Marathon Man and Team GB: A Personal Appeal from Me.

As you know, I don’t normally talk about my family, mainly because I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to know about them and that they, in turn, would be absolutely horrified if I did. However, today, I’m going to make an exception. This is a personal post, about my brother, and at the end of it, I’m going to ask for your help. I aim to beg in an amusing way, without putting anyone under pressure, but if you think you’ll be uncomfortable with that feel free to make a swift exit!

Right, if anyone’s still here, on we go.

Today, I’d like to tell you about a very important event which my brother, Giles Bell: A prime examples of er,  middle aged athleticism if ever there was one; a man in the peak of physical fitness – see photo – is going to undertake with a team of other brave sporting gentlemen: Simon Sowdon, Will Hughes, Paul Vicars and Andy Weston.

Giles Bell, the apogee of sporting prowess is the one on the right. As you can see, he's very tall which is why he's having to concentrate extremely hard on not smacking his head on the speaker mounted at a height that is well above danger level for most of us. I apologise to the lady in the middle for not knowing who he is. The lady on the left is his wife. ;-)

Giles Bell, the apogee of sporting prowess, is the one on the right. As you can see, he’s very tall which is why he’s having to concentrate extremely hard on not smacking his head on the speaker mounted at a height that wouldn’t normally bother most of us. He is holding a special, yeast and hops based vitamin drink he uses to run faster. I apologise to the lady in the middle for not knowing who she is – or at least not remembering, I’m sure I do know. The lady on the left is his wife, Emily. ;-)

The five brave souls of the Famous Five, or Team Giles Bell – or Team GB unless I am unable to call them that for legal reasons – are going to be taking part in the Shrewsbury half marathon to raise money for the Scleroderma Society. They’re going to try to make it look really difficult by completing it in under two hours.

“God made me for a purpose but he also made me FAST and when I run I feel his pleasure!”*

Being such  fine athletes it will be difficult for them to run that slowly, so they will be making it look hard with as much sporting hamminess as possible. To this end they are studying videos of premier league football players showing pain and undertaking a heavy schedule of grimacing practise in readiness. Speaking as someone who can’t run or walk more than a mile and would have to be dragged round, or perhaps pushed, St-Cuthbert’s-Mum-style, in a wheelbarrow I can only stand in awe and admire (phnark).

Why the Scleroderma Society?

Well, because Giles has just discovered that his youngest son, Reggie has scleroderma. It’s an auto immune problem which can cause painful joints, tightening and stiffness of the joints and skin, fatigue and in unlucky cases, it can affect the internal organs. There is no cure, it’s just something you have to take on the chin and learn to live with, rather than suffer from.

Reggie, for added cuteness. ;-)

Reggie – for added cuteness ;-) – looking very serious while holding an owl.

There are two types of scleroderma:

  •     localised scleroderma, which affects just the skin
  •    systemic sclerosis, which may affect blood circulation and internal organs, as well as the skin.

Reggie definitely has the first and it looks as if he may have both, which is a pretty harsh deal for a six year old: think Lupus, rhumatoid arthritis, chrones disease or the like. The effects are treated with physiotherapy and immuno-suppresants. Reggie will have to have treatment to stabilise the condition to start with. Over a 2 year period he will have to ingest some fairly hefty chemicals: suff that’s usually used in chemotherapy – although in much lower doses. He’ll have to have weekly blood tests and he will probably feel pretty knocked out for most of that time.

Currently, there is no cure for scleroderma and very little funding to find one but the Scleroderma Society is fighting to achieve it. So if you have any funds spare that you’d like to give to a good cause feel free to sponsor Giles who is raising funds for them, by clicking the ‘sponsor Giles’ just there, or using the link below. I’ve added two links about the disease, too, to give you a feel for what Reggie is up against.

  • If you want to know more about Giles’ bid for sporting prowess (his post is much funnier than mine) or would like to sponsor him, his VirginMoneyGiving page is here.
  • If you want to know more about Scleroderma, there’s an excellent explanation on the NHS website here.
  • If you want to know more about the Scleroderma Society, you can visit their website here .

* only Giles will get this joke.

