Tag Archives: advice from writers

Still living the dream …

A while ago I wrote a book called, Escape from B-Movie Hell (it’s free right now on Kobo if anyone’s interested). It was a story about an impending meteor strike, meddling aliens and our hero, telepathic, gay art student Andi Turbot, is all that stands between the human race and total annihilation … Yeh, OK look, it’s not as wank as it sounds. When you read it, it makes sense, alright?

The point I’m trying to make is this. I don’t expect my books to come true in any way shape or form. I don’t expect anything remotely similar to the bizarre ideas in my head to actually well … you know … happen. Yes, it’s one thing writing a piece of jokey apocalyptic fiction,  ]=[ – sorry that’s a message from my cat – it’s quite another to be … how can I put this tactfully? Living the dream? Yes. Living the fucking dream. OK it’s not the same dream, but it feels like a similar one.

We are in almost lock down. For my international readers – folks here will know – all pubs, bars, restaurants, theatres and gyms have been ordered to close as soon as they can. At least now they will get some insurance and hopefully, the ones that were soldiering on will be able to pay some compensation to all those folks working for them who are now facing the not zombie apocalypse unemployed.

In theory, Mum should be isolated. She is eighty six, after all. Except she has carers, and she needs them, so we can’t isolate her. They have to be out and about collecting supplies and looking after a pool of people. People, who are handicapped, or vulnerable and who will, to put it rather baldly, die in a pool of their own excrement if they isolate themselves the way they have been instructed. Mum’s carers go in every day to help cook her meals, so after a brief discussion with the Wednesday lady, and Mum, we’ve decided that the benefits of my visiting probably outweigh the drawbacks. What’s one more, to be honest, so long as I’m sensible, like them. And because Mum is pretty unfazed by the whole thing.

That said, we had ‘the talk’ the other night on the phone. Mum said,

‘Darling, you know I may well die in this thing don’t you?’

‘I hope you won’t,’ I told her.

‘Well, I’ve got to die sometime and I’m eighty six, it’s going to be sooner rather than later.’

‘I know Mum, but I’d prefer it not to be now if at all possible. I want it to be gentle and I don’t want you to be on your own in some hospital, with nobody you love near you.’

She laughed, ‘We have to be realistic though, darling and we all die alone.’

‘Yeh, I know. Everyone dies alone, even if there are people with them, but … I would like to be there with you, you know, dropping you off at the gate so to speak. Holding your hand the way you held Dad’s.’

‘You are a dear,’ said Mum.

Then we ended up having ‘the talk’. I told Mum the things I would tell her if she was on her death bed, that I love her, that she has been the most wonderful mother to me that anyone could have had, that she and Dad were fabulous parents. That she was ace because … well … how many people can say their mother dragged them into a cupboard to hide from a particularly talkative member of staff so they wouldn’t be late? How many parents are genuinely more open, and unshockable than their children’s friends, pretty much until they hit their seventies? So I thanked her for that, too. And she told me she loved me and that she was very blessed to have kids like my brother and I. And it was all rather poignant. And a little sad. And then we had a giggle about how melodramatic we were both being.

And thinking about all that, I know I have to write more, not the shorts, which are lovely to write but leave less room for complexity. No, I need to write another sweeping epic, with a cast of hundreds, a plot with more twists and turns than a DNA profile. Another massive tome about belief and truth and the grey between the black and white.

The whole situation is a bit unreal though. It also feels as if life as we know it is a bit fragile. I learned, a long time ago, that the only thing we control in life is how we react to what happens. In fact I learned that in about 2012 or possibly before because The Pan of Hamgee says it to Ruth in K’Barthan two so I must have cottoned by then. Sometime, when Dad was beginning to be ill I guess – still well enough to refuse my help, but at the same time, ill enough to have carers to come and sit with him in the afternoons so Mum could go and garden.

I’m pretty firmly convinced that we have no control, but maintaining the illusion that we have, that something we do will change things, and proceeding on the understanding that we do, is helpful, if only so we can control ourselves. On the other hand, I do believe that we can change our thinking and spread a bit of kindness. Also if Mum does get Corona, I want to be sure that a) I did everything I could and b) we all agree on our courses of action first so there’s no looking back and regretting that I’d not done x, y or z. And yet, despite the surreal nature of existence right now, the nitty gritty of life, the minutiae, is as pleasantly barking as ever.

First up, a week ago on Thursday, after swimming, my ear hurt a bit. I had been wearing my new underwater MP3 player so I suspected I might have pushed the headphones in too far and pushed a lump of wax against the ear drum. As I had some olive oil drops, I started to put them in to soften it. I also had a doctor’s appointment booked for the Monday so I was confident that if I stuck olive oil in morning and night, the doctor could have a look and I’d know if I needed to book in to have it syringed. But then my doctor’s appointment was changed to a call. After speaking to him, he was pretty confident it was just wax and told me to keep up with the olive oil. He said it would come out on its own.

A brief whinge on Facebook and my niece – hellooo Jamie – told me that she has the same trouble and that she does the olive oil and then syringes her own ears.

‘You can do that at home?’ I type incredulously.

‘Sure,’ she replies.

Hmm … I googled home syringe kits and sure enough, I discovered I can. I decided to nip to boots to buy one on Thursday.

By the Thursday morning I was as deaf as a post. Worse I had sinus and a twitchy face. Oh no, hang on, that might be hayfever. I took a piraton, which helped but didn’t totally fix things sinus wise and I was still deaf, of course. Hmm … Was I infected or was the earwax just pressing on something? Not sure. Only one thing to do. I had to go buy a home syringe kit and before I used it – because that’s not advisable on an infected ear – I had to find someone who would look into my ear and tell me.

The doctor’s was not open to that sort of thing and I was certainly NOT going to casualty about it. Then I remembered hearing aid stores. Genius! I knew Boots had one, I’d start there. Off I went to town. Unfortunately, I drew a blank, their person was away that day and they recommended I ask at spec savers. But I splashed out the princely sum of £6.99 on a home syringe kit on my way back out through the store.

On to Specsavers. The lovely man there was available and he looked in both ears, without charging me, confirmed that they were both full of wax and recommended I use bicarb drops to clear it. He warned me to wait until one was done before starting the other. He recommended bicarb because he explained, it would dissolve the ear wax whereas olive oil merely softens it, ideal for syringing but I’d be lucky to get my ears syringed before hell froze over, although hell probably will freeze over sometime next week. I mentioned I’d bought a home syringing kit, ‘I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,’ he said.

The kit contained a rubber bulb … mmm … and yes I have the rubber face to go with it.

That afternoon it was clear that I was going to have to do something about the deaf ear so taking my courage in both hands I got out the kit. It contained a rubber bulb and its own bottle of drops, which I decided to put aside, unopened for future emergencies. I didn’t know how long this was going to go on for. I boiled water, for hygiene purposes, and then let it cool until it was warm. Finally it was ready and I plunged the bulb into the tepid water, filled it and with my head over the sink, I squirted it into my ear. It felt warm and rather nice and a lump of wax fell out.

Oooo.

I put it carefully onto a piece of kitchen roll to have a better look. Because I’m gross like that.

