New M T McGuire release … sort of and Kobo Sale

Talking about books this week! Well, this is an author blog I have to interrupt the cat and dementia stories sometimes.

Christmas Lites VII is out! Woot!

Yes! I have a new release out. It’s an anthology of fantastic short stories with one dodgy one from me to lower the tone. Phnark.

Christmas Lites is a charity anthology to help victims of domestic violence. Even the story of how it came about is amazing and because I think that, I’ve made the bold assumption that you will, and decided to tell it to you, now.

As they used to say on Watch With Mother, ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.’

Back in 2011, a guy I knew a little from a thread on an Amazon forum, C S Splitter, was given the job of being Father Christmas for his work Christmas party. He hired the costume, bought some candy canes to give out, put them in a suitably theatrical and Santa-esque sack and headed off. He managed to get a bit lost on the way and ended up in a strange looking building.

There was a substantial kerfuffle when he arrived and when he discovered why he was surprised he’d even managed to get in. It was a safe house.

He realised that the women in this place had all recently fled from domestic violence. It was eerily quiet, despite the presence of children. The kids there had learned to stay silent and unnoticed – out of site and off dad’s radar. Some of these children were glad to have escaped with their lives. This Christmas, they weren’t expecting Santa. So Splitter realised he could, at least, give them that.

He was shown into the lounge where he did the whole ho! ho! ho! thing and gave out the canes to the kids. They were delighted and all wanted to talk to Father Christmas so he was there longer than he expected; nearly two hours.

When Splitter finally got to the office party it was finishing, the drinks had been drunk and the nibbles eaten. Despite Father Christmas’s no show, everyone was in high spirits although the party was fizzling out now and people were beginning to go home. Unfortunately, his boss had noticed his absence so Splitter explained where he’d been and she went very quiet.

The next day she called him into work. He wasn’t too happy as it was Christmas Eve but he reasoned that a) his boss was Jewish so she didn’t celebrate Christmas and it was just another working day for her and b) what with her going so quiet after he told her why he was late for the office party, he feared he might be in trouble. It was probably best to look eager, he thought, so he didn’t protest but drove straight into the office.

When Splitter arrived, his boss met him in the car park, her car stuffed to the gunwales with presents for the kids at the safe house. She explained that she didn’t know where it was so she needed him to show her the way. They went there together and handed over the presents to the children.

Unsurprisingly, Splitter was deeply moved by the experience and continued to be haunted by it for months afterwards. Eventually, he and a group of authors on the Amazon forums got together and published an anthology, in aid of the the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It’s an American charity, but as a fellow participant commented, a punch hurts just the same, wherever you are.

That was way back in 2011. Splitter died of spine cancer a few years afterwards but every year since then, that same group of authors – plus a few others – have contributed a story to the Christmas Lites anthology. I believe the money raised is now well into three figures. That’s a pretty good legacy.

Everyone involved; editor, cover designer and authors donates their time, work and effort to make it a success. I remember reading the posts about planning the first one, wanting to contribute and failing to get anything done in time. Finally this year, the seventh, I’ve got my shit together and managed it. OK so it takes me a long time to do things but I do get there eventually!

If you fancy picking up a quick short by myself and a number of rather better stories by other writers, please go ahead. I’m sure you’ll understand that I can’t give this one away for free or at a reduced price, indeed, I have no advance review copy. But if you want to help people, and grab yourself a dose of the warm fuzzy feeling – as well as a damned good book – please feel free to click on one of the links below.

I should also add that the book went live on Christmas Eve which means it’s not showing in many places yet. So the link takes you to a page on my website where I’ve given you a universal link to your local Amazon, a Barnes & Noble link which currently takes you to the paperback but when the ebook goes live it will be there, too. Apparently the places it is available will be listed on Books2Read soon – so that’s the third link.

Incidentally, the basis of the story I wrote for Christmas Lites is true; it’s how my mum and uncle discovered who Father Christmas really is.

Christmas Lites on Amazon
Christmas Lites on Barnes & Noble
Christmas Lites links from all outlets (eventually) via Books 2 Read

K’Barthan Series Box Set 40% off.

Yes, the lovely peps at Kobo are doing their sale thing again so if you do Kobo and you’d like to grab a copy of the K’Barthan Series box set for a lot less, click on the link below. It will take you to a page on my website with more details and links to all the Kobo sites worldwide so you can pick up your local one. If you already have the K’Barthan Series, you can always use the links to get to Kobo and browse the box set sale from there. I saw a lot of nekkid man torso books on the first page but there are other genres involved so it’s worth digging a bit.

As always, the prices will not show as reduced but will drop when you enter the code at checkout – 40BOX in this case. Also, you can use the code as many times as you like so fill up that e-reader!

K’Barthan Series in the Kobo Box Set Sale.

Next week some exciting news about eyebombing … well … not that exciting I suppose but reasonably interesting!

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Welcome to my world. Oh look! It’s like a car crash only less pretty …

Last week I was talking about being organised.  Remember that. Mwahahahrgh! Yeh. I did mention, I think, that it’d be a while while I set my house in order first? Mmm. Looking at my schedule, it’s going to be quite a long while even for a normal person. But a good day, for me, is like the aftermath of a multiple car pile up. Messy. And then there’s the weird shit. Take yesterday. Yes, actually, take yesterday, I’d like a new one because it was dreadful. I’m just going to dump the day’s events here, wholesale, to give you an idea of what I’m up against.

For heaven’s sake!

Yes, let me share a glimpse of what my life is like; day in, day out. It all started earlier this week, Wednesday, I think when my Fitbit app started acting very oddly. All of a sudden, it was labelling today’s stats as completely blank, while the day before’s stats – the yesterday section – that was actually showing today’s step total etc. It was weird but I could still understand it so like the plug-in hard drive that my computer won’t read since the spring 2017 update, and like the printer I bought after Window’s decision that I didn’t need to be able to print pdfs anymore, and still haven’t set up, or my computer’s sudden – yet random – habit of arbitrarily closing down all open programmes without saving anything when I put it to sleep,  it wasn’t worth the time and effort sorting it out.

Come Friday morning I wake up, muzzy-headed and gritchy throated with pending cold and discover that it’s 7.33. That is 33 minutes after the alarm on my phone is supposed to have gone off and woken me. Never mind, all is not lost. I eschew any waking up time and leap straight out of bed, never something that puts me in good spirits. I rush to the bathroom to do my ablutions and head back into the bedroom to get dressed. I set the alarm alarm on my phone to go off at 8.50 so I can snooze it and it will keep ringing each 10 minutes. I have no sense of passing time, so if I don’t do this, I will get engrossed in something and suddenly realise that we are all still at home and it’s five to nine.

As I try to set my alarm it keeps saying it’s going to go off in six days’ time. Why the hell is it doing that, I wonder. I check. I’m setting it for ten minute’s time. Why won’t it chuffing set for for this morning like I’m asking it to. I go do something else, come back and the phone has locked, when I look at the lock screen I realise it is displaying the day and date as Saturday 13th January. My alarm didn’t go off in the first place because it’s set to go off from Monday through to Friday and the moronic sodding phone thinks it’s Saturday. Likewise, setting my alarm for 8.00 on a Friday won’t work.

Because it’s Saturday.

According to my phone.

Except it’s not.

Great, so now I will have to set the alarm for Saturday. No wait I really can’t be doing with this. Maybe if I turn it off and on again it will reset? What’s the worst that can happen? Oh yes, that the phone stops working and I lose my Mum and Dad’s banking app for ever. I did drop it in a car park before Christmas, and someone had driven over it and cracked the screen before I managed to find it but hey …

Hoorah it is OK. See the time, the weather app refreshed, 19.04 on 12th except it was the eleventh because this screenshot was taken on the 12th at the time shown the top right hand corner; 15:02. Yes, my weather app went into the future and refreshed itself.

