On book covers? Am I nuts? #notosexism #isitjustme #yesitisjustme

Today, McMini was invited to a tenpin bowling party and I went along. As we stood watching the kids bowl I was chatting to the Birthday-ee’s mum and we got talking about the portrayal of women in the media and how difficult it was to find books to read. Run with me, I’ll get to the point but the background makes sense, I promise.

It turns out that, as a teenager, she, like me, discovered fashion magazines. I enjoyed many aspects of them, as in, I loved clothes and fashion, but we agreed that both of us found them a bit depressing because the women in them were always the top 1% of beautiful and yet presented by the magazines as the norm. And because of that, we both found that though we loved clothes, and fashion, buying the actual magazines was a slightly depressing experience which left us wondering why we didn’t look like the glossy women on all the pages, whether we should, whether the fact we didn’t was normal, and whether finding out about clothes and fashion was worth all that shit; all that angst that we didn’t conform to the magazines’ idea of ‘the norm’ which wasn’t normal at all. As a teenager, I was pragmatic enough to decide that life was too short to feel shitty about myself. So I stopped buying them. So did my friend. For each of us, meeting another person who felt this way was a first.

As a kid, at school, my study walls were plastered with pictures of animals and stunning views clipped from the pages of National Geographic. The only people on there were the Beatles. Most other study walls in that school were covered with pictures of the kind of women my peers aspired to being; fashion models who were miles prettier than any of us … because well not necessarily because they were but because … Photoshop. And mostly, when they stuck them on the wall, that’s all my peers knew about these women. That they were pretty. And they thought that’s all you needed to be. Pretty. And I’m not 100% certain that magazines, adverts, book covers, or anything else that reinforces this view is a great idea. Because if you self actualise through your looks, you’ll never know who you really are, and when they start to fade it will do your head in.

You see, I’m older now, there’s a lot of spare M T where the bump was when I was gestating McMini and it has forgotten to spring back. I still have an hourglass figure but it goes further out and less far in. I need a lot more whalebone to keep my boobs in a place where they used to sit quite happily without artificial help. I often lose them under my arm pits at night and yes, dropping a couple of dress sizes would be convenient because it would make clothes easier to buy. And yes, some mornings, dressing myself feels like trying to find the most interesting and artful method to drape camouflage netting over a Zeppelin. But I’m OK with that because I may be a bit of a twat, a lot of a twat to be honest, but I am nearly fifty now and I’ve learned to like me, on the whole, and what I look like is just puff.

So, what worries me about all this body idealisation is that I can’t help wondering if the reason I’m content with my greying hair and ageing looks is because I was pragmatic enough, as a kid, not to buy into this women should be beautiful and look decorative shit; to avoid fashion mags and the idealisation of physical beauty for its own sake. And what happens to the folks who did? As their looks fade, are they hanging on by their perfectly manicured fingernails, surgically nipping, tucking and enhancing themselves until they finally wake up one morning, look at themselves in the mirror and think, who the fuck is this?  Is the loss of their looks like the loss of their personality for them? Is that what’s wrong with us today? Is that why the current POTUS would rather walk about looking like an oompah loompah with a brillo pad on his head than admit that he’s knocking on a bit and going bald? Fair play if he wants to but …

A few years ago, I read an article which cited a study into male eating disorders, needless to say I can’t find it now but, basically, the posit was that male eating disorders were growing. The article claimed the rise of eating disorders and poor body image in men was directly proportional to the increased portrayal of perfect six pack wearing chaps in lad mags. I admit I found it kind of strange, at the time, that there was more for me to ogle in a copy of Loaded than there was in Cosmopolitan, but I’m drifting off subject.

What my conversation, today, revealed was that I am not alone. That, there is another person who thinks that, self image-wise, fashion magazines are full of bollocks that makes us feel shit about ourselves, and therefore best read with the cynical goggles set to maximum, or, if that doesn’t cut the mustard and they still make us feel shit, not at all.

So we went from this to a conversation about book covers. Friend went on to say that she also hated book covers with people on, found them hugely off putting because:

  1. They’re always unrealistically attractive.
  2. Most of us want to imagine the protagonists for ourselves and if the image doesn’t match what’s in our head it will be annoying and possibly off putting as we read the book.
  3. Most women have trouble identifying with some pert, impossibly thin, scantily dressed, six foot teenaged girl model so it puts them off buying the book because they think they will not identify with the protagonists.
  4. It’s fucking sexist for heaven’s sake. Enough of the bowling ball bums in leather onesies or chain mail bikinis. It was shit the first time in the 1970s and guess what? Yep, it’s still shit.
  5. Same for the guys, but at least if it’s a ripped torso the head is usually cut off, because otherwise we can’t imagine our perfect man’s head on top. Well that isn’t a pleasant thought is it really? But it’s the truth and at least, on the upside, we’re not, by implication, telling blokes how their faces should look.

Or as my friend put it.

‘I won’t buy a book if I don’t like the cover and if it’s sexist or objectifies women then no, I won’t like it. In fact that’s the main thing that put me off reading sci-fi and fantasy books when I was young. Also, why would I be interested in reading about someone I cannot realistically identify with? If the cover shows a skimpily dressed size zero model, I’ll assume it’s erotica, or that these are characters I will have no sympathy with and I’ll move on. Where is the logic in cutting off half your readers?’

This is why almost all the scifi and fantasy I enjoyed as a kid, short of a few titles, was stuff I saw on TV. There might have been scantily dressed ladies involved but the big difference is that they were never pitched as the reason to watch.

