Tag Archives: author parent

Oh shit … warning: venting ahead.

Gardening tips from Vladimir Putin

Holy fucking fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just like last time then.

That’s a bit of a pisser.

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

On a happier note …

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

The Last Word, A Christmas K’Barthan Extra

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

To download your copy, click here

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Deserted landmarks and empty milestones …

Recently, I’ve been feeling slightly muted. Tomorrow would have been my father’s birthday and a few days ago, my phone’s calendar flashed up a reminder warning me that I might want to get prepared.

It hurt.

I still miss Dad, which is illogical, because it’s not as if he died a bad death or his departure was even a bad thing. It was a mercy. He had suffered enough and there was nowhere else for him to go. Death was the next stage for him and I am certain that he was more than ready. Although it hurt to receive it, I couldn’t bring myself to remove that notification from my phone. Maybe next year eh?

Strangely, I find that these empty milestones that were once land mark days often come accompanied by a stream of coincidental, memory-triggering events. I don’t mean the phone notification it’s more stuff like the fact that today, in church, we had a couple of hymns that Dad loved. Immortal Invisible is one where the memory of how he sounded, singing it, was so strong that I could almost hear him beside me. Likewise, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, which we have had at most family funerals on both sides of the house, weddings too — to the point where I feel guilty not having it at Dad’s.

There is a bit in Dear Lord and Father of Mankind which can be construed as rude … if you work at it very hard. Today, I found myself smiling as I remembered Dad leaning over to me after the service, in a conspiratorial manner, and telling me which bit it was and why.

This from the man who was endlessly telling me the latin or greek roots for things … which is not as erudite as it sounds because Dad was a natural rebel and liked to be a little subversive from time-to-time. That’s probably why the only instance I can remember of his efforts to educate me is constipeo (constipere, constipatatum, constipatus sum) — which means ‘I bring pressure upon’ and from which we get the modern word, constipation.

How proud he’d be!

Or not.

Dad

Then again … I do remember him gleefully sharing this information with my brother and I, and Mum’s gentle, ‘No! Darling!’ which was more for show than anything because she was trying not to laugh. Indeed, as a nipper growing up, I remember all four of us as being terrible potty humourists, you only had to shout, ‘bum!’ at my family in the right way and we’d fall about laughing.

Mum was probably the best at pretending to be normal, Dad could do it as well, but he did tend to be a bit forgetful which blew it all apart at the seams sometimes. On the up side, as I told him when he started to get dementia, since he could never find his keys anyway, he’d be quite far gone before anyone noticed. Which turned out to be the case.

In my last year at Lancing, Dad retired as housemaster. Since he and Mum had left the accommodation on site I was boarding. Dad was Head of The Common Room which basically meant he was now housemaster to the teachers. One evening, I was on my way back from supper, or possibly a rehearsal or something at the music school and I encountered Mum and Dad, in their best black tie glad rags, with the parents of one of the lads in Dad’s house.

‘Hello, what are you doing here?’ I asked.

‘We’re here for the Common Room Dinner,’ Dad explained.

I glanced over at the door of the Master’s Dining Room. It was looking a bit closed and I couldn’t hear much in the way of chat going on. Should I say anything I wondered? No.

‘It seems to be a bit late starting,’ said Mum.

‘Right,’ I said. I think I wished them well and skipped off without a thought.

The next day I asked one of the other staff if they’d enjoyed the dinner the previous night. ‘That’s not until next week,’ I was told.

Oh dear … poor Dad, I remember thinking. Poor Mum, too as she had to produce dinner back at home and she had precisely zilch with which to do so. I think she rustled up a quick risotto with tinned ham and frozen mixed veg.

Life was never boring at home indeed, it was years before I reached the point where my parents were remotely shockable. They were more open and accepting than most of my friends … perhaps I should just leave that as, ‘most people’. Mum still is.

I miss Dad a lot. I suppose that’s partly because, as time passes and my memories of the shouty bit that plagued his last few months at home have begun to fade, I’ve begun to remember who he was — which is a bonus. The only slight drawback is that when you’re stressed your brain dumps an enormous amount of intel and unfortunately, I’d say as much as half my childhood memories, and my memories of Dad, have melted away post the stress of dealing with his Alzheimer’s. So it’s kind of wiped my memory, as well as his.

