This week, I have been mostly reading books!

Over the last month or two I’ve been trying to find some books in my genre – humorous science fiction fantasy – and give them a read, mainly with a view to having something of a similar ilk to my own books to share with my mailing list. If I’m just giving readers the heads up about one or two books, as opposed to a group author promo or a group giveaway, I like to make sure I’ve read and enjoyed them, myself. So, with apologies to any of you reading who receive my newsletter, as well, here is a bit about the latest couple I’ve read.

These two books are polar opposites; about as diverse as you can get, although I enjoyed both of them, each on its own merits. And strangely, if you like my books, they do tie in with different aspects of my approach; the first, with the humour and the second with my obsession about the idea of grey; of life – and politics – being more complicated than the nice, simplified, sound-bite, black-and-white politicians and the media would have us think.

Bearly Awake.

First up, if you enjoy things paranormal and you are looking for a nice, light, easy bit of escapism, I have just the thing for you. Bearly Awake, is a romantic comedy by D. R. Perry. The story follows two main characters: Bobby, a bear shape shifter, who suddenly feels a very strong urge to hibernate just as he is supposed to be cramming for a crucial end of term exam. And Lynn, pointy-brained human who has a habit of alienating people with her excessive sarcasm.

Will Bobby stay awake and pass or sleep, and be thrown out of college? Only Lynn can help him. Both are at the Providence Paranormal College; the best-of-the-best and only one of it’s kind, but Lynn feels that her inability to bear fools gladly has made her as unpopular there as at home, so she has put in for a transfer to a university nearer to where she’s from. Then Lynn’s tutor gives her the task of being Bobby’s study buddy to get him through the exam. Things are complicated further by the fact that even though Lynn thinks he’s way out of her league, Bobby pretty much sets his cap at her. Can Bobby persuade Lynn to stay? Can Lynn keep Bobby awake so he can get through his exam?

Now, I confess that, as someone who is a bit leery about paranormal books and (usually) pathologically avoids reading any books with shape shifters (or vampires in case they’re sparkly) I approached this one with some trepidation. However, I really enjoyed it. This book takes the idea of our normal, humdrum world and tweaks it a little into something different and a lot more interesting. I do enjoy that. Likewise, it takes a standard trope – the shifter romance – and gives that a bit of a twist into something different, too.

It’s engagingly written, I enjoyed the characters and its gentle comedic style. You also get a feeling of relish coming through in some parts where the author has clearly enjoyed writing it and I like that in a book, too. I also enjoyed the sweet romance aspect, when I didn’t expect to. The story zips along pretty fast. In some instances, I had to back track because I’d missed the point where something was mentioned in passing. That can make it feel slightly rushed in a way. That said I was perfectly able to pick up everything required so it’s no biggie and I’d much rather that than have loads of background info holding up the plot.

This was a shorter length novel – about 40k I think. Having read the book, two things have stuck with me: first, the characters intrigued me enough to keep me thinking about them afterwards, and I will probably purchase the next in the series at some point because I like their company. I also spotted the nascent beginnings of a mystery that needed solved and I want to see how they go about it. Second, there were some fun and different ideas which stayed with me, I really liked the special, invite-only library for creatures who can’t go out in daylight, for example.

The juxtaposition of beings at this college, human, shifter, vampire, etc was fun and well imagined. I hadn’t realised how much scope for humour there is in what shapeshifters might turn into, for example, and how it might affect their personalities. All in all it was a diverting and fun introduction to the Providence Paranormal College series. It is what it is, light, frothy fluff, but if, like me, you like a bit of escapist whimsy, you’ll enjoy it.

If you would like to give Bearly Awake a go, you can download it for free until 1st May, 2017, if you sign up to D. R. Perry’s newsletter. To do that, click here:

http://dl.bookfunnel.com/jjqfu5iw0u

Shifting Reality

And now for something completely different: A few weeks ago, also in my quest for books to share with my newsletter, I decided to check out one of Patty Jansen’s books. I realised I had one that I’d downloaded last year, when it was perma free, and so it was that I read Shifting Reality, which is the first book in the ISF Allion Series; one of three. Here’s the overall series blurb:

They were taken from the poorest slums in the world to work in space stations. They were promised free food and accommodation. They didn’t know that they, or their children and grandchildren, would never see their home again.

