Tag Archives: an author with children

Spigotry …

Yes, I am still alive, although you could be forgiven for wondering if I’ve quietly shuffled off this mortal coil the amount of time it’s been since I wrote a blog post. I suppose the main reason for this is that the mood to waffle about my life tends to hit at the weekends, therefore, if I happen to be Doing Stuff several weekends in a row, the blog grinds to a halt. Case in point, when I came to write this post I found two others that I’d already begun before going out. On the upside, all this Doing Things does come under the heading of Putting Stuff In which is probably what other people call ‘refilling the well’.

So what’s been happening. Well, Mum stuff although less of it, Mc(Not So)Mini stuff and too much stuff of my own. I suppose you could say I’ve over-peopled but it isn’t really the social that’s hampering my efforts to achieve anything. I just keep on having to do things because I make trouble for myself. Yes, the reason for my absence is that I have been, mostly, trying to put out the fires I’ve inadvertently started in the dry grass of life. Or trying to unfuckup the fuckups, of which there are legion.

This week I went to see my writer friends where I used to live. For years they’ve been coming to me but now that I don’t have to collect McMini from school until 5 on the day we meet – or because, a lot of the time McOther picks him up – we have started going to the house of our eldest member and having lunch in the village pub. On the way I pick up the other lady in our group. She has a great deal of difficulty getting in and out of my car and this week, I discovered that taking the roof off merely made it worse. It was hot and I was wearing my proscription shades so while I was getting ready I took my actual spectacles out of my pocket and put them, in the little bag in which they come, on the back of the car because I didn’t want to bend them. The last thing I remember thinking is, ‘I must remember to put those back in the care before I drive off.’

Can you guess what happened next?

Of course you can! Yes. That’s right, I drove off with the glasses on the back of the car. Obviously, the fates didn’t do anything kind to me, like arrange for them to slide off on the side roads leading from the estate on which my friend lives. Oh no. They fell off as I turned onto the main road. When I reached my destination and went into the house I found I no longer had my specs. It being a social event and there being a table booked for lunch, I couldn’t just say, ‘Guys, I have to nip back and check.’ It would have been rude. The lady I had just picked up rang her husband and he went and looked but found nothing.

Resigned to their fate – I didn’t hold out much hope for my glasses surviving, unsquashed, until I dropped her back – we read each other our work, had lunched and talked writing things. When I dropped the lady back, it turned out her husband had popped out for a bike ride and found the glasses on the main road. They had sustained a small amount of damage, as you can see from this picture.

picture of smashed spectacles

When I break something, I like to do it properly.

Strangely, I had to visit the optician the next day to pick up some contact lenses for a friend’s daughter who’s a border at McMini’s school so I took my glasses with me along with another pair of frames that I’d picked up for a song at TK Maxx about twenty years previously (when I’d bought the smashed pair). I asked if they could fix my specs.

Yes well … at least I gave them all a good laugh.

Naturally, it turned out that they’d have to send the new frames I had away because it involved drilling the actual lense. In addition, it turned out that I was due for an eye test so they recommended I do that first, in case my proscription has changed. On the up side, they did have a slot sooner rather than later, on the downside, ‘sooner’ was next Friday. I found a similar pair on ebay for £24 and sent off for them so I do have those, although when I put them on they exaggerate the fact that I have asymmetrical ears and one is a lot higher than the other. On the up side, they don’t involve drilling the lenses so I can get them sooner and, if I have to go varifocal, maybe I can get the send aways done as varifocals and the other as bog-standard proscription.

So now I’m wearing my sunglasses most of the time, Roy Orbison style, although he went on tour and left his proscription specs at home whereas I … yeh. If I ever can find another set of the others I’ll buy them and replace my old ones as they suited me better than any specs I’ve ever had before. In the meantime, I’m wearing a pair from 2008 which are more-or-less OK, although slightly weaker than the originals.

Add taking the cat to the vet, me to the gym and all sorts of other stuff and somehow, I achieve very little. That said the writing is still going. I’ve been going through Misfit 5 editing it and picking out where I’ve added tracers for plot development. I usually know where it’s going at the time and I put the tracers in but if I’m not writing for a long time, I then forget what they are and end up writing off in the wrong direction. This is a Bad Thing.

Other news, McOther has been a bit busy at work recently and McMini has had a gig with his band again. Their singer left, which looked as if it was going to be a bit of a disaster, but they’ve found a new one who is less experienced but I think could be very good so that’s a win.

Picture of a hitler european tour t-shirt

Height of bad punk taste.

We went to a re-enacters’ event today which was excellent and McMini spotted a Hitler European Tour T-shirt to wear on stage (it’s a punk band, after all). I bought it for him.

Lord but this is not Setting A Good Example, but since I had one when I was about his age, I’d be a special kind of hypocrite to point that out. Also it’s actually slightly less offensive than the T-shirt McMini was wearing, which advertises a band called Deicide.

On the up side, it’s black and white, and a lot more understated than the enormous red and black, front and back printed white one I had when I was the same age which also featured a huge swastika.

It’s also a bit easier to wear these days, I think. There were many instances when I simply couldn’t wear mine because it might be taken the wrong way. McMini’s is a great deal more understated than mine was, which is no bad thing, even though, as a whole, it’s still a bad thing and I am still a Bad Person for caving in.

It is difficult with gallows humour. I strongly believe that actually jokes do occasionally need to be offensive. I also believe that comedy is often far harder-hitting than the heaviest of moral-lesson type stories. I also think that one of the reasons Britain is such a horrible place right now is because we have lost our ability to laugh at ourselves in ways that are a bit sick, and we’ve lost the ability to trivialise the things that scare us to a manageable level by making jokes about it. Nonetheless, McMini has promised me this one is on stage only.

On a different note

My audiobooks are on sale again, so you can grab Few Are Chosen for 99c and Small Beginnings for 99c or free.

I’ve also reduced the other books in the K’Barthan series though some stores (a.k.a. where I can). Help yourself while you they’re cheap. They’re on sale until the end of June.

If you’re interested and would like more information about that, just click here.

AAAAAAND! There’s more!

The Last Word, available in Audio.

If you enjoyed the short story, The Last Word, the audio of that is also available, to find that, go here.

 

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Weird things …

It’s been an interesting week this week. I did a lot of writing and discovered that I’ve spent the last three weeks going in the wrong direction. After that I went back to what I thought was square one and off in another direction, only to discover that was wrong, too. So now it’s back to another point where it went wrong. It feels right this time, though so I think it probably is and of the binned scenes, it’s probably the outcome of second one that’s right with a kind of mash up of the two beforehand.

So now I’ve managed about 800 words in what looks like it’s the right direction. I might have to sit down and do a time line or just work out how many plot threads I have before I go on though because it seems to be getting a bit hectic. And I so want the gunfight in the balloon factory where the helium canisters start leaking. I suspect I’m losing my grip on it because of the Mum thing, in which case, I need to make some kind of timeline/table of what happens when so I can lean on that and write it by numbers. Right now though, I’m just really enjoying writing it. Also, I’ve found a tracer I put in The Last Word that I’d forgotten about. I think I can use that to make it into something a bit longer, just another 12k or so to get it novella length.

I have also made a start on cataloguing my massive collection of sci-fi tat! That’s five items done so far. More on that story … next week … probably.

Other news, I’m going to be putting my author hat on (more on that story, in a moment) and going to two events this year to flog books. The first is St Albans comic-con in July, the second; Norcon (Norwich) in September. Several of us in my local authors’ group have booked a table so we can share the work, cover loo breaks and that kind of stuff. Also it’s much easier waxing lyrical about someone else’s books other than one’s own.

While we were discussing it a few weeks back the topic of cosplay came up.

Cosplay anyone? Er … no.

When people go to conventions, quite a lot of them dress up as their favourite sci-fi character. We discussed who we could be and whether going as characters from our books would be fun. The first question to me was, ‘Are you going as full Lord Vernon?’ Mwahahahargh!

Sadly, though I’m sorely tempted, I felt that the green face paint involved was probably a step too far. And suede gloves in July. A Big Merv-style suit with a light blue pinstripe was an option but it might make me look more like The Doctor.

The face is wrong but the hat’s right. Big Merv isn’t big enough either Mwahahahrg!

That left The Pan of Hamgee. He is my favourite character, except when I prefer one of the others, because they’re like kids. It’s hard to pick one. He also wears a hat, which is nice and distinctive; a cross between a Mel and Kim hat and a Zorro hat. Like Zorro he also wears a cloak, but it’s ankle length—unlike 1960s Zorro … although, did the Antonio Banderas version have a long cloak? Maybe he did. I can’t remember, anyway, onwards. The Pan wears a velvet jacket—I’m thinking the kind of gothic brass buttoned number you might have seen on members of Pink Floyd in the 1960s—and obviously the canvas jeans and elastic-sided boots. How much of this shizz do I have? Oh look! Everything except the hat!

Woot.

Hang on though.Does it fit?

… No. Not even the cloak.

Now what?

Go shopping of course.

First the shirt. Since my enormous, post baby, H-Cup boobs are too big to jemmy into any of my old shirts, I started with that. There are three vintage clothing shops in town, I found it at the second. It’s not quite as virulent as I’d hoped and it’s not silk, because silk paisley shirts are about 200 quid, but it’s dark blue cotton and perfectly good for this. If I find another one somewhere, I’ll buy that. In the meantime, job done I’d say. Next, I have the jeans and I also have some suede, elstic-sided boots. The most comfortable pair for a warm day is pink, which is the best that I can do.

Next … the hat.

Until I was about 40 I used to wear a hat every day. Usually a fedora, a wide brimmed trilby or a straw boater in the summer. I especially liked the hats worn by two stars called Mel and Kim in the 1980s but never bought one when they were ‘in’ and kicked myself for ever after.

However, a few years later at the Spanish/French border, I saw something very similar in the gift shop. I was on a coach trip and it was just a bathroom break so there wasn’t time to buy one—and they were too expensive anyway—but I did now know that Mel and Kim wore Spanish Flamenco Hats. Clearly then, since there is more than a hint that the original Zorro was hispanic, the Spanish Flamenco Hat would be the place to start.