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MTM Talks… and talks… and talks…

The lovely peps at Authors Talk About bravely interviewed me this morning. I suspect they didn’t realise just how well I can go on, and on, and on. It is an unfortunate reality that there are many donkeys around my neck of the woods with no hind legs. That’s right, I’ve talked them all off. It was great fun though and they have done some really cracking interviews on there so, as usual, it’s well worth checking out the other authors on the show even if you would prefer to skip mine!

Lovely links are here:

Find my interview: http://authorstalkaboutit.com/parallel-universe/

It can also be found (and downloaded from) here:  authorstalkaboutit.podbean.com
It is on iTunes here:

US:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/authors-talk-about-it/id951364411?mt=2

OZ: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/authors-talk-about-it/id951364411?mt=2

UK: https://itunes.apple.com/gn/podcast/authors-talk-about-it/id951364411?mt=2you click

You can also follow Authors Talk About It at twitter here:

https://twitter.com/AuthorsTalk

And on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/authorstalkaboutit

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Dipping my toe into the world of #Sci-fi #Romance

Back cover, Looking for Trouble.

Back cover, Looking for Trouble.

Like many of the laideeeees I like a bit of romance: no squelchy bits, I prefer to imagine the squelching for myself. I’m interested in the way love affects people and that’s probably why my characters get it on from time to time. That said, I’ve never dared pitch my books as full on romance because… well… there’s the odd snog, and a bit of enthusiastic grinding, no actual sex. Even so, I have got to know many romance writers as cyber buddies over the years and as well as being ruthlessly well organised and efficient they are an incredibly friendly bunch, and generous about sharing their knowledge with dumb schmucks like myself. A lot of the stuff I know about selling books on the internet is information I’ve gathered from romance  writers.

And guess what? There are many, many flavours of romance and they are not all spicy, some are what’s referred to as ‘clean’. So that makes my books ‘clean romance’ which is cool because it’s yet another genre I can add to my ever expanding book description. Imagine my delight when I happened up on the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. Yes, there is a niche for sci-fi with romance in it. So obviously, I joined up straight away!

They are a lovely bunch with many and varied books to their names, some spicy, some clean and some between and they have kindly allowed me to witter on on their blog, so if you liked the romantic aspect of the K’Barthan Series it’s worth a visit. Forget reading my drivvel, there are give aways, book recommendations and all sorts of new authors for you to try while for authors there is expertise, camaraderie and general interest from other people who write science fiction with romance in it.

You can find the Brigade’s blog, and my post, here. And you can interact with them on their facebook site here,

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Goodnight and God Bless.

A story broke, today, about a new cure for alzheimer’s. It seems the damage can be reversed using ultrasound. It makes the loss Sir Terry Pratchett yesterday, to the same disease, all the more poignant. Yet I suspect he, of all people, would have appreciated the tragic irony in it.

Terry Pratchett is probably the reason I write. His books – and the outlook in his books – have been a huge influence on me, personally, because he puts the moderate, intelligent viewpoint – especially in his early works – with so much subtle sympathy. To me, the attitude and political viewpoint of his books sums up everything that is good about that moderate, live-and-let-live British view of the world. And if you’re foreign reading this and you want to know what pukka British is well, one aspect is that.

I bought my first Pratchett book when I was about 19 and at university. I think he’d written four disc world books at that point. Even then, I wrote a fair bit of stuff, myself, all of it funny fantasy. I’d never seen a funny fantasy book in a shop and I couldn’t see myself persuading anyone to buy it. In fact, I had resigned myself to writing reams of words which no-one would ever see.

And then I read The Colour of Magic.

And it was a revelation. Because it was exactly what I was trying to do, except it was done properly, down to the last detail.

I remember hoovering it up and just thinking, “I want to write like this.” Except that it’s really, really hard to write like Sir Terry.

Within a couple of months, I’d decided that he was probably going to write all my books for me and I’d never write like that anyway. I put my efforts at novel writing aside and started writing  stand up. But I continued to love the books and admire the man. I loved reading the books as they came out, seeing his style grow and evolve. He had the common touch, too. Remember the book about vampires? I can’t remember which one it is but it’s early – in the first 10. The vampires are complaining that there’s nothing to eat and not even a tampax for a nice cup of tea. I laughed like a drain at that because it’s the kind of joke I’d have with myself but deem to tasteless for the ‘normals’. And he’s put it in a book. I liked that he pricked the hide of the pompous and poked fun at the self important.

