Tag Archives: author blog

I aitn’t dead

Several things have happened this week which are very apposite to this heading but since they aren’t fully resolved and I want to wait and talk about them when they are, I thought I’d settle for these two.

The strange case of the discombobulated cabbage.

This first piece of oddness is for interest more than anything. A couple of weeks ago Mum’s fabulous garden team started to harvest her rather splendid cabbage crop. Having picked a few on the Tuesday afternoon they left one on the kitchen table for me to take home when I visited the following day. When I arrived I walked into the kitchen and there was my cabbage, except it looked a funny shape and when I turned it over I found … this.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. What the hell takes a bite like that out of a cabbage and how did nobody notice the previous day when they were picked? I’m not that bothered usually, it’s all going to be boiled for a few minutes anyway, but the idea of eating something that was covered in fox slobber during a pandemic didn’t appeal. We were all set to cut large swathes off it, or bin it, when I turned it back over and peeled off some of the outer leaves. The crack went round well beyond the point where they were unbroken and still wrapped round it.

Surely no animal would do that. So what did? We had a look to see if I could piece the two sides of the crack together. While it wasn’t possible to do so en masse, it was possible to see that both halves of the broken leaves on each side of the fissure matched up. These leaves hadn’t been chewed. They’d been ripped asunder (sounds theatrical). The cabbage, once picked, had continued to grow … in parts. Those parts, while growing, had torn the other, non growing leaves apart. So what you see there is a cabbage that has exploded in slow motion. Weird, and kind of cool. Also, I imagine this isn’t that unusual, so presumably farmers and harvesters of fast growing veg have to factor this in when they pick them in case of … accidents. I also love the idea of something taking fifteen hours or so to explode. Wish I’d had a time lapse camera on it.

Living on the edge! Because that’s how I roll …

Recently I was listening to Joanna Penn’s excellent podcast and she was talking about setting goals and also the whole getting comfortable with smaller horizons aspect of lockdown. Her podcasts are great by the way, if you are interested, you can find a list and listen to them here.

When it comes to targets she was saying she’d love to earn seven figures. Frankly, I think seven figures in comedic sci fi and fantasy probably isn’t going to happen unless my surname is Pratchett, Fforde or Adams. I’d be really, really happy with five figures, per year, sod it, four would be good. If I made myself a profit of £1000 a year I’d practically jizz, except I’m a lady so I can’t. Yet my ultimate ambition, though it isn’t exactly monetary is that I want the action figures on my desk to be characters from my own books. That’s probably more than a seven figure ambition right there – so it’s pretty unlikely – but hope springs eternal eh?

Focusing on reality, in the short term, I want to try and push my monthly sales from £150 – £200 ish to £500 and my resulting profits from about £10 to say … £50? This will involve writing more books I suspect. Working on that, I promise. As well I suspect it involves working on a series that people actually want to read, rather than one that they love but only after they’ve been forced to read it at gunpoint.

Further to my ultimate end of maybe earning … something … I’m hoping to produce a box set of first in series funny sci-fi and fantasy books. There are ten of us and it will be given away free. This is one of those projects that’s happening, slowly. I’ll keep you posted on progress with that because it should be a good read once it’s sorted and of course, it won’t cost anything. Woot!

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the broadcast. Joanna was saying that one of the things she loved about travel was how it pushed her out of her comfort zone. She felt that it was important to do that every now and again, step out of the comfort zone I mean – and I agree with her. She asked what her listeners were doing to push their boundaries … if anything. Well it just so happens that, this week I did worry myself and learned that travel isn’t the only way out of your comfort zone. Oh no. I present to you … this tried and tested method.

I grew up in the country and was brought up as a bit of a forager. If I go on a walk I’m the one at the back of the group picking fruit out of the hedges or leaves from the verge and eating them. I also grew up picking mushrooms. There are a number of these that I am totally comfortable picking and eating, some that I’m perfectly comfortable picking but can’t eat because I’m allergic to them and others that I’m pretty sure I can identify but am not comfortable putting in my or anyone else’s mouth (phnark).

Young parasol mushroom, the snakeskin er … shaft is unique to this mushroom. If it has that, you will not die from eating this.

A few years ago McOther and I went on a mushroom picking day at one of the nature reserves on the fens somewhere – probably Welney. They showed us how to identify a parasol mushroom and then they cooked some, which we ate. They were delicious and as they have some unique aspects I swore that I would pick them and eat them the next time I saw them.

However it was 5 or 10 years until I saw my first parasols in the wild and I wasn’t confident enough to pick them. Especially as the folks I was with patently had zero confidence in my fungus identifying abilities. This was in the days when all you did on a mobile phone was talk to people, text them or play snake so there was no looking on t’interweb to check. Anyway looking it up on t’interweb doesn’t always help and the point is probably moot because, at the time we happened upon them, we were on on roof of the Shropshire hills. Even now I doubt you can get a signal up there. Then last week while having a walk in the grounds of McMini’s school I found a load of them. I was almost certain what they were but – as usual – not 100 percent.

Having erred on the side of caution, I went home and looked them up. Now, I was as sure as I could be that these were the Real Deal. Still too scared to pick one though. Then I hit on a way to jog myself out of my inertia.

I was due to be driving to Mum’s to have lunch after school drop off the next day. To gather that much needed vote of confidence, I hit on the idea of asking her care team if any of them would like me to bring a mushroom down and leave it at hers for them. My cunning plan was that my Mum’s country care buddies could identify it, know it was parasol mushroom at once and asked me to bring one for them I would know it was edible.

Sure enough. The lady with Mum the day I was to visit said yes please.

Good. Now I had to pick them.

A mature parasol mushroom.

That Wednesday, morning I dropped the lad off and headed across the park to pick me mushroom … or two. In the end I picked three. I also photographed some of the mushrooms in situ in various stages of development. Naturally, once I was half way back to the car I realised that, having taken those photos, I’d left my phone on the ground by the mushrooms.

Bollocks.

Back I went. As I swished through the grassy field, filling my sandals with dew and soggy dead grass, I turned on my Bluetooth headset. Eventually the plastic voice said ‘connected’ in my ear and I knew the phone was within a 12 metre range. After a quick search I found it, put it in my pocket and returned to the car. Never mind, I expect the extra walking did me good.

When I arrived at Mum’s the lovely carer and I had a look at them, consulted our phones decided that we could definitely eat them without dying. She cooked one for Mum and I, took one home for herself, and I took the other one home and had it for my lunch on Thursday and Friday.

All three of us; Mum, career and I are delighted that we are not dead. And I’m very glad that I stepped out of the zone and finally summoned up the courage to eat a parasol mushroom after a mere twenty years. And it tasted chuffing marvellous, too. Another edible fungi on the list of things I’m confident picking, then. I call that a win.

I think the three of us felt quite pumped by the act of taking that small risk.

So the moral of this rather long story is that you don’t have to leave the country to enjoy that little frisson of danger. You can experience it right at home.

___________________________

Has this inspired you to do something unusual? (Trust me, this is unusual.)

If you’re feeling like pushing the envelope (snortle) or stepping out of your comfort zone, you can always try reading one of my books. I mean, they’re not that weird.

Well … only a bit.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling up for anything and really, really brave, you can help yourself to a couple without even paying for them when you join my mailing list.

If you want to do that, you can join here:

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/freens.html

Think how pumped and smug you’ll feel afterwards, as well.

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Filed under General Wittering

How does it work? Audiobooks.

Today I thought it would be interesting to do a what-are-the-duck’s-legs-doing-underneath style post about audiobooks. Obviously, I know jiff all about audiobooks or producing them so the best place to start is with someone who does; Gareth, The Voice Of K’Barth Davies. This means I also get to post some of the extensive interview he did, which is going to be delivered in several parts to audiobook listeners on my mailing list. Also, because after pestering him with that many questions, frankly, I think the least I can do is share his answers with as many people as possible.

Boing …

Most of you know how it all started, I’m sure, but for those who don’t, I got an email, out of the blue, in July 2019 from Gareth, with a link to Unlucky Dip recorded on audio. Obviously the email was funny so he had me at ‘hello’ – although it was actually  ‘greetings and salutations’ if I remember correctly – but the recording was brilliant as well. Bonus! I had no clue who he was so I had a look at his website.

He was, indeed, an actor and acted for a living, without doing anything else. This, I suspected, made him impressively bloody minded and, if he could earn enough not to die of starvation, probably quite good at acting.

Gareth cooking audiobooks …

It looked like he had a sense of humour (always a bonus) a bit of a line in pantomime villains (well, he was going to be reading Lord Vernon, wasn’t he?) and it seems he can also jump very high in the air.

In subsequent conversations, I discovered that he is a even bigger sci-fi nerd than I am, which takes a bit of doing.

One of the jolly side effects of this project has been that meeting of the spuds aspect! Put it like this, he kept rabbits at one point and one of them was called Wicket – after the Ewok, naturally. He was a children’s entertainer for many years and you need something to pull out of the … well … I think it was a house rather than a hat but you get the picture.

He can do funny, which is fairly essential for reading my stuff and he is very modest about his achievements. I suspect he’s a lot more distinguished than he makes out.

Having decided the project was go, both of us were feeling our way a bit at the beginning. He hadn’t done a commissioned book before and I … well audio was definitely on my radar but I’d looked at the prices and chalked it up as something to do in my dreams for now. So I hadn’t read up on it or anything and consequently, I hadn’t a fucking clue what I was doing (now I have read up on it I still haven’t a fucking clue but that’s by-the-by). Gareth made relatively few actual mistakes, even on these first books most of the errors I picked up were my own typos. Sheesh.

We were both quite nervous, after recording the first novel, Gareth sent the link to me with the rider, ‘Basically, I’m just hoping for any reaction other than “what the hell have you done!?!”‘

There was also something that went slightly skew whiff with the set up on the third and fourth books because he was experimenting with the sound set up. He did explain it, I think it was called ‘sound gate’ if I recall. Then it was my turn to be nervous, principally, about the weird nature of the feedback I was giving him.

When he’s not illuminated in green or dressed up in costume Gareth looks like this.

Since my only experience of audiobooks was still restricted to Radio 4s A Book At Bedtime it did feel weird marking up a document going, ‘8 minutes 10 seconds you breathed in a weird way there and I heard it!’ I was a bit unsure as to whether I was helpfully pointing out things or being an anally retentive wanker. As someone who is not at all comfortable with the notion of overt wankerdom, I did keep asking, to check. It was probably quite annoying, but Gareth cheerfully continued to reassure me … quite a lot … that it was the former, not the latter!

He has now recorded a lot more audio, including seven of my books, I get the impression that he has definitely evolved a working process that suits him. Clearly, no two people are the same but I hope you will get a general feel for what the process involves and what a narrator does.

As I understand it, Gareth proofs all his own stuff. Some narrators don’t though, so they have to pay someone else to do that for them, usually at an hourly rate. That’s how the costs of audio end up sounding very high. The minute you start to unravel what goes into producing a book you (general ‘you’ here, clearly) start to change your view. Narrating an audio book is way, way more complicated than just sitting (or standing) in front of a microphone and reading stuff aloud as Gareth’s answers show.

Anyway, enough wittering on already. Here he is answering my questions about audio book production.