A rigorous search on t’interweb revealed that yes there are such things and you can actually have one made for you for 120 Euros! Or you can buy one for 50 Euros. They were pretty much right but I couldn’t find a company that would ship to the UK … because bloody Brexit. Ugh. On the up side, there is a type of riding display where the horsemen and women wear these hats and there are sites selling them to horse people.

So then I thought what about Portugal … I mean, Britain’s oldest ally at 600 years and there’s the port logo right? The police officers mention that in The Wrong Stuff. So I googled, Portuguese traditional hat, and one of the things that came up was this. Oh my lord! Perfect. Even better it was a shade over 30 Euros from a Portuguese riding shop.

Yep. This, my friends, is a Bolero, one of the traditional hats of Portugal. It is also the hat worn by the geezer on the Sandyman port logo and the hat of choice if you want to look like Lee Van Cleef, or even Clint Eastwood, in The Good The Bad and The Ugly. Those are traditional Portuguese cowboy hats … totally different to the Texan thing, y’all but very much what you see them wear in the films.

Yeh. Well … the hat helps a lot. That’s the shirt.

Interestingly, while I was researching all of this, I discovered why the Sandyman port geezer has a cloak as well as a hat. This is not because he’s a cowboy—though a cloak would be practical to keep you and the horse warm and dry, Drizabone style. Nope. The Sandyman geezer is just a student. Mwahahahrgh! That hat and cloak is what Portuguese students wore when the logo was designed. They still do at some universities. I suspect the public image of port has altered somewhat since then, either that or students weren’t perennially brassic the way they are now.

Plastic loo-seat-shaped hat preserver.

It arrived in a huge box and since I was buying the hat I also bought a thing that looks like a clear plastic loo seat which keeps it flat and in shape … see below.

The correct way to wear it if you’re Portuguese is tilted to the left, if you are a British lady you’re supposed to tilt it to the right. I think I’ll wear mine going left the Portuguese way from now on.

I love that by pure happenstance The Pan’s father, the original owner of his cloak and hat—and lecturer at the University of Hamgee—turns out to have dressed as a Portuguese student. It kind of works too becuase in my mind’s eye, The Pan was always olive skinned until his blood went blue.

Other interesting factoid. Blood in its natural state actually IS blue at some stages in its journey round the body. It’s only when it hits the air and oxygenates that it goes red.

So there we are. Funny what you find out isn’t it?

On a different note …

If you’ve stumbled on this page looking for information about hats and are now wondering who on earth all these imaginary people are well … there are some books about that and they don’t even all cost money. Feel free to read one of the free ones if you’d like to give them a try. You can find a list of them, with links to buy them from the major stores, and mine, at the end of this smashing link here:

MTM’s Books

Or you can sign up to my mailing list and grab Night Swimming for free here:

Night Swimming

 

 

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Oh shit … warning: venting ahead.

Gardening tips from Vladimir Putin

Holy fucking fuck.

Well, this has been an bit of a grim week hasn’t it? If you’d asked me the kind of future I envisaged for my son a few years ago, I’d have said, ‘whatever he wants to make of it.’ I confess that the idea that, in a couple of year’s time, he might be called up to fight in a third world war wasn’t exactly uppermost in my mind. I suppose it depends on a lot of factors but there are uncanny parallels between current events and some of the darker parts of 20th century history.

What worries me, specifically, is that, putting my Lord Vernon hat on for a moment, if I was the average dictator-in-the-street, with one of the largest conventional armies at my disposal, I’d be thinking like this:

Nobody wants to use nuclear weapons. Why? Because a nuclear war would poison the entire planet. We’d all die except for about 0.0001% of the population; the social or political elite who have access to/own a nuclear bunker. Everyone else would either be vaporised in the succession of blasts, or would die of radiation poising in the aftermath.

Obviously as a dictator, I don’t give a shit about killing people but a nuclear conflict does raise problems:

1. If I want to bestride the earth like a colossus with every creature doing my bidding, I need … well … an actual earth to bestride. If I’ve nuked it so that no-one can ever go outside again then, frankly, my chances of doing any seriously satisfying bestriding are a bit shit aren’t they?

2. There’ll be a staff problem. I mean, I’m a dictator. I have an ego. I believe in my own indomitability. There have to be enough people in the underclass to lord it over. There won’t be enough little people to crush under my mighty feet as I do the colossus thing if they’re all dead and there won’t be enough of them to see it. Unfortunately, today’s underclass- no scratch that, pretty much the entire population of the world, today, lacks access to a nuclear shelter. If I nuke my enemies and they nuke back then all the little people will die in the attack. I will be left with a very small group of similarly mighty egos to my own, and the kind of people who’ve never got their hands dirty.

3. If I’m a proper dictator and worth my salt, I like money and a broken and shattered world economy isn’t going to earn me shit. Unless I just want all the stuff. Maybe I just want a palace full of looted art and jewellery all stacked up. The art. All of it from every single museum in the countries I’ve destroyed. I dunno, but I suspect if I’m properly dictator-level greedy I’m going to want an economy to subjugate that’s a bit more than dead on the table.

No sireee! I’m pretty sure that if I was a dictator, a world comprising me and my special few, plus a couple of thousand people from every other country that could afford a shelter system—with a sprinkling of the kind of insanely rich and paranoid bell-ends who have their own nuclear bunkers, Auric Goldfinger, come on down—would not float my boat world-dominance-wise.

Yes, lording it over the survivors of a nuclear war will be child’s play, but as I mentioned, there’ll be only a handful of them. It might be alright, but I’m guessing the average Dictator-in-the-street will consider this to be small-time shite and not the big cock-waving fest they’re after.

Unless Putin’s decided he’ll rise from the ruins with a few thousand privileged survivors and start a master race. I do hope not. I wonder how that would work though. Especially if, for months, no-one can go outside for more than half an hour without getting radiation sickness, and when they do, nothing will work because the EMP in the blast has done for the infrastructure. I’m hoping he’ll decide that poisoning the entire planet is a really bad idea because it will make it much harder to subjugate.

OK so that sounds good so far, but it’s not, because if I’m a properly power crazed nutjob, the inability to nuke isn’t going to stop me wanting a massive fuck off war. If I was the average Dictator-in-the-street and I knew that I had a bigger army than most of my enemies put together, and being a dictator, I didn’t give a rat’s arse about the people I govern because they are there to serve me and add to my wealth, nothing more. I might be tempted to sacrifice a few million of them in a conventional war.

After all, if I start a conflict that wipes out 60 million people like the second world war did, I still have way, way more individuals to screw for cash and lord it over afterwards, if I win, and there’s still the remnants of an infrastructure for me to milk for my own ends. If I’m just another of the rich white men who wants to run the world but am being a bit more obvious about it (by din’t of being a meat-packing dictator) war without nukes will suit me.

Let’s face it, half the western world believes Putin’s the good guy anyway. Yes. Russian sources are painting the Ukraine as the aggressor and because Putin and his ex KGB mates have so successfully undermined our faith in mainstream media there are normal people in the west who actually believe it. There are, educated, sensible people who genuinely think that Biden and Trudeau are part of a communist conspiracy to seize power.

Well, I guess they kind of are, because Putin would probably call himself a ‘communist’ I suppose. If it happens, though, I can’t help thinking that the power seizing is going to go very differently to the way our conspiracy theorist friends expect. The fact is, as I understand it, a lot of the folks who are in charge in Russia are also very rich. I can’t help wondering if a lot of the very rich and very right wing people in the west have looked on and thought, ‘hmm, we want a piece of that.’

Do we think our Dictator-in-the-street has sown enough internal discord in the West’s main players to ensure they stand divided, crumble under pressure or even stay home? Possibly.

All I can hope is that financial necessity and greed will save us. That the parties controlling the propaganda in this will appreciate that any war will destabilise economies and detract from their ability to line their own pockets long-term, and they will put away their guns and lure Mr P back to the negotiating table.

The only thing we can guarantee is that average dictator in the street doesn’t give a shit about, is his people and the death toll. Yep, we know that he won’t be having any thoughts about that.

So rock on greed, I guess. Unless it’s about ideology. In which case, I suspect we’re screwed. Nobody believes their ideology as hard as a your average extremist nutbar.

I sincerely hope we are not standing on the brink of world war three, but looking at our apparent inability to learn from the mistakes of history, I can’t help wondering if we are. I keep seeing the parallels; the undermined press, the persecuted minorities the whole thing, right down to everyone sticking their heads in the sand and going, ‘La, la, la, it’s not happening!’

But what do I know? I’m just a mother with a young son who may end up being the wrong age at the wrong time. One of millions who stands to lose someone they hold very dear over the antics of some vainglorous dickhead with an over-inflated ego.

Just like last time then.

That’s a bit of a pisser.

It’s not often I agree with Sting, but here he is articulating my fervent hope. Yeh. Maybe I should have just ditched the rant and posted this …

On a happier note …

If you want to forget about this shit, you can always download my free ‘winter’ story.

The Last Word, A Christmas K’Barthan Extra

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

Yes! It’s dark, it’s mid winter and in K’Barth that means only one thing. It’s Arnold The Prophet’s Birthday! The biggest holiday in the Nimmist year. As usual, the Grongles have banned any celebrations and worse, this year, to add insult to injury, they’re going to have a book burning on the Sacred Day but that’s not going to stop Gladys and Ada. Oh no. Here’s the blurb:

When Mrs Ormaloo brings the terrible news to the Turnadot Street Businesswomen’s Association that the Grongles are going to burn some more banned books on the night of Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday Gladys and Ada decide to take steps. They even enrol some of the punters from their pub to help out.

The books are in a warehouse being kept under guard. Gladys, Ada, Their Trev and the rest of the group embark on a plan of devilish cunning to rescue as many banned books from the flames as they can.

Corporal Crundy is determined not to mess up his first assignment since his promotion. It should be easy. All he has to do is guard some books. Yeh. It should be a piece of cake but somehow that’s not the way it turns out.

This story is about the same length as Night Swimming and available in PDF, Mobi and Epub from Bookfunnel. Which reminds me, I must pester Gareth about doing the audio version.

Later on I will probably add a second half to it and release it as a short story with a proper cover and t’ing rather than this slightly dodgy one what I done! Phnark. Aaaaanyhoo …

To download your copy, click here

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Fucks given? Zero. And a book review

Today at church we were celebrating a new C of E service theme, Racial Equality. The service was brilliant, mentions of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream which seems depressingly far from coming true.