That’s a point of order though, because on the whole yes, I remember who he was more. Who he really was, and that’s a Good Thing. I have a video of him talking on my phone, in his proper, non demented voice. He had Alzheimer’s at the time, advanced Alzheimer’s, but it wasn’t manifesting itself so strongly and it’s so much him, that vid, that I treasure it. I realise that I need to make a video of Mum. I might get her to record one for McMini next week, saying she’s looking forward to seeing him. That will be one for both of us to treasure then. Because that’s the first thing I find, when someone dies, you subtly start to forget their voice. Not totally, but when you hear it properly you realise how much is missing from your remembered version.

Then there’s the fact that, on top of the better memory of who Dad was, I’m finding that, as Mum follows her own dementia journey, I am keenly aware that this time round there’s no ‘sane one’. Through most of Dad’s illness, I could ask Mum for guidance if I wasn’t sure I was getting something right. She would know exactly what Dad would have done or said. It’s probable that, because of that, I know what Mum wants. But there’s no Dad to check with. Because he’s dead. And even if he wasn’t dead, he’d have been nuts.

Shortly after he died, I was out with Mum in the garden walking very slowly beside her as she crept along with her walky frame-on-wheels thing. At that time, we always made a beeline for the bottom of the garden because it was beyond the range of her panic button and she wasn’t allowed, or at least was strictly encouraged not to go there unaccompanied. She did, of course, but we all pretended she didn’t. As we walked I suddenly heard Dad’s voice in my head saying,

‘Oh darling! Just look at the state of your mother, I can’t bear it.’

Pyrimid Orchids at Mum’s

It was so vivid I turned to look but he wasn’t there. I remember thinking ‘back’ that I’d do my utmost to look after her and that while I couldn’t make her better, I would try to keep her happy.

Most of the time, I know those things are my imagination, but every now and then, one pops up from such depths that it feels as if it wasn’t me. Weird.

As well as it being the eve of what would be Dad’s 91st Birthday, had he survived, today was also the 70th anniversary of The Queen’s accession to the throne (in English, since the death of her father).

As a result, the last hymn was I Vow To Thee, My Country — a hymn I would like a lot better if the tune didn’t concentrate itself quite so comprehensively in the crackly twilight zone between my upper and lower range. Then we finished with the National Anthem which goes to a tune I rather like — apologies to Billy Connolley, who, I know, believes we’d be much better off using the theme tune to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Archers’.

Run with me, there is a spot of relevance to this one. I remember reading somewhere, a while back, that The Queen was very upset when her uncle abdicated. To the point where she took herself off somewhere quiet and cried for a long time. Legend has it that the reasons for her grief were twofold; firstly, because her father lacked his brother’s strong constitution and she shared the view of himself and most other members of the Royal Family which was that being King would do for him. Secondly, because she had to face the godawful truth that she would have to be monarch, which is a job that nobody sane with the smallest understanding of what it entails would want.

Few people seem to see beyond the wealth but I’m sure fame, or being monarch, could be pretty grim. I can’t imagine how I’d feel having people like Robert Mugabe round to tea. Sure his name backwards sounds like Yorkshire swearing (eee by gum) but that doesn’t make any of his actions funny. Supping with murderers and meat-packing tyrants might be quite grim but since you’re part of the state machinery, it’s what you do. There’s a point where being monarch might actually be quite dehumanising, I suspect.

Years ago, growing up in the school, everyone knew who I was because they all knew who my dad was. That meant everyone felt they knew me well, even people I’d never met in my life. Every now and again someone would pop up and say hello and I’d have no clue who they were. So I’d ask after their work, and various other things until I could pin down which of the people Mum and Dad had described — but whom I’d never met — I was talking to. I was always aware that my behaviour towards other people reflected on Dad so despite being an absolute menace in many respects I was always as polite as possible to everyone, especially the people at the pointy end, the cleaners and domestic staff.

Sometimes, I felt the pressure. Especially when I hit my teenage years and boys started wolf whistling at me out of windows etc. But I could always go off site where nobody knew who I was. There’s no ‘off site’ if you’re queen. Most people want a piece of you. Anyone else hates you. Everyone thinks you like it. Everyone thinks you can say no, the way they think my brother and I could say no to looking after our parents. But actually I doubt she can say no any more than we can. Being Queen? I think it’d be a bit shit to be honest.

The point is, she’s spent 70 years of her life doing a job that she categorically did NOT want to do. OK, so she might have come to enjoy it by now, who knows. The point is, it was the antithesis of what she wanted at the start. The perfect storm of NO. You can see where this is going now, can’t you?