Seventy years on, this is the story of Melati, from New Jakarta Station at Epsilon Eridani.

Once again, this book steps aside from the usual. Our main protagonist is Indonesian, part of a group of migrant labourers who ended up on a space station so far from Earth that they will never be able to return home. What I loved about this book is that you get so immersed in another culture, and a completely different one to that which you might expect. Some of the stuff about food made me hungry, the plot is clever and intriguing, the political situation seems incredibly realistic, in a good way. We’re not talking gritty, well, we are but not in an everyone must die horribly and all the characters are loathsome miserable bastards kind of way. It’s gritty in that life on the station is hard and Melati our heroine, is stuck between her own community and that of the officers and staff running the station – who live in a different part of it, in far more comfortable circumstances – while Melati’s family, and her people, are living in on the lower decks in a slum.

The basic premise is untangling a mystery, and as Melati tries to solve it, her efforts bring politics closer to herself and her family than she’d like, and of course, it also brings her into conflict with her family and challenges her loyalty to her employer, the International Space Force. Things get fraught. As Melati gets closer to the truth there are murders. People she loves suffer and she has to somehow walk the line between two polarised social groups to solve the mystery against a background of rising political tension. But above all, as much as it is a mystery, and sci-fi, this story is about the complicated nature of existence: being who you are, trying to fit in, trying to change your life or advance your fortunes without losing sight of your roots and your soul, attempting to look after your family and do what’s best for them when they’re buggered if they’re going to let you. It’s about the hard reality of attempting to stay in the neutral ground between two groups of people, both of whom you care for, when neither of them much cares for one another, without compromising what you believe is right. In short, though set in space, in the future, it’s about the daily business of living life on Earth right now. I loved the whole complicated mess of Melati’s life, and the way she tried to make sense of it. I’ll definitely be reading the others.

If you think you like the sound of this, you can grab Shifting Reality for £1.99 from all major retailers. More information can be found here:

http://pattyjansen.com/2012/11/20/shifting-reality/

And you can find out more about the series – ISF Allion World – here:

http://pattyjansen.com/category/isf-allion-world/

If you’re looking for an even bigger bargain, I’ve just picked up the first book in Patty Jansen’s Ambassador Series; Seeing Red, for the knock down price of 99p/99c etc. It’s on promotion to celebrate the release of the latest Ambassador instalment – book six, I think. I haven’t read it yet, but I mention it here because if you think you like the sound of Patty Jansen’s style and don’t mind where you start, you could save £1/$1 starting with the Ambassador Series first.

Information about Seeing Red, Ambassador 1, is here:

http://pattyjansen.com/pages/ambassador-1-display/

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Can I have fried brains with that? Time management/productivity hacks for writers #amwriting #writingtips #timemanagement

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

This week I will be mostly talking about making something out of nothing, or as that pertains to my world: time management.

As many of you will remember, my lack of minutes in the day to do … well … anything much was a continuing trope in many of my posts last year. The frustration of not producing any meaningful work while any ‘free’ time melted away faster than the polar ice caps was strong, and the whinging on my blog extensive, as a result. Sorry about that.

However, good news, I think. It looks as if I’ve fixed it, possibly, or at least, bodged the problem enough for my writerly mojo to return. And as I bitched and complained my way through last year, I did realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing their duties to others and their requirement to write. So I thought I’d share the stuff that has worked for me in the hope that, perhaps, it will help anyone reading this who has similar struggles. So off we go …

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

Last November, actually, Mum was in hospital again, and as I tried to sort everything out, and write, and be a mum to my own son, a good daughter, and be happy, burnout loomed.

Once we got her sorted out, and back home with Dad, I knew that if I was going to carry on writing I would have to make changes, even if it was just changes to my attitude. And I was going to have to make them fast. I’m an old hand at this now. The trick is not so much as to solve the problem but to alter my thinking so I see it differently. This time the ‘solution’ I arrived at was twofold:

  1. I couldn’t write the kinds of books I had been writing and deal with the things I needed to do in Real Life. I would therefore write shorter, less complicated books.
  2. It was clear that many folks who read my books enjoyed the K’Barthan stuff best. And I knew K’Barth well. There wasn’t so much time for experimentation right then – so that was easy. I’d write shorter, less complicated stories about K’Barth.

