Tag Archives: author blogs

The downside of making progress

Just a quick one today. I’m sitting in a cafe, drinking an enormous bucket of hot chocolate while I while away an hour before McMini’s harvest service. Very important I go to this one as Scion has a speaking part! Woot. There will also be a Hymn I Know, apparently, so I must make sure I am in a position to sing loudly without causing undue distress to people around me, ie I must stand at the back, alone at least twenty yards from anyone who can hear.

On the up side … I have my keys, although I didn’t yesterday. I was late meeting McMini after school – he walks half way home on his own and I meet him in town – because I managed to lock myself out of the house. On the upside, I did, at least, realise I had no keys before I locked myself out of the garden as well. The garden is a nightmare because my disability makes it impossible to just climb over the wall and unlock the gate. I have to borrow a ladder or a chair and lean over.

On the other hand, the house is easy, I’m usually back inside in about twenty seconds. It did make me late though, because I had to find the ruddy keys before I could come out again and I had wet knees from kneeling on the doormat. There are times when I wish my life wasn’t quite so remeniscent of a badly written situation comedy. Obviously any character as ditsy as I would be totally unrealistic when written into fiction. I can’t believe I’ve reached the stage where I’m so bad that, as a fictional character, I’d be untenable. Nobody is actually that crap in reality … er hem … well … no-one except me.

Obviously, even for me, locking yourself out of the garden or house three times in about five days is pretty impressive going. Now it could be menopausal brain fog – yes ladies I can tell you, for nothing, that really is a Thing – but I think it may be the knock on effects of my efforts to do a little bit of something. It sounds mad but thanks to the lovely Joseph Michael’s course on Writer’s Block, I have been following his advice to merely aim for ten minutes’ writing a day. The results have been so splendid that I’ve been doing it for other things. The results are a very much calmer, less tense MT because doing secret me stuff that I enjoy makes me happy and fulfilled.

However, by making this time for me stuff, I fear I may have inadvertently overstretched the mental capacity available. The way my memory for administriatitive shite works is that it has a finite amount of space and when that fills up, as I put stuff in one end other things start leaking out of the back. My old headmistress used to use the analogy of a sponge. As in; it can fill up with a certain amount of water but after that, when you put more water in, stuff that’s in there starts running out. This appears to be what is happening.

By doing things I enjoy alongside all the stuff I have to, I have discovered that the things I like are starting to take up a portion of that memory and as a result, shite, like remembering to pick up my keys as I leave the house is falling out. I am lurching from one, ‘shit McMini! We’re supposed to be at …’ insert name of specially organised Year Six event here. And just getting to things on time; school open days, upper school head master’s talks, providing packed lunches on the days McMini requires them, going to school in his PE kit with a bag full of his normal school uniform, or, like today, remembering that it’s harvest festival at ten am and that I have to be there.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to do about it. I am so much happier and more fulfilled if I do a few things I want to do alongside things I have to do that I’m loathe to go back to tense frustrated MTM. But at the same time, I don’t want to reach the stage where I fail to function as a human being in normal society! A stage upon the brink of which I am teetering, right now.

It’s a fine balance to strike and Mum is particularly muddled at the moment so I have to remember a bit more than usual for her and way, way more than usual for McMini. The quiet oceans of peace when McOther takes him to football on a Monday evening are gone because McOther is no longer home in time. I think the thought collection time is definitely lacking and perhaps this is part of the problem. I’m not sure.

Whatever it is, Real Life is rather too busy for my taste, McOther is buried under work and so I’m doing the cooking. By doing every dish from scratch and eschewing everything ready made I am hoping to lose some weight. It isn’t actually that much more work than using cook in sauces and I am cautiously optimistic that it may be working. Might need to hold back on the spuds a bit though. The cooking isn’t a problem but I do have to be a bit more organised, there are lots of lists although I seldom remember to take them with me when I go shopping etc.

Back to the drawing board then. I don’t want to drop the things that make me happy but I definitely have to find a way to remember more crap.

I leave you with a McMini-ism. Last night at about 3 am he called out. I went and found him on the stairs having had a bad dream. I sat down a few steps below him and told him he had far worse things to worry about, like that his mum might wee on the stairs because I really needed to go to the loo. He laughed and then told me he’d dreamed we were fixing my car, that his dad had given him a coke to drink and that he’d inadvertently drunk from a bottle of rat poison we were using instead and died. I said that sounded like a bummer but that if he was dreaming of dying it was a sure sign that he was enjoying life! I asked him he’d like a hug. Yes, he would, he told me. So I hugged him tight. Too tight. He farted loudly and then guffawing with laughter told me,

“I’ll be alright now Mummy!” and we both went, giggling, to bed.

Incidentally, as I prepare this for posting, it’s later in the day. I’ve managed to leave the house to collect my son with my keys, I locked the garden gate without shutting the keys the wrong side … trouble was, when I got home again, I realised I’d forgotten to lock the door. Hmm. Let’s call this a work in progress.

