Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Free eBook - Dragon Lake

My short story - Dragon Lake will be available for free through Amazon Kindle today, Wednesday 15 October 2014 and also from Saturday 18th to Sunday 19th October. As far as I can tell, Amazon's free days tend to start based on Pacific Time so if you check the price on the day and it's not free, try again later!


If you don't have a Kindle you can download an app for most computers, tablets or smartphones that will allow you to download the book.

Dragon Lake is available from these Kindle Stores:

UK  US  DE  CA  AU

IN  FR  ES
  
IT  JP  BR  MX

Here's the book's description:

The ruby mines of Tajikistan are long forgotten, except to those who still hunt the precious stones.

For those who are willing to risk mountain crevices and hand carved tunnels in an earthquake prone region, the reward can be great. As long as the stones can be smuggled away.

When one smuggler is caught, no bribes can save him. A jail sentence in Tajikistan may as well be a death sentence.

In the barren mountains of Central Asia, the choice is stark between preserving your secrets or saving your life.

Do review the book after you've read it and let me know what you think.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Why I don't want you to buy my book...

I'm publishing my second story this week: Dragon Lake.

It's a short story and will retail for £0.99 on Amazon Kindle. But I don't want you to buy it.

Here's the book's description:

The ruby mines of Tajikistan are long forgotten, except to those who still hunt the precious stones.

For those who are willing to risk mountain crevices and hand carved tunnels in an earthquake prone region, the reward can be great.

As long as the stones can be smuggled away.

When one smuggler is caught, no bribes can save him. A jail sentence in Tajikistan may as well be a death sentence.

In the barren mountains of Central Asia, the choice is stark between preserving your secrets or saving your life.

The story weighs in at 7,000 words. That's twenty four standard MS Word pages. I'm delighted with it. After spending all summer working on a novel, it's been refreshing to work on something completely different, something darker, something edgier...

If Amazon do their thing, the book will be available before you get up tomorrow morning but please, don't buy it... I'll be giving the book away later in the week and I don't want you to miss out.

If you'd like me to email you when the book is on sale, contact me at landgrab AT cafepolitics.net

Or check my Facebook page, or back here on this blog.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Haves V the Have Nots


I was never sure that voting Yes was the right thing to do. But as I watched the results come in at 4AM, I was saddened at such a rejection of hope and optimism.

I never campaigned for Yes or No but did seek the views of hundreds of people as I travelled round Scotland this summer. I found people on both sides echoing questions that were perplexing me.

I live in Cumbernauld, smack bang in the Scottish Central Belt. I've predominantly worked in Glasgow for the last eight years - mainly in the financial sector. I currently work in Edinburgh, again for a major financial employer. I have family in Shetland, Aberdeen, Argyll. I have friends throughout Scotland and have spent far too much time on FaceBook and Twitter, reading the views of both sides.

A question I have had from the beginning - are a majority of people in Scotland sufficiently well off that they would not be willing to risk such a radical change as voting for independence?

I was a No voter until Spring this year when I started the final rewrite of my novel - The Great Scottish Land Grab. My worldview back then was highly coloured from ten years living in England, initially in Uxbridge and then in York - still my favourite city in the world.

I have many English friends, most of whom could not understand why I started publicly declaring I was voting Yes.

I love the English and consider myself British as much as Scottish simply because they accepted me and I accepted them. I've never been a nationalist - even when I used my Scottishness to great advantage while working in Tajikistan.

I have grown increasingly disillusioned with Westminster politicians over the years but as I started entering into online debates I had to say I was just as disillusioned with Holyrood politicians. I could not and can not see any difference between Westminster and Holyrood.

If I had to choose between Alex Salmond and David Cameron I would reject them both. Neither of them have represented me. Both have ignored me when I've responded to their consultations. Both are determined to push ahead with their narrow political agendas, ignoring the majority of the population when we oppose them.

Yet, I changed from No to Yes because I started to believe that independence might just be a catalyst for radical change in the UK. Not just for Scotland but also for the rest of the country. I'm sure it would be tough. I'm sure it would raise many problems but I'm also sure those problems could be overcome.

