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Sweeping the cat for tinfoil and other adventures …

Still no zombies … every cloud has a sliver lining eh? It’s quite surreal though, which means your world might be a bit more like mine right now … probably.

This week I have been mostly searching my cat’s guts for tin foil. Mostly, but not entirely. We’ll get to it. In the meantime.

Slightly blue this morning, I expect I’ve stuffed up my HRT dose, in fact, I reckon I’ve forgotten to do the evening one for a couple of days, although, needless to say I can’t be sure because I can’t remember. Mwahahaargh!

A big part of it is that, now we are in lockdown, I can’t visit Mum. Sure I ring her every day but that’s not the same. She definitely has some form of dementia and it’s definitely getting worse. At the moment, although she can’t remember which way is up or what day it is most of the time, she’s still able to follow a conversation and still retains her personality as Mum. But … I’ve walked this path before with Dad and I have to accept that it isn’t going to stay like that. I have to accept the fact that maybe, by the time lockdown is over, my Mum – my real Mum, I mean – will be gone. And that makes me feel incredibly sad. Indeed, I’d probably be blubbing a bit as I write this, but McOther is sitting the other end of the table.

It feels as if each week I will lose another few precious hours of time with Mum by missing our lunch. I phone her every day but it’s not the same, and I can see, or at least hear, her deteriorating day by day. I’m not alone, for example, hardly anyone with a loved one in a home is able to visit them right now. Some have loved ones in hospital who are stuck there, some have loved ones who were in a home for recovery after say, a new knee op, and they are now stuck there apart from their loved ones until this is all over. It’s mightily grim and we just have to live with it, but I guess I was just hoping, against hope, that I could squeak another visit in before lockdown this week. In the event, lockdown came on Monday night. The temptation to drive down there and see her on Wednesday was almost overwhelming and it’s only the first week.

Bugger.

Other news, I’ve finally finished going through the alts of One Man: No Plan on audio. This has taken me way longer than I expected because there are a lot of blips and half breaths in it which weren’t there in the first two – one of the reasons this has taken me so long is because I re-listened to the first two beforehand, really carefully, to check. Gareth has at least three other audiobooks to do, to my certain knowledge – there may well be more – so I have a little while before he’s likely to be able to look at the alts, and plenty of time to get the fourth finished.

I confess I was horrifically nervous sending the alts for the blips/plosives and audible breaths. I am not 100% sure if my noticing these things was gimlet-eyed helpfulness or pedantic twattery. To be honest, even after checking with some narrators I know on t’interweb who reassured me that any comments like that are always welcome, I’m still a little unsure. It’s a fun listen though, so I hope it all works out OK.

This week more excitement in Lockdown Towers. Run with me on this one, it does get to the point. I have a desk in our dining room. Underneath it is a bag of foil-covered chocolate sweets which I give out at book signings. There are three types, chocolate oranges, chocolate eyeballs and chocolate sprouts. They all come in plastic net bags of about forty. They are spherical, marble-sized and individually foil wrapped. I had two bags of orange ones, about half a bag of eyeballs and four bags of chocolate sprouts.

On Monday evening, just after discovering that we were all in official lock down, I decided that I would ameliorate the impact with chocolate. I went into our dining room, intent on liberating a packet of sprouts for consumption over the coming weeks. However, when I got in there, I and found four plastic net bags with holes in spread across the floor.

Uh-oh, I thought.

I checked the bag and discovered a hole had been eaten in it. Yes. There were teeth holes around the … other hole. Not my son then. Checking the other bags I discovered the holes in those looked more … chewed than cut.

Hmm …

Upon further exploration, I discovered that both the eyeballs and the sprouts were all but gone. The orange ones, however, had been left. They were still in their bags although one bag had clearly been chewed, small pieces of foil removed from the chocolates inside and a couple had teeth marks. These ones had been tested and found wanting then, worse tested enough for me to not be able to eat them with confidence. The others … 520 grammes of chocolate, minimum, had gone.

Turning to Dr Google, I typed in, ‘does chocolate kill cats?’

OK, look, I’m not going to blind you with the technicalities of science here but the basic gist of it is, yes it does. Milk chocolate is less poisonous but 520 grammes in one sitting is lethal. About 30 grammes in one sitting is.

Shit. Now what?

I was wearing my pyjamas. The vet was close, I knew. That morning I’d had a dental appointment which had been cancelled pretty much as I arrived. I’d tried to buy some cat food from the vet’s on the way home and discovered that it was locked and the customers were all standing in the car park, 2 metres away from one another. McCat’s constitution is pretty bomb proof but I felt that a poison overdose of such gargantuan quantities might be a bridge too far, even for him.

OK, calm, breathe. He hadn’t started throwing up yet.

Then I remembered. I’d found one of the chocolate sprouts on the doormat the week before. Could McCat have been quietly eating them over the three month period, since the Christmas Fayre, that the chocolate had been stored there. Were the scattered string bags merely the culmination of several month’s pilfering, a last hurrah now that the lovely edible balls were gone … well except for the orange ones he doesn’t like.

McOther checked under other furniture but there was nothing to be found so it’s clear that all 520 grammes of chocolate sprouts and eyeballs – minus a handful – had been eaten. The one million dollar question was … when?

McCat. Butter wouldn’t melt would it? Not ill and no fucks given, clearly.

I had a think.

McCat clearly wasn’t ill at that precise moment. I began to wonder if a ready cache of chocolate might explain his greatly relaxed approach to food since the beginning of the year. Not to mention the recent resumption of his tendency to be less relaxed and obsessively request each meal a few minutes after eating the last one. But if he had just eaten all the pies chocolate, we needed to get him to a vet, fast. How to find out though, preferably before he started throwing up, at which point, it would have been too late, Dr Google had told us. That’s when I remembered my pinpointer and had An Idea.