It was about the size of a small pea, maybe half a pea. Excellent. That was the wax gone, or was it though? Because I was still deaf. I had another go. Another lump of wax fell out. I could hear a lot better! Hurrah! Nearly there. One final effort and … oh my gawd! Something fell out of my ear. It was just over a centimetre long, about seven millimetres wide and dark brown.

Holy fuck! What is that thing? I thought. More to the point, how did it ever fit in my ear?

McOther and McMini asked the same question when I proudly showed them my er … excretions. They were also completely, utterly and comprehensively repulsed. I may have traumatised both of them! Although they still brought me a Mothering Sunday breakfast in bed, bless ’em.

Buoyed by my experience I set about my left ear with the bicarbonate drops. The guy had explained that earwax is acid and bicarbonate is alkaline. Yes, I know this. I sprinkle it over rhubarb and pour boiling water on it to make it a bit less acid. It’s rather cool because it fizzes, but it also takes the acidic extreme off the rhubarb. I did not expect the bicarb drops to fizz when they hit the ear wax but … they did. Gulp.

Two days in and things were getting ridiculous. Not only was I completely deaf in my left ear but there was gloop dripping out of it at night: vile factor ten and definitely a bridge too far. Sure, the bicarbonate drops were dissolving the earwax, and I can confirm it is more effective than olive oil, but this was completely disgusting. Saturday morning, with friends coming for a final pre-lock down supper, I decided it couldn’t face my friends with orange goo dripping out of my ear and I syringed it. No beef jerky this time, thank heavens but a lot of really, really weird debris, including many things that looked like the little tiny bones you get in a herring.

Then I walked around wondering what that strange whooshing noise was, and realised it was my clothes rubbing against my body. It was the bizarrest thing, to suddenly hear in glorious Sensurround again. It’s made proofing the audiobook a lot easier too, I can tell you. But having done this, myself, I have that same smug feeling I had the first time I changed an alternator in my car, something my uncle, who I was living with at the time, had just paid £500 for. Then again, he had a merc and I had a Triumph so for me it was undo three bolts, bung on the £20 replacement I’d found at the scrap yard, do up three bolts. That slightly smug feeling of self sufficiency. Always a good thing to feel in times like these.

Other news, it was McMini’s last day of school on Friday, ‘until further notice’. Unfortunately, he threw up in the night so he missed it. He has been slightly under par for a week, feeling sick in the mornings etc and I wasn’t sure if it was just apocalypse nerves or if he was genuinely feeling bad. Genuinely feeling bad, it seems.

Since I am sleeping like the dead right now I didn’t hear. I’m not sure McOther heard either and McMini told us that, once he’d been sick, he retired to bed feeling much better and went to sleep. In the morning, his father flushed the loo. As the strong stomached parent, I cleaned up and disinfected the loo, picked up the bucket, which had been rinsed but had remnants of sick in the bottom, and took it downstairs to wash.

Since I limp like Herr Flick, and it takes me for fucking ever to descend our stairs unless I have an arm free to lean heavily on the bannister, I will carry absolutely everything I can downstairs in one hit. On this occasion, I decided I would take the bucket, McMini’s hot water bottle, my iPad, tablet, phone and empty coffee cup downstairs at once. Thereby negating the need to make a second painfully slow and irritating trip. Stuck in a little sleeve, on the side of my iPad case, is an iPencil. It’s an old style one, with a lid on the end. How many times do you think the lid has fallen off this iPencil, ever, in my entire life?

That’s right. Never. Until this morning. Half way down the stairs there was a watery splat as something fell into the sick in the bottom of the bucket. Joy oh fucking joy! So when McOther came down, I was washing the bucket and the iPencil lid was sitting in a small jam jar full of spray bleach.

‘What’s this?’ he asked.

I told him and then of course, the git laughed, and I laughed and McMini came along to see what the fuss was about and he laughed. Well … at least we’re happy.

 

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It’s a mad/happy/mad/happy world!

Is your book a lemon? Hopefully not.

Lots of things this week. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster! Up and down, for deffo!

Started off feeling a little low about Mum but she was in such good form on Wednesday that I came home reassured. We talked about how hard it was to stay close to Dad, how it hurt not to step away. ‘Oh darling, I do hope I don’t put you through that again,’ she said. I told her she wouldn’t. To be honest, even if she does, I wouldn’t have it any other way. You do what you have to do. I have to live with myself afterwards. Bless her heart. It won’t be like Dad because she’s different, I’m not sure how it will be, there’s no point wondering. That was kind of good and kind of sad, bittersweet, I suppose.

On the other hand, by some miracle, I managed to remember that it was World Book Day earlier than three minutes prior to McMini’s departure for school on the Day in question. God bless HRT! I haven’t had a memory that good in about fifteen years! Woot!

McMini wanted to go as Dennis the Menace. OK so, by the time I remembered I was at Mum’s the day before and could do nothing about it, but at least I was able to text McOther and ask if he could nip up to town and get some black crepe paper. I had decided to pin it to McMini’s red PE shirt to make stripes. To my delight, McOther had discovered an old red jumper of mine which bit the dust when the washing machine’s thermostat broke during the ‘delicates’ wash. It boiled a drum full of expensive jumpers with vigorous enthusiasm, so vigorous that the jumper in question was a perfect fit on our 11 year old. McOther suggested using black electrical tape rather than crepe paper. I went with his suggestion, which transpired to be genius!

Home on Wednesday night, I was still alert enough to be able to add the stripes to the jumper (God bless HRT a second time). OK so I’d forgotten to suggest to McOther popped into the costume shop and bought a cheapo black curly wig but hey, you can’t win ’em all! And they realised who he was!

Then there’s the Audiobook project! Squee! Now we’re onto marketing, though. Hmm … I’ve been trying to do a series of ‘hello and welcome’ emails for people signing up to my audiobook list. There are going to be two types, those who are coming into the whole thing cold and those who already know and love K’Barth and just want it read to them. I’m thinking that’s going to take two different sets of hello protocol. However, I can see that that the one thing both sets will want to know is the process of making the books, and they might have questions for Gareth, I would if it was me. From my casual forays into the audiobook marketing of other authors it seems they approach it as a team thing, too, and also give the narrator plenty of air time.

As a result I’ve started with the stuff about the audio side, because both series of emails will need it, and to that end I’ve sent Gareth some dubiously inane questions. Mmm, I bet he’s delighted. Mwahahaahrgh! But unfortunately for him, he’s amusing and folks will enjoy reading his answers. He has agreed to do an interview, too, in an unguarded moment, so I am compiling a list of questions to ask him – hopefully not all inane.

And this is where you come in. The questions. There are some about the whole process of audio, how it’s done, planning and all that, there are the inane who’s your favourite character type questions (which I hope will be made a tiny bit easier by the fact he likes the books) and there are the personal ones, when did you know you wanted to be an actor? But I’d like to try and make sure I ask him things people would want to know. It may be that you trust me implicitly to ask interesting things or … throwing this open to the floor for a moment … you may not. You’ve heard the Unlucky Dip demo, you know he’s a bit good at this acting thing and that he’s an utter lunatic (well, of course he is, he likes my books) what would you like me to ask him, lovely readers?

Back down the rollercoaster to the bottom again, and a blurgh moment about the whole pushing the rock up hill that is trying to persuade people to read my word barf. Or, marketing, as it’s called.