It made me feel an affinity with him as someone who, perhaps, might not quite fit. Here was a mind like my own a person like me. Doing well. And that’s the thing about Sir Terry, almost anyone who read and loved his books felt like that about him. He had this way of touching on the unmentioned humour of … well … pretty much everything and for pretty much anyone in a way that made you feel as if he would be a complete gas to go to the pub with.

The late, great, Sir Terry Pratchett

The one time I met him was at a book signing, and he was every bit as lovely as you’d expect, from reading the books. He must have been there about four hours and signed literally hundreds of books. I got there early and queued up the street for that brief few second meeting. He was affable, friendly and chatty. He kept the queue moving without making anyone feel rushed. It was impressive.

18 months or so after meeting the great man in the flesh, I was invited to apply for a job which I then managed to actually not get. I thought someone up there was trying to tell me something: ie that Real Life and Real Work are for the Normals and not for me. So I started writing funny novels again. With a vengeance. Because even if Terry Pratchett had written them all for me, no two people will write the same book right?

Trouble was, I was churning out pages and pages of shockingly piss poor writing that I sincerely wished someone else had written. And I didn’t know how to make it right.

And then a friend found Sir Terry’s e-mail address and I sent him an e-mail. Naturally, writing to the god, whose work I just loved, and I sent a joke, ‘are you the real Terry or a fake terry like terrylene?’ I asked him. And I got a reply saying. ‘I’m the real Terry’ so I sent him another one, which basically said, ‘bloody hell! can I ask you some questions?’ and he sent one back along the lines of ‘now look, it’s all very well but questions only take a minute to ask and a long time to answer, so you can ask me three things.’

So I asked him the first question: if he had to work hard to sell his book or ‘did you just send it in to the first publisher you could think of and they wrote back and said yes please?’ his answer, ‘That’s pretty much the size of it.’

There is no doubt that – after a pause to marvel how anyone could be that good at something  – I asked him a second question. But since a computer crash has long since dispensed with my transcript of the correspondence I can’t remember what I asked or what he said. Clearly I wasted the opportunity but at least, true to M T list making form, it means there is NO THING TWO. Moving on.

The third question I asked was if he had any general advice for myself and a writer friend who were both struggling to make our stuff work. At the time I was doing a creative writing course. The teacher wrote literary fiction and she thought my writing was ‘just stupid’. But Sir Terry, bless him, he bothered to write back. And he this is what he told me.

‘If you want to write, and write well, you have to practise. Write. Write every day…’ he said.

And I can’t remember the exact working of the rest of it – which seems strangely apposite and is entirely typical –  but the gist of it is this.

Write. Write as much as you can. And when you can’t think of anything to write, write about how irritated you are that you can’t think of a bloody thing to write about. Write something. Anything and do whatever it takes to spend some time, every day doing it. Practise and you will gain such an  instinctive grasp of words that expressing your thoughts is effortless, and more to the point, accurate. And when you learn that… that’s when you will learn how to say the difficult things and your words will have power.

That doesn’t read very well because the hard disk crash ate the words Sir Terry wrote, which I no longer remember and my words lack the power of his – although I’m working on that – but the essence is burned into my soul*.

His advice came at a time when I was on the brink of giving up, on writing on work on everything. When I’d resigned myself to a dead end life and a succession of dead end jobs working for a university that paid most of its workers an annual salary equating to less than the average town rent. When, I had been told I was worthless for so long by so many people that, despite the best efforts of those who thought different, I’d begun to believe it. It was tough advice – he didn’t pull any punches – but it made me feel that perhaps there was something I could do, possibly even do well, if I tried really, really hard. And I set out to do it. There are a lot of other factors which turned my life around and switched on my self confidence, but the small ember of resolve I felt after that e-mail was part of the small beginnings.

So thank you, Sir Terry, for making the world lighter and better and wiser for all of us, thank you for 70 books, and thank you for the advice. The world is a quieter, duller place for your passing.