It all sounds a bit bland. Some might say it’s a message we’ve all hoisted in and no longer need to hear, others might call it ‘snowflakey’. I, on the other hand, think one of the saddest things about modern life is how desperately the world still needs to hear this stuff.

Seriously though? What happened to the way Britain was in 2012 when we had the olympics and smugly showed people what fair play and openness and an inclusive society looked like. What made people turn from being friendly and open to being so bitter and petty.

Melanin? Skin colour? How is it that anyone still gives a fuck about this shite? What is wrong with us? It’s all such absolute cobblers.

Guess what colour my great to the times of lord knows how many grandfather was? Black. How do we know? Because the boys in my grandfather’s family all had a blood factor that only occurs in North African black people and it only goes from father to son.

Know what colour I am?

Yeh. White. Skin colour means absolutely fuck all. It does mean we have black people to thank for the Crystal Palace though, even if they were white by that time (look it up).

You really would have thought that ‘love thy neighbour’ would have sunk in after all this fucking time wouldn’t you? But no.

The fact is, dickheads come in all shapes, sizes, abilities, colours and backgrounds as do saints. Not all Christians can love their neighbours, some seem to think the point of their religion is to judge people, or change them. That’s not your job if you’re a Christian. It’s God’s. Jesus said so. ‘Judge not, lest you be judged,’ oh and all that bit about ‘when I was poor you clothed me, when I was in gaol you visited me,’ etc etc. Nothing in there about, ‘when I was poor you told me it was my fault and that I was a scrounger.’

We have to start giving zero fucks about all this stupid petty surface shit.

Seriously.

Stop looking at the fucking box. It’s what’s inside that matters. Is this person good? Yes or no? Don’t read the Daily Mail to find out for fuck’s sake! Just talk to them. Often.

Years ago my Mum went to Worthing to collect me from school. She turned up early so she could nip to the shops first. When she got back to her car she had a flat tyre. She got the jack out, positioned it in the right place, ready, and then started loosening the wheel nuts — obviously, you have to loosen the nuts (without taking them right off) before you get the car off the ground while the weight keeps the wheel still otherwise it just spins.

Mum knew what to do, but the wheel nuts had been done up with one of those compressed air nut gun things and she couldn’t get them undone. I needed picking up from school, too far away to walk there and back before the time on the parking meter ran out and she got a ticket. She couldn’t feed the meter because she was supposed to park for two hours or less and then not return for an hour. So, leave the car she’d get a ticket but at the same time, if she didn’t leave the car, she’d have to leave me.

This was before mobile phones. No ringing the school. She had fifteen minutes. All was not lost. She was standing on the wrench, probably swearing a bit, and jumping up and down, when a group of really scary hell’s angels came by on choppers. They were properly frightening; smelly weed on jeans, chapter back patch on the jackets, german helmets with horns on (this was the 1980s so they still could) tattoos (in the 1980s it was still quite rare for normal people to have tattoos) the works. As one, their heads snapped left and they all looked at her as they drove past.

‘Yikes!’ she thought.

A few yards up, where there was a double yellow and parking wasn’t allowed. They stopped. They all got off their bikes and walked back to her.

‘Double yikes!’ she thought. ‘Hello,’ she said.

‘Here Mum. You can’t do that,’ said one. ‘Stand aside, we’ll fix this in a jiffy.*’

*That’s probably not exactly what he said, but it’s what Mum said he said.

The hell’s angels, or possibly just, ‘angels’ in this case proceeded to remove the tyre in record time and popped the spare on. It took them about a minute and a half and they put the spare back in the boot and the jack back in the compartment under the boot floor.

Then, with a cheery, ‘There you go Mum!’ they waved away her effusive thanks and buggered off.

Mum thought it was hilarious, as well as rather lovely. She told me about it when she picked me up in a kind of, ‘you’ll never guess why I’m actually here on time’ kind of way. Neither of my parents would judge anyone on what they wore, but the fact is, twenty hells angels ambling along the road towards you is always going to be a little bit scary. Perhaps less so now that my son is a metal head.

A while ago I was chatting to someone on facebook who had taken enormous umbrage with some blog post I’d done. I’m not sure how they found it, I think one of my more right wing friends had shared it—one who doesn’t self actualise by their political beliefs—and I guess it got seen by someone who did.

I think I’d said that there were some people whose political convictions were to the left of Attila the Hun who weren’t necessarily evil, or mentioned that some of my friends are Muslims or … I dunno … showed tolerance something. I’m not 100% certain but I think it was the Muslim thing that set them off. The basic gist was that this person had met a group of people from the middle east who were the absolute back end of awful and that, as these people were Muslim, it followed that all Muslims were awful. Other news and experiences of friends had bolstered this view.

As a woman, it’s difficult avoid taking a dim view of the way my fellow women are treated in some countries and this is where I have to fess up to the fact that I often do exactly the same thing. Yes, I subconsciously base my judgement of entire nations on their government or the idiots in the population who make world news. Other times, I’ll base my view on the few subjects I’ve personally bumped into. These things are so massive, you deal with them the only way you know how and often, that can only be on your own, inter-personal, small-scale level. Which is OK so long as you’re prepared to be surprised and … you know … wrong in your assumptions.

Because looking at my technique rationally, it’s like someone meeting me and assuming that everyone in Britain is a wishy-washy, liberal melt an Anglican/Episcopalian because I am. Or, it’s like someone thinking that, because I, the only Briton they’ve met, am a lady, there can be no men living in this country. Sounds ridiculous, right? But that’s the logic we are looking at here. The fact is any nation is only as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as the people who lead it. During the 2012 Olympics, people probably thought Britain was lovely. Now they probably think we’re a bunch of absolute knobs. The people living in any nation are going to be the same mixture of saints, sinners, idiots, wankers and non-wankers as we find everywhere else.

But you have to make judgements don’t you? No. I’m beginning to think not. Sure we all go in with preconceptions but the point, surely, is to realise that’s what they are. To be prepared to be surprised by … well … you know … benign Hell’s Angels.

Making a fair judgement about anyone can only be based on actually meeting them in person. It never ceases to amaze me how many seemingly kindly, benign people I know will casually state that the homeless are there through their own fault, that anyone on benefits is a scrounger and that asylum seekers or refugees are just here to take advantage of our welfare system.

OK, so I expect some of them are, because, as I may have mentioned, the law of averages states that there will be wankers among any group of humans. Some. That’s my point. I find it really hard to understand how someone can condemn a brown man who leaves the Congo and comes to Britain with his 14 year old son because he doesn’t want the lad to be conscripted while, at the same time, lauding someone from Belfast who emigrates to America because they want a better, non-sectarian life for their children. Both are doing exactly the same thing. Why is one brave and good and the other a scrounger? I dunno.

If the person from Belfast gets a job in the USA, they’re broadening their horizons and taking a brave step to better themselves. Why is it that the brown man who comes to Britain, works for less than minimum wage and lives in a caravan without electricity, because there wasn’t electricity or running water where he came from, is ‘taking jobs from British people’. How come it’s perfectly fine for the company he works for to pay him a pittance because they won’t pay the minimum wage but he’s wrong to take what, for him, may be the chance of a lifetime? Why is it that we are happy to earn less and less than pay what things actually cost to produce and less stuff?

How is it that some people can look at the Kindertransport and see it as an act of goodness but the very same people are unable to see a modern equivalent, like, say, people rescued from a similar regime in Afghanistan as human? Is it because the Afghans are brown? Are we really that shallow? It fascinates me. Well … yeh, you know it does, I’ve written a 500,000 sci-fi series about this exact anomaly. That only people are good or bad and nations are the sum of the decisions made by their leaders.

Perhaps it actually takes bravery to be a liberal melt. Thinking about it, being open, putting aside your preconceptions and trusting people takes courage. Being generous of spirit takes resolution and effort. You are exposing yourself to looking a right dick if you’re wrong and possibly even potential harm. Maybe that’s it; perhaps with COVID and the fact that the world economy is pretty much down the lav people have a too much to worry about to care about being decent. Or maybe, after all crap they’re dealing with, there isn’t any spare courage left to be open.

Perhaps the only universal rule is that that there will always be wankers … and to give zero fucks … in the right way.

Which brings me on to the book I’ve just read.

Subject 21 by A E Warren.

This book is about a girl called Elise, who, as the blurb states is a Sapiens, ‘a member of the lowest order of humans. Elise and others like her are held responsible for the damages inflicted on the world by previous generations.’

Every aspect of Elise’s life is controlled by the two groups of humans above her, even her name has to reflect her status and can only contain two syllables. The top tier of human, the Potiors, are busy recreating as many extinct species as possible using DNA harvested from fossils, etc. These are then exhibited in a Museum of Evolution.

Some of the exhibits are Neanderthals. Our heroine, Elise, gets a job as the companion of a Neanderthal, number 21, who calls himself Kit.

This book is all about the idea that not all the gits in the top two tiers are gits and not all the supposed gits in the bottom layer are, either. Indeed, this is one of the many areas in which the book excels. It’s also about the inability of some members in each group to see those in the others as human and, of course, the inability of some humans—regardless of the order in which they belong—not to be complete and utter wankers. It’s an absolutely brilliant concept and I loved the way it was so realistic at the same time. The way some of the museum staff have completely de-humanised Kit and his fellow Neanderthals, was also, sadly, extremely human.

Other highlights, the plot, the whole concept is really left field, I loved it as an idea. It was deftly executed and the characters well drawn. I was fully invested very quickly and had trouble putting it aside to do other things. Definitely gets five stars from me. Recommended.

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Licensed to chill …

Better late than never this week, yes the blog goes out on a Sunday because MTM was phaffing about too long on Saturday. On the upside, the phaffing involved writing 2,000 new words on Hamgeean Misfit 5. Hoorah. On the downside, I wrote 202 words of it today, and this!

Yep. News this week, I decided, at the last minute (but then, how else do I do anything?) that I’d have a bash at NanoWriMo. If you don’t know what that is, it stands for November Novel Writing Month … actually it doesn’t does it?Well look, that’s what it is, anyway.

