Category Archives: General Wittering

Read any good books lately?

Time is short this week. I’m trying to set up a new iThing and it’s taking ages. I’m also having to sort out some stuff with Mum and Dad’s neighbours – bit of a misunderstanding about a hedge and now, it seems a fence. Anyhoo hopefully I’ll get it sorted but quickly before I rush out for my first of two surprise birthday weekends … well … you’re only 50 once. To give you a feel for just how chaotic it is, I caught sight of a football under one of our patio chairs this morning without my glasses on and said hello to it because I thought it was our cat.

Yeh, you get the picture.

This month I have two lovely things for you; the first is a giveaway of free books, some in return for sign up to the authors mailing lists, some not. The other thing I have is a recommendation for a really good book.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction from Ebookaroo 23rd May – 14th June

Not everyone has the time to read full on novels so this giveaway features a selection of short stories. All are sci-fi and fantasy. There’s a pretty wide selection there, so hopefully you will discover some interesting authors. Some will want you to join their mailing lists as well as downloading the book, some won’t. The dynamic of that approach has kind of changed now, in that you sign up for the mailing list and are given the book rather than downloading the book and being put on the mailing list.

The giveaway is on instafreebie and it runs until 14th June. Click here, or on the picture, to see all the books. Hope you find some good reads.

Grab some free shorts at the giveaway here.

Mission Improbable reduced to 99c 14th – 24th June

This one’s a bargain as it usually retails for £2.99 or thereabouts. I read it a while back when I was taking part in Comedy Ebook Week. I loved it and am now half way through the series, although I’m eeking out reading the rest of them because I don’t want to finish. If you like a bit of light humour and some wildly imaginative ideas, this book is for you. Here’s the blurb to give you an feel for what it’s like:

If you like Doctor Who you’ll love Carrie Hatchett’s Space Adventures.

Carrie Hatchett’s been a dog walker, ice cream seller and birthdaygram girl—the clean kind. All she wants is a proper job. But Transgalactic Intercultural Community Crisis Liaison Officer isn’t what she had in mind. And neither is saving the galaxy.

Carrie’s a low-achieving daydreamer. After providing a good home for her butt-ugly dog and crazy cat, her biggest challenge in life is to avoid being fired, again.

But a strange green mist sucks her beneath her kitchen sink, and an unusual clerical error leads to an offer she foolishly doesn’t refuse.

In settling a conflict between the mechanical placktoids and the mysterious oootoon, Carrie reveals a threat to the entire galactic empire.

Has she bitten off more than she can chew?

Join Carrie on her adventures today!

Mission Improbable is book one in the comedy sci-fi romp, Carrie Hatchett, Space Adventurer.

Mission Improbable comes highly recommended (by me). If you think it sounds fun just click here or on the picture. You will be taken to a page on my site with links to grab a copy from all the usual stores and also direct, from, the author’s own website.

Mission Improbable

However, remember that Mission Improbable will ONLY be 99c between 14th and 24th June. Peak too soon and it will be full price. Patience, Grashopper.

I intend to try and post about a few more books soon, I grabbed the new one by fellow humorous sff author Will Macmillan Jones and so there should be something about that in a month or two!

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What I know now, that I wish I knew then …

The advice kettle is sage and wise and also keeps the water hot, like an urn, only not.

Back on topic this week, I was asked for some advice by a writer who is just starting work on her first book. Even though she appears to be of sound mind, she was dead chuffed with what I wrote and asked if I’d share it on my blog so she could send people to the post. As a result, by special request, here is my rambling view on er … some of the aspects of writing that popped up.

BEFORE YOU START ….

1. What do you want to do?
a) have fun writing a book.
b) have fun writing a book and maybe make a bit of side cash – or at least get the cover artwork and editing costs back.
c) Rule the world: Yeh, move over JK, I am on your tail.

2. Decide on a target genre, who your reader is and what genre/store category your book fits into. Are there other books for the kind of reader you are aiming at. What are they like? What do their covers look like? Hint, you do NOT want your cover to stand out, you want it to be slick, well designed and exactly the same as all the others so readers know what they are getting (I so didn’t do this). Are you going to mash genres? Say you’re writing Sci-fi, is it something else too? Is it funny? Is it also fantasy. Are there other books like yours? Who writes them?

Your answer to question 1 will affect this as if you’re looking to make a living you need to totally conform to the standard tropes. Unless you are going to be an outlier. I thought I was going to be an outlier. It didn’t work too well for me. I write because … actually, I write because I can’t walk away from it and to be honest, walking away would be the sensible option right now.

Pantser or Plotter?

I was firmly in the pantser camp to start with – as in I’d just write and see where it went. It went to lots of good places but my first book took 13 years. Pantsing may well slow your rate of production so if a fast output is your aim plotting is good. Likewise, if your daily existence is the equivalent of having someone opening the top of your head and stir your brains about, constantly, with a wooden spoon, some kind of plot outline is going to be a huge help. Especially if you have menopausal brain fog on top (yes apparently that really is a thing and yes, of course I have it).

I find that even though I now write an outline, there is plenty of wiggle room. The key thing is to experiment and find what works best for you. I find that if I get too confined by an outline I stop enjoying it as much, I quite like the whole wondering around and seeing where it will go aspect, but when I relied solely on that I got frustrated with having to keep stopping while my brain sorted itself out. I really enjoyed the learning process – even though it was trying at times.