No. It’ll be OK.

Are you sure MT? This is you, after all.

Yes, what’s life for if you can’t take risks now and again.

Sure enough it reboots but nothing goes wrong! Now it’s Friday. I set the alarm to get my 10 minute count downs and carry on. Downstairs, grabbing a hurried breakfast I lay out some vitamin pills and nip through to McMini with a bowl of cereal. When I return McCat is on the counter.

‘For fuck’s sake Harrison! Get off there!’ I shout.

He complies but he trots away with that special fast, I’m-not-running, there-is-nothing-to-see-here trot which means he has something he shouldn’t have. Sure enough he stops in the next room and puts something down that he’s been carrying in his mouth. One of my vitamin supplements. It’s some kind of essential oil but I’d laid out three different ones which come in identical capsules so I haven’t a blind clue which one. The cod liver oil capsule, I assume.

Later, buying cat litter at the pet shop the lady there and I had a bit of a giggle. She told me,

‘He’s definitely in the wrong body, that’s not a cat you have, it’s a dog. Still, maybe he thought he needed a more lustrous coat.’

The day didn’t improve. I had two skeins of wool which I decided I’d make into a pussy hat. I should have known that today was not the day to try and unravel a skein of wool shouldn’t I? I mean, why did I even fucking try. On I go, tosser that I am, and try to do it anyway. I even googled doing it right, hung the skein over a chair the way they tell you but I got this:

That’s fifty metres of wool there, my lovelies. I would buy another one but it’s silk and merino. Not something you think about buying twice. So over the next year and a half I’ll be unravelling that bastard in my spare time. For now, if anyone wants to hire a clown wig …

Yeh. That’s M T McGuire when she’s following the sodding instructions; using the back of a chair to hang the skein of wool over, winding it carefully onto one hand. What I didn’t realise was that the bloody thing was already knotted beyond help so when I started winding it just tied itself into the gargantuan Gordian knot you can see there. At first I couldn’t even find the other chuffing end so it was taking ages to tease out each loop and pass the ball of wool through. Finally I found the other. Then Harrison intervened and now I have four. All this because I want to knit a pussy hat but hate pink, so I thought light pink and the kind of pink that is, essentially, red, would get the message over without being all pink and I’m-a-girl-therefore-I-like-pink and fucking … PINK. Knob that I am.

On the up side, when I scolded the cat he did get the hint and he went away. Mummy is being both boring and grumpy while shaking the biggest and most exciting cat toy ever.

I’ve given up on the bloody thing for a while.

Actual plans for January …

Yes, I did have some.

However, unfortunately January is very busy with trying to catch up with all the shite I didn’t do because it was Christmas. There’s this quarter’s parish magazine – not going to happen until early February I’m afraid, and I promised I’d write a children’s picture book by mid January! Why in the name of God did I think I could do that? And of course, there’s all the pissy admin like putting all the dates of our holidays and term times in the diary in the kitchen and the one on my phone. Want to know how long that took? One and a half hours!

One and a half effing hours!!!! This must be a special skill. I’ve not even finished.

Now, I have to book the cattery for all our holidays and put the drop off and pick up dates in the diary. Aaaargh. And then there’s booking a baby sitter for the inevitable Christmas Party that one of McOther’s clients or another will always have – and yes, are having – this January. And not forgetting windows borking updates.

And I still haven’t done my tax return which has to be done end of January. Two years ago, I opted to do this online which is the stupidest thing I ever did. Sure I have until January to hand it in instead of October but actually October is easier, I have more time then than I do now. Also, if you fill in a paper form, then, if your income is under a certain amount – and mine very much is – you can fill in a short tax form. The online form is the long version. Fifteen pages of questions most of which are so incomprehensible to me they might as well be printed in a foreign language. All with the exciting frisson of knowing that if I get one wrong it’s a crime, my solicitor husband will be struck off and I’ll probably go to prison. Thank heavens the help line is helpful, even if there is a hefty wait to get on.

Then there’s the deadline aspect; miss the January deadline and I’m screwed, it’s a £100 fine but I am already at the point where HMRC will not be able to get a new password to me or unlock my access to their website should I discover I’ve lost my password and am unable to get onto it (they say it takes up to four weeks). That also adds to the excitement. Yes, of course I meant to do it last month! And the one before! But with all the joyous task of filling in those bastard Lasting Power of Attorney for Health forms and preparing for bastard Christmas it was impossible. Short of pulling an all-nighter, there was no time left to do it in.

Organised people won’t understand this but then organised people don’t have phones that tell them it’s tomorrow all fucking week and they probably have time to work out how to get Windows to install security updates but not the other periperal-destroying shite my version insists on adding as well.

Then there’s Dad. Dad is becoming increasingly surreal. On Thursday one of our lovely carers, Aimee, took Mum and Dad to the dentist, where Dad announced, loudly, that Mum was his mother, Aimee was his girlfriend and that although there was a bit of an age gap it was OK because he does have a ten inch cock. Jeez someone is going to sue us before long, and we will counter-sue for discrimination against someone with a disability. Luckily the folks in the dentist, like the folks at the garden centre and all the other places where Dad has been inappropriate are OK with it. On a lighter note, I discussed this behaviour with Mum and Dad’s doctor on Thursday morning. He was telling me that he had to prescribe medication to stop some of the gentlemen in the dementia wing at the local care home from making improper overtures to some of the lady inmates. I guess when you think you’re eighteen but are really an octogenarian with the social niceties of a toddler that’s what happens.

God help us.

And now, as I sit here and type, I look down and realise I’m wearing my jumper inside out and have been for half the day. Head, desk.

Every single fucking day is like this. Frankly, I’m I consider it a victory if I get enough of my shit together to dress before dark. And it’s not going to improve. This is a short term. Five weeks either side of half term. In other words, there will not be time to sort all this bollocks out before the wooden spoon is inserted back into my brain and everything is given a good old stir.

So to put it in pictures …

Planned MTM January.

Obviously … but I’m a realist.

Type of January MTM would settle for.

Yes, I would settle for this, I mean, it’s a bit stringy but it’s tidy and it’s all there.

How MTM’s actual January is going so far.

See illustration, left.

Status of MTM’s efforts to catch up: Exactly the same as day one.
Progress achieved: Zero.

Hey, it’s January, let’s see more people and do more things and catch up after being away for Christmas!

NO! Fuck off!

So there we have it. Clearly, I’m going to be spending January and February firefighting and catching up. Ho hum.

Here’s to the start of the MTM New Year in March, then.

Thank you for reading. If you have been trying to organise yourself this new year, and, like me, have had the wheels fall off your efforts before you begin, I hope this has given you a laugh and cheered you up.

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To Infinity and Beyond! Plans for 2018. #Newyearsresolution (sort of).

Heaven knows how many weeks ago it was now, far back in the mists of time, anyway; before Christmas, I posted about my efforts to bludgeon people into reading my stuff over the course of 2017. Basically, I discovered that I had a much higher rate of read-through on my perma free book than I thought and that I should maybe think about making something else permafree this year. Or Doing Something New.

Mostly, this year, I intend to be Doing Something New. Here are my New Year’s … not resolutions exactly, that will only set me up for disappointment in myself. Let’s call them Things I Intend To Do.

Yeh.

That sounds good. On we go then:

Thing 1: sort out my time management.

This one’s kind of done, I just need to put what I’ve learned into practise. The basic gist is to be more rigid about planning the day. There is so much to do that in order to avoid overwhelm the trick is to do a few sprints of several projects in progress to keep everything moving. I have no idea why I didn’t think of this before. I used to do it all the time at work, which was well busy and usually involved starting the day with a couple of hours’ firefighting. It’s the same now, as I usually get a call from Mum or the carers, or some wages come in to pay. This method sounds nuts, especially for someone like myself who prefers to do things one at a time in sequence. However, a bit at a time quells the rising sense of panic that it’s all too much and nothing is getting done.

