The difficult second book

[What follows is an atypically personal rant by Dean Burnett, on the experiences of writing a second book, in case it’s of any use to other aspiring authors or similar writers who may find themselves in similar situations]

I just finished my second book. I mean *really* finished it. Aside from fixing the typos and proofing and formatting, it’s all done and dusted. My part in the process is ‘over’, until it’s released in 7 months and I need to start plugging it, and presumably the whole cycle, of press, interviews, talks at literary festivals, starts up again. Although, in truth, it never actually stopped, just got less intense after the first few months after publication of the debut book.

I had been tentatively warned by others who’d gone through the process that writing your second book is not the same as writing your first. I didn’t doubt this, but also didn’t really appreciate the extent of that observation. I’m sure it’s different for everyone as we all have different circumstances to deal with, but for me, the second time around was so incredibly different to the first time writing a book, and this really took me by surprise.

Part of that is due to the fact that, as a book, it’s a different beast altogether from the first one; there’s a narrative, interviews, personal reflections and other pompous-sounding stuff. My publishers, as keen as they were for a follow up for book one, weren’t willing to let me rest n my laurels and knock out the same old stuff as before, and me, being cheerfully optimistic and still relatively oblivious about how this whole ‘author’ thing works, was quite happy to agree with what they suggested. Should have put more thought into that really, as in the end I was essentially figuring out how to write a book all over again, as I was writing one. This was a bit tricky.

My situation was also different. I also didn’t have my study room in the house any more. What I DID have, was a second child, who slept in there now. Well, I say ‘slept’, that was the theory at least. My very young daughter often sees sleep as more of an ‘optimistic suggestion’ than a biological necessity. So that was something else to factor in.

I also had a ‘previous’ book. I wasn’t ‘unknown author’ any more, I was now ‘author of…’, which was a bigger psychological hurdle than I realised. The success of my first book was actually a surprisingly big problem in many ways. Firstly, as alluded to before, it hasn’t actually gone away at any point, so as I’m trying to write the second one I’m still constantly travelling around to talk about the first one. This does disrupt your ‘flow’ somewhat.

But, at a more fundamental level, the problem was I actually splurged all my existing knowledge and said all the things I wanted to talk about when the first book, because I genuinely didn’t think there’d be any call for a second one. I’m still fairly new to publishing but I know that, like with all creative industries, the road to success is littered with the debris of those who crashed and burned, and I figured I’d a much higher chance of being one of those. Sure, I had a popular blog and a relatively unique approach in a rather crowded field, but I mostly saw those as things to fall back on. Overall, I assumed my first book it would do ‘middling’ business at best, maybe end up in a few relevant libraries, and that would be that. Thanks for trying, no harm no foul, see you around.

That… didn’t happen, as we know. The first book did well, to a daft extent. So I ended up writing a second book, that I’d never planned, to match a first book, that I had no idea would do as well as it did.

For the record, this absolutely isn’t a complaint; I’m aware of how massively fortunate I am to even be in this position, let alone make it work, and that many would kill to be in my shoes. I appreciate that, I really do, and will do my best to warrant the privileged position I find myself in. Those who have invested in me deserve no less, whether it by getting my writing out into the world or spending their own time and money in reading it.

But, it’s also important to point out, I think, that this isn’t an always-easy gig, however cushy it may seem from the outside. I’ve had countless people approach me since, asking if I can help get their book published like mine. I’m always happy to help out others as and when I can, but I’m not some omnipotent book-based God. Me putting a word in for you might help slightly, but it won’t mean you get published.

I stress this because I’ve had people seemingly think that an endorsement from me is all they need. People saying things like “I reckon I’d be good at writing a book, can I speak to your publishers” or “I’ve got a good idea for a book. I can’t really describe it but it’s great, can you pass it on to your publishers?” Where do they think this will end up? Me telling my publishers that a total stranger (to them, and sometimes to me) reckons they’d be good at doing books, so give them an advance? Seems a tad optimistic, I reckon.

Point is, yes it’s great being a published author, but getting the second book done nearly broke my mind several times, as my wife will no doubt attest to. I’ve actually just started reading my second book now, as it’s all one piece, and it’s like something written by someone else. It was just such a slog and a stress getting it done that I honestly don’t recognise parts of it. I can never hope to objective, but I’m actually impressed that it even hangs together in a logical way.