The idea behind it is that you write about 1,600 words every day throughout November and at the end you have, 50,000 words, which is a novel. Obviously, the chances of me writing anything on a Wednesday are slim so that’s five days down before we start. That means that if I want to write 50,000 words in November I have to do at least 2,000 a day. Hey, you know me. I  like a challenge.

When you’re writing it all on one story it is quite a tall order. My brain takes ages to mull things over and so I usually write several things at once. I might yet do that with Nano and call the results ‘a book’, but at the same time, I want to finish this particular story and this seems as good a time as any. At the moment I suspect that it’s terribly slow and lacking in action but I’m thinking that once I get the bulk of it down I can fix that. Everything I’ve written is stuff I can use, although I did have to move chunks around a lot yesterday to make it work. I guess what I mean is, I’m not so worried about whether or not I’m writing these scenes in the right order (or even the write order, badoom tish! Oh ho ho).

Thus far, yeh, a week in, I’ve managed to write an average of 1,000 words a day because I managed 2,202 yesterday which means I’ve got Wednesday covered. OK that means I’m 600 words a day down. On the up side, this particular book has now reached 17,000 and something words. I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen but I’m enjoying finding out. There are any number of bizarre plot strings which may or may not come together into something meaningful. One involves an actor with a colourful past as an all-in wrestler. I like the idea that Marcella the Pirate, who is a key character and a total cow right now, might reform somehow after a run-in with the Grongles and retire from her life of crime as part of some travelling wrestle-tainment show.

Or not.

This was not a good idea.

Other strings involve someone in The Pan’s party getting kidnapped and the plot, or at least, the next bit, revolving around his efforts to free the kidnapped person. It’s kind of a mystery and I like the idea of them solving things by blundering blindly deeper and deeper into the thick of it like the bunch of clueless fools they are. It remains to be seen if my intellect is capable of constructing a suitably mysterious mystery to solve. Probably not. It’s all rather jolly though because I’m just agog to see what happens at the moment.

Today, I also wanted to share some thoughts that have been drifting about in my head for some time now about writing generally, and my career, such as it is. The hurriedly written newsletter I sent out this week seems to have hit a chord as a fair few people replied. There’s a small group who reply regularly, anyway, but there were a couple of extras this time and one sent me a truly wonderful letter asking why I wasn’t famous, which was actually quite humbling, as well as touching. And then a similar discussion popped up with a member of the K’Barthan Jolly Japery group on Facebook who said I didn’t give myself credit over the books and then proceeded to say lovely things about them which had me walking on air for the rest of the day. Woot!

Funnily enough, I remember asking Gareth exactly the same question on Whatsapp while he was doing the K’Barthan Series. It was a question neither of us could easily answer. Why is one artist famous and another not?

Sometimes, it does appear that an artist’s skill at marketing or reading the zeitgeist surpasses their actual ability. But also, I think there are disciplines where the art of succeeding is about so much more than just the artist doing their thing. It’s really hard to talk about this sort of thing when you aren’t successful because you can come over as bitter, or sad or whatever. I feel none of that, surprisingly.

When I look at my books, I’m pretty sure they’re commercial, yet different. Hell, I’m even confident that, if you like that kind of thing, they are good. They just … don’t sell.

Strangely, I have come to realise over the last year that I am completely alright with that.

Perhaps it’s because I write my books for me. Sure, I want to share them with others but I like them. It turns out, they differ from the type of thing most people want to read, but they are the kind of thing I want to read and the kind of thing I like. I enjoy writing them, indeed, I kind of have to. It isn’t 100% voluntary, this writing gig. It’s a cross between a bad crack habit and a calling. I need to do it, I need to tell and share stories. It’s a compulsion and I think most people practising an arts ‘thing’ feel the same way about their creative weapon of choice. I’d say there are very few of us do it because we can, we do it because we have to.

So if we’re all telling stories, why do some people succeed and some people not? Well apart from the obvious things, I mean, in that some books are just terrible, or too out there, or badly presented, or the authors have a higher opinion of their own talent than perhaps they should.

Here’s my guess, or at least, this is what I said to the lovely person who emailed me, anyway. I think that ‘success’—or at least financial and fame-type success—in any arts career is about 73% hard work, 25% talent and 2% luck.

While talent and work can get you to the point where you can turn in the kind of stuff you are proud of and which may even get you earning, I suspect that the thing that gets you into the stratosphere, and household-namery, is that 2% of luck. You can probably succeed with less work and more talent, or perhaps if you put in more work, you can succeed with less talent but I suspect it’s the luck that takes you over the edge.

Luck is the right person encountering your stuff and then telling the right people. It’s Stephen Fry discovering one of your books and mentioning it on twitter, it’s David Gilmour hearing you and championing your work to the record company. I genuinely believe that all you can do, as the artist, is make sure you cover your arse; put in the other 98% of the equation, do the work, do it to the best of your ability, rinse and repeat in the hope that it will be enough, and then learn the other skills; do your best to make the luck.

Sometimes, I do feel that my books are the equivalent of Kate Bush’s music. Strange but good, only without the Gilmour. Other times, I think that I am probably being slightly deluded about my skills as a story teller to put myself on the same plane as someone like Kate Bush. And furthermore, that she would have succeeded without the Gilmour factor and that the ‘Dave’ effect was just the icing on a the cake that was already well and truly cooking.

The thing is, you just put your head down, make your shit and put it out there. Because the more of your shit there is floating in the ether, the greater the probability of Mr Gilmour—or equivalent— finding it. Or that huge review blogger—you know, the one with the thousands of followers who blindly buy everything she recommends—she’s more likely to find your books if there are sixty than if there are six.

It’s just maths innit?

That means, I guess, that one of the biggest parts of success is having a LOT of content available. Look at Julia Donaldson. The Gruffalo hit the big time quite recently with the film and all but it actually came out in the 1980s. I remember my friends reading it to their younger siblings when I was at school. Ditto Michael Morpurgo, who spent a lifetime producing scores of the most fabulous books but became major league when, some years after it was published, one of his books was made into a West End show. Behind those big successes are years and years of bum on chair, head down, create, rinse, repeat.

This is how it should look.

In my case, it does feel, slightly, that the amount of material people cite as essential to gain traction is always the number of books I have out, plus about 30%. When I had one book out it was three, when I had three out it was five, when I had five out it was ten, now I have ten out, it’s twelve. It is what it is; funny in a painful sort of way.

It might be, possibly, that availability everywhere also helps. I’m talking less about KU versus wide as large print, paperback, hardback, french, german, audio, ebook etc etc. If I ensure my content is out there in as many formats as possible it has to help a bit, right? And I have ensured that my whole publishing ecosystem is primed and ready so that, should the luck unicorn fart at the right place and time, and a cloud of richly-scented glittery sparkles float my way, I can maximise the exposure to that magic spangly guffage.

If a gargantuan back catalogue is the way to succeed, it’s unlikely to happen for me. My rate of output is way too slow to play the numbers game. But people do succeed without it. Perhaps I could be like that author who wrote a crime book, put it on Amazon so her family could buy it and woke up five weeks later to discover she’d sold 80,000 copies without doing anything. Oh no hang on, that was a) a crime book and the key word there is crime (or thriller or romance). And b) she was a solicitor writing in her spare time, as so many break out indie authors are—maybe there’s something in the mindset. And anyway, I’ve written ten books now and it still hasn’t happened so I suspect that boat has sailed.

As for making my own luck. Hmm … well. There are about 2,965  people on my mailing list. With every new release that number goes up by about 20. It seems that I cannot break through that 3k barrier until the next two books are out, at which point, presumably, my having hit the holy grail of twelve, the magic traction number will be fifteen.

Certainly, if it’s really true that I need about 10,000 engaged mailing list readers for any of my new releases to be even half visible in the stores—and I’m pretty sure it is—I will have to write an absolute craptonne of books.

Yeh. As, you can see I have a very long way to go. If I’m totally honest with myself, it’s probably further than I’m going to get in this life time.

Do I care about that?

Strangely, not the way I used to. When I started writing books, I thought my stuff was so mainstream and bleedin’ obvious that it would sell by the truckload. I thought a good product was enough and, sure, if I went back to 2010 knowing the things about book marketing that I know now, perhaps it would be.

At the time, I wanted to sell enough books to rescue McOther from his job because it was high stress and he was clearly not enjoying it the way he had at the beginning. Even in my most high-powered job—national responsibility, household name company—I didn’t earn what he paid in tax so between you and me, it was probably a rather ambitious target.

However, this last year, somehow, I seem to have let a lot of that stuff go. Perhaps it’s because McOther is retiring so he doesn’t need rescuing and there isn’t that same urgency. Perhaps it’s because he’s at home now and McMini was at home school for a fair part of the last two years and that’s been really lovely. Maybe it’s that life is easier now Dad’s gone. It was bad watching him suffer his illness but it was also very distressing to watch Mum endure it too. Now he is OK, and though she has dementia, Mum is OK at the moment, since she’s happy enough and ensuring that she is as happy as possible is all I can do. Maybe with less angst about other stuff it’s easier to let the writing angst go. Or maybe I’ve accepted that while success, on the world’s terms, is possible, it’s probably not going to happen, and that’s OK.

Perhaps there is just too much joy to be had in the texture of life to obsess over succeeding in one specific area. And perhaps that single-minded approach is what sets successful writers apart from people who are reasonably talented, but unsuccessful, like me. But I don’t want to miss Real Life and anyway, without it I can’t write. The daft games with the McOthers, McMini discovering the first faint signs of armpit hair and obsessively checking for extra growth and reporting his finds. His endless search for thrash metal records, his ludicrous out there view of the world. The pleasant, gentle rhythm of life casa McGuire or the holidays we have. All that stuff has to be experienced and lived. Not only is it important to me but without it, my mojo is as useless as a car without petrol. Life, living, experience has to go in for any writing to come out.

Anyway what is success if it isn’t happiness?

So will I keep writing. Of course. And without the pressure on myself to succeed, I find I enjoy it better and write more. Strange huh?

Will lots of people start reading my books? Will I earn a craptonne of cash from them? Will they become bestsellers? Will they be made into a film? Will The Pan of Hamgee become a household name? Well … it would be nice but if I’m honest … probably not. But you know what? Amazingly. That’s alright.

As long as I can carry on writing books, and as long as the handful of folks who do read and enjoy them keep on reading and enjoying them, I’m OK with that.

