Category Archives: Mary Fails at Modern Life

Birthdays and some inane wittering

Do you ever wonder what you’re going to be when you grow up? I was 53 yesterday so I suspect I should hvae grown out of the habit by now. However, I still look to the future and wonder what I will ‘be’. Well no, I don’t wonder that, being an author is definitely what I’m here to do but I do wonder if I will ever ‘make it’. Making it, here, is earning £20k a year. Even minimum wage would be nice. I was going to do a long post today, trying to put my jumbled thoughts about selling audio books in order. It’s a bit rambly though, so I’m going to leave it to rest in the faint hope that if I come back to it fresh next week I’ll be able to make it more articulate. Also,it’s my birthday weekend and I decided that, instead, I’d just describe some MTM-ness … so long as I can make it funny enough.

It was a hot day yesterday but I did some gardening so I am still bathing in that warm sense of fitness smugglers I get when I’ve taken enough exercise to get my fitbit in a dither. I was expecting to wake up with vertigo or at the least hayfever. It was hayfever only, which was grand, although not so grand when I had to sing a solo in church. My voice went all crackly on the low notes which was a bit of a bummer so I had to sing very quietly to stop the low notes coming out as more of a yodel. Plus points, well, it was mostly in tune.

Other domestic news and general goings on. It was McMini’s birthday on Saturday as well as mine. This being the case, yesterday, I set about making a cake. McMini being not the biggest fan of chocolate and me loving it, I have resigned myself to the fact I will never have a chocolate birthday cake again. On the other hand … there’s always stealth chocolate. The white stuff. Among my family and friends, I am renowned for my horrible looking, but quite tasty cakes. Thinking about it, there are probably photos deep in the archives of this blog of my cakewrecks from previous occasions. If there are, I will try and find them and dot them about this post when I’ve finished.

There wasn’t much time, when is there ever? But I reckoned I could bash out a fatless sponge (swiss roll cake to the uninitiated) and I had some white chocolate which I could melt across the top of it (Bury St Edmunds market, £1 per catering sized bag). Excellent. I made the fatless sponge and it being a hot day the eggs and sugar took about five seconds to get to the right consistency. Believe it or not, it can take as long as 15 minutes on a cold day, I suppose that’s why they used to recommend you did this in a bowl perched over the top of a saucepan of hot water. That was in the olden days of beating it by hand, of course. Obviously, neither I, nor Mum, who handed this recipe down to me, can be arsed with that sort of malarkey. Also, two words. Kenwood and Chef. Yep. I have two of these babies but McOther has put one away in the pantry under the stairs where I can’t remove it without kneeling down so that one is temporarily out of action. Instead I had to use the, supposedly mothballed, back up machine, purchased some years ago for £5 from a car boot sale. Note to self, remember to mention to McOther that he has mothballed the wrong one.

When I’d finished the mixture I discovered I’d made a bit too much so there were seven bonus buns as well. Jolly dee. I rustled up some icing for the middle; butter, sieved icing sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla essence to taste and then just mix it about and add sugar or butter as desired until it tastes like butter icing. It was one of those days when it all comes together straight away and tastes as if a real chef made it. I was very pleased with the results and even more pleased that I remembered to let the cake get cold before I slathered it all across the middle. Cake pretty much constructed, next it was time to do the white chocolate icing for the top. The trouble with purchasing catering sized bags of stuff is that they are big and this can led you to believe you have an inexhaustible supply.

Over the past few weeks, since I purchased the bag, I have been grazing lightly, on the white chocolate. Just the odd couple of buttons here and there, but when I came to examine it, I realised I might have been grazing a bit more heavily than I’d anticipated. There wasn’t quite enough of the stuff to just melt it and pour it over the top of the cake, indeed, there wasn’t nearly enough.

Mmm … cake!

Bollocks.

Never mind I would add icing sugar and butter, warm them all up in a saucepan and it would set hard with any luck. The result of my efforts was a ball of great-tasting stuff which, unfortunately, was not unlike pastry in consistency.

Right.

After a brief internal debate as to whether or not to ‘loosen’ it with milk, I decided not to because I didn’t have any ingredients left to start again if I fucked it up. Nope. I just spread it on anyway. It looked a bit flakey. In fact it looked like giant lumps of dandruff. And because fatless sponge has a sort of crumbly crunchy outside it didn’t stick.