Basically, what I’m saying is, I can’t rule out the possibility that my second book is utter shite. But, there’s a reason for that if it is. So, apologies in advance to all those inconvenienced by the ever-increasing promotion I’m going to be doing over the coming months. Block/unfollow/ignore me as you wish, I’ll understand totally.

The Happy Brain – 03/05/2018

“Might be shit” (Dean Burnett, author)

The Dead Brexit Sketch

 

The Electorate enters 10 Downing Street holding Brexit in a box. Enters Prime Minister Theresa May’s office. May is sat behind a desk.

Electorate: ‘Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(Theresa May does not respond.)

Electorate: ‘Ello, Jeremy?

May: What do you mean “Jeremy”?

Electorate: (pause) I’m sorry, I got mixed up. I wish to make a complaint!

May: We’re, um, on holiday for three months.

Electorate: Never mind that, my lady. I wish to complain about this Brexit what I voted for barely over a year ago in a referendum approved of in this very office.

May: Oh yes, the, uh, the Britain’s exit from the European Union for a future of unconstrained prosperity and global success…What’s,uh…What’s wrong with it?

Electorate: I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lady. It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!

May: No, no, it’s uh,…it’s resting.

Electorate: Look, matey, I know a dead Brexit when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.

May: No no it’s not dead, it’s, it’s restin’! Remarkable process, the Red White and Blue Brexit, idn’it, ay? Beautiful jams!

Electorate: Jams don’t enter into it! It’s stone dead.

May: Nononono, no, no! It’s resting!

Electorate: All right then, if it’s restin’, I’ll wake it up! (shouting at Brexit) ‘Ello, Mister Brexit! We’ve got some lovely fresh negotiations for you if you show…

(UK withdraws from the 1964 London Fisheries convention)

May: There, it moved! We took back control!

Electorate: No, you didn’t, that was you withdrawing from an obscure self-imposed initiative which was obsolete anyway!

May: I never!!

Electorate: Yes, you did!

May: I never, never did anything…

Electorate: (yelling and hitting Brexit repeatedly) ‘ELLO BREXIT!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your Article 50 alarm call! We’ve got barely a year left to sort out four decades worth of infrastructure and integration! Testing!

(Takes Brexit, thumps it against May’s desk. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)

Electorate: Now that’s what I call a dead Brexit.

May: No, no…..no, it’s sabotaged!

Electorate: SABOTAGED?!?

May: Yeah! You sabotaged it, just as it was getting going! Brexits sabotage easily, major.

Electorate: Um…now look…now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That Brexit is definitely deceased, and when I voted for it not 15 months ago, you assured me that its total lack of logic and common sense was due to experts and the liberal elite not being trustworthy and it would be fine because the Germans will want to sell us cars. And now look at it!

May: Well, it’s…it’s, ah…probably pining for the Empire.

Electorate: PININ’ for the EMPIRE?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that? Look, why did it fall flat on it’s face the moment negotiations started?

May: Brexit prefers falling on its face! Remarkable process, id’nit, squire? Lovely jams!

Electorate: Look, I took the liberty of examining this Brexit when it all kicked off, and I discovered the only reason that it had seemed feasible in the first place was because of ridiculous lies on a bus and you not telling us anything about it, justified with some guff about keeping your cards “close to your chest”!

(pause)

May: Well, o’course I had to keep my cards close to my chest! For everyone else’s benefit. If I hadn’t, everyone would know how amazing Britain is, Brexit would have spread through the EU, broke it all up with its strength and stability, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!

Electorate: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this Brexit wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘It’s bleedin’ demised!

May: No no! It’s pining!

Electorate: ‘It’s not pinin’! It’s passed on! The sunlit uplands are no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet it’s maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn’t kept us in the dark it’d have been binned a long time ago! This exiting processes is now a shambles! It’s a coalition of chaos! It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off its half-baked rationale, squandered our credibility and joined the bleedin’ Suez canal crisis!! THIS IS AN EX-BREXIT!!