Enter the new series of 99p K’Barthan Shorts. In a bid to discover more details about the ‘market’s’ demands I asked what people would like to see more of. Gladys, Ada and Their Trev was the answer from everyone.

Roughseas asked me to write on about how Betsy, on Turnadot Street, started her Bordello. The answer popped up almost immediately. Meanwhile there was another one about The Pan of Hamgee’s early years on the Blacklist. That popped up reasonably fast too. So I had two ideas for short stories ready to go. All that was left was to write them.

Keenly aware that I can’t actually guarantee myself more than about 40 minutes to write in each day, it occurred to me that one of the problems with my rate of production was that its slowness sapped my morale, resulting in even less speed. So making some steady progress was essential to keep up my spirits and keep going. Obviously, as an authorholic, I am, literally addicted – stopping would have been much more sensible but it wasn’t an option. I decided to try and find a way to write more efficiently. I had a bit of a think and I came up with five ways that I could, possibly, give myself a hand:

  1. There might be some book production tools I could use to speed up and ease the process – such as writing software or text-to-speech software.
  2. Planning and plotting a bit before I start would help if I could tie it into the way I write.
  3. Writing shorter and less complicated stories would reduce the cerebral load (as previously mentioned).
  4. If I could improve my time management I might achieve more in the moments I had,
  5. My brain was fairly porridgey and I needed to find a way to re-enthuse it and sharpen it up while avoiding burnout.

1. Production tools

Yes, I am aware this sounds nuts but it occurred to me that one of the problems I face, writing, is that I usually keep the whole plot in my head. This is fine until I’m sad, or  stressed about other stuff, or my writing routine is constantly interrupted. Then, I can’t do it. I lose track of who is doing what, and with what, and to whom. When I make notes to help myself I still fail to remember, or at least, I fail to visualise what’s happening where, so written notes are unhelpful. So back in November 2016 I was spending three quarters of each writing session working out where I’d got to and catching up, and then about five minutes moving it forward before I had to stop.

As I pondered how to solve this knotty conundrum I saw a free seminar by a bloke called Joseph Michael about using a writing programme called Scriviner. Now, I confess, I’d never thought about using Scriviner, it seemed completely pointless, but I couldn’t help noticing, as I watched this free seminar, that the way you lay out a project in Scrivener appeared to cover a couple of my big writing problems.

  • Finding a way to list major scenes in a memorable way so I can work out a cohesive plot
  • Finding something that can remember what’s happened so far, and where I’ve got to, when my head can’t in a way that’s instinctive and at-a-glance.
  • Being able to put bits I like but can’t use yet somewhere close to hand so I can just nip over and cut and paste them in and out and remember they are there.
  • Being able to flip from my writing to my research easily  if I want to.
  • Being able to fit more writing into a short time.
  • In short, having all the information and prompts I need to write effectively in one place without burying one room of my house in post it notes.

The way Joseph Michael had his demo Scrivener set up, everything was laid out on screen where I could see it. My mental filing system is visual and it works horizontally. My ideal filing system would be a huge long table, with all the work in progress laid out on it. I’d walk up and down the table and see what needs to be done. If I try to file things vertically, in stacked trays or in drawers I forget they are there and cannot visualise what I am supposed to be doing or the shape of my task. I lose things in a pile.

My computer is a drawer – even using WordPerfect to write doesn’t fully ameliorate the impact of that, despite the fact it has its documents in tabs and I can switch from one to another with a single click. Things get lost and forgotten in my computer. Important things. Scrivener looked as if it might be the computer equivalent of a table rather than drawers, and when I found it on sale for  75% off, I decided to try it.

