Category Archives: winging author

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to … #dementia #ranting

I’ve sort of been debating whether or not I should post this. I wrote it just too late to publish last weekend and things have been so much better this week that, in some ways, it’s no longer relevant.

Except that, from the point of view of the people who read this, I’m now thinking that actually, it might be helpful. Everyone has bad days, everyone feels swamped sometimes and if that’s you then at least when you read this, you’ll know you’re not alone, that it happens to everyone, that there are people out there who can sympathise with how you feel. No-one’s life is roses the entire time and I think being honest about that is allowed!

Basically, I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ today. Like this.

Some days I feel a bit like this.

Ten years ago, heavily pregnant, I went to a lot of fortieth birthday parties. I thought, blithely, that I’d organise one of my own but then I spent the actual day doing a lot of drugs and having a c-section.

Never mind, I thought, I’ll have a ‘Not my 4oth Birthday Party’ when I reach the magic age of 42.

But then Dad began to get really ill and I got in a tizzy and I had a two year old, for fuck’s sake, and my in-laws sold their house with no-where to go so they had to come and live with us and my head imploded. My in-laws are ace and I’d never have done anything else than put them up, but I found having them here really difficult, and I was cross with them for coming here, which threw me completely. I hadn’t seen it coming and I was utterly disappointed in myself not to mention, completely perplexed. I mean, I couldn’t understand it at all. Why was I so angry? Why was I finding it all so hard? Even after they had sorted themselves out and left I was asking myself what on earth had got into me.

Finally, a couple of months after they’d gone, I worked out that my irrational anger stemmed from the fact that with them in the guest room, my parents couldn’t come to stay and worse, they just happened to be in the guest room over the last summer that my parents would have been able to visit us here. It was all bound up with the subconscious realisation that I would never be able have my folks here again and my subconscious was blaming my in laws for being homeless at the wrong time! Obviously it couldn’t do anything constructive like give my conscious mind the heads up but at least I worked it out eventually. As I said last week, I’m a bit slow. Once I’d finally cottoned on I cried most of the day but it was such a huge relief to work it out, and the next morning I woke with shingles, which I still believe I had instead of a nervous breakdown.

Looking back on it, not a great year for trying to plan a party then, that one. Indeed, I completely forgot about it and I guess I should consider organising a thought as an achievement at that point! Yes. Party planning was definitely right out. So I thought I’d wait until I was 45 but neither McMini nor I had a party that year because we got hit by a car and then I was going to be fifty so soon that there wasn’t much point.

Thus, it was that celebrating hitting 40 never worked out and here I am, looking down the barrel at another Important Birthday with an equally huge lack of enthusiasm to do anything about it. Although at least I’ve remembered, I suppose that’s a step up.

Originally, I was in the clear. McOther told me he would organise something and not to worry but a month ago, he fessed up that with his work the way it is, and no prospect of his work-life balance moving towards the ‘life’ end of the see-saw any time before he retires (0r, more likely, dies of some stress-related illness) he wasn’t going to be able to organise anything.

This has left me with a conundrum. I feel that having failed miserably to organise a party-like ‘event’ for my 40th Birthday, even if McMini’s arrival was pretty cool. It behoves me to do it now. So far, you’ll be impressed to know that I’ve done a really good job of ignoring it and hoping it goes away.

The thing is, when I think of a party, I think of a bar-b-queue or a marquee on the lawn, and caterers and everyone I know; family and friends, turning up to eat food and get pissed and have a good time. And I’m thinking of, possibly, a couple of speeches. You know, kind of like a wedding only more relaxed. Except that I realised that one of the main reasons I don’t really want to have a party is because at all the events like this I’ve had so far, my parents would be there. And in this case it wouldn’t be an issue if they were dead, we could raise a toast to them and remember them fondly, but they’re not dead. They’re alive. But they can’t stay here; no chairlift, no 24 hour care etc. Putting aside the fact that my dad … well … when you hug your father goodbye and he sometimes gropes your arse you know it’s getting to the stage when public appearances have to be handled carefully and only attempted on the right kind of day.

So that’s the nub of it. If I have a party. I have to plan it all as if my parents are dead while they’re alive. And few things bring home the fact they are both losing their minds – and that my brother and I get the special joy of watching that happen – more forcefully than planning an event they would have attended, but can’t, as if they are dead, when they’re alive. Which also highlights that they are … kind of … undead.