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The days when it drives you crazy! #dementia

Today, I’m going to explain some frustrations about looking after vulnerable elderly family members. Here they are:

  • Masses of frustrating administrivia.
  • The whole thing is a monumental time suck. You’ll find yourself wondering how the fuck they ran their lives before you and the care team came along to do it for them.
  • If you are going to allow the vulnerable person any independence, there will be slip ups. You will not believe how comprehensively they can stuff things up and you will have to do a lot of gatekeeping and/or clearing up.
  • Things will also stuff up randomly with monotonous regularity.
  • You will need to remember a lot of things for them.
  • Keeping them social and independent may involve covert surveillance from the wings, so to speak, so you can fix any bog ups quietly in the background, or at the least, see them coming. That may feel like spying or going behind their back. It isn’t. You’re just supporting them so they can be free for as long as possible. Hold onto that when it gets tough, my lovelies. Because …
  • The gift, or possibly the illusion, that they are running their own affairs (even when they aren’t) is the best thing you can give them. Aim to let the person have as much independence as is humanely possible, for as long as possible because however vulnerable they may be, they are not children, and allowing them to take responsibility for things is great for their confidence if they are supported the right way.
  • You will be amazed how crass people can be when presented with a dementia sufferer.
  • You will be amazed how lovely people can be when presented with a dementia sufferer.
  • There may be times when you feel trapped and cornered by the crushing weight of the responsibility and will wish that you could just run away and never return.
  • Sometimes you’ll wonder if they wouldn’t be better off dead. It doesn’t matter how ableist that is, it’s going to happen especially if one of them has told you, repeatedly, that  they hope they will die, ‘before I lose my marbles. I can handle pain, but I don’t think I could bear that, or knowing how awful it will be for you.’

In short you will have many thoughts that may not be pleasant but try not to beat yourself up because I’d guarantee that most of them are perfectly natural. You have to accept that your negative feelings are as natural as the positive ones. You have to accept yourself and look after yourself as well as them. Because if you go down, everything does!

When it comes to the time, you won’t mind putting the time in, and actually, most days, you’ll feel that it’s an honour. But on other occasions you may be roundly cursing your loved ones, especially if you have to drop everything and sort out whatever mess they’ve got themselves into. It’s nothing to be upset about when that happens so long as you don’t do it in front of them, because you’re human, and there will be times when it and they drive you buggy, no matter how much you love them.

Case in point, this week. It’s has been a bit hectic. Mum has reached the stage when we should really be activating the lasting power of attorney over her finances as well as Dad’s but if we do that, she can’t have a cheque book or bank card and neither can I. Running someone’s day to day finances and shopping needs from over 100 miles away isn’t going to be easy if none of them have access to a cash point and Mum can’t pay for anything by cheque either.

Sure, we can do it, but it will involve transferring hundreds of pounds to my own bank account every week and getting them out, putting them in an envelope and taking them down to my parents’ place. To be honest, I don’t fancy walking about with £500 plus on board, even in my quiet market town. Then, we have to hide the cash at Mum and Dad’s. We can put it in the safe but their having all that cash sloshing about is still not a prospect I relish.

Also even if I did it, what happens when I go away on holiday?

God bless my Mum, she managed to spend nearly £300 on some manure the other day. It’s excellent stuff, but she didn’t really need 36 bags. She used to, because she used to use a lot of it and would pass it on to friends. But not anymore. After that, and other scares, and a brief discussion with the carers we decided we’d hide the cheque book and card in the safe. Needless to say, when I looked in there, I found a bunch of cash I’d put in for emergencies while I was away on holiday a year ago – this was at a point where we were trying to have me bring cash each week and it wasn’t working. Obviously, there were four old tenners, so I had to put the new ones from my wallet in and take the others home where I could go into ‘any bank’ to swap them.

When I got home after three and a half hours of joy round the M25, I rang the fellow who sold her the manure. He wasn’t there so I left a message.

He didn’t call back until the next day and was extremely understanding but couldn’t really do much more than give us a discount and promise not to call again next year. I’ve had at least three bags of his manure, via Mum, so I do know he is legit but it was a pity. He also rang me just as McMini and I were leaving the house and it took us half an hour to sort it out. Half an hour that I didn’t really have.

Having agreed that Mum and Dad would have to keep the manure, but that he’d tear up cheque and I would pay a reduced sum by BACS, the next day, McOther then pointed out that I should wait to pay him until he’d sent the cheque back. Or stop it and then pay him. So then I had to stop the cheque.

However, HSBC’s Indian call centre came up trumps here. They still can’t pronounce the name McGuire but they are now more intuitive. Today I spoke to a lady who stopped the cheque for me and then, when I explained why I was stopping it, she waived the fee. Last time, when I was checking that there wasn’t a standing order pending for an insurance policy on her white goods that Mum had bought and I’d cancelled, the guy put a note on that no standing order should be approved without asking me. A stark contrast to the bastards at NatWest who would only change Mum’s old tenners if I had an account with them. Yes, after the thirty minute delay of the call with the manure man, it took us another fifteen to find a bank in the centre of town who’d swap the stupid tenners. Thank heavens there’s a Santander, where, ironically, I have an account but the teller swapped it all over without even asking if I do.

So the moral of this story appears to be don’t bank with NatWest, they’re a bunch of cAROOOGAHts.

It looks as if the suckers list Mum and Dad are on has just changed hands again and the ‘call blocker’ bastards are phoning every day, along with people ringing to say that the TV/Washing Machine/insert white goods here ‘insurance’ policy is due when there isn’t one. The former are scamming bastards out to rip off the vulnerable. The latter are selling worthless, overpriced services by cold calling people who are on the Telephone Preference Service (which is punishable by a £5k fine) but they are at least legitimate companies with websites and directors registered at Companies House even if their corporate ethics are in a fucking mess.

All of them call themselves something generic which is searched for lots on Google; Home Insurance Services or Call Technology Services, Home Services Limited or the like, things that will ensure any internet search for a record of their existence is buried under pages and pages of results. The other trouble is, if you are kind of person who purchases a suckers list in the first place, you’re not going to worry about selling it on with records that are duff when you’re done. As a result, every three months or so, Mum and Dad get a massive surge of these scam calls and then, as the shit-heads realise there are gatekeepers, the calls fall away until the list is sold on again.

Bastards.

However, I have a plan for the next call blocker selling weasel who phones when I’m at my parents. It’s going to be a gas! I’ll let you know how it goes.

I have a cunning plan … hnur, hnur, hnurrrrr.

 

 

 

 

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This week, I have been mostly … writing.

Wow MTM has finished another short! Shock horror!