However, these days I am very light on time so if I want to produce a book every five years, I do need to plot a little bit so I don’t waste time. On the last two books of the K’Barthan Series I wrote 60k words I didn’t need. Right now my year’s output stands at about 40k so I can’t afford to waste a year and a half’s writing time on plot bunnies. Hence I now plot, but with enough wriggle room for the characters to act on their own initiative. This works for me – and that’s the important take away from this one: that what works for me may not work for you.

Write in whatever way suits you best.

Try to avoid being too rigid in your approach

My brain and my life.

To put this in perspective, basically, I pantsed my first novel and I wrote three versions that I sincerely wish I hadn’t written and one half cock novel (which I managed to tidy up and turn into something decent: my fifth published novel) before I managed to produce a book that measured up to my Quality Standards.

In that time, the male lead had appeared out of nowhere, one character had changed from a mechanic to a ganglord, the first book had ended up being the third and fourth ones and the other two were the backstory that popped up out of nowhere at the same time as my getaway-driving male lead. By the time I’d got to the last book, the plot was so complicated my brain was just about melting out through my nose – oh no wait that was hayfever.

What I mean is, you don’t have to stick too rigidly to the plan but you may have to shake things up originally and see what falls out to know if your book is going to work, or if it’s two books, or a series of short stories, or if the character who has just turned up in prison really is the male lead. Sometimes you get too many characters. Eric, from Escape From B-Movie Hell was actually in the K’Barthan Series to start with. Obviously he was human in that, but he was also telepathic. I just made him into an alien for his new world, his character didn’t changed much.

Likewise, at the second short in a series of five, I discovered that what I was writing was a novel. We’re 60k in and yes, I’ve already binned 40k. I’m not learning from my mistakes am I? But at the same time, the short was not a short so there was no point in forcing the issue. Now it’s a long. So what? It will be what it will be. Just try different approaches and you will find a number of different things that work.

Grammar and Punctuation

Bollocks to it. It’s the editor’s job. As you write you learn more, as you work with a decent editor you will learn loads. The point is, you will need an editor unless you are a very and I mean very rare breed. Most of us are too close in to self edit. Additionally, the only thing I really know about grammar and punctuation for sure, is that there are no right answers.

It doesn’t matter what you do, someone, somewhere will always complain so a lot of it is about having faith in your editor. I do edit my work but that’s more word choices, and tweaking stuff so it makes sense; structural things. It also helps me to do this if I need a bit of re-orientation with my giant sprawling novel. Also I have regular read throughs of what I’ve done so far so I can zoom out to the overall big picture. Otherwise I can get kind of lost. Am I a grammar nazi? No, that’s the job of my editor.

Also there will be points where you really dislike your book or think, ‘blimey this is a bit meh.’ That’s all natural. Everyone does it. Sometimes, a good way of getting round that is to work on several projects at the same time. I do that because my life is hectic and I can’t afford to not write something when the stars align and the grey matter is fired up because it happens so rarely. But working on multiple projects also helps you to ensure you’re always working on something you’re up for and enjoy.

Learning Your Craft

I never bought any how to write books – actually, I tell a lie, I have a Chuck Wendig Book on writing which is epic.

However, mostly I’ve learned to write by reading a lot of work by authors who write the way I want to; Pratchett, Adams, Woodehouse and Bryson, notably, along with Tom Holt, Robert Rankin, Nick Hornby, Spike Milligan and Tom Sharp but also non comic writers like H E Bates, Graham Greene, Neville Shute and Asimov. There’s the odd dash of historical fiction, Moonfleet when I was a kid, the Children of the New Forest and The Three Musketeers, Jane Austen. In addition my work has gained a lot of influences from TV; Dr Who – check my non violent hero who never thumps anyone – the original StarTrek, StarWars are the three big ones but also a lot of the 1960s TV shows like Get Smart, the Man from UNCLE, the Avengers, Thunderbirds etc.

This is where I confess that I am the only living person in existence who is not going to bang on about To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby Dick in this section. I have never read a word of either.

The point is, I’m guessing there is a similar list of relevant books to mine for each genre.  A list of must reads which any author would look to for inspiration if they wanted to write in it. If you don’t have one, make one.

The most important thing is patience. Nailing the whole write a book thing usually takes a long time. You are probably a faster learner than me, most people are, but it took me ages to write a book that measured up to my QS. On the upside, when I did, I knew at once that I’d cracked it.

Setting Deadlines

I don’t do this. It would kill me because if they were realistic I’d be in tears about how long each project was going to take and if they are unrealistic I’ll be beating myself up over failing to meet deadlines. I just set a long term goal and short term, realistic, targets and then creep slowly along. One of my friends got stuck a while back when we were at the same stages in our first book. I was stuck, too, but by telling myself it was temporary, or writing other scenes from other parts of the book, or, indeed other books entirely, I managed to keep on creeping slowly forward, I now have 5 books out, she’s just completing her third novel. Other writer friends have twice as many books out as me after two years in the game. So much of writing is a case of having a firm word with yourself and just getting on with it in whatever way you can. You may find deadlines work for you. I find they don’t but a handful of defined and doable goals, with no done by time, they do help. Like all this, you probably need to experiment to get your own happy medium.

In a nutshell, then, bollocks to deadlines; set targets.

Building an Audience

It’s well worth doing this as you go along rather than waiting until you’re ready to launch your first book. If you can manage a free short story you can give to folks in return for mailing list sign up that will help you to start growing a following. Open an account at instafreebie and bookfunnel to deliver the free book to folks. Join promos with other authors. Find websites and Facebook groups where you can chat to other writers in your genre and exchange marketing tips and ideas. For mailing, it’s up to you but I use Mailerlite – they’re cheap and do all the things I need them to do as an author.