So, that’s two of us, then, standing alone among the sheep. That’s how it feels, anyway. At times like this I feel my fellow authors are bastards and my fellow humanity comprised of pliant idiots but that’s just hormones messing with my donkey.

Obviously, that isn’t how it is but oh how glad I am that, finally – probably thanks to some severe tweaking of the algorithm by Amazon, I am, occasionally, able to find fantasy book without a really off putting picture on the front of some young woman, who’s way more attractive than me, and far younger, pouting grumpily at me the way the girls who bullied me at school used to do, or a muscly torso, neither of which will encourage me to pick up a book. Maybe that’s why the main readership of my books turns out to be older, wiser men and ladies between 45 and 50. Perhaps I’m not the only one who feels the way I do about the images of humans that surround us.

There are so many ways to make a book look interesting. Fine, I know I’m on very shaky ground critiquing covers with the ones I have which I, personally, love but which, I appreciate, are an acquired taste. Also there has to be a grain of truth in the idea that having people on stuff sells, and my psychometric profile is rare: something like 6% of humanity – or was it 4% – so I’m unlikely to ‘get’ what the rest of the herd loves but guess what? Of the three books I have on instafreebie, this crappy home made cover is the one that gets the most downloads when I do a promo. Crappy home made cover, 6,000 words as opposed to 103,000 or 80,000 respectively. Hmm. Go figure.

9781907809125

Runner up for instafreebie downloads is this one, even though, from the point of view of appealing to American readers, I might as well have called it ‘Escape From B-Movie C**t’ since they seem to view the word ‘hell’ as about the same level. Null points for research there! MTM slaps own hand.

9781907809262_LowRes

So basically, I, the very very murky looking pot, am about to accuse a kettle trend of blackness. But the fact is, I would prefer to avoid contributing to the deluge of images of ‘perfection’ which, I think, cause damage to young women and men and cause mid-life suffering to the pretty ones who come idolise their looks above all else as a result. So I will not knowingly put attractive models on the front of my books, unless it’s really obviously a joke.

So, back to sexist book stuff.

Here’s an advert that made me think, eeeeesh.

So, it’s a great design, the colours are fab, the idea is great, and even though the actual cover of the book (bottom left hand corner) is fine. Even if it looks more like the cover of an issue of Cosmo than the cover of a book it’s a cool image.

However, back to the surrounding advert. There are some things about this advert that make my skin crawl. I feel really guilty about only picking the one I’m displaying here, because it is a very skilful drawing and it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into it and the author is extremely professional and talented. But I think there’s a judgement error here.

First up, it’s quite a sexual image. There’s a LOT of flesh on display and there is also a hint of nipple, but our skimpily dressed elfin lady has the body of a teenager, a young teenager, and I think that’s why I find this image disturbing. Which side of the age of consent is she? I’m wondering. And the answer I’m coming up with is, the wrong side. OK, look, getting a bit basic here, but if she had any pubes they’d show at the bottom of that v in her trousers, so now I’m thinking please let them be waxed as opposed to not there yet. And worse, if you look at her, her features are kind of simplified, so not only does she have the body of a 12 year old and NO pubes, but she has the face of a child which is really freaky. I am absolutely certain that wasn’t how it was intended, indeed, I’d lay bets that’s a truly excellent book, but I just can’t bring myself to read it, because of the way that ad comes over. Am I the only one who thinks this is creepy, a bit paedo-tastic, and somewhat demeaning to women?

It is becoming a parent that has made me see the world differently. Or I am just turning into a massive prude. I probably need to lighten up. After all, t’was ever thus; catsuits, or the lack thereof, perky nipples and bottoms like two bowling balls in a sack have always been ten a penny on sci-fi and fantasy book covers.

But listen peps, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing, or that we have to carry on with that shit now many of us are in charge of artistic direction, ourselves. Three examples of buttock clenching cheesiness in the modern vein, though drawn with consummate skill, can be found under discussion here. I’ve included one of them here.

Hey big boy, if you think you’re hard enough, take your hugantic weapon and … yep. Freud would have a field day with this.

Hey big boy, if you think you’re hard enough, take your hugantic weapon and … yep. Freud would have a field day with this.

All three of the ones on the page linked, and this first one especially, would get a ‘not on your fucking life’ vote from me despite the artistic skill of the drawing – although on the poll in the article, many women really liked this image. At least it’s a lot clearer that this woman is not a minor.

Talking about cheese, if you want a good chuckle, there is a selection of amusingly dreadful sci-fi and fantasy book covers on display here – and yes those are the kinds of things I was trying to take the piss out of with B-Movie Hell.

So what’s to do? Nothing really, I can’t stop over-excitable folks from drawing shag-worthy fantasy vixens and I should probably be saying, ‘she can dress the way she likes even if the sword is a really cheesy metaphor for a schlong.’ Likewise, I can’t stop people thinking that a bitchy-looking pouty girl on the cover will sell books. Especially when it appears that they do, indeed, sell books.

And to women.

But why?

Heaven only knows.

And will I?

No.

19 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Lots of 99c and free books AND a giveaway! #funnybooks #99cbooks #freebooks #giveaway

Apologies to those of you who read my newsletter as well because this week’s blog post is, basically, what I just sent you. I know I’m a lazy, bad lady but I wanted to share the funny bits a second time.

Anyway, here we are, talk about time flying, I just blinked and it’s bye-bye January. Here’s hoping Nostradamus is wrong and armageddon, a 26 year long World War III (shudders, that’ll see me out) and all the rest, fail to materialise.