The chocolate was covered in foil. He’d peeled some of that off, clearly but it was equally clear that not all of it had been removed. Some had gone down his greedy fat cat gullet with the chocolate. If he’d eaten them all in one sitting, nearly all the foil had been eaten too. This meant that he contained almost as much wrapper as chocolate and, that being the case, if I ran a metal detector over him the signal from all that foil would blow my ears off. The detector, itself was too sensitive, it would pick up nearby stuff as well and I’d never be able to narrow it down reliably. The pinpointer, however … that was a different case entirely.

Yes, ladies, gentlemen and everything beyond and in between, when you go detecting and you’ve heard a signal and dug a hole, should you have any trouble finding the thing giving off that signal, if it’s really small, say, you can narrow down its whereabouts with a pinpointer. This is good for me because I tend to dig in fields that are bristling with coke, which gives off a large and loud signal. As a result I end up ignoring big signals, because there are that many hot rocks in the fields on which I dig that I find very little else. The little signals, are a different matter, but the things you find are also little, and that means you need to pinpoint them, fast, or you’re sifting about in the clod of earth you’ve dug out all day.

That’s how I ended up with a pinpointer, and that’s how I ended up running my Garrett carrot over the pooh in McCat’s earth box – without touching clearly – along with the cat shit bin – not touching that either – and not forgetting his lardy stomach. Despite a hitch, to start with, when I realised it was picking up the nearby washing machine, I did finally manage to get him in a position where I could reliably detect any foil in his innards. There was none, luckily. We stood down. I didn’t need to get dressed, leap into the car and brave lock down to find a vet. What a relief for everyone.

How many detectorists end up searching their pets? Who knows but I’d guess there are more than we might think.

So that was my week, sweeping my cat for tin foil. I am agog to see how next week is going to out-weird this one.

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Still living the dream …

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I hope you won’t,’ I told her.

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

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

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

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

‘You are a dear,’ said Mum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Sure,’ she replies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oooo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What’s this?’ he asked.

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

 

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Living on the edge …

You know how I lead a fast and dangerous life? Mwahahahargh! Yeh. You will remember my banging on about brain fog every now and again. In truth, my post McMini baby brain seagued smoothly into menopausal brain fog without my even noticing. It is only since the HRT kicked in that I have discovered just how completely bollocksed coddled my brains have been since 2008. It’s like I have suddenly found myself. I still lack energy – chronic pain does that – but I definitely have more than before. Whether anyone will notice my refreshed and revitalised brain is moot though, as I still appear to be the vaguest and most disorganised person on earth. To whit …

This last Monday it was the SPF Show Live. SPF is an online community I joined in 2015 after buying a course on Facebook Advertising run by Mark Dawson. It was, as the title suggests a live workshop, down in London at the South Bank Centre. I booked many moons ago, before the virus named after a fizzy drink reared its ugly head. Registration started at 8.30 am.

Obviously 8.30 am is quite early to be in London from here. I hummed and haad about how I should get there. Train, clearly, but which station to go from? In the end I decided I’d get the 5.49 train from Bury St Edmunds as this did not involve a thirty minute drive home in the dark, in the inevitable pissing rain, with shit visibility and with one headlight going on and off (yes, the other one, not the one with the part I mortgaged my house to pay for). Departure time decided, I set my alarm for unspeakable o’clock and packed everything I thought I’d need the night before.

In the event, I headed off for the station in good time but I’d forgotten something. That thing is this … when I imagine walking somewhere, I imagine it taking about as long as it would take when I could … well … walk. Thing is, I can’t walk anymore. Not like that. I don’t have the same number of knee ligaments as other people and one knee hurts like a bastard at the front, and the other knee hurts like a bastard at the back. That kind of stuff slows a person down.

So, yeh, I left ten minutes and I suddenly realised, as I was still 100 yards from the station, that I only had three minutes to get to my train. It would take me three minutes to get up the ruddy stairs, although that’s still quicker than using the sodding lift.

Maybe it would be a few seconds late.

Yeh. As if.

Upping my walk to the kind of shuffling Igor-style lurch which is as close as I get to a run these days, I ‘ran’ for the train. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I realised the train was in, and its contents were coming down them. Dodging past two blokes carrying bikes sideways, and a whole bunch of semi-somnambulant others, I reached the platform just as the door alarm started to go. Not normally a problem, but as the train is only four carriages long, and the platform is for … more than four … it was parked about thirty feet away. Well … I gave it my best shot. More Igor-esque shuffling and I was nearly there, indeed I touched the train, but the beeping had started, the doors were closing and I was too far away to hurl myself on.

It might as well have been on fucking Mars for all I was going to catch it.

The doors closed. Mourning the demise of the old slam-door type where you could just open the bloody door again and get on as it started to move. I turned with an expression of hapless desperation to the mirror at the front of the station, hoping the driver would see me as s/he looked, before leaving the station.

Hands together in a please, please, take pity on me kind sir, stance, I begged the driver to open them again. No joy. The beeping stopped and after a couple of seconds, the motors engaged, and the train fucked off into the darkness, leaving me on the platform, alone.

‘Bollocks!’ I said.

Ho hum.

I turned and made my way down the stairs.

‘You missed it then,’ said the station master, not unsympathetically.

‘Yeh, touched the ruddy thing, but didn’t get close enough to get in, I keep forgetting I have a limp these days and that I don’t walk as fast as I used to.’

It was a beautiful clear dawn, marred, slightly, by the fact the train was filthy.

We discussed options and he agreed that my Plan B – if it’s me hoping to be somewhere by 5.49am there is sure as hell going to be a Plan B – of going to Whittlesford was probably the best idea. Let’s face it, it wasn’t so bad. It was a beautiful clear dawn, the moon was out and the sky lightening in the east. Yeh, it wasn’t as if I’d be driving home with zero visibility in the pissing rain today.