And it drags up all that other stuff about how part of me almost wishes they were dead because it might be the most merciful thing and because watching them fade away is so painful. And the fact that some days I rejoice that they’re around but others their predicament is like some enormous millstone around my physical and emotional neck that just gets heavier and heavier and heavier and cannot be put aside. Ever. And it brings home how hard it is to live a normal life with this crippling sadness and makes every other load I have to carry so much heavier. And I try to see the joy in life, I really do, and normally I’m quite good at it. But sometimes it’s extremely difficult especially when the physical pain of my knees over the last year has been at about the same level as a newly twisted ankle every. fucking. day.

Thinking about it, I guess I just want to be more than someone other people need; a dead leaf blown about on the winds of other peoples’ neediness, but it’s hard to find the time to be anything other than mother or carer and when I do, that has to be spent looking after my stupid bastard knees, or creeping round the house taking about ten hours to do the amount of cleaning able people do in two minutes. Perhaps I’m getting carer fatigue. Is that a thing? Dad has been losing his mind since 2004 and Mum since 2015. It’s a long time to keep CBT-ing yourself and to drag that shit around and it takes more and more time so then of course, you end up with less and less time to yourself; pretty much none once you’ve taken care of the physio/gym/exercising/pain management routine.

This last two weeks we were away and in the first week of our holiday, while the others skied, I wrote. I only managed an hour or two each day but it was so unbelievably wonderful to get my life back. Once I’d done enough walking or swimming to feel I could eat as much as everyone else, I sat down at the table. There was no washing or cleaning to be done. There was no meaningful internet so none of the things I was supposed to be organising – the Parish magazine, for example – could be attended to.  No stupid shitey little ‘can you book so and so’ or ‘can you find a weekend when thingwat and oojah can visit’ or jobs that should take ten minutes but end up taking for fucking ever.

There was no replying to emails, no organising anything, no futile attempts to get folks round for play dates with McMini which end in failure because other people work or are more organised than me and sorted their free days months before the holidays began. That week of writing was a tonic but it has made it all the harder to go back to the, ‘treat yourself to 20 minutes a day two days a week if you’re lucky’ regime under which I usually live. I think I’m feeling this now because it’s the summer term, which means that, in the first half, at any rate, it’s pretty much all three day weeks for me so I’ll get bugger all done. So as we do the inevitable PD day – heaven forfend that the number of full weeks this half of term should outnumber the short ones – I’m just looking down the barrel of disappearing up my own arse as I try to do the stuff I usually do, organise myself enough to be able to attend and plan social events and steel myself for the fact I have to plan a party and probably won’t write anything until July now.

So, many apologies, but sometimes, I think it’s OK to have a bit of a rant about things, like this. When it feels as if life has punched you to the floor, it’s alright to kick your legs about and scream like a toddler having a tantrum every now and again. You know, just for a moment or two, before you pick yourself up and carry on. I have therefore added this post to the ‘rant’ category but not the ‘massive rant’ category on this blog. (Yes those categories really do exist.)

On the up side … there’s my boys and McMini. On Monday, McMini and I spent the day together. It was hugely entertaining. For example, I sat with him while he was doing his homework. It took about three hours because his concentration levels came in three millisecond bursts but he got it done and we had a very entertaining conversation along the way. How’s this for an opener?

‘Mum, it’s interesting isn’t it but you would think phlegm was spelled f-l-e-m wouldn’t you?’

At no point did the word phlegm crop up in the pursuance of his studies, it’s just a random thought that occurred to him. Or there’s this one, from our holiday, in a restaurant.

‘Hey Mum! Those curtains are just like the ones in Jabba the Hutt’s palace.’

This one was followed by a lengthy discussion as to whether frogs use fart and if so, whether it will help add lift when they jump – complete with demonstrations by McMini, naturally. All conducted as he demolished a bowl of frog’s legs and compared himself to Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, you know, when he was eating those little squeaky things.

Then there are the Horrible Choices questions.

‘Mum, which would you rather? Be killed by a giant sword or run over by a steam roller?’
‘Neither.’
‘No Mum, you HAVE to choose.’

Or the use of a glue gun to make a sniper’s rifle. Amount of time from McMini seeing the glue exit the front of the gun to our making ‘fake’ drool: too short to be measured by current instrumentation.

And there’s his continued torturing of Alexa. Yesterday’s questions include:

Alexa, how do you make chocolate ice cream from poo?
Alexa, what does urinate mean?
Alexa, what is urine?
Alexa, where does poo come from; the willy or the mouth? (He’s so desperate to make her say ‘bum’.)
Alexa, what is poo?
Alexa, can you eat poo?