Yep.

There are times when I do give the Almighty a piece of my mind about putting my Dad, and by proxy the rest of us, through so much. The fact that pretty much everything about the whole care thing requires a portfolio of skills that is the absolute antithesis of any of my fucking skills. Which is, indeed, a perfect storm of all the things in life at which I am spectacularly shite. Yes. Every. Last. Fucking. One. Oh and some extra things that I didn’t even know I was shite at until this kicked off, but now I do. Bonus!

The fact that pretty much all my duties of care are about playing to my failings. OK so I can sort of cope with that, because yes, I am able to understand that many parts of my life — most of them, to be honest — are fucking brilliant. Also I am able to understand that if this is the price of growing up with parents as lovely, open, amusing and out-and-out fun as mine I’m happy to pay up. But … the mental energy required to do stuff you’re absolutely bollocks at day after day is quite substantial.

The endless requirement to enhance my sorry performance from fucking awful to godawful-but-it’ll-scrape-by … probably (that’s a technical term by the way) is not only draining but it cascades down onto the pathetic embers of my creativity like a gushing torrent of rusty bog water, further hampering my efforts to write anything or … I dunno … for my existence to have a point.

Sitting in church today, thinking about how long The Queen has been monarch I actually felt a bit of a lightweight for whinging about 5 years running my parents’ finances. I will try to shut up about it and be less of a whinging twat from now on. Seriously though.

Seventy years.

Seventy fucking years people.

God in heaven! That’s a bastard truckload of CBT. Well done Ma’am. You’re a stronger woman than I.

On the lighter side …

Another quick heads up about freebies and cheapies available from my fabulous portfolio of literature. Er hem.

The Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c from my own store still. To find links to buy, or to download The Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s My Store only at the moment. It’s back to £7.99)

Small Beginnings (The ebook of this one is free at all participating retailers and on my store. The audio version is also free on my store, but £1.99/$2.99 everywhere else).

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously. Gareth has finished performing in Worms, presumably he is now bathed and scrubbed up and ready to do … audio things. Soon. There is an audiobook scheduled for late February/Early March.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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Urgh! Just kill me now …

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

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

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

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

This was not a good idea.

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

Shit.

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

Nope.

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

Nope.

Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dreams, weirdness and …

WTF? I can see I’m going to be using this picture a lot.

Yes, this week I am going to talk about dreams and then I’m going to have a massive rant. Run with me, there is a kind of connection between the two.

A few days ago, I had a dream about Lord Vernon. In case you are unaware, Lord Vernon is the bad guy in my first series of books. He is a gargantuan shit. I went for love-to-hate with this guy. Kate, who edited the books, loved his vileness. For some people, he’s a bit much.

The dream went like this. I was outside at Mum’s and someone gave me a laser pistol and said, ‘see that bloke there, that’s Lord Vernon. We’ve captured him and we’re just off to get the Black Maria,’ (prison van) ‘Don’t let him out of your sight.’ Then they bugger off, leaving me alone to guard an invincible green bastard who makes Hitler at his worst look like your cuddly uncle.

Lord Vernon is sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall of the house, apparently unperturbed.

I look at him.

Lord Vernon … uber git

He looks at me, his expression one of sneering condescension, with a dash of mocking amusement thrown in. Jeez. A few seconds in and already I want to punch the smecking bastard. Nothing is said. I throw a clod of earth at him. I have no idea why. I mean I have a laser pistol as far as I recall. The logical move is to stun him so the idiot who left me guarding him can just chuck his limp, unconscious form in the van upon their return. But this is a dream so logic is not an abundant factor here.

The clod of earth I’ve thrown falls short because throwing in a dream is like running in a dream, natch. He laughs and asks if I really think I can keep him there. I say, ‘yes,’ obviously and try to sound as if I’m convinced. I fail. He just shoots me his best ‘as if’ smile, folds his arms, leans back against the wall and relaxes. Except he’s also staring at me.

‘I will kill you,’ that stare says. Smug smecker.

So we’re sitting there, and every now and again I lob a clod of earth at him, which does fuck all except prove even more conclusively how weak an opponent I am each time I do it. Arnold knows why but it still hasn’t occurred to me to use the chuffing gun. I’m really pissed off now because a) he’s quite clearly not taking me seriously and because b) he’s going to kill me any minute … hang on. While my mind has been wandering, Lord Vernon has quietly stood up and made off without my noticing.