(pause)

May: Well, I’d better replace it, then. (May takes a quick peek behind desk) Sorry squire, I’ve had a look ’round and uh, we’re right out of equivalent international treaties that allow us to maintain our present standard of living while granting us greater-if-unnecessary sovereignty and control of our borders right now.

Electorate: I see. I see, I get the picture.

May: (pause) We’ve got the World Trade Organisation.

(pause)

Electorate: Pray, does it allow us to trade and work seamlessly with our nearest neighbours, something on which most of our economy and industry depends?

May: Nnnnot really.

Electorate: WELL IT’S HARDLY A BLOODY REPLACEMENT, IS IT?!!???!!?

May: N-no, I guess not. (gets ashamed, looks at his feet)

Electorate: Well.

(pause)

May: (quietly) D’you…. d’you fancy another election?

Electorate: (looks around) Yeah, all right, sure.

 

Inspired in part by the inestimable David Allen Green and his insightful explaining of Brexit via pop-culture references

How to identify a ‘Lone Wolf’ : A scientific guide

The Finsbury park attack this week was just the latest in a seemingly endless run of such incidents. Difficult times. Difficult problems. Dispiriting options. Hard times ahead.

I don’t know how to address these things, I’m just a random bloke with a webpage. However, one thing I can help with, is describing the perpetrators. Many people have been angered by the lack of media coverage referring to him as a terrorist, arguing that because the attack was directed at Muslims rather than perpetrated by them, then it can’t be terrorism, because only Muslims do that, if you believe the papers.

There may indeed be an element of this, but as many have pointed out, the individual responsible is alive and will face trial, so legal restrictions are in place regarding what can and cannot be reported, in order to prevent mistrial and so forth.

Ergo, some of the media coverage has had to get a bit more creative. The Times went all out with their front page splash referring to the individual as a “lone wolf”.

This is a commonly used phrase. But is it accurate? And if so, how are you supposed to know when you’ve got one nearby? Many neighbours and relations of those labelled Lone Wolves often express shock and dismay that a harmless-seeming individual could do something so heinous. Except in this case, admittedly, as the Cardiff neighbours of the accused individual refer to him as a “complete c***“.

So, how do you know if someone is a Lone Wolf? Here’s a scientific guide.

FOOD

How does the individual in question find food when hungry? If they’re a true lone wolf, they will seek out prey with their highly efficient hearing and sense of smell. Of course, being a lone wolf they will be denied the advantage of group hunting meaning they can’t bring down larger animals, so will be restricted to smaller prey.

If they instead obtain food from the extensive range of options provided by standard human society, then they are not really a lone wolf. Even the subtlest interaction required by most transactions would largely rule out lone wolf status if carried out successfully. If the individual readily consumes cuisine like kebabs, pizzas, curries, burgers etc. while constantly complaining about how the influence of immigrants and foreigners is ‘ruining this country’, then they’re definitely not a lone wolf, they’re just an idiot

LIVING ARRANGEMENTS

A true lone wolf will avoid the territories of other packs, except in certain circumstances (see below), so they are constantly on the move, keeping their presence secret from other wolves by any means necessary. Without a pack to be part of, other wolves are a danger to steer clear of. It means lone wolves have to cover hundreds of miles of terrain to find food and safety.

If the individual in question lives as a member of a community or family group with no obvious issues or conflict beyond the everyday, if they aren’t driven from their homes to pursue a solitary existence on the margins of human settlements, then they aren’t a lone wolf. The fact that reported Lone Wolves often have neighbours and friends to speak up for them is itself a contradiction.

SEX

Obviously, a genuine lone wolf doesn’t get to mate much, what with being literally alone. However, there are instances when, if the circumstances align neatly, they can do so. If they detect the scent of a female in heat (lone wolves are mostly male, but not always) who is part of a pack where the alpha is weak or old, they can challenge said alpha for mating rites, and sometimes win. Thanks to this process, a Finnish Lone Wolf once saved a Swedish pack from inbreeding-induced disaster.

By contrast, if their lack of sex is due to something like an unrealistic expectation of how much women will want to be with them leading to illogical feelings of rejection slowly developing into a seething but unwarranted rage and aggression at women and the world in general, that’s a whole other thing. Not a Lone Wolf. There are genuine issues and social factors to be looked at and combated there, but the comparison with wolves is even more unwarranted.