So purile but so funny. Because I’m really mature. By next year McMini will probably be rather more mature than I am but at the moment, hanging out with him usually involves us giggling until we cry at some point.

Meanwhile McOther and I are watching TV and I ask, in exasperation with a character, why she is sleeping with someone she knows is a baddie on the other side,

‘Ah, keep your friends close but your enemies closer,’ says McOther.
‘So that’s why you married me!’ I say. McOther laughs and I get a little fizzy buzz from amusing him.

I would be so lost without them.

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Awards, rewards and stuff…

I don’t know where to start this morning. Two cool things happened in one day on Sunday. Eee – fans hand in front of face – I’m all teary just thinking about it. The thing is, they’re so different I don’t know how to marry them up into a coherent blog post. Never mind. When have I ever let that sort of thing stop me? Exactly. So here goes.

First up, The Wrong Stuff has won an award and trust me, nobody is more surprised than me. As you can see I’m proudly displaying my new badge from Indie Book Bargains in my widgety bit. Please do have a look at the site or click here, and scroll down… a bit more… a little bit further ….annnnd there!

Whahoo!

That’s all I can say.

OK that’s the authory gubbins done… now here’s another important thing. Remember this post yep, that’s right, the cheery one. A few days after writing that I found out that one of my friends from school had had a heart attack and was in hospital in a coma – because life is always absolutely brilliant, around Christmas, isn’t it? The prognosis was not rosy although his Mum was convinced that he was going to make it and I have to confess that once I saw him, so was I. He is the most bloody-minded, pig headed person I know. Apart from me. I haven’t seen him for ages but he’s one of those people where that doesn’t really matter. My parents and I consider him pretty much family so I nipped home last weekend to say hello.

He’d made it to high dependency by that time and although he’d had a crap day the day before he was able to focus, communicate with blinks and he also managed the ghost of a smile and an eye roll when I told him he was the only person I know who is pig-headed enough to get better. He also managed an eye roll when I asked him if he wanted me to carry on holding his hand, seeing as my hands were disgustingly sweaty and covered in that gloop they make you put on them at the door (he blinked me a ‘no’ unsurprisingly). I left him some snurd cards – not that I’m an egomaniac or anything but actually, he’s a massive petrol head so he might like then.

Anyway come Sunday and his sister posts his picture on Facebook. He is sitting up, holding his head up and looking very lugubrious but also very much himself. Whatever the brain damage is, and we don’t really know yet, his intellect and personality are clearly undamaged. I would post the photo but he’ll fucking kill me when he gets better.

The link to writing…? Not a huge one, just that my current work in progress is not going well. In fact, it’s like pushing a giant rock up a hill but at the same time, while my normal cure for this would be to write something else, I can’t seem to leave this one alone. I suppose, when you know what you want to achieve, the steps towards it can seem very small and the goal a long way away. Perhaps the secret of attaining a difficult goal is not to evaluate your progress too often, or at least, if you do to look at how far you’ve travelled rather than the distance you have to go.

Over the past few weeks, it’s been hard to write in quantity because I’ve been worrying about people. And that’s fine. But it has occurred to me there are a lot of them in my life, right now, with much heavier rocks and much steeper hills than me. OR to put it another way, think I should really stop fannying around, get my finger out of my arse, and just write the bloody book.

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Why Can’t Indies Punctuate Dialogue? I Think I Know.

Gah, welcome to the world of Victoria Meldrew. I was reading a post on a forum somewhere recently, complaining that self published authors are rubbish at dialogue. Well, sticking my neck out, I’ve just discovered a lot of my dialogue tags are wrong.

So once again, I am at home to Mr Cock up. Frankly, he’s going to be moving in at this rate. I dunno what’s wrong with me at the moment. I seem to be dead from the neck up.

So, now that I’ve bombed, I may as well tell you what I’ve learned so you don’t have to.

At school – and sodding heck, it’s only 20 years ago – I was taught to write dialogue like this:

“Writing speech is a pain in the arse.” Said M T McGuire.

Sometime, between me leaving school and starting to write books for a living it changed to this.

“Writing speech is a pain in the arse,” said M T McGuire. “Never mind. On the up side, entirely fortuitously it’s right in book two.”

So here’s what Mr Cock up has taught me on my latest visit.