Back home, grabbed the car keys and headed off. Time was pressing and after driving down the M 11 at an injudiciously high speed … an invigoratingly brisk drive down the M11, I arrived at Whittlesford. Nobody was there yet, so I bagged the closest parking spot to the station, on the end, although some bastard still managed to scratch my car parking the other side of me. I entered my number plate into the ticket machine and paid, although it didn’t give me anything to put in the window, which somewhat unnerved me. As I walked onto the platform I discovered the train I’d hoped to catch was due in one minute.

Nice.

Around me was a surfeit of stern warnings that I must travel with a valid ticket. Hmm … was my ticket valid? I hadn’t a chuffing clue. Better buy another and get a refund on the one I didn’t use. I turned my attention to coercing one from the machine on the platform. I got to the end but it didn’t seem to want to let me pay.

The train arrived while I was still scratching my head.

Yes well, let’s not miss another one. The existing ticket would have to do.

The journey passed more or less without incident, except that I’d have dearly liked a wee and couldn’t find a loo. I made a pithy post about my fuckwittery on the forum for the event, and posted a picture of the rather lovely sunrise I over Cambridgeshire I could see from the window. I hopped off at Totteham hale, thought about walking from Green Park and then remembered what had happened walking to the station a couple of hours previously and changed to the Northern Line at Warren Street instead. A quick five minute walk from Waterloo and there I was.

The glass front of the Festival Hall. No snurd holes …

Needless to say, the first thing I did was take a picture of the glass windows The Pan of Hamgee drove the SE2 through at the beginning of K’Barthan 2. It would have been churlish not to, right?

Course was fab. I homed in on a lady wearing a fabulous crocheted dragon on her shoulder and it turned out she was one of the people who’d commented on my post about missing the train. She was with another lovely lady writing the same and they introduced me to a group of Paranormal Romance writers at lunch who were great company and several orders of magnitude more successful than I am! Also managed to meet lovely author friend J A Clement who was one of the helpers.

Back in for the afternoon’s talks, came out afterwards and … yes, it was pissing down. Never mind, I had a brolly. Quick trot over the railway bridge to Embankment and back on the 5.08 train.

Thirty five minute drive home in zero visibility and pissing rain with one headlight. Oh well, you can’t win em all.

Spool forward to Thursday. McMini plays in ‘Rock Band’ at school. He plays drums and I confess I did know he had a concert coming up. McMini’s school is at once rigorous and laid back. They are extremely careful about keeping tabs on where each of their tiny charges has got to, but they do tend to tell you about something once and leave it at that. So … I’d had the news sheet the week before last telling me that there was a concert. We had all hoisted in that McMini would be playing. But, I kind of expected something nearer the time saying … I dunno … your kid is in the concert, they will be having tea in school, it starts at X time, collect them from Y … that kind of thing.

However, the school is like, yeh, we’ve told them once. They know.

Thursday came, and there I was wandering around McMini’s school at pick up time. I had gathered up his golf bats and sports bag and put them in the car but was there any sign of him? Nah.

As I mooched about hopefully peering into windows and peeping round doors, a couple of members of staff said hello and then another popped out and asked me if I was looking for McMini (impressed he knew I was McMini’s Mum, then again, I’m the only one who turns up at collection time in a silly car so it’s probably that). We had a look in the dining hall but McMini wasn’t there, he was still rehearsing. He had emailed me to explain that he had the concert, in case I forgot, but only at ten past five, after I’d already left. McMini’s school is in the deadest dead spot known to man – probably by design – so naturally, I didn’t receive it until I arrived home.

I met one of his friends, though and told him to let McMini know that I knew he had a concert and that I would be coming and see him later. Then it was into the car, hot foot it home to see if McOther could come, but he had a board call, so then it was hot foot it back, because it started in about ten minutes. It was a very impressive concert. It hadn’t started when I arrived but I was late and there was no parking, except for a space marked as ‘visitors only’ which everyone else had avoided.

McMini’s new school is in an old stately home so parts of it are ritzy

Stuff that! I’m visiting, I thought, wedged the Noisy Cricket into it, between two huge Chelsea tractors and ran in. There were still programmes to be had but no seats so I crept in and sat on the windowsill at the back with all the little boys who were playing on their game consoles while big brothers or sisters performed. I remember thinking, as I sat watching the first item, that this wasn’t quite where I expected to be that evening. Yeh, so while there’s less brain fog, it’s clear that my abject fuckwittery still knows no bounds.

But I made it, and that’s what counts. AND I even remembered to videoMcMini doing his thing so McOther could watch it, too.

It’s probably quite an achievement to be able to organise your life, yourself, and still have absolutely zero clue what you’re meant to be doing when, or what’s going to happen next. Talking of which, the fizzy drink virus … as an ‘at risk’ (rather susceptible to chest infections and still wheezy after a hideous flu bout last year) I’m rather hoping not to catch it as I suspect it will be quite grim, and last year’s bout of flu was bad enough. It’s all getting a bit serious.

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It’s a mad/happy/mad/happy world!

Is your book a lemon? Hopefully not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is reassuring.

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

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

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

Eyessssss

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

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

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

Ho hum …

Moving on …

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

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

Sample 1

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

Sample 2

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

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

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This, that and audio marketing …

In a delightful departure from what was rapidly becoming the norm, I have no rodent-related shenannagins to report this week. Well … unless you count having a tetanus jab, which I did … you know … just in case.

To be honest, I haven’t done much. Partly because it’s been very windy here, I’m not sure what we’re onto now, we’ve had Brian and Chiara who segued seamlessly into Dennis and now we have Jorge who is Spanish and has pipped Ellen to the post. Snortle. But the weather is chuffing bogging a lot of the time.

Ellen. I had so hoped they were going to call it Windy Ethel. Never mind, can’t win ’em all. Whatever it’s called, it makes sitting in the conservatory like being underwater in a submarine. It’s about as dark and about as wet. I have not ventured out today and I don’t intend to any more than is necessary. Needless to say I have a packed social programme with school parents’ evening and some corporate wifing to do tonight. Bastard Ellorg or should that be Jorgllen?