This is, of course, my hormones messing with my arse again. Yes ladies, gentlemen and everyone outside, beyond and in between, it’s constipation and brain fog week. But there seems to be extra, super-duper, improved weird on top at the moment. I’ve been enjoying, if that’s the right word, a lot of dreams about poo recently. Yes, we might be entering the realm of Too Much Information but since when have I ever cared about that? Buckle up folks, we’re going in [cue rubbery slapping sound of arm length rubber gloves being pulled on]. I am dreaming about going to the bog, in the bathroom, on the loo, having an extremely satisfying dump and then discovering that I’ve made a mistake and that far from using the loo, I’ve gone on the sofa, or in someone else’s bed, or in the middle of the hearth rug in error … then I have to try and clear it up before anyone comes and finds it and is upset, or sometimes they just come in and tell me I’m disgusting. Mmm. Nice.

As you might imagine, my first thought on waking up most mornings at the moment is, ‘What the fuck was that about?’

Eeee are you saying I look like poo I’m fluff I’ll have you know?

According to Monsieur Google, this kind of poo dream – or at least the doing poo in the wrong place by mistake – is a sign of insecurity; fear that you’re about to stuff something up. Hmm … from me? Say it isn’t so! There’s a surprise. Mwahahahargh! Yes, my subconscious, tell me something I don’t know.

Back up to the crest of the hill, a local author group I go to met this week. One has just finished a new book and it was so lovely to see her enthusiasm, and how utterly in love with her story and characters she was! And it made me feel a lot more normal, because I feel the same when I’ve completed a new book. She writes hers in one binge because she can’t bear the suspense otherwise. Sounds like a really good way of doing it. Ahhh if only I could! I can’t bear the suspense either but it takes me years. We also had a brilliant discussion about how you write spin off novellas to a series without spoilers. A knotty conundrum which is, currently, doing my head in! So, so fucking difficult. Why have I done this to myself?

What is especially lovely about hanging out with other authors, or just other creative people to be honest, is that the more of them I meet, the more I realise that all my creative foibles are actually completely standard. We are all as nuts as each other. Not just authors, musicians, artists, eyebombers … yep. All nuts.

Which is reassuring.

Also this week, I wrote something. Always nice. Not much but I’ve been slightly slacking on that front – more than slightly cf earlier bit back there about the knotty conundrum of spoilers – it’s good to have got going again.

Simpery nonce mode on … I probably should have brushed my hair and just rocked the Louis XIV curly wig look without shame.

On the down side, I tried to do some author pictures – the one with the marrow is now pushing 20 years old, but no fucker seems to be able to take a decent photo of me, and it seems I can’t either.

Eyessssss

Hmm … a partial success. I think the one of my scarily glowy eyes from mum and dad in-law’s bathroom looks better … sigh. Maybe I should just use that one and pretend I’m out of Dune. I’ve been riding the worm with Sting! Snortle. That didn’t quite come out the way I meant but I’ve left it anyway. Oh and by the way, there are occasions where I am not wearing that maroon jumper … it just seems to be the thing I have on, by happenstance, in nearly every photo. I do take it off, in the bath and in bed and the like and … I mean, you can see I did for the other pic. But sorry, I digress …

The strangest thing about the poo-filled You-Are-Insecure-Oh-Yes-You-Are dreams is that, right now, I’m feeling about as confident in the quality of my stuff as I’ve ever been. There’s nothing like listening to someone else read your books aloud, and do it really well, to feel that it’s not a bad story really … well … once you’ve got past the horror of realising you can write a lot better now than you did then! Handing over the alts for Book Two was almost physically painful, but I feel much more level headed about Three and Four – mainly because they’re rather better written.

The whole artistic insecurity thing annoys me when it hits because it feels a bit faux. Because when all is said and done, the creative thing is just something you do (you general you). And your sensible, pragmatic head knows it’s good enough and that’s all you need. But your flaky art head will never be quite certain and wants other people to like it. And you tell it to shut up and get on with life. That’s just … being creative. So on one level, yes, I’m totally confident that the writing I do is … the best I can do at that time … on the other I’m kind of … will people like it? But with maximum melodrama. You know the kind of thing, sobbing tearful voice … They have to like it! Sob! They have to! I will kill myself with this plastic fork if they don’t!

Ho hum …

Moving on …

This week the first book in my series, Few Are Chosen, was free on Kobo, it still is, and yesterday, US Amazon price matched and quite a few people downloaded my book. It even got one of those orange best seller tags, in the free book charts to be sure but I’ll take that. It got a couple of number two rankings (no not number two … maybe that’s what the dreams were about) a number four and a number 197 over all (not to mention a 15 with prawn crackers and 3 with lychees … sorry). I usually ignore my rankings, except when they do that! Mwahahahrgh! Screen shots were taken. I’m such a sad sack. I think it’s gone back to paid now, but that was jolly while it lasted and who knows, some of them may even read it, and if they do, a fair few will go on to read the others.

Talking of which … who wants to hear a sample from Few Are Chosen? If you do, there are two for your delectation:

Sample 1

Chapter 1: well, that seems like a sensible place to start, you know just go give you a feel, click here or where it says ‘sample 1’.

Sample 2

Chapter 37: where our heroine is walking home late at night and discoveres she is being followed. This is one Gareth enjoyed doing and I think that comes over. It’s the point where, as a listener, I went from thinking, blimey, this is good to, shut the smecking door! This is fucking marvellous! AND, I can share it without spoiling anything else much, because it’s kind of a little story in itself. To listen to that one, click here or where it says ‘sample 2’.

Also I’ve set up a page about the audiobooks here, I’ll add stuff … you know … as and when they become available. Hopefully it will be useful.

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Shenannagins …

OK, so, I’m not even going to talk about the election result. The choice was a bumbling, everything-that-is-awful-about-posh, bloaty-faced, straw-haired sack of farts, or a man with a rather dodgy looking past who was slightly preferable but wants to do my brother and thousands like him out of a job. What do you want, Mary? Root canal without an anaesthetic or a ghost chilli enema. Choose. I chose, because women died to give me that right. The side I like least won but that’s not saying much. I consoled myself with some guerilla marketing, stealthily inserting cards about my free reader magnet into all the Terry Pratchett books in Waterstone’s. More on those stories, next time … now, it’s back to the matter in hand.

A mish mash of other stuff this week, then. Along with some of the most obscure comedy references available. I thank you. Today, as usual, I am writing to you from the past (Thursday). Well … apart from that first bit but let’s keep this as simple as we can shall we? It was McMini’s last day of term so I forewent parents’ swim, came straight back home after drop off and went into town to vote and do some Christmas shopping. After an hour and a half, I’d been moderately successful, and I couldn’t remember anything else I needed until I arrived home. Once here, realised that I’d forgotten to get the propelling pencil McMini wanted, although I can get that tomorrow.

While I was trailing round Waitrose, I had a quick chat to a friend, and found a small cured meats platter reduced from just shy of £7 to £2 and a rather garlicky curried bean salad which was also reduced. Smugly congratulating myself for sorting myself with a very pleasant lunch, I went home, where I immediately realised I had failed to get the one thing we really needed: milk.

The hat …

Never mind. I’d go up later I thought. And of course immediately I had that thought it began to rain and continued to piss down until the moment I had to leave to collect McMini from school.