Time allocation is also good for controlling those things that suck you in and spit you out at the end of the day before you even know it. Need to find a printer? Set a timer for one hour, make notes on what you need it to do and ask for advice in a forum. Then do something else. After someone answers your post set a timer for an hour and armed with the information, have a look a few different models on line. Compare prices if there’s time, if not, when the pinger pings, stop, schedule an hour on the printer search in for tomorrow and do something else.

This is a bit hit and miss, but even a nod to apportioning my time seems to be working in that it gives me the illusion of control. The time slots are flexible. I’m doing a course at the moment so I give myself 90 minutes to watch each new vid and do the homework. Writing is a minimum of a 20 minute sprint; more if I can, and so on. I try to write down what I need to do as well, so I can enjoy the feeling of achievement crossing it off the list afterwards.

Thing 2: write something every day.

Yes, set the timer, write for 20 minutes and hey presto there are 250 – 700 words that weren’t there yesterday. Not doing too well on that so far as I’m still ‘getting rid of Christmas’ as in thank you letters, taking decorations down and all that other malarky. Not long now though and my real, proper 2018 can start.

Thing 3: make it easier to write.

That is simple stuff like doing a plot outline and a scene list. That way, if there’s only twenty minutes to write, you avoid spending nineteen of them working out where everyone’s got to and what happens next. I am a born pantser and I was very sceptical about plotting but I did some free training from Joe Nassis and it is really good. If you get the chance, or find it online somewhere it’s so worth doing. He does a course attached, too, but I don’t have time to do it justice. The principles he sets out are brilliant though because the technique gives space for the characters to do their own thing but without you heading off after plot bunnies.

Other ways to make writing easier to do include:

  • Having more than one project on the go so there is always something I feel like writing.
  • Planning in advance (as mentioned) not hugely but enough to have titles for your scenes and be able to dive in and write one at any point in the book.
  • Doing sprints to focus my attention on what I’m doing.
  • Taking a break from the computer so that the time spent at the keyboard is quality time – ie knitting in front of the telly at night rather than writing mailshots or coding web pages.

Thing 4: set out my wares better.

Phark, alright no giggling at the back you smutty lot. At the moment folks can buy my books in a fair few places. They can also buy bits of my art, and bits of artwork from the books. After using some of my own artwork to illustrate a blog post the other day I linked it to a place where the picture is for sale as a card. I sold three. It occurred to me that I always sell a few cards when I take a stall to sell my books but that none of this is organised. None of it is anywhere easy for people to find if they want it. Then there are my books, currently, there’s is no way people can buy my books from my site.

However, just recently Bookfunnel introduced a system that will make that possible. It looks complicated but I am looking into opening my own online store, so people can buy ebooks direct from me.

Thing 5: diversify.

Leading up from Thing 4 really but … tidying up the other day I found the beginnings of a sketch of General Moteurs, and since Unlucky Dip, with my dodgy homemade cover seems to get way more downloads than my other books in giveaways it makes sense to resurrect plans to make more artwork of the characters like this.

Not General Moteurs

Guess who?

Originally, the plan was to do a spoof of the cover of A Hard Day’s Night but my pictures of The Pan of Hamgee came out really shit. To be honest, I thought they all came out really shit but other folks, people who don’t even know me, seem to disagree. An artist friend tells me this is usual because you’ll always be too close to your own drawings. Perhaps it’s time to try that one again, then see about turning it into postcards. Also on the agenda is making more things like the K’Barthan bling pictured to the right, or possibly below, but nearby anyway.

You can do all this stuff on sites like cafe press and zazzle. They are really expensive but they print, ship and process payment after which they give me a royalty – a pitifully small royalty but one that takes no admin or effort on my part after making the original product.

In other words, keep up the policy of paying more for cover art that can be used for other things.

Then there’s the eyebombing. I’ve really missed a trick there. The other day when sharing some of the year’s eyebombing highlights someone said,

‘You should make these into postcards! I’d buy a set.’

Amazingly, I’ve done nothing arty with my eyebombs short of sharing them on instagram and facebook. I’ve written the book text but left it sitting for lack of cash. Now I’m thinking I should have made a calendar and all sorts. Head desk. So for 2018, now that I am earning for the admin I do for my parents, my plan is to squirrel that cash away and then use it make more of the opportunities that arise, not to mention try and notice what is happening when said opportunities are busy smacking me about the face and still failing to get my attention.

Thing 6: chill.

Yep, that’s Thing 6.

You can never do all the things you ought to, so you just have to content yourself with doing what you can.

There’s been a bit of a journey this year with the situation with my parents and the sadness associated with it. Sadness can be a habit if you’re not careful. On the other hand, if you blank it too effectively you wonder what damage it’s doing inside, and you have to open yourself up to being hurt because that’s the only way you can engage with the people you love who are suffering.

Suffice it to say that this year has been about learning to do what it is possible to do, accepting that it isn’t as much as I’d like, and letting the rest go. It does feel as if I’ve made some strides with this now, not least in that I’ve found ways to shoulder the burden without ceasing to write, although I had to stop writing for about nine months to work that out. I think it was worth it. In other circumstances I imagine I could be a better mother, a better daughter and a better all round better person. But looking at it, I’m probably about as decent as I’m capable of being right now. I haven’t murdered anyone and I’ve only been rude to the gets I’ve encountered occasionally, so that’s OK.

Happy New Year everyone.

Run fast, laugh hard, be kind.

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Ten a penny … Tena pants … Bittersweet Christmas

  1. Language alert on this one: my dad’s rather than mine.

_________________________________________

Just departing from my usual Saturday schedule to post this. There isn’t time for me to do a Saturday post so there won’t be one this week but I promise I’ll finish the where are we now post the week after. I just wanted to post about Christmas at Mum and Dad’s because it was so surreal, I am not 100% sure it happened! And I think this post should go out sooner rather than later, so here it is, on a Thursday. Oooo. Yeh, that’s me, right out there. Posting on a different day. Right then, on we go.

As you know, my dad has dementia; Alzheimer’s and Mum possibly has the same but it could just as likely be exhaustion from looking after a man who only sleeps a couple of hours a night, keeps proposing to the carers and thinks she’s his mum.

We bravely went for three nights this year, and the preceding weeks were spent liaising with the carers over who had ordered what, when and what with. Somehow we managed to order just the single turkey, yay we rock, and the one we did order was from a local farm where they are properly looked after and respected. We did think there was sausage meat to stuff it but on Christmas Eve we couldn’t find it. Meanwhile Mum discovered a box of stuff she’d bought including a box of bread sauce mix, which I’d completely forgotten, phew! Said box also contained chestnut stuffing mix, so in the absence of the sausage meat we thought we had, into the turkey it went. Woot.

Shortly after I’d stuffed the turkey with chestnut stuffing mix, McOther discovered the sausage meat for the sausage meat stuffing – too late for me to have to make it, which, while a little sad, was also good in that it saved me a job at a point when I didn’t really have time to do it. Instead we cut it into ice hockey puck shaped things and cooked them with the bird.

One minging balloon. You can just see the green shred of the other one in one photo.

Christmas Eve we had to wrap the stocking. Obviously, we’d seen that coming and wrapped everything we could on the day of purchase! I had found some completely vile balloons in Wilco which were hilarious but took a fearsome amount of courage to blow up. One ended up deformed, only one ear inflated fully and I couldn’t get the other one to fill. Unfortunately, before I got to take a picture it burst! Boo! The other one popped after getting too close to the tree, but I have a picture of the purple one – the only survivor of the three.

