Author: M.J. Ryder

About M.J. Ryder

Writer, academic and digital communications professional.

In Loving Memory of Rose Ryder (1930–2019)

Nan in the late 1980s. There I am on the right!
Nan in the late 1980s. There I am on the right!

My Nan died yesterday… I’m not sure how to feel.

It’s been coming for a while; years in fact, and in some ways it feels like a relief. She didn’t really do much in later life, and quietly lived out her final years in a tall, musty house in Ramsgate, Kent.

Yet despite her solitude, she remained ever-present in our lives, a woman who could be relied on to be stubborn and unbending in matters of elderly respectability and social pride. Despite her setbacks, she quietly soldiered on, pottering about, living one day to another with barely a shrug or complaint.

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Self-publishing and the challenge of ‘marketing yourself’

One of the hardest things about writing is that it inevitably leads you to bare some small part of your soul to the world. This is particularly true of fiction as the world you create is wholly your own. If someone doesn’t like your characters, then they don’t like the characters you created. Similarly, if they have a problem with the politics, or the themes of your work, then again, they have a problem with your politics, and your themes. This is quite different from other types of writing where more often than not you will be working to a set of guidelines that may constrain your work, for in this case, the work you produce is all down to you, and there is simply no place to hide.

This challenge becomes even more difficult when it comes to self-publishing. Unlike regular publishing, where you might have an editor and production team working with you to oversee the process, when it comes to self-publishing, the power is wholly in your hands. This can be a remarkably liberating step, and certainly has a number of advantages; however, it can also pose great challenges when it comes to marketing and self-promotion. On the one hand, naturally, you want to sell your work, and put it out there, but at the same time, there is a sense that absolutely everything to do rests on your shoulders, and if someone doesn’t like it, then it’s completely down to you.

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MJRyder.net – 10 years on

It’s my birthday today, and to celebrate, I thought I’d post a blog about this very website, MJRyder.net, which turned 10 earlier this year. I can’t believe that a whole decade has passed since I started the project, and it’s certainly had its highs and lows, however, I’m glad to say it’s going as strong as ever, and I’m really happy with the way it’s been taking shape. Here’s to another 10 years!

Background

The MJRyder.net project started around 2008, way back when I was a bright-eyed undergraduate at Brunel University, London. I had previously left a degree programme in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College to follow my real passion, books, and found myself as a fish out of water trying to strike a balance between my love of the arts, and the technical skills that got me onto a prestigious engineering degree.

Those first few years on my English degree were tough – far tougher than I might have imagined. This wasn’t so much because of the subject matter, but rather because I found it hard to identify with my fellow students, many of whom didn’t seem to have the same passion for English literature that I had. Most of the students on the course didn’t have any prior work experience, and most were 18 years old, while I was in my early 20s, with a much better idea of who I was and where I wanted to go.

One of the biggest challenges for me was coming to terms with the feeling that I had in some way failed by giving up my place at a world-famous university to do what many would describe as an ‘easy’ degree. Of course, English is certainly not an ‘easy’ degree (if you put the effort in!), but being a working-class lad from a council estate in Ramsgate, I knew that opportunities don’t come around very often, and I really worried that Imperial College might have been my one and only shot at success.

With these feelings in mind, I came to the conclusion that if I was going to embark on an English programme, then I was going to do it ‘properly’, and seize every opportunity that came my way. It soon occurred to me that one way I could stand out was to create a website to boost my profile. To this end, I spoke to a few of my more technically-minded contacts, and acquired the domain www.mjryder.net (the others were taken) and set up a fairly basic site using the content management system MODx.

MJRyder.net website screenshot - 2009
An early iteration of MJRyder.net from 2009. As an easter-egg, if you hovered your mouse in the top right hand corner, there was a mini menu that let you change the highlight colour on all the headings and underlines.