Meanwhile, McOther is off on some work thing until late tonight in Oxford so collecting McMini involved going to the final school event of the term, McMini’s carol service. Alone.

The carol service takes place in the cathedral, which is a few hundred yards down the road from our house so I decided to walk. Seeing as it was still pissing with rain, and I had therefore failed to get the milk, I thought I’d take advantage of the time I had to walk into town to leave fifteen minutes early, swing by M&S on the way and pick up a plastic two pint bottle.

The communication from the school warned us that she service would start at two o’clock prompt and that there was stuff on in the cathedral so would parents not take their seats until after one fifteen. Shit were people sitting there for forty minutes? Fuck a duck! How full was it going to be? OK so I’d aim to get there by quarter to, that way I could stand at the back and sing really loudly without disturbing anyone. If I was really lucky, I’d be so far from other people that I’d be able to do the descents without anyone noticing.

There was a queue in M&S and so I strolled in at five to two. The cathedral was packed and, somewhat blinded by the miasma of pathetic rain all over my glasses I set off where I was ushed, if that’s a word, down the aisle.

Half way down, I was shown into a seat next to a pleasant couple who were on the aisle. It being rather bad form to take the outside and obscure their view, I squeezed past them and sat third person in. Shortly afterwards, a family arrived from the other side and took the remaining seats wedging me firmly in place. We were definitely packed in and when Once in Royal started up and we all stood, I turned sideways, which did make things easier. The people round me were pleasant enough but rather serious and staring straight ahead, clearly worried that I might engage them in conversation.

Waynetta Slob … and Wayne.

Then again, that was probably understandable, as they probably thought I was a weirdo. I was wearing a stripy knitted hat, so McMini would see me easily, a manky waterproof coat (think Ted’s out of Ralph and Ted in the Fast Show) a pair of wedgewood blue moleskin trousers that, in the wrong light, can be mistaken for the same kind of velour jogging pants favoured by Waynetta Slob and I was carrying a pint of milk. This, is probably not how the average Christian expects their fellows to turn up at church (well unless it’s mine and the person is doing coffee). I did demur from smiling at them and saying, ‘milky milky’ but I wonder if that might have broken the ice. Possibly, but I suspect it would merely have made people nervous, as a comedy reference goes, it’s too old and too obscure and would merely become the embodiment of the original parody.

The cathedral, itself, looked stunning and as a building expanded by the same firm of architects who designed the one where we had Dad’s memorial, there was a pleasant feeling of familiarity about it. The picture doesn’t really do it justice but they asked us not to take photos (after I’d taken that one) so I had to pixelate the teacher and crop off the parents in front of me.

Now, normally, when I go to carol services, I’m there with someone I know. So we are able to giggle when I sing the wrong verses to the carols incredibly loudly, or when I try to whisper the responses and end up barking, ‘AMEN!’ At the top of my voice when everyone else is saying, ‘and also with you’ because my voice has done something funny etc. The details of these things always amuse me and I come from a family of people who fuck it up in similar style. As a result, my memories of Christmas services, as a child, are of giggling at stuff ups, or because my brother was singing the carols falsetto, or I was singing them in a really high squeaky voice, an octave above everyone, that I can no longer do. Or Dad was complaining about how ‘fucking high’ the carols were this year (yes, there was plenty of effing, even pre Alzheimer’s) as his voice cracked, yet again, while, with a facial expression like someone sucking a lemon, he attempted the high bits in Hark the Herald.

There was also a propensity to do a kind of irreverent running commentary, among ourselves. In short, in my family, there was, still is, normally a lot of giggling. And if it isn’t family, I’m normally with other parents I know, so there is also giggling.

But when you are on your own you can’t giggle. Especially if you have a) turned up with a bottle of milk, b) eaten an injudiciously garlicky lunch which you are now sharing, through the medium of your incredibly scary breath as you do the singing and c) have already drawn a great deal of attention to yourself with your incredibly loud singing voice and the fact you are dressed like a rubby. On the up side, as a friend later remarked, at least it was only milk I turned up with and not a can of Stella.

Mwahahahahrgh! It’s never too early for a fusilier!

Of course, the absence of other like-minded nutters, or at least, in the event of my failing to out any that were near me, the commentary went on inside my head only.

There was a couple in front of me, sharing their service sheet in a very sit com style and a little old dear with them who I had down as grandma. Grandma (for want of a better name) suddenly upped sticks and with a nod, a smile and a wave at them disappeared off down the aisle to the back.

My brother’s suit! Nearly as loud as my voice, but not quite. 🤣

A few minutes later, after looking nervously round, the lady also disappeared up the aisle. She was gone for the whole of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and then reappeared in the last verse but still sans old dear.  Had she gone to the Cathedral Centre lavatories to enquire after the old dear’s health? Was there a family crisis being played out here? I’ll never know, even though, as a professional nosey bastard (I’m an author after all) I’d like to.

There I was jammed in next to all these very nice but incredibly serious people. Their horror was almost palpable as I yelled my way through what felt like a million carols at the kind of volume that comes close to competing with a set of bagpipes. Maybe that’s why the old dear left. But the alternative is not to sing, which I will not countenance at a carol service, or to sing a bit less loudly, which is still deafening, but risks being really rather out of tune with it.

At the end of the service, the headmaster read the last lesson. They’d gone for a different response to the usual and he reverted to the traditional one. Except instead of giving the feed line he gave the response. Everyone tried to say something but nobody knew what to do so we all just went kind of, ‘mana-manah.’ And quick as a flash, a little voice in my head went, ‘do dooo do do do!’ And I started thinking about the Muppets song.

It wasn’t funny exactly, but it was accumulative funny, the sort of thing which would get a laugh if you added it to other stuff in a comedy. And if you have the kind of mind that’s already seeing a rich comedy of the absurd in yourself and everything around you, and has been attempting to do a Terry Wogan at seventies Eurovision-style voice over throughout the service. Or if you’re from the kind of family who’d start giggling. It’s really hard not to nudge the people either side of you and laugh. I resisted the temptation to nudge, but a small chuckle escaped.

Nobody else made a sound. Oops

Then Hark the Herald began.

Fuckity fucking fuck! (Sorry.) But seriously, Dad wasn’t wrong, I swear it goes up a key every year. For me things get a bit dicey over top f, I can do top g but only on days when I can’t get down to bottom g. Otherwise I have to do the special high note gurn. It’s a facial contortion that throws Dad’s sucking a lemon high-note reaching expression into the shade. And you just can’t go about doing that kind of thing in decent lighting, in front of people you don’t know. Most cathedrals are chuffing dark so hardly anyone can see. Not this one. Today was low voiced Mary, I’d managed to produce a crystal clear, non crackly Little Town of Bethlehem. I knew that fucking high note was going to be a bit of a stretch. And we were definitely up there.

So there I was wearing my manky old waterproof coat and my ridiculous pussy hat, screeching the carols like some peri-menopausal banshee. With a bottle of milk. And garlic breath. Trying not to show any outward signs of amusement or … well … any outward signs. While in my head I could hear my father guffawing his head off and saying something like, ‘Well Mary, you really have excelled yourself this year.’