Gareth on producing audiobooks…

Right oh. First question. You warned me you’d take a while to produce the K’Barthan books but actually I thought you worked impressively fast. How long can you read at a stretch before you lose the will to live have to give your voice a rest?

I work a bit differently now than I did when reading the K’Barth series (I have learned!) For those, I read the whole book through, sent it to you for notes, then rerecorded, edited and mastered the finished piece. That meant that I would just be reading for as much of the day as I had quiet. Which meant, on days where the house was completely empty – if everyone was away for a few days – I could record for many hours. We were up against a very hard deadline to finish the initial reading of the last book because I was leaving the country on tour. I recorded maybe 12 hours each day over a long weekend and I finished reading that at around midnight on Sunday! That’s probably the closest I’ve come to losing the will to live …

Now, I record, edit and master a section each day – that gives the author more manageable chunks to listen to and, on the off-chance a chapter has no notes then it’s finished. Generally speaking, for each hour of finished material, it takes at least two hours to record it, slightly less to edit. So I currently aim to get around 1.5-2 hours done each day, which is roughly 3-4 hours recording and maybe 3 editing. When recording, I tend to work by chapter. So, unless it’s a very short chapter, I’ll take a break; walk around a bit, sit in my comfy chair and – always – go to the loo: you are constantly drinking water when recording.

There was a long stretch at the start of book three where the male MC has a sore throat and Gareth read that with a croaky voice, which was genius. One of the most fun parts of the process is that, if I leave him room to work, this is the kind of thing he does. He did confess to being very relieved when he got to the point where the sore throat is mentioned as having gone. Likewise, I do give some guidance on the voices I want, but mainly because he can do a lot more accents than he thinks he can – and with a gentle (I hope it’s gentle) prompt he can produce a very varied cast of characters, often with just the tiniest tweaks on the same basic set of vocal parameters.

On a side note, that’s also wise advice about the weeing, we know what Billy Connolly said about never passing up the opportunity to use the loo.

Next question …

Do you do voice training and if so, how much? Do you have to do the voice equivalent of warm up stretches before you start reading. Or any other special measures (!) like … I dunno … standing up to read? (that sounds weird but I do it all the time on the phone when I want to make a complaint, or a business call, or pretend I’m a grown up … and I can’t speak and think sitting down sorry. Tangent.). Are there some days where you know your voice is just not going to play ball? Says Mary attempting to break the record for the longest question ever asked.

Oh, there’s a lot there and I feel I might end up giving you an even longer answer than the last one! Yes, I definitely do some vocal warm ups. For starters, I always want to have at least two hours between getting up and starting to record (which isn’t hard cos I’m not a morning person and it takes me ages to get going, anyway). Then, when I’ve got the laptop and mic and everything set up I start warming the voice with some humming, then soft vowel sounds then moving on to phrases I learned 20 years ago at drama school! This isn’t a long process, we’re talking a few minutes rather than half an hour or something, but it’s just until I feel things are fairly loose and I’m not pushing or straining. Then I run through a series of tongue twisters – because tripping over consonants when you’re in mid-flow is deeply irritating and annoyingly frequent!

There are days when you realise your voice isn’t really with it, but you only really know for sure when you’ve started. I’ve had maybe two days where, maybe half an hour in to recording, I’ve stopped and packed it in for the day.

But it’s odd that you mention standing up. I have read everything so far sitting down, but in a session with my singing teacher recently (over zoom, naturally) we found that my system is actually more relaxed and my voice more open when I’m standing, so I’ll be trying that out next – though whether it’s something listeners would be able to pick up on or whether its just for my own benefit remains to be seen…

Gareth’s first standing up book – I think – is Nothing To See Here which we signed off yesterday, as I type this. 🙂

Does your voice change over the course of the day and how do you deal with that when you’re reading audio to a deadline?

Yes, it does change, but maybe not in the way you might expect. Rather than the sound of the voice changing it tends to be more the mental shifting that gets reflected in the way you read. The clearest example of what I mean is that I noticed (to my embarrassment) that chapters I’d recorded first in the day tended to be slightly slower paced than those recorded later – hopefully not in an obvious ‘that’s weird’ way but certainly enough that I started to hear when editing. When you become aware of something like that, you can try to counter it.

In general, I suppose one of the benefits of both voice training and the practical experience I’ve had over the years is that I have a kind of ‘work mode’ so that no matter where or when or what’s going on I do default to that which keeps the voice pretty consistent.

In the 70 or so hours of recorded material Gareth has produced about K’Barth there’s only been two occasions when his voice didn’t play ball, one time he was ill. He was busy being The Fat Controller at Thomas World – a job description that still causes me an unreasonable amount of mirth – sorry Gareth. He was working through the run up to Christmas 2019. The weather was vile; cold and rainy. I should imagine that working outdoors, in the freezing rain, in a soggy fat suit, is a fairly good way to catch pneumonia. I think he felt quite rough for a week. One other occasion, his voice was just tired and not playing ball the exact way he described in the previous answer, so he had to wait until the next day. All in all he’s very consistent, which is handy. Next question …

How do you keep track of what voice you are doing for whom, do they slide a bit from time to time … or do you have an ‘are you nervous son’* for everyone!

* – Gareth told me that to do the accent for Big Merv he would always do one particular line out of Unlucky Dip when BM slaps a giant hand on The Pan’s shoulder and goes, ‘Are you nervous son?’

When I started The Wrong Stuff (book 2) I set up a separate tab on my recording programme. I transferred clips from book one onto it and then added recordings of new characters as they came in. That way I had a quick reference point to go to if I got confused – this was a lifesaver when it came to books 3 and 4. There are several chapters there with eight or more characters in, including many new ones; so I’d think ‘Damn! Which resistance officer is which?’, go and have a listen and then carry on.

Sliding? Yes! Two pairing especially come to mind. The Pan and Ruth, as our central pair, are both more neutral voices so sometimes their dialogue could blend too closely. Also the first few chapters between Deirdre and Snoofle – I kept giving them each other’s accent! But some characters did develop their own reference to help out! Aside from Big Merv’s ‘You nervous son?’, the best is Gladys; whose voice is accompanied by a forward and back shaky right hand! Every single line!

So now I’m wondering whether the hand moves faster if Gladys is talking quickly! I should have asked him.

How do you make up for the lack of audience to keep the buzz and energy in your performance when you record?

That’s not really something I’ve particularly thought about. Obviously for live theatre or concerts or street shows, the audience is a major factor. But there’s also plenty of acting work that happens without one, even in my career which has been predominantly theatre. Even in rehearsals for live shows you’re working for performance level so working without an audience, or rather, working as if there’s an audience is fairly common. It’s mostly just about staying focused on what you’re doing, which is obviously tiring in itself and one reason for frequent breaks!

When I’m recording books, my focus tends to be on the microphone, and the audience I’m thinking about is myself (will I accept that when I’m editing? If not, let’s redo it now) and the author (am I delivering something close to what they had in mind?).

The audio thing … it looks like it takes a hell of a long time to learn; making the booth, learning the tech, choosing the mic, editing out the trains (Gareth lives near a railway line) and mastering the … well … mastering … How long did it take you to achieve book readiness, so to speak?

This is one of those things where, to get to an acceptable level is not too hard, but then you keep learning and making improvements. My booth is basically a corner of my room with a spare mattress behind me (with a very nice Star Wars Lego cover on (next to a Lego Han Solo it says ‘Han shot first), towels on the various surfaces around me and sheets draped in front. I’ve now upgraded so I can remove the sheets.

Gareth’s recording corner, note StarWars tat on top of the sheeted … cupboard? Shelves? That’s probably all the Warhammer figures under there.

I am not remotely tech savvy so that was definitely the thing that slowed me down at first. I followed a guide (specifically for audiobooks) in setting up and using the software I bought. Even now, I barely scratch the surface of all the things that program does and I’m probably ignorant about 95% of it – but I mostly know how to do the things I need it for.

It probably took me two or three months to get comfortable with it, and much of that time was spent playing around recording Unlucky Dip, the short story, and getting that right. Certainly by the time I’d finished the first full book in the K’Barthan Series I felt pretty confident – though I was still referring back to my notes for the mastering process.

Since then I’ve invested in a better microphone and some very clever editing software that makes that process much, much easier! But there are still things I want to learn more about so I can keep improving.

That bit about learning what you need to know to get started completely resonates with me. I’m like that with Facebook ads, I bought a brilliant course a few years ago, learned enough to get them to work and now that’s what I do. There is so much more I could do, and a lot more I want to do, but there’s only so much time and those things come under the other 95%. Mwahahahargh! Sorry, next question.

How many actual hours do you reckon you work for a finished hour of audio?

Oops, I should have read ahead! I half answered this question above. In actual practical terms, for recording and editing, I’d say I’m currently at around 3-4 hours per finished hour. The usual estimate for audiobooks is around 3 hours, so I still have some room for improvement.

That does not, however, include the preparation time. I like to read the book once through just to read it, get the overall story and tone. Then read it through a second time making notes. Technical notes like the start and end page numbers for each chapter and which new characters are introduced when. And performance notes about the characters and any particular points I might need to be aware of when reading. And any questions I have for the author; such as checking pronunciations (we learned that the hard way when I went back and rerecorded every instance of ‘Blurpon’ in Few are Chosen…) their thoughts on character voices and – knowing that typos tend to slip through the tightest knot – even questioning bits of text if I think there might be an error.

Then there’s figuring out the voices. For some books it can be a simple thing of pitch or intonation. Then, there are books like the K’Barthan Series ………..

(Obviously, I loved it. Even when I was desperately running out of ideas towards the end!)

OMG the Blurpon thing! We were both so green at the start. I still feel a bit kind of … wandering in the dark sometimes but Gareth definitely has a process now. Not that he was ever anything other than a consummate professional. He has always come over as efficient and unflappable – and if anything did go wrong, like the Fat Controller flu episode – he kept me updated on progress. But I digress, next question.

Is there anything we authors can do when speccing up the audio job, that would be helpful – apart from the really obvious things like, remembering to tell you how all the made up words are pronounced (doh! Although you got them all right bar one anyway).

There’s that Blurpon again! (I really should read ahead…)

Accents is one (though, having just read ahead (finally) I’ll save that for the last question). But overall, I suppose knowing how much of an input you want, and being aware that there’s a limit to how close to your perfect reading any reader can get.

Some authors (like yourself) have very clear ideas in their heads about how characters sound or how certain phrases should be said, so it’s good to know that going in. Other authors have a more, ‘I’ve written it but you’re reading it, so just let me hear it’ approach. And some are in the middle ground. None is right or wrong, none is better than another. As long as that awareness that its someone else reading it is there. A friend of mine read one audiobook, but the author was so on his case about getting sentences exactly the way she heard them in her head, that he hasn’t done any more!

That’s unbelievably sad about the narrator who was scared off by the micro managing author. I think that, as an author, some of us are micro managing, which is fine. But if an author wants their book exactly the way it is in their head, and will brook no movement from that, the only option is to read it themselves rather than hire someone else. I know a couple of authors who feel this, have accepted it and are, indeed planning to read their own. The rest of us … there needs to be some give. Right at the beginning, Gareth made a point of explaining that, while he would give anything a shot – except a Liverpudlian accent – I needed to understand that all the voicing is being done by one person’s voice and the limits are set by what, exactly, that voice can physically do.