Apart from an ambivalent effort at metal detecting on Sunday – right metals, wrong objects, clay pipe fragments but a nice medieval pottery shard, I seem to have been running around like a blue arsed fly all week but can’t really remember what for. It was mostly crises of my own making, delivering the iPad to the Apple shop to be fixed, picking it up and then setting it up. I was lucky enough to have a lovely visit to Mum’s on Wednesday. The gardening team was there as well as the career and Mum was very switched on. We chatted and watched telly.

While we were there, I played her a couple more of the audio voices. There is one character, Big Psycho Dave, he’s called, who I just can’t listen to without giggling. As you know, because heaven knows I’ve banged on about it enough, The K’Barthan Series is currently in production for audio, along with Unlucky Dip, which kind of acts as a prequel to everything.

At some point, I need to talk about the process, or at least, do a kind of dummies’ guide for Morons Who Are Unable to Grasp the Blindingly Obvious (as I call myself in these situations). Blimey but it’s taken me a while to cotton on. I’m still not sure I have.

One of the problems is that many of the people doing and talking about audiobooks are big hitters. I’m guessing some have little people to do the being an idiot bit for them and spit out the things they need to know at the end. But when it comes to what they do, they don’t want to talk about it. This may well be because they’re still experimenting and have no clearer idea of a successful strategy than I do. Alternatively, it may be as a result of legal advice in case someone says, ‘I did what you said and it hasn’t worked’ and sues them. Terry Pratchett had to stop visiting his own forums because people were starting to suggest things and, worse, say, ‘so, you used my idea then?’ And he’d be thinking, ‘What?’ And his lawyers advised him to make a sharp exit before the ‘so, you’ve used my idea’ bit got to the point where they started adding, ‘how much are you going to pay me?’

Actually, that’s not my approach, demanding compensation if it goes wrong. I’d just love to riff with people about what they’re doing and pick up some pointers. That’s what I’ve always done with the ebooks but there’s not much riffing going on as far as I can see, apart from on two Facebook groups where I’ve picked up a lot of interesting information. But, ideally, I need more points of view.

You may begin …

Some of the muted nature of the debate may be founded in that, if you go exclusive with ACX you have no control over the price of your books, so there’s not much you can do to market them, really, other than tell people they’re there. Obviously with Findaway, you do have some control over the price, you can set it at zero and folks are able to download the book for free in some places, but other sites will set the price at 99c. It’s a different model, I suspect, in that the data transfer costs must be very high, so free is probably not great for business, even if it leads to more sales in the long run. The royalties are smaller too, no 70%, anywhere.

Whatever the reason, I’ve failed to uncover much of the information I’m looking for out there or at least, not in as much detail as I’d like. Although there is a wealth of technical stuff about making your own sound booth, recording your own books, how to set the levels etc etc. If that’s the way you want to go, you’re laughing. As for what I have discovered about marketing audiobooks … well … here are my thoughts.

Thing One: the conundrum …

It’s becoming blindingly apparent that there is no obvious ‘right way’ to sell the ruddy things. Or at least, not that I can see. There’s what works for a particular author and what doesn’t. The only way to find out what works is to experiment. Gulp. And even then it may only work for you. My issue is this:

If you are an unknown tiny fish in the authorial sea – I am – you want social proof on your books, also known as reviews. With ebooks you just approach reviewers, grovel a bit and give them free copies. After a while they read them, tell their followers what they think and bob’s your uncle, five star joy to convince buyers your stuff is magic. (Ideally, but the right kind of one star, I-fucking-hated-that can be just as effective to sell your books.)

The difficulty with audiobooks is that they are massive so you can’t just send them to someone. Except you can with tokens. Both the major players I am looking at; Findaway and ACX, will provide tokens so reviewers can download your books for free and review them. But Findaway won’t provide them to British readers, which may not be helpful to me. Although other authors report their efforts to give away British codes often meet with complete failure, anyway. ACX will only give tokens out if you sign up to them exclusively. ACX exclusivity is for seven years but … if you have uploaded a finished book, rather than used their royalty share scheme (where they find an author for you) they will let you out after one year if you write and ask them nicely.

On the other hand, with Findaway comes Chirp, their own platform, and access to a BookBub style promotion system, and BookBub is extremely powerful. Although I’ve never scored one for more than ‘international’ – that is, promoting a price drop on a book to Canada, India, Australasia and the UK but not America. I’ve never scored a free promo there either. And yes these are the audio versions, but they are still the same less-than-attractive-to-BookBub’s-selection-panel books. On the other hand, you can advertise on BookBub and I suspect that if I can get my advertising shit together, that is where I could get some love for the audiobooks.

Also, there was a massive influx of audiobooks uploaded to ACX just before Christmas, and they are still wading through them. I could still be waiting for my books to go live in six months’ time, I know of authors who have waited five months, already, for their books to go live and are still waiting … At least if I am going direct to both, I have 60% of the market covered from the off … and it matters because it’s not just me, here, half the earnings are Gareth’s. It’d be nice if there were some after he’s put in all that effort.

Thing two: the options …

I think …. Yeh.

I have two cunning plans … although, whether or not you could, strictly, call either one cunning, remains to be seen. Basically, I reckon I need a few reviews for people to buy anything so I may need tokens. The books might get reviews from my lovely fans and friends, they might get reviews from Gareth’s. On the other hand, they might not. The choice is simple:

1. Get my advertising shit together and go wide. Run promotions, submit the books to Chirp, take advantage of being able to control the price, mostly. Give away Unlucky dip for 99c or even free to get them hooked. Use the tokens and try and attract reviews from Canadian, Australasian and American readers. After all, a review is a review, right?