Ah well, never mind. Nobody would notice if I decorated it with enough crap. I sprayed it with edible gold paint to give it a nice sheen, looked out the Happy Birthday candle that we light every year, and threw some white chocolate stars on it.

Then I discovered some Halloween icing decorations; pumpkin faces, Frankenstein’s monster faces, an eyeball and two severed fingers. Perfect for McMini then. On they want and hoorah, we were done. After a bit of trouble, I managed to remove the airtight box I keep cakes in from the under the stairs bit of the pantry by using a strange grippy handle thing which has been in the family for years. My mother remembers her grandfather using it to reach for high up blackberries when she was a kid. From an early age I spotted it at my grandparents’ house and have been fascinated with it all my life. When my grandmother died, I inherited this strange thing and I am still fascinated by it.

Sorry, digression there. ‘Cake’ made I put it in the airtight box to have on ‘the day’. Birthdaygeddon dawned and McMini went off to town with a friend and disappeared. On the downside, he did not return at teatime and I was agog to try the cake. On the upside, he has grown out of wanting a party. Eventually texted said friend’s mother at five, and asked her to tell him to come home because I wanted to eat the chuffing cake. He arrived at half past five. On the upside, the cake was delicious and the dandruffy icing turned out to be lumps of crumbly fudge (tablet, basically). The most important thing was that it tasted wonderful. Yeh. Job done I’d say.

Having stuffed ourselves with cake at a point in the day which was, if we were honest with ourselves, a bit close to dinner, McOther got the bar-b-queue on and handed me a bottle of beer and some nuts to enjoy while I was upstairs having a shower and getting into my pyjamas. Yes, I put my pyjamas on at about seven pm because I have come to rather dislike going out in the evening. Well, I am fifty three after all. And I already have arthritis and one replaced knee so I may be even older on paper, so to speak. Not that I was going to have time to enjoy the beer and nuts either, since he told me, cheerfully, that I had five minutes. As I mounted the stairs I took a swig of beer from the bottle.

Big mistake.

You know how the first sip of beer from a bottle causes this foam eruption that just goes on and on and looks as if it’s never going to stop. Yeh, well the bastard thing did that. By the time it had finished bubbling it’s guts onto the stair carpet there was only about half the bottle left. Well fuck. Since I’d been gardening all afternoon I needed that shower. I was stinky and dirty and appeared to have a bad case of greenfly … almost as bad as some of my plants. Three and a half minutes of mopping them with a hanky later the beer stains had disappeared. I belted upstairs and hurled myself into the shower. Sod it, I was going to be late for supper which the cook does not appreciate. Never mind better late than stinky, washed the earth off my legs, feet and hands but didn’t have time to rinse the greenfly infestation out of my hair. Oh well.

McMini’s Donald Trump bun … obviously having a plate like that to put it on helps.

Luckily supper was a bit late so I wasn’t and the McOther was not upset that we’d failed to enjoy his smashing cooking. McMini peeled all the coating off his burger bun and it ended up looking a bit like Donald Trump which amused me. An evening vegetating in front of Montalbano and McMini went off to bed. McOther disappeared upstairs to put his light out and after about twenty minutes I realised he’d done that weird thing blokes do when they just disappear up to bed without telling you and you sit there watching telly for half an hour and then suddenly realise that the rest of the house is dark and you can hear snoring coming from the bedroom.

Realising that it was bed time I set about going to bed when McMini arrived for our evening chat. McMini likes a chat before bed. He arrived with a balloon pump and set about trying to puff me to death, at which point I want and got my balloon pump and before long we were puffing things at one another, or he was trying to puff the birthday cards off the mantelpiece while I puffed at them from the other direction, trying to keep them upright. Standard procedure for us then. McMini doesn’t have a sibling but as McOther pointed out, because I am merely another child, he sort of does. Having finally persuaded McMini that bed and sleep would be a good idea, I got to bed at about midnight.

First thing this morning, McOther headed off to car boots. I woke up and discovered that I could hear strange thumping sounds. I couldn’t work out if it was the cat in his ‘bedroom’ which is the room below our en suite, or McMini who is a demi-floor up from us. Our house is the same height all round but there are two rooms on top of each other at the front and three rooms on top of each other at the back, which is weird but just the way it is. Seeing as McOther was not there I indulged my Chaucerian side and ‘lette flye a fart’. Unfortunately, even when I am alone the sound of farts makes me giggle and McMini heard and appeared with a build-your-own hydraulic hand model that he’d been given for his birthday, the previous day. Yes, it seems he had built it over night.

