I was considering to take action upon, it was very embarrassing, so I do recommend that if you go to a paper with your book, having some second party representation would help, also making sure that what you send to them cannot be contrived into anything that you don’t want out there in the public!!
RP: What’s your views on social media for marketing?
DR: Social media can be so good for many things, especially promoting things these days, I definitely recommend social media for promotion, get contacts on Twitter, Facebook every one you can, get your contacts up and share your book as often as you can. Plus you can send your work to groups and organisations on Facebook/Twitter etc. who can share and promote your book for you too.
RP: Which social network worked best for you?
DR: Definitely it has been Facebook for me, I’m very active on Facebook and have a good contact list to promote things on there. If you really want, you can set up a page or a Facebook site purely for your work, keep friend requesting almost endlessly and then share your work to get a board audience.
RP: Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
DR: Just keep things brief and to the point and find the relevant organisations and people to send your stuff to.
RP: Did you do a press release, Goodreads book launch or anything else to promote your work and did it work?
DR: Yes I did do a book launch at a local community centre. I did a joint one for me and a friend. It was quite hard work planning it all and getting it out there, but the day went well, with quite a few people attending. We both didn’t sell many books though, which was a shame. On a different occasion at a world mental health day art exhibition, I had a good few book on sale there, and they all sold within two days.
RP: Did you get interviewed by local press/radio for your book launch?
DR: No, I didn’t feel that I could face the local press at the time.
RP: Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures?
DR: I use my own artwork on the covers of my books, having a good image to associate with is very important. I think having a great cover and it being well presented is crucial.
RP: Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future?
DR: I would avoid sending anything in to a newspaper that could be contrived into a negative spin, because quite frankly newspapers are looking to sell a good story and not much else.
RP: Why do you think that other well written books just don’t sell?
DR: I would think that its generally down to the lack of publicity and of the right publicity. The most hardest thing to do is getting it seen and heard of by a board spectrum of people. If you can get your book or work backed by a well known company, person, celebrity or suitable organisation then you have the best chances.
RP: What do you think of ‘trailers’ for books?
DR: Yeah I think it’s a good idea, to show people a small piece of your work as a taster, make it a good part of your book, one which portrays your book in its best and most descriptive light, then let people have a taster of it, sounds like a good idea to me.
RP: Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book/s?
DR: I don’t have a trailer at the moment, but for my first book I made a video on youtube discussing it to share on social media to promote it. I may create one yes.
RP: Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
DR: I gave away quite a few of my first book, I really wanted people to read it and was very proud of it. Plus many people don’t get round to buying it and it makes a very personal present to friends and family members too. Also, it’s deemed as courteous to send a free copy for people to review.
RP: Did you format your own book?
DR: It’s odd that you should ask that question, since it was you yourself who formatted it for me.
RP: Ha, ha. Yes. That is what I do through iopan publishing. I can answer the next question for you too! I was going to ask which formats your book is available in; and I can say that Wondering Whispers will be available in .epub, .mobi, .azw and .pdf.
DR: I understand that with those formats, the vast majority of devices are covered.
RP: Yes, that’s correct. But why did you select me to do the formatting for you?
DR: Well, you’re a good friend of mine, you offered to help me with publishing my book, you’re a whiz on computers, a web designer and a great artist, so I was more than pleased to take you up on the offer.
RP: Ha ha! You're making me blush! So moving on… How do you relax, Denny?
DR: I Listen to music almost constantly, but I mainly choose ambient, world, folk and alternative music to relax to. Taking a hot bath with candles and joss sticks usually does the trick. Also meditate when I can, though I find the sustained concentration more difficult these days. Going on a country walk, having a power nap. Also creating art, especially colouring books can be very relaxing. I also game on my xbox which is a great source of relaxation and entertainment.
RP: What is your favourite motivational phrase?
DR: ‘Live and Let Live, Live and Let Go.’
RP: What is your favourite positive saying?
DR: ‘Often those who have achieved the most, have also failed the most.’
RP: What is your favourite book and why?
DR: The book by Carlos Castaneda, “Don Juan a Yaqui Way of Knowledge” is probably one of the most influencial books I’ve ever read. Whether or not as people say if the story has much relation to true events, the book introduced me to shamanism and to a curiosity into investigating the mind and the mystical perspective towards the world and psychedelic experiences.
RP: What is your favourite quote?
DR: ‘Success is not the key to Happiness, Happiness is the key to success.’ and ‘Only when the Power of Love, overcomes the Love of Power, then will the World know Peace.’ Also quotes from the Tao Te Ching and Kahlil Gibran. ‘Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.’ Khalil Gibran. and ‘Through Love all that is bitter will be sweet, Through Love all that is copper will be gold, Through Love all dregs will become wine, through Love all pain will turn to medicine.’ Rumi.
RP: I must say that Rumi and Gibran are two of my favourite writers also… OK, so turning now to other media. What is your favourite film and why?
DR: At the moment it is “Prometheus” the Prequel to the Alien series. To me it is fascinating the idea of an alien species seeding our genetics and existence and the whole story unravels well with many fantastic visuals and a great storyline.
RP: Where can you see yourself in 5 years time?
DR: Hopefully still being creative and helping out in the community, working in mental health and getting back into activism. Possibly writing my third book.
RP: What advice would you give to your younger self?
DR: Believe in yourself more, have faith in your talents and don’t put yourself down so much.
RP: Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
DR: It would have to be the Buddha, to meet him in person and hopefully gain something from his wisdom and presence.
RP: If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
DR: It would be “The Lord of The Rings”, by J.R.R Tolkien. His books and the movies based on them have inspired millions, no doubt. To inspire so much to the imagination of people and give them a window to another world, to set their minds free at least temporarily. Or it would be “The Origin of Species”, by Charles Darwin. To have such a great affect upon the world, to be able to liberate society from the clutches of the dominant church. Or it would be the works of Karl Marx. To be a strong voice against Capitalism and move millions to see things from the viewpoint of the working classes.
RP: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
DR: Just keep writing, don’t judge yourself too negatively, keep finding things to inspire you. Keep a diary and don’t let anything put you off believing in yourself. Ignore negative criticism, and just keep going and writing.
RP: Where do you see publishing going in the future?
DR: Increasingly more digitised. The common person having greater accessibility to publishing tools and getting their work out there.
RP: Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
DR: Stay heart-centered and believe in yourself.
RP: How can readers discover more about you and you work?
DR: Social media. I have a YouTube channel where I’ve done videos on mental health recovery and recorded poetry. I’ve a Twitter account, a Facebook account where I’m most active.
RP: Yes, and I shall make sure that those links are available when I publish this interview. All that remains is for me to say, Denny Reader, thank you for taking the time to give this interview and I wish you every success with your new eBook, “Wondering Whispers”
DR: Thank you.

Denny's Social Media Links