Disadvantages … well … advertising might take more money than I’ve got. Also I might not find many British readers, and Americans might not be able to understand the British regional accents in my books. But, on the other hand, there’s a lot of British slang, and American readers have done OK with that in the ebook version. Also, while the audiobook market isn’t quite Audible-and-the-others yet, or at least, Audible is only about 40%, I believe, rather than the gargantuan slice of the pie Amazon enjoys for regular books, it’s still a big hitter and stymying my books there may cost us at the start.

or

2. Go exclusively with ACX for the first year to get the tokens and bribe people to review the books on the UK site as well as the US one. Get more sales organically because … more punters. Then ask them to release my books and go wide. Because ultimately, I want people to be able to be able to download my audiobooks at the library and in the long run, there is a lot more earning potential there for us. I also want to take advantage of Chirp and advertising and if I’m exclusive with ACX chirp is a non-starter.

The Advantage, ready social proof and the biggest UK market share (at the moment … I think). Also better chance of organic sales. Better royalty rates at Audible – like 40% rather than 25% – which is important if that turns out to be the only place where I sell any books.

The disadvantage of this strategy is that in a year’s time, when ACX release me, there may be a lot more competition for a Chirp promotion and more people advertising audiobooks meaning that traction wide is harder to achieve. In addition, while Unlucky Dip was approved relatively quickly, I have author colleagues who submitted books in December last year who are still waiting for them to go on sale. The upshot being that it may take six months to a year for my book to go live and it may be more like two years before I can go wide. In a market moving as fast as this one, a year feels like a very long time, but if it’s more like eighteen month or two years? Yikes.

And not forgetting that I loathe and detest the subscription model myself – it’s amazing how fast all those £7 a month for different things add up to something big, and cataclysmic, so it goes against the grain because I’d like to have my books available to people like me from the off; people who’d rather buy them outright.

Thing two: different books sell on different platforms.

There’s a suggestion that short books sell better on Findaway Voices than on ACX. The commonly held view is that this is because Findaway supplies more sites where people buy books out right and so those readers will want to try shorter, less expensive books before shelling out for the gargantuan ones. Conversely, readers on subscription sites usually are eligible for a set number of books per month, so they will go for the biggest possible books to get more bang for their buck. ACX supplies more of those, hence you would put your novellas and shorts on Findaway, but not necessarily on ACX (unless legions of your fans are asking) and then the box set – a nice big book for subscription site listeners – goes on both. But again, this would suggest that, if, like me, you’re an author of a novella series and a massive door stop sized books series, ideally, you want to be on both platforms. Or maybe some and some, I dunno. But yeh, I’ve had a brief chat with Gareth about him doing the rest …

Thing Three: there is No thing three.

Every fucking time Mary? Yep. I know. I’m sorry. I can’t help myself.

Thing Four: testing the market.

This is, kind of, where I am now. It’s taken me a very long time to work out how to upload a book successfully. Jeez ACX some coherent error messages would be grand. That said, I have now uploaded Unlucky Dip, the short series prequel to the K’Barthan Series, to all the sites I’m looking at; Kobo, Findaway Voices and ACX. I am also toying with the idea of uploading some snippets, or the odd chapter, up to Soundcloud for you to listen to. That does depend on what Gareth thinks about it. I can’t do it until the audio files are all finalised, anyway.

So we’re nearly set …

Gulp. Here begins stage one of our dummy run.

Unlucky Dip, is on sale. I think it’s about $2.99 and whatever that is in GBP pretty much everywhere, or as part of your sub on a subscription site.

Even more exciting, despite having zero sales reported on either ACX, Findaway or Kobo, I discovered, this morning, that it has an also bought on Audible, which would suggest that somebody, somewhere, has bought it. It’s a decent also bought, too; Jasper Fforde, whose readers sit squarely in my target demographic.

If you’d like to find out more, I have a lovely page, with links to look at it in store for a bunch of places so you are welcome to go and have a listen to the excerpt, or even download it if you like, here.

Unlucky Dip Audio Book

 

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A vole lot of trouble going on …

Just coming into half term so things are hectic here. Let’s see how much of tomorrow’s blog post I can write in 40 minutes. And the clock starts … NOW.

Well, it’s been an interesting one this week, I’ve released a book – you might have noticed that in last week’s post – I also received the third book in the K’Barthan series on audio. But first, I feel I should share the story of The Vole. Clears throat. Um … yeh.

A while back, last November in fact, our cat appeared to happen on a family of voles. To my horror he got four. They are feisty little creatures so they puff themselves up and bark at him. In three cases this didn’t work and, worse, it just alerted me to their plight and I still couldn’t get to them in time. In the case of the fourth, it did work. But I still couldn’t get there in time to liberate the vole, or get bucket down on it to trap it and take it outside before it belted under the fridge and stayed there.

Frank the vole

Ground zero: the failed bucket capture and flight to under the fridge, was 13th November, we took everything out of the room and found nothing. Yet, if I went in there in a quiet moment, stood still and listened, I could hear the sound of rustling and our small vole-shaped friend munching on things. I even managed to take this rather cute picture of it sitting under our fridge. We moved the fridge out after that, and I never found the vole but I did clean the floor and hoover up all the crumbs under there … I probably, unwittingly, did for our little friend doing that but … back to the story.

Our cat sleeps in the utility room, so we took him out, and all the furniture – except the fridge – and I set a humane trap. The vole was too fat for the trap, so I ordered a rat trap and guiltily put the cat back in his bedroom. With the vole. Since it seemed to be doing just fine nipping out during the day to eat his food and drink his water while he was elsewhere. Yes, I tried to feed it separately, but it appeared to be supremely uninterested in the more rodent appropriate fare I had purchased specifically for this purpose and pushed under the fridge, or at least it was, while there were the odd lost or discarded kibbles of Royal Canin Obesity Control in the offing, anyway.

A few days later, when the rat trap arrived. I set it with a dab of peanut butter. Nothing doing there either.