 

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Alarums, excursions and jolly japes

This week, I am speaking to you from the past by the wonders of scheduling, as I do from time to time. When this post goes live, I will be at Dad’s memorial service, which, incidentally, takes place in a building that, with a few tweaks, became the High Temple in the K’Barthan Series. Here it is. It looks a bit frillier in this picture than it really is. I think I wrote in prettier chandeliers though.

This is where I went to church every other Sunday in term time, from eight weeks old to when I was a teenager. We sat in a stall; one of those raised seats at the sides, the second one on the left in this picture. As a small child, I remember playing in the Chapel (that’s its name) while Mum did the flowers. Running up and down the aisle under the kind auspices of Mr Kendall, the verger who would warn me not to run past the altar rail for fear of setting off the burglar alarm.

Once he gave me one of the hosts to eat. It was delicious! Just like a flying saucer only without the sherbet. I also remember playing with the hassocks, but they were blue leather, like cushions rather than the traditional home-embroidered, sorbet-rubber brick, so they couldn’t be stacked into walls or towers, and weren’t nearly as much fun as they should have been. It was a school, so they were probably designed like that deliberately. Therefore, I usually eschewed hassock-related japes in favour of running around. Sometimes I went down the stairs into the crypt, although, not so often after I fell down them and cracked my head open (3 stitches).

Later it wasn’t as much fun. If you will, imagine sitting raised up on high like that as a shy gawky teenager, looking out over around 500 or so boys who were sitting in the seats below. I was a shade of puce throughout the whole hour and it felt as if every single one of them was staring at me. I liked the music, I sang in the choir of the other church we went to and I enjoyed listening to most types of music (still do). The hymns helped, in that they were usually tub-thumpers and it was fun to listen to the boys and try and work out what their alternative words were; Glory, glory Brighton Hove Albion, with a small contingent trying to shout Glory, glory Man United more loudly, etc. But apart from that, mostly it was a pretty cringeworthy experience.

If you do that every other term Sunday, and get as many regular bollockings at your own school as I did (a different institution to the one attached to the chapel in the picture) you come out the other end almost unembarrassable … if that’s a word. I was so glad when I finally went to the school I actually lived in (girls were only allowed in the sixth form in those days) and I was able to leave the stall and disappear into the anonymous mass of pupils below. Actually I sat in about the position this picture was taken from.

Anway I’m wandering off topic terribly here, what I was really going to say was that I’m actually writing this from a few days in the past. It’s been a busy week but all in all, things seem to be going reasonably well.

First up, Mum. After discussing it with her financial advisor, we have decided it’s time to get Mum’s enduring power of attorney for her finances activated. I looked out all the paperwork we’d done on Dad’s and dropped the solicitor a line, by email, explaining what we were going to do and asking if she could send me the original document of Mum’s enduring power of attorney. I did it first thing but got one of those weird, ‘your message couldn’t be delivered so we’ll try again’ type things. Not an out-and-out bounce but a kind of, might have, maybe bounced.

After a bit of thought, I decided that the best thing to do would be to ring the solicitor, explaining what had happened and apologise for pestering her by phone as well if it had got through. The lady who answers the telephone there is great, we had a chat, I explained what had happened and I gave her as much info as I could. She asked the date Mum and Dad signed their powers of attorney and I reckoned it was 2004 but I had all the paperwork in front of me.

‘Give me a sec, I have Dad’s here, I’ll look it up,’ I said. I grabbed the document in front of me. ‘Oh … hang on,’ I said as I read the name on the front, ‘Um … this is Mum’s. Oh … I must have got you folks to send it through when I did Dad’s. That was … surprisingly organised of me.’

‘I bet it’s a nice surprise,’ she said.

‘It is but I still managed to forget, phone you lot and make a monumental twat of myself,’ I said.

She laughed, which was lucky. I doubt she gets many people telling her they’re twats. She told me she’d tell the lawyer I’d emailed that I didn’t need her to do anything and I thanked her and hung up. Then I made some toast by holding a piece of bread against my red face. No. I didn’t make toast actually even though I was quite embarrassed and my cheeks were burning. NO! The ones on my face you dirty bastards!

And there we have it. Three years ago, while sorting Dad’s enduring power of attorney I had been prescient, not to mention organised, enough to get them to send me Mum’s as well. It was heartening to know that I am capable of such giddy heights of organisational prowess, but it would have been more heartening if I’d remembered, or at least discovered my uncharacteristic attack of forward planning before I’d made a tit of myself.

Ruthless efficiency, and yet also, gargantuan twattery. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

Meanwhile McMini is enjoying his new school and is as nuts as ever. Lately, he has introduced me to the joy of ttsreader.com This is a site which allows you to type text into a box and it will then read it in an electronic voice. For some strange reason best known to ourselves, McMini and I find this unaccountably funny. Obviously, we don’t use it as it is intended. Although we do happily conduct whole conversations using it in about six times the time it should take were we speaking; laboriously typing what we want to say into the reader, highlighting it all and clicking play. Clearly we try to do more than talk with this thing, I think McMini has come closer than I to getting it to produce a realistic raspberry but that’s not for want of extensive effort on both our parts. All the while, as we pursue this ridiculous game, tears of laughter stream down our faces – because we’re really mature. Well, OK to give him his due, McMini is only eleven, after all, and probably is quite mature for an eleven year old. He already displays a great deal more maturity than I but then, I guess that’s not difficult.

Even McOther started giggling the other day, though, when McMini finally scored a realistic sounding raspberry.

On the books front. They’ve managed to squeeze me in at the Christmas Fayre so I am busy ordering books etc, which reminds me … Even better, the date of the new release creeps ever closer. Anyone who has pre-ordered it should get the ebook on Monday 29th. Woot. The paperback is coming later. I have also been doing lots of research into audio books. It’s kind of doing my head in because there have been a lot of changes to the audiobook scene just recently, with evidence that Findaway Voices might be edging ahead of ACX as a provider. I might post more about that as I discover it, or at least, some pros and cons if I can. But my own experience is going to be atypical because Gareth The Voice and I have done pretty much the opposite of what you’re supposed to! Mwahahahargh!

Anyway, that’s enough of that, here is a quick reminder about my two new releases … on about to come out and one out already. Pipple toot!

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 1

Available for preorder. If you are interested there is a page which gives you link to the main book vendors. Just click on the picture or follow this link here …

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

There will be print links, to follow. The print version is out on 23rd November.

Here’s the blurb:

Terry Pratchett meets Dr Who … sort of. When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

Future Adventures Box Set … Gorge yourself on free sci-fi!

This features full length novels from eight science fiction authors. I can vouch for the quality of the books in here, even more so now that I’ve read some of them!

But, if any of you haven’t read my first full length novel, Few Are Chosen, and would like to, it’s in this book, which is free, but more importantly it comes with all these other brilliant stories by seriously accomplished wordsmiths who really know what they are doing. So, you can grab a copy of Few Are Chosen with seven other books by authors who are seriously gifted and of whom I am, frankly, a bit in awe. And all for zero pence. If you want to pick up a copy, just click on the picture to visit a page of links to find it on all the major stores … or click on the link below:

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

 

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It’s cake, Jim, but not as we know it…

It’s been an eventful week. In a move of incredible efficiency, the entire family my side managed to meet at my mum’s and clear out the junk in her barn and garage. There was a lot of junk. Imagine a room that’s hot and stuffy and packed to the gunwales with crap. Imagine four beds that have been left, untouched, for some years. Now imagine this in a building infested with mice, squirrels and other sundry vermin.