During our first night, I woke up several times to the sound of my dad bellowing orders:

‘I’m NOT wearing these.’ … ‘No.’ … ‘No you bloody stupid woman! I REFUSE to wear them!’ … ‘You’re a thoroughly unkind woman! You’re horrible! Not like … she’s a NICE person.’ Dad is incontinent and was talking about removing his tena pants. He does this every night and he also does a lot of pooh every night which makes a delightful surprise for the carer in the morning – except it’s not so much of a surprise these days.

Other gems included: ‘Will someone come and turn the fucking telly on!’ at about three a.m. and then,

‘Will someone PLEASE come and bloody well get me dressed.’ (at about four a.m.)

Meanwhile during the day, ‘Will someone turn the fucking telly off.’ and ten minutes later, ‘Will someone turn the fucking telly on.’

It’s like Father Jack combined with Granddad out of Bread. This is the reality of living with dementia. I read that the best thing to do with dementia folks is to go with the flow. A while ago he told me that he had to go for a walk NOW. I looked outside and saw that it was blowing a hooley and chucking it down with rain but I knew he’d get in a state if I told him, ‘no’ and I thought I’d give the go with the flow thing a try. So just said,

‘OK Dad, come on then.’ By the time he’d got into the hall I said, ‘Hmm, I am daft! I can’t remember what we were going to do next.’
‘I don’t know,’ he said, I’ve forgotten, too.’ so I said,
‘Maybe we came out here so you could have a wee.’
He brightened up,
‘Yes, that’s right. What am I coming to that I can’t remember?’
I said, ‘I dunno,’ and we had a bit of a chuckle about and I added, ‘I’ll just go and get your bottle.’
Wee sorted, back he went to his chair. No more chuntering about going outside.

The trouble is, that’s fine during the day. Sure, maybe overnight the carer could agree that he could get up, suggest he goes to the bathroom to dress, then by the time he’s got there he may have forgotten and then they can just so the wee thing and take him back to bed. He might remember he was getting up and call their bluff though. Some ideas are more fixed than others. That’s fine in a home, with night staff, they could just get him up and he would probably sleep quietly the rest of the night in front of the telly. But that’s not so easy at home when the same people have to be up and awake with him during the day who were up and awake with him all night. I guess this is the point in the Contented Dementia Sufferer where they recommend the person with dementia goes into a home. But Mum has promised Dad he can stay in his own home and feels that she must honour that promise, whatever happens.

But I wonder what Dad would say, real Dad, before the dementia came Dad, if he could see her now? He would be horrified to see Mum going through this. He would be saying, ‘No darling, you simply can’t be expected to do this, you have to put me in a home.’

He has reached the shouty angry stage of Alzheimer’s and remained shouty and angry from our arrival through to the morning of Boxing Day. And there’s the whole thing that this shouty Father Jack clone who lives with Mum is a million miles from the person he was. He’s in there, but it’s really hard to solve the human puzzle that is demented Dad and find him. It doesn’t mean we should give up, but I wonder if we should take a different view. The trouble is, Mum has to do what she feels is right, but I’m hoping to persuade her to balance that. She can’t keep caring for Dad as if he has been given seven months to live. She’s been doing that for fourteen years. She needs to accept he will be around, let go of the fear and step away every now and again to recharge her own batteries. But persuading her is easier said than done.

As I may have mentioned, Dad was in a bit of a grump when we arrived. He is usually an unhappy chappie in the mornings but once he gets downstairs and has some food he perks up. However, I missed a trick on Christmas day. The food was too complicated, the plate too full. He needed the turkey cut up, he needed a tiny portions of each thing with plenty of white space in between. He didn’t eat. He was overwhelmed and asked to go back to his chair. I let him. He had ice cream for pudding but ate very little else. Another situation when he’s not a happy man; when he’s hungry.

He was too grumpy to come to the Christmas Day service, but that was a good thing, as he was in the kind of mood when he’d be singing Old King Cole or obscene limericks very loudly and shouting that he needed, ‘a fucking piss’ instead of the carols or something.

He has rather lost the idea of time if he says,

‘May I have a cup of coffee?’ and it doesn’t materialise by his side as he is finishing the sentence he will fly into a rage. ‘Hurry up you stupid bloody woman! I want my coffee!’ It took me a while to get the hang of laughing him out of it. It’s one of the reasons I really dread having to help him wee. Because he has a tendency to start berating you if his pants aren’t pulled up the second he’s finished. The first time he did it to me I wasn’t prepared for it at all and I got it so wrong he smacked me over the head.

On Christmas morning he asked me who I was so I explained I was his daughter.

‘Oh yes, I remember. What a pity you’ve got so ugly.’
‘Thanks Dad.’

Everyone in Dad world needs a haircut. ‘You need a haircut!’ is one of the main things he says to everyone, women and men, on a loop. He appears to want us to all have Lego mini figure hair, smooth and unruffled. Three brillo heads staying must have been a joy for him!

He’s deteriorated fast this year and even in the ten days since I’d last seen him. Dad and I have a joke about the German word for father which sounds very like ‘farter’. So I’d shout, ‘mine farter oh mine farter!’ and he’d say, ‘mine taughter, mine taughter,’ no idea how to spell these words, I’m doing it phonetically. We’ve been doing this joke since I was about fourteen and as he has become more and more demented it’s become our anchor, setting the tone, setting the scene, placing me. Do the joke and at once he knows who I am.

When things started getting a bit dicey on Christmas day I gave it a go.

‘It’s not father, it’s vater, with a v you stupid woman. Get it right for god’s sake!’

So he’s forgotten that one then.

Ho hum.

So how did it go?

It was bittersweet.

Upside: McMini – McMini all round actually because was fab and Dad didn’t swear at him once. He also got to light the Christmas Day candle on the Advent wreath. I didn’t have to change Dad’s nappy. I got to prepare a turkey dinner for only the third time in our 22 year marriage (which was awesome) – and I also got to help McOther cook it.

Downside: Dad didn’t really cheer up until the last day we were there so it was hard work and I felt I’d missed him for three days of the four.

Special commendation: to McOther who had to deal with Dad plus full tena pants after the carer had left for her day off on Christmas Day and McMini, Mum and I had gone to church.

Did we have a good time? In parts, which leads me to something important.

Important Thing.

Not everyone enjoys Christmas. Not everyone has a laugh. There are more deaths at Christmas than any other time, which, presumably, means there are more people grieving. More suicides, too. There are more folks who are sad or upset than you could ever know. There is so much pressure on us to have a fun, be joyful and happy. Everyone is going on about how wonderful it is everywhere you look, with their elves on their shelves, their acrylic festive jumpers, their relentless happiness and hall decking and Christmas cheer.

Bastards.

Fact is, for some folks, Christmas is sad, or difficult, or painful. And you know what. If you’re one of them, it’s OK.

Lost a loved one? Looking after someone critically ill? Looking after someone with dementia? Dealing with depression? Dealing with chronic pain? Full time carer? Eating disorder? You are not alone. Here are some I know, a lady lost her son three weeks before Christmas, another lost her husband six weeks before and another lost her husband the week before. Another lady spent Christmas Day in A&E with her husband and lost two sisters over the last two weeks. Two lovely ladies I knew died of cancer just after Christmas, both leaving loving husbands and children. My Grandfather’s mother had a heart attack and died in his arms on the way home from church on Christmas morning. In the news tonight, a lady in her sixties and a policeman died in a car accident on Christmas Day.

You are in good company.

Shit happens, and in that way, Christmas is like any other day. I hope with all my heart that you did enjoy Christmas; that it was wonderful, warm and loving and that it brought you everything you wanted. But it’s not obligatory if you couldn’t manage to enjoy it this year. Sometimes life is hard and sometimes doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing. Sometimes, you just have to grit your teeth and do what has to be done, or do your utmost to make it as happy for the people you love as you are able.

Sometimes, even when it’s overflowing with love and warmth and compassion and kindness, Christmas still hurts.