If they’re actually married with children and still hate the world and everyone in it, again, there are other issues at work here.

SPECIES

If they have four legs, sharp teeth and fur, then they’re probably a lone wolf. If they’re bipedal and wear clothes and talk and understand the concept of money and religion and politics and beany babies and smartphones and bathtubs etc., then they’re clearly a human.

I realise it’s meant to be metaphorical, but I don’t care. Words and images matter, particularly when presented in maximum-impact high-profile ways, like on the fronts of major newspapers. Wolves are highly evolved pack predators but the fact that around 15% of them end up going it alone is intriguing to us. A lone wolf inspires images of independence, dignity, mystery, strength and determination, as well it should.

None of these qualities should be reflexively applied to a despicable individual who commits acts of obscene violence against innocent people due to illogical and highly suspect conclusions, just because he doesn’t conform to the usual ethnic or religious templates you prefer.

If you must use some comparable creature from the natural world, why not try the Carpenter ant? They are perfectly normal individuals except when they get infected by a vicious brain fungus which causes them to abandon their community and go off on illogical suicide missions, purely so the brain-eating fungus can spread to others. Surely that’s a far more suitable comparison? Unless you’re harvesting the fungus for your own benefit of course, then I guess you wouldn’t want to draw attention to it

[Facts about Lone Wolves can be found here]

Dean’s book The Idiot Brain is available now for 40% off

 

 

On working for ‘exposure’ (and why I won’t)

There are many places where exposure is not welcomed, you know.

Hello. Dean here. Makes sense, it’s my site after all. Be weird if it wasn’t me, if anything.

Since I’ve set up this site, I’ve had numerous messages from people from all walks of life. Students, journalists, podcasters, fans and definitely-not-fans of my writing and book, event organisers, and, recently, a particularly angry clown. Literally, a clown. I’m enjoying it, if I’m honest.

Many of these messages have been requests for me to be involved with or take part in their radio show/publication/podcast/event etc. I’ve no issue with such requests, although am extremely short on time for such things at present. However, a few things have popped up, both here and with discussion (online and in the physical world) with colleagues in similar lines of work, about the constant problem of people asking you to work for free, or ‘for exposure‘, as it’s normally phrased. It varies between industries, admittedly; in stand-up comedy it’s ‘stage time’, in academia it’s ‘good for your CV’.

The argument of people asking you to work for exposure, in my understanding, works like this; “You are a someone who has a creative/performance-based skill that you want to make a living from, and for that you need people to be aware of your work, so that they may employ you to do it for them. If you contribute your work to my event/publication/thing, more people will be aware of it, thus increasing your chances of making money from your work eventually. This is a valid form of reward so should be appropriate compensation for the work you’re doing for me, rather than me reimbursing you financially”.

If we’re being very generous, that’s possibly how many people who offer to pay you with exposure see the situation. However, for those of us on the other side, it seems more like “Hello, you have a skill I clearly need to utilise but even though I could pay for it, I’d prefer not to if I could avoid it, so I’m going to argue that I’m providing you with increased odds of being paid more by other people at later dates, a claim that is largely impossible to disprove, but I’m not the one who has to debate it with your landlord at the end of the month so I don’t really give a damn”.

There’s obviously a range of possibilities between these two extremes, but the latter example seems to be depressingly common. Many times I and my public-engagement comrades have had ‘invitations to contribute’ or ‘requests to speak’ from people who are clearly making money (charging tickets, posting ads etc.) from the thing we’re being asked to donate our efforts to, but they’re still unwilling to consider paying the people who actually create the essential material that other people are paying to experience. Worse, they often imply they are doing you a favour! “Tell you what, I’ll let you build my new garage, it’ll help you get in shape”

But it’s really persistent and ingrained, and often times the people offering ‘exposure’ have no means or intention of even delivering that. Case in point, and this is something I tweeted a few weeks back, but felt it should be in a more permanent form so am repeating it here.