A while ago you may remember I talked about an anthology I was involved in called Christmas Lites. The deadline for the next one is looming for August and I want to write something bespoke for this year’s. I sat down to try and do something on 27th June and this last Thursday, I finished the result. Except the maximum is ten thousand words, which I aimed for, like a fool, so it’s now too long dammit; about thirteen thousand. That is exactly what happened last time I tried to write a ten thousand word short. Actually thinking about it I’m pretty sure that one ended up at about seventeen thousand words. You’d have thought I’d have worked it out by now wouldn’t you? but no. Doh.

Anyway, I started on a different short for Christmas Lites yesterday and this time I’m aiming for seven thousand words on the premise that I should end up with about nine if I do that.

The shorts are just one of the many things I’m working on in my new, always have something to write that suits your mood, technique. I sweated blood over the K’Barthan Series and I can’t bring myself to sell those books for $2.99 a pop – not in the volume they sell at because I reckon if you’re going to sell one book a month, you need to crank up the price and make more cash on each sale.

The shorts, on the other hand, are meant to be a bit cheaper so it’s not quite such a gamble to try the longer books, the K’Barthan ones at any rate. So far, the ones that actually are short are all about the male lead in the K’Barthan Series and they are episodes from his life on the run before the events in the series start, although I have one in mind about after the series, but it’s a massive spoiler for anyone who reads it by mistake first so I may just write it and make it into exclusive fan content or something. Obviously, the short series involve some of the other characters who appear in the books as well, like Big Merv, Gladys, Ada and Their Trev and so on. Although sadly, as Ruth’s in London being a normal human being at this point, I can’t really do any about her.

My cunning plan was to write five or six of them and then sell them at $1.25 a pop to introduce the characters to readers. This has, sort of, worked, except that the one I started on at the request of the late, great Kate Jackson – who some of you will know – is now at 60k and promising to turn into the usual MTM 140k behemoth. So that’s something I’m working on, along with Space Dustmen and Tripwires (the non fiction thing).

But the point of the shorts was that they are, by their very definition, less complicated, so they take less mental capacity at a period in my life when my grey matter is sub par a lot of the time. They’re also good because if I only have an hour to write in, it’s not going to take me that entire time catching up, and they tie in with my new writing regimen, which is to attempt to write for ten minutes every day (it often turns into more but on days when I’m struggling, I can usually manage to squeeze ten minutes in somewhere and that makes it easier to keep track on where things are going and it makes it easier for me to feel good about myself because I’ve ‘done writing’ and kept things moving).

All in all, this month, things are looking good. My social media presence is dropping, I haven’t run an ad for a sod of a long time and my mailings are all going out late but I have something to show for it; another complete work of fiction, which means I now have two in the bag, and with the Christmas Lites one, it’ll be three. Woot.

Batching editing, covers etc of all five or six will help me to keep production prices down, especially on the cover art work, which I’m hoping to sort in a way that makes it useable for ads and publicity and stuff like that. However, I appreciate it is a pain in the arse from my readers’ point of view. Sure they’ve been waiting three years for me to release a new book and they’re probably used to it by now but even so. It’s a long time. Which is why I’m a bit nervous and sweaty today as I’ve decided to do something unusual and share some.

CAVEAT: This is extremely raw unedited shizz.

Here’s the link: http://www.hamgee.co.uk/shortexcerpt.html

Enjoy.

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What I know now, that I wish I knew then …

The advice kettle is sage and wise and also keeps the water hot, like an urn, only not.

Back on topic this week, I was asked for some advice by a writer who is just starting work on her first book. Even though she appears to be of sound mind, she was dead chuffed with what I wrote and asked if I’d share it on my blog so she could send people to the post. As a result, by special request, here is my rambling view on er … some of the aspects of writing that popped up.

BEFORE YOU START ….

1. What do you want to do?
a) have fun writing a book.
b) have fun writing a book and maybe make a bit of side cash – or at least get the cover artwork and editing costs back.
c) Rule the world: Yeh, move over JK, I am on your tail.

2. Decide on a target genre, who your reader is and what genre/store category your book fits into. Are there other books for the kind of reader you are aiming at. What are they like? What do their covers look like? Hint, you do NOT want your cover to stand out, you want it to be slick, well designed and exactly the same as all the others so readers know what they are getting (I so didn’t do this). Are you going to mash genres? Say you’re writing Sci-fi, is it something else too? Is it funny? Is it also fantasy. Are there other books like yours? Who writes them?

Your answer to question 1 will affect this as if you’re looking to make a living you need to totally conform to the standard tropes. Unless you are going to be an outlier. I thought I was going to be an outlier. It didn’t work too well for me. I write because … actually, I write because I can’t walk away from it and to be honest, walking away would be the sensible option right now.

Pantser or Plotter?

I was firmly in the pantser camp to start with – as in I’d just write and see where it went. It went to lots of good places but my first book took 13 years. Pantsing may well slow your rate of production so if a fast output is your aim plotting is good. Likewise, if your daily existence is the equivalent of having someone opening the top of your head and stir your brains about, constantly, with a wooden spoon, some kind of plot outline is going to be a huge help. Especially if you have menopausal brain fog on top (yes apparently that really is a thing and yes, of course I have it).

I find that even though I now write an outline, there is plenty of wiggle room. The key thing is to experiment and find what works best for you. I find that if I get too confined by an outline I stop enjoying it as much, I quite like the whole wondering around and seeing where it will go aspect, but when I relied solely on that I got frustrated with having to keep stopping while my brain sorted itself out. I really enjoyed the learning process – even though it was trying at times.

However, these days I am very light on time so if I want to produce a book every five years, I do need to plot a little bit so I don’t waste time. On the last two books of the K’Barthan Series I wrote 60k words I didn’t need. Right now my year’s output stands at about 40k so I can’t afford to waste a year and a half’s writing time on plot bunnies. Hence I now plot, but with enough wriggle room for the characters to act on their own initiative. This works for me – and that’s the important take away from this one: that what works for me may not work for you.