It’s worth trying to look for the shiny bits. If they aren’t there you can always have a go at making some even if it’s just finding someone who is having it harder than you and giving them a hug. They’re there, believe me. But if you can’t find anyone obvious, take heart from that list there. It isn’t just you.

That’s the thing, I guess. It isn’t always easy or enjoyable. You don’t have to pretend it is. You don’t have to pretend it’s OK. Finding it difficult is far from failure. Lots of people struggle at Christmas, so if that’s you, here’s hoping it gives you the strength you need to know you are in good company.

God bless, hang in there and good luck.

___________________________________________________

And just in case a word from the Samaritans. As soon as I have the time to do it I am going to become one.

Whatever you’re going through, call us free any time, from any phone on 116 123. We’re here round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call us on the phone. This number is FREE to call. You don’t have to be suicidal to call us.

There you have it peps:

Samaritans UK and Ireland 116 123
Samaritans Astralia 135 247
Samaritans New Zealand 0800 726 666
Samaritans RSA 0800 12 13 14/0800 21 22 23
Samaritans USA 1 (800) 273-TALK.
List of suicide and depression crisis lines round the world – careful of this one, the first on each listing is the emergency services number but if anyone outside those other areas needs one I hope this link will help: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines

 

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Navel Gazing and Pocket Lint; MTM’s Year in Publishing 2017

Yes it’s time for me to do a round up of business. When I say business, I mean my business, such as it is, not ‘the business’ of world book sales. Anyway here goes.

So, how’s it been?

So so if I’m honest. Marketing-wise, I have not had the time to do it justice but I’ve turned the corner with the writing, definitely.

Sometimes, in publishing, it can feel as if you are running faster and faster to stand still. Now, clearly an author with my output rates isn’t going to be able to keep up with the standard, low margins high output model that is doing so well.

However, I have happened upon a group of authors who are doing very well thank you without ever troubling the best seller lists. It all started with a thread on Kindleboards here from Australian sci-fi and fantasy author Patty Jansen. She has also written a really good set of books about her alternative approach which I highly recommend any fellow authors who are stressing about sales, and what have you, should read.

Seeing as I’ve always had a slightly different approach to what I want to achieve with my book sales, I thought it was time I evaluated my efforts so far, all of them. I’m using Booktrakr, which may not be 100% accurate but is on point enough to give a good idea of my career wide sales.

One Man: No Plan M T McGuire

Which Genre? This one.

What genre are we in?

OK, in case you don’t know. I sell humorous science fiction fantasy action adventure books with a dash of romance here and there but no squelchy bits. They’ve been described by a friend as ‘Douglas Adams meets James Bond’.

Or to put it another way, the books are genre transcending, which is polite-speak for,

‘they’re an extremely hard sell.’

And when I say ‘hard sell’ I mean it. Frankly, I suspect I’d have an easier time trying sell a dog turd in a paper bag than my books. BUT when people finally read them, they do tend to enjoy them.

General overall goals in writing

Over the course of my writing ‘career’ I’ve rather loosely kept to four goals:

  1. Produce more books and find people who will love them.
  2. Find a way to access those people where I am in control ie no middle man like Facebook hiding my posts from everybody because they want me to pay for ads.
  3. Make some cash, although to be honest, I haven’t really written enough books to make much, but I’ve set a goal of £300 a month – about $400 – by the end of 2019.
  4. Increase sales from sites other than Amazon because they dick their suppliers around less than Amazon does.

In so far as I have a customer strategy, it’s get a small group of folks who love your work and buy everything you do. Keep as much control over your access to them as possible – ie have as many on your mailing list as possible rather than relying on third parties, although I’d rather someone followed me on Facebook than stayed on my newsletter list when they didn’t want to.

So basically, I’m looking at the 1,000 fans theory, I’m looking for superfans.

Goals for 2017.

Last year, such as they existed, my goals were:

  1. Experiment with new ways to find readers who will enjoy my stuff.
  2. Write more books.
  3. Concentrate on growing my mailing list and making sure that the people on there want the things I can give.
  4. Find out if there’s anything they want related to my fiction books which I can deliver but haven’t yet.
  5. Find out what the folks on my mailing list want if it’s not the books I’ve written and decide if I can deliver it to them.

What actually happened?

A lot happened in my personal life over 2017 and I had to stop writing and evaluate the situation. Basically, I had to work out if I could continue to write at all. Then I had to work out what, if anything, I could to change of the handful of factors within my control to make sure that happened. I sorted a new way of working. Tried it out, wrote a short and half a long, sent the short to my editor and … she died bless her.

So this year’s new release – originally for September – will now happen next year.

During the various crises, I let a lot of stuff ride, I just about kept the mailing list going with promos, book recommendations and group giveaways. I also did a couple of mailing swaps. I managed an International Bookbub.

However, it felt as if my book sales had stopped. Dead.

This morning, I decided I’d have a look and see if it really is and if so, how bad the situation was. Was I right thinking my sales are dropping like a stone?

Yes and no. Let’s look at some graphs!

No wait! Don’t run away.

Monthly Revenue 2014-2017

You can see three big spikes here, the first one, mid 2015 is when I first made Few Are Chosen permafree. I optimised it for UK readers and I was getting between eleven and thirty downloads a day. As you can see, a lot of those folks went on to buy the other books. In early May there was an algo change and the downloads dropped from eleven to thirty to about five or ten each day. Read throughs, drop accordingly. I never managed to optimise my listing for the UK store quite as effectively because they brought in KU and you weren’t allowed to use the words, Kindle, Good or Free so I had to bin my highest performing keyword phrase, ‘Good Free Kindle Books.’ As you can see, that cost me about $100 a month and Amazon about $30, which seems counter intuitive of them and is one of things that has me wondering if KU is about more about destroying the opposition than anything.

Monthly revenue from Jan 2013 to now … yeh you are welcome to laugh!

Numbers of books bought from 2013 to now note the 99c international Bookbub which makes a huge spike on right hand side of this graph but doesn’t register much in the revenue graph shown above.

As you can see there’s a small blip around the time Escape From B-Movie Hell comes out – Dec 2015/Jan 2016, that’s in red. I had about 400 people on my mailing list at that point and did a full-on launch. It shifted 65 of them but a lot of the original K’Barthan Series fans seemed unwilling to give Escape a try. Indeed, I wonder if those sales were simply folks from the Bookbub the month before who were moving on from the series to the stand alone.

Ditching the Permafree.

Since the permafree first in series was only getting a handful of downloads a day and a far lower proportion of those seemed to be translating into sales for the paid books, I put it back to paid in January 2017.

Yes, this cover attracts more readers than the cover for Few, but Escape, which has a person on it, does equally well.

Looking at the graphs now, that might have been a mistake but at the time, I’d recently discovered Instafreebie and was getting a fair few downloads there. Also, a 105k book is a hell of a lot to give away – I’m not sure if that means I got greedy or desperate. Since running a year’s worth of Instafreebie promos, I’ve discovered that the short story, Unlucky Dip, is downloaded far more in promos than the novel. Furthermore, the people who have downloaded it, joined my mailing list and stuck around are one of the most dynamic and responsive groups. Escape also scores more highly in downloads when offered free. Both the books doing better have a person, or people, on the cover. Clearly the adage about having people on book covers is true. Go figure.

The rates that folks read the other books seems a bit better on Instafreebie and Bookfunnel, too. Over the three years I had the first in series on permafree, it was downloaded 19,140 times (according to Booktrakr). You can gauge how well the permafree is working by the number of sales of the second book. The results break down as follows:

  • 2015-2016 227 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the two others sold 275.
  • 2016-2017 there were 148 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the others sold 206
  • 2017-2018 (or at least end of Dec) there were 32 onward sales of book 2 and the highest of the others sold 60. However, the box set, sold 54 copies so in ‘real’ terms it’s probably a drop in onward sales of about 20 books.
  • Revenue is way down from about £1,500 the two previous years to £800 or so

On the face of it, that looks as if a permafree book might still be a smart move for me, but perhaps a new one, or one written specially to give away would be the way to go. I am sorting a potential candidate out with the K’Barthan Shorts. If they come in at 10-20k each I can use one of those or do one longer one at 50k so I can try and get it onto Bookbub.