This might sound a bit premature but if you can start getting people invested in you even if it’s only to share your journey, you are more likely to start off with some decent book sales.

Big caveat on your give away short though, it has to be your best stuff because it’s your shop window.

Working Out Who Your Audience Is

This is going to affect what you do considerably. For example it is really, and I mean really hard to reach young people or children online. I’d call my book Young Adult. When I wrote it, as well as me, I was thinking of my nephew, who was 12 years old at the time. When I do events, my books sell exclusively to 10-14 year olds, with the odd adult Pratchett fan thrown in. The buyers are usually parents who want to encourage their children to read books. Online, no matter how well your ads or your site piques their interest, kids will not be able to buy your books without their parents’ say so and you run into a whole heap of legal headaches if minors start signing up to your email list. The folks who buy my books online are 45 and over, more women between 45 and 50, more men over 50.

So, if you are going to sell your books, think long and hard about who you are selling to. You may need to concentrate on libraries or making a print version – Ingram Spark are good for this if you are looking for world wide sales and will get your book distributed far more widely then Createspace or Amazon Print and for far less per copy than LuLu.

Here are resources which might help focus your thoughts on production and marketing, anyway …

The first is a series of books about how to format paperbacks using word and publishing indie books. They are by this guy here:

Aaron Shepard

Mr Shepard’s books, From Word to Kindle and POD for Profit might be useful. The amount of information he is dealing with has increased so where I bought one book: Aiming at Amazon, which dealt with the process of making print books. I would have never got my paperback stuff sorted without them. If you are looking at children’s books it might be worth looking at Adventures in Writing for Children and The Business of Writing for Children and the ones he has written about making a useable kindle file using word!

The three other essential ones that will give you an idea of how you can go about building an audience, indie musician style, and sell your books are a three book set by Patty Jansen. I heartily recommend these as they also propose a way of working that is not reliant on any one bookseller and with a work rate that is realistically attainable. They are:

  • Self Publishing Unboxed
  • Mailing Lists Unboxed
  • Going Wide Unboxed

Links to buy them from all retailers can be found here – scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Or you can buy them, direct, from Patty’s Website here

I realise I’ve probably given you way more information than you might want and about stuff way further down the line than the point at which you are now. It might look daunting but the thing is, if you enjoy writing and work at it, you will get there, and when you do it won’t feel nearly as daunting, putting your work out there. It is like putting your soul on the table and inviting snide comments but somehow it works out OK and the more you do it the more your confidence builds and the more you begin to believe in your work. Not everyone will like your stuff but that’s OK. I have one star reviews and that’s fine, and if it isn’t fine, avoid reading the reviews! 😉

Finally, the most important things

IMPORTANT THING ONE: enjoy it. Enjoy writing and the love for it will shine through in what you say. If you write with conviction and enthusiasm, pretty much any plot will work, I mean, look at my stuff! The rest is gravy.

IMPORTANT THING TWO: never, EVER look at other people’s progress and compare it to yours. They are not you. Their life, their personality, and probably their books are different. Keep your eye on your own writing goals, make them realistic goals and work steadily towards them. Enjoy the process of learning and enjoy writing.

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And on the up side …

Just a quick one today. First of all, report on Dad. This week he was so much more himself it was unbelievable when I visited. Turned out that after about ten days of not sleeping the doctor came to see him and gave the carers a light sleeping pill. This has worked wonders. Dad had not slept for ages and as you will have gathered from my previous post, he was behaving abominably. I had started to worry as to whether or not he should go into a home. However, all the carers have reassured me that it isn’t necessary, what we have to do, as the changes in his temperament happen, is ensure that Mum spends more time doing other stuff. She needs to get out and away from the atmosphere at home when it’s charged. The time she spends with Dad needs to be batched and in smaller high quality doses.

That all made excellent sense to me, but what I was overjoyed by, was Dad’s return to form. He was saying please and thank you, there was no swearing, no spitting. His continence has improved again so he knows when he needs to go to the loo. His whole outlook is breezier and sunnier. It’s amazing what a little thing like a good night’s sleep does for a person. The carers also raised a good point which was that he is a very intelligent man and his mind needs to be stimulated. Dad loves a trip out and they have combined this with … well … basically they use him, and his wheelchair, as a shopping trolley. He loves this because instead of saying, ‘would you like to go for a walk,’ they can say, ‘John, would you mind coming to town and helping me do the shopping?’.

One of the biggest things about dementia is that it makes people feel useless. Giving them things to do, or finding ways to spin pursuits dementia sufferers enjoy doing as helping others is great for the person’s self esteem. It was so lovely to see Dad back to cracking jokes and taking the piss out of me about my trousers.

‘I must buy you a new pair of trousers. Those ones are terrible.’

‘Thanks Dad.’

It’s amazing how sometimes the answer to a problem that seems insurmountable turns out to be simple. Oh how I wish the rest of my life was that straightforward! I am drowning under a mountain of admin at the moment and every time I finish one thing, another one comes in. All of them are ten minute jobs that go wrong and end up taking hours. But hey ho, it could be so much worse.

Since things are better, I’d like to share one of Dad’s favourite jokes.

The Statues and the Wish

Two statues, male and female, spent a couple of hundred years in a London park, their plinths facing one another. Come rain, or shine they were there and gradually, they fell in love. One day, God turned up and said to them,

‘Righty oh. I’ve seen what’s going on down here and I’d like to give you an hour of life, you can do whatever you like.’