‘Have you slept?’ I asked him blearily.

‘Oh yes, but I woke up at 4 am and was bored so and built this.’

Gads. Four am. Urrgh. Clearly McMini is like his father in that he has never really got the hang of going to sleep, or at least, both seem to be pathologically unable to go back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. Me, I grew up in a boy’s school so I have no trouble with this. Mind you, not being able to sleep again after being woken up would have resulted in something like the Russian Sleep Experiment for anyone living there. As it was, I learned to sleep through the sound of fireworks – but not bombs, it seems I can differentiate between the two – drunken shouting, loud music and the fire alarm – I will be burned in my sleep if ever a building I’m in catches fire and there’s no one else with me to hear the alarm and drag me out of bed.

McMini was very much awake and ‘tested’ the robot hand by throwing a ball at me with it, stroking my face with it and generally being an evil troll. And now we are just on the brink of going out for a walk, except by the time I’ve found the pictures and phaffed with the stupid keywords, it will probably be evening and we’ll probably have been for the walk before you see this.

In other news …

HUP Swishy new logo.

The results of the K’Barthan invective quiz are in. Mwahahahrgh! Boy oh boy this was close. There were two run-away winners but the rest of the vote was comprehensively split between about six of them. Here are the results:

  1. Smeck: Out-and-out winner this one with a huge 40% of the votes. Smeck is a word I made up that would sound a bit like fuck but not be as rude. I suspect I now need to think of something along the lines of Red Dwarf’s, ‘Better dead than smeg!’ Only in K’Barthan, using smeck.
  2. Arnold’s Y-fronts! Not a huge surprise this one because lots of characters use it. It received 35% of the votes.
  3. There are two in third position: Arnold’s conkers! and Arnold’s underpants! Hmm … do I detect a theme here? These two picked up 30% of the votes.
  4. Fourth equal – because my list making thing can’t cope with jumping to five the way I’m meant to after a tie – with 25% of the votes, we have: Arnold’s bum! Smecking Arnold! Arnold’s smecking sweaty … and a suddenly clean, Arnold’s eyeballs! and Arnold’s Armpits!
  5. Close behind these we have: Arnold’s earwax, Arnold’s toe jam! and Arnold’s plums.

There seems to be a theme here, which is that anything to do with bottoms and undergarments or the word ‘Smeck’ is a goer, along with dodgy effluvia such as toe jam and ear wax. I did write my books for people like me. Maybe there are more of them than I thought.

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MTM fails at modern life … bleargh and t’ing … but then again #AtHomeYALC

Mary fails at modern life

Good morning, I am feeling monster lethargic this week. I have two book reviews to write, and haven’t and I have to do this and we’re going out tomorrow to some friends. That bit is good, in fact I’m really looking forward to seeing them. But I always have to drive which will be less good. It’s just over 50 miles and 45 minutes, a lot of which is crappy speed cameras and pointless speed limits round Cambridge – lots of points potential for the semi-somnambulant driver late at night. And because the McOthers always fall asleep after the late ones it’s even harder to keep awake because it’s like being the driver for a mobile dormitory. A mobile dormitory that is my husband’s car, too, which always adds that little frisson.

This meh I feel is the famous lockdown fatigue. I’m pretty sure of that. I feel like it all the time, and for the exact same reasons so it’s just an extra dose. I’m just … properly knackered all of a sudden. I have no more capacity to deal with idiots abroad and I’ve had the worst month of book sales since October last year. I’ve also had some lovely correspondence from folks on my mailing list but it’s been slightly clouded by one really pissy one. Because I’m an artsy numpty and the dark side weighs heavy … fork sketch brain.

Re the sales … having managed to increase them I really hoped it might be going to stick for a bit but … no. Sighs. And I really have to release some more stuff that’s not K’Barthan. K’Barthan is marmite. People love it or hate it. But the hardest thing about K’Barthan is that despite many people liking it when they finally read it, I swear that persuading them to open the book in the first place is the actual thirteenth Herculean task.