Nearly empty ready for sweeping.

The cobwebs alone were epic, like something out of a film. You know, one of those films where you’d go,

‘Those cobwebs are a bit unrealistic, cobwebs never look like that in real life.’

Newsflash: they do.

The beds had been nibbled, pieces of newspaper had been dragged into them, the floor was about two inches thick with the desiccated carapace of wood lice that spiders had eaten. Everything had those little dots on which are, I’m afraid, spider poo – I discussed this on another post somewhere didn’t I, the one about the toboggan. Everything else was covered in mouse droppings. The squirrels had left hazelnuts all over the shop and their … er hem … motions … had left a kind of stodgy stinky pile in the middle of the floor.

And this is the crap that came out.

McOther found a dead mouse and the skeleton of a squirrel. There were also two lots of cat poo which must have been from my parents’ old cat, Abbie, who died in the mid 1990s. They were rock hard, anyway. The beds and mattresses were unbelievably vile. The stuff of nightmares.

After a day of sweeping, scrubbing and heavy lifting we ended up with a massive pile of rubbish and a clear top barn.

We bought hazmat suits but ended up not wearing them. It was too hot. Although I did use a smog mask for sweeping out and wore gloves at all times, three pairs of surgical gloves at once in fact. The dust while sweeping was horrible and I mentioned the cobwebs didn’t I? Shudders.

After a very busy day, we all went home and the lovely chap from the local skip company turned up with a van to take it all away the next morning. Turns out there are two loads so he took the first one and is coming back for the remains of it on Tuesday. We put the few items being kept back in the barn. Highlights included:

Two old bed pans, a baby weighing scale from about 1910, some early 20th century skis, an ice pick that looked about contemporary with Scot’s trip to the Antarctic and an ancient crane, probably from about the same era as the baby weighing scale. When we arrived home they’d shut our street to do resurfacing work. The only way to get to our drive was by going the wrong way down two one way streets. That was interesting.

On Thursday, after we’d arrived home, McMini took delivery of a gun that fires small gel balls, like those things flowers sometimes come in. They arrive tiny and you put them in water and watch them grow. McMini assures me they disappear eventually but for the time being they’re all over the garden. After waiting several hours for the first packet of balls to hydrate I was liberally strafed as I went about my business. Meanwhile, I browsed the net and picked up some more stuff for McOther’s birthday, things he doesn’t realise he’ll be receiving.

Needless to say, I got far too engrossed in this and while scoring a whole bunch of things I think he’ll like I completely forgot about some other stuff like time and McMini’s Boys’ Brigade band practise. I realised twenty minutes before, when it was far too late to give him food. I managed to make a hasty chicken roll and gave him a bowl of olives but we were late. So much for being smug about McOther’s birthday gifts.

McMini dropped off, I came home and discovered my ancient Wilkinson’s ‘greenhouse’ listing at a worrying angle. Further investigation showed it was in trouble and probably about to collapse. While I wondered which of the tomato plants to take out first the ‘shelf’ gave up the ghost, dumping four of them all onto the ground below.

To be honest, I was worried it might not make it through this growing season. It’s little more than a metal frame with a plastic cover over it so the fact it’s lasted five years, at least, is a minor miracle. I got the tomatoes out but then had to go back and collect McMini and leave them to their fate. Needless to say, it took a whole day to sort them out. On the upside, two of the four plants came out reasonably OK, if battered. The others are bollocksed but who knows, they might perk up. Luckily, McOther was cooking that night and McMini did get to eat, he just had to eat with us rather than beforehand.

As you can imagine, rebuilding the ‘greenhouse’ so it wouldn’t fall down again took a sod of along time. Throughout the process I was strafed liberally, a second time, with the rest of the gel balls. McMini had hydrated all of them in a container that was only designed for half, luckily I happened on them as the balls began to expand their way out of the top and moved the frogspawn-like mess to a kilner jar.

Greenhouse fixed and tiny bouncy gel balls cleared up, it was time to dump the car off for … yikes … electrical repairs and then I left McMini at home and legged it up the hill to buy the ingredients for McOther’s birthday cake.

When I arrived home the presents McOther requested had arrived and I had to take an hour out to sit and feel smug about my incredible efficiency. OK so the others won’t arrive until Tuesday but you can’t win ’em all and he doesn’t know he’s getting those.

After a brief discussion with McOther this morning, he chose to have an orange and poppy seed cake. I decided I’d make muffins and then ice them with orange butter icing.

Why do I do these idiotic things? I’m a complete fucking bampot, that’s why.

It was a hot day and I learned a very Important Thing.

It was this.

Butter icing melts at a certain temperature.

Sadly, I don’t know exactly which temperature it is, only that the air temperature in my kitchen was a tiny bit higher this afternoon. So the beautiful piped rosettes on the cakes began to melt, a factor which was probably exacerbated by my own impatience as the cakes were tepid rather than cold when I began. Note to self, put bastard cakes in fridge or let them cool long enough.

It’s cake, Jim, but not as we know it!

Naturally, I chronically underestimated the amount of icing required and as I only had one orange, there wasn’t enough orange juice left to make the second batch of icing orange-flavoured either so I had to use a lemon. I hurriedly reclaimed the squeezed orange rinds from the pot I’d stuffed them into, ready for the compost, and removed the last scrapings of zest – don’t do disgusting things like this at home kids. Two cakes later and I had to make a bastard third batch, not a nod to orange, that one, lemon only.

Cakes done, I realised the Happy Birthday candle I was going to use was broken but I did, at least, manage to glue it back together by melting the wax a little bit over the stove and then holding the two ends together until they stuck. Finally, I stuck it into the tray of cakes, covered the revolting mess with sprinkles and put the tray in the fridge.

Fingers and toes crossed.

Now I’m taking a couple of minutes to read, sitting in the evening sun, while nature pelts me with flying ants. That’s probably what I get for being egocentric enough to be sat here reading my own books. But there’s method in my madness. In order to get the continuity right in my upcoming series I have to re-read the old one so here I am.

Never mind, onwards and upwards, I’m going on my first dig of the autumn tomorrow. Here’s hoping I find something interesting.

How’s your week been? A little more restful than mine I hope.

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This week I have mostly been … unmentionable.

At some point I will have to talk about the next stage of Dad … but I can’t do that right now so instead, highlights of the other bits!

This week has been … interesting. The noisy cricket is playing up again, this time, its indicators have stopped working along with one of the daylight running lights. It’s as if it’s driving around with a permanent wink, its driver’s side daylight running light refusing to cooperate. Perhaps it’s having a dirty protest, it is filthy and I haven’t washed it. Then again, a few minutes on the motorway network does that to a car in weather like we’ve had lately. It’s like a brown pod. I have to keep cleaning the muck off the windows to see the wing mirrors. I have to keep cleaning them and all, and the numberplate has long since disappeared under the grime.