Luckily, I had other important matters to distract me this week as McMini required a bit of help from me to conduct his exhaustive research into the latest burning philosophical question that’s been bugging him:

Does Darth Vader poo?

Yep. And you know what? Amazingly, the answer is out there.

Straight up. It’s true. It’s amazing what you can see on YouTube these days.

Yes. We found it.

He doesn’t, by the way. Apparently he has bags and tubes around his armoured suit that collect er hem … stuff. He doesn’t have to eat, food goes in intravenously, but he does like a drink from time to time so he has straws inside his helmet so he can take the occasional drink. A bit like James Hunt then – or was it Nikki Lauda, or even Graham Hill? – one of them used to get thirsty during Grands Prix so had an orange juice delivery system rigged up so he could have a drink from a straw in his crash helmet. Needless to say, the first time he used it, most of the orange juice squirted in his face.

Anyway, burning question answered, McMini’s next quest is to find out weather Darth Vader has a willy, ‘because it might have been burned off when he fell in the lava after fighting with Obiwan Kenobe.’ He wants to know if prosthetics are involved and if the results are metal, plastic, etc, and whether the wires are properly insulated if it’s electronic, ‘because otherwise he will have an electric shock every time he has a wee.’

And I thought I was weird.

Odds are, by the way, that Lord Vader doesn’t have a willy. As one of the lovely folks who read my newsletter pointed out, wobbly dangly bits would be the first things incinerated in a lava pit-related plunging accident and it’s obvious he doesn’t. It’s why he’s in such a bad mood all the time. That and having sacks of pooh under his suit, next to his skin I expect.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. To be truthful, I am very happy to lose myself in the bizarre world of my son, if it distracts me from the relentless horrors of the real one. It struck me that you may be looking for a distraction, yourself. If you don’t have anyone of your life of suitably distracting eccentricity, fear not. I have three ways for you to lose yourself in books this month. Because I’m feeling all technologically whizzy, I’m going to put the pictures in too. Oh yes I am.

THING 1: Patty Jansen’s Monthly Promo.

This month over 100 sff books for 99c or 99p etc. It runs from today through to Sunday 5th February, but some books may be reduced after that. To check it out, click this link: http://pattyjansen.com/promo/

THING 2: CCEkeke’s Monthly Instafreebie promo.
For a week in February, 22 books, all free in return for mailing list sign up.

This runs from 5th – 11th February but you may find the offers are on before or after those dates.You can find that here: http://ccekeke.com/february-promo.

THING 3: There is NO Thing Three.*

THING 4: Funny Five.
Another smashing giveaway in which you can win funny books.

This one runs from 1st – 12th Feb. You can win copies of:

  • Good Omens (Pratchett and Gaiman)
  • The Ultimate Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams)
  • The Princess Bride (Goldman)
  • Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
  • Novels and Short Stories of Kurt Vonnegut 1963-73.

If you enter, you will also receive a series of curated emails featuring free or bobby bargain humorous books (99c). You can find that one here: http://readfunnybooks.com/giveaways/funny-five-book-giveaway/

So there you are! That should keep everyone going for a week or two!

Enjoy.

* Sorry, I have to stop doing that joke.

9 Comments

Filed under General Wittering, Useful Resources

Do you believe in socialism or the labour party? And other questions. #rantmodeon

I’ve just been reading an excellent post on Jim Webster’s blog about education. If you haven’t tried Jim’s blog you really should, all his posts are thought provoking, interesting and grounded common sense. Jim is smart.

He talks about education: what we should teach our children, what he’d like to see them taught, how we should teach our children and whether, actually, everyone needs to go to university. He makes the good point that because so many of our political leaders have been university educated, they tend to think that what worked for them will work for everyone – ergo that everyone should be able to go to university. And Jim makes the point that we’ve sort of dropped the ‘be able’ from that sentence, so now it’s considered essential that you go to uni if you want to make anything of yourself. But it doesn’t always work like that.

And it got me thinking about Education, and politics and also thinking, ‘Yep.’ And before I knew where I was, up popped a parallel rant. My American friends will not like this, because I do imply, at one point, that America doesn’t always look like an idyll to me and I have learned this doesn’t always go down well.

OK so, first up, I should fess up that I am university educated. I went to university because I hadn’t a smecking clue what I was going to do with my life and uni meant three more years to think. You didn’t have pay nearly as much for it in those days, of course, so you could do that – they introduced crippling fee loans the year after I left.

To me education is a tool, and it’s a tool for life. So, to me children need to come out of it with life skills. They need to be able to run a budget, fix stuff and also be furnished with the knowledge to be able to think independently. The more facts you have at your fingertips, the more information you are exposed to, the greater your capacity for understanding, and rationalising, what goes on around you. But you do have to be taught how to use them. Once you are, the better you are at that rationalisation process, the less likely you will be to follow a political party, or extreme religion, blindly, like a brainwashed sheep, without any thought to the veracity, ethics or long term effects – let alone truth – of what they tell you you ought to believe.

What university did for me was show me that there is never any cut and dried, there are always shades of grey. And I wonder if maybe one of the problems the US is facing, now, is the culmination of years and years of every single issue being pitched to them as binary: Right or Wrong, black or white, a cartoon of life as it never has been nor ever will be; simplified into extremes without middle ground. I suppose if you bludgeon people into believing like that then, after enough time, they become polarised – look at any republican and democrat ‘debating’ something on Facebook and you will see what I mean. Each side sees the other as Morally Wrong, possibly even evil and there’s a trend to suggest that the tactic on both sides is ‘he who shouts loudest and acts nastiest wins’. In many instances, it’s a simple slanging match and no actual debate is ever entered into. If it is there tends to be a suggestion that whatever each protagonist’s party says is right because the party said it. Like the party leaders did the thinking so no-one else has to.