That said, I need to refresh my facebook ads and I’m going to try some BookBub ads for audio and for a freebie I’m running. The first in Hamgeean Misfit series will be zero pence all next week. I think the sales situation is a part of the meh, too, because they haven’t just tanked, they’ve imploded. Without the new release I’d be back to $35 a month, and that’s with the advertising. This is where I point out that all my books, audio, paperback and ebooks are available from any library. Check your app and if it’s not there, just ask.

Also, despite feeling a bit meh, I know I’m not alone and if you’re with me, neither are you. It seems to have hit us creatives like the plague … oh no wait, that’s the Rona. Gareth and I are in the throes of doing another audiobook and he confessed to feeling totally lethargic, himself. So that’s two of us. I bet there are more. Lock down fatigue is a thing though. So much a thing that I’ve found this link about it. It’s all about the limbic system, which is actually the same thing that makes us suddenly think that cleaning the grout in the bathroom is the most important thing in the world rather than that urgent project we have to finish by this afternoon.

Anyway here’s the gen on why lockdown makes us feel totally meh…

I’ll be fine again tomorrow. I think part of it was because I had a very lengthy and vivid dream that I was taking part in a quiz game with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and my husband at a golf club somewhere. It went on for a sod of a long time and at one point Dudley went off to the loo and his suitcase burst and we were trying to stuff all his things back into it but they were just coming out of the tears in the fabric.

The whole ridiculous escapade ended up with me following my parents and uncle along a river with McMini until it went underground. It was hard to keep up because they were moving faster than us and when it forked I wasn’t sure which tunnel they’d taken and took the wrong one. Then we ended up confronted with a cave wall and I turned round to discover that the walls had closed in and we were stuck in a bubble in the rock that was about the size of a small car. That was the point at which I thought, ‘this dream is fucking stupid,’ and woke up. But after concentrating so hard on the quiz first and then on not losing sight of my parents and Uncle, and keeping McMini with me, I woke up absolutely fucking knackered. Mwahahahargh!

In case anyone was going to attempt dream interpretation, yes, I know that dream is about feeling trapped and that I have no control of my life. Every single dream I have is about that because yes, even now, I haven’t quite grasped that the only thing we have any control over is how we react to what happens to us.

And as for travel. What I need is a giro copter … or the fucking transporter off the Enterprise. Where the hell is science though? Seriously. I know I ask this often but, ‘where the fuck’s my flying car?’ Instead we can invent packaging for meat that is so strongly glued together that I’m beginning to suspect it’s held together with the same stuff they use to glue the wings on Jumbo Jets or put McLaren’s together. MTM rolls eyes. I spent five minutes releasing a rib eye stake from it’s plastic carbonite, yesterday. It was so bad I made a film of my attempt to release the second one. You can enjoy that, if you’re so inclined, by clicking on the thing below. Most of you already have I think.

Publishing Industry news: the storm in a teacup award goes to …

This week one of the big boys of the indie book industry, Mark Dawson, has caused a stir by allegedly gaming the bestseller list. I signed up for his Facebook Ads course back in 2014 … or possibly 2015, I think I was in the second or third round of students anyway. I liked his dry sense of humour and he had a different approach. Didn’t seem to be bothered by the trappings, which made this whole incident come as a bit of a surprise to me.  That said, it could equally have been a case of curiosity more than anything. He is always trying new stuff.

The story is, he did a UK only hardback edition for one of his books and his readers in the states wanted it. He realised there was an opportunity to experiment and bought the books from one of the shops where sales count towards bestseller status. He needed 400 books and it got him into the top 10. This it didn’t go down well. He has since had the ‘ranking’ removed but only on the grounds that the books were for sale to people abroad. And people have done this before and the listing stood but was marked with a dagger, which would suggest this sort of stuff goes on and is viewed by the establishment with ambivalence.

What surprised me was not so much that he did it, I mean, a lot of people do. Brian Epstein went round all the chart shops buying Love Me Do to get it into the charts. What surprised me was that a) anyone cared and b) that Mark Dawson gave a hoot about bestsellerdom since he’s incredibly successful in his own right. Did he really need that stamp of approval? Personally I avoid bestsellers, if something hits the bestseller lists, it’s odds on I won’t enjoy it, you know, like the film Titanic, which was utterly shit and made worse by the fact the ending wasn’t even going to be a surprise.

