A small announcement

So, this happened: This week I sold my first book!

Wait! What?

No, it does not mean that I am a door to door salesman now. Neither have any publishers picked up my manuscript. However, I did decide to put it up on Amazon as Kindle ebook (hail the cover style that makes you think of the 90s).

[update on 28th of August: Now also available as a paperback https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1688683372 ]

Just look at that dope 90s feeling

Wait! You wrote a book? How did that happen?

Well, to tell you the truth... it was an accident.

It all started in the summer of 2015. I was down with fever and reading Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett and as we all know, it is not wise to read when you are high (around 38 degrees).
After finishing the book, I had the urge to write something (also my feverish eyes could not stand any additional reading). So I started to write... and not even in my native language.
I know, it still makes no sense.

Anyways, after a few weeks, I had a finished short story that was fun and all, but the ending did not quite work. I wasn't sure what to do with it, so I sent it to some friends. After positive feedback and encouragement (insert a Personal Thank You here if you were one of these people) I continued working on it.

Soon I had a novella, that was also extremely funny, but that too was not enough.

And then it turned into a novel. But the ending still did not work, so I rewrote it... and then I rewrote it again.

I did get it to work finally and liked the characters and the story, there were obviously some other issues in it that I had missed before. So I tinkered with it some more. Then I sent it out for test reading to several friends and colleagues (I bow to all the test readers who assisted me in this step).
I fixed the mentioned bits and sent it to some competitions.

And... did not win.

To be honest, I would have been surprised if I did. It was my first ever writing in that length. I'm still surprised I wrote it and still have no idea what I'm doing when I write, but I did even less so when I started.
And after 4 years, here we are.
I decided to put it out there and focus on my next piece.

So, are you saying that it is not good? Well, that's not a wise sales pitch, mate.

No, I'm not saying that. However,  take the first book of any author and then take the last one. You see the difference. I'm not saying that I will be any good innit, but...
There are certainly people who would call my first book Pratchett fanfic and I cannot disagree. This is where my language skills and love for books came from.  Developing your own style takes time and practice and I feel the second book (that is already over 50k - I plan to finish it next year) already has its own vibe that seems more genuine.

So, you are rich and famous now?

Hell no!
But if I am lucky, people will like the book, get some smiles and laughs (it's still funny, but also serious - these are not opposites), and maybe even give me enough money for it so I could buy myself a cup of coffee at the end of the month. :) And I will definitely continue writing.
This is not the end. This is a milestone.

How long is it again?

Well, well... oh, you mean the writing?
In MS Word it was around 300 pages, but I also use a lot of spaces to keep the structure more clear. Kindle puts it somewhere around 218 pages, but it might not take into consideration the millions of footnotes.

The journey continues. 

In hindsight, it is obvious that I wrote the first book in the scrum framework - short story, novella, novel, all of them were finished products. I did not even know I had a book in me. Currently, I'm writing knowing that it will be a book. This will make a difference.

Also, I can already hint that it will be in the same world and have many of the same characters (think in style of 5 years later)

When I start thinking about it, the last 4 years of my life have been quite crazy. There have been ups  (for example getting new cats) and downs (... why do you think we needed new cats?) and I feel writing has helped me to survive it. There have been several days like this:

But I'm still kicking, alive and writing.

As Neil Gaiman put it in a speech in 2012

"Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too."

And I must agree.

Though, I'm not sure how good it is yet. This is for You to decide.

Kirjuta luuletus...

... ütles Tegude kalender. Ma siis mõtlesin, et kirjutan - sai ju kunagi palju neid sõnu ritta seatud. Selline ta siis tuli ja las ta siis on.

Tüdruk, kes vaatas tähti
Me olime ja vaatasime tähti
Küll hoones sees, kuid puudus aken, uks.
Sein pragunev ning laeks ainult lehti
võis näha: Miskit jäänud oli poolikuks.

Sest kohast sai mu hingerahu tempel.
Hõrk pelgupaik, kus puhata sai meel.
Ei teesklust, maske, argipäeva tempe.
Oh kuidas otsin seda tunnet veel.