That said, though less people are buying my books, meaning that growth has, in theory, slowed down, if those people are folks I can access, directly with new release bulletins, rather than being at the whim of Amazon, Facebook or the like, they might be a lot more valuable to have on my side in the long run.

Instafreebie or Bookfunnel versus Facebook Ads and Permafree.

Is the $20 a month on Instafreebie worth the outlay? Possibly. When I joined Instafreebie I was on a $10 account at Bookfunnel so I kept that and added Instafreebie by turning the Facebook Ads off (I was getting about 20 new sign ups a month for $30).

The thing with Instafreebie is that, barring the ones who’d downloaded Escape and Unlucky they seem to take a very long time to get round to reading, we are talking, literally, years in some cases from what they’ve told me, but they are keen, and interested, and they also buy from sites other than Amazon so they fit my ambitions to increase my access to readers on other platforms. Hopefully I’ve been sewing some seeds there.

With Instafreebie, 2,417 readers have downloaded books from me in return for mailing list sign up. I have offered three different books and I suspect I may have shot myself in the foot there with folks on my mailing list downloading all of them. This could well go some way to explain the drop in income I have experienced although this year, Escape, the pariah stand alone, has done way better this year although I did get a 99c International Bookbub on that. Then there’s the fact many haven’t read the books they’ve downloaded yet, so people are not reading them quickly and buying all the other books the way they were after downloading the permafree. Finally, there’s price, I have put it up from $4.99 to $8.99 – and lower on Amazon where the books are still $4.99. I may need to review that.

Interestingly, at Bookfunnel, I’ve given away 148 books – some a short and some the original permafree – in return for mailing list sign up, and 2,251 copies of Few Are Chosen, alone. Of those, 306 were giveaways and the rest were people who’d signed up to get the book on Instafreebie clicking the link on my autoresponder sequence to download the book from Bookfunnel.

I give the second book away in my mailings, too. 2,835 folks have downloaded those; 60% of the folks who’ve visited the download page.

Clearly it’s much easier to download books from Bookfunnel than from Instafreebie!

The numbers for this year that I gave in the last section suggest that the permafree made a big difference and that I should definitely add it to my marketing arsenal!

Sales from other vendors than Amazon

Free books given away. The big spike in the middle is an international Bookbub and the other to the left is an E-reader News Today.

This is the same graph; free books but shown by vendor. After the Bookbub vendors other than Amazon feature much more prominently. Woot!

Clearly the Bookbub for Escape From B-Movie Hell resulted in some sales on other sites than Amazon. At last there are other colours edging into the dark blue. To my delight, the trend continues right through to today. Kobo promos are excellent for this. What appears to be happening is that sales of my books on Amazon are, indeed, tanking since the April algorithm change. However, sales on the other sites have held steady. I never expected this. Sure, I do Kobo promos and they are excellent but Smashwords are delivering too. Google play is tailing off a little but sales are still trickling in – for all the reports that they are making free books invisible, a permafree on Google Play might be a good plan.

Paid book sales by vendor. Amazon still has the major share but Kobo and Smashwords are coming up the rails.

 

This is my yearly income since I’ve been publishing books.

If we look at the yearly income graph we can see a substantial drop this year on last year. It also includes a 99c international Bookbub.  Whereas most months, in 2016, I was selling at least one book every day, this year, that’s not happened at all and you can see that with no permafree there are fewer downloads of the second book in my series.

Is it all bad?

D’you know, I’m not sure but I think it might be better than it looks. April on Amazon was miserable for me this year. That could be an algo change, or it could simply be that after four months the last of the folks who’d downloaded the first book in my series for free had bought the rest. And of all the sales channels, it’s Amazon which is down the most, with Google Play dipping a little. Kobo and Smashwords seem to be reasonably stable.

Clearly, I want my books everywhere so I will always sell them on Amazon, but I also want to get away from relying on a single retailer which, in my experience, has been a more of a primadonna to supply to than the others. At the moment it looks as my efforts to widen the field, at least, are succeeding. Also, bear in mind I’ve not had a new book out for two years and my duties of care have eaten into my work time so I’ve done far less marketing. As we speak I have some ambivalent AMS ads which aren’t doing that well – and to be honest, I think it’s going to take too long to research and produce properly targeted ads to make them viable. However, I will definitely return to Facebook ads and I will also dip my toe into a couple of other advertising channels in the New Year. It may take months to produce some ads, and it will take months to produce some books, but a couple of hours a week on these things is better than nothing at all.

What does this tell us?

  • That I am correct and my income is dropping.
  • That it might be worth my looking at a permafree again, but something shorter than a full 120k book.
  • That my upped prices may be a little too high, either overall or on some sites.
  • That other platforms will tolerate a higher price than Amazon.
  • That my particular rate of output might be better suited to other platforms than it is to Amazon.
  • That my decision to pitch my books as artisan crafted rather than mass produced is the right one.
  • That people might, possibly, be taking longer to read free books.
  • That figures are sometimes different to your expectations.
  • That marketing evolves all the time, what works today may not work tomorrow.
  • That Amazon is quirky – and therefore best not relied upon.
  • That you can infer many things from the same information.
  • What works for other authors may not work for you.
  • Cultivating the right connections is important. You need to find places where folks will share information with you and where you can share it with them. Almost all the decent marketing information I’ve had this year comes from two groups, one on Facebook and one on Goodreads.
  • I think there may be a disconnect between the kind of people I think are on my mailing list, and reading my books, and the folks who actually are.

Tune in next week, if you can bear to, to discover how I’m going to try and breathe some life back into my book sales for 2018.

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(Brandy)Butter balls; a bit of Christmas wittering.

It occurred to me that I should be doing a Christmas round up soon or at least a what’s on next year. However, I have spectacularly failed to get my shit together in time for it this week – ooooo there’s a surprise – so instead I’m going to give you a recipe … eventually.

As you know, I am the original Grinch, only slightly more bad tempered; think of me as the Voldemort of Christmas cheer – or possibly the Lord Vernon.

BUT there are bits of the whole sorry mess that even I enjoy. I do a number of Christmas parties including two corporate wife events which are a gas. Last night was at a Cambridge college which is, basically, supper at Hogwarts so what’s not to like?

Dinner at Hogwarts. A typical Cambridge dining hall (last year’s) … very like my school’s dining hall but without the mashed potato on the ceiling, although I think they’ve taken that off the ceiling at my school now, too. Young people are much better behaved these days.

However,  unlike Hogwarts these places are properly cold. I went resplendent in a thick velvet jacket and trousers, a big warm shawl and thermal underwear. The meal was pretty good, especially the turkey and trimmings and, bonus, the waiter dropped a sausage on the table between me and the lady opposite and then served her another one ‘for hygiene reasons’ which meant me and the lady were able to cut it in half and enjoy a soupcon extra. Snortle.

On the way home we did the interesting road closed manoeuvre again – and we’ll be doing it tonight, too – but we went the right way this time so no single track roads, just country lanes.

This morning, through the hangover fug, it did occur to me that at all these events there is one aspect that lets them down; the brandy butter, or at least lack thereof.