Hmm …

Over the weeks, the room began to smell a little bit. Was it dead? We didn’t know. We searched extensively but found no body.

The smell seemed, to me, to be more like the smell of our rabbit’s hutch when it needed cleaning out when I was a kid. The smell of vole excreta. Lovely. The McOthers posited a theory that it had died and was decomposing but I thought no.

Growing up in the school where my father was a housemaster, vermin was a fact of life. At one point, our bathroom began to smell as if something had died. Something quite big. The lavatory was in a separate room, so it wasn’t that. All was not well. One of the more stalwart members of the works department came to sniff the smell and pass his verdict. All the workers there knew the smell of a rat that had died under the floorboards when they caught a whiff of it. He did have a hopeful look, taking off the panelling along the side of the bath and having a thorough root around with a torch but he found nothing and short of taking all the floorboards up, at which point we were just as likely to find it was in the boxing round the pipes, the insides of the wall or some such, and which would involve removing the bath, anyway, my parents felt it was probably best to leave it. We’d grit our teeth and ride out the stench.

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ the chap told us, ‘it’ll stop smelling in three weeks at the outside.’

So we waited. Sure enough, the smell became pretty pungent and when I say pungent, I mean it was so strong it had almost evolved into a life form, with a personality of its own. Even so, within a month … gone. And I did learn a valuable lesson from this, ergo, what a rodent smells like decomposing. And it’s amazing how many of the rather nastier things of that nature learned during my childhood have come in handy later on in life.

And the thing was, a rodent decomposing did NOT smell like our utility room. I told the McOthers as much. Since I was the only one of us who had actually lived with the smell of putrifying rodents, and let’s face it, not many of us have, they bowed to my judgement.

So it was, that we looked out for the vole, hoping to find it and free it. The smell didn’t really get any worse and come January it was still ponging away. Not like the rat under the bath, so we assumed that it was, indeed, alive and well and it’s ‘cage’ was in need of a clean out. I continued my efforts to catch it, because I didn’t really want a vole living in our utility room, however cute it was.

Spool forward to Monday just gone. It had been consistently fine in the morning and throwing it down with rain in the afternoon for some days so I decided to get the washing on first thing so I could get it out for a quick blow before the rain came. Yeh. When I say first thing, I mean a time that, for me, was close to the middle of the fucking night. Seven something. Well before eight o’clock anyway.

The washing finished as I was on the phone to my Mum. I had the headset on so I could wander round chatting to her as I did other stuff. So I went to empty the washing machine, opened the door and … what was that thing? Eugh, what had McMini put in the pocket of his PE kit? I reached out and picked it up, it was like a bag full of liquid, at which point I realised it had arms and legs and with a small squeak, which was quite restrained of me in the circumstances I thought, I dropped it.

Splat! it went as it landed on the rubber door seal.

Yeh, I nearly hurled like this guy…

‘Aaaaargh (sorry Mum)!’  I said.

‘What’s up?’ she asked me.

I told her about the vole as I compulsively washed my hands again and again.

‘I’ve just found it,’ I explained. ‘Poor little bugger! I killed it!’ I moaned sadly.

Except, when I examined it further, I began to wonder if it had already been dead. Maybe the cat had found the body and been playing with it. Yes cats are gross and ours is grosser than most.

‘Well, you’ll soon know,’ said Mum.

‘How?’

‘If it was dead then, when you put it outside in the bin, the smell will go with it won’t it?’ she said. Ever practical.

At this point I finished the call with Mum, donned gloves, put the corpse in the dustbin, took the washing out of the machine and put the machine on a service wash at 75 degrees centigrade to sterilise it. It took an hour and a half.

Needless to say, the washing was all the stuff that couldn’t be washed over 40 degrees. Never mind, I had some of those eco balls and they claim to sterilise the washing at 40 so I’d stick those in, with about five soap pods, set it on a programme that would have it washing for a really long time and hope for the best. Two hours later it was done. I put it out for twenty minutes and then it started to rain. I suppose that was par for the course.

As I write now, the smell has gone.

‘It is winter,’ McOther told me kindly, ‘it probably decomposed very slowly.’

Anyway, after that bloody disgusting start to the week the only way was up really!

And it was.

Book three of the audio landed. Wahooo! I braced myself for another battle with my own personal artistic bell-endery. What’s up Mary? Well … I’ve this horrible suspicion that my material is not up to Gareth’s talent and I feel like a creative charlatan! Mwhahahaahrgh! (Drama queen? Creative hissy? Moi? Never.) I think part of it was simply that I’ve not done a creative collaboration with anyone else for absolutely ages, and certainly not at a professional level. And I probably don’t see myself as being at a professional level with this writing gig. After all, average earnings of £35 a month is definitely shite on anyone’s scale of achievement.

Conversely, while he plays down the amount of acting he does for a living, and makes jokes about living in his brother’s attic, Gareth has been pretty busy with actual proper work over the months we’ve been doing the audio stuff. Or to put it another way, despite the fact he is clearly a lunatic of similar ilk to myself, he is an actual, pukka professional. And his art thing is his career. He doesn’t appear to be a part time anything else to make ends meet. And my books … do. Not. Sell. Or at least, not widely, and only, pretty much, at gunpoint. So there’s … an achievement gap there. On top of which, I have a great deal of respect (possibly even mild awe) for anyone with the tenacity, strength of character and sheer, dogged bloody-mindedness required to get anywhere, in a profession which makes the average author’s 2% chance of getting a trad deal look like a walk in the park. Yep. Gareth is hard core.

Except that, as I listened to book three, I got completely lost in it, and this time I was surprised by the quality of the writing, to the point where it felt as if someone else had written it (this is the QA test, if I read it and think ‘fuck! Did I actually write this stuff, no way can I have written this can I?’ I know it’s OK). Which was a massive relief. Even if it meant I had to go back and start proofing that section again. Yes. At long fucking last, it felt as if there was a bit of talent in the offing my end of this project. And behold, those pesky feelings of imposterdom vanished! Thank bastard heavens for that!