For all the caveat, many characters in the K’Barthan Series sound exactly the way they do in my head; Ada, The Pan of Hamgee, Lord Vernon, Ruth (intonation, tone etc), Big Merv to name the main ones. He also got Sir Robin Get bang on but we used that for Professor N’Aversion because the voice he suggested for for Sir Robin was so much better than the one I specced. In the general narration, he also has exactly the kind of voice I would have looked for had he not approached me. I consider myself extremely lucky in that. I think if The Pan, Ruth, Big Merv and Lord Vernon had been too different, I might have struggled … possibly … I dunno. But there is so much more to this than how the characters sound in inner space.

One of the joys of books is that they are living things in a way no other art form is. Because every other art form is presented to you in its interpreted form by a conductor, producer, director or whatever, but a book is something each reader interprets for themselves. Every single person’s head cinema is different. That’s what makes reading so wonderful, you can imagine it from the author’s cues but that’s just the basic framework; a lot of the rest is up to you, the reader. The way Gareth reads some words is different to the way I do, the intonation on some bits isn’t the same. I love that. It’s like a window into someone else’s thinking; how he sees it and hears it. As a nosey author, that kind of thing intrigues me hugely.

Surely, the overall tone and feel the narrator creates for each book is way more important than the minutiae. Is the way the characters interact true to the original – do their relationships come over, their feelings, their dreams their desires (where applicable) the chemistry between them, or lack of it … For me, there is so much more to it than soundy-likey voices.

Er hem, sorry. Went off on one there. Where was I? Ah yes, last and final question.

Is there anything you would categorically refuse to do as part of an audiobook narration, if asked? Or is it just the Liverpudlian accent? Mwahahahargh!

I can’t think of anything. My standard answer of ‘I won’t do nudity’ isn’t really relevant here.

But accents are where it gets potentially tricky. I’m reasonably good with accents, but I’m not one of those phenomenal accent sponge people. (I made that up, but you know what I mean.) But if there’s an accent required, I’ll do my best. The book I’ve just read had a South African character for a few lines. I did my best as a kind of placeholder while I finished the rest of the book, then went and researched and practised and tried to improve and went back and rerecorded it. It was better but certainly not brilliant. Then I was told that a future book in the series was set in South Africa. So I’m putting in more practise now…

But saying no? While I’m prepared to have a go at most accents, I’m a white European, so if an author came to me with a book set in, say, Asia, with a cast principally made up of Asians, I would suggest they find someone more appropriate to the task!

So there you go … A massive thank you to Gareth for taking the time to answer all my inane questions. I hope his take on doing audio or at least his answers to my questions about it, helps to give you a feel for what’s involved. And if you want to find out more about Gareth, you can visit his website here.

Also, one of the best chapters he did was one in Few Are Chosen, you can listen to that on soundcloud here.

_________________________________

Oh and if you’d like to listen to Gareth’s work, why not try one of my audiobooks? OK not this one because we only signed it off yesterday so it’ll be a month or so before it appears online … and it probably won’t appear on Audible until next year. But anyhoo if you want a listen there are two ways to do so for nothing:

Thing one: If your local library uses Hoopla, Overdrive and Odilo so you should be able to find them on many local library apps – just ask your librarian if they aren’t obvious as some libraries have to buy a copy and you have to borrow it one at a time, others do a thing where multiple people can listen at once and I get paid per check out. The point is, they pay me but you get to listen for free.

Thing two: if you just want to see what it’s like, you can listen to an entire 90 minute story for free if you decide to join my Readers’ Group. A story that isn’t available anywhere else. You also get to listen to Unlucky Dip, the 30 minute short, for free as well.

Alternatively, for a list of my audiobooks, and links to buy from me, direct, or from the main stores, go here.

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Filed under General Wittering

Well … that was weird …

Lancing Beach. Just to throw you when I’m talking about Suffolk beaches later. Some guy found a gold coin here.

A strange week all round. I was going to share some of the questions and answers I’ve been doing with Gareth, because they are hilarious but a couple of bits happened that I thought I’d share instead.

First up Mum. As you know, Mum has dementia. She passed the NHS memory test with flying colours but then, everyone does. My Dad did, even after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s in 2012 As far as I know, they were still giving him this stupid memory test until 2017 – because nobody told us or the Doctor about his diagnosis until then so we still didn’t know what he had – and he was still passing the bloody thing with flying colours. It’s not just the patient who is in denial for ages when dementia rears its head, it seems. The NHS also.

As well as dementia Mum has arthritic knees. A while back, in 2015, she had them looked at. The surgeon thought a new knee would be too complicated and that the requirements of the recovery process too taxing but they did give her a new hip, which she also needed. To be honest, I think the knee was more the problem but half was better than none and it did remove a fair chunk of pain so that was good.

Off I go wandering from the topic again … back to the point … the result of not having had her knee done is that Mum has one particularly dodgy knee which tends to give way on her. The other day it did and she ended up on the floor and hit her head – I blogged all about it here. Quick recap: because she’s on blood thinners, she had to go to hospital and have a brain scan. She had to go in alone because … Covid … which for someone with dementia who has banged their head, is not ideal. They were great with her, though, and she did well too. They took her in at three pm and was ready for collection by six. But she explained that her knee had given way and she’d grabbed the nearest thing for support which was, unfortunately, a door handle, so the door opened and she slid gently to the floor where she ended up wedged in a small space and so she couldn’t get up.

Having had this mishap, I thought that maybe it was time to get her something a bit more stable than a walking stick to use in the house. A Zimmer frame wasn’t much good as she’s quite frail and couldn’t lift it. She uses a fold up thing with wheels and a seat when she is outside which, I believe, rejoices in the name of a ‘rollator’. These are great because the wheels make them easy to push, the seat provides welcome respite from standing too long and they have breaks to help you control them. This one is ideal for outside but she needs one that’s smaller for use in the house. I had a look … God bless the internet … and found some that I thought might do.

Three Wednesdays ago, I sat down with Mum and the Carer and we looked at three wheeled light weight rollators. There wasn’t one with a seat, well there was but it was about £200 but I found one with a bag that she could use to get from one part of the house to the other. She can still put the secateurs in it lay flowers across the top of the bag etc. Having found it, I showed it to her and we had a chat and she decided it might be a good thing to have so I ordered it, there and then.

A week later and one of Mum’s carers found one that another lady wasn’t using. It wasn’t light weight but she thought it might be useful. I agreed it might be and suggested she bring it round and I’d cancel the other, except of course that the other then proceeded to arrive. Usually when you buy these things you get an email saying it’s been despatched. In this case, we didn’t. So it turned up without warning.

The Carer looking after Mum that day opened it, set it up and Mum … went into orbit.

I kid you not. She rang me, incandescent with rage, asking what the blazes I thought I was doing buying stuff without even consulting her. It was rubbish anyway, she fumed, because it doesn’t have a seat. How could she sit and talk to her friends if it didn’t have a seat?

I tried to explain that it was to use in the house, to replace her stick because it was more stable but a bit more compact than the one with a seat which she uses outside. There was no point in having it then she needed to do various things with it and without a seat she couldn’t.

‘But your stick doesn’t have a seat …’ I said.

‘No and so I can only sit in the kitchen or the drawing room because I can’t get in and out of the chairs anywhere else.’

Fair point but she doesn’t go anywhere else and she uses a shower stool I bought her (God bless you second hand shops in Galashiels). Sometimes though, Mum’s now is not the same as ours. I think she was at some point where she needed a walking aid but was still quite spry and doing stuff about the house. Things like cooking, and sending and replying to emails on her computer. She hasn’t done any of that for ages. I hadn’t properly clocked that her perception of when she is is changing, or how extensive her dementia is because she’s still so normal to talk to … usually.

I asked her if it might not come in handy?

Anyway, She told me in no uncertain terms that it bloody well wouldn’t, that it must be packed up forthwith and sent back.

After gently explaining to Mum that we had ordered it together and that she’d had a very hectic week and must have forgotten, she finally simmered down but wasn’t keeping it, oh no,  she wanted it sent back and replaced with the version that had a seat. Now.

This is where I cocked up. The way you do this with a demented person is not to set them right on the facts, you just say, ‘oh dear, they’ve sent me the wrong one,’ or ‘oh dear, how did I manage to order the wrong one,’ and leave it at that. It would have saved a lot of angst filled explaining.

Never mind, let’s get on with it shall we. I’d bought the thing online with her debit card, because I have power of attorney, except the bank don’t know that or they won’t give us a card so I did it pretending to be her. Easy then, I’d ring them up and sort it out but … they were not answering the phone unless it’s really urgent because … covid. Ugh. So I emailed them. Yes they would take it back. No they would not be able to replace it with another one with a seat, have me pay the difference and swap one for another. Oh and the cost of return would be £16.

Sixteen quid! The fucking thing only cost £48.

Bollocks.

The Carer who’d found a similar one hadn’t brought it round yet and seeing the chat about this on the … well … chat, she asked if she should.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but hide it, she may come round to using it. We’ll have to see.’

In the meantime, since the company that had sold me the new one didn’t have the one with the seat in stock I just thought it best to hang fire for a bit. The carer packed the new walker away and hid the box away where Mum wouldn’t see it.

Two weeks on, and during this week’s visit, the Carer told me that she’d managed to get Mum to use the second hand one for a bit on Monday but she’d suddenly refused on Tuesday. I thought I may as well give it a go, so I wheeled it in to the drawing room and asked her if she’d like to try it. She quite liked it but wasn’t sure because … well because she uses her stick to pull things closer, pick things up, press buttons and light switches she can’t reach, point at stuff etc. That said, after a short test run during which she really quite liked it, I left her with it by her chair.

Thursday morning and she told the Carer how wonderful it was and that maybe we should get it cleaned up.

‘We could but d’you know Mary ordered you a new one, I think it arrived the other day.’

‘Did it?’ Mum asked.

The Carer said that yes, it had and asked if Mum wanted it set up for her.

‘Oh yes please.’

Apparently it is now a hit. So much of a hit that, nine days on from ringing me in a fit of something approaching rage at its arrival, she rang me to say thank you and tell me how wonderful it was.

That, people, is dementia. Light and shade, rain and sun, on and off: random.

The obligatory seal pup picture taken on the beach I was actually at this weekend. 🙂

On a personal note, remember I did an entire day’s metal detecting without sitting down for lunch the other day? Yeh. Well that was a bad idea, I did my back in. It recovered after two days so, happy that all was well again I did more metal detecting on the beach (only for an hour and a half) went for a walk etc. We saw a seal pup and I took the obligatory Norfolk (well … Suffolk) coast seal cub picture. Awww or what. Then we went and had supper at friends. At which point, back fully recovered, I was able to remove the pain relief pad while I was there and felt oh so much better. What a relief.

Or not.

The next day, the back pain was back a little and starting to get a bit worse, but nothing major. Thursday morning. Arnold’s dingleberries! It was hideous! Friday; also hideous, and even today it is still evil. Needless to say the first day anyone who might be able to fix it can see me is Wednesday next week. Of course. And needless to say the first day I can see anyone is Friday. It could be worse … I had a club dig scheduled for tomorrow, which I don’t think I’d have been able to go to, and now I have a week to get better, or at least, well enough to do an afternoon of metal detecting without three days of scream ab-dabs afterwards.