Write in whatever way suits you best.

Try to avoid being too rigid in your approach

My brain and my life.

To put this in perspective, basically, I pantsed my first novel and I wrote three versions that I sincerely wish I hadn’t written and one half cock novel (which I managed to tidy up and turn into something decent: my fifth published novel) before I managed to produce a book that measured up to my Quality Standards.

In that time, the male lead had appeared out of nowhere, one character had changed from a mechanic to a ganglord, the first book had ended up being the third and fourth ones and the other two were the backstory that popped up out of nowhere at the same time as my getaway-driving male lead. By the time I’d got to the last book, the plot was so complicated my brain was just about melting out through my nose – oh no wait that was hayfever.

What I mean is, you don’t have to stick too rigidly to the plan but you may have to shake things up originally and see what falls out to know if your book is going to work, or if it’s two books, or a series of short stories, or if the character who has just turned up in prison really is the male lead. Sometimes you get too many characters. Eric, from Escape From B-Movie Hell was actually in the K’Barthan Series to start with. Obviously he was human in that, but he was also telepathic. I just made him into an alien for his new world, his character didn’t changed much.

Likewise, at the second short in a series of five, I discovered that what I was writing was a novel. We’re 60k in and yes, I’ve already binned 40k. I’m not learning from my mistakes am I? But at the same time, the short was not a short so there was no point in forcing the issue. Now it’s a long. So what? It will be what it will be. Just try different approaches and you will find a number of different things that work.

Grammar and Punctuation

Bollocks to it. It’s the editor’s job. As you write you learn more, as you work with a decent editor you will learn loads. The point is, you will need an editor unless you are a very and I mean very rare breed. Most of us are too close in to self edit. Additionally, the only thing I really know about grammar and punctuation for sure, is that there are no right answers.

It doesn’t matter what you do, someone, somewhere will always complain so a lot of it is about having faith in your editor. I do edit my work but that’s more word choices, and tweaking stuff so it makes sense; structural things. It also helps me to do this if I need a bit of re-orientation with my giant sprawling novel. Also I have regular read throughs of what I’ve done so far so I can zoom out to the overall big picture. Otherwise I can get kind of lost. Am I a grammar nazi? No, that’s the job of my editor.

Also there will be points where you really dislike your book or think, ‘blimey this is a bit meh.’ That’s all natural. Everyone does it. Sometimes, a good way of getting round that is to work on several projects at the same time. I do that because my life is hectic and I can’t afford to not write something when the stars align and the grey matter is fired up because it happens so rarely. But working on multiple projects also helps you to ensure you’re always working on something you’re up for and enjoy.

Learning Your Craft

I never bought any how to write books – actually, I tell a lie, I have a Chuck Wendig Book on writing which is epic.

However, mostly I’ve learned to write by reading a lot of work by authors who write the way I want to; Pratchett, Adams, Woodehouse and Bryson, notably, along with Tom Holt, Robert Rankin, Nick Hornby, Spike Milligan and Tom Sharp but also non comic writers like H E Bates, Graham Greene, Neville Shute and Asimov. There’s the odd dash of historical fiction, Moonfleet when I was a kid, the Children of the New Forest and The Three Musketeers, Jane Austen. In addition my work has gained a lot of influences from TV; Dr Who – check my non violent hero who never thumps anyone – the original StarTrek, StarWars are the three big ones but also a lot of the 1960s TV shows like Get Smart, the Man from UNCLE, the Avengers, Thunderbirds etc.

This is where I confess that I am the only living person in existence who is not going to bang on about To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby Dick in this section. I have never read a word of either.

The point is, I’m guessing there is a similar list of relevant books to mine for each genre.  A list of must reads which any author would look to for inspiration if they wanted to write in it. If you don’t have one, make one.

The most important thing is patience. Nailing the whole write a book thing usually takes a long time. You are probably a faster learner than me, most people are, but it took me ages to write a book that measured up to my QS. On the upside, when I did, I knew at once that I’d cracked it.

Setting Deadlines

I don’t do this. It would kill me because if they were realistic I’d be in tears about how long each project was going to take and if they are unrealistic I’ll be beating myself up over failing to meet deadlines. I just set a long term goal and short term, realistic, targets and then creep slowly along. One of my friends got stuck a while back when we were at the same stages in our first book. I was stuck, too, but by telling myself it was temporary, or writing other scenes from other parts of the book, or, indeed other books entirely, I managed to keep on creeping slowly forward, I now have 5 books out, she’s just completing her third novel. Other writer friends have twice as many books out as me after two years in the game. So much of writing is a case of having a firm word with yourself and just getting on with it in whatever way you can. You may find deadlines work for you. I find they don’t but a handful of defined and doable goals, with no done by time, they do help. Like all this, you probably need to experiment to get your own happy medium.

In a nutshell, then, bollocks to deadlines; set targets.

Building an Audience

It’s well worth doing this as you go along rather than waiting until you’re ready to launch your first book. If you can manage a free short story you can give to folks in return for mailing list sign up that will help you to start growing a following. Open an account at instafreebie and bookfunnel to deliver the free book to folks. Join promos with other authors. Find websites and Facebook groups where you can chat to other writers in your genre and exchange marketing tips and ideas. For mailing, it’s up to you but I use Mailerlite – they’re cheap and do all the things I need them to do as an author.

This might sound a bit premature but if you can start getting people invested in you even if it’s only to share your journey, you are more likely to start off with some decent book sales.

Big caveat on your give away short though, it has to be your best stuff because it’s your shop window.