So, hopefully that’s the third-of-the-way-wobble done with then and I’m through to the yes-those-doubts-probably-were-bollocks stage. Fingers crossed.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed a lot about this is that it’s always interesting learning about something, and it’s been quite a steep curve. But it’s even more intriguing watching someone else learning their bit of the whole thing with you. Each book Gareth’s sent me is a little more relaxed, yet, a little sharper and better than the last. It’s as if he’s just got through his one-third-in creative hissy and all – yeh well, maybe he has, trust me, we creative nutters all have them, although if he had one, I think it was on book one. Now that we’ve reached book three, I can occasionally hear the smile in his voice when he’s reading a bit he finds funny, even if he’s doing it straight, which is encouraging, because it makes the whole reading more intimate and friendly, which I’d guess any listening punters who buy it are going to like, a lot, even if they don’t know why. Proofing this one has been fun for me; relaxing and enjoyable, rather than the crisis of confidence melt down provoked by book two!

Take a chill pill MTM, this is not exactly news

But I suppose what I’m really saying, same as, or at least similarly, to last week, sorry to be boring, is that doing any creative stuff will always involve serious self doubt. But there’s this weird dichotomy between having serious doubts about something you’ve produced, yet still knowing that it’s up to your quality standards, that it’s good enough, and that you were right to put it out into the ether. And having doubts about something because it actually, genuinely is crap. And learning that difference is part of doing any kind of art stuff. It’s also part of the reason why you have to try and finish your shit, even when you are dying inside over how shite you think it might be … because it probably isn’t.

It may be that I’m not explaining this very well but I wanted to try because I reckon anyone who creates anything goes through a similar kind of head-fuckery. The more creative people I meet, the more certain I am of this. And I thought that if I talked about mine, it might make any others experiencing it as they read this feel better, or at least that they’re not alone … or … I dunno … something. I’ve made a tit of myself so you don’t have to, kind of thing. It’s just hard to put it into words in an intelligible manner and very hard to put it into words without sounding like a monumentally pretentious prick. But I hope it helps anyway! Because nearly all creative people are this nuts and even if you’re not creative, yourself, you should know this if you live with one! Mwahahahrgh.

As I write, Gareth is ploughing his way through book four, hoping to finish the first draft by Monday. It’s absolutely massive, but bless him, he’s going to give it his best shot. Go Gareth. Obviously, I hope he does, because it sounds as if he’s really into it now, and there’s definitely an extra energy to the recording of book three so I’m like … c’mon finish it while you’re in The Zone. Also I’m agog to hear the last book and then listen to all four, to see how the whole thing sounds as a … well … you know … work. But, at the same time the poor man does actually have a life, not to mention the fact that, as I keep saying … quality can’t be rushed!

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Chip off the old block …

This week has been busy. Much going on anyway and then The Wrong Stuff arrived for audio proofing. Woot. More on that and the audio project generally in a week or two.

What I should be writing about, this week, is my new release, Nothing To See Here, which is out a week today on 8th Feb. But 8th Feb is also Dad’s birthday, I’m sort of releasing it then, in his honour, so I’ve kind of been thinking about that this week, too.

This last Sunday, I went to church and because McOther had Stuff To Do, elsewhere, I took McMini. McMini is pretty good on his own for a few minutes while I whizz up to the post box or nip to Tesco’s but I don’t like to leave him on his own for long periods of time – one and a half hours while I do church and then stuff my face with biscuits and bend everyone’s ear at coffee afterwards – for example.

As you know, McMini is a bit of a live wire and also has the same sense of the ridiculous as I do. When they do all the high church stuff with the cope and the incense round the altar on high days and holidays, and the acolytes follow and hold the arm of the cope out of the way as the celebrant does their thing, I immediately think of James Brown. James Brown used to do many encores and he’d pretend to be overcome with exhaustion and his acolytes would help him onto the stage, where he’d perform again … all part of the theatre. And he wore a cloak sometimes, which sort of helps make it feel similar. This is probably Blasphemy but then again, since Christ was not above sarcasm, in spades, and clearly had a sense of humour, I am hoping that, when I head pearly gates-wards he’ll intervene on my behalf about this one if things are looking a bit dicey for me. Not that it’ll do me much good, there’s an awful lot of other stuff – But I’m wandering off topic again.

Taking McMini to church I am aware that it’s a long service, and he doesn’t always enjoy the hymns (I like a good shouty hymn but I’m a half trained classical musician). McMini is beginning to enjoy classical music, and he will, because as a musician, he will end up listening to everything because if you are musical, that’s what you do. But I feel it’s important not to force it. The trick is for him to know it’s there and he’ll learn to enjoy it in time. He’s beginning to rather like opera … just as I reach the point in my life where it’s pretty certain I’ll never go to Glyndebourne again. Sigh.

Anyway, there we are in church. And for the first bit he was a little bored, then, in the prayers, he took it quite seriously doing all the responses etc.

The jumper tribble … octopus? starfish?

Then as we got to the sermon his attention began to wander again. It was actually rather a good one but I’d seen this coming and my theory is that, it’s better to behave a bit badly in church, for us to have a laugh together and for him to enjoy the experience, than to make him be ‘good’ and put him off going for the rest of his life. Because even if he’s a bit bored, if he spends most of the time giggling, it’s going to be a memory of happy bored when he looks back on it later. So it was that I picked the larger fluff tribbles off my jumper and made them into a little creature. This was the jumping off point for a lot of mirth.