The pain levels have been pretty grim. Up there with breaking my collar bone in the constant nature of the pain and, when it has subsided a little, the ease with which the slightest of movements will set it off. Also, at the risk of being a bit personal here … weeing. Or more to the point wiping. Fucking hell that hurts. How, in the name of the almighty do women with chronic back pain wipe their arses every day? Is there a lot of screaming? Is there a … surgical device? Jeepers. It’s alright for you blokes, all you have to do is wave it about a bit and shove it back in your trousers. We ladies have to get our hand a great deal further round and fuck me that smarts. I never thought I’d envy the ancient Romans their communal loos with the sponge on a chuffing stick, but frankly, even the prospect of wiping my personal bits with device of dubious provenance that had been used by multiple others – and probably not washed particularly well – would be preferable to the pain of doing it my bastard self. I have, at least, reached the point where I don’t dread going to the loo but it’s still about as much fun as sticking cocktail sticks into my own eyeballs and possibly slightly more painful.

Yeh so … maybe little bit too much information there. Yeh. On that note … I’ll leave you. Don’t have nightmares kids.

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If you need to take your mind off that last paragraph …

You could always pop over to Kobo or WH Smith and download my latest audiobook from the Kobo Sale. It starts officially on 9th September but it has been reduced from £5.99/$6.99 to £2.99 and $3.99 the kobo link, among others, is on this page … here.

Small Beginnings is not quite out at all retailers but getting there … slowly. More on that story … here.

Read by Gareth (The Voice of K’Barth) Davies to the usual extremely high standards. If you want to see what it sounds like, you can catch a listen to Chapter 1 from my soundcloud page here. Or click on the picture.

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Treasure

Yeh, I know it’s about five hours after the usual time but things got out of hand.

Two different types of treasure this week. First the lovely one that is McOther. Ah bless him. This week he was sixty, a thing that I find almost incomprehensible. He looks about 45 if that. Anyway, in order to mark the occasion I decided I needed to do something. After a bit of discussion with a friend, and McMini, I hit on a series of days out at air museums. I’ve offered him four and he can pick one although there are a couple that I might buy for all three of us at Christmas so long as enough people (or anyone) buys some of my books.

Meanwhile our ‘bubble’ decided we would meet and sort out a birthday evening along the themes of Not France. But clearly the ‘not’ was the same as the ‘nothing’ in Nothing To See Here. We had tarte flambé and wine, obviously. Quite a lot of wine. And then we had Scottish salmon, as a nod to his country of origin. Then to acknowledge where he grew up, we did a Canadian delicacy. Tortine which was, basically, meat pies. I got the recipe from my Canadian sis in law.

As you can imagine, not much of the organising here was done by me. It was very much a group effort because my inability to arrange … well … anything much is known and understood by all our friends. However, I was tasked with the pies and some salmon bites for the champagne. In order to ensure I got this right, I bought everything I needed at the market on Saturday, and from M&S on Sunday. The salmon things were easy to assemble, the pies looked like they were going to take a bit more cooking. For starters the ingredients was all in cups. That’s fine because I have purchased some cups or at least, North American cups because I believe Australian cups are different and New Zealand cups different again.

As a metric raised child with imperial parents I can do lbs and ozs and I can do kg and grammes. Cups are weird but so long as they stick to cups and teaspoons and don’t start suddenly throwing in 200 grammes of something I’m usually OK.

The recipe called for shortening, which I have never heard of until recently, but now I know this one! It’s lard. So I went up to town and M&S had something called baking block, which looked more like margarine when I got it home and, more worryingly, seemed to comprise mostly palm oil. Fucking Nora, I’m killing the planet. Never mind. Press on.

Casting an extremely blind eye to the rain forest murdering ‘lardgerine’ I was using I consulted the recipe and hit a snag. It comprised two cups of flour and one cup of shortening. I looked at the green plastic scoop and at the thing that was not butter but looked like a pat of butter on the counter. A thing that was, undoubtedly, very solid. How did I cupify that? Did I just squelch it into the plastic measure or what? Maybe I was supposed to melt it. Except that I didn’t really know what I was making, but the recipe was echoing somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain. Yeh. If this turned out to be bog standard pastry I was making here, melting it would be a bad idea.

In the end I decided that if it was two cups flour and one cup shortening it must be, basically, two to one. So I tipped the flour into the scales, worked out there was roughly 8oz and so I put 4oz of shortening in. Though I say it myself, the result was a reasonably decent bash at what did, indeed, transpire to be shortcrust pastry. It may be that if I’d found some actual lard it would have been proper meat pie pastry, you know, pork pie style. Not sure. It was alright though. Sure, I could have got some JusRoll but sometimes it’s nice to make this stuff and have it without all the extra additives and shit.

The mince bit of the recipe was much easier; mostly in lbs and ozs and standard tablespoons etc with the odd ‘cup’ of chopped onion or whatever thrown in. Having successfully combined the ingredients for the pie stuffing and made what I have to confess was a really quite decent filling, I got to the bit where it said I should put two tablespoons of corn flour.

We had cornflour. I knew we did. McOther had bought it to thicken something or other a few weeks previously but he’d also tidied the larder so I couldn’t find it. There was none. Now, I only have a certain number of ‘spoons’ on the energy front and it’s not many. I’d used most of my energy quotient for that day going up to town to get the ingredients. Any left I was using for cooking. Furthermore, I was at a point in that cooking when I couldn’t easily leave it. I was going to have to improvise. OK so we didn’t have cornflour but we did have custard powder. If you look on the side of a tin of custard powder, the ‘ingredients’ are corn flour, salt and yellow dye. So I put two tablespoons of custard powder into the pie mix. That was great, except I’d already salted it so now it was way too salty.

Oops.

Only one thing for it then, more water and wine in the mix. Luckily it didn’t do it any harm and – bonus – meant I didn’t have to produce the traditional gravy to go with!

The pies came out looking a lot tidier than the kitchen.

Eventually I managed to bake a couple of experimental pies and hit on which dishes I’d use. All my round biscuit cutters, the ones I was going to use for the pie crusts, they’d moved to somewhere else during the great larder tidy and of course, when pressed, McOther had long since forgotten where. Luckily we had one of those rings they press your veg into when you go to a posh restaurant and have potatoes dauphinois or something in a perfect circle. So I used that for the lids. For the Scottish pie style hole in the middle, I found a thing to put in the top of olive oil bottles which had a little plastic stopper that went on top. The stopper was the perfect size for cutting a small hole in the middle.

Eight decent pies and a dodgy experimental one at the front.

Come Wednesday morning, when the chips were down, I managed to produce some reasonably decent looking pies to heat up that evening. I glazed them with an egg and ate the rest of it, scrambled, for lunch afterwards. I’d already tasted one of the experimental pies and enjoyed it but that doesn’t always mean much when serving them up to Michelin star husband and friends. When I cooked them that night, because they were a bit of an unknown quantity and we’d already eaten a lot of other stuff, I cooked four between the six adults. They made me go and cook two more. So all in all, I think they were a success. So much of a success that I might even cook them again.

Next lot of treasure … some stuff I found. I have upgraded my metal detector. Or at least I have a new one on sort of HP from a friend. It’s like my old one only lighter and even easier to understand.

Yesterday I went metal detecting. I learned many things, principally that my new rain mac is not waterproof, that my waterproof trousers are also no longer waterproof and that detecting all day is probably too many spoons. But after searching some areas where the farmer wanted us to search for lumps of iron, during which I also happened upon a rather lovely watch winder, we went and had a quick hour and a half looking on a field where there was less iron to remove and some other, rather more interesting non-ferrous items as well.

Here’s a picture of the watch winder, which looked rather straightforward but turned out to be rather pretty when I cleaned it up.

For the non initiated, iron usually equals junk. Not always, but a lot of the time. To my delight, the new detector gave me a very accurate picture of what was what. I also found the fifth best find of all time for me, a silver thimble from the 1650s. We’d just been discussing our favourite eras as we walked to the field and I’d said I thought it was the 1600s for me because it was such a turbulent century.

Because the thimble is over 30o years old and more than 10% precious metal it’s actually classed as ‘treasure’ officially.

That means I have to hand it in to the representative from the portable antiquities scheme. I may get it back or it may be purchased by a museum for about £10 because it’s worth seven tenths of bugger all. But it’s interesting because it’s rare. Many of these were handed to the commonwealth and melted down to make money so there aren’t so many left. It’s an interesting thing. I was chuffed because I worked the date out from the type of writing and the fact it reads, ‘Fere God Truly’ which, I felt, pointed to turbulent times. I also found a James 1 penny, too, which was interesting.

This is my second find that is officially ‘treasure’ the other was a bit of a silver Saxon strap end. I think it takes two to three years for the process to go through.

Well … it is the civil service and government after all. The little thing next to it is a James 1 penny. It’s a pity a bit’s broken off because the detail is lovely.

The new detector is called an ORX and bears more than a passing resemblance to the SSS Enterprise, which amuses me. ORX is usually pronounced as the letters in turn, an O-R-X but actually, if you say them, as if they’re a word, you get orcs.

The orcs found me treasure. Bless ’em. That’s a first for us all. Even so.

Woot.

I have done very little new writing this week but I am editing Too Good To Be True like a demon. I am struggling with a canal boat chase though. Canal boats and barges here in Britain have a top speed of about 4 knots. A knot is about 1.2 something miles per hour.

As you can imagine, I loved the idea of making K’Barthan barges and canal boats the same, and then having two parties in boats that go at walking pace in a grim-faced, slow-motion chase to the death. I want people to run along the tow path throwing bottle bombs and our hero to smack them back with an oar, I also think he should probably give them a tow with his snurd, except I don’t think I can quite jemmy those bits in. I have to have the folks on the barge handing him something, in full view of the pursuing hoards. Naturally, that’s thing the ones chasing are after, so our hero can then fly away to draw off any airborne pursuit. Which he does. And they then disappear into the … fog … night … trees … tunnel? Sheesh. I dunno.

The folks in the boat live on it. It’s their home so they can’t give it up. However, they can give it a make over so it looks completely different in about thirty minutes. They can’t get caught at that point because I’ve written a show down that I really like – mainly because it involves Big Merv. I really like the whole book. No-one else will, but I do. Which makes it tricky.

Also, the canal boat chase is something I have to write straight, because otherwise it won’t come out funny. And I love the idea that some people will see it in their heads, see the incongruity of it and laugh their heads off while others will completely miss that. But if it still works it won’t matter and either path will be fine.

It’s tricky though. I might have to rest it again for another couple of months.

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If you’re impatient for the next book in the Hamgeean Misfit Series why not try listening to some of my books on audio.

Read by the distinguished and extremely talented Mr Gareth Davies, who has turned the K’Barthan series into a bit of a gem. You can find out more about them here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio.html

Also, Small Beginnings is on its way to market in audio format. Once again, read by Gareth who is a bit of a dab hand at comedy. It’s available on Kobo already and should land at the other retailers soon.

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Arnold’s pants!