Working Out Who Your Audience Is

This is going to affect what you do considerably. For example it is really, and I mean really hard to reach young people or children online. I’d call my book Young Adult. When I wrote it, as well as me, I was thinking of my nephew, who was 12 years old at the time. When I do events, my books sell exclusively to 10-14 year olds, with the odd adult Pratchett fan thrown in. The buyers are usually parents who want to encourage their children to read books. Online, no matter how well your ads or your site piques their interest, kids will not be able to buy your books without their parents’ say so and you run into a whole heap of legal headaches if minors start signing up to your email list. The folks who buy my books online are 45 and over, more women between 45 and 50, more men over 50.

So, if you are going to sell your books, think long and hard about who you are selling to. You may need to concentrate on libraries or making a print version – Ingram Spark are good for this if you are looking for world wide sales and will get your book distributed far more widely then Createspace or Amazon Print and for far less per copy than LuLu.

Here are resources which might help focus your thoughts on production and marketing, anyway …

The first is a series of books about how to format paperbacks using word and publishing indie books. They are by this guy here:

Aaron Shepard

Mr Shepard’s books, From Word to Kindle and POD for Profit might be useful. The amount of information he is dealing with has increased so where I bought one book: Aiming at Amazon, which dealt with the process of making print books. I would have never got my paperback stuff sorted without them. If you are looking at children’s books it might be worth looking at Adventures in Writing for Children and The Business of Writing for Children and the ones he has written about making a useable kindle file using word!

The three other essential ones that will give you an idea of how you can go about building an audience, indie musician style, and sell your books are a three book set by Patty Jansen. I heartily recommend these as they also propose a way of working that is not reliant on any one bookseller and with a work rate that is realistically attainable. They are:

  • Self Publishing Unboxed
  • Mailing Lists Unboxed
  • Going Wide Unboxed

Links to buy them from all retailers can be found here – scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Or you can buy them, direct, from Patty’s Website here

I realise I’ve probably given you way more information than you might want and about stuff way further down the line than the point at which you are now. It might look daunting but the thing is, if you enjoy writing and work at it, you will get there, and when you do it won’t feel nearly as daunting, putting your work out there. It is like putting your soul on the table and inviting snide comments but somehow it works out OK and the more you do it the more your confidence builds and the more you begin to believe in your work. Not everyone will like your stuff but that’s OK. I have one star reviews and that’s fine, and if it isn’t fine, avoid reading the reviews! 😉

Finally, the most important things

IMPORTANT THING ONE: enjoy it. Enjoy writing and the love for it will shine through in what you say. If you write with conviction and enthusiasm, pretty much any plot will work, I mean, look at my stuff! The rest is gravy.

IMPORTANT THING TWO: never, EVER look at other people’s progress and compare it to yours. They are not you. Their life, their personality, and probably their books are different. Keep your eye on your own writing goals, make them realistic goals and work steadily towards them. Enjoy the process of learning and enjoy writing.

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How a battery charger saved my bacon …

…And the danger of over confidence when coupled with good intentions.

This week, I was going to talk a little more about happiness being a state of mind, but I only have a few minutes to do this in so it’s more of a dump it and leg it!

It’s been a busy week with a bank holiday at the beginning, a weekend away and a trip to my Uncle’s funeral today. It began with a bit of a dodgy start. Up at 5.30 expecting to leave by 6.00 but cocked it up and was late, finally leaping into the car at 6.15, I was not a happy bunny when pressed the starter and it turned over once and died. Tried again and it went ‘click’. I pulled the lever to open the boot and the cable snapped – for the second time in a year, I’ll have to book it in to be fixed. Luckily, it wasn’t all bad. Before snapping, the cable had actually unlatched the boot lid so I was able to get it open easily enough and access the battery to put it on charge. I was already fifteen minutes late departing, fifteen minutes too late to be able to take McOther’s car – it doesn’t go fast enough when there is quarter of an hour to recoup. As you can imagine, there followed a very tense ten minutes while I waited for the booster to charge the battery enough for the car to start. Yes. There was swearing.

On the upside, it did work, the car started and I was there just after nine because I missed the worst of the traffic on the dicky bits, i.e. the entire M25 which was uncharacteristically clear. Sure it was an hour early but that wasn’t a problem; there were cousins to chat to by ten past! I am so glad I got there. It was a lovely service, planned by my Uncle, himself, and it spoke eloquently of what I gather was a very peaceful and ‘good’ death. The priest was a lovely chap and spoke well about him, too. I did cry, and the bit that got me was the point where we said prayers for the sick and the list comprised Mum and Dad, while the prayers for the dead, apart from my uncle, were for my aunt, his wife. It was very moving, and a positive and uplifting, if sad, experience. It was wonderful to see my other uncle and aunt, and my cousins and my brother and all my cousin’s children who have grown into splendid young people, one with a microdot in tow. Well worth braving the roads.

However, there’s not much to say after that, at least, not in thirty minutes, so instead I’m going to share a story from Setting Tripwires for Granny and Other Tall Family Tales.

Learning to throw and missing …

This is a story about the disastrous consequences of having a sport obsessed older brother and the dangers of learning to throw, over arm. When my brother and I were little and lived in the school we used to run with the other housemasters’ kids. The amazing thing about it was that we probably had the kind of upbringing our parents, or grandparents, had rather than our contemporaries. We walked around the school, which was the size of a small village, and the adults kept an eye on us. If Mum wanted us home for tea she’d just ring round the other housemasters, starting with the most likely, to see if we were playing with their kinds and then the housemaster’s wife would come and tell us it was time for tea. This was standard procedure for all of them so we got to play alone much more than we might have done.

During this time, most of the kids I hung out with were my brother’s age so they were boys. As a result, their first priority was to teach me the most important things in life, how to kick a ball properly and how to not throw like a girl.