Bonus! Except While it was, indeed, the closest thing a computer can produce, in organising and filing terms, to a table, it was incredibly frustrating to use because it’s very much NOT intuitive in some respects. So I bought the training course for a truckload of money. BUT ONLY because it has a 365 day money back guarantee. No 30 day nonsense. A whole damn year. If I get stuck, I look up the problem on the course site, watch the video, which lasts about 3 minutes and I’m set. I am quite quick to pick up computer stuff but even so this worked very well for me. The way it’s set out is like an encyclopedia you can look things up in, rather than a course of long lessons which you annotate. Thus you sidestep the thing where your mind wanders as you take notes and you leave out a crucial click or step, one that renders your notes worthless and necessitates spending 30 minutes of your 40 minutes’ writing time watching a video, from beginning to end, to sort out where you went wrong. It’s way more useful than I expected, almost indispensable. Indeed, it’s probably paid for itself already to be honest. Bugger. Won’t be getting that refund then.

Around this time, I also saw McOther dictating email replies into his iPad and a light dawned. I could speak my books. However, after discovering that there is no way to teach my iPad how to write ‘eyebombing’ when I say ‘eyebombing’ and having the same experience with many other words like that, I reckoned it would be more trouble than it was worth. Even doing some dictation for my non-fiction book where I used the word, ‘spectacles’ instead of eyebombing – with a view to using search and replace, later – it was, frankly, too much of a ball ache. It occurred to me that the whole process of teaching speech-to-text software to understand my vocabulary, the correct spelling for the word arse and all the rest might take a lot more time than it would save. Doubtless I will give it a go at some point, but for the moment, I think I’ll put it in the someday-my-prince-will-come section of my list.

2. Planning and Plotting

Obviously what I envisioned achieving for myself here is far removed from compiling a comprehensive plot and then sketching the story by numbers.  I am, at heart, a pantser. However, it did occur to me that I could save myself a lot of time if I could kick the habit of developing so much backstory that my first scene ends up being one of the last ones. This is how I write: I get to know my characters, get interested in their pasts and before I know it, a new story has emerged. It’s usually a better one but having it turn up a bit earlier in proceedings would save me … well 60k of wasted words last year so, in short, the entirety of last year’s output (some of those words will be rescued or recycled but not all 60k).

I heard about a free seminar promoting a course called Story Engines. Story Engines sounds brilliant, but I can’t afford it. It didn’t help that there was only a short window, during the zenith – or is that the nadir – of the Christmas and post Christmas bankruptcy period. Why does everyone who runs a $500 closed course think a good time to open it up is December when everyone is skint? Sorry, I digress. The seminar was pretty good and opened my eyes to the kinds of questions I should ask myself. Questions which I thought I was asking already but clearly haven’t been. However, I could only afford one course and I thought that, possibly, I would work out more of the plotting stuff on my own than I would the workings of Scrivener. And the Scrivener course cost less. A lot less.

And I still have about 335 days in which to decide whether or not I like it! So I bought it.

3. Writing shorter

An absolute epic fail. For example, I’ve binned 20k of the ‘short’ about how Betsy’s bordello opened and I’m now just bubbling under 29,000 words into the new one. I think I may squish it into about 40,000 but it could run to 60,000. On the upside, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yeh. Thank you, Story Engines free training and lovely easy-to-see-what’s-going-on Scrivener layout. The magic is still happening, the picture is slowly de-pixilating and sliding into focus and the process is fun again. I also have a very much clearer idea of how Space Dustmen, the new series I’m working on, is going to go, and I’m really enjoying making notes and thinking about ideas. The characters are more focussed and yeh, things are happening there, too. Oh and there’s a non-fiction book.

On the writing shorter books front, then, null points. But on the writing, generally, a massive booyacka!

4. Time Management

We talked about the minuscule size of my writing window. How to make those minutes count then?

Scrivener was surprisingly useful and the plotting was helping but it was only a partial success. My efforts to write were still resulting in redundant words. Cf that 20,000 odd I mentioned just now and the other 40,000 from last year. Even though I will probably use three quarters of them, tweaked, a bit later in their prerequisite stories it was fairly essential that I did something to increase my rate of production and increase the suitability for immediate use of the stuff I produced.

So far, I’d some ideas plotted that I was really chuffed with, I’d laid out the basic chapters I thought I was going to write in Scrivener, added some notes, done the cards etc. But I needed more.