Golden Rule Number 1, then: Even if you left school five minutes ago, question the rules of punctuation you were taught.

After all, you only have to look at how often government policy on education changes to realise that the shelf life of any received theories propounded to you as a child, will probably be out of date before you leave school.

So yes, I’m afraid those rules of grammar that it hasn’t occurred to you to doubt may be completely at odds with the way things are done now. And if they are, you will be looking like a spanner. NB, even if you write business English for a living, check the types of grammar you don’t use in your every day job that you will use in a book. Like speech! Gaaaah.

Can you guess who didn’t do this? For heaven’s sake, I have a very high IQ – I really should be smarter than this. It’s a bit like being one of those people who can build something really pointy-brained, like a satellite, but can’t boil a kettle… except that I haven’t got any satellite-building abilities against which to offset my piss-poor kettle boiling skills.

Bum.

Oh well, on we go.

Golden Rule Number 2: Don’t trust the internet.

Having realised I may well have ballsed up a lot of the dialogue tags in all my work, I tried to find out what was the right way on the internet. All I could really discover is that one, there is a lot of disagreement and two, none of it looks like the way I was taught at school.

You can google a lot of things but not grammar. There are too many strains of English round the world and not everyone knows which is which. Hmm… Which leads me onto number three.

Golden Rule Number 3: Ask the right questions.
Because I remembered what I’d been taught it didn’t occur to me to ask at first but when I saw what the editor had done, and failed to understand what was going on, I did ask her. The answer she gave was that I should treat the whole thing, speech and tag, as a sentence. That was right but it still gave me plenty of scope to do it like this.

“Punctuating dialogue drives me crazy.” said M T McGuire.

Which is still wrong, wrong, wrong.

Golden Rule Number 4: Ask the right people.

I now use a different editor who is pretty good. I was still confused when I first started working with him though. So why didn’t I ask him? I haven’t a blind clue. So when you find someone who knows what they’re doing and you trust ask them. If you can find somebody who is absolutely pukka writing, trad pubbed establishment ask them too.

Golden Rule Number 5: Always be open.

One day I might get this writing thing sussed but I suspect not. Language is a living thing. It’s always going to move and change. So even if you begin to think you know what you’re doing it’s worth remembering that actually, you may not.

Which brings me onto the 6th rule.

Golden Rule Number 6: Always use an editor.

This is really important. Seriously. Unless you are some kind of grammar savant, use an editor. Hell, use two. I do… and beta readers and I’ve still stuffed up. Ninety nine point nine percent of authors cannot proof their own work. Trust me on this. Get somebody else to do it. Then if you have any gimlet-eyed reader friends, get them to look at it.

Golden Rule Number 7: Keep an eye on what you learn.

As you learn more your work will get better and your punctuation more professional. Each work you produce is a shop window on your talent. If the punctuation is a bit dodgy, or old fashioned, it doesn’t reflect well on you so if you learn something new that hits you out of the blue or change the way you punctuate, I dunno, interrupted speech or something, remember to apply it retrospectively to all your work. Not just the one it’s cropped up in.

Sure your skill with the business of arranging words will grow but so will you knowledge and while your actual writing style may change, editorially continuity is best – a house style if you like.

So there you go, in a nutshell, think about what you’re doing. Always.

I hope that helps.

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Erk

My writing is going incredibly badly, not just a little bit out of kilter but oh blimey I think I’m going to have to re-write the first 50,000 words badly.

It does happen with every book I write but I’ve never had a two year old to look after or had my in-laws turn up to stay for an unspecified time until they find a house at the same moment. Usually I have time to concentrate, this time, not.

Hmm… It seems there are finally too many balls in the air and I’ve dropped the fucking lot.

Oh dear.

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New Freebie

Yep, there’s a new freebie afoot, a short story…

Bog Man
A perfectly preserved pre-historic cadaver is discovered in the fens and brought to a Museum. For the new Director it should present a major opportunity but is it real? And if it is, how come the pre-historic ring it’s wearing also bears the marks of a local shop. And where is the Museum’s Head Electrician? If the Director doesn’t find answers soon the unthinkable may happen. In front of the world, he may look an idiot.

You can find it, here free to download…

Enjoy!

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News for the famous. Writing a book is NOT obligatory.

I just noticed this courtesy of Neil Gaiman’s twitter thingummy doodle.