So the first thing I’d teach kids is the difference between old-fashioned, proper right and wrong – you know as in not being a complete and utter bastard to everyone you meet or behaving like a shit – as opposed to the pseudo spun political party ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that some folks put into the void in their soul where the original sentiment should be. And then I would teach them to judge everything against that knowledge of good and bad.

These days, I find it impossible to look at anything without seeing the grey. Lots and lots of grey. Which is how I find myself in the odd position of having voted for all the major political parties here in the UK despite being, pretty much, a socialist – yes I genuinely believe we should re-nationalise our assets. BUT in a radically different way than was done before. I suppose that’s the point, I believe in socialism, but not necessarily in the Labour Party.

Then, perhaps our Government could do something radical too – it could set an example. At every level it fails to do this. From letting Google off masses of tax because it’s too busy chasing the 0.08% or whatever it is who are supposed to be defrauding social services. The logic of that is like turning your back on a suitcase full of easy money and, instead, concentrating on chiselling off a 50 pence piece that someone’s glued to the pavement for a laugh. Here’s another one, stating that you’re not going to condemn torture, because you want to strike a deal with the saviour of the American Way – or alternatively the Nylon-haired hate-carrot – from across the water who thinks torture is a Good Idea.

Here’s another example at grass roots level. My granny was a school governor. She said that the school she was a governor of needed new portacabin classrooms for the cost of their budget for the whole year. They asked for funding from Government/Council and were refused. So then they worked out that if they were really thrifty they could save enough money out of their budget for the classrooms over five years. They put this to local government and were told that any unspent cash at the end of the year is evidence of over-provision and it would be cut from the next year’s budget. If that’s how bureaucracy rewards long term planning how is anyone going to learn about saving up versus instant gratification? How will it help people whose ambition is ‘to be famous’ accept that unfortunately, their entire class cannot all be the next Katie Price.

So somehow I think we also need to find a way to educate kids that there is more to life than digital options: more than black or white, success or failure. There is the middle ground of contentment. At the least we ought to define ‘success’ slightly differently – as happiness, perhaps? It seems to me that we have a nation of people who aspire to degrees and business and money. Yet again and again, the successful people I meet who are happy are the artisans, engineers … people who MADE stuff. Then again, I suspect, that because the successful people I meet are inventors, the underlying trait in them all is actual brain power rather than education level. Interestingly, most cite things like family, or job satisfaction as s source of happiness, rather than what they earn doing it.

Also, while the world is never fair, I wonder if it would be good, at school, to ask kids this:

Imagine you live in a country where there is a civil war. Imagine what it would be like trying to earn a living, buy food, get an education for your kids, get health care, dental care. As well as that, imagine that in this war torn place, you live in the equivalent of a garden shed, with no heat, no electricity, no running water and you cook on a fire. You walk everywhere because you can’t even afford to buy a bicycle. There’s not much food so you have to grow most of what you eat. You don’t eat meat. A constant supply of eggs is far more valuable than chicken stew for a night. Yet, imagine that among all this, you still have a mobile phone, that you can see the internet, and you see pictures of people in a country where there is no war and even the poorest people earn more in a year than you can imagine earning in a lifetime. They have heat, light, bicycles, cars and free healthcare. They have public transport and free education. And they are complaining that they have nothing and saying they will not work for this unimaginably huge salary they are earning.

What are you going to do when you see that? Well, I don’t know but I imagine you look at that and you think that yes, you could go there, because you have never had a lot of the stuff they take for granted, and you wouldn’t need it. You could live as you are now, but there, saving yourself the cost of the luxuries they assume as their right and happily do those jobs they won’t or can’t do for a profit. I’d guess you’d think, ‘I’ll be minting it!’ Your children would be educated – something you could only dream of where you are. They will learn English, maths and science. They will be able to become something instead of dying in this hut or being drafted into the army and shot in battle before they are twelve.

Now I know life is never fair, but McOther grew up in North America: the US first, for a couple of years, and then Canada. Originally he came from Scotland. In Scotland, McOther’s dad played in a band every night, worked a day job and repaired other people’s washing machines at the weekend while McOther’s mum looked after the kids. Even so, money was still tight. Then, when McOther was ten, someone in a park asked him if he was Catholic or Protestant. He gave the wrong answer and the person smashed a bottle over his head. His parents decided they would move to a place where their kids would get a good education, everyone could afford a car, the standard of living was higher and no-one did that moronic, brainwashed, dickwad sectarian shit.

Does that make them bad people? Wanting a better, safer future for their kids?

I’d say not. They left their home, their family and everything they knew and made a new start. For their kids.

These immigrants aren’t ‘taking our jobs’. They’re doing stuff we refused to do or just weren’t doing – for whatever reason. Maybe, the reason all those Polish plumbers came to Britain was because, after years of Blair, our young people had been taught that they were above going into a trade, so there weren’t enough plumbers in the UK. Back in the late 90s, I lived in East Anglia and if you wanted anything more than small job done, every plumber had a waiting list months long.