I woke early at 4AM on the 19th and couldn't resist turning on the TV. The results came in fast, one after the other with No winning greater majorities and the few Yes victories too narrow to make any impact on the overall result.

At just before 5AM that morning, Lord Reid summed up much of what the debate has been about for me. Speaking about Yes victories in my home region of North Lanarkshire and Glasgow he said:

"[These are] areas of ordinary men and women, some of whom are in poverty, some of whom die early. This is not just a vote about independence, its a vote, its a cry out, its a protest vote about the conditions in which people live. So, its not sufficient to respond to it just by saying there will be more powers. The constitutional questions may interest some people, but for other people, its about their children, their education, its about the food banks and that has to be addressed as well."

I work and live alongside people who are doing okay for themselves. For some of them this is an illusion but one I sympathise because I fell for it as well. When you're earning more than you ever have before it is easy to think you are doing okay, even while tax and ever increasing bills mean that larger salary means you are no better off.

But, we are living in a society where inequality becomes greater with every passing day. Zero hours contracts hide the true appaling state of the employment situation. Employment may be falling but for many, incomes are also falling.

Yet for many, myself included, we're doing alright. Why should we risk such a huge, disruptive change that could upset our carefully ordered lives?

I know that I did not vote Yes because I'm poor. I know that many who voted No will have been worse off than I am.

There is no easy divide. A person struggling to support their family on £20,000 a year will be looked upon with envy by someone who cannot hope to earn £15,000. Yet I fear that the vote was lost because far too many of us fell for the lie that we'd be better off together.

When you have something, even when its not all that much, it is very hard to let go of it.

I believe the haves - in general - voted No. I know that there will have been many who are well off and even wealthy that bucked that trend. Still, my perception has been formed from hundreds of discussions I've had round the country this summer.

I suspect the choice is a short sighted one. But, I'm sympathetic to the view that the Yes campaign did not give out enough detail. I tried to set out my own vision for Scotland in The Great Scottish Land Grab. But, I would accept that my novel is a dream, perhaps even naive.

I've spread my own message this summer, neither Yes no No. A third way. I believed early on that no matter which way the vote went, we'd have to fight for the future for Scotland. I just hope that the haves and have nots can find a way to work together to make this country a truly better place.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Freedom is a Sweet Word


Freedom is a sweet word – a word that resonates within me. A rebel cry that declares my desire for... For what?

Independence?

No. For justice.

A little known band from the Eighties – Fat & Frantic – are responsible for that twist.

I’ve had the lyrics for their song – Freedom is a sweet word – going round my head for weeks. An a capella number that still has the power to haunt me.

The song was released at a time when Apartheid still had its soulless grip on South Africa. It dared then to subtly challenge racist oppression worldwide and still has just as much power today as we debate - and finally today decide - Scotland’s future.

We may gain independence after September 18th, but will we gain justice? If we fail to achieve justice then what will have been the point in striving for independence?

Freedom is a sweet word...

The song’s three verses have the power to question much that is wrong about Scottish society today.

“Freedom means you are allowed to make and guard your pile against the people who have freedom to do... As they please but haven’t used it so constructively as you”

Believe it or not, we have a great deal of freedom in Scotland today. Every single one of us – as a UK citizen and even more so in a Scotland which is part of the UK – has the chance to work hard; to educate ourselves; to choose a goal and strive to achieve it.

We have the freedom to do as we please.

We have freedom, yet for many of us, our options are limited by the actual costs of going to work; the increasing costs of simply surviving; the costs of education (even in Scotland with tuition fees mostly being paid); the cost of our tax burden... I could go on.

 The rich – whoever they are – have indeed made their piles of cash. Some is stored off-shore. Some is invested in land or property. Others are raking it in through lucrative businesses.

Yet it’s not injustice to be rich. It’s not wrong to be wealthy.

I've blogged for years on my 100 goals. Some of my goals are to enable myself and my family to be wealthy. Yet if you go right back to the beginning and read every page of this blog, you’ll find that in pursuit of some of these goals, I’ve done things which I cannot be proud of.

I’ve gambled. I’ve shown a love for money which blinded me to danger. I’ve exercised my freedom and it hasn’t always been a pretty sight.