Several years back, I got contacted by a former associate who works in the media. We’d worked together on a few things in the past, nothing major, we were never close per se, but never had a cross word or anything. I hadn’t seen him for years, but then I started writing for the Guardian, and got several “Hey, remember me?” messages, as you can imagine. One was from this guy.

Turns out he was currently working on a new project, a website of some sort, can’t remember details but he was keen to make it a success, as you’d expect. So, what he wanted was for me to write an article for it, because someone with ‘my profile’ involved would help it get off the ground. I wasn’t as busy or ‘in demand’ then, so I said fine, why not. His reply was “Thanks. There’s no money sorry, but it’ll be great exposure for you”.

This left me baffled for several minutes. He wanted me to write something for him, for free, so his site would gain exposure via me, and he was offering to pay ME with exposure? Just the sheer front of it left me agape. “You know those carrots you grow yourself? Can I have 50? I’ll pay you 20 carrots once I’ve got them”.

My theory is, he’d been in ‘the media’ for years. The “for exposure” tactic was clearly so ingrained he deployed it even when it made no logical sense. This more than anything convinced me that offers to pay in ‘exposure’ are far more likely to be self-serving than anything of mutual benefit.

I’m lucky, I realise that. I’m at a point now where I get plenty of invites so can be choosy, I have my own platforms and profile so ‘exposure’ from others is of little use even if the offer were genuine. I am also short on time, so need to be thoughtful about what I agree to. I also have an agent, who is more than willing to take on anyone who tries to bamboozle me into free labour with claims of their clout and influence, and regularly does so.

For the record, I’m not at all averse to helping people out for free if they need it. Charities, struggling start-ups, enthusiastic projects done for the love and not for the profit margin, small independent businesses, time and practicality allowing I’ll contribute my efforts to all of these things, and happily so. I’ve worked hard to get to this point, but have also been very lucky too, least I can do is try and share that around.

But, if you make money from something and are trying to weasel out of paying the very people you require to do so, you won’t be getting anything from me. And that includes any incredibly-well-known organisations dedicated to showing slick, cool and inspiring presentations that can be and often are easily shared online, that make ridiculous sums of money but refuse to pay any speakers and won’t even allow them to promote or sell their own work to make up for it. You can ‘invite me to participate’ all you want guys (always via unofficial, personal channels and never my publishers or agent, weirdly enough), I’m not doing it! So you ‘do one’ instead.

 

Second Book and TV rights

March has brought a double-whammy of Dean-based announcements.

Firstly, it has been officially announced that Dean is working on a follow-up to the internationally successful The Idiot Brain, titled The Happy Brain, all about why the things that make us happy do so, what’s going on in the brain to make us enjoy some things and not others, and so on. Scheduled to be released in May 2018 by Guardian-Faber, the same publishers behind The Idiot Brain

Secondly, the same announcement also confirmed that the TV adaptation rights for The Idiot Brain have been sold to One Ho Productions, the company owned and overseen by Whoopi Goldberg, who is apparently a very big fan of Idiot Brain (US version). So Dean’s efforts may eventually be gracing a screen near you. Who’d have thought? Not him, that’s for sure.

Dean in 2017

Happy new year to all of Dean Burnett’s readers, fans, well-wishers, vaguely interested types or harmless online stalkers.

2016, despite all the awful stuff going on in the political arena, was a big year for Dean with the publication of his debut book The Idiot Brain, which has since been translated and released in multiple countries worldwide to much acclaim, resulting in Dean appearing in numerous media across the globe.

Rather than calming down and allowing him to fade back into obscurity as is only right and fair, 2017 promises to be hectic for Dean in its own right, with several literature festivals already booked, the release of the smaller paperback of The Idiot Brain (in the UK), many more international releases lined up, and also Dean hosting a panel at the prestigious Royal Institute in London in March.

This isn’t even counting at least 2 major Dean-based announcements that are currently under wraps, but stay tuned about those.

Best wishes to all. Onward, and upward

‘Idiot Brain’ nominated for GoodReads Choice 2016 award

Dean Burnett’s debut book ‘Idiot Brain’ is nominated for a GoodReads 2016 Science and Technology award.