Blimey but it’s windy here. Must be all the fruit I’m eating. Oh ho ho. The weather is pretty blowy too. Storm Ellen, I thought we’d had Ellen after Dennis but thinking about it I think that was some Spanish one with an exotic name from far further down the alphabet that muscled in.

This week I’m feeling a bit bleargh. I dunno why really because, as things go, I’ve actually achieved a bit of a score.

McOther is 60 next week and I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. Except with covid that’s hard and also McOther, himself, while he likes to be made a fuss of, also, does not like to be made a fuss of. So if you’re going to plan some jolly birthday japes for him you do rather have to go about it the right way. This involves tact, intelligence and subtlety so as you can imagine, I’m pretty much bollocksed from the get-go on that one. I toyed with the idea of buying him a trip in a Spitfire. They do those just down the road at Duxford. Trouble is, while I could, just, run to it, it would wipe out my entire savings … and I have another £1,500 headlight pending for next month. Thinking further, I hummed and haaad about casting the net wider. I reckoned that a fair few friends and colleagues would have chipped in five or ten quid reducing it to a more manageable dent.

However, I am piss poor at fundraising so I’d have probably raised about thirty quid and McOther would have been unimpressed if I’d blown my savings. While I’m scratching my head over this conundrum. Up pops a friend who knows someone who works at Duxford and she suggested some other tours and experiences which this lady is involved in. After a bit of a search, Bob’s your uncle! I think I have found several things I can offer him which he would love. Two or three options at Duxford, one at Biggin Hill, all look completely brilliant.

Next, with a short list, came the oh-Lordy-which-one moment. I’ve narrowed it down to three … possibly four … although unfortunately under 15s aren’t allowed on one, and with the covid malarkey, Duxford aren’t answering their phone so I couldn’t ring and ask them for details (ie does it apply to all their tours or just that one and is it an insurance exclusion, or is there scope for accommodating an extremely sensible twelve year old). I will offer him all three, some as a family day out and some as just him and he can pick the one he wants. And there we are. Some things he might like! Woot.

Then there is the party. Boozy Wine dinner and staying over at some friends who we ‘bubble’ with. Yes I have to cook some things I have never cooked and they will probably taste like shit but luckily someone else is making the cake and I’m not doing all the food. Much of it will be produced by People Who Can Cook! Phew! So Real Life wise … mood nervous but at the same time, cautiously optimistic.

Oh no …

On the books front. Things are a bit crap to be honest. Nothing is selling very well at the moment and I’m trying to organise a free first in series box set for comedic science fiction fantasy. I am extremely nervous. I’m shit at placing stuff like this in the marketplace because I suck royally at keywords. Also, I need to get some covers done and I can’t really afford to ask my usual lovely people to do that so it’s going to be downloaded Creative Commons NASA images with big hand drawn letters … and a unicorn in a space helmet, or possibly Pegasus sans space helmet saying ‘Yes! I achieved escape velocity. That’s magic.’ Or ‘I bet you’re wondering how I can breathe up here, right kids?’ With an astronaut in a space suit going, ‘that’s magic.’ Or hopefully something else that’s actually funny. Anyway, it looks as if there are six of us … hopefully … unless one pulls out. I might do one more appeal for entrants! Ideally we need to be seven or eight, I think.

Writing isn’t going very well either. I haven’t. Not for ages, because Real Life. The only time I’ve had to write this week is now and instead I have to do this. And it’s not going well anyway. The K’Barthan short that’s turned into a novel is a bit of a nightmare and I shouldn’t have called them shorts because if they were called ‘K’Barthan Extras’ I could have put in for a bookbub on them but because they’re ‘shorts’ I can’t. Arnold’s pants! Head desk. I am a total moron. But I’ve reached that point in the process when you are doing the first edit and you look at it and think, crikey this is awful. But of course when you’re mid edit that’s usually because it is. I have a canal boat chase. I so want to keep it in because frankly, few things seem funnier to me than the idea of two vehicles, each with a top speed of 4mph, locked in a grim pursuit to the death. It’s just that … how do I get rid of the people running along the towpath and won’t the bad guys have airborne snurds and just … yeh, heavy on the suspension of disbelief unless I can think of a bloody good reason for it to be just the boats … you get the picture.

Also I’ve been redoing some of my auto responders. The audio ones. So they are now in alignment with the ebook ones in that they start with the mailing list exclusive free book, Night Swimming and then give people Unlucky Dip and then go on with various other bits and bobs.

Revamping these involved looking at my ebook auto responder set up because that seems to engage people quite well. At the end of it, quietly gaining entrants, I have a survey. The idea is that I can find out what readers love and … you know … give it to them. One of the questions asked is how many of my books they’ve read. The people who answer this thing have all been on my mailing list at least a year so by the time they are invited to fill it in so, in theory, they should have read some of my books, right? I mean, otherwise, what the fuck are they doing there? When I examined the answer to that question it turns out the bulk of them have read one or two books – ie the two free short stories I’ve given them – and most of the rest haven’t read anything. Weirdly, I have people on my mailing list who send me chatty, supportive emails who have never read one of my books. I just … dunno what to do.

Worse, one total bastard has joined my list, downloaded the mailing list exclusive and posted it for sale on a pirate site, which is a bit of a shitter, especially as I can’t even sling the fucker off because I don’t know who it was.

Conclusion, over half of the people on my mailing list are other authors who have joined to see what I do. Solution, shut the fuck up about your mailing list on author marketing chat groups. Send them more excerpts and deleted scenes and keep pointing the people who pathologically refuse to pay for a book to their local library or local library’s ebook app.

I can’t do excerpts with the audio, sadly, although I can do interviews with Gareth. But I can with the ebook people. And I have the perfect book to experiment with because it achieves precisely zero sales and it was doing quite well before, when there were three excerpts from it on my auto responder. Then I can look at the survey in a year’s time and see if the number of people actually reading any of my books has risen.

Oh look. I’ve just solved my own problem. That’s jolly spiffing.

Onwards and upwards. I think the pressing thing, now is to write more books. And not books about bloody K’Barth because I need a break and if I want one of those I need to write something the normals will read. K’Barth is too complicated, too rich, too much effort for most readers, I think. It has to be simple, straightforward funny-in-space. Or something. But I have to find a way to write something that people will pick up and read, you know, on a whim rather than because it’s the last thing on their kindle and they are desperate, or being forced at gunpoint.

______________________

Well there we are. If you are bored and at a loose end you could always try reading one of my books. They are a bit weird but I promise they are more interesting than reading a telephone directory … just.

Or alternatively, there’s this lovely box set of first in series which includes Few Are Chosen and a lot of very much better, more interesting books by other people. The stealth approach has worked really well for me. People have read and enjoyed my book from this. In fact most of the people who go on to read my other books do so because they’ve read the first in series that I included in this one.

You can find that here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

That’s all for this week. Next week will be hectic and I will be on the road so there may not be a post. Just giving you the heads up! Until then, hope you have a relaxing week.

 

 

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This week I have been mostly …

Reading.

Well, OK, not this week but I have been reading so I am going to review a couple of books I enjoyed, so here we go.

Erinsmore by Julia Blake

At a recent event … well … not that recent – last year’s Christmas Fayre … I happened on a bunch of local authors. Julia Blake is one of them. Having discovered that I was not the only gay in the village writer in Bury, I have been methodically reading my way through my compadres’ books, one at a time.

As a nipper, I grew up reading the Narnia books, Five Children and It, that kind of stuff so I love things that are a little bit quirky and different. I am a total sucker for anything that involves folks switching from one reality to another so the minute I saw the premise of this book, purchasing it was a given. Similarly to Narnia, the parallel reality in question is a magical world without technology but the legends upon which Erinsmore is based are Arthurian. The story switches from the parallel world to this one and back.

The writing style appealed to me and it was definitely compelling. Do NOT start this book at the beginning of a busy period. Having to put it down and attend to Real Life will do your head in. I was swiping pages on my e reader and was completely absorbed for the entire time I took to read it. McOther was a book widower and McMini a book orphan until I was done.

OK so this is where I have to confess to reading all the Baroness Orczy, Scarlet Pimpernel books – because the only thing that’s as good as a parallel magical world is people with swords and frilly shirts fighting duels right? Right. The reason I mention that here is because I was hugely reminded of all the best things about Orczy’s style in Julia Blake’s. Erinsmore is a lot better written than Orczy’s but there was that same sweeping epic … epicness? Is that a word? There was a sweeping epic nature to this story that was similar. That echo gave the book an added quirk of familiarity which made me enjoy it more.

The premise of the story is a classic battle of good versus evil and I particularly liked that breakthroughs and good fortune were earned or came at a price. It was not all roses. Respect had to be earned, people had to be won round, outlooks changed through discussion, fights won with intelligence and skill. I liked that there many of the traditional tropes we know and love but that they were dealt with in a different and individual way. The characters were decently fleshed out and believable. Everyone in the story went on some kind of journey and although to start with, I identified most with Ruby, you’ve gotta love her sassy older sister Cassie. It is, in short, a glorious romp that should appeal to fantasy fans … and possibly Orczy fans ;-).

While this is the kind of book that is pretty much written to order for someone like me – I’m a fifty something dreamer – I think it would also appeal to the right kind of teenager. Aged about fourteen, I would have loved this. I’d have been pestering my parents to make a trip down to Tintagel and if I succeeded, looking for that mysterious shop. Blimey yes and if I ever found it, I’d but off to Erinsmore like a rat up a pipe.

Oh. And did I mention the dragons?

Great fun. Recommended.

Starship Waking: Archangel Project. Book 4

This book is one I happened upon ‘talking’ internetly (which probably isn’t a word) to other authors on a Facebook group. Yes, I am probably one of the few people who uses social media for actual social purposes. Writing is a solitary profession and I spend a fair chunk of my time sharing stupid pictures on my fan group or chatting to other authors in various Facebook groups; comparing writing techniques, marketing strategies, suppliers and services … or just having a good old gossip. During one of these conversations C Gockel’s name popped up. I had seen comments from her and chatted to her in passing from time to time, but I had not realised her books were funny as well as sci-fi. I asked her if she could recommend one and this is the one she suggested.

The hero of the story is a robot. In fact he’s a sex bot called 6T9. That amused me for starters. As the story opens he’s stuck on an asteroid. His previous owner, for want of a better word, has just died leaving the asteroid to 6T9 so long as he stays there and looks after her pet werfle – a kind of cross between a cat and the kind of small, spoiled, yappy dogs that bite your ankles a lot. Only with more legs. Think Trickywoo with venom if you’ve read the James Herriot books. This is not the ideal answer for 6T9. His programming compels him to seek a companion. Then he is asked to undertake a rescue mission to a luddite world where robot beings are banned in order to rescue a sentient ship which is in distress.

At the time I read this book, I was writing one of my own. I’d just written a scene where the somewhat eccentric main character of my series was dressing himself in purple canvas jeans with a hideous orange, yellow and red silk shirt. Having finished that scene, I picked up this book, and proceeded to read a scene where 6T9 describes himself as wearing purple suede trousers and a gold lame shirt. I knew this was my kind of book already, but I was certain from that moment on.