Personally I have been unsure that we have a right to set tax rates too high yet conversely, or perhaps perversely, I’ve published a novel – The Great Scottish Land Grab – which has a theme of modern day land confiscation. Many of you will have seen the info-graphic videos on unequal wealth distribution. I posted two of the mostshocking on this blog last year.

When I heard that the richest 10% in the UK have declared wealth of three times more than UK national debt, I started to wonder – why doesn’t government just pass a law seizing wealth from the richest ten percent; pay off the national debt; use the money saved in interest payments to transform the economy?

Why?

Is it because, as Fat & Frantic so elegantly put it, freedom without justice is a freedom for a few?

I don’t believe that every wealthy person has obtained their wealth through unjust means. I don’t believe that every wealthy person is hoarding their pile of cash and refusing to share their wealth with the poorest in society.

I do believe that the ever increasing disparity between rich and poor is an injustice. Something has to be done before we reach that tipping point and some powerful but idiotic, cash laden whore tells the people they can eat cake.

Or am I just scare-mongering?

Could our allegedly first world, politically correct, oh so equal Scotland really descend into riots or civil war?

Perhaps I’ve spent too much time volunteering at our local food bank.

I currently work in Edinburgh where the majority consensus appears to be that we’re alright as we are, why would we want to risk that by leaving the UK?

It’s an understandable opinion. If you have benefited from the current political system, why would you want to change it?

But not everyone has benefited...

As I’ve been promoting my novel around Scotland I’ve heard a wide mixture of views, from the simple Yes and No, to apathy, to indecision, to extremes on both sides. There are many who have not benefitted from our current political system that persecutes the poor, keeping them in a form of slavery.

Some Yes campaigners may struggle to understand that some of those poor have been so beaten down that they cannot imagine anything changing and so have not even registered to vote.

Some Yes campaigners may also struggle to realise that the haves in modern day Scotland might just outweigh the have nots. If a majority of people in Scotland do perceive themselves to be well off under the present system then it will be a close vote today.

I want Scotland to be prosperous. I strongly believe that success and entrepreneurship should be rewarded. That hard work and ingenuity should result in success.

But I also know that many of the poorest in our society work just as hard and are just as ingenious as the rich – sometimes more so. Yet many of the poor cannot break free from debt or poverty.

In the last decade my wife and I have taken ourselves from being utterly dependent on Tax Credits to being able to provide for ourselves without that insidious burden. We’ve had to fight and struggle all the way.

I know how difficult it is and also know that some fellow Scots that I’ve worked with have not been willing to make the same sacrifices or take the same risks that we have.

Apathy and laziness and depression will not disappear in an independent Scotland.

Is it right that those who are not willing to take the same risks, to make the same sacrifices, to work as hard should fail to reap the same rewards? Personally I believe so.

But my capitalism is edged with a form of socialism. As stated above, I have considered whether a one off tax on the wealthiest would redress the massive injustice in wealth distribution.

I would be willing to pay more tax if that money was distributed to the poorest – but I would not be willing for the recipients of that tax to be allowed to sit around and fail to contribute to society.

Regardless of how the vote goes today, tomorrow we will have the same problems to face. We will still have politicians in Westminster and Holyrood who ignore the people they are supposed to serve, who prioritise their narrow political agenda, ignoring the majority.

This week I debated for Yes on Revival FM radio. I agreed with my opponent who argued for No on far more issues than I disagreed with. A vote for No will not change the fact that we the people are ruled by corrupt politicians desparate to hang onto power. Neither will a vote for Yes.

Yet I will vote Yes today, not because it will magically fix our problems but because it is a public statement that something radical needs to change and this is the only way I can see to start the process.

As I’ve been writing my novel I’ve been able to dream what a just Scotland could look like, to give voice to my own vision of a system that rewards those who strive and enables everyone who wants to be productive. A Scotland where there is full employment, a Scotland where the historic injustices of the clearances could be reversed.
This is a future I want to work for, one that I believe will be more possible (though require no less work) in an independent Scotland.

Could we create a Scotland where people are encouraged to make themselves wealthy and every person has the same opportunities to better themselves?

It will be difficult but isn’t that worth fighting for?