People from third world countries can live a lot more frugally than we do, even here, because the stuff we see as our basic right is untold luxury to many of them. Should we blame them that they are able and prepared to work for less, or should we be blaming the businesses who were happy to employ them for those wages? Or should we be blaming ourselves, for insisting on rock bottom prices, for shopping in supermarkets who pay their suppliers less for the goods than they cost to produce. Or a system which thinks that leaving over 70,000 perfectly edible cauliflowers that are too bumpy, too small, or the wrong colour for the supermarkets in a field to rot is a ‘good’ result because a few extra thousand were sold in the ‘knobbly’ range. Perhaps those 70,000 cauliflowers in that one field, multiplied to the power of however many fields of cauliflowers there are, is the difference between the farmer using cheap imported labour and being able to source labour locally, or employ casual labourers. A friend’s son has autism, he finds it very hard to hold down a conventional job but he loved doing casual farm work. He was good at it too. But now there are no jobs for him, the work is contracted out to gangers who provide itinerant labourers from abroad.

So yes, by all means put some limits on immigration but show our kids the value of the freedoms we have, that we take for granted, that these people can only dream of.

Edited to add: Also, right now, there are refugees. We are talking about a situation we haven’t seen since the 1930s. At the moment, if you read up on how we treated Jews, fleeing Nazi persecution and how we are currently treating refugees, our forefathers look a lot more generous of spirit and kindly than we do.

Lastly, shouldn’t be be teaching kids what the world is actually like, and how much stuff actually costs rather than that it’s their oyster?

Should we be teaching our kids that they can’t have it all now? Should we be teaching kids to save up, and ourselves to pay what things actually cost so British workers in the few industries we have left can earn a living wage? And shouldn’t our government be going after the big money: making companies like Google actually pay their tax? And telling people who endorse torture that the British nation does not.

I guess what I’m saying is that maybe education should be a bit less about the facts kids know, and more about what they learn, which, over and above the facts and figures, should be, basically, how to be this bloke.

bethisguy

Picture scrounged from Oldroadapples

36 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

MTM’s Epiphany epiphany – or the Wenlock Edge Moment

I love the New Year. Christmas is over and I am home free. You know how, if you let a bee out of the window it flies miles up into the air as if it’s delighted to have escaped.* Well, yeh, I feel like that.

* Obviously, it isn’t delighted to have escaped. It’s a bee. It’s actually going up there to orientate itself and find its way back to its hive but there’s no harm in a little Victorian-style anthropomorphising of animals every now and again if it’s sensibly done. Phnark.

Anyway, where was I? Yeh. Today, it being Sunday, and the feast of Epiphany (when the 3 kings arrive) I went to Church. I confess, I like church. Maybe it’s because, as a classically trained musician, few things appeal to me more than singing loud shouty songs in a situation where nobody can be rude about my horribly loud corn craik like voice (because that would be unchristian! Snortle.). It’s also quite mantra like, doing the same thing again and again. And it’s calm. Church is where I get time to reset my head.

sunlightinchurch1

This week, I was mulling over my life this last year. I think I can safely say that 2016 has been pretty grim for me personally. Famous people dying didn’t even hit my radar, even the racism and bigotry round Trump and the Brexit campaign was eclipsed by personal events; my Mum beginning to lose her memory, discovering that Dad has alzheimer’s and that he was diagnosed FIVE YEARS AGO! But they didn’t see fit to tell us until September, thereby denying us so many options, things that might have made it easier, or given us a year or two extra with him, the whole of him.

Then there was having to do three mercy dashes when Mum went into hospital. Organising 24 hour care, sorting out enduring power of attorney over my Dad’s side of their joint account so I can help her with the finances, making the 280 mile round trip every Wednesday. Having to let go a succession of very lovely 24 hour carers for no other reason than Mum didn’t like having them there and I needed to show her she could trust me, that I was listening to her concerns. Helping her to gradually adjust and accept them … watching her deteriorate and then rally. That one glorious visit when she was better than I’d seen her for two years a few days before she got really sick. Watching her lose the power of speech, twice. Sitting in hospital with her the second time, wondering if she was going to die, knowing she wouldn’t want to without regaining enough speech to actually say goodbye. Visiting her and finding the hospital deacon there and Mum, still unable to talk, silently crying. Knowing that every bit of sadness I feel about her and Dad is felt to the power of hundreds more by her, because he’s her husband and she thinks that if she dies before he does she has failed him.

Watching Dad deteriorate. Trying to be a jolly, kindly mother to my boy and wife to McOther. Trying to see the good stuff in my life – which is there in abundance, by the way – on the days when the parents thing is just too much and I want to crawl away and cry.

If I’m honest, it’s been fucking awful. And it’s not going to get any better but I think that, maybe, I will.

Today, in church, I had a bit of a … well … epiphany – very apposite on the feast of Epiphany – what I would personally call, a Wenlock Edge moment.

Wenlock Edge is a poem by A E Houseman. It’s a belter if you’re down. Basically, he’s watching a gale blow across the trees on the side of a hill but that’s just the surface. There’s also some kind of upheaval going on in his life and he feels torn and battered like the trees. And he looks at them and realises that people will have been able to stand where he is standing and see pretty much the same view for thousands of years. He speculates that some of them must have been in the same, or similar, doo-doo to him but they, and their troubles, are long gone and he will be over his troubles one day, too. It’s very much an, ‘and this, too, shall pass,’ kind of vibe and very good.

So there we were in church, singing a carol called, A great and mighty wonder which I love because it’s early music and I love the way they mess about with syncopation and speech-like rhythms. And as I said, I love music and I love to sing. I noticed that the tune was arranged by someone who lived from 1572 until 16 something. This is another thing I love about early music, of course. When you’re standing (or sitting) singing a tune that’s over 500 years old, or, as in the case of another one this morning, a new tune with words that are over 1,500 years old it’s kind of cool. And there are so many. The oldest I know of, of the top of my head, is Of The Father’s Heart Begotten. Words: 4th century, music: 11th (rearranged obviously). Now that is fucking old.