On läinud koht ning nii ka läinud sina.
Veel tähistaevas tunnen ära meid.
Miks sünnime me nõnda hapratena?
Oh kallis sõber... soovin sul häid teid.

To my dear friend

It's been close to half a year since we last spoke. 

Though this is not out of the ordinary when I look back to recent years of our friendship. We met up once or twice per year, if lucky, and contacted each other when we felt like it. 
Sometimes there was even less than an email in a month. 

And this was fine. 

Our friendship was strong - we knew each other more than half of our lifetimes.
There was never any pressure or urgency. The knowledge that you had a friend on your side, even if you did not see this friend too often, was enough. You could reach out, sure, but often the knowledge that you could was good enough. 

Maybe because you had been there so many times before, during times that I'm rather surprised that I survived - just listening, without any judgement, and guiding with your kind words. 

I felt that I got more than I gave and that I was a burden. Not that you ever said anything like it, you never would have, even if you felt this way (though I hope you didn't) ... 
You know this inner voice. You had it too. 
Asking for help was and is hard. 

It took me 13 years before I understood that I needed help and could collect myself enough to go see a therapist, but before that, you were my main source of help. I kid you not when I say that I would not be here without you. 
But you did not see that. What you saw was me being strong and handling my depression and PTSD. 

But you just cannot be strong alone... it does not work that way.

It's been eight years since I had my first therapy session and it was obviously not the last. Things have changed. I do not have regular visits anymore, but I try to check in when I'm not sure about something in my soul and need an honest reflection. 

I live and am still sometimes surprised how well it all has turned out. I have a family, loving wife, a steady job, a flat, two cats and deep connections with people. Next to that, I even have a hobby that people pay me for... really, how amazing is that? 

True, there is a voice in my head, that will most likely stay there for the rest of my life, saying that I do not deserve it. The same voice that tries to stop me from doing anything, saying that I will fail. The voice that says that I will disappoint people and that at some point I will be arrested for "trying to behave like a normal human". I have learned to live with it now.

The fact is that I'm not normal, if there ever was such a thing, and that is fine. It's just been a bloody painful journey to get to this point and understanding... and the journey goes on. I consider myself extremely lucky to have met so many amazing people on the way and I even have a proper safety net for times when things get tough.

But there was a time when you were the only one I had. The only one who made it safe for me to open up and also the one whom I knew could handle it. 

Nothing or no-one can replace that.

I remember how we once talked about love. You had just read the book "Veronika decides to die" and liked the idea of love healing people. Knowing the story, I understand why it popped into my mind now.

I remember being sceptical about this concept at the time. Maybe because I had no idea of love back then, all I knew was the ooey-gooey stuff from books and movies. Now, I would define it differently: Love is the attention and time we give to something or someone - the shared moments of connection.
And this does heal.

Even if the connection is no longer there, there have been plenty of shared moments. 

I will be forever grateful for the ones we had.

I miss you, my dear friend.

Philosophies in Improv

I have had several improv teachers in my life and have tried and seen many different approaches. However, I have not met something that tries to capture improv philosophies and it is a shame as it can make a ton of difference.
Here I will try to do something along these lines. Though, I recommend taking it with a grain of salt. I'm no expert in the matter. These are just some thoughts.

Why is it important?

Let me give you an example. In LARP (live action role play) there are two main attitudes: play to win or to have an adventure.
In case you want to have the latter, you make a group of a fighter, spellcaster, healer, thief, etc - you know, the classic variety - and just try to have a great story together. Yes, it is great if you can also finish your mission, but the main aim is on the narrative and roleplay. You keep your real life and game separated.
In case you play to win, your approach is very different. You set up a group of clerics (essentially, tanks with healing spells) and use anything at your disposal to win the game/mission/narrative. Hence you have already made plans and preparations in advance to make sure you succeed.
You can already guess what happens when these two approaches clash within one game. Both will accuse the other of not being a good sport.
Both act based on their philosophy and expect others to do the same... and this is the problem. However, if you are aware of these two very different approaches, you can act accordingly and as a game master even make games that would challenge both. While it is wise to keep these approaches in mind, note that there are plenty of players who are somewhere in the middle.