Somewhere, I read that comparing notes with other writers and posting your progress daily can really motivate you so I started a thread on a forum I visit. I’d also read that doing sprints works well for many people. You set a timer for twenty minutes and write until it goes off, have a 5 minute break and then rinse and repeat. I thought I’d see what I could do with that. I reckoned if I spent the first twenty minutes planning the scene and maybe writing a bit, and then the next twenty, going for it, I might get somewhere. No distractions, nothing, just writing the rest. So that day, I started my thread and explained what I was going to do. Then I turned off the internet, opened scrivener, sat down with the pinger set to twenty minutes and off I went.

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

First sprint: 400 words, second 1000. Smecking Norah! Four weeks later, I have 28,800 words down. Even a hard, pulling-teeth-style sprint nets me 400 words. Just three of those sprints, ie an hour and a quarter given over to writing, and we are looking at 1,200 words, minimum. My record in one 20 minutes is 1,700. Typing. Every morning I can wake up knowing that, even if I only have half an hour to work that day, I can get a few hundred words done. Few things boost a writer’s spirits better than being productive.

I love the sprints and I love the camaraderie of chatting on the thread where we encourage each other and compare results. Definitely a really effective strategy, that one.

5. Avoiding staleness: saying, ‘bollocks’ to social media and making it quality time

With the sprints, Scriviner and even the plotting going well. I wondered if I could work on my freshness of approach. What I mean is, trying to persuade my times of  maximum brainpower to coincide with the times I had available to write.

After a lot of head-scratching it occurred to me that this writing game is a bit like a relationship in many respects. Sometimes, with dating, less is more. Three hours of quality time are worth many more hours of half cock time spent not really connecting that just make the whole thing go stale. I realised that, when quality writing time was thin on the ground, I was spending hours on social media while I did other things looking at emails, or generally staring at my iPad and phone to try and keep myself connected to the electronic ether and with that, somehow, to my writing. Even sitting at home in the evening watching tv, or while I was cooking, or some other situation in which I could never hope to produce any meaningful content for my books I would be gazing soulfully at the screen convincing myself it would help.

It didn’t.

While, on one hand, all this screen time made me feel as if I was maintaining the connection, on the other it fogged it, made me feel as if it was sapping my creativity somehow. And the more in touch with it all I tried to be, the more time was sucked into this faux ‘keeping in touch’, and the less time I spent actually writing. Across my wider life, writing was all I was doing … Oh and panicking about having no time. I did a lot of that. So as well allowing my brain to be gloopified by the wrong kind of screen time, I was starving it of stimulation. No fuel. Poor brain. How could I expect inspiration?

More head-scratching, and then I decided to try and make all the time I had count, across the board, not just in writing but in everything. So I limited social media and marketing time and added other things to my day, experiences, like coffee with a friend, a walk, reading, listening to music, shopping, eyebombing, etc. I also tried switching off the computer at six pm and not turning it on again until the next morning. I still checked my emails and social media first thing as I sat in bed with a cup of coffee. However, I started writing a to do list for the day at the same time. Then when I sat down at the computer after the school run it was easy to reorientate myself. I started experimenting with using sprints to write emails and social media posts. I listed things I needed to look at, set up a sprint to do it in and then stopped when the bell rang. I found I could achieve exactly the same amount of interaction in a fraction of the time. In the evenings, in front of the telly, I stopped checking Facebook on my phone and started knitting socks. Um … Yeh.

The results of this have been amazing. I have way more creativity. When I started this, a month or so ago, there was only really room in my head for one project. After a week, I started having ideas about a project I’d shelved because it was too complicated. After two weeks the short had turned into a novel. After three, a non fiction project popped up. It looks as if I may finish a novel this year. One that I only started writing in earnest four weeks ago. It is as if this simple act of giving my brain time to rest has jump-started my creative mojo. Yes I still get tired, I still get sad about my parents, I still have the odd week of PMT when I can’t meaningfully achieve anything but I also feel fulfilled and fantastic because I am creating stuff – and when I feel like that I create more stuff – and even when it’s not books, it’s very comfortable socks!