 

* that’s a little melodramatic isn’t it? Never mind.#

# this is a post about Terry Pratchett, people. Footnotes are obligatory.

Since Sir Terry was one of the people who advocated leaving your comfort zone regularly, I scared myself in his honour today by eating two chocolate toffees I found in my drawers (obviously not the drawers I’m wearing but the ones in my desk) which are best before 2008. I am also still wearing my comic relief drawn on face, which should do.

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Guest Post. Handy hints on developing a villain over a series.

I am delighted to welcome my cyber buddy Charles Yallowitz, author of the long running fantasy series, Legends of Windemere, to talk about villains. Legends of Windemere is a seriously epic series – 9 books and counting. But as well as writing lots of excellent books Charles runs a great blog; plenty of thought provoking posts, interesting news and lots of chat in the comments. I thoroughly recommend you have a look at it, here. But do read the article first won’t you? Which reminds me… over to you Mr Yallowitz.

The Lich by Jason Pedersen

The Lich by Jason Pedersen

First, thanks to M T McGuire for allowing me to write a guest post. The question posed was about character development over the course of a series. Legends of Windemere, my fantasy adventure series, has six books out with a seventh on the way. So I get asked about this area a lot since I’m also very character driven. I always go on about the heroes, so this time I’m going to give a few tips on how to develop a villain in a long series.

  1. Give them a few scenes in each book, but don’t overuse them. Each appearance should have an impact to either the story or the villain. Appearing too often can weaken their influence over the reader and develop them too quickly. For example, I use my villains at the beginning to set up their end of the story. After that, they appear maybe every 2-3 chapters for brief scenes or confrontations. The latter is typically saved for the second or third act depending on what the outcome will be.
  2. Henchmen and secondary villains help fill out the opposing side of an adventure. These characters can be around for one or two books then be eliminated. You need to give them a reason for being with the bigger enemy, but it can be very simple. Money, bloodlust, fear, or any base wants can be used. A character like this only needs enough personality to do their job and be a threat. Not saying you can’t evolve them in a short time, but keeping it simple prevents them from growing too big. Unless that’s what you want, which means see #1.
  3. Very few villains are pure evil. Those that are have to be used sparingly and will have an issue being in a long-term series. Give your villains some longevity and depth by giving them a ‘good’ trait. It can be a delusion that they are right, a soft spot for something, or a personality trait that one typically finds in heroes. For example, the Lich in my series is an undead necrocaster and definitely a creature of darkness. Yet he demonstrates a loyalty to his master that rivals the heroes of the story. It doesn’t make him a good guy, but it does make the Lich a deeper villain.
  4. Going too evil can shorten your villain’s lifespan. In a series, the bad guys have to create multiple plans and make several attempts to kill the heroes. Each one has to be either equally or more evil than the last. Otherwise readers might think the bad guys aren’t trying any more. You still have to be careful if you have a few more books to wring out of the character. So if they do something so horrible that it can’t be topped then you will have trouble keeping them going for much longer. For example, I have a villain who starts off pretty bad with wanting to ‘break’ one of the female heroes. He was going to go for a while, but he began as a real monster. As the first few book progressed, he got worse and worse. I tried giving him a time out for a book, but it was too late. This villain had to either be removed for me to keep the story going.
  5. The heroes shouldn’t be the only ones to get new toys and abilities. Villains that run longer than one or two books should get some type of upgrade. New weapons or spells or a powerful new henchman can be introduced at the beginning of a story. After all, if the bad guy keeps losing then it’s a pretty smart bet they’ll try to upgrade themselves to, at the very least, stay on equal footing with the heroes.
  6. If you’re going to have a villain turn good then set the groundwork a book or two beforehand. The intensely loyal henchman shouldn’t have an abrupt change of heart after following orders for several adventures. It’s not realistic and comes off as the author wanting to save the character since most villains are killed by the end. Have your potential turncoats demonstrate the ability to be good just like a traitorous hero will show a sign or two of being bad. Have them doubt their path or reveal that they weren’t always a villain. Plenty of methods to make sure this isn’t a plot twist out of nowhere.
  7. Multiple villains can help flesh out the entire group because they will play off each other like the heroes. You can include scenes where these characters discuss plans or take an interest in the life of their comrades. There should always be an edge to it since these tend to be distrustful people, but they are together. Having everyone in their own corner and planning to betray the other villains can get silly.