Actually, I used to be able to throw reasonably well but I’ve never managed to get a chuffing ball to go that far overarm, maybe it’s the bingo wings interfering with it or something, there seems to be a bit too much flexion in my arms and not enough … um … hurl. Yeh, whatever it is, they failed. My nine year old can throw as far as me. Anyway, on with the story.

My brother decided, when I was four, that he must teach me to throw over arm. After weeks of intensive coaching, I did finally crack it and could do a very passable overarm throw for a four year old girl. The day came when one of the lads had his birthday party. There we were, a massive group of kids running riot on the lawn and I was anxious to show my throwing prowess. Anxious but nervous. Some of the boys were throwing a lump of wood about, the foot rest from one of those turned wood chairs (check name). The point came when it landed at my feet.

‘Hey, I can do this!’ I thought and I picked it up. Flung my arm back over my head to get a really good overarm lob on it and … oh dear … let go. The wood flew up into the air, hit a window, which broke and landed back at my feet in a shower of glass.

The others stared at me in silence.

I had no idea if they were horrified at my pathetic attempts at throwing properly, or just thought the way the glass had showered down on me was really cool. All I could think of was how surprised I was that the throwing had gone so badly.
Never mind, I’d remembered how it felt to throw, muscle memory and all that, I would be able to throw over arm.
The window belonged to the house next door and the housemaster of said house came striding across the lawn looking a bit stern.

You did what???

‘Oi! You’ve just broken a window.’
‘I’m very sorry, I said.’
He looked up at the window and down at me and the piece of wood.
‘What on earth were you doing?’ he asked.
With complete confidence in my newly acquired throwing prowess I replied,
‘I was just trying to do this!’

I picked up the piece of chair and threw it, over arm, towards the assembled crowd.
Except I didn’t.
I did exactly the same thing again. And guess what?
Yep, you’d better believe it.
I broke another window.

Which just goes to show that even when you are absolutely sure of yourself, and have the most well-meaning intentions, it’s sometimes best to be cautious, engage your head as well as your heart and think before you act, otherwise, it can all backfire horribly.

In light of the storm rocking the independent publishing world this week, it seems that’s still an important lesson.

 

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Chin up lass!

There is a popular trope that being happy is just a state of mind. It’s a little more complicated than that, I suspect but I think there is something in the idea that trying to cultivate a positivity of outlook can help. For me it’s definitely about noticing things. Noticing the smell of hyacinths from the flower bed beside our back door. Noticing the way the birds start to sing way, way more loudly from January on. Noticing how even in December, the bulbs are starting to break through. If I wasn’t lucky enough to spot these signs of hope and spring, naturally, I suspect I would be a much less happy person. But once you’ve noticed this stuff once, maybe you look harder for it the next time? Who knows.

This week, has been … interesting. Really tough at times. Not helped by a dash of sleep deprivation; they resurfaced a bit of our street … at night and, apparently, with the help of the Mysterons.

They also foolishly parked their rollers etc outside my house where I could eyebomb the living smeck out of them so there’s an upside to everything but …  after a couple of noisy nights mental energy was low by about Tuesday and by Wednesday I was running on fumes – no not my farts, I’m trying to say there wasn’t much fizz in the tank – and there was even less after I had to sort out a bit of a ‘situation’ at Mum and Dad’s. Suffice to say, I should be driving to Hexham right now to celebrate the 50th Birthdays of two lovely friends from school. And I’m not.

In my defence, it’s a five hour trip each way and after my uncle’s death, the night works and a furore (now sorted) that blew up around my parents this week, I decided that if I was being realistic, there were not enough spoons/fuel in the tank – my tank, not the car’s – to do 600 miles in bank holiday traffic. I cancelled. I feel bad about cancelling but sitting here right now, I know I’ve done the right thing.

Meanwhile alongside these it has been a week of small and unusual things. Lovely things that have lifted my spirits. Rare stuff. It’s strange how these things happen sometimes, often when the rest of your world is at its worst. Little mini-boosts that filter through to you, as if the world is trying to tell you, in it’s own small way, that despite feeling that you haven’t measured up, it’s alright.

First, an account from a friend of someone waxing lyrical about my intelligence – as in that she thought I had some – left me with a nice warm feeling. The Scottish man who served me at the market today who asked if I’d be having those strawberries and without thinking I said, ‘Aye.’ The moment in church when a lady visiting, who had the misfortune to sit near me, tapped me on the shoulder at the end of the service and thanked me for my singing. I’ve discussed my singing before, an attribute about which I was teased a great deal at school – so much singing, so little of it in tune. But recently people have been saying how nice my voice is. I’m not sure if something’s happened to my voice, if the people in church are tone deaf or if I’ve always had a decent voice and the girls at school were just jealous. Whatever it is that’s happened there, I suddenly feel I can sing. I’ll take that and be happy!

This last fortnight, after the death of my uncle, I felt very low, about Dad as well as about him. Strangely, I’ve been seeing butterflies and rainbows everywhere. Butterflies, obviously, because it’s spring. Rainbows; I had a memorable journey back from Sussex to Suffolk this week; two and a half hours over waterlogged roads in bright sunlight. Lots of spray, car got a Sussex respray and was covered in white chalky puddle water stains, visibility was terrible, lights on but blue sky above and rainbows dancing around me everywhere pretty much the whole way home. That was a hell of a thing.

This is hardly a phenomenon, either, after all, it’s typical April weather really, showers then sun but it’s not something I’ve witnessed in quite such abundance before and it’s different to the norm so it makes for a change. Some ditzy article I read somewhere, which I can’t find now, of course, talked about about how butterflies are messengers from your guardian angel to let you know s/he’s listening, while rainbows are messages of reassurance from the cosmos. Butterflies are wonderful, they’re always going to cheer me up and as for the rainbows, well, when something is able to make a British motorway look beautiful then, dubious theories on cosmic reassurance aside, it’s still uplifting.