Anyway, back to the carol. I’m singing it and it makes me think how many millions of people, all over the world, have sung this tune before me during the last 500 years. I wonder who they all were, and if any of them were sad about the things I’m sad about, and then I realise that of course some were, because with that many people, it’s a given.

And that’s the Wenlock Edge moment. Or at least, that’s the way I do it. And that’s the realisation where everything changes.

That’s the moment when the lense through which I view my life suddenly pans out.

That’s the moment when you are hovering at ceiling height in the office block of your being, looking down on the cube farm of your existence and seeing more than just the bubble of emotion you are sat in.

That’s the second when you see all the other colours in your life and how they shimmer and glow and interconnect. And that, for me, is usually the moment when I suddenly realise that everything is OK. Or in this case, that I’ve achieved a lot more than I thought. That I’m stronger than I realised. I’ve done alright.

And it feels affirming, uplifting.

Actually, it feels marvellous!

Because this time last year, I was worried sick. I’d spent Christmas with my parents, my Mum was getting forgetful and was not very well, her friends and the lovely peps who help her garden, help her clean the house, and who come in and look after Dad. All of them were worried. I was worried. Mum and Dad weren’t safe on their own. The long process of persuading them they needed live in care began.

And I remembered that and I contrasted it with the way I feel now.

And it was surprisingly better!

OK, so watching people you love die the death of a thousand tiny mental cuts … over a period of 8 years and counting … is not a process I recommend for the maintenance of a 24 hour joyous disposition. Yes, there is still the sadness and there is still the pressure. So much to do, not much time to do it in, the requirement to make weekly visits and be a nice mother and wife and funny and good company when I’m actually rather sad a lot of the time. Then there’s the making sure that there is room for grief but that it doesn’t become a habit.

Amazingly, what I realise is that I’m coping. I love and am loved. And there are still good times too. And for all my banging on about looking back on things regularly in my writing, about making sure I realise how much progress I’ve made, about how we should all do that, in this crucial personal thing, I haven’t. I haven’t done it in my writing either.

Doh. Channelling Homer.

Achievements for 2016 then. My parents are in their own home where they want to be. They are warm, cared for and looked after by a bunch of folks who love them almost as much as my brother and I do. They are as happy as their circumstances will allow. They are supported and safe. And me, I’m as happy as I can be that I’ve done right by them, done for them what I’d want people to do for me, made it possible for them to live the way they want, where they want, for as long as they are able.

I’ve done what I can. And suddenly, in today’s Epiphany epiphany, my Wenlock Edge moment, I realised that I’ve done enough: enough to ensure I can live with, and like, myself as a person. I’ve done OK by them. And I’ve done OK by me because even through all the chaos I’m still writing. I’ve been Mummy and Dutiful Daughter but I’ve also, just, clung onto Mary.

And I hadn’t realised that until this morning.

And it feels good.

Happy New Year peps.

______________________________________________

Book stuff supplemental:

There’s a humorous science fiction fantasy authors giveaway running until Tuesday, I think it is. You can win $42 cash equivalent or gift voucher, a box set of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide and paperback books from five humorous sci-fi fantasy authors. One of them is me. You can find that, and enter if you like here.

13 Comments

Filed under Blimey!, General Wittering

The traditional MTM Christmas Post #scrooge #bahhumbug #chaosfairies #jollyjapes

Well, that’s everything done for another year, despite small scale assistance from the Chaos Fairies. Presents given, card sent … well, OK, they’re sitting in the post box still I expect but I put them in there before Christmas day, on Christmas Eve to be precise, so it’s done.  I even managed to get a newsletter written to go into them, despite 40 minutes of making paper jam until I realised that the printer had eaten the small cloth I use to clean my glasses and it was clogging everything up in there. Well … it is in a rather dark corner, but I did feel very middle aged when finally, with the help of a torch, I discovered the cleaning cloth, which I hadn’t, hitherto, seen, in my defence it was black – despite multiple openings of the printer and inspections of its innards.

To my unbridled delight, the Christmas pop songs in the shops until our ears bleed (from about September) factor has now passed. Let’s listen to the Phil Spectre Christmas Album. Mwahahhahargh! No. Let’s not.

We’re in Scotland this year, which is always a longer visit than when we go to my Mum and Dad so there was even less point in decorating our own home than usual. Even so we put up a tree and in a fit of rare unscrooginess I went and got some of those gel window decorations, you know, like stained glass: two reindeer, two snowmen, two Santas and two er … penguins? Mmm. First window done, and with a snowman on the second only half complete the cat had already eaten one of the Santa’s hands and a leg. I had to guard them jealously after that but apart from a brief run in, during which one of the penguins nearly lost his feet, they have survived. Note to self, might not do this next year.

The journey to Scotland passed uneventfully enough, although there was some massive rain and we drove through some of the biggest puddles ever! Much to McMini’s joy as it does all fly up well if you trundle through at speed – aka hit an unexpectedly deep one. We did some last minute shopping, sent the last cards and then I managed to drop my mobile phone down the toilet. Sadly this was as I stood up to flush. On the up side, no number twos were involved. I grabbed it out of the loo yes my desperation not to spend £500 on a new smartphone was enough for me to plunge my hand into a loo full of wee without a thought. I suppose my Dad has weed over my feet enough times, during loo assists, for me not to care any more. I did run the phone under the tap in case the wee was corrosive. Then I took it to bits and laid it on a paper towel over the radiator to dry.