A look of perfect understanding was exchanged between the male and female statues.

‘It’s not just the bastard pigeons either!’ said Churchill. ‘Fucking Banksy!’    *

‘Come on!’ said the male one. He took the female’s hand and they rushed off into the bushes together.

There was a lot of rustling and much giggling. God whistled a tune and nonchalantly made his way to a nearby bench where he sat and enjoyed the sunlight, very much ignoring the continued giggling and rustling from the bushes, while he answered some prayers using the app on his celestial smartphone. He was surprised when, after forty minutes, the two statues emerged from the bushes, breathless, dishevelled and still giggling uncontrollably.

‘Wait a minute, you haven’t used your whole hour yet,’ said God.

‘Really?’ asked the female statue her eyes shining with joy.

‘Really,’ God confirmed. ‘You have another twenty minutes.’

‘Oh good!’ The female statue gave the male a sly look.

‘Shall we do it again?’ he asked her.

‘Yes please!’ she said, ‘Only this time, so it’s fair, why don’t I hold the pigeon and you can shit on it?’

I put this one on because George IV’s horse looks completely gobsmacked. *

* I have no idea who owns these pics, I got them off Pintarest. No infringement of copyright is intended and I will happily remove them if required.

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That’s Alzheimer’s not Dad.

The post is a bit grim but at least this picture is pretty!

A couple of weeks ago, someone shared one of my posts of dementia-related whinging on Facebook – this post if anyone’s interested – and it got an interesting comment.

There is ample opportunity for me to have misconstrued here but, as I interpreted the comment, I think it basically said something along the lines of that we don’t really know why some folks get to die suddenly or well and others get something a bit more operatic; by which I mean they get the real world equivalent of twenty minutes of singing and an encore after a wound that should have killed them instantly. The gist was that ours is not to reason why.

The poster went on to say, if I’ve understood correctly, that if it was God’s will that they linger who are we to argue, and to just have faith that it’s all happening for a reason, that it is not our place to judge or begrudge them their time in the twilight zone, and we can give them that time. That this process of slowly withdrawing from one world and preparing to step into the other is clearly of spiritual importance in some way and we should accept our part in it with grace. Thinking about it, I should probably post what was said. This is the comment in question.

It’s a kindly, wise comment and clearly meant to give comfort but instead, reading it, I feel as if I am being chided for my lack of faith, and for my selfishness in feeling that fourteen years of this is a tad fucking long. I found myself wondering how much of the poster’s own care/worry marathon they had completed, two years? five years? seven? ten? I’ve reached the stage, now, where I worry that the pressure of worrying about my folks may do me in; that I may not out live my parents. I mean, I can’t die! It would kill them. Then there’s the whole cancer thing. Have you noticed how many people who have been through a tough patch like this one end up going down with cancer just as they get right again? I dearly hope I avoid joining them.

Clearly the commenter has a great deal more grace and faith than I, but I confess, the thing about the comment that really threw me was that I had no idea that anyone could so completely and utterly miss the point of why I post all this stuff.

Bearing that in mind, I thought I’d better explain to clear things up! Because I accept my father’s fate is clearly not a swift and merciful death, trust me, there is no mercy in dementia. Indeed, if this is the greatest mercy they can wish for I shudder to think on the horror of any alternatives my parents have missed. Likewise, if they have to suffer this now I hope they have manifold blessings in store. My father has been losing his memory the whole of my son’s life. Even when my lad was born in 2008, Dad couldn’t really be left alone. It began before that, in 2004. Fourteen years is a fuck of a long time in anybody’s book. It’s probably my fault and I’m the one being punished. I expect I snogged too many boys or wanked too much as a teenager or something, but I digress.

It’s no good my railing against fate, it merely wastes energy. I just have to bite the bullet and get on with it. I will endeavour to give my parents as much quality of life and freedom of choice as possible, and I am trying to make this twilight time for them a time of gentleness, peace and compassion. That my brother and I aim to do that, however painful it may be for all of us, is moot.

But you know what? Just because my brother and I are doing what we hope is the right thing, it doesn’t make it any more fun. And I doubt the feelings I have experienced as I’ve watched my father lose his mind over fourteen long years are any different to those of other people in my position. And that’s why I write about this.

When I write about Dad’s sickness on my blog, it isn’t about my brother and I doing the right thing by our parents, it’s not even about our efforts at trying to. That’s a given.

No.

This is about what tenderness and mercy to one member of a family costs the others.

Similarly, I doubt the dismay I felt as I realised, three years ago, that my mother also had dementia, is unique. If there is anything merciful in this perhaps it’s Mum’s dementia. Because I do not know how she finds the strength to endure some of the stuff Dad says to her and at least if she forgets, she won’t know what she’s lost.

The posts I write about my father’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s dementia are not here to give you answers, they’re here to show you my reactions. Because I think I’m very average and I suspect most of us feel the way I do but may not admit it, not even to ourselves. Well if that’s you, I’m writing this so you can see that your reactions are normal. The things you think about the situation that are so dodgy and shameful that they almost hurt? You aren’t alone.

That’s the only gift I can give to people suffering through this. Thousands of people have come before us, doubtless many thousands will come after. You’re not alone, I’m not alone, we are united in this trouble.