6T9 turned out to be a lovely protagonist. Having been upgraded from bimbo to something altogether more human with a special chip that allows him to understand things like irony, he has a wit and wisdom that I really liked. It worked especially well when he ends up on a world where robots and AI are banned as evil since he, the ‘evil’ robot has the kind of compassion and humanity that made him rather more humane than the … well … humans involved. I also liked that his ’emotional’ reactions were robotic, flaring circuits et al, and he rationalises them as nothing more than programming. Meanwhile the heroine of the story, who is a sort of were species and lives in penury as a second class citizen, has a kind of hesitant sweetness that had me wanting her to be rescued from the start. Our final protagonist is the small furry werfle ‘pet’. Not the Snowy/Tin-Tin type side kick you might be expecting.

The relationship between the characters is wonderful but I especially loved the exchanges between 6T9 and other computer entities, and of course, the werfle. And I laughed out loud at a couple of bits. Especially moments where 6T9s chip falls out and starts behaving like a complete bimbo. It made me want to go read the first book to see if that’s how he starts out.

What I loved about this book was the complexity, the subtle cleverness of the world building and the way that for all its humour, it had a solid and compelling plot. There were dicey moments for our intrepid trio, there was suspense, action and excitement as they were pursued from pillar to post searching for the ship they are there to rescue. Funny books don’t always have a plot, sometimes the funny takes precedence. All in all it was a great fun read and the minute I’d finished I went and bought a whole bunch of the other books. In fact I’ve just realised that book one is free at the moment, so I must go and download that too.

This one, also highly recommended.

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This week, I have been mostly …

How are you all doing?

This week, I mostly did … a podcast appearance. The one I mentioned last week with Bonnie Dillabough. OK so I’m not sure I acquitted myself too well, especially not when it came to answering the questions, but Bonnie is a complete scream. Ex website designer and ex professional clown among many other things. She’s also worked in audio visuals so she edits her own stuff. She has six kids and she has grandchildren … I’ve no idea when she finds the time to write books! The editing and geekery is impressive but the coolest bit is the professional clown part! I got the feeling that we have a similar outlook. She started off in KU but soon decided that she wanted to get her books into libraries and similar and so she is in the process of going wide with all retailers, which is brilliant as it means I can share her books with my mailing list a lot more easily.

She asked me what I loved most and hated most about writing! Jeez that was hard. So obviously the bit I love most is the writing bit. The daydreaming, writing stuff down, giggling at the funny bits. The bit I dislike most is probably the fact there isn’t enough time to do it in. But unfortunately, that’s not what I said. I went completely blank.

In the end, I cited one of a number of pet hates: those people who take the time to email you to be pissy rather than just unsubscribe.

The way I advertise is to invite people to sign up to my mailing list in return for a free book. A few weeks afterwards, I send them links to download a second book. My theory is that sending people a couple of free books is quite a decent thing to do – even if they’re short books at 14k and 4k, respectively (or 90 mins and 30 mins in audio). Obviously I’m hoping they’ll like the book but if they don’t that’s absolutely fine, there’s a big unsubscribe button so they don’t have to carry on receiving my emails. Usually, if the book isn’t their thing, the point they unsubscribe is when they receive an email about the second book, ‘would you like another book?’ It’s called. I guess it serves as a reminder. The last thing I want on my email list is folks who don’t want to be there, so if the book isn’t their bag and they unsubscribe I am, quite frankly, delighted. I’m aiming for a small, but perfectly formed, email list where I have a couple of thousand subscribers and an open rate that’s as close to 100% as is actually possible.

Sometimes, people write me really lovely emails saying that they appreciated the free book but they are going to unsubscribe because my stuff is not for them. If they take the trouble to do that I always thank them for their time and reassure them that I’m absolutely OK with their unsubscribing because it would be daft for them to stay.

Other times though, you get people who don’t unsubscribe, oh no because that would be sensible. Instead they email you to be condescending and unpleasant about the book you’ve given them. They act as if your offering them a gift, which they were perfectly at liberty to refuse, is an act of deliberate disrespect on your part.

‘How dare you give me a book I don’t like!’ They cry usually in the most pompous and condescending tone they can muster. ‘You have wasted my precious executive time.’

Also, as stated, they are often so tied up with being pissy that they do this without even asking to unsubscribe in the email either. I had one recently and I suppose that is why I cited people like this as my pet hate. I shouldn’t have done. It makes me come over as similarly small-minded. But I have to admit I do heartily dislike that handful of people in the industry; readers, other authors, sometimes editors, who actively go out of their way to be pissy to everyone else. Like those morons who register words like ‘tree’ and ‘sky’ as trademarks. Bellends, every man jack of ’em. I have no time for such cockwomblery.

Also, if you’re going to write to an author making disparaging comments about the quality of a book’s editing, it’s a good plan to check the email for typos before clicking send. So few of these people do.

Mostly, I simply unsubscribe them without bothering to reply. However, sometimes, if they are pompous enough, I will send them something along the lines of, ‘thank you for your honesty, I assume the purpose of your contacting me was to request that I unsubscribe you from my mailing list, this I have done.’ The more pompous and pointless their email the more scathingly polite my reply, and of course, if I can match their pomposity I give myself bonus points. This probably makes me a troll, but I reckon that since with this sort of bellendery is an unavoidable part of doing anything on t’interweb, the least I can do is have some fun out of it.

I was thinking about marketing this week. Yeh, I try not to but [MTM leans in and whispers] I enjoy it. The geek in me likes tinkering with marketing, yep the same one who would have loved to have done something scientific but … maths. Marketing is one of those things where you get to do your own mad experiments. Thus far my advertising has had the strap line, Dr Who meets Terry Pratchett … sort of. I then talk about how I’m cutting my own throat giving them a free book. I don’t think the nod to Pratchett in the body matters, but having it in the strap line makes me nervous. I’ve been looking for something else. I came up with a list of rather similar ones:

  1. When the finger of fate points, duck.
  2. When fate comes knocking, be out.
  3. When destiny calls don’t be at home.
  4. When destiny calls pretend to be out.
  5. Destiny called but it got the wrong number.
  6. Destiny called but it got the wrong guy.
  7. A man called by fate: the wrong man.
  8. Fate called. The wrong man listened.
  9. When fate calls, don’t be at home.
  10. Use ‘Destiny called. The wrong man answered’ anyway

The results were intriguing. The clear winner was 1, but hide or run were also suggested. 5 also got a fair few votes and there’s me thinking 7 or 8 were the best! If it’ll fit on the ad I think I’ll probably settle for ‘When the finger of fate points, run away.’ But it also opens up the possibility of, ‘When Destiny calls, hide’ ‘When Destiny calls, run,’ or even, ‘When Destiny calls, hide behind the sofa.’

If you have a favourite feel free to post it in the comments!

Other smashing news … despite our respective feelings of lock down meh, Gareth and I have got it together enough to do another audiobook. Small Beginnings will soon be coming to a store near you on audio!

Yesterday we had a slight alarum with Mum. She fell in the kitchen and hit her head so, because she’s on blood thinners, they carted her off to A&E for a brain scan. It happened at 11 ish. She said she lay there a while and then thought that if she could turn over she might be able to get up. But then she ended up trapped on her side and couldn’t even sit up, at which point, she admitted defeat and pressed her panic button. It goes through to two different people nearby and one couple came round and picked her up. The ambulance was also called automatically. Mum’s carer arrived shortly afterwards and after a brief chat the other lovely peps went home.

As the ambulance was going to be two hours, the carer very sensibly gave Mum lunch. Then they arrived and despite my brother and I saying no they insisted they took her to A&E to be checked. We were all a bit worried as she had to go on her own. No-one was allowed in with her.

Eventually, at 6.00pm I rang to see how she was getting on. The staff member answering the phone sounded a bit brusque and said that no-one had even seen her yet. I thought she was angry with me, it was only afterwards I realised she might have been as pissed off as I was about the fact Mum had been sitting there for three hours, rather than annoyed with me for calling. Nobody helped Mum but I doubt she asked. She went to the loo by clinging onto the wall. She gets confused but I think her dementia is vascular rather than Alzheimer’s so it’s different and definitely far more variable. By a stroke of luck she was having a really good day and was very on the ball. Even better they’d scanned and released her by seven and she was home and in bed eating a light supper by 8.00 at which point she rang me to give me a blow-by-blow account of her adventures!

Luckily, all is well and I didn’t have to go down there. I’m thinking that, since she has arthritic knees that give way and she is already very tottery, it might be time to start trying to persuade her to use a zimmer. I do have a thing you can strap on so she’ll still be able to carry stuff. It’ll take some time though.

Although it was not a pleasant few hours, I did feel hugely relieved when I chatted to her by how much more with it she was than sometimes. We had a lovely conversation and it left me hoping that some of her recent deterioration is more about lockdown fatigue. Fingers crossed.

Which reminds me …

__________________

If you’re looking for something to take your mind off all the pissy administrivia that takes six times as long under the ‘New Normal’ (lord I hate that phrase) Small Beginnings is currently free from all retailers. Or you can try some other authors by downloading the free box set anthology, ‘Future Adventures’ which contains eight excellent books but a number of different authors, including me – Few Are Chosen. To find out more, or discover a link to download either at your vendor of choice. Just click on the picture of the one that interests you.


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Smug mode …

One of the things I’ve been trying to do since lockdown eased is continue walking for an hour each day. Unfortunately, I’m coming up against the usual problem which is that post lock down is back to busy holidays mode and I don’t really have time to walk for an hour each day. As a result I’ve been trying to incentivise myself by listening to podcasts.

Last week, I listened to Joanna Penn’s interview with Marion Roach (episode 496) about writing memoir. In the preamble, she talked about experiencing feelings of tiredness, possibly even exhaustion. She explained that she’d looked it up and discovered that there is a phenomenon called lock down fatigue.

As I understood it, the gist of this goes as follows; while things are opening up and people are able to get out again, there is an increased sense of danger. So on the one hand, your social well being is probably increased. On the other, your limbic system doesn’t really know the difference between the danger posed by a stalking tiger and the knowledge that if you get COVID:19 you might die, or might not. The whole Russian roulette nature of the thing is classed by your limbic system as ‘danger’. This, in turn, means that whether or not you actually notice, your fight or flight centre is at heightened awareness. Think of it as amber alert.

The theory is that this constant state of readiness on the part of your limbic system makes you feel tired, whether you consciously realise it is in action or not. Other symptoms include struggling with memory, lethargy, having difficulty concentrating … there’s a pretty good potted summary of the main points here. The main gist of it is that the limbic system regards mere worry as a danger. As I listened to this, I suddenly had a bit of a penny dropping moment.

I’ve been worried about my father, and then my mother for a good fourteen years but certainly in earnest since 2012. 2012 was the year I had shingles and sought help dealing with the fact that I would not be looking after my parents the way I had expected to. After a fair amount of CBT I got to the point where I could cope. Add to this long term arthritic pain, which, in itself is thought to stimulate your limbic system to think danger and fog your thinking. Now throw in hormones, some people going through the menopause also get brain fog – both peri and post menopause (I’ve no idea which I am on the peri/post front but the brain fog was the clincher in actually diagnosing it).

Or to put it another way. I’ve had lockdown fatigue for the past eight years.