After borrowing a phone from McDad in-law, I then took McMini to one of the best Christmas Even Christingle services I have ever been to. Hello to all at Melrose Episcopalian Church, thank you for that. Basically, short prayers to begin and end and a strong onus on learning through play: a dimly lit church, plus torches for the children, a hunt for a selection of knitted crib figures, ‘I need you to look for Joseph and Mary now … yes … they are both wearing skirts … well, every marriage is different.’

It was a very amusing script which made all the main points without labouring them and was delivered very well by a bloke who looked and sounded like he was Armstrong – or is it Millar’s? cousin. Even better there were loads of kids, far more kids than adults. McMini had a gas and so did I, especially singing the Calypso Carol which I haven’t sung since I was in the school choir aged 10! Mwah hahaahrgh! Ah memories. It was even warm in there, too.

Church ticked off our list, it was back to check on the phone. I took a bit more of the back off and discovered a few more patches of ‘water’ which I dried off. But luckily the main foreign body present appeared to be pocket lint: still dry. I need a smart phone because I have to be able to run secret squirrel dual authentication on my parent’s internet banking app. I do need a new one, and I’m saving up and will have the money in a few months but it isn’t there now. So I really didn’t want to shell out for a new phone, or even buy a £20 cheapy one. So I waited, with every appendage crossed and hoped that my phone would survive it’s excremental dunking.

Probably the best present of all, for me, was the moment when, late on Christmas Day, I put my phone back together, powered it up and … it worked.

However, the whole episode made me think of a TV programme I watched a couple of years ago, when they were talking about the kind of yuck you find on every day items. They took swabs. The results were gross. My wee phone, which actually really is a wee phone, now, in the truly urinous sense of the word, would clearly have had them all gagging.

I have to report that it was only 24 hours before I said ‘aye’ for the first time instead of yes.

Afore I go, if you’re looking for interesting books, I wanted to give you the heads up about a promo that’s currently running over at sci fi author Patty Jansen’s site. Basically, Patty has noticed that there are a lot of authors out there who are struggling. Perhaps, it’s because, as she herself points out, when life is tough, often, one of the few ways a person can still earn is through writing.

The books are all full price in this one – although ‘full’ in most cases is still excellent value for money – there’s a giveaway to win one of Patty’s books and there’s a donate button which is the main point, as she is using those donations to give grants to authors who are struggling financially.

So far I haven’t read all of the books but the ones I have read have been excellent, so if you think you’d like a look, or think you would like to recommend you can find it here:

christmaspromo

And that’s it. Merry Christmas and all that malarky.  I hope your festive period has been eventful and fun – in the right way. I see that Death Year 2016 is doing it’s best to carry off as many people before it ends – although deaths peak at this time of year, anyway. Good riddance to it, anyway. Here’s to 2017. All the best to everyone and may the phone of your endeavours never fall into the lavatory bowl of failure.

4 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Fartyville welcomes careful drivers: join me in my world.

Last night, I had a slightly surreal evening out. It was one of those ones where I spent most of the evening thinking, If I wrote this series of events into a novel, people would say it was unrealistic. I suppose you could say the Chaos Fairies struck again, although luckily, it was more like, gentle tinkering than a full-on strike.

It was one of those rare occasions during the year when McOther and I go out. In this case, it was a Christmas party for a very nice bunch he works for. I was being corporate wife, except luckily they know me quite well. The first time I met the MD was before he started his own business. It was also a Christmas party, this time for the company he worked for. McOther said,

‘Come and meet thingwot,’ obviously that’s not his real name. I’m calling him thingwot to protect his identity.

Thingwot took one look at me and said,

‘Do you own a grey Lotus?’ and rather cautiously, because you can never be too sure what this kind of opener is going to lead to, I said,

‘Yes.’

And he said, ‘No way! You’re Lotus Woman!’ and I said,

‘I am?’

And then he beckoned a friend over and said. ‘Look! Look! You’ll never guess what! This is Lotus Woman from the A10.’

I think I told this story elsewhere. But basically, the A10 was boring so I used to overtake stuff in the mornings to stay awake. This was noticed by a number of folks, and it seems that while following my morning wakefulness stratagem, I unwittingly gained some notoriety for driving like a guffawing jehu. Anyway sorry, where was I.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Not Christmasy, I know but it IS pukka bubbly, in situ, in Epernay.

Yesterday morning, I bought a new corporate wife outfit because I only have draughty 12th century collage smarts and, this being a nice warm restaurant, I needed super-heated room smarts because I didn’t want to have to sit there with a flop sweat on all night. Strangely I managed this with a surprising lack of hassle.

Lunch time, got a call from McOther. ‘I’m doing a completion,’ he said.

Bollocks! I thought (that’s a technical term). ‘Are you going to need me to pick you up from work on the way?’ I asked, anticipating what he might be about to say.

‘I hope not.’

Yes, clearly. I thought.

He rang at five, five thirty and six, still hoping to get home in time to turn round and go straight back the way he had come, plus a couple of miles past his office, to the restaurant, with me, in my car.

He rang at six ten to say I’d have to pick him up.

The baby sitter arrived, in a considerable state of agitation, having just been involved in a road accident. She and her car were OK but she was feeling a bit rough. Praying that she was suffering from shock rather than whiplash, I gave her an aspirin and a cup of tea and told her that if she felt at all ill she should call me at once and I’d come back. I felt bad leaving her and set off to collect McOther with some misgivings as to whether she’d last the night.