You can get a flavour of how ‘Freedom is a sweet word’ sounds here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00BFRGJF2/

The Ken Thinks Aloud blog has kindly provided the lyrics to ‘Freedom is a sweet word’ here: http://kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/fat-frantic-freedom-is-a-sweet-word/

Friday, 12 September 2014

A recipe for Democracy!

Goal achieved!

Somewhere back around 2007 I set myself three impossible goals to achieve before I turned 40. You can read about them on my list of my 100 goals. I wrote the first draft of The Great Scottish Land Grab in 2011 as part of NaNoWriMo and considered the goal achieved. I always felt like I'd cheated though as the real goal was to publish a book - even though I had only said write one.

Today that goal is fully achieved: The last part of The Great Scottish Land Grab has been published on Amazon!

Book 3 went live this morning:


A recipe for democracy…

“We’ve said all along that the fight for Scotland does not end with the referendum, well it doesn’t end with this election either. Scotland has voted for a Land Grab and Scotland is going to get one!”

With these words, Robert Castle declares war on all who would oppose him as he seeks to overturn the injustice of the Highland Clearances.

A victory has been won but many will fight to retain their power and their property. Can Castle and his Café Politics win the struggle or could Scotland descend into civil war?

Helen Castle has sacrificed much to support her husband but as the pressure mounts, will she have to sacrifice her last dream?

Irene Newlands has only known poverty. When a stranger appears on her doorstep, how will she cope when he threatens to take away the little she has?

Imagine a country without politicians, a country governed by the people, for the people. The Great Scottish Land Grab is a vision of democracy. A blueprint for a future Scotland.

Praise for The Great Scottish Land Grab:

“The first book left me intrigued - the second one has left me excited! Mark Anderson Smith has set up a scenario that seems totally implausible but he manages to make it wholly believable. I think there is discontent generally with political life across all of Great Britain and the idea of another way is very attractive. I love the concept of voting for new policies with your mobile phone just as you would for your X Factor favourite! Really looking forward to book three!” J Kluver

“What a great follow up to book one, particularly enjoyed the cafe politics that allows people to have a say as opposed to not being listened to by politicians (sound familiar), just a pity it's fiction…” A Welsh

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Cover design by David MacKenzie

Talking to random strangers over the past few weeks - as you do when you're selling your novel - I've had some useful feedback on my novel's book cover. Here's the original image for book 1:



One person said they didn't read non fiction. Another said you'll be voting No then...

Neither of these is the impression I wanted people to have looking at the cover.

I'm beginning to detest the saying "Never judge a book by its cover." Every single person I've offered my Great Scottish Land Grab business cards to over the past two months - over 600 people - has made a judgement. Some have been immediately interested, others turned off, whether by the photo cover or the title.

I judge books by their covers and have been wondering whether I needed to get a professional in.

Enter David MacKenzie (http://dmackenzie.com/). He designed the logo for my company: Goal 31 Ltd and I absolutely love it:



I could have gone to many different cover designers

but I had such a good experience working with David to design the logo that I wanted to go back to him.

He's now drafted four simple designs based on an idea I gave him. My rough sketch was of a coffee cup with steam rising out with the book title in the steam. Here are his initial layouts (as he's said, these are rough drafts) at postage stamp size - which is how most people will see the novel initially on Amazon/iBookStore/Lulu:


I'd love to hear which you like best and why.

I've already had some fascinating feedback and will be writing that up in a later post.

Larger images are below.






















And in case you're wondering - that is a Cafe Politics logo on the coffee cup... If you don't know what that means, you'll have to buy book two!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

From puff the magic dragon to the magic fountain

My wife and I desperately wanted to see the famous Gaudi dragon while in Barcelona. Turns out that Park Guell where it's located isn't entirely free to walk around. To see the amazing architecture and statues up close you need to book in advance and pay.

Our first trip to the park was a rather dry, exhausting and disapointing trip. However we went back, having booked our tickets and took the tour round a stunning display of Gaudi's work.

I'm not going to comment any more except to say if you like beauty, there is a lot of it to be found in Barcelona.

The magic fountain...? If you've never seen it yourself, you'll get an idea at the end. Google it. The display is quite something...