Talking about books …

Which reminds me, if you want to decide for yourself if my books are any good, feel free to read one. You can find a list of them, with links to buy them from the major stores, and mine, at the end of this smashing link here:

MTM’s Books

Or you can sign up to my mailing list and grab Night Swimming for free here:

Night Swimming

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Urgh! Just kill me now …

This week I have been making a very credible attempt to disappear up my own bum. Jeepers, if this is what it takes to visit another country I am never ever smecking going abroad again. And I’m not even the poor bastard trying to organise it. That’s McOther.

Suffice it to say that we had been looking at the prospect of escaping to France at some point, but I suspect the gargantuan mound of admin we have to attend to, were we to do so, would compare unfavourably with the amount of forward planning Scot did for that fatal trip to the Antarctic.

Other news this week, my website – not this blog but the actual http://www.hamgee.co.uk one – fell over. OK it didn’t really fall over exactly, I pushed it … a little bit. But NOT on purpose.

For some time now my web interface over there has been pestering me to upgrade  to WordPress 5.8. However every time I do I get a server error. This was something which had always happened at first release but there was usually the option to upgrade to the US version. I’d do that and then the GB version would work fine. This time there was no US version.

This was not a good idea.

Looking up on t’interweb, I discovered that it might be down to lack of server space, possibly, or I might need to do a manual install. I deleted a lot of posts from my blog, except for the two years when it was there rather than here. Then I attempted the manual install. I followed the instructions carefully and … when I loaded the site, I got a little message telling me something was missing. And a white screen. But nothing more.

Shit.

I backed up the copy I had on my own computer and then cracked open the original copy I’d downloaded in 2014. Then I wiped everything on the server and uploaded that. Maybe that would work?

Nope.

Maybe if I uploaded the backed up recent version on my computer then?

Nope.

Shit.

The galling thing was that this was obviously a really simple fix, I was just having trouble understanding what things it was telling me it needed.

Long and the short of it was I contacted the fellow who designed the site and does my web hosting. After a fraught 24 hours waiting for him to come back to me. He was away bless him, he reassured me that there was a back up on the server and reinstalled one from Friday. It’s still a bit borked so he’s going to have a look at it and see if he can straighten things out. Fingers crossed.

Other news this week, I suddenly got two promo slots for Hello Books, which is rather good and as a result I added a couple of other promo sites and yesterday Escape From B-Movie Hell received a massive 40 downloads. I am very chuffed about this as they came from other sites as well as Amazon, including Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Woot. Happy with that then. Yes it cost more than I’m going to earn but at the moment it’s a case of collecting new readers any way I can and hoping that as they join in with the whole K’Barthan Jolly Japes community, they will stick around and read my other stuff too.

Yesterday, I managed to step on a dead chick which I think may be the most revolting thing I’ve ever done. It was very windy here and I think it must have blown out of a tree or been dropped by one of the squirrels/magpies. It still had a yellow egg sack and it was primrose yellow and fluffy and definitely hadn’t been caught by the cat as there were no bite/puncture marks. Ugh. Just thinking about it gives me the boake.

Over the next four weeks I have many, many things to do. Just the thought of it is giving me hives, also characteristically, many things I wanted to do are, of course, happening at the same time, or when I’m not around; church friend’s funeral, the first metal detecting rally I’ve had access to in two years … all fall on days I can’t get to them. I guess that’s the same old same old.

During the next month, I suspect there will be no blog posts because there will not be time. I’m really sorry about that. There is so much admin that it’s all I’ll have time to do. If you feel denuded of all things K’Barthan, and are on Facebook, do feel free to hop over there and join the K’Barthan Jolly Japery Group. It’s a scream and I should be able to check in there a couple of times a day.

Right then. That’s it, I think. A bientot! Waves.

In the meantime, if you are hankering after some K’Barthan nuttery …

You can get some of my books reduced at the moment. Woot.

There may be a security error on some of these links but last Friday, I installed something that fixed that, but clearly after the time the site was backed up to. I have just installed it again. Oh yes I have. Hopefully it will work and nothing will break.

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Birthdays and some inane wittering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mmm … cake!

Bollocks.

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

Right.

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

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

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

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

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

Big mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Have you slept?’ I asked him blearily.

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

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

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

In other news …

HUP Swishy new logo.

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

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

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

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Filed under General Wittering, Mary Fails at Modern Life

Another fine mess I’ve got me into …

Although also … possibly … out of.

Too Much Information Alert …

OK, this post is, officially, going to begin with Too Much Information. I’m going go talk about one of the last taboos, my monthly cycle.

As a lady of a certain age, who is fitted with an … er hem … coil … I have been spared the joy – a word I use with extreme irony – of periods for the last ten years. Gone are the days when, were I to get appendicitis at the wrong moment, I would simply fail to notice and die. I have had both (although I still have an appendix) and on the pain-o-meter the monthly cramps won hands down.

However, despite this, I still have a, you know, cycle. There are days when I am completely sapped of all creativity and depending if it’s a long or short cycle the creative down times last from between forty eight hours to two weeks. I call this the meh time.

When Meh strikes (let’s give it a capital M) the trick is just not to try too hard until it’s gone. I can do artistic creative so long as there’s zero pressure on myself to succeed. So I can draw or twiddle with things in photoshop so long as I don’t take it too seriously. With writing, I can sometimes do stuff long hand but basically, I have to accept, at that point, that my muse has gone on a bender. I’m never sure if it’s on holiday, relaxing on a beach somewhere or if it’s lying in a dark back alley somewhere, out cold, in a pool of its own sick, empty vodka bottle still clutched in one limp hand. If I give it the time to have a bath and several black coffees it might produce something intelligible but on the whole, at moments like this it’s best left to sleep it off. I let it be and get on with other things. To do so is quiching out in many respects. But I’m not really talking about failing to turn up to the chair and write, this is more about sidestepping burnout.

An interesting aspect of this is that I hadn’t thought to count non fiction in the writing I do. Because despite the muse having fucked off on a bender, I have written quite a lot of things this week and historically, have written a fair bit of stuff in these phases. The bit that’s in trouble is the bit that makes up an intelligible plot then, it would seem. It may be that it’s not all Meh, or at least, not all Monthly Meh. I’ve found it really hard to get back into the saddle with the Sussex run and the whole looking after Mum thing and, as discussed last week (or was it the week before?) we have reached the stage where there is no point in denying our arses off any more. We have to accept that her memory is not what it was or, to be honest, I could probably just leave that statement at simply, her memory is not. It is slightly as if the whole looking after Dad thing has left me too exhausted to carry on. Whenever that thought occurs to me, I just have to accept that it’s probably true, file it in the can’t-be-fixed section and then ignore it and hope it goes away. Think of me as the owner of a 1960s car with a snapped fan belt, looping an old pair of tights round the alternator so it will generate enough juice to get me home. All that increased care and concern does tend to drop an anvil on the fiction-creation centre of my brain.

Usually from a great height.

Possibly even from the stratosphere.

Ideally, what I’d be doing right now is starting some K’Barthan Extras. But what I want to write is the big sweeping epic that will take years to finish and won’t sell (not that any of my books sell) – the Betsy’s Bordello origins story – and of course Space Dustmen. Neither of these will be finished by September which is, ideally, the point at which I ought to be publishing my next book. That said I could give Space Dustmen a go as I think that’s going to be less complicated and easier to split into adventures but in my world of highly-polished, unmarketable literary turds it’s the K’Barthan stuff that sells.

That said there wasn’t anything doing this week so I decided to do some of the things I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t got round to. This includes the thing for my will which I still haven’t done but hope to have finished today. Fingers crossed. It also included having a go at some of the settings on my metal detector and finally sending Gareth his share of the royalties for this quarter. Note to self: do the royalties quarterly from now on, it makes it look as if there are more of them. Mwahahaaaahrgh! Self-deception is my friend.

Chatting to Gareth via whatsapp this week, he was talking about his singing lessons and how he is trying to alter some of the physical aspects about the way he sings so it’s more natural – and is therefore more effective – I think that’s the gist. He was worried about sounding ‘wanky’ snortle – one of my own favourite descriptors, that one – so he didn’t go into too much detail.

However, it did strike me that talking to Gareth about these things is very like conversations I’ve had with an ex triathlete friend, who now mostly rides a bike. Both are extremely talented, but a big part of it, I suspect, is that they are also very aware of absolutely everything that they can do to maximise that talent. They have learned every shortcut that will speed their progress from bleargh to perfection. Actually neither of them is starting from bleargh, they start from exceptional and kind of go on from there but you get the picture. I love that artists and sports people are as insanely geeky about their various theatres of operation as any scientist – although Triathlon Man is a scientist so perhaps the geekery is slightly less unexpected in his case. But I’m drifting from the point which is that this intensity, to me, is what separates the men from the boys and, probably, me from the professionals. I have those short cuts but … I dunno … I still seem to get nowhere. I spent the last three years doing a ground-up rebuild on how I produce and think about the books I write. Maybe it hasn’t worked so well, or maybe it’s just that the background stress levels are going up again so, once more, I’m having to fight harder. I’m at a bit of a loss. Again, I’ve reached a stage with my writing where I should accept that I’m not in a situation where I can have a career of my own. I should stop and give up but I just … can’t. On the other hand, I’ve just read an article by Robert Webb during which he stated that having said he wanted to be a novelist he has realised, after staring at a blank screen for the last twelve months, that he might need to give himself some other options. Ah Robert, Robert … I feel your pain. Welcome to the writing pleasure dome.

For whatever reason, writing, for me, seems to take a huge amount of emotional energy, and after years and years of grinding, spirit-sapping stress with Dad and now Mum, a whole decade plus of playing to everything I’m shit at in life and existence – thanks a fucking bunch there, God – I just don’t seem to have that energy any more, or at least, only in very small amounts. I am so, so much closer to burn-out over that than I was with Dad, because I’ve already done ten years of worry – including five of the kind of high intensity stuff I expected to have to maintain for three or four years at the outside. Right now, after a brief dip, I’m looking at another five or ten years of the same thing again. It is not … yeh. Let’s just leave it at … it is not. But having time off in lockdown, while handy at the time, might not have helped to be honest. Not at all. It just gave me a glimpse of what could be, but which I’m beginning to think never will be. There will always be someone with dementia I need to look after, until I reach the point where it’s me. I am really, really struggling to get back into it all. At the start, I remember thinking I probably had the stamina for three years or so, five at the outside. I guess the basic gist is, I was right. But there is no option for the battery to run flat. No way out. No end in sight. Just more and more and more admin, my mother’s, my son’s, my own – blimey but I’m a miserable bastard today aren’t I?! I just have to get better at pretending it’s not happening and carry on. Tights round the mental fan belt. I can do it. I might need a bit more CBT. I’ll look into some options.