And with that realisation came a whole load of secondary ones. I realised that I probably don’t have dementia – if I had it when I thought I did, at the start, and I’d followed the same path as Dad I’d be at the shouty sex pest stage by now. So clearly, while I could have segued seamlessly into the early stages by now, without noticing, it’s most likely a no for the moment. That’s quite a relief.

Then there’s the mental exhaustion. I have been on the brink of burnout, and suffering mental exhaustion for at least eight years. OK, so that is a massive pisser in many respects, but at the same time, a sustained situation like that means that coping mechanisms are already learned and lock down is merely more of the same. Most likely, there is another eight years or so to go but once Mum gets to the lying in bed stage, or reaches the point where visits are really hard and she doesn’t have much idea who I am, I will probably cut the visits to once a fortnight, maybe even once a month. It will be easier this time with just the patient to consider. Some of the hardest things to deal with about Dad was seeing Mum’s distress and trying to support her through it all as well.

The single most wonderful thing about lockdown was not having to disrupt my momentum mid week. There is a lot of shite in my life which I can’t ditch, but there is a lot that I can. I’ve decided I will ditch that. Also, I think I will see if I can be referred privately to see a knee surgeon. I want to know all the alternatives which are available to me. There are people in the US with severe arthritis who are already having stem cell treatment. Here in the UK there is very little of that kind of thing available.

There is also the option of a partial replacement. I’m not sure the NHS even does those. They are still in a situation where they can only do two knee replacements so they prefer to wait until you are desperate. The idea is that one replacement only lasts x number of years so if the first implant goes wrong you may be in a wheelchair if it’s done too early. However, since I will definitely be in a wheelchair if I have to wait until I’m sixty, I’d rather do the wheelchair bit aged 70 or so than … well … sometime in the next couple of years. So my target now is to persuade the NHS, while, at the same time, saving up £20 grand for a knee op in case the NHS refuses. Hopefully, it wouldn’t cost that but I suspect all the preceding appointments, x-rays etc might up the cost a bit. I haven’t checked if the figures I’ve read are all in. So yeh, this week, I am mostly looking at, knee replacement costs.

Finally sent off my W8-BEN to Barnes & Noble. As far as I can see, if you have an EIN you use that where other folks would use an SSN (social security number). That checked, I’ve filled in the form, here’s hoping it works. Presumably I’ll hear from B&N when they receive it and They will soon tell me whether I have got it wrong or not. More on that story as it unfolds.

Have just been for a night with Mum to get this nipper together with his cousins. That was fun and involved going to the beach, even though it was not that warm. It was windy though, and they had a kite so McMini and I flew that while others swam.

Other cheerful news. I finished my first novel in 5 years. This is a major achievement. OK so it isn’t great but it’s 75k and it isn’t that awful so I’m hopeful I can turn it into something some people might enjoy reading. The only thing I have to decide now is if I’m going to write another short in the interim to be ‘Too Good To Be True’ and call this one something else.

Ah the joy of simple decisions.

__________________________

Talking of simple decisions, if you want to try out one of my books feel free to have a look at this one. I’m afraid you’ll have to sign up to my mailing list – otherwise I can’t send it to you – but it’s not a problem if you unsubscribe afterwards! To find out more go here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/freens1.html

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General wittering …

A quick one this week as I am currently in the thoes of trying to locate my W8BN form. Gads! I have decided to open a Barnes&Noble publisher account to sell my books direct. Why in the name of Pete I decided that would be a good idea now I do not know. These days, Amazon and the like ask you to fill in tax information and giving a UK tax number is enough for them not to withhold 30% of my earnings.

Unfortunately, unlike every other US based company I deal with nowadays, Barnes&Noble still require you to do the whole get the form from the IRS and fill it in yourself malarky, which I can do but … just not anywhere I can track it down without about five days of rigorous searching. Worse, I suspect that what I have is an EIN number which may mean that for the sake of about three quid a month I would have to spend 40 minutes on hold to the IRS to have an ITIN assigned to me, and I have a feeling that this involves affadavits and sending my passport off to the IRS in America which is not an appealing prospect.

Naturally, there is no question that I should just do this when I have time. No, I have to do it all within 30 days of opening my account. Except they don’t tell you that until after you’ve opened one at the beginning of the holidays, like a moron, when, frankly, you haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of writing that 1,000 words you need to write to finish your next book.

So we’ll have to chalk that one up to experience. Gah except now I am worrying about it so I will have to go through all my stupid bits of paper because, naturally, the W section in my filing case, which I thought was the location for my Withholding/W8bN information, is missing. Jeepers. Head. Desk. With any luck it’ll be in the folder for special urgent things at the front. There isn’t time to look and do this so I’ll have to check when I’m done. Sorry to leave you in suspense. Fingers crossed.

On the up side, it seems I have grown a triffid. OK it’s not strictly a triffid, it calls itself an epiphillium. There’s a guy who sells plants from his front garden for charity – you know, take one and put the money through the door. One Sunday a few years ago, on the way home from church, I found this in his tray of for sale plants. It was quite small and it was labelled, ‘epiphillium/moon flower’. It was only 50p so I bought it.

On a side note, this is the guy who put a big wooden trunk outside with ‘free to a good home’ on it once. I carried it a little way home and then two kind gentlemen took it for me, which was jolly splendid of them. It became the box for McMini’s lego. Turns out this fellow’s father was a seaman and that the box was the trunk in which he kept all his possessions. It has travelled all over the world.

Back to the plant. What does it look like? Well … imagine a Christmas Cactus on steroids. It’s getting a bit big. The two segmented um … bits … in a pot have become a large … thing. Every now and again it sends out an enormous long shoot which turns in to a long spindly branch. It has little hairy bits that grow out of it occasionally, leading me to suspect that normally it would climb things. This one doesn’t. It sits in our conservatory. A couple of times in the last four years, it has produced a flower bud. My life being what it is, we are usually away when this bud opens up so I have never seen a flower until now.

Note my hand in the left bottom corner for size reference.

This year it’s gone a bit mad. It started off with sixteen buds but a few died off and we were left with nine. One day this week, as we were eating supper, I noticed the first flower was opening. It opened so fast it was almost possible to detect the movement with the naked eye.

Each day this week it has treated us to a nightly display of gargantuan triffid like flowers which are really rather splendid. Weirdly, they don’t smell of much close up but the part of the house in which they are situated ends up smelling strongly of vanilla. Which is lovely. They last the night and are wilted by morning.

Naturally, in a spirit of scientific enquiry, I have set about them with a paint brush to see if I can pollinate them and make seeds. Why I do not know. I mean, if I want to grow more of these all I have to do is pick a leaf and plant it in some compost and it will grow. But I want to see the weird triffid fruit I guess.

Yeh. Okaaaaay.

I wonder what these things are pollinated by in the wild. I’m not sure but I’d guess it is something like an actual bird, a humming bird? Either that or the biggest fuck off moth imaginable. Hang on … OK I’ve just had a quick google and it is, indeed, a big fuck off moth. A sphinx moth – which, as far as I can make out, is a variant, or possibly another name for, the humming bird hawk moth or the like – and Bats. Yes actual bats. Fuck me.

Hmm … Well … these flowers are enormous. Clearly despite being an old bat I am not a bat – or a moth – and my pollination efforts may not work. Also what with it being flowers on the same plant it may not work for reasons of floral incest but then again … they might.

Before and after, spiffy new case for my kindle although it hurts my eyes in the morning.

Other news, my kindle broke a couple of weeks ago. There was a crack in the screen, NB do not let fat cat walk across screen of kindle while it is left in dodgy old case on bed. Yes that is how it cracked. Not the front but behind it. Head Desk. After looking at the price of a new kindle I wondered about buying a KoboGlo. But I wasn’t sure how much of a ball ache getting amazon books onto Kobo hardware would be. I reckoned impulse buys on holiday would be right out as I tend to leave the lap top at home. There’s the remarkable, that does ebooks but not very well to be honest. I use both for editing, making notes with the keyboard on the kindle and scribbling all over it on the remarkable but the remarkable displays it in a very strange way so I prefer the kindle.

After a bit of thought, I decided I’d see if I could get a new screen. God bless the internet for making these sorts of endeavours possible. So I sent off for a new screen from China which was, apparently delivered yesterday. But not here ‘to PO Box’. Hopefully that means it’ll be actually delivered on Monday.

Luckily having mentioned it in passing, a dear lady on one of the Goodreads groups I visit mentioned she had the same model as mine but doesn’t use it any more. She warned me that the battery no longer works and the on off switch is a bit shonky so she’s bought herself a new one. She asked if I’d like her to send it to me. I said that yes, I would and bless her, it arrived way before the official new one I’m expecting. A couple of weeks ago, on Monday, I sat down and took both kindles to bits, swapped the screen from hers into mine and … wahooo … it works again. I was so excited by this development that I treated myself to a spiffy new case from Caseable – the state of my old one was part of the problem, the elastic had gone soggy and it was knackered. Now that the print version of Close Enough has arrived I can send the lovely lady who helped me out the first three Hamgeean Misfit books to compensate.

Talking about books … it looks like there might be a gap in Gareth’s schedule for another audio book in week or two – aaaah be still my beating heart! I know but this is still such a massive novelty. Squee! Shiny thing! More on that story as it unfolds.

It seems that my ridiculous, childish excitement at hearing my books in audio is not going to abate. I’ve been listening back to them recently, kind of by mistake because I set my phone to shuffle and it keeps playing me chapters in among the music. But bizarre as this sounds I have loved hearing the odd one when it crops up and then there is the whole, is the next song going to fit in with what I’ve heard? thing. I’m amazed how often it does. This is probably very egocentric of me but it also amuses me, although when I get McMini’s grade three drum pieces it’s not quite so splendid. Can’t win ’em all.

This week at casa McGuire, there has been a lot of furniture moving going on. McMini has requested an office swap. I am delighted about this as my office is upstairs next to his bedroom. I love it up there when the house is quiet and it’s just me but with e-school and all day gaming it’s a) not quiet and b) understandably, McMini doesn’t want his McMother lurking within earshot all the time. Since it’s two rooms and a bathroom up there, it makes sense to have his ‘office’ up there too. It also means that when he has cousins or friends to stay they can stay in that room, all kids together on the same floor, rather than having a room next to his that I’d rather no kids went into!

The room downstairs, which was his playroom, is near to the kitchen and other areas where I might normally be doing things. It worked brilliantly for him as a nipper as I was able to whizz through when he called but now he’s older it makes more sense if it’s an office for me.  We have been setting everything up in there including my music system, which has not been in operation for twelve years. I’d forgotten how good actual vinyl records sound. Although mine are all a bit dusty and need fixing. Anyway, so far, the room looks like this. The wooden things in front of the shelves are a pair of 1930s (I think) skis which came with Mum and Dad’s house. Nobody wants them and I was going to sell them but now I think they’re too cool. This happens when I think I might be able to sell something. The blue oar is part of the escape dinghy set which came set into the wings of a B15. It’s from the rubber dinghy Mum and Uncle had when they were kids. It was yellow, apparently. Grandpa sourced it from army surplus me thinks! I’m pretty sure I mentioned that in another post somewhere. If I was any good at this blogging thing, I’d link but it will take me too long to find it if I want to publish this by the correct time.