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In search of a prince – or the ups and downs of frog kissing…

This week has been rather busy: recovery from half term, the production of the parish magazine which I now edit for my sins and a visit from McOther’s folks. As a result there hasn’t been time for much.

However, this afternoon, I got out into our garden for a spot of metal detecting. Our garden is a bit hit and miss. The first thing I found in it was a clay pipe head; early because it was small, from the period when tobacco was still expensive. The second thing was this.

IMG_2310Yep, believe it or not, that’s a bead which, upon presentation at my metal detecting club, was deemed to be Saxon. Yeh I was pretty gobsmacked and all.

So, this afternoon, I thought I’d go and have a look outside and see what I could find. One hole was left with the ‘treasure’ in situ because Harrison, our nut bar cat, wee-ed in it. Several other holes were left open so Harrison could dig vigorously in them, gnaw at roots and roll in the diggings, leaving me free to find more shite old nails treasure uninterrupted by the constant signal from the identity disk on his collar.

With a LOT of help from the cat, I finally managed to discover that our lawn appears to have been laid on a large piece of crappy 1970s carpet.

I also managed to dig up this impressive collection of total crap.

IMG_2312The nails range from modern to hand made and a couple of hundred years old. The round blob on the right is a lead thing and is… well I’m hoping it came out of a cannon because that would make it interesting to me even if it’s worth jack all and of no interest to anyone else.

So, in summary, metaphorical frogs kissed: 10. Handsome princes found: none.

Meanwhile sometime in the last two years or so, McOther had found a… um… metal thing in the garden. After a great deal of thought and brain wracking he has come to the conclusion that he probably found it while sieving the stones out of the earth for a flowerbed he made. After a few months of it lying about in his office he got round to showing it to me, just before Christmas.

“Can you show this to your metal detecting club,” he says.

“OK,” I look at it and shrug. It looks like a shite bit of faux old metal, the kind of thing that gets imported from China on pretending-to-be-medieval boxes and the like. “What is it?”

“If I knew I wouldn’t need you to ask them.”

“Fair point. Where did you get it?”

“I can’t remember.”

Then you know how it is, I was ill for the November meet, the Christmas one wasn’t really that kind of meeting, I forgot January and I finally remembered it last night.IMG_2309

“What do you reckon this is?” I ask the chairman of the club, who is pretty knowledgeable.

He perks up at once as I hand it over.

“This looks really old, where did you get it?”

“I’m not sure, McOther found it.”

“Hmm, I think it might be part of a Saxon cruciform broach. It’s a horse’s head. It’s got copper bug eyes, a stylised snout and those round things are it’s nostrils. There’s a line across his head where the browband* goes too.”

“Get away!”

“Show it to the FLO.”

* part of a horse’s bridle, brow band above the eyes, nosemband across the nose.

Shit.

“Right.”

So I join the queue for the FLO, that s, the Finds Liaison Officer which is always good because I get to see some of the amazing stuff my fellow club mates have dug up. In this case, highlight is a bronze age axe head, that another member of the club has dug up and he also has a really cool celtic coin.

“What do you think it is?” the FLO asks me when I present him with McOther’s piece of tat.

“I dunno, the Chairman reckons it could be Saxon, and a horse but I thought it was probably an arts and crafts bracket or some bit of Victorian shite.”

“Hmm… what if I told you the Chairman is right and your bit of old shite was actually over a thousand years old?”

“Fuckorama.”

Yes, so it turns out it’s a bit of a 5th Century Saxon cruciform broach and McOther found it on the surface of the soil, the way I found the bead. Yet when I get the detector out and dig, suddenly, I have a garden full of shite. Except that I know I don’t. The stuff is there and I will find it eventually. I just have to perservere… and find the cat something else to do while I’m going about it.

So how is this relevant to writing?

Well, this week, I discovered that, like the second one, the last two books of the K’Barthan Series have failed dismally to make the cut for the Wishing Shelf Awards. I’ve kind of hoped that they might squeak onto the short list. I’ve kind of hoped that with all three because the first one came third, or second, they said third at the time but they say second now… the point is I was expecting it to come nowhere.