Additional Meh factors might be the fact that it’s April, a month during which I traditionally sell fuck all books but I’ve had the worst month for book sales for five years. I’ve up to earn 40 dollars this month. All on Amazon. Usually I earn over a hundred. The fact that I can no longer construct a Facebook ad of any description that gets out of the learning phase isn’t helping either. The frustrating thing with those is that I had an ad that was working well, inadvertently edited something and had to reload it and now it can’t get out of the learning phase. That said. People are signing up it seems so maybe I should just leave it. My Facebook ads always go tits up around Christmas, Halloween and American Elections. But there’s nothing worse than spaffing a load of money up the wall for zero return in a field of operations at which you used to excel. I don’t understand it. If I narrow it down it says my audience is too small to have any hits, but it’s saying my audience is to small to achieve any hits if I choose people in NZ and AU who like Terry Pratchett and Books. According to the numbers, when it bothers to say something other than that my audience is to small, that’s well over a million people. At the same time, I’m getting three sign ups a day for my two bucks so I dunno, go figure.

Out of the Meh came forth Merch …

Back to the point. Meh. I decided that if writing was difficult I’d do something book related that didn’t feel like pulling teeth but needed to be done. So it was that out of the Meh came forth Merch. I spent Tuesday and a lot of Thursday making products which featured Humbert the Parrot quotes. I also did a couple of K’Barthan swearing things. So far I’ve done a couple of badges – oh and one sticker! Mwahahahrgh. Despite feeling a bit Meh, I observed that I was still able to do stupid product descriptions. Well, they made me laugh anyway. Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are funny. Still after anticipating a rather flat couple of days, I had a remarkably amusing time with myself. Mum was on good form too, on the Wednesday, which always helps and we went to the beach yesterday for a walk and it was beautiful light with bright sun.

I think these Meh periods are probably part of life for every creative. OK some folks seem to be able to produce hundreds of books and I salute them. I could do that if literary creativity was like painting. I can paint like ringing a bell just … not as well as I can write. The fact is though, I seem to be so adversely affected by every little thing that sometimes, I’m surprised I produce anything at all. What I do manage is the result of hours of analysis and effort into the how and why of my ability to create so I can squeeze the maximum juice out of each tiny drop. I suppose if you want to be good at something that’s what you do. Maximise it. But … I dunno … it’s as if I have a few drips of potent creativity and I have to make it cover each book. While everywhere I look other writers seem to be just vomiting out books. Really good books too. Burp! Oooh there’s another one. I am probably looking at the wrong people and in the wrong places.

Talking of books, Gareth is hoping to start work on Too Good To Be True soon, singing-related shenanigans permitting. Which made me think of something else and that is, how intensely physical the performing arts are. I remember reading somewhere how people who are in a production full time often have to do an extensive range of weird and arcane physio exercises to keep all sorts of obscure body parts in trim. It’s amazing how much of something that seems large cerebral is, in fact, physical when it comes to doing stuff with your voice or an instrument. I do remember talking about this kind of stuff with my violin teacher when I was small and good at it. Body posture and stance are a huge part of it because you’re not just playing the instrument, you’re part of it because the sound is resonating through you. And that’s why the way you stand or breathe can make a huge difference.

That got me thinking more about writing. There seem to be three important factors that can fuck mine up. The first is pressure. Can I make up stories under pressure? No. This is probably why I am struggling writing more K’Barthan extras. There is pressure to finish them whereas there is not any pressure to finish the other projects which are ticking along nicely. Well … not really. So I have this strange dichotomy where I can write an 85k novel in about six weeks but only if a) that’s not what I’m actually trying to do, b) other stress is reduced and c) the six weeks are spread out over the course of about a year. It’s like learning to fly Adams style. Except instead of throwing myself at the ground, getting distracted before I land and missing, I have to throw myself into writing the next book, forget why I’m writing it and just … enjoy my K’Barthan holiday.

Getting the first set up started is the difficult bit. Once that’s there, if it’s a simple story with a main character and not much else, it will get from beginning to end reasonably fast.

Second thing … admin. If I have something looming, like a tax return or, in this case, some bits and bobs for my will, I feel pathologically compelled to do it before I write. But when I come to do it, because I want to write, I get bored and my mind wanders and I stare at my computer and get distracted and before I know it a day has gone by of me staring at the screen doing … I dunno what. The way round that one is to do a short burst of writing before I start the admin. Then at east I’ve done a bit of what I’m supposed to.

Third thing, hormones. There is the one week in every four where I’m never going to write anything. This is the time I use for editing or to drop writing and have a pop at other stuff; newsletters, writing ads, booking promos. Downloading the graphics and sorting all the links I have to share … that kind of stuff.

Fourth thing, I need to take the right measures. If that means giving up on it for a day or two and doing other things so be it. Yesterday we went to the beach for a day. We spent an amusing hour having lunch in a pub garden and the conversation included inventing euphemisms for going to the loo. Starting with the well known ‘I must go siphon the python’ we built on the theme and finally ended up with McMini calling it, ‘I just have to go and deal with some yard trimmings,’ while I preferred, ‘I just have to go and fly-tip a sofa’. Yeh, I know but we thought it was funny. McOther just sat there with a contented, these-are-my-children kind of smile on his face.

picture of the sea
I must go down to the sea again, the lonely sea and the sky. I left my socks there yesterday. I wonder … continued on page 94/…

Thing is though – going back to my ongoing fight with my muse – for most of 2020, pandemic aside, I was in post op recovery or a great deal less stressed. I couldn’t do the Sussex run for a lot of it and in many ways, Mum’s well-being was out of my hands – or at least, I didn’t feel as painfully responsible for it and I was able to let so much stuff go. It was awesome. I didn’t need to take measures, or follow any of the protocols I usually have to follow to write. I ate exactly what I’m eating now, but I lost weight instead of putting it on. There was no need to keep a daily word count and do the ten minutes a day thing. Now there is. Now, I’m back to the place I was in 2018. I need to pull every trick in the book to keep the tiniest trickle running from the creative well. I need to keep it alive because if I don’t the other stuff is going to get a bit overwhelming and if I get overwhelmed, I’ll be no good to anyone. I need another holiday – already – and since I can’t have a real one, I have to pretend. And if there is any talent in me, it seems that I have to support it with a lot of painfully convoluted mental gymnastics. It’s a a gargantuan ball ache but it is what it is. I just have to accept it and get on with it. I guess part of it is simply that I’ve reached a perfect storm where everything writing related is going dismally badly at once. I just need to grit my teeth and push on through. And do those bloody lists for my will. Ugh.


On a lighter note … K’Barthan invective poll results! Phark.

As discussed here, last week … K’Barthan products. Mmm. Last week I asked if you’d like to vote on your favourite Humbert phrases. Many did.

Congratulations.

As you may have gathered from my previous wittering, I took the recommendations and ran with them, well, OK, it was more of a case of, I shambled crazily for a few metres, went purple in the face and had to sit down for a minute or two … but it’s a start!

The runaway winners, if that’s the right word, were ‘Wipe my conkers!’ and ‘Bite my winkey!’ but there were many more, here are the top six:

  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Bite my winkey!
  • Windy trussocks!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin but don’t touch my drink!

Extremely close behind ‘windy’ and ‘jiggle’ were:

  • Arse!
  • Shroud my futtocks!
  • Bombs away!
  • Gits in a bag!

After talking to Gareth, I realised that I’d completely forgotten to offer ‘Futtocks away!’ as an option which is, apparently, his particular favourite, and one of mine, too. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all. If you’d like to see the resulting merchandise you can find it here:

This week, K’Barthan swearing is under the spotlight. So if you wish to vote for your favourite piece of K’Barthan invective, you can go right ahead and do that too. The ‘voting’ form is at the end of this link. Enjoy.

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Filed under General Wittering

I am a luddite. It’s official.

Gah! Excuse me if everything is a little off today but … ugh something weird has happened.

For those of you who don’t know, this site is hosted by WordPress. A while ago, WordPress updated their main user interface from this …

Nice isn’t it? Everything’s there at a glance.

To this:

Although, if you increase the screen resolution you do get this:

which is slightly better.

For a while now, I’ve had the control panel rolled back from the new one to the original because it’s just so much easier on the eye and all the data is right there where you want it.

Recently, going along similar lines, WordPress decided to ‘simplify’ their editor – this is marketing speak for ‘make it impossible to find anything at a glance’. Everything is now buried under layers of menus, like the phone app only, in my case, on a pc. They’ve been banging on about something called the ‘block editor’ for months but I’ve just ignored it and hoped it would go away. Basically, as far as I can see, this is just a way of making your posts take longer to write.

You see, the way I do stuff is I barf the words onto the page and then when I’m done, I format them. Blocks mean you have to keep choosing your formatting before you write which is a gargantuan ball ache because it really interrupts the flow.

WordPress says that,

‘Retiring an entire editor — the place where you publish posts and pages on WordPress.com — is not something we would ever do on a whim. What inspired us to take this decision is the positive experience site owners have had with the newer WordPress editor.’

Which, of course, is marketingese for, ‘we can’t explain to you why we did it because it would take too long.’ I’ve worked in customer service and marketing a long time and like, seriously are they for real? ‘I love the new interface!’ said no software customer, EVER. They have changed the interface from this:

So simple, so straightforward, so why can’t they leave it alone!

To this:

Here’s the new editor where are all the widgets? I have no clue, the editing tool bar is part of the ‘classic’ block. The actual tool bar is those four icons at the top I think. I dunno.

They’ve made it ‘simpler’ ie they’ve designed it so there are fewer things on your screen; just acres of glary white and big writing with the features you need all jumbled up in sub menus and moved around. Because heaven forfend that any of us poor bastards using the thing should have the remotest fucking clue where they are.