When I got to McOther’s work he was still there (not an unexpected turn of events, I confess) and still waiting to sign the document that would finish the deal (also a pretty standard state of affairs for this kind of thing). They were doing it on Japanese time. It doesn’t seem to matter which end of these deals he is, selling or acquisition, he always does it on the other person’s time. Seems potty to me but there we are.

Anyway, he sent me to be corporate wife on my own which was no biggie, because, like I said, they’re a lovely bunch. So I drove to the restaurant. Said hello to everyone, luckily there was a seating plan and I was with some people I knew (oooh, I just combined the words ‘with’ and ‘some’ and typed ‘sith’ there). So I had a very amusing time. We speculated as to the potential outcomes of the evening’s events and which one would be most comic. McOther never turns up, or babysitter calls and McOther and I do high fives as he drops in for pudding and I rush home etc. I was able to swear a little with McOther elsewhere as well, which is always liberating.

McOther finally arrived for the main course, with a possible summons back to the office to sign stuff, pending.

At 10.30, when the meal was done, and McOther and I both headed off, me to relieve the babysitter, he to the office to check there was nothing left to sign. Completion time was set at 1.30 Sat am (I kid you not, and get this. At no point did anyone say anything sensible like, ‘this is over running a bit isn’t it? Let’s finish it on Monday.’ Go figure).

McOther didn’t have to change out of heels into driving shoes so he left the restaurant car park before me. It was only a few minutes later that I remembered that the junction for the restaurant on the A14 only had an off ramp and I wasn’t 100% certain I could remember the way back to the main road from there. So I had an interesting few minutes heading in what I hoped was the right direction, sort of on a wing and a prayer, but did eventually manage to hit Cambridge and the A14, roughly where I expected to.

When I arrived home, Fate had been kind enough to plumb for giving us a smooth life rather than the most comedic outcome; all was well and the babysitter was feeling a lot better.

McOther also ended up getting back a short time after I did. They didn’t need any more signatures, and these days, he’s got far enough up the pile to be able to leave some other poor bastard to sit up until 1.30 to finish the deal, so he came home.

The amazing thing is that this two cars caper is actually a regular thing. We’ve done it to these guys twice in the last five years. So, I have come to the conclusion that solicitors do business like this because they like it. Because there is absolutely no. other. logical. fucking. reason.

It was also a pleasing novelty that things turned out well, rather than amusingly. I have to say, if this is what it’s like, I’m very happy to be officially, Not Funny Anymore.

4 Comments

Filed under Blimey!, General Wittering

Evolved or spun? Meet my shorts. Born Free: news, views and free books … #giveaway #sffbooks

First of all, thanks to everyone who responded – in the comments or by email – to my rant last week. My folks are a lot better, which is heartening, and their new boiler is fitted. Things are calm for the moment, although I’ll probably have to try and get them to a funeral some time in the next couple of weeks. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I also did reasonably well at the Bury Christmas Fayre this year, in fact I ran out of copies of Few Are Chosen, which was a good predicament to be in but also a bit annoying. I did £470 over three days, £12 more than I did on my best year, in two, but a full £170 more than last year – although they hadn’t put me next to a stall selling brand new, best selling kids and teen books for £1 a pop this year, which was a relief.

There has been more time to reflect over my life and career this week, to, and I am feeling on a slightly more even keel. I have stepped down as editor of the parish mag, freeing up a minimum of seven hours a month and after Roughseas’ question in response to my last post, I started a short story to explain exactly how Betsy Coed did end up running the Bordello on Turnadot Street. Amazingly, it’s moving along nicely and I now have a princely 4009 words in the bag – only 16,000 to go then. Not so bad; if I keep up progress at this rate, it’ll be done in 4 weeks. It won’t, of course, but I will be done a lot quicker than I usually am and might even manage to squidge a second in before the summer holidays begin.

At the same time, the longer stuff has started moving again, so I’ve written a couple of thousand words of the work in progress, too – which is the first in a series and not set in K’Barth. However, I have made the usual discovery, a third in, that what I’m really writing is book two. So I’ve had to take stock a bit, go back and start book 1.

Isn’t it bizarre? Nothing has changed, I’m still trying to write a mix of full length novels and, in an ideal world, some shorter stories to go with. However, instead of seeing it like that, I’ve simply switched priorities, put the short stories as the priority and the novels on the ‘in an ideal world’ back burner, swapped a difficult goal for an easy one. The result? Suddenly I’ve made more progress on both in a week than I have in the preceding two months! So it just goes to show how important it is to look at things in the right way – or perhaps, that I’m so credulous that I can even do spin and puff on myself! Or possibly CBT.

Anyway, a propos of the shorts, I’d really appreciate your help with something. If you have a burning question about K’Barth, the back story to the series, the back story to the characters, anything characters do ‘off stage’ over the story line of the series, can you let me know what it is in the comments? I will then answer it, using the medium of the short story, because a few questions will really help to get this kickstarted.

Second thing, I am taking part in a giveaway this month. A group of science fiction and fantasy authors have got together and we are all giving our books away for free. You don’t have to sign up to anyone’s mailing list or jump through any hoops, AND you don’t have to be tied to one particular book retailer. You can go to the page for your favourite retailer and download the books that interest you.

To find out more, just click on this smashing graphic, here.

pattyjansenpromodec16

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under About My Writing, General Wittering, Author Updates