When the dementia patent in your life does something that completely shocks and repulses you, it’s OK to recoil, to feel sad, hurt, horrified and angry. It’s OK to feel those things because it’s natural, and yes, it’s OK to feel trapped by their neediness. The key is not how you feel but how you act when you are with the person affected, the key is not whether you are disgusted but whether you show it. They no longer understand or even realise that their actions are unacceptable. Much of what they are doing is caused by them feeling frightened and alone, you can reduce the number of melt downs, if you can get alongside them and have them working with you not at you, but if you fail, well that’s OK, because there’s always next time, when you can try something else.

Showers, but also sunny intervals.

Also, attitudes to dementia are changing and I write about things that happen to us which reflect that change because I want people to see it and know about it. I want people to realise that if they want to take a dementia sufferer out somewhere they should go right ahead. It’s just a disability. You don’t have to hide them like a shameful thing but at the same time, you need to have an idea of what you are all facing. I describe our journey to help you understand what is coming as you embark on yours.

When I was a kid, if someone got Dementia it usually went something like this. Person gets dementia. No-one is allowed to know it’s all kept secret because it’s a Bad Thing. Person does something a bit strange in public which a handful of folks hear about but which is not ever passed on but is just mentioned as, ‘that time at …’ or something similar. Person disappears from all social life. Five years later, you attend their funeral. I used to wonder what happened in between. Now I know. And I want other people to know and understand. That, yes, it is horrible, but it can also be uplifting. I want people to know that they needn’t feel afraid, that it is unbelievably harsh but they will cope.

While Dad can still enjoy the company of others – and he can most days – I want my dad to be active and social. To be able to go out and Mum with him. I want him to be able to go have lunch at the pub or whatever. Amazingly, they attend a huge number of social events but it is getting more and more difficult now. Bless them, a decent number of his friends now come to him, or if they’re no longer mobile, ring him.

As I said, attitudes are changing, although it takes a certain brazenness to be a carer. For example, back in 2011 when we were on the ferry to the Isle of Wight. Dad went to the loo and got a bit disorientated while he was in there. He came out with his zip open and his cock out. A lady sitting nearby rushed over to him, just as I noticed and ran over to him, too.
‘Oh thank you, I’m so sorry,’ I told her when I got there.
‘Is he yours?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ I said as I turned to Dad. ‘Dad, we need to pop back in there for a moment.’
‘Oh dear, do we?’
‘Yes,’ I leaned over and whispered, ‘You’ve forgotten to do your flies up.’
He guffawed and we thanked the lady and went back into the loo.
‘What am I coming to? I left my cock out,’ he said when we got inside. We giggled some more and he made some joke about Winston Churchill’s reaction when someone pointed out his flies were undone, ‘The dead bird does not leave the nest!’ my Dad said in his best Churchill voice. Giggling, we sorted it all out and we started back to our seats. We passed the helpful Lady so I thanked her again. She gave me a big smile and said,
‘Not to worry, we have one of our own at home!’
It was all done with a wink and a smile at Dad, too, to include him. Naturally he joined in. People are kind these days, when you rock up somewhere with a dementia sufferer.

Likewise, when your father clears his throat, leans over the side of the chair and gobs a massive steaming greenie onto the kitchen floor in front of company, as if that is the most normal thing in the world, a certain brazenness is required. I reckon it’s fine to use graveyard humour to make light of it, or any other form of tasteless joke that will get you through the surreal horror you’ve just witnessed. We avoid jokes at Dad’s expense in his presence and we avoid them where we can if we are not in his presence. However, if treating your father with the decency and compassion his humanity affords him to his face means laughing at his child like antics, and calling him Spoilt Bastard after the well known Viz character behind his back, I say knock yourself out. Because if you can’t do both then do what it takes behind the scenes to achieve compassion and kindness where it matters, when you’re with the person.

Recently, a couple of visits have gone badly and my father has been unremittingly vile to me, not to mention Mum. Some days, he doesn’t know who we are any more. He doesn’t remember that he loves us. Except that he is always pleased to see me initially. However, my gentle, good-humoured, loving father – with the wicked sense of humour – is now, quite often, just wicked. He refers to me as a trollop, or a fucking stupid woman, or sometimes, for variety, a stupid fucking woman. I take no offence since he refers to nearly all the females around him like this.

But I miss my dad. I miss my mum. There is much more of Mum there but we have still lost enough to miss. Dad, is still there too, but we have to dig hard for those precious shiny glimpses of treasure. And I’m raw about it at the moment because at my Uncle’s funeral last week we prayed for the sick and when we did that we prayed for Dad and Mum. And it was the sweetest, kindest thought, a truly lovely act on their part, and so touching, and I nearly lost it, and I realised how much grief there is; an enormous, bottomless black pit of the stuff at the centre of me. Too much to look at head on. Too much to acknowledge. I can see it all the time out of the corner of my eye. Look it in the face and I am undone. And as the male lead says in one of my books, ‘I can’t be undone.’ For the sake of my parents and also the rest of my family, I have to hold it together.

And the weird thing is that even with this huge bottomless grief, this mourning that will end in death, but which, without a death, cannot end, even though it’s fourteen years old and huge and dwarfs me somehow, I do hold it together. If I have any kind of faith, I suspect that’s where it counts. Because I’m no saint. I have no grace. I’ve never been one to cope well with a long drawn out process. I do not know how I keep my grief about my parents in its box, but it happens, and I doubt the strength required is all coming from me.

In the face of this, I’ve come to believe that there are really only two things that matter when dealing with dementia:

Number one. Trying to hang onto who the patient was and what it was in him we loved. We look out old photos, read letters, memories from the boys and girls he taught. We do whatever it takes to keep in touch with the real person who is living under that disability. We do it because it’s the only thing we can do to hold onto him.