Luckily, the mechanic I use is very good and after looking at it he realised that one, it’s an intermittent fault and two, if I have the headlights on dipped all the time the indicator starts working again. He said that the probable fault was a dodgy connection or a dirty contact and the ECU was worrying it would knacker itself and was trying to protect it. With these electrical faults, he explained, he and his colleagues spend a lot of time arguing with the car. If the Noisy Cricket’s ECU is like the AI system that came up with the designs for love heart sweets you can see in the nearby picture, I feel I may be avoiding expensive repairs by driving with my headlights on for some time. Low beam and high beam only, the side lights don’t work either. Maybe I’ll get it fixed if I sell the car. BTW, on the picture, I particularly like the second love heart from bottom, for Scotsmen everywhere! Get yer hole! Snortle.

What else is happening? McMini has been ill all week, except the day I had to drive to Sussex to see Dad and Mum. So it’s been a bit full on because I haven’t managed to get out of the house. Except this morning when I got to ride my bike up to the school and collect McMini’s lunch box. Didn’t fancy leaving the uneaten chicken sandwich to fester over half term week. Mmm Mmm. E-coli anyone? I have developed a kind of low down cough. It’s like wheezing and I only realised, last night, that it’s just the usual cough tickle except it’s further in. No deadening this one with mouth ulcer cream then. Pity. I thought of going to the Doctor’s but when I get to the what colour is your snot question I’ll have to say that I don’t know because it’s still in there. So they’ll just tell me to go and have a lie down.

On the metal detecting front, things have been a bit freaky. I managed to find a bucket list item, a stirrup mount. They

A Norman stirrup mount.

used to put metal bits on to protect the stirrup leathers so they wouldn’t wear out and fall off. I only dug it up because I was on a job to remove the iron from the fields. The signal sounded like iron and when I flipped out the clod of earth a massive nut rolled out (to go with the massive nut digging it) but alongside it something green and triangular pinged into the grass a few yards away. Ooops. I retrieved it, not daring to hope that I’d found a Saxon stirrup mount but the artefact was too claggy with mud to tell.

It being me, this was not Anglo Saxon, although it was the same style and mechanically mounted the same way, but the design is Romanesque, which puts it from 1060 to about 1140. It’s an early one, I reckon, because it’s a similar shape to the Saxon ones (to my untrained eye). It’s known as howling beast style. I was dead chuffed as had I not been digging everything, I’d have left it.

Another howling beastie! Woot!

The following weekend I had a lovely flu bug but the one after was a club dig on some interesting land where I’ve found good things. To my amazement, the first signal I had was a kind of high-pitched screechy one that usually means can-slaw or lumps of lead (although lead can be interesting so I always dig it up). Recently I’ve had a few squeaky signals like this and they’ve been Roman coins which was a surprise and also spurred me on. I dug a hole and out popped another stirrup mount, exactly the same as the previous one, except this time the howling beastie was pointing the other way. Woot! Two consecutive signals, albeit fifty odd miles and a couple of weeks apart and I have a set.

Sadly I got nothing else that day, indeed, it was slightly difficult because after about an hour I became aware that I was very much in need of a wee but there was no cover. I have bought myself a thing from the internet (Where else?) that allows me to stand up and wee, like a bloke, but I do prefer to take my trousers down beforehand because … you know … wiping. But there was nowhere to wipe in privacy. A few hours later and I realised that a) I’d dug up just about every piece of metal buried in the vicinity of the stirrup mount and it was all junk and that b) the need to find a secluded spot to have a wizz was getting somewhat critical. I looked around and decided to trudge across the field and up a hill across another field to a small copse.

Having trundled up there, bitching and complaining about my sore knees the whole way like some ancient crone, I found a secluded spot behind a hedge. Well, I say secluded since it was a spot that couldn’t be seen from the fields my fellow detectorists were working on but in the other direction it was an open invitation for anyone looking on from anywhere in a 180 degree radius to see parts of a middle aged woman that are best left unexposed. And bum wiping.

Never mind. Needs must. The glorious thing about being middle aged is you cease to give a flying fuck about anything. This is especially true if you’ve had kids because then you will, of course, have given birth to your dignity, never to see it again, with the first one.

It was cold so I was wearing skiing trousers and wool long johns and was layered up with shirts so it took me a while to pull my pants down. Just a bit, not so far that you’re going to be shaking your lettuce at anyone who sees you. Then I got out my she-wee. The she-wee is a fantastic invention. No, not fantastc, it’s chuffing magnificent. It’s basically a er hem, lady shaped funnel with a hose that you can put on your bits. At the doctor’s there’s no more peeing all over your hand, or missing the silly little jar completely when you’re asked for a mid flow sample ladies, no sireee, no more spending twenty minutes wiping the piss off the seat in a motorway services so you can sit down – ladies with arthritic knees do not hovver, anyway when I hovver it goes sideways and runs down my leg – oh heavens did I just say that out loud, I did didn’t I? Never mind – where was I? Oh yes. The she-wee.

The she-wee lets you wee like Martini; any place any time! With this thing you are golden. Ah, yes, I could have used a better word there. You are not golden, obviously, because that’s the point. I use it all the time and I can thoroughly recommend it with two caveats.

One, you have to put it under your … ok, I’m going to go right ahead and say it … labia, ladies, because that’s what makes the seal, you see. Labia (Lorks a lordy I’ve said it again) to edge of she-wee. Then when it’s all snugly fitted in with no gaps you can start but …

Two, you need to start off gently just in case you’ve got the angle wrong or it’s not tucked in all the way round or something, because if you begin at horse’s pace and then find you’ve got the seal or the angle wrong it’s going to be ugly. You don’t want it all coming out over the back and going on your pants, and the skiing trousers and the long johns, which are wool and not absorbent and which are merely going to allow the wee to flow, unhindered, into your shoe. Obviously, this is not the kind of golden you want to be in a she-wee situation.

Unfortunately, I had a she-wee failure of gargantuan proportions and spent the rest of the afternoon walking like Billy Connolly when he does the incontinence trousers sketch. Then I dug up about fifty signals, still while walking like the Mummy out of 1970s Dr Who and every single sodding one was a shotgun cartridge. People who shoot lob those fucking things absolutely anywhere but in a bin. The littering bastards.

What I’m saying is that after a great start, the day did fall off somewhat. But not too much because salopettes keep the smell in and work in a very similar way to incontinence trousers and, anyway, washing machines, and baths, and the set of howling beasties … Yeh.

Other highlights this week. I danced on a table. I am too arthritic to dance, let alone climb on a table so once on the table I had to be helped off, howling with laughter as I went – I’m a classy lady but you knew that and on the up side, I managed not to fart. It was like the encore of a James Brown concert me dragging myself back, with the help of my acolytes, but rather than onto the stage for an encore, it was back to the safety of the chair. Never mind, at least I didn’t try and sing, Sex Machine.

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The sky is falling apparently … again.

Today, let’s talk about publishing! Yes, I’m going to talk author shop. That said, I’m supposed to talk author shop really, aren’t I? That’s why I mark all the McMini and dementia posts ‘off topic’ although to be honest I go off topic so often that the book-related stuff is the off topic theme here nowadays. But hey ho, onwards and upwards.

 

So this week I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast, at least, I think it was this week’s, it might have been last week [MT disappears to check]. Ah, yes. Last week, number 402. The point is, she was talking at one point about the apparent disappearance of the also-boughts on Amazon. Now, I’ve never actually got much out of the also-boughts, myself, because the folks who read my books seem to have very enquiring minds and read all kinds of weird shizz so they were always stuffed to perdition from the start. People who bought my books have also bought thrillers, horror books, text books and mostly, my other books leaving the Amazon recommendation engine going, ‘Uh?’