This gave me a great opportunity to learn skills as a hobbyist web developer, while also exploring new ways to present myself and raise my profile. This included a blog about my life as a student and my plans to publish an omnibus of novels, The Powers That Be. I also posted about the various articles I wrote for the student magazine, Le Nurb.[1] Around this time, I managed to get my website added to a student blogroll, which led to several opportunities from businesses looking to reach out to students. As such, I soon found myself writing book reviews for PGUK (I got free books!), as well as several sponsored blog posts on various topics relating to student life.

Finding work

During this time, I worked as an admin for a number of  online forums for the video game Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun. As a veteran player with a creative streak, I decided to work on a game-guide to introduce players to online competitive play. I published the early iterations of this guide on my website, which got quite a bit of traffic at the time. It also proved useful in my job hunting endeavours, as it helped me secure my first professional job, working for ChangYou.com, the publisher of MMORPG, Tian Long Ba Bu (TLBB).

As the years passed and my career progressed, I updated my website to reflect my expanding portfolio. I also spent some time working on a new web template, and migrated my website over to WordPress CMS. This was mainly for the ease of updates, and the extra exposure granted by the WordPress platform.

MJRyder.net website screenshot - 2013
A screenshot of MJRyder.net taken mid-2013. I'm using WordPress CMS at this point, but with a theme designed using Artisteer.

Calamity strikes!

Several years passed as I worked as a professional ghostwriter in the healthcare press. However, towards the end of my time at EKC, several issues came up in my personal life, and I ended up losing a lot of content as my hosting provider locked me out of my account due to unpaid bills.[2]

In the end, I had to set up a new contract with a different hosting provider and essentially re-build MJRyder.net from scratch. This was no easy task and took quite some time, however, it did give me the chance to have another look at how I present myself online.

The Lancaster years

Several years passed after the re-build, and I left Kent to move to Lancaster to start on my PhD. By this time I had built up quite a diverse portfolio of material, ranging from game guides and books to print articles, blogs, and websites at CCCU. Over time I adjusted the presentation of the site, and the layout to better reflect my career while also shifting to a lighter, responsive WordPress theme.

MJRyder.net website screenshot - March 2018
A screenshot of MJRyder.net from March 2018, featuring a lighter, responsive theme.

Winter 2018 update

Following the publication of my novel The Darkest Hour, I spend quite some time working on another website www.darkesthourbook.com, and in the process, came up with some new ideas to better reflect my work on my own portfolio website. The result is what you see today (Dec 2018), adding in a few more visuals to my website, and taking advantage of some layout plugins that help make the site look a lot more dynamic and engaging.

MJRyder.net website screenshot - December 2018
A screenshot of the most recent iteration of MJRyder.net, taken December 2018. Note the use of imagery, and a non-standard layout built using the Elementor plugin.

As with all websites, it’s still a work-in-progress as my career develops, but I have to say I feel as though I’ve reached quite a good place with MJRyder.net at present. The next steps will be to expand out the research section, and maybe add another row to the homepage as I launch a podcast in 2019.

[1] Hint: the name is Brunel spelt backwards!

[2] It’s a long story… I used to run a small web business with a business partner who had all the hosting and domains registered in his own name. Following his unexpected death, I had no way to pay the bills and no access to the servers to save not only my own website, but all the other websites we hosted. This was a very stressful time.

Ethics, killing, and the Moral Machine

Just over a year ago now, I published the results of a small survey I shared with my followers on Facebook. The idea was to test a few theories I had been working on around ethics and the relative value we assign different forms of life. In this case, I was specifically interested in how we think about animal life, and how we respond to different species when it comes to decisions around life and death.

Even though my survey was relatively small, the results were quite remarkable, and show a clear trend in responses that favour saving larger and more ‘noble’ animals, over smaller, ‘less intelligent’ animals that may be perceived to be in some way less worthy. While a utilitarian perspective should in theory show that the save/kill decisions made by respondents should be weighted equally across five different species of farmyard animal (each life is, after all, of equal ‘value’), respondents very clearly favoured saving a single horse over a single chicken. This trend continued when participants were asked to choose between saving a single horse or five chickens, with many respondents still opting to save the horse, while many respondents would much prefer to kill five chickens, instead of a single horse.

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