Two. On the days when Dad is vile to me; like the time when he grabbed the wee bottle from my hand on Sunday and tried to throw his warm piss in my face, shouting, ‘Get that thing off me you bloody trollop! I’ve finished, you stupid fucking woman!’ Or yesterday when he did the same thing to the carer in the loo, all the while continuing to wee copiously down his trousers and onto her foot, proving conclusively that he was NOT finished, not by a long chalk, it’s important to keep a sense of humour; to laugh about it – and we did laugh because what else can you do? I mean, it could be worse, it’s not as if I had to hide behind the sofa while he searched for me with a knife (genuine dementia story, luckily, not mine). It’s also important I keep a firm enough grasp of who he is. I will always try to treat him as the man he was. Dad is in there, somewhere. I refuse to believe he is wholly the man he’s become. Because that is not my father. That is Alzheimer’s.

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How a battery charger saved my bacon …

…And the danger of over confidence when coupled with good intentions.

This week, I was going to talk a little more about happiness being a state of mind, but I only have a few minutes to do this in so it’s more of a dump it and leg it!

It’s been a busy week with a bank holiday at the beginning, a weekend away and a trip to my Uncle’s funeral today. It began with a bit of a dodgy start. Up at 5.30 expecting to leave by 6.00 but cocked it up and was late, finally leaping into the car at 6.15, I was not a happy bunny when pressed the starter and it turned over once and died. Tried again and it went ‘click’. I pulled the lever to open the boot and the cable snapped – for the second time in a year, I’ll have to book it in to be fixed. Luckily, it wasn’t all bad. Before snapping, the cable had actually unlatched the boot lid so I was able to get it open easily enough and access the battery to put it on charge. I was already fifteen minutes late departing, fifteen minutes too late to be able to take McOther’s car – it doesn’t go fast enough when there is quarter of an hour to recoup. As you can imagine, there followed a very tense ten minutes while I waited for the booster to charge the battery enough for the car to start. Yes. There was swearing.

On the upside, it did work, the car started and I was there just after nine because I missed the worst of the traffic on the dicky bits, i.e. the entire M25 which was uncharacteristically clear. Sure it was an hour early but that wasn’t a problem; there were cousins to chat to by ten past! I am so glad I got there. It was a lovely service, planned by my Uncle, himself, and it spoke eloquently of what I gather was a very peaceful and ‘good’ death. The priest was a lovely chap and spoke well about him, too. I did cry, and the bit that got me was the point where we said prayers for the sick and the list comprised Mum and Dad, while the prayers for the dead, apart from my uncle, were for my aunt, his wife. It was very moving, and a positive and uplifting, if sad, experience. It was wonderful to see my other uncle and aunt, and my cousins and my brother and all my cousin’s children who have grown into splendid young people, one with a microdot in tow. Well worth braving the roads.

However, there’s not much to say after that, at least, not in thirty minutes, so instead I’m going to share a story from Setting Tripwires for Granny and Other Tall Family Tales.

Learning to throw and missing …

This is a story about the disastrous consequences of having a sport obsessed older brother and the dangers of learning to throw, over arm. When my brother and I were little and lived in the school we used to run with the other housemasters’ kids. The amazing thing about it was that we probably had the kind of upbringing our parents, or grandparents, had rather than our contemporaries. We walked around the school, which was the size of a small village, and the adults kept an eye on us. If Mum wanted us home for tea she’d just ring round the other housemasters, starting with the most likely, to see if we were playing with their kinds and then the housemaster’s wife would come and tell us it was time for tea. This was standard procedure for all of them so we got to play alone much more than we might have done.

During this time, most of the kids I hung out with were my brother’s age so they were boys. As a result, their first priority was to teach me the most important things in life, how to kick a ball properly and how to not throw like a girl.

Actually, I used to be able to throw reasonably well but I’ve never managed to get a chuffing ball to go that far overarm, maybe it’s the bingo wings interfering with it or something, there seems to be a bit too much flexion in my arms and not enough … um … hurl. Yeh, whatever it is, they failed. My nine year old can throw as far as me. Anyway, on with the story.

My brother decided, when I was four, that he must teach me to throw over arm. After weeks of intensive coaching, I did finally crack it and could do a very passable overarm throw for a four year old girl. The day came when one of the lads had his birthday party. There we were, a massive group of kids running riot on the lawn and I was anxious to show my throwing prowess. Anxious but nervous. Some of the boys were throwing a lump of wood about, the foot rest from one of those turned wood chairs (check name). The point came when it landed at my feet.

‘Hey, I can do this!’ I thought and I picked it up. Flung my arm back over my head to get a really good overarm lob on it and … oh dear … let go. The wood flew up into the air, hit a window, which broke and landed back at my feet in a shower of glass.

The others stared at me in silence.

I had no idea if they were horrified at my pathetic attempts at throwing properly, or just thought the way the glass had showered down on me was really cool. All I could think of was how surprised I was that the throwing had gone so badly.
Never mind, I’d remembered how it felt to throw, muscle memory and all that, I would be able to throw over arm.
The window belonged to the house next door and the housemaster of said house came striding across the lawn looking a bit stern.

You did what???

‘Oi! You’ve just broken a window.’
‘I’m very sorry, I said.’
He looked up at the window and down at me and the piece of wood.
‘What on earth were you doing?’ he asked.
With complete confidence in my newly acquired throwing prowess I replied,
‘I was just trying to do this!’