However, try as I might, the kids who voted the first one onto the list have not enjoyed the subsequent ones enough. Or maybe there are just a lot more books around that are way better than mine, or at, a lot more of the books that are miles better than mine are being entered. Or maybe I’ve lost my mojo. Or maybe there was a t in the month and an r in the day and I needed it to be the other way around. Who knows? Whatever it is, I have been unable to repeat the feat. Maybe the current work in progress will be good enough to get onto the 2015 short list… maybe but probably not. The thing is, I’ll enter it anyway. The feedback, alone, is worth the price of entry.

You may be wondering how this ties in with finding Saxon stuff when you’re not trying, and a selection of nails, three milk bottle tops, a lead thing and the head of  pitching wedge when you try really hard. Well, I guess my detectoristic plight reflects two tenuous and slightly contradictory lessons.

First thing: don’t force it. Sometimes, if you just relax and go with the flow you’ll hit gold… or at least second/third, or a Saxon copper horse head.

Second thing: keep trying. Because just as any detectorist will tell you, to find your gold stater you will have to dig up a lot of shite. So whatever it is you’re doing, trying to dig up Saxon stuff, trying to write a book – or at least one that you don’t wish someone else had written – or trying to write a book that’s good enough to get onto an award shortlist, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time trying before you get it right. Or, as any fairy godmother will explain, if you want to find your handsome prince, you are going to have to kiss a lot of frogs.

 

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Still Eating Snail and Tortoise Dust but Learning to Like the Taste

It has occurred to me that it’s time to post something before you all think I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil or something. The truth is, life is just busy. Duncan’s funeral, a week blitzed afterwards, half term and my in laws down for the week next week, along with the deadline for the parish magazine (yes, I’m the editor) means that for the last three weeks, internet presence has been sporadic at best and the next 10 days will be the same.

So yeh, I’ve done the last thing I could do for my friend, I’ve waved until he’s out of sight round the bend in the road and turned to face the future. The world is moving inexorably on and apart from the residual sadness, which will be with me for some time, I am looking ahead and life is good. That said, after a day spent queuing to get into the Natural History Museum, queuing to see the dinosaur section, queuing to go to the lavatory afterwards etc I’m a bit all in. So inspiration is thin on the ground. Which is why we’re heading for light fluff.

Obviously, the in laws coming, and Mum in law being a household goddess – her house is an immaculate, smoothly oiled machine and I am in serious awe – I have tried to tidy up. I employ bi-weekly cleaners but it being the bi week and us being out on the wrong days to un-bi, McMini and I spent a happy Wednesday this week doing the cobwebs, the beds, dusting, hoovering through etc. The result is a very presentable house. I also got the Dyson Dustbuster and had a go at the huge mountain of cat hair on the chaise long in our hall. When I came to empty it I found something a little bit weird. And amazing. Yes, it had made this perfectly spherical, cat hair and dust ball:

IMG_2249

Yep, I know,pure cat felt.

I expect you can all see what’s coming next. Suffice it to say that since photographs were taken the next thing we knew everything had gone down hill and turned into… er hem… this.

IMG_2280

And, of course, then it was only a matter of time before it turned into this…

IMG_2255

Alright treacle? Wanna come out on the taaaan?

The worst bit is probably the fact that I’ve kept it. Mr D Bunny or is it Terence De Tumblepube is currently residing in a plant pot with some cape primroses. Because it seems like a little miracle of hoovery strangeness.

Meanwhile, the vague ideas for K’Barthan 5 are definitely crystallising into something and the Book With No Name, which I’m working on at present: the trying to write a comfortable, normal, genre specific, correct length novel – that’s coming on nicely too. Although it’s not quite … comfortable or normal, or even genre specific, even if it is correct length. Oh well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad as Mr Meatloaf says.

I am also rejigging my mailing list expect something interesting soon – or at least ‘soon’ within the parameters with which I use the word so … before next year.

I leave you with one form McMini who joined ‘construction club’ at school (ie lego in lunchbreak).

Me – Was it good?
McMini – Oh yes! It was brilliant.
Me – what did you build?
McMini – a fish and chip shop, but it was closed.
Me – Closed? Why?
McMini – There weren’t enough lego men to go round so I didn’t have enough to make any customers, just the man behind the counter, so I decided all the customers had gone and he was closing up.

So there we are. I think that just about wraps it up for this week.

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