Conclusion

So what gave I learned here that might help anyone who has waded through to the end of this? D’you know, I think probably this:

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
20160412_mandslemon

Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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Filed under About My Writing, Blimey!, General Wittering, Good Advice, Useful Resources

I bring you tidings of great joy … probably.

I hope this finds you well and that you survived hurricane Doris, if it hit your part of the world. We have, although unfortunately, it appears that our garden fence has not. It’s currently lying prone in the garden but at least it’s not blocking the street anymore! So, it occurred to me that I should, perhaps, make this week’s blog post a little lighter in tone. To that end, I bring you freebies and some writing news.

First up, writing news, because I’m not egocentric or anything. Phnark!If you follow my rantings and witterings on a regular basis, you may remember me saying I was going to try and write some shorter stuff. This was, mainly, because my life circumstances aren’t always conducive to writing long, complicated stuff. To that end, you will be glad to know that I’m now 26,500 words into another ‘short’ story about K’Barth. I have also binned 19,000 words, or at least reallocated them for use somewhere else, because they don’t fit with this story, because, as is my wont, I started in the wrong place. I really, really hope I’ll be able to stop doing that one day, but on the upside, at least it means I usually get two books when I work on one.

It looks as if this will probably pan out at about 40k words, possibly 60k so, I think we can safely say that as efforts to write a short go, it’s an epic fail. It might, however, see me end up finishing an novel in record time if it continues the way it is. Mwah hahahargh. Swings and roundabouts, eh? It’s all go!

In addition, the Space Dustmen characters are getting excessively antsy and their world is becoming more and more vivid so I am going to have to write something about them soon, or they’ll find and have a word. They are indentured labourers living at a space base and obviously, as the scum of the earth, they all live near the sewage processing plant, on P Deck. Oh ho ho! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you saw that joke here first! I’m just letting it ferment for bit more – the story I mean, not the sewage on P Deck – so it’s more obvious where I’m going when I start working on it again.

Lastly, on the writing news front, I thought I might have a pop at some non-fiction. This is a project that I may even try to do the trad way, I’ll have a think. However, I was out taking photos for it this morning and having thought I was nowhere near, I now find that I easily have enough illustrations to compile the book.

20170225_131746

Happy me!

So, what else do I have for you this month? Two lovely promos, that’s what. Yep!
First up, the lovely Andrew Q Gordon is running a promo for fantasy books this month. There are ten books featured and you can grab yourself a freebie in return for mailing list sign up. To find out more, the promo page is here or click the picture. This one runs from 27th February to 3rd March.

aqg-fantasy-giveaway-option-2

Second up, once again, Patty Jansen is running a monthly promo which segues effortlessly into position on 4th and 5th March, just as Andrew Q Gordon’s promo finishes! Handy.

This one is for no strings attached free books on either Instafreebie and Bookfunnel. So, no mailing list sign up is required but you need to feel confident side loading them to your reader/tablet/computer yourself.

You can cop a load of that one, here or click on the picture, as before.

promomarch2017home

Anyway, I hope the promos are useful. I was rather chuffed to see that they are are full of fresh books (to me). So I’m hoping there is lots of interesting stuff in them for you too.

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Filed under About My Writing, Author Updates, General Wittering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or as my friend put it.

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

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

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

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

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

9781907809125

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

9781907809262_LowRes

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

So, back to sexist book stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And to women.

But why?

Heaven only knows.

And will I?

No.

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

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

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

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

Does Darth Vader poo?

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

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

Yes. We found it.

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

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

And I thought I was weird.

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

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

THING 1: Patty Jansen’s Monthly Promo.

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

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

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

THING 3: There is NO Thing Three.*

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy.

* Sorry, I have to stop doing that joke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bethisguy

Picture scrounged from Oldroadapples

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MTM’s Epiphany epiphany – or the Wenlock Edge Moment

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

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

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

sunlightinchurch1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it feels affirming, uplifting.

Actually, it feels marvellous!

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

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

And it was surprisingly better!

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

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

Doh. Channelling Homer.

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

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

And I hadn’t realised that until this morning.

And it feels good.

Happy New Year peps.

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Book stuff supplemental:

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

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