I could imagine Jonathan Ross had always wanted to write a graphic novel, more to the point, I could imagine he’s been practising for some time and it might actually be quite good.  He’s a man who lives, sleeps, eats and breathes graphic novels so he’s not actually an example of what I’m annoyed about but he’s reminded me why I am.  I guess he’s just knocked the scab off the wound allowing my suppurating bile to spill forth into the benign world of the blogosphere.  Being who he is, of course, getting published – and strong sales – are a given regardless.  Sigh.

Ok so he’s probably one of the ones who deserves it.  Some of them do. As Ian Jury said, “there ain’t half been some clever bastards,” yeh, “Lucky bleeders…”

Look at Ben Elton – clearly he was just too talented at too many things.  Maybe the stand-up thing was an accident, you get the impression he’s always considered himself an author… But there we all are thinking he’s an edgy comedian and then a novel comes out and suddenly we all realise how much of Blackadder he wrote…

Years ago I did stand-up for a while, I didn’t want to be a comic but I seriously believed I had more chance of making it as one than I did of getting my book published by merit, alone. And I reckoned that if I made it in comedy, getting my book published would be a great deal easier… Yeh, I was young and naive… or was I?  Probably, yes, about making it in stand-up but about making it in publishing?  Even then, no.

In the end I got married and staying out until 3 o’clock in the morning on a regular basis got complicated so I sat down.

I do get a bit pissed off, though, with the idea which seems prevalent at the moment,  that anyone famous can write a better novel than the rest of us or that somebody of 21 can turn “I got famous really quickly and it’s been a bit of a gas!” into an interesting autobiography.  The idea that there’s a book in everyone and writing it – or at least having somebody write it for them – is easy.  I take issue with the idea that publishing somebody’s work because it’s not bad and they’re famous is a good idea. Just because we readers know somebody’s name it doesn’t make them a good (or ‘ready’)writer.  Unless they’ve spent most of their lives honing their writing skills the way any other author has to, the chances are their work isn’t going to be as good.

Could I do Lewis Hamilton’s job as well as he does without any training or a lifetime learning my craft the way he did?  No.  But ask the same question about an author and suddenly the answer to that question is “oh yes, of course you can, it’s a piece of piss”.  Clearly writing well is deceptively easy…

And all this celeb writing blocks the rest of us.  When somebody famous gets their novel published because of who they are another unknown author is turned away.  For every Jordan who ‘writes’ a book a new author who might have been published some years ago stays unknown…

Does this sound like sour grapes?

(Pauses for thought.)

Well, OK, yes, it is sour grapes.

But it’s taken me since 1997 to write a novel I am actually proud of.  I’d be fairly mortified if my first effort had made it to press, so it’s lucky my bid for domination of the comedy circuit failed, but now… Well, I know this one’s not bad but with the right help and guidance it could be good… maybe better than good.  And I want it to be the best I can make it.  With the help and advice of a decent agent and editor, I could cover the next 10 years’ worth of struggle and effort in about a third of the time.  I learn fast but I’m rubbish at the dissection part, someone else does that, shows me and we have a scales from the eyes moment and I’m set.  But with all that celebrity bollocks out there, it looks unlikely that I’ll have that opportunity.  Yeh, as the Americans would say I’m pissed.

Do you detect a swing back towards the e-book…? Yes… when I hear the results of my latest submission.  In the meantime, I must sort it out with a decent cover.

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Something for nothing much…? Nah.

Remember I told you about this site

Hmm… well, having read quite a bit of stuff – some of which I enjoyed and some of which was literary fiction (and therefore antithesis of anything I would choose to read – except at gunpoint) I’ve had three reviews of my excerpt.  They are all useful but for a consensus I need a few more, really…

Every time I review something, the site sends out my excerpt for someone else review… and each time the bastards wait 24 hours and say no.  It does confirm that I’m selling it badly but then I already know I’m shit at sales – that’s why I’ve been trying to find an agent.

If I stop writing reviews, the site appears to stop sending my excerpt out for other people to review… (presumably my submitting a review is what triggers each invitation to review mine) so like all these things, I’ll have to devote a lot of time to it to get anything.  Arse, I thought I’d found a pukka quid-pro-quo.

I don’t think I can wade through the amount of literary fiction required to get the crits required for a balanced view.

Ok, so look, there’s an excerpt on here… have a look, tell me, is it really that shit?  Because, for the first time in my life, and in 12 years of trying to write a decent novel, I truly believe it’s not.

Sigh.  That concludes the winging for the Bury St Edmunds jury.

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