McMini has also, finally, managed to procure all the items he needs for his ‘army costume’ and I thought I’d share the slightly sinister results. He’s now on the search for a thermo nuclear war suit. Hmm.

McMini talks a good army/sport but left to his own devices he is such a complete couch potato that I suspect he would dislike the army intensely. Frankly, I see him more as a Bletchley Park kind of guy. But I thought I’d share the completed kit. Most comes from car boots but the odd bits come from t’interweb. The bizarre four way goggles are pretend night vision glasses. They are fitted with blue lenses which look very impressive but render him completely blind when they are in use! He is so going to be doing cosplay at conventions.

We are starting to do social stuff again. Hoping to make a quick trip to Scotland to see the in laws for McDad’s birthday, which should be lovely. McMini and I are heading down to Sussex to see Mum next week and spend the night as the cousins are in residence so that should be a gas and we are seeing friends again too, for appropriately socially distanced gatherings, obviously. My writers groups are still suspended or on line because we have members who are shielding. But the local restaurant we always visit is opening this week which is very exciting. And the sun’s out today … woot.

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Smashing K’Barthan Mug Competition

Perhaps you can ameliorate the total mundanity of this post by making me give you a cup. You can do this by winning my competition and evincing extreme mug envy from your friends and family. Or if you’re feeling outrageous, you could use it to hold your hot beverage of choice. Or cuppa soup if that’s your thing.

Because yes. That’s right! I’m giving away another mug like this one in the picture. You have until Sunday 20th July 2020 to enter.

All you have to do is read Close Enough answer the easy question and fill in your email you can find out more here: https://forms.gle/6dDGpnQU23bdMpwT7.

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Dementia too, because obviously dementia once wasn’t shit enough

Yeh, I selected that heading from Whiny Titles R-Us but it does sum up the way I felt at the start of this week and the feeling I’m trying to describe.

The slough of despond; rain and yellow lines …

Bits of this week have been tough. I’ve had a couple of down days, mainly because I suspect I have had a mild UTI but also it’s the time of the month when I can’t remember my own name without cue cards. Worse, I’d forgotten to put the morning HRT gel on for two days running and that does make a difference. The traffic is back to normal so there has been the usual 40 minute delay along the bottom of the M25 on the way to Mum’s. This last two weeks, the journey time is back to three hours down and two and a half back, so long as I am on the road at half two sharp.

Worse, I’ve been finding it really hard engage with Real Life. To care about the little things that other people need me to care about. Silly stuff. McMini’s bedroom curtains need hemming but it’s difficult to do that while he’s in there with them attending his virtual lessons. It’s the last day today, so that’s fine, I can do it tomorrow, but it’s been a long time and both he and McOther have been eyeing them impatiently. Meanwhile, McOther has a favourite beanbag. The material is completely rotten and sewing it up is a thankless task that I have to repeat every three weeks or so, unless he does it. It’s bust again and so the choice of thankless tasks was twofold: try to get him to understand that the material is rotten, which, itself is a hiding to nothing. Or I fix it again when I know it will break in a few weeks. But fixing it is a duty of love, so perhaps it’s a bit less pointless than it seems. Quietly, without saying so, I know McOther feels unloved if I say I’ll fix it and then take ages to deliver. It’s not good to feel so meh I can’t do anything. More on that story later.

This Wednesday, then, I was not in the right place to drive 288 miles, not even in a Lotus. I felt unbelievably meh. I was teary about the state of Mum, teary about the state of myself and feeling miserable. Then the radio proceeded to play some of my favourite songs. Things which are in my record collection but which I haven’t heard for ages because most of my music equipment assumes that anything I’ve ripped from my own CDs or vinyl is a pirate copy and refuses to play it.

Hearing all these songs again, it seemed that something out there in the ether was trying to tell me to cheer up. Finally one of my very favourite songs as a teenager; Big In Japan, by Alphaville came on. Despite being in very slow moving traffic jam, the gauntlet was thrown down. I was going to sing. I rolled up the windows so, in theory, nobody would hear me, jacked up the volume and joined in. This involved full on pop star style gurning and a selection of ridiculous hand actions, I kept going, even when everything started moving. There’s nothing like giving zero fucks to cheer yourself up, and it did, at least for long enough to realise what was wrong.

You see, lockdown was quite easy, it was like a little six week holiday from the administriviative  shit. I worried about Mum but I rang her every day and I didn’t have to go anywhere or organise anything except my books! I just hung out with the McOthers and sat around in the sun writing. Woot.

Pseudo lockdown is insanely difficult. All the admin has returned with a vengeance, except because of Covid19 it’s about six times harder to do all the things you should be able to do by making a phone call. It’s the hard bits out of Real Life plus extra duties of lockdown, like the calls. All the hassle but none of the convenience. I did manage to get the scan I was due at the hospital but now I need to try and get the cat some shots. As usual, every piece of admin which should involve nothing more than a phone call involves several, and a protracted, drawn out effort, posting things, sending things. Case in point, I’ve just stuffed up my chances of opening a Barnes and Noble vendor account by transposing two numbers in my bank account number. It’s gone into ‘pending’. Probably forever. I can’t change it and I know their help desk is offline until after covid. I think they’re the only site where I have to have a W8EN still too. Everyone else you can just add your tax number and it works. I don’t know much about it but I suspect I have to get another W8EN as mine’s probably expired. Sadly, I do know that this is a great deal more complicated than it was because Americans don’t really understand what a sole trader is.

Meanwhile Mum is still shielding so she can have a few people round but not everyone. The lady who cuts her toenails has started coming again. Yes, when you’re old and arthritic you can’t do that anymore and you have to have someone come and do it for you. The lovely lady who cuts her hair came and gave her an appropriately socially distanced ‘do’ this Wednesday as well.

However, a lot of her friends are shielding, too, or can’t come to see her because she is, so she’s still bored stupid. Hopefully, as the small things that structure her life return, like the hairdresser visiting and the foot lady, she’ll gradually be more grounded again. Just as Dad did, she thrives on social interaction. My fingers and toes are, therefore, crossed. Although I have to accept that there is no guarantee of this. Because I think the main source of my malaise this week was realising that Mum is going to take the same path as Dad. Her own version, but the same horrific journey into oblivion. And I’m going to have to walk beside her; because I love her, and because, if I want to be a decent human being, that’s what I must do.

Please do not feed the animals

As we take these first steps, I guess what struck me down, temporarily, was the renewal of that familiar pain. It still hurts. Even though I’ve done it before and I am aware of the cost. I should know by now. I should be strong. But I’m not. I really wonder if I have the courage to do this a second time. I don’t want her to die, I don’t want to lose her but I pray that she will enjoy a kindly easy passing before it gets too bad. Yet, at the same time, I know she won’t because that might actually be kind to all of us and God forbid that my family should be shown a scrap of mercy over this. Instead, it seems life brings whatever will cause the maximum amount of misery and pain to all of us. Sorry Mum.

I have wondered about consulting my doctor and seeing if some medication might be in order. The trouble is, I’m pretty certain that any kind of medication for depression will merely make me even more forgetful than I already am. And since three quarters of my insane frustration is with my inability to remember a single fucking thing for more than about two and a half seconds, I suspect it would be a bad idea. And anyway. I’m not depressed. I’m sad. There’s a huge difference. When Dad died, there was grief but the sadness went away. It was a liberation.

Now that Mum is showing more acute signs of dementia, it’s back. If you wanted to present me with the perfect storm of things I am shit at dealing with, there are parts of my life over the last eight years that would be an excellent fit. I can do level-headed, clear thought in a crisis. Yeh, I can do that. But long, slow, sustained suffering. No. Not very good at it to be honest.

As I sat there, singing in the car, I realised that I’d started to withdraw completely into inner space. I lost myself in K’Barth, where my characters were suffering but where, I knew, eventually, they would be OK. I made them suffer in the faint hope their pain would somehow alleviate my own. I gave them a happy ever after in the hope that maybe if I did that, I could have one. This is an approach which works really well for me, but, unfortunately, not for those around me. That was another cause of the misery, the misery I was inflicting on my very much loved McOthers. Withdrawing helps me but it hurts everyone else. Small doses then.

As I drove, something happened. I don’t know how, but something in me fixed it. The blinkers came up again and I saw what I needed to see. I saw what was there in Mum rather than what wasn’t there. I stopped seeing drudgery and saw small acts of love. And I remembered that I have done this before. And suddenly, I slipped into the coping strategy. Short bursts of activity. An hour at the computer and then half an hour doing something else around the house. Tiny steps. 10 minutes a day. Pigeon steps, inching forward one tiny step at a time. Lists. Lots of lists. Each project broken down into manageable tiny items which are ticked off as they are done.

Don’t be a … or maybe do be one … or work smarter not harder … or something.

Lockdown was a luxury. Lockdown afforded me big chunks of time in which to write. My work came on in leaps and bounds. But lockdown is over. I need to see the me time as brief moments of something else among the admin. I need to see life as peppered with acts of love, which is what the housework side of stuff really is. Except it’s a horrible phrase … very ‘putting out love and keeping it there’ but until I can think of something better it’ll have to do. And anyway, because it sounds like fake Oprah, it’s sort of funny and that helps. As for the worry about Mum and the trying to sort things out for her. I need to call all that something different too. Same thing? Ah why not?

Duty is a crushing, heavy suffocating word, calling it an act of love makes it feel a lot lighter.

It’s amazing how, always, always, always, holding onto your sanity is about how you look at what’s happening, how you frame it to yourself. That simple switch and I’m cheerful again, and reasonably happy. I feel the weight, for sure, but it’s lessened. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is a chuffing marvel. If you are struggling with anything heavy and millstone-like in your life, I urge you to look it up. I never cease to be amazed how I can actually do a PR/Propaganda job on myself. I know what I’m doing, I know I’m just putting a different slant on it, yet it works.

You may consign the coping strategies to the past when you don’t need them, but it’s slightly miraculous how quickly they came back when you do. I feel better, a lot better. To be honest, I still don’t really don’t know if I can do this a second time. But there’s no point in wondering. I swam through the dark waters with Dad and came out the other side. I’ll just have to take each stage as it comes, strike out into the void and give it my best shot.

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If you are feeling a bit meh, yourself, you could always pick up a good book! Indeed, if you’re feeling really lazy you don’t even have to read it. Choose one of the audiobooks and Gareth will do that for you. Indeed anyone who signs up for my audio mailing list gets two books free; Unlucky Dip and Night Swimming. That’s two hours of glorious K’Barthan lunacy for zero pence. Yep! Night Swimming comes later on, although I may switch it so it’s the story people get first. It’s just that suddenly I have very little time so for now it’s Unlucky Dip first, then a week or two and Night Swimming.

Anyway, Gareth played a blinder on both but the really lovely thing about it is that Unlucky was the first one he did and Night Swimming is his most recent. You get to see what he’s learned in the interim. So there you are, if do want a listen, just go here, sign up and they should both arrive in your inbox over the course of about three weeks: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio1fb.html

Unlucky Dip Audio Book


If you do join in, and it’s not obligatory or anything, but if you do, or if you have and there’s any stuff you want me to ask Gareth about how he did the recordings, let me know and I’ll ask him.

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