He does seem to have recovered his sense of humour over it though. After a jokey facebook post, by another author wondering if he could get into the top 25 by buying some of his books and sending them overseas, I was amused to discover that Mark’s reply was, apparently, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’

To read the article that kicked it all off, click here

Do bestseller lists mean anything?

You know what, from my own personal point of view, I genuinely think the answer to that is no. Then again, that may just be me. The whole NYT bestseller or Times Bestseller thing strikes me as a load of piss and wind. I wouldn’t game them like that, and I wouldn’t say no to the label but … am I That bovvered? Ner.

As a dyed in the wool indie music lover, I don’t discount chart bands out of hand, some are great but the chart is not the place I turn to automatically. With books it’s pretty much the same. If you read all sorts of books you’re not necessarily going to be searching the best seller list for new reads. Then again if it finds new fans, I suppose it’s a thing and I should take some notice. Can’t be arsed though. One of my crimes is enjoying mashed genres, especially when they can’t help themselves. The fact that thrillers about real science are beginning to wander into the sci-fi zone is not just brilliant, it’s a whole blog post on its own.

Thinking about this writing gig, though, the big thing is still to share the story. It’s something I am completely driven to do. The title of this blog is the truth as well as a joke. I am an authorholic and it is like a bad crack habit. So earning enough money to not have to do anything else is my real aim I guess. I would be over the moon with say £20k per annum. That would be nice. If I work it out I probably earn about three pence per hour for my creative endeavours. But I keep hoping that if I carry on publishing books, eventually there will be enough cash coming in to draw a salary. Pretty much all the books I sell are the result of my own personal attempts at marketing. Also, the more books there are, in theory, the more people will read because there will be a wider choice, more books different series … win win.

But do I want to be a big hitter, mover and shaker? Nah, not really. Too much like hard work. Even so, the aim is lots of mailing list sign and giving people free books … MTM hobbles on stage in black child catcher outfit with a sack barrow full of books. ‘Try my K’Barthan crack people. Yesssssss. Soon you will be hooked and you will be mine all mine! Mwahahahargh!’ Etc.

A while back, you could do keywords to make your books more visible and I know Amazon used to recommend them to people (case in point Gareth). However, I doubt keywords work that well anymore or that sites like Amazon recommend books the way they used to. As I understand it, those spaces are given to trad, or in the case of Amazon, you now pay for them. As a result, because I still sell more books there than anywhere else, they’re kind of on the back burner as I would like to grow sales elsewhere. And also when I do free runs on other sites, Amazon often price matches so I get readers there that way.

Likewise, I’m not sure that anyone just happens upon my books anymore, except during a free run – but obvs, you have to limit those or they lose their effectiveness. The telling thing, for me, is other authors talking about how many folks have signed up to their mailing through the back of books. In my case, it’s hardly anyone, but judging from the feedback I get, this is not because my books, or list, is unpopular. I suspect it’s simply that most people who read my books are already on my mailing list. Which is good because it does, at least, mean that my efforts at marketing in that direction are reasonably effective.

Events! Woot.

Next week, I am hoping to do a podcast which should be fun. I’m going to be doing the, Biblio Files podcast with Bonnie K.T. Dillabough. The topic we will be discussing is jemmying writing into the kind of life where there isn’t really room! So if you’re interested that’s on Tuesday 4th August at 6pm British Summer Time, I think. Or possibly 5.00 … I’m going to be on standby from then because I don’t know if British Standard Time means British Summer Time or Greenwich Mean Time because I’m so smart.

Feel free to join me a week on Tuesday, or if you’d like to see some of the other podcasts you can find them here

It’s quite new but there are some interesting things discussed. I particularly liked the one about the process of cover design.

Today! At Home Yalc!

Yep, this afternoon, Saturday 25th, at about the time I publish this post – 1.00pm GB time – an author of Young Adult books, Rachel Churcher, is putting on an on line version of the Young Adult Literary Convention. Mainly because the real live one is cancelled. This is basically a whole bunch of authors posting readings back to back. There are giveaways and all sorts of other smashing stuff. The authors are all using twitter and making live broadcasts so if you want to have a look, you can find all the details here.

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Also, if that little lot isn’t enough to get your teeth into, starting on American Sunday – so that’s about 1 o’clock our time and sometime in the evening for my readers in Oceania. I am giving the first in series of the shorts away for zero pence. Hamgeean Misfit number one is going to be free from 27th July until 17th August.

If you are interested you can find more information on this page here.

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