I picked up the piece of chair and threw it, over arm, towards the assembled crowd.
Except I didn’t.
I did exactly the same thing again. And guess what?
Yep, you’d better believe it.
I broke another window.

Which just goes to show that even when you are absolutely sure of yourself, and have the most well-meaning intentions, it’s sometimes best to be cautious, engage your head as well as your heart and think before you act, otherwise, it can all backfire horribly.

In light of the storm rocking the independent publishing world this week, it seems that’s still an important lesson.

 

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Chin up lass!

There is a popular trope that being happy is just a state of mind. It’s a little more complicated than that, I suspect but I think there is something in the idea that trying to cultivate a positivity of outlook can help. For me it’s definitely about noticing things. Noticing the smell of hyacinths from the flower bed beside our back door. Noticing the way the birds start to sing way, way more loudly from January on. Noticing how even in December, the bulbs are starting to break through. If I wasn’t lucky enough to spot these signs of hope and spring, naturally, I suspect I would be a much less happy person. But once you’ve noticed this stuff once, maybe you look harder for it the next time? Who knows.

This week, has been … interesting. Really tough at times. Not helped by a dash of sleep deprivation; they resurfaced a bit of our street … at night and, apparently, with the help of the Mysterons.

They also foolishly parked their rollers etc outside my house where I could eyebomb the living smeck out of them so there’s an upside to everything but …  after a couple of noisy nights mental energy was low by about Tuesday and by Wednesday I was running on fumes – no not my farts, I’m trying to say there wasn’t much fizz in the tank – and there was even less after I had to sort out a bit of a ‘situation’ at Mum and Dad’s. Suffice to say, I should be driving to Hexham right now to celebrate the 50th Birthdays of two lovely friends from school. And I’m not.

In my defence, it’s a five hour trip each way and after my uncle’s death, the night works and a furore (now sorted) that blew up around my parents this week, I decided that if I was being realistic, there were not enough spoons/fuel in the tank – my tank, not the car’s – to do 600 miles in bank holiday traffic. I cancelled. I feel bad about cancelling but sitting here right now, I know I’ve done the right thing.

Meanwhile alongside these it has been a week of small and unusual things. Lovely things that have lifted my spirits. Rare stuff. It’s strange how these things happen sometimes, often when the rest of your world is at its worst. Little mini-boosts that filter through to you, as if the world is trying to tell you, in it’s own small way, that despite feeling that you haven’t measured up, it’s alright.

First, an account from a friend of someone waxing lyrical about my intelligence – as in that she thought I had some – left me with a nice warm feeling. The Scottish man who served me at the market today who asked if I’d be having those strawberries and without thinking I said, ‘Aye.’ The moment in church when a lady visiting, who had the misfortune to sit near me, tapped me on the shoulder at the end of the service and thanked me for my singing. I’ve discussed my singing before, an attribute about which I was teased a great deal at school – so much singing, so little of it in tune. But recently people have been saying how nice my voice is. I’m not sure if something’s happened to my voice, if the people in church are tone deaf or if I’ve always had a decent voice and the girls at school were just jealous. Whatever it is that’s happened there, I suddenly feel I can sing. I’ll take that and be happy!

This last fortnight, after the death of my uncle, I felt very low, about Dad as well as about him. Strangely, I’ve been seeing butterflies and rainbows everywhere. Butterflies, obviously, because it’s spring. Rainbows; I had a memorable journey back from Sussex to Suffolk this week; two and a half hours over waterlogged roads in bright sunlight. Lots of spray, car got a Sussex respray and was covered in white chalky puddle water stains, visibility was terrible, lights on but blue sky above and rainbows dancing around me everywhere pretty much the whole way home. That was a hell of a thing.

This is hardly a phenomenon, either, after all, it’s typical April weather really, showers then sun but it’s not something I’ve witnessed in quite such abundance before and it’s different to the norm so it makes for a change. Some ditzy article I read somewhere, which I can’t find now, of course, talked about about how butterflies are messengers from your guardian angel to let you know s/he’s listening, while rainbows are messages of reassurance from the cosmos. Butterflies are wonderful, they’re always going to cheer me up and as for the rainbows, well, when something is able to make a British motorway look beautiful then, dubious theories on cosmic reassurance aside, it’s still uplifting.

Then after a fair time with no reviews one from ‘An Amazon User’ for Few Are Chosen popped up this week. I always think that makes it sound like some kind of drug.

‘Hello, I’m MTM and I’m a recovering Amazon User.’ [applause] ‘Yeh, it’s tough but I’ve been clean several months now.’

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the review. Actually, they left it two weeks ago but I only found it this week. It reminded me of something my brother in-law said. He thought there were two interesting, and slightly amazing, phenomena about the reviews of my books. The first thing he pointed out was that if you look at most reviews on Amazon, generally across the site, while some are superb far more are less than articulate. He felt a surprisingly high number of reviews for my books were witty and amusing, as if the reviewers loved the jokes in the books and are joining in. If that’s true, it’s a lovely thing for them to feel and I’m delighted it’s happened. The second thing he thought was intriguing is the fact that even the one-liners are reasonably well spelled and punctuated, suggesting a level of intelligence in the readers reviewing my books that is way above average.

Mwahhahahrgh! So there we have it. Congratulations to anyone who has read my books, then. Clearly you are very smart and arbiters of good taste! Phnark! It is a cheering thought though, because it makes me feel that I am reaching my intended audience; eccentric people like me. And if the people who feel moved to write reviews of my books want to join in with the jokes then maybe there is the possibility that the small beginnings of a community of … I dunno … K’Barthan-heads? Is forming. Maybe, or maybe not but it feels like a little seed of hope.