However, if your readers are a bit more genre-centric, I’m reliably informed that you can glean readers from the fans of authors similar to your via the also-boughts, readers who are likely to enjoy your stuff. Amazon notices their buying habits so if readers of Terry Pratchett books start buying mine, for example, the recommendation engine goes, ‘Oy-oy!’* and starts automatically recommending my books to people who have bought Sir Terry’s books (oh how I wish). If that happens Bob’s your uncle, your work is introduced to a new and interested audience.

* you didn’t know it was Jewish, did you?

Word is that for some time, Amazon has been trialing the removal of these also-boughts from its current, prime position, or removing them altogether, and introducing more strips of paid advertising instead. They’ve been doing this mostly on their US site so I haven’t seen it but obviously, if they make the switch permanent, it has some serious ramifications.

If the also-boughts disappear, then, in theory, the ads should provide a similar premise, since most authors who advertise chose similar authors’ names as advertising keywords, so that when readers look at books by them, they see adverts for your similar book. However, as usual, there are some unscrupulous spammers advertising everywhere, without a nod to relevance at all like those people who keep offering me products to enlarge my penis … when I’m a WOMAN (money down the drain boys). Or thinking about it, maybe they just have the SEO equivalent of also-boughts like mine.

Anyway, a lot of authors head the advert something like, ‘If you like Douglas Adams you’ll love M T McGuire’ except I don’t because it’s like telling everyone you’re actually God, down to visit the planet incognito, and will unleash a string of one star reviews from Douglas Adams fans who are incensed at your presumption. Indeed, advertising anything funny that’s not Douglas Adams to Adams’ fans is a bona fide recipe to send them into conniptions about your sheer brass neck and bring down a tidal wave of snark upon yourself – believe me, I’ve tried it. Luckily Terry Pratchett fans are more benign so I say things like, ‘The K’Barthan Series. A bit like the discworld series but not as funny.’ But I digress.

So will also-bot-ageddon make any difference if it sticks? Yes, in that it will mean authors and publishers will have to pay for their place on the also-boughts. For readers, there will be no also-boughts to trawl for similar authors to the ones you like. For authors, there’ll be no easy way of finding alternative yet similar authors to yourself to use as advertising keywords. But as David Gaughran, points out, the infrastructure will still be there and Amazon will still use the also boughts algorithm to make recommendations to customers by email. Also, since what an author thinks her audience is may not be correct, Amazon will always go on the buying habits of target readers rather than an author’s guestimate, because that will make them more cash, so presumably they are unlikely to bin the also bots long term.

As a reader, I only use the also boughts or buy on personal recommendation, I never use search because it never returns interesting books, only commercial ones and I’m British so I’m far too cynical to click many ads. That, alone, is enough to suggest Amazon probably won’t bin the also-boughts entirely. I can’t be their only customer who works like that. Maybe it will appear in some other form or maybe they will fix the shambolic awfulness that is AMS ads so they present a more accurate alternative. We can but hope.

What this whole panic does flag up to me, though, is that now, even more than ever, it’s important to avoid being beholden to one big business for anything, be it a retailer for all your income, a particular form of social media for all your communication, or even one product. We have to get our books out to as many retailers as possible, in as many formats as possible and while social media is best done in earnest on one site alone, there’s no harm in having your blog posts go to all the others if the software you use allows.  And yes, that means I really should make some audio books. I’m not sure it has to involve remortgaging the house or tying myself in an exclusive deal to one retailer for however million years* for a crappy 40% royalties, anymore.

* actually, I think it’s seven, or maybe fourteen years, but that’s a sod of a long time. I may be dead by the end of that.

For a number of reasons, mostly Real Life’s continual and annoying interference with my plans for literary world domination, I write slowly. That means that, ideally, I need to engage the kinds of readers who are prepared to pay for my books because there’s a longer gap between each one. But, as digital content becomes further and further devalued we probably will reach a point where it’s all free on subscription and we authors get paid for page reads of our electronic content, if at all. If the review site I used to write on was anything to go on, payment starts at a good rate, the site in question paid 50p a read at the start. By the end, it paid a fraction of a penny for each read and you needed to get hundreds of reads on any piece you submitted to net 10p. I see the subscription model going the same way; 1p per read of each of my 100k+ books. Ouch.

Yet, one of the things Joanna Penn raised this week, was that while recent trends point to electronic content decreasing in value to nothing, there is an increase in people buying other things, instead; their favourite albums on vinyl, hard backs of their favourite books or box sets and other deluxe or collector’s versions. There’s also the idea of the author as a brand, the value of a personal appearance, visiting conventions, schools etc. Not something Real Life gives me room for at the moment but there’s no harm building the MTM brand.

As for product diversity, as well as forms of output for my books, there is merchandise. Many readers do and will buy merchandise, possibly more for comedy books, but, for my own part, the stuff I made on Zazzle with the art work from my books netted me rather more than the books, themselves the first year they were out. Again, I stick that stuff everywhere; redbubble, zazzle, cafepress, and any I go on to find. More importantly, I should to put them on my own site – don’t forget to do that, kids, I’m working on mine. It’s an easier decision for me, since my books aren’t mainstream and committing to one retailer makes little business sense if you write the kinds of books I do. My fans are eclectic and far flung and I usually only sell a couple of copies of each book a month on each site (it’s particularly low at the moment because I’ve run out of cash for ads). The way I see it, on pretty much every site where my book is on sale, I’m likely to sell a handful. The more sites my book is on, the more people will be buying those couple of copies and suddenly, £5 a piece from twenty or thirty obscure book retail sites adds up fast.

Finally, it’s all about control. I think, possibly, the smartest thing you can do is retain control of as much of your work, rights and reader contact as you can. I’ve spent enough time in marketing to be wary of relying on any one big business. Remember when Facebook showed your posts to, like, everyone? Remember when they stopped and authors with followings of thousands found they were only reaching a handful of their fans? Yeh. That. So to me the most important thing, above everything else, is to get a mailing list going, achieve a rapport with the readers there, sell your stuff on your own site and keep all those small sites going. Because that way if one of the big boys does something funny and stuffs up your earnings, it won’t be the end of the world.

To sum it up then, nothing is constant, the only thing we can guarantee about the ebook business is that it will keep changing. And people who are reliant on Amazon will run round complaining that the sky is falling on their heads. So you have to keep as much of the process where you can control it as possible while, at the same time, giving yourself as many options as possible. That’s why, if you write slowly, the way I do, there are probably only three golden rules:

  1. Have as many sources of income as possible, by having your products available in as many different places as you can.
  2. Aim to generate as many different income streams as possible around your books.
  3. Aim to get a good rapport with your readers and sort out as much of that as is humanely possible, through channels where you have control, on your own cyber turf.

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Happy news. If anyone wants to try reading the weird shit I produce without having to join my mailing list to get some free, and then be subjected to even more weird shit in the form of newsletters, you can buy Book 1 in the K’Barthan Series at a reduced price on Kobo from today until 27th November. There are a lot of other books reduced like this on Kobo, too, not just mine!

Few Are Chosen

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