What about in improv?

I have been pondering this question for a long time. I see the difference, but don't know how to put it into words. However, it can help to look at the last 2 improv books in my collection:
The Improviser's Way: A Longform Workbook by Katy Schutte
TAKE IT EASY™ by Ryan Millar
Both brilliant in their own way and both made by brilliant improv actors/teachers (and I met both of them in my first year in improv).
One gives very specific instructions on how to create and train for a format, while the other gives advice on how to not fret too much, be like water and go with whatever is there.  I don't want to call them conflicting approaches, however, one seems to be more structure oriented while the other is more about discovering what is already there. Don't get me wrong, you can also discover what is there within a structure and you can just as well create a structure around what you discover on the spot - we do it all the time on the stage.
The question is more along the lines of what do you establish first.

The Actors Dream

Sometimes we tend to forget what a magnificent thing we do as improv teachers. A stage is a scary place and many people have had nightmares of being in the middle of it and not knowing what to say.  This nightmare is so common among people who are constantly on stage that even has a name: The Actors Dream.
We, the improv teachers are challenging this nightmare and it is not a small feat as there are only two things we can do about it. The stage is scary - you can improve the armour or remove the fear.
How do you improve the armour? By learning structure and things that work. By adding items to your toolbox for every possible situation. By being in control.
How do you remove the fear? By individual work with yourself. By letting go and being like water. By understanding that there is no such thing as failure, life is short and you will die anyway (... eh, that was me, sorry).
You can see how these two ways link to the two previously mentioned books.

Teachers or Supporters?

It seems to me that we can also do the same separation on how improv is taught.
There are those who have a set rules system and way of doing improv. There is a right and wrong way to do improv and everything that does not fit their school attitude is seen as wrong.
(For example, there are people who see improv on serious topics as blasphemy - improv, in their opinion, should always make you laugh.)
These teachers are very proud of the school they participated in - seeing this as a proof that they do the right thing.
The result is that pupils know how to make a great show in a specific style of improv, however, do not often know how to appreciate other forms and attitudes.

Next to that, we also have the ones who just set a few ground rules (support and listen) and tell you to explore - be like a child and discover. Everything, (as long as you do not go against the ground rules)  is permitted and fine. The scene can be on any topic, as long as you can commit to it.
These teachers have often self-learned, have experience from different sections (clowning, etc) and have combined several teachings together. The result is pupils who are better people... as the focus is more on listening and supporting skills (that are helpful also in real life)... they also have a wider view on the topic - however, it takes more time to get them stage ready in the beginning.
What I have also seen more in this way of learning improv, is that people discover more things about themselves and often pick up hobbies they used to have in their childhood - improv is still there, but more like a framework or idea that influences life, not so much as an art form that you have to perform in.

Now, I fully know that these are generalisations and just as in LARP, one is not better than the other, it just has a different focus. Most of us are somewhere in between.

However, thinking about these topics can help us understand fellow improvisers better.

Looking for test readers!

As some of you already know, I've been working on a book and it's now arrived at a point where I'm looking for input!

The first draft of it came in a flash of inspiration (okay, more like a fever dream), but I owned it and have working on rewriting, re-structuring and polishing it ever since. I'm still getting the hang of this, but I’ve been following my gut (plus DM’ing and acting does give you some skills).

So, if you could read it and be brutally honest about it, it would be great.

Here is the summary in a paragraph:

“A New Beginning is the story of Ravenwing, a tribesman cursed with bad luck. And the story of Morgen, city ready for a change, where it all happens. In a wacky, dark and mysterious world that at the same time is not too different from the one we live in. Though, the world is a big celestial egg called New Yolk and the city has a regiment of earwax collectors - that should already give you some hints of what's in store.”

If you're into Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett it might be your thing.

About 290 (A4) pages so a bit under 600 if you read it like a real book. Available in PDF and for your convenience also in ePUB. Please contact me directly if interested (PM, chat, email, sms, call … snail mail).

Thank you!