Have you noticed how restaurants tend to serve brandy cream with the Christmas pud? Last week’s was good but many’s the time when it’s had an unfortunate tendency to taste like a mixture of methylated spirits and petroleum jelly – usually at school where they were afraid to serve brandy to the under-aged and were using ‘brandy flavour’ instead. Another favourite is a kind of custard. That sounds good on paper, but because it lacks the usual yellow dye it is white and a bit viscous and I’m afraid it comes up looking very like sperm. This is slightly unnerving when someone’s slathered it all over your food. You wonder what they’ve been doing out there in the kitchen. That said, it always tastes a lot better and since custard is always nice, no matter how jizz-like the colour, I’m game for as much as they’ll give me, which is never enough and … well … it’s not brandy butter is it?

When I was a kid growing up, my mum regularly made several hundred mince pies each year for church, the house (when we lived in the school) and any number of other events. She also made the pud, the cake, the stuffing for the turkey, grew the sprouts and the spuds and everything else from scratch. But then Mum is a kind of cordon-bleu-hunter-gatherer-Beth-Chatto*. The pud would be served in flames and the mince pies would be heated in the oven, all were served with brandy butter, and because it was so good, nobody was allowed it unless they had some pud or mince pies – or ‘little bleeders’ as we call them because when asked if he liked them at his first Christmas with us, McOther voiced all our thoughts by saying,

‘No, I hate the little bleeders.’

But I digress. Back to the brandy butter. OMG, as I believe young people say, that brandy butter was a slice of heaven. We’d have one mince pie and a dessert spoonful of brandy butter to go with, ie a lump of comparable size to the pie. Then you held the butter back when you ate the mince pie and would go in for seconds of pudding but this time, you’d done your duty and had some Christmas fayre so you were allowed to choose something you liked: a meringue. That there people is combo made in heaven – even if, most likely, it’s one that will swiftly see you in heaven, in a more literal sense, by blocking your arteries and giving you a heart attack.

These days, when I talk about brandy butter, hardly anyone seems to know what it is. That’s a crying shame and is a situation I wish to redress. However, Mum’s recipe for brandy butter is a bit generalist it goes like this:

‘Well darling, what I do is take some unsalted butter and some icing sugar, beat them in the mixer and add brandy to taste.’

You can try that if you like, it’s pretty much what I do, but I have managed to convert this, sort of, to a normal weights and measures type of thing.  I’ve stuck to weights and measures because everyone can weigh things out, but ‘cup’ size varies all over the world and doesn’t exist in the UK, so if I do cups no-one will have a fucking clue how much to put in. Mwahahahargh; not least of all, me!

I don’t have a picture of brandy butter so here’s a little fellow about to give you a warm hug. Yes, last night’s college was a target rich environment.

* famous gardener

Brandy Butter

75g/3oz butter left out first so it’s reasonably soft.
175g/6oz icing sugar
1 table spoon of Brandy – to start with, anyway but keep the bottle handy.
1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed orange juice – preferably from an actual orange.
A smattering of orange zest from the same orange.

The trick with this one is you have to taste it. A lot. Here’s the method.

1. Put the butter in a mixing bowl and sieve the icing sugar over the top.
2. Beat it – either by hand or with a mixer is fine. I use a Kenwood Chef mixer which I bought at a jumble sale (rummage sale) about 25 years ago for £5 and I use the beater attachment rather than the whisk.
3. Eventually it will go quite smooth, like butter icing (butter frosting?). This is where you add your brandy – slowly so it doesn’t curdle.
4. Have a taste. Add more brandy if you need to but remember putting liquids in this is tricky so keep it to small amounts at a time. Add some orange zest.
5. Have another taste. Add the orange juice and a bit more orange zest if you want to. I like it with orange because it makes it a bit less sweet but avoid over doing it. You just want a background hint, it’s not orange butter, after all. That said, Mum’s never tasted over sweet and she didn’t use orange but I suspect it had absolutely gargantuan amounts of brandy in it.
6. Once you’ve got it how you like it, put it in a dish and keep it in the fridge. If you put enough brandy in, I’m telling you, this stuff will keep for a sod of a long time. Like a year at least.

The basic gist is two parts sugar to one butter so it’s reasonably easy to scale up, or down, but the more you make, the easier it is to mix.

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When dyslexic people try to fill in forms … #dementia

This week, a cry for sympathy rather than help, hopefully, in a way that is amusing or useful to you.

Last night, McOther and I were invited to a Christmas party. We went. He from London, me from here. I met him there. I was late because our babysitter couldn’t get here before 7.00pm – although I had only just hopped out of the shower when she arrived. This year, the babysitter had not had a car accident, McOther was not in the middle of some stupid deal and it all went off without a hitch. Until we drove home at which point we found a sign announcing that the road would be closed at the next junction. So we ended up having an interesting adventure driving around the Suffolk countryside on muddy single track roads, in the middle of the night, at temperatures of about four below so the mud was mostly ice.

This is the story of my life right now.

Nothing is quite going to plan.

It’s not that things are going badly, or over complicated even, just that they are consistently arse-about-face. The simple things complicated and the complicated things … nope they’re still complicated. It’s not all hand of God like that one though. A lot of the cock ups are my fault.

Obviously with Christmas looming I’d expect things to be going slightly wrong, but this year, even November, which is usually a nice quiet month, got complicated. It all started about ten days in, as I was cresting a very creditable 25k in the first ten days of NanoWriMo. My brother phoned in a panic because the accountant who does Mum’s tax return had been onto him telling him that he must do this that and the other, and suggesting we remove all Mum and Dad’s remaining estate from stocks and shares and into a high interest account. It sounded barking to me but what do I know? Luckily after a few phone calls to check the situation, and a consultation with McOther who understands banking and shizz in a way I don’t, it was all sorted out but it took several days.

At the same time, my brother raised a second thing; that we need to have a properly legal power of attorney over Mum and Dad’s health – yes my lovely peps a Do Not Resuscitate form is not enough, why, I do not know but it seems they have to express this intention formally, using a living will or a special government form. The form is massive and it has to be witnessed, counter witnessed, another independent person has to sign to say Mum and Dad are not being coerced and they all have to do this in front of one another. The form has to be signed in a certain order, or it’s void and when it’s done it costs £110 to file each form, which you don’t get back if you fuck it up and you have to pay again to resubmit, although they will let you resubmit it a second time for half the fee.

To complicate things Mum and Dad’s DNR was signed three or four years ago and the legal stuff must be organised while Mum and Dad are still capable of stating their intentions about this or we would have to make them wards of court or something horrifically complicated. Mum is fine but I wasn’t sure about Dad. I knew I’d have to get the forms filled in and ready to discuss by Wednesday so I could go through them with him when I visited.

Having taken this all in, it occurred to me that I had pissed several days of Nano to the four winds but I had written the middle week of Nano off anyway, because Mum’s birthday is on 18th November and she isn’t really able to organise things like a cake, day out etc for herself so some of that, notably the cake for 15 people, would fall to me. We were all going to have lunch with her at the pub on the Saturday. Likelihood of both attorneys, both deputy attorneys, Mum and Dad in a compos state and enough hangers on about to witness the thing being in the same room in the same place again within another year, low. And, as I said, the middle week of November was already shot writing-wise so I decided I may as well lob the form filling into the mix. Along with the cake.

Finding the forms online was reasonably straightforward and I printed them out and set about filling in the obvious bits. After cock ups galore, I ran out and when I came to print some more I discovered that the latest Windows update had some issue with older printers so I couldn’t print them. So I rang and got them to send me two copies. Thanks Microsoft, I have a computer that won’t save anything to the remote hard drive I bought for it after the last upgrade and which can’t print anything in less than half an hour after this one. Way to go. Yes if I had world enough and time, I am sure I could browse our help fora, as you very reasonably point out, because I’ve nothing better to do with my available time than spend a couple of weeks of it fixing my computer so the drive is useable and its 64bit operating system is, once again, able to talk to a 34 bit printer. I could. But unfortunately, you total and utter bastards, I have a life.