And I needed all those small things this week. You see, one of the hardest bits about the death of my uncle was the way it made me feel about about Dad. Sometimes, when I think he’s suffering or unhappy, I wish Dad wasn’t around, not because I want him dead but because it’s hard to see him suffer, it’s difficult not to see his disability as Dad going under and dragging Mum down with him. It’s horrible to think either of them is unhappy. Other times, when he seems cheerful, I see, with crystal clarity, that he is a man with a disability and I am being incredibly able-ist and condescending. At least it makes for a new topic to beat myself up over.

In a minor miracle this week, something in me was able to let a lot of that baggage go. Dad is, mostly, happy and enjoying life, as is Mum. That’s really all I can hope for. No doubt the worry will return but for now, I’m OK with the situation again, things are on an even keel. The house I grew up in is still a place of laughter and compassion. The rest is kismet, right?

Perhaps that’s all you need to do to be happy; look for the small gifts, be kind to yourself and be kind to others.

Who knows? I leave you with the review, because it was lovely. Thank you and Godspeed ‘Amazon User’.

Don’t Giggle Out Loud
You know when you are sitting in an airport and the guy next to you starts giggling at the book he is reading? And it’s so annoying because you can’t quite see the title? This is the book. The anti hero, The Pan, is terrific, his search to find the Chosen One before the ultimate baddy Lord Vernon gets his evil hands on her, The Swamp Thing, all go to make a refreshingly funny and well laid out plot. Oh and did I mention the car chase? or the lovely old man, or the drink that hits the spot, especially of the evil one’s soldiers? But that would spoil the story for you. Go read it yourself. It only has five stars as Amazon is tight with them.

 

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A bit of a sad one …

Last Friday night I got a Facebook message from one of my cousins, out of the blue, telling me one of my uncles was very ill, by Sunday morning he was dead. He was in his 80s and had lived a long and fruitful life. I believe he was refusing treatment and I think I was supposed to have received an email about it the week before but due to the joyous vaguaries of the internet it never arrived. Due to the joyous vaguaries of my mother’s memory loss, I never heard from her either – she would be the usual source. She thinks she wasn’t told but she has dementia too. I suspect she simply forgot.

My uncle was a lovely chap, the oldest on my Dad’s side, and a great character. He used to phone me up every couple of months for a little chat which would last exactly eight minutes. I was always touched by this, after all, he didn’t have to and as our most distant (geographically) uncle, we didn’t see him as much as our other uncles so I didn’t know him as well. He was also kind enough gave me a stunning print of Ely Cathedral – because we used to live in Ely – which now hangs, resplendent, in our hall.

He and my aunt and cousins lived near Colchester for 33 years. Ironically, just up the road from where I live now. He was vicar of a parish just outside Colchester. Needless to say, we lived in Sussex at that point. We used to go and spend a night in the Marks Tey Motel on our way to holiday on the North Norfolk coast and pop in to see him. We would spend a day running wild with our cousins and the dog, Seager, and then go on to holiday. Later, after my aunt died, he moved to near Glastonbury, eventually living with one of my cousins. A few years ago he moved again, to Guildford, which was great because it was much nearer to Mum and Dad so they were able to see him far more often. One of my other cousins, who lived near him, would bring him over for tea and a chat with Dad several times a year.

The highlight was always a trip over during Wimbledon. They would have lunch together smoked salmon sandwiches, salad, crisps and strawberries and cream which they would eat off their laps, while sitting in front of the telly while watching the tennis.

Usually, after lunch, Mum and my cousin would take a wander round the garden while Dad and his brother had a good old chat. Last year, I managed to get to the Wimbledon get together, too, so it was great to see him. The home had managed to put his hearing aids through the wash in his trouser pockets so the poor man was ‘without ears’ but we had a very pleasant lunch, nonetheless. I did what is known in my family as ‘Mum’s Joyce Voice’ after the way she used to speak to a deaf friend. It’s a bit embarrassing and you can feel a bit condescending doing it to start with because it’s basically loud and clear (but keeping the treble up).

However, it seemed to work and apart from the fact that my Dad behaved abominably, mainly because he is too far gone to understand that you need to speak a little louder and more clearly to deaf folks and then got annoyed with my uncle asking him to repeat himself. Even so, it all went off pretty well. Luckily this is Dad’s older brother, so maybe he had enough memories of little brothers behaving badly to remain unfazed and unperturbed by a modern day repeat! He was sweet with Dad, anyway.

Only a couple of weeks ago, Mum and I were discussing arranging another visit and talking about how much we were looking forward to it and also, naturally, our faint hopes that Dad would behave himself this time. Wimbledon will not be the same this year, indeed, I doubt there will ever be another Wimbledon without me thinking fondly of my uncle. I think his funeral is going to be sometime during the week after next so I will go to represent my parents. There’ll be no-one to look after McMini not enough notice for McOther who is too busy so I’ll have to take him out of school and bring him with me but it should be OK. If it looks like it’ll be a long service, we’ll bring Beanos.

I don’t normally post pictures of my family but here is one of my uncle – on the right of the picture in the smart light brown suit, having a laugh with Dad (bottom left) in better days and Mum (fuzzy head in the RH corner) at Mum and Dad’s sapphire? 40 anyway, wedding anniversary party. The one below that is my uncle on his 82nd birthday, I think, back in 2011 anyway. Lovely shot sent by my cousin Matthew just afterwards.

 

 

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