It’s up against some seriously big names and bestselling books, so it’s almost certainly not going to win, but if you were inclined to vote for it to avoid Dean experiencing a total washout, that would be very much appreciated

UPDATE: Idiot Brain came in 7th overall. Considering what it was up against, that’s not too shabby at all. Much appreciation to everyone who voted.

Dean’s brief stint as a weatherman

There’s a shop on Allensbank road, in Cardiff. I pass it on my daily walk to work at Heath Hospital. I’m sure many people can relate to this, but I’m now struggling to think of the name of it. I pass it twice every work day, and have done for 4 years now, but I can’t remember what it’s called. Maybe it’s too familiar? Like a tree or a lamppost. You don’t know what the lamppost at the end of your road is named, I bet. It’s just “there”.

Some of you will point out that lampposts don’t have names, so it’s impossible to know them. Good point, well made.

Anyway, there’s definitely a shop there on Allensbank road. I think it’s a Nisa, officially. I’m not sure how the franchising of local shops works, I just know it happens. So it’s a Nisa. Let’s go with that. It’s owned and run by some very nice people who I think are Indian. Or Pakistani. Or Punjabi. Or Bangladeshi? I honestly don’t know, and I haven’t ever asked because until I sat down to write this I’ve never had a reason to care. Why would I?

And I’m guessing some people might read this as a subtly racist observation, a ‘they all look the same to me’ admission. It’s not that. I’ve genuinely never thought to ask or had a reason to want to. Plus I’m from a very small, isolated South Wales former mining valley, which is very nice but means I grew up with a mind-set that classed people as either “us” or “everyone else”. The non-UK natives manning this small shop are in the “everyone else” category, and that’s all I need really.

If it helps, they do sell tins of ‘Heera’ vegetable curry, which is orders of magnitude nicer and spicier than anything you’d get in more ‘mainstream’ tins of curry. But I digress.

One day I was in the shop buying a bag of carrots (one of my frequent and laughable attempts at ‘getting healthy’ by not buying crisps or samosas). I was queuing behind an older white haired gentleman who was, to put it kindly, muttering to himself in an unnerving manner. He didn’t sound happy.

As it’s right by a hospital, and I myself work next to a psychiatric crisis centre, I’m used to seeing people wandering about with an ‘atypical’ state of mind, so this didn’t bother me. I was a bit concerned by the possibility of him saying something grim to the shop workers though. He was buying a copy of the Daily Express. The dissonance required to buy a fervently anti-immigrant paper from an immigrant owned shop, thereby funding the very people being needlessly railed against, always fascinates me.
But no, no unpleasant things were said. Older man bought his paper, I bought my carrots, we went on our respective ways. Or so I thought.

I was just entering the alley that is a shortcut to my building when I heard a shout.

“YOU!”

I slowed but kept on walking. Maybe whoever was shouting wasn’t shouting at me.

“YOU!!”

No, it was me. I turned slowly. It was the older gentleman, bearing down on me.

“Wennzitgonnarayne” he shouted.

I blinked, obviously having no idea what he’d said.

“Sorry?” I managed to say.

“Whennzit Gonnarayne” he shouted again.

Again, I had no idea what this meant. As calmly as possible, I told him so.

“Sorry, I don’t know what you-“ I manage to get out.

“WEN IZ IT GOING T’ RAIN?” he bellowed in my face.

This was on a Friday during a pleasant-but-bizarre 2 week period of clear skies and sun. Apparently, this man was hot, and wanted to know when it would rain again.

“Uh… Wednesday?” I said, hesitantly.

“GOOD!” he yelled, and walked off.

He wasn’t dangerous or anything, he was just a bit hot and decided that I looked like a younger version of Michael Fish, so demanded a forecast from me.

If this is what weathermen deal with on a daily basis, then whatever they’re paid is not enough.

Hello

This is the website for Doctor Dean Burnett, neuroscientist, lecturer, author, blogger, media pundit, science communicator, comedian and numerous other things, depending on who’s asking and what they need.

Although employed as a tutor and lecturer by the Cardiff University Centre for Medical Education in his day job, Dean is best known for his satirical science column ‘Brain Flapping‘ at the Guardian, and his internationally acclaimed debut book ‘The Idiot Brain‘.