Then after a fair time with no reviews one from ‘An Amazon User’ for Few Are Chosen popped up this week. I always think that makes it sound like some kind of drug.

‘Hello, I’m MTM and I’m a recovering Amazon User.’ [applause] ‘Yeh, it’s tough but I’ve been clean several months now.’

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the review. Actually, they left it two weeks ago but I only found it this week. It reminded me of something my brother in-law said. He thought there were two interesting, and slightly amazing, phenomena about the reviews of my books. The first thing he pointed out was that if you look at most reviews on Amazon, generally across the site, while some are superb far more are less than articulate. He felt a surprisingly high number of reviews for my books were witty and amusing, as if the reviewers loved the jokes in the books and are joining in. If that’s true, it’s a lovely thing for them to feel and I’m delighted it’s happened. The second thing he thought was intriguing is the fact that even the one-liners are reasonably well spelled and punctuated, suggesting a level of intelligence in the readers reviewing my books that is way above average.

Mwahhahahrgh! So there we have it. Congratulations to anyone who has read my books, then. Clearly you are very smart and arbiters of good taste! Phnark! It is a cheering thought though, because it makes me feel that I am reaching my intended audience; eccentric people like me. And if the people who feel moved to write reviews of my books want to join in with the jokes then maybe there is the possibility that the small beginnings of a community of … I dunno … K’Barthan-heads? Is forming. Maybe, or maybe not but it feels like a little seed of hope.

And I needed all those small things this week. You see, one of the hardest bits about the death of my uncle was the way it made me feel about about Dad. Sometimes, when I think he’s suffering or unhappy, I wish Dad wasn’t around, not because I want him dead but because it’s hard to see him suffer, it’s difficult not to see his disability as Dad going under and dragging Mum down with him. It’s horrible to think either of them is unhappy. Other times, when he seems cheerful, I see, with crystal clarity, that he is a man with a disability and I am being incredibly able-ist and condescending. At least it makes for a new topic to beat myself up over.

In a minor miracle this week, something in me was able to let a lot of that baggage go. Dad is, mostly, happy and enjoying life, as is Mum. That’s really all I can hope for. No doubt the worry will return but for now, I’m OK with the situation again, things are on an even keel. The house I grew up in is still a place of laughter and compassion. The rest is kismet, right?

Perhaps that’s all you need to do to be happy; look for the small gifts, be kind to yourself and be kind to others.

Who knows? I leave you with the review, because it was lovely. Thank you and Godspeed ‘Amazon User’.

Don’t Giggle Out Loud
You know when you are sitting in an airport and the guy next to you starts giggling at the book he is reading? And it’s so annoying because you can’t quite see the title? This is the book. The anti hero, The Pan, is terrific, his search to find the Chosen One before the ultimate baddy Lord Vernon gets his evil hands on her, The Swamp Thing, all go to make a refreshingly funny and well laid out plot. Oh and did I mention the car chase? or the lovely old man, or the drink that hits the spot, especially of the evil one’s soldiers? But that would spoil the story for you. Go read it yourself. It only has five stars as Amazon is tight with them.

 

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Real Life is underrated. Using mundane events to fuel your writing mojo.

I’m not here this week, I am going to post to my blog and give a talk at the same time.  Sadly this is through the wonders of modern technology and not because I have a clone but there we go, you can’t win ’em all. So without more ado, here’s a piece outlining my theories about pimping your world to add realism to your writing. At the risk of sounding a bit waffly …

_______________________________________________

Pimp your world!

Real life can feel like an unwelcome and endlessly demanding interruption to your writing happiness.

However, it doesn’t have to be like this. The mundanity of your reality depends on how you see it. Even if you write science fiction or something that is very much not real life, observing what is going on around you can bring you huge dividends if you can put the right spin on it for yourself.

This is an owl; in flight, even though it looks like some kind of ball. Yes. Real life can often be quite weird enough – without the help of a writer.

How does this work?

Embrace the mundanity, be interested in everything, because it’s the sense of natural curiosity that will give you answers to the odd but boring questions of life. And knowing those boring answers will give your writing texture and make it real. Sure, nobody wants to know what that broken bent thing at the back of the drawer is but as a writer, you do because you never know when you’re going to discover a use for it in your books.

Exercise your writing muscles when you’re not writing.

No I don’t mean your hands! I mean this; if you have to do some mundane chore when you’d rather be writing why no approach it a different way? For example, if you have to go shopping, maybe try to see the dreary trek to Tesco’s as if you are making it for the first time, narrate your progress in your head, as if you’re writing a book.

You can make your approach to this exercise range from lateral to literal, for example, your first thought might be, ‘Why am I pretending it’s the first time I’ve ever been to Tesco if I’ve lived here all my life?’

From there you could go on to ask why the character in your head is only visiting now if they’ve lived here forever. Why, how and where have they been shopping in the years leading up to today? What does the sudden need to visit Tesco’s signify? What changed that put them there?

Alternatively, you can take a different approach and narrate your progress without really thinking of the whys and wherefores but simply as if it’s a scene in a novel. Think about whether the ‘you’ in your narrative is sad, happy, bored or something else. If they are, why might be the cause? How could you show it?

For example, if they see a thistle growing between the cracks in the pavement would their mood effect it. EG flowers, spring, lovely. Flowers, funerals death horror. Thistle, prickly and difficult.

Would they notice different aspects of their surroundings in different moods and interpret them differently?If you have access to MP3s on the hoof you could pop on a pair of headphones and see if different types of music inspire different scenarios. Would up beat songs make your character skip happily over the tarmac? Do sad songs make them drag their feet etc.

The point is, if you are thinking this way, it can only help you to develop your writing voice and style at times in the day when you aren’t able to do any writing.

Engaging with your surroundings brings rewards.