They’ve added ‘new features’ ie a ton of pointless bells and whistles that slow down your creative flow. No more ctrl+A to select the entire post. Oh no. Now, if you want to copy and paste your post you have to do it from the front end or you have to copy it paragraph by paragraph – one of the most notable features of block editors which has been useful since never in the entire fucking history of human existence.

I don’t have time to learn that it’s x button, third down, I just look and see, ah yes, I need to click there. This new interface is as Lou might say to Andy … a bit of a kerfuffle.

Blocks are so crap. Why can’t I just type shit and do the formatting afterwards? Why this complete fucking obsession with formatting it all first, with presentation over content, with extra ‘features’ over and above the ones we require ie, things to stretch out the length of the task so we feel busy.

Newsflash! I am busy. I’m so busy I’m disappearing up my own smecking arse! I don’t need to feel it. I don’t. have. fucking. time. And when stuff is pointlessly added to my busyness it’s not going to make me feel important, it’s going to make me fucking irritated.

And if they have to do blocks can they not, at the least, do drag and drop blocks so I can just pick the bastard things out of  side bar and bung them in? I spent ages ferreting about to find the ‘classic editor’ block and even longer trying to work out how make it stick so that I was writing my blog post in it. Thank heavens they seem to have given me the option to switch back to the usual interface to edit this. So I’m now typing this in the understated, elegant peace of the wp-admin and classic editor setting, instead of the shouty in-yer-face, giant-writing, glary, retinal burn-inducing horror that is the new one. So much white … it burns … it burns!

OK so this isn’t the end of the world or anything, I am joke ranting here. The poor buggers at WordPress can’t be expected to keep three editing interfaces going and I know I’m completely at odds with the zeitgeist on this. My blog is about what I write, the content, the words, and I am beginning to understand that priorities for the myriad of other users outside my small circle are different. Everything else is about photos and videos so I guess blogs are no different these days. The salient thing is; text is yesterday. You have a photo and if you want to say something you post a video. Me? Frankly, if I can type at about the same speed I speak and I can edit my writing so it reads more fluently, why would I bumble and stutter at a camera instead?

How many people can touch type though? Not many. I mean, there’s text to speech now. I am pretty much a dinosaur. Touch typing is not a skill developers for places like WordPress are going to be factoring in is it? Not really. Which makes me wonder if a big part of the shift towards video and images is because typing in a phone is such hard work.

A while back, I remember downloading the WordPress app onto my phone. The interface wasn’t as intuitive because it’s a phone. It’s a small screen and there’s less room to work. However, any vague understanding I have of the new interface and where to find stuff is based on my use of WordPress on my phone. Basically, what they’ve done is shut down the desktop site and made the phone app the interface. Why? Well, I suspect what it comes down to is this one word.

Change.

I’ve been writing some sort of blog or other, week in, week out since 2006. All here, on WordPress. The first was called Babychaos and then, from about 2009, I switched to this one. The ‘classic’ editor – the one that is going away, because it’s already only used by a few legacy customers such as myself – that classic editor, is the one I’ve used since then. It’s straightforward, powerful and everything you need to use is easy to see as you look at the screen.

That’s how I work in real life. I lay stuff out on the desk in front of me and I pick the things I need as I work. I don’t work with a completely clear desk and run to the cupboard and get out each tool I need, using it and putting it back back only to have to run back to the cupboard a few minutes later, get the same thing out, use it and put it back again. But that’s how the interface on your phone works. And because that’s what they are used to, I believe this is how a lot of people now do work.

In 2006 phones didn’t do much. The main, online interface of pretty much anything was the web page designed for a desktop computer. The phone versions of web portals were very limited. Then smartphones began to take off. Gradually programmes and interactive web portals became apps, and phones and tablets became as powerful as some computers. The idea of a desktop site has become redundant in many respects.

Add to this that there were parts of the world where computers were never used in earnest, instead people skipped straight past all that and paid one lump sum for one thing that did everything – even if it wasn’t always that easy to do it with – a smartphone. Because if you are living in an developing nation you can’t necessarily afford a separate computer, phone, music player, camera and tablet. Furthermore, you may possibly live in a place where you don’t have electric power to your home, or where, if you do, it’s sporadic. You are going to buy the thing that runs longest off a battery, that does the most stuff, that’s with you all the time, and which will be the easiest to carry. That’s going to be your phone and you’re going to use it for everything. And people did. They started using their phone to play music, watch telly, talk to people, and yes, build their websites, write books, configure online shops. The whole shebang. And because the phone’s memory wasn’t big enough in those early years, they started using streaming services for many of these things and the (shudder) subscription model was born.

Software production shifted from emulating the way human beings naturally work to the way phones work – or at least to the closest version of how a human being works that a phone is able to deliver.

I know people who write books on their phones. I cannot imagine why anyone would voluntarily put themselves though such a profoundly horrific experience as trying to type text, in volume, on a phone but there you go. Folks do it. Perhaps they have less arthritic thumbs than I do. More likely they don’t touch type at 90 words a minute plus, so typing on their phone doesn’t feel like they are working at about the same speed as continental drift. Or they use speech to text and they have an American accent so it actually understands what they say and produces something vaguely similar to the original. Or their slidey keyboard works rather than guessing just about any word in existence if it can avoid using the one they’ve typed. Or maybe their spelling and autocorrect tailors itself to them personally, rather than using an algorithm that condenses information from all users, rendering three quarters of  the vocabulary the person uses unknown to it. I dunno. But I digress …

The thing is, even with all this capability behind it, the screen on a phone is still tiny, so you still couldn’t have the same kind of information packed interface in the app as you would on a larger screen. It has to be built around the phone. Me, I like the larger screen and detailed interface you get on the desk top version of a site. But that’s because I read information best when it’s laid out. Some people – most people it seems – stack their info. They file stuff in drawers, they see their information in towers. Me, if I were to file things my ideal way, everything would be spread out around me on a huge long table. Seeing stuff is an important part of the way I interact and process information. I think I may be unusual in this respect, but I doubt I’m unique.

That’s why I always use the desktop site if there is one, either on my lap top or, if I’m on the road, on my iPad. I can easily see how the phone interface of anything can only function with about five items, maximum, on each menu. And that is specifically why I avoid using my phone, except when I need to or I want to comment or in an emergency but … not for the day-to-day important stuff. To me, having experienced the joy of desktop sites where everything is laid out clearly, the phone-friendly versions are hugely counter intuitive. Things are hidden at the top of lengthy menu trees and going off down a rabbit hole to find each function is a pain in the arse. I get distracted, I get lost. I lose my way back. But that’s because I’ve grown up with the pre-smartphone technological experience. On my phone the text on desk top sites is tiny, I have to zoom in to read it or format it. I totally get why things have to be simplified even if, yes, I still find it easier to browse the miniscule desk top sites on my phone than the stark phone-friendly versions.

I can do all this stuff on my phone, but it’s like viewing the world through a tiny crack in a wall while a bigger screen allows me to out there in the open and gaze at my surroundings.

The nub of the problem for people like Microsoft and WordPress is that two different versions of a thing are expensive to run. So what do they do? They, build their interface to suit the majority of their users. And these days, if you are a world-wide operation, the majority of your users are phone users. That’s why Windows 10 feels like it’s, basically, the Windows Phone interface. There aren’t as many options, it’s hard to get underneath things unless you use legacy stuff like the control panel. It’s probably why you can’t choose what up-dates you download. With the pursuit of ‘simplicity’ comes less and less flexibility and it’s … weird. The richness of the desktop experience is going to disappear because the majority of modern internet users have never experienced it. The only exception to this is the Apple interface, which has always been a bit more like that, as far as I can tell, which might be why it’s never come as naturally to me. Maybe these transitions are easier to make for Apple aficionados.

But … that’s why I find the new WordPress interface hard work. Because it’s the same as the phone app. It looks weird and huge on a large screen and the stuff they’ve prioritised: the stuff that other people use, is not the stuff I use. Because hardly anyone values the large screen experience anymore, just a few luddites and writers like me. Hopefully, one day, they’ll get the folding or holographic phone screen down pat. And when they do, maybe, when screens are bigger, some of the richness and complexity of the desktop interface will return to the software and websites we use. Maybe … I can hope.

Right, I’d better go and write something. I have two old ladies, a bunch of n’er do wells and a parrot stuck in a warehouse … they need my help to get out.

________________________________

Talking of luddites … does anyone fancy a 12 hour audiobook?

Yes, word up. Right now I am looking into ways I can deliver audiobooks direct to users: they buy from me and they can listen to the book in an app or on their computer. If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to download the bookfunnel app or join bookfunnel. If you’re happy doing that feel free to help yourself – the link is below.

It’s in beta, yes you are testing. That’s why you get a 13 hour audiobook for free read by one of the most distinguished actors you’ve never heard of: Gareth Davies. The man who made Roy Hudd laugh … and laugh enough to be asked back to do it again.

Once you click on the link, below, you’ll end up on a download page for the book. When you click listen/play it will ask you to download the bookfunnel app and enter this code … which is some letters on mine. Write down the code then when you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play and it asks you for the code, you have it right there to put in. I don’t know if the code is case sensitive but I’d presume it is!

This is a brand new app and brand new audio player, and Bookfunnel appreciate any and all feedback. If you get into trouble, or can’t get anything to work, contact their help address – which is given on their site, I’m not 100% sure I should give it here – with a header: ATTN: Julie.

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fxd6bnoy7k

If you decide to listen to the book. I hope you enjoy it.

This is to stop all my bog posts being illustrated by the picture of the book at the bottom! Mwahahahrgh!

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Winning at cars and losing at life …

Unfortunately, at the moment I am not being one of these …

Once again, it’s the time of the week when I am supposed to be writing my blog and I’ve done nothing about it. Oops.

The fact is, things are properly busy this week. I am organising things. Mostly admin. On the up side … the car … good news on that front.

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about it on here, heaven knows I’ve whinged extensively everywhere else, but you may remember that last year, the lovely mechanic who services my car tried and failed to fix the headlight. It’s a sealed plastic unit but water had got into it, the contacts inside had corroded and to get it apart you have to cut it open in a way that makes it impossible to reassemble. All the lights are angled and if you try to fix it, the couple of millimetres of plastic you’ve ground off cutting it open changes the angle of the bulbs, and suddenly your lights are not shining where they ought to. It galled both of us that something which could be fixed in about thirty seconds with a bit of sand paper cost me £1,200 plus 20% VAT.