McMini kept on waiting until I wasn’t looking and then knocking it onto the floor. Then the longer I took to notice the more giggly he got, especially if I trod on it a couple of times. This is definitely one of those events where you had to be there so you’re just going to have to believe me when I tell you it was funny. McMini is a naturally gifted clown, keenly vigilant for any opportunity to get a laugh and not one to let a single one slip by. Hence the wee joke at Dad’s funeral. Eventually the blue furry critter lost both its eyes and looked very sorry for itself. Obviously, there was also banter. I can’t remember much of it but … it was there, and there was a lot of giggling about that, too. Or at least a lot of shaking, going red and crying while we tried not to make any noise. It wasn’t stealth giggling, but we gave laughing in silence our best shot. It was only after the service that I appreciated that it wasn’t just us who’d been giggling. There’s a lovely lady who usually sits behind me with her Mum and they had also been enjoying the … er hem … show.

The mum flashed us a beaming, twinkly smile said, ‘It is rather a long service for a young boy isn’t it?’

And I smiled back and said, ‘Um… yes,’ and left it at that.

Then the daughter said she wished she could have heard what we were saying so she could be in on the joke but we were too far away. Well … at least we weren’t making too much noise, then.

What was rather lovely about it all, apart from the fact that the other parishoners, were clearly far more happy to see that I’d brought McMini than they were worried about any behavioural deficiencies, was that it reminded me so much of Church with my parents. Dad giggling about the awful Victorian poetry again, or pointing out the dirty bits. I had no idea what detumescence was until my father pointed out a line that reminded him of it in a hymn. Although once again, St John’s excelled itself with rather good poetry, and a couple of tunes taken from the Scottish Psalter and an Orlando Gibbons thrown in … all the kind of elegant, symmetrical, mathematical music that I love.

This morning, McMini had arranged to meet some friends in town. I wasn’t sure when but I felt that, possibly, meet up time was pending when there was a sudden sense of urgent activity and then I could hear McMini saying on the phone, ‘I’m running a bit late … I’ll be with you soon … It won’t take that long to walk up there will it? Where would I meet you then? OK.’

It occurred to me that if he was going to the other end of town, he might appreciate a lift. So I popped my head round the door and asked if all was well. He admitted that he’d agreed to meet his friends at ten fifteen but that he’d suddenly realised at about ten thirteen that he was still in his pyjamas.

‘Ah,’ I said. ‘So … did you make this arrangement at about half past nine think you’d just do a couple of things first and lose track of time?’ I asked him.

He no longer throws me an ‘are you telepathic?’ look when I do this sort of thing because he is old enough to understand about inherited traits and that he’s just a chip off the old block. Instead he gave me a sort of small, knowing smile and said, ‘Yes.’

Immediately I remembered the number of times my father had forgotten he was supposed to be somewhere, or that he’d invited someone to lunch. Mum became a consummate expert at Not Looking Surprised, when people turned up to lunch unannounced and stretching meals for larger numbers of people than anticipated.  I suspect there was also a reason we seldom ate before one or quarter past. Plenty of time to make extra arrangements if surprise guests suddenly turned up.

One particular time, I remember my uncle ringing and asking where Dad was. I asked where he was supposed to be. At the Rotary Club lunch, my uncle explained. Ah. Dad was, at this point, in Worthing, and when they set off, he and Mum had said they might stay and have lunch there. Obviously I didn’t tell my uncle this, instead I said,

‘Oh yes, he did say he was going to lunch, where was it again?’

My uncle named a hotel in Haywards Heath. I explained that Mum and Dad had popped into worthing.

‘He’s probably lost track of time, but I’m sure he’ll be with you shortly,’ I said, praying that this was true.

I managed to pump my uncle reasonably subtly for information as to where Dad had to go, whether Mum was invited too (no) and if he needed change for parking. I say I was subtle. I probably wasn’t but my uncle was good enough to play along with the pretence.

Luckily, Dad and Mum returned a few seconds after I’d finished talking to my uncle. I tipped Dad off but I’d forgotten the dress code. None of us were very up on the Rotary so we hummed and haad about what he should wear and decided that jacket and tie would probably be OK. So he quickly put a tie on, grabbed a decent jacket, leapt into the car and sped off to join his long suffering brother. I think he arrived half an hour late, in the end, which wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, everyone else was wearing suits.

On the up side apparently the feedback was very good and one fellow Rotarian told my uncle,

‘Your brother is a very cool customer. Not only did he give a wonderful speech, but I was sitting near him, and I saw him write it during the pudding course.’

So there was McMini, late already because, like his mother and grandfather before him he had, ‘lost track of time’. Naturally, I offered him a lift.

We grabbed his phone and keys and I gave him a fiver. Then I went to open the garage and left him putting on his shoes and getting his bag.

‘Don’t forget to shut the door,’ I said. Obviously, it’s one of those ones that, if you shut it, locks itself.

We got into the car and I managed to get him to his meeting point by twenty past, so he was only five minutes late. When I arrived home, I discovered he’d left the back door wide open. Blimey he’s a chip off the old block.

As I watch my son following in his grandfather’s footsteps, and mine, I think a small penny dropped somewhere. I am brain fogged, for sure, but it’s a lot better since I started the HRT and while I may feel like I’m demented, perhaps it’s more of a case of being like my dad. Maybe it’s not that the numbers of instances when I’ve ‘lost track of time’ or just forgotten something that are increasing. Maybe I just feel like they are because, as an adult, doing this kind of stuff correctly is more important.

Maybe.

Which reminds me. I’ve a new book out next week and it’s available for pre-order. If you’re interested here’s the info click on the title or the picture to visit the links page:

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Nothing To See Here, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 2

It’s midwinter and preparations for the biggest religious festival in the K’Barthan year are in full swing. Yes, even though, officially, religious activity has been banned, no-one’s going to ignore Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday, especially not Big Merv. He orders The Pan of Hamgee to deliver the traditional Prophet’s Birthday gift to his accountants and lawyers. As usual, The Pan has managed to elicit the unwanted attention of the security forces. Can he make the delivery and get back to the Parrot and Screwdriver pub in time for an unofficial Prophet’s Birthday celebration with his friends?

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