Yep, as much as you can, even when it seems as if there isn’t any point. First; you never know what you might see second, if you want to get interesting stuff out of your head, you have to put things in; experiences, ideas, knowledge and you have to be open to them when they occur – which is often when you least expect it.

Terry Pratchett talking about books said:

You don’t know what’s going to be interesting until you’ve read it. Somewhere in a book on the history of false teeth there’ll be the making of a novel.

He’s spot on.

Seek out the small details going on around you.

The other day, as my son and I were driving along, a middle aged woman passed us on her mountain bike coming the other way doing a huge wheelie. She, and we, were going under the A14, in different directions, her on the cycle path, us on the road. As she landed, having wheelied all the way under the bridge she pumped one fist in the air. My son and I didn’t have time to hoot, wave or give her the thumbs up before she was gone but that experience had both of us thinking. We spent the rest of the journey making up a story about her. We are probably the only people that noticed what she did.

Another time, waiting in queue to go to work at Milton way back in the late 1990s I looked up into the blue spring sky. As I sat stationary in the traffic I watched someone in an aeroplane with one of those smoke canisters in it flying round above. They drew a smiley face. Did anyone else see? I don’t know. Weirdly, a couple of years ago, someone did the same thing over the skies of Bury St Edmunds. On both occasions, it left me feeling up beat. I haven’t put either event in a book yet, but I probably will.

Be interested in your surroundings.

Why? Because the insignificant details of what is going on around you are where you will discover the things that will give your work texture and realism. Look at the world around you, be curious, ask questions. Pepper your stuff with answers you discover and it will feel so much more real to your readers, no matter how outlandish it is.

The wall of the Baptist church, in my town, has what looks like bullet holes in it. I’ve always wondered what happened to that wall. I’ve seen bullet holes in things on the continent, where battles took place in the second world war, usually. My son was intrigued, too, and decided to try and find out. It turns out that those are, indeed, bullet holes. The church was used for communications of some kind during the war and a German fighter plane came over and shot it up. Another one flew over one of the main streets, shooting up a pub called the New Inn and the house next door, which just happens to be ours. So it turns out my house has bullet holes in it. Something like this would be a great story to fictionalise or, if you write non-fiction, a collection of stories like this about your local community can make for really intriguing reading.

Similarly, my son has made a point of learning the names of all the local cats, so now as we walk down the street, we greet them by name. This is probably quite weird but if you have a character in a book doing this it can tell you so much about them; that they’re soft hearted that they like cats? Or maybe, that they don’t like cats but they’re too soft hearted not to greet them anyway. Or, possibly, they’re scared of cats and greet them out of superstition, the way some folk salute magpies. One tiny detail, lots of potential.

Be interested in people.

Find out who they are, what they have done.

There was an old man who lived down the same road as my parents who my parents were on nodding terms with. As he became older, he began to suffer badly with arthritis and couldn’t get out much, so Dad started popping in to visit. It turned out that this fellow that my parents had known for years was in the 1936 British Olympic running team. He was injured just as he arrived in Berlin and the Germans gave him one of the best seats in the house to watch the rest of the games. He saw Jesse Owens win and since he was sitting few yards away from the ‘royal’ box he also saw Adolf Hitler having a massive melt down and completely throwing his bricks out of the pram when it happened. But he always swore that Hitler did shake Owen’s hand … when he had calmed down.

Often, each person is the sum of some amazing stories. People love to talk and if you listen, you will hear incredible things, things that also shed light on human nature.

For example, my mum grew up in the country and recalls how she and her brother saw a plane fly across the garden during the war. Some people had been shot at on the Downs while blackberrying the week before but Mum and my uncle were on their own and were delighted to be able to wave at the plane without being told off by an adult. They were even more delighted when the pilot who was blonde and curly-haired waved back! It was only after the plane had gone that they realised it had a cross on the side of it, not the circles of the RAF. Meanwhile Mum’s friend Norah used to talk of the time a ME109 was brought down on the Downs near Steyning in Sussex. Everyone was arming themselves with pitchforks, kitchen knives, pickaxe handles etc and went off to capture the pilot. The gentleman in question unwittingly evaded capture and was discovered wandering local lanes by someone taking an afternoon constitutional, someone who was unaware that a dangerous armed enemy was on the loose. The pilot asked, politely, for directions to the local police station so he could hand himself in.

All your characters need a back story that is as real to you as life, even if it is never mentioned in the actual book you write about them. Collecting stories like these from people you meet can give you some fantastic, readymade back stories, or at least a place to start.

Use the mundane.

Also using mundane events in writing can tether your writing to the real world, giving the most outlandish scenes realism or throwing scary stuff into stark relief.

So for example, say you have a character who is held captive by a scary bad guy. Her guards take her to the bathroom. It has one of those fans that comes on automatically when you turn the light on and then chugs away for several minutes after you’ve turned it off again. When she is finished the guards turn the light off and take her back to her cell, but she can hear the fan droning on for several minutes. A lot of us can identify with listening to that kind of fan. So when our heroine hears it in book we can immediately get alongside her. It grounds the narrative in reality making a situation that may be difficult to imagine more realistic, while, at the same time, highlighting the unusual or menacing nature of parts that are different.

To sum up then, there is gold all around if you if you look.

I think it was also Terry Pratchett who said something along the lines that if you want to write convincing fantasy you will need a better handle on how reality works than anyone else. It’s a strange dichotomy that fictional or hard-to-imagine events seem to spring to life if you can fix them to reality every day real things.

It’s worth taking notice, observing the everyday and riffing with your surroundings in your head as you go about normal life. Because if you practise your writing by adding a little fiction to your normal life it will help you to develop your writing style and voice, and train your brain to view the world differently. Likewise if you look for little snippets of reality to use in your writing you can add immense power and depth to your words.

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