Early this year the headlight on the other side started flashing on and off and eventually, died completely. I rang him to say ‘oh bollocks here we go again’ and he was extremely sympathetic. He consulted Lotus and they told him that yes, it would almost certainly be the unit. We agreed that since it was getting lighter and I was no longer actually using it in the dark, and it was only the dipped light I may as well use it through the summer and save up.

Ah yes, re the whinging, because it was the dipped beam that stopped working – ie, the only one I use – I ranted about it quite extensively in this post here https://mtmcguire.co.uk/2020/01/18/chaos/.

Anyhow as we can see, in January this year my stupid headlight went ffffut and died. Knobs. So I’ve been sticking to daylight use and saving up for another £1,200 + 20% VAT bill for the other headlight. My car has done nearly 80,000 miles. It’s getting on a bit in mechanical terms and stuff is beginning to need fixed. So after lock down, when I started using it again, I began to think there was something a bit … odd going on at the back end. Sure enough, it turns out it needed new springs and shocks … and a couple of tyres. Perhaps that’s why it aquaplaned and nearly span at 50mph on the M23 a month or so ago. Hmm.

But on the costs front. Paying for that stuff is fine, I’m OK with that sort of thing because it’s wear and tear and they are standard parts so they don’t cost the earth. It’s the ones which are made specifically to fit a Lotus that cost … like the lights. This year two rear tyres at £116 a pop, rear springs and shocks plus the service and MOT came to about what I expect to pay each year to keep it on the road at this stage – unless nothing is wrong with it – but I usually expect an extra £500 because it’s getting on a bit and something usually is. Then there was the headlight. Gerald had hung onto the old broken headlight. It galled him to bin something which was basically in perfect working order even if it was unusable. Despite being mercilessly teased by his colleagues about the fact he never throws anything away, he refused to budge and kept it in a box in a corner of the workshop.

Upon inspecting the knackered headlight that was in the car he discovered that some of the wiring had burned out. That was bad. On the other hand it was a piece on the outside of the unit. In theory it could be fixed, and because he’d kept the old one, he had an exact functioning copy of that same piece of wiring. Jolly dee eh? So he removed the good wiring from the broken light and soldered it onto the headlight in the car to replace the dodgy wiring. Job done. And I’m about £1,500 up on it. That, ladies, gentlemen, plus everyone beyond and in between, is a proper mechanic. What a legend!

Also I have to just say that I met Gerald after I called Gerry the mechanic at snurd Gerry. And anyway, Gerald isn’t a Blaggysomp.

Speaking of being savvy with old stuff, there is a new NHS app out to help with the whole track and trace thing. It is supposed to be compulsory if you have the right kind of phone. The basic gist is that you can consult the app to see if there are any folks who have had or are particularly at risk from the Rona near to you because it’ll flag them up. It does this using anonymous data from their mobile phone, and yours. Think of it as a kind Grinder for Covid. Or do I mean a Corona Tinder? I suppose it depends on your orientation. But like I said, it’s anonymous. And there aren’t any dick or quim picks that I’m aware of. Win win right?

Er … no

Some stores and venues are not allowing people in unless they have this thing installed. That’s all well and good, except the app appears to have a bit of a major flaw. It only works on IOS13.5 or later and Android 5 or later. So as well as the fact that, even now, not everyone has a mobile phone or can use it proficiently, it turns out that most of the people who do have phones might not be able to install it.

Speaking to one of my writer friends, today, who is a retired surgeon, she was bemoaning the fact that there is a store in town she can’t go into because she can’t install the app on her iPhone. She has an iPhone but it’s an older one. It isn’t broken though, and she likes it, and it syncs with all her stuff happily. She doesn’t want to get a new one just so this app will work. But unless she does. Favourite store? Nope. Barred.

Now, I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure there is no newer operating system than IOS13.5 as I write this. My iPad is running the latest one so I’ll have to check.

The point is, if you want everyone to use this, if it’s expedient that everyone uses this, it has to be backwards compatible. Putting aside the fact that many folks only use a small amount of data and don’t want this app suddenly spooging it all up the wall, a lot of us use older phones. Fine, so my current phone is two years old, the one before was two years old when I upgraded, but that upgrade was so I could pass one down to McMini. I used the one before that for eight years and I fully intend to see at least another five years’ use out of the one I have now, unless McMini smashes the screen even more comprehensively than he has now. He does have an unfortunate habit of hitting it with the drumsticks by mistake while he’s practising. If that happens I’ll have to upgrade so I can pass this one on to him. (He loses things a lot so a brand new whizzy phone is not an option until he can manage to hang onto it. Obviously, if he can arrange not hitting it, instead of the drum, by mistake would be a bonus too).

That’s the thing though. We are all skint and many, many people are using older phones, and they are, mostly, the exact people the government wants to see using this app. And guess what? They can’t.

Likewise, as well as not working on anything before Android 5 (also quite recent I believe) it won’t let you install it onto a phone SD card if, say, you have a phone like my original Samsung Galaxy 1 which I was using until about three years ago and which had nowhere near the disk space for the app but would have run it off an 8gb sd.

What gob smackingly, jaw droppingly stupid bellendery is this? Are they fucking serious? Well … it seems they are. But honestly, if I wrote this, people would say it was too stupid to be realistic!

Never mind, onwards and upwards eh?

I had a lovely visit to Mum’s this week. We went to the pub for lunch. She put away a big piece of battered haddock and some peas but decided she wouldn’t eat the chips. It was really enjoyable, we went with two of the carers and had a lovely lunch. Later in the week she rang me, she was on good form and laughing about some things she’d forgotten. She told me how glad she was that the doctor had told her she was just getting old and that she didn’t have dementia (even if she does). But she sort of knows. I talked about winter and how next year we would do x y or z in the garden because there’d be no covid and we’d be able to get stuff more easily. She said she wasn’t sure she’d be here next year.

‘Oh I reckon you’re good for years yet,’ I said.

‘I might be. I would hate it if I lost my marbles though. I don’t want to go mad.’

‘Well, at the moment you have trouble remembering things but you’re not mad mum,’ I told her.

She isn’t stupid. I mean, she taught herself to read so I know she isn’t stupid but … she knows. It’s so sad.

On the other hand, there’s McMini.

Remember all those hilarious quotes he used to come out with as a nipper. And how he used to call me Muggy? Yeh well, would you believe that he is now twelve and has just got into a punk band (that’s my boy) to be the drummer. He is still small. A bit of a pocket rocket and a little outrageous, although he seems to have his dad’s good judgement rather than mine when it comes to knowing what he should and shouldn’t say in front of the normals though thank heavens. Either that or he’s just really good at hiding it from me.

He takes the piss out of me mercilessly, which I consider a good sign and he is still very funny, although it’s a bit more intentional now … a bit more. But like me, he tends to be funny whether he wants to or not and the trick is just to make it look deliberate. I love that I can make him laugh. He’s such a soft audience! Mwahahahrgh!

He has no siblings so there is a definite dash of the sibling thing to our relationship as well as mother and son. It also makes me laugh how similar my relationship with my son is turning out to be to my relationship with my father. Mum too, I mean, let’s face it, Mum and I hid in a cupboard from visitors once, she was, by no means, conventional. But if I was going to shout ‘bum!’ And start giggling it would be Dad I’d do that to. And then he’d try to pretend that it wasn’t mature or funny until the laughter got the better of him. Obviously I’d like to think I’d be shouting something funnier than ‘bum’ unless I made that particular ‘bum’ extremely funny, but you get the picture. If there was an outrageous statement to be made, a statement that Dad felt that his position as teacher, church Warden and Lay Reader precluded him from making, he’d feed the line to me, with a wicket twinkle in his eye, so I could do it. Sometimes I would. Other times I’d tell him that I knew exactly what he was angling for me to say and that if he wanted it said he could jolly well do it himself. As we got older, we’d just swear at each other and guffaw.

Still eccentric …

Now here I am with a twelve year old who is, occasionally, a bit potty mouthed – despite my dire warnings to do as I say not as I do and my efforts not to swear in his presence (although he has an uncanny knack of hearing me swear when I think I’m alone, I’m beginning to suspect he listens out for it). We behave like two people who have watched far too many episodes of The Young Ones, even though I’m not sure he’s seen an episode of The Young Ones at all.

Anyway, one of McMini’s favourite pastimes is making up scathing put downs, most of which he is too kindly to use it seems (and I fervently hope). Mostly these are things that he can only use on me because they are far too rude for a twelve year old to use on anyone else. One of his favourites, should I volunteer any information in which he is not interested – which as a hormonal young man on the brink of teenager-hood, is pretty much all of it – is to pretend to look for something. After a few seconds of watching him search I might ask him what on earth he’s doing (although you’ll only do it once) and he’ll say, ‘I’m sorry I’m looking for the point where I asked?’

Another favourite is: ‘I’ve ordered a f**k to give about that. It should be here by next Tuesday.’ And one he came out with last night: ‘The mistake you made there, is adding a f**k that I didn’t give.’ And then, like my father before me, I find myself trying to look stern and disapprove, because he’s twelve and he really shouldn’t be saying things like that, and then just laughing.

I am a terribly bad parent. In standard terms, I’m a failure at most things. But for the most part, I’m happy.

On the up side, though, at least through me, McMini can see that failure is often a matter of interpretation and that it’s nothing to be scared of. That people who are complete and utter failures at what they do might be doing alright in other ways, or even if they aren’t, are not always unhappy. And of course, if I keep on trying I’m not strictly a failure, am I? Because I can’t really say I’ve failed, for certain, until I give up. And I haven’t. It it’s not like I can’t write the books. I’m just a bit shit at selling them.

Happiness, like the rest of life, can be as simple as the spin you put on things.

_________________________

Which reminds me, the entire K’Barthan Box Set is on special at Kobo at the moment so if you want to see what failure looks like close up … or grab yourself a bargain, just nip over to Kobo and help yourself. To find it on your local Kobo just click on here and choose a link to your own country!

Here’s the link: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/boxlinks.html

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