After the helpful intervention from Microsoft I sent the forms to my parents’ email address and on the next Wednesday, I visited Mum and Dad, printed out several copies and set about filling them in. I must state, at this point, that while the forms, themselves, are a nightmare, the government helpline to assist you is staffed by wonderful people who answered my numerous questions about the bleedin’ obvious with politeness and endless patience.

Filled in forms 1 and 2 on the left, instructions and stuffed up pages on the right. Pen, for size reference.

Naturally, since it’s a government form, and you have to have about ten people in the room at once to sign it, two of whom have dementia, plus three children ranging in age from seven to nine who are a bit bored. Distractions are everywhere and opportunities to fuck it up are legion. Add in that the person ‘organising’ it all, the ‘sensible one’ in my family is pathologically unable to fill in any form without fucking it up at least three times and you have a recipe for disaster. I had seven copies of each page. I used every. single. one.

Indeed I had to print an extra one to redo when I discovered that if I so much as scratched out a letter Mum and Dad, the two attorneys and the two deputy attorneys all had to initial them.

Mwahhahahahargh! Another MTM cake wreck.

Meanwhile, a family tragedy overtook two of the carers on the morning, which meant the cake for fifteen which I had made and McMini had helped me ice was somewhat redundant. It also meant that I was going to have to arrange lifts to the legion of appointments with the nurse, hospital, dentist etc that Mum had over the following two weeks while they were on compassionate leave. Obviously, dear Mum did just enough to make it really complicated, organising lifts, then forgetting, or asking me to and forgetting and then organising them so we found two doughty folks had stepped up to help. But we got it sorted. Just! And it could have been so much worse, because the other two carers stepped into the breech and were wonderful while the other ladies were on compassionate leave. We still had a good day on the birthday, Mum called it her ‘best birthday ever’ even if a cake for fifteen was a little more than was required … and I got the forms signed …

… Except I didn’t.

Oh no.

Dick brain here managed to miss the page where the attorneys have to sign and so I had buy two hard backed envelopes so I could send those to my brother to sign – with the second envelope stamped and self addressed inside (he lives further from a post office than I do). I left them to ‘rest’ for a week while he was doing that, on the pretence this would make me more efficient when I checked them but really, just to see if I could jemmy in the last few days of Nano.

This week, there was a panic about Christmas, who would make the cake? Not me!  Yippeee! Who would order the turkey, Mum hadn’t, I did, just in time. Phew.

And then yesterday, back to the forms. One round of final checks as I was getting them ready to post and I realised one of the other pages my brother signed had managed to slip through without a witness signature.

Head desk.

Another joy of having a form of dyslexia, you only seem to see these things one at a time, so you check and find a mistake, rectify it, check, find another and so on. I just hope I cease to find mistakes eventually, except, when I cease to find them, it won’t necessarily mean that there are none.

Anyhooo … The lady who had signed as a witness isn’t one I routinely see on a Wednesday. Would I have to arrange a special meet? I rang the government helpline and was told no it could be someone different. So now, on Wednesday, the lovely carer on duty is going to sign as witness.

At the same time, I was working on the other form my brother mentioned, the thing where Dad gets a community charge reduction. Turns out I’d filled that in and sent it to the Doctor to certify at some stage AND COMPLETELY FORGOTTEN! Help me God! How? I found out when he popped round to see us on Wednesday with it and while it was a lovely surprise to discover I’d been so efficient it was a bit of a shock to have completely erased such a land mark event from my memory.

Form for Dad was signed, I’d done one for Mum on the off chance but Mum has no diagnosis for her memory gaps and isn’t really mentally prepared for the news, if we are to get her one, so I can’t get a reduction for her but I can get one for Dad. So yesterday, having discovered I’d bollocksed the Lasting Power of Attorney for Health forms I turned to the Community Charge Disregard for Dad, called a ‘disregard’ because they disregard that person when totting up the bill, except they only disregard 25% of him but I’m not complaining because it’s a sod of a lot better than refusing to disregard him at all, sorry where was I? Oh yeh.

There are two parts to the form, a bit the doctor filled in and another bit which I fill in. Needless to say, I ballsed it up. Manfully I print one. After twenty minutes of printing enough of it has come out for me to discover it’s auto set for landscape.

The form is portrait.

Swearing colourfully, I cancel the print job and after waiting ten minutes for the printer and computer to sort that out with one another, I check the ‘portrait’ box and set it to print again. I leave it and sort the washing into darks and lights, change the sheets on the beds and come back to find it’s printed a quarter of a page. I go and make a spag bol for half an hour and discover it’s now half done. Then it occurs to me I have no address to send it to so I ring the council to ask, they ask me for my account reference, I say I don’t know it and ask for the address which the lady thinks is on the form but she’s kind enough to give it to me anyway. As I write it down, I hear the sound of the printer spitting out the completed sheet. I look at the form. It is set out as a table with shaded headers for each bit. At the top, above the table is a tiny bit of type which I only notice now that the woman has asked me for it. ‘Account Ref’ it says.

Fucking shit.

Do I have the account reference number? Do I bollocks?

But wait! I can look at the bank statement, it will be on there won’t it? I spend five minutes getting into the account with the special secret code that you get by putting a different password into to your phone and have to type in before it expires and it’s numbers and you have discalculia so you have to do it twice and it forgets all the other answers you’ve typed on the page because you got the one wrong so you have to type them all back in and then the new passcode has expired so you have to go back to your phone and do the other password again and so on.

I get in. Is the ref number there?

No.

Arse.

Second job for Wednesday, find the knobwanking reference number.

Here’s hoping that when I check these bastard forms next time, they will all be in order.

At the end of it all, Mum, my brother and my sister in-law sat me down and told me I must pay myself for the stuff I do for Mum and Dad. So now I’m earning one day’s ‘consultancy’ a week from them, which is what I’d be doing if I was efficient.

On top of that upside, what of Nano? Well, I did 35,000 words in less than half of November. OK so that isn’t a ‘win’ but in the number of days in which I was actually doing writing, that is a gargantuan result. And, it shows that:

  1. The Joe Nassis method of planning a bit, even if you don’t normally plan, on line seminar I went to and took copious notes about does actually work for me.
  2. That if I can make time to write, any time at all, and structure it properly, I’m fucking productive!
  3. There will be a novel out next year.

Woot.

Finally, a note on powers of attorney or planning generally. My parents sorted out enduring power of attorney forms in 2004 so that if anything happened we could take care of their finances smoothly. At that time health was usually implied, certainly in the way the homes and hospitals my grandparents ended up in consulted my parents over their wishes in regard to treatment. As I said last week, I remember talking to my Mum after the home where my Grandmother was had asked her whether they should aim to cure my grandmother of pneumonia or make her comfortable. These days she would need to be officially and legally entitled to make that decision for my Grandmother and likewise, I need to be, to make decisions like that for her and Dad. Best laid plans of mice and Mum and Dad etc. You can plan but even when you do, you have to accept that laws change, the landscape alters and things move on.

Also, if you’re doing these forms for finances it is worth consulting the bank. Despite having power of attorney over my Dad’s affairs, I am not allowed a bank card for him, so it’s worse than useless when it comes to the day to day matter of trying to buy things or get cash out for my parents, etc, etc. Luckily, they have a joint account and it is a key reason why we haven’t activated Mum’s; because she needs cash, and she’s two to three hours away by car, so the ability for her, or her carers, to get to a cashpoint themselves, or pay for things by card in a shop is very important. I am certified by the bank to do telephone and internet banking now, which helps a lot. So I keep an eye on her bank account, pay the wages and liaise with their stock broker when they need more cash. It works very well, and I consult Mum each week about what she’s paying and to whom, but it’s definitely a compromise and I’m not 100% sure if our method is exactly by the book.

After all this, the other day, McMini with his somewhat gappy smile, grinned at me and then, pointing to the large empty space where his new front tooth will grow said, ‘Look Mummy! My gums are bald.’

And so it continues …

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