Shit! Civilisation as we know it is relying on me to keep that bastard where he is. I leap up and run round the corner of the house only to realise that Lord Vernon has got inside, into the drawing room and has leaned out through the window and grabbed one of Mum’s carers by the neck.  I know seems a bit convoluted doesn’t it?

But wait.

It’s OK because I’m armed, right?

Wrong. By this point, the laser pistol seems to have completely slipped my mind because when my mind turns to a weapon it turns, not to the pistol, but the penknife in my pocket. It has a two inch blade … like this one.

The pathetic knife in question, the pen is to give a reference for size.

I take it out and start stabbing him in the arm so he will let go of the carer, who is not appreciating being strangled and is now saying, ‘grk’ a lot and pointing to the arm round her neck in the universal sign language for, ‘can you get this off me?’ the world over.

My efforts are a partial success. Clearly I’m doing some damage in that my hands are now covered in blood which appears to be Lord Vernon’s rather than mine or, heaven forbid, the carer’s. I suppose that’s progress. There are also a lot of rips in his uniform through which I can see that I’ve made some holes in his actual arm. On the downside he appears completely unaffected by the experience. Not much progress then. Indeed, now he’s just laughing at me. Laughing and bleeding at me. A lot. I renew my efforts to get stabby on him. I have to. I must maim him enough, not only to let go of the carer but also, so that he can’t hurt Mum either.

At this point, I woke up, greatly relieved that I didn’t have to dream the bit where Lord Vernon killed us all and the incompetent buffoon who left him in my charge came back and discovered our lifeless bodies.

Obviously, I awoke, sat up and thought, ‘what the fuck was that about?’ But actually, in this case, I think I know.

At the moment, I feel as if I’m living in the version of the world in Back to The Future where Biff has nicked the sports almanack, made loads of money at the bookies and taken charge. It’s like everything that is fuckwitted, moronic, and morally bankrupt is in control. Where reason and science are ignored. Where the Far Right; Steve Bannon and his friends have successfully eroded people’s confidence in researched news and are winning the war of hearts and minds hands down.

A video popped up on my Facebook feed the other day. I can’t remember where from but I think the gist of it was supposed to be that sometimes when we let people settle in Britain, they turn out to be rum’uns. Well no shit Sherlock. That will happen because humans are not perfect and the administrative process of the state should be as blind as justice. If someone has the right criteria and ticks the right boxes they are chosen. Sometimes that doesn’t work out or they aren’t as they are painted.

However, the tone of the vid was a bit, these foreign bastards are all the same, we are letting everyone in (which isn’t true, it’s chuffing difficult to get into Britain these days and ever more so as we abandon our British sense of fair play and move to a more American, winner-takes-all, losers-lose-because-they-were-weak-and-deserve-to attitude). It was a similar argument to the one Farage posited over Brexit; vote leave to get rid of the brown people, a sentiment to which, as a direct descendent of one of the brown people, I take great exception.

In this video though, it was very clear that the narrator despised immigrants, asylum seekers, victims of torture, migrants and any others who seek refuge in Britain. There was a lot of effing and blinding about this, while film footage played of a Spitfire flying over Beachy Head. I dunno how that has more credibility than thoughtful researched journalism but apparently it does. And how dare they appropriate another icon like the Spitfire. They’ve already taken our flag. That’ll be fair few downed RAF pilots spinning in their graves then. Bravo.

When darkness falls …

When the aliens come, or Lord Vernon and his Grongolian hoards invade from a parallel reality, our donkey leaders will be too stupid to defend us. At the moment, if you’re looking at the news the way I do, and I must really try harder not to, it’s as if natural selection has decided the human race has had it’s day and it will seal our fate by ensuring that only the most gargantuan tossers end up in charge of anything. Who thought it was a good idea to put the dumbest fucks who shout the loudest in control?

Then there’s all this ‘real news’. Real my arse. Some struck off doctor in Alabama or somewhere says it’s dangerous to wear masks. It probably is for some people, and they have exemptions but for the rest of us, well… if wearing a mask stops me spreading Covid to others, that’s grand. When I see some information about the criminally high numbers of surgeons, doctors and nurses who died in their droves, before the pandemic, from the PPE they wore? That’s when I’ll worry. Or when I see articles about the huge death rate among the thousands of people in South East Asia who have been wearing masks in cities for years, yeh, when I see that those are higher than, or equal to, pollution related deaths, I’ll be concerned.

At least smokers got that when they exercise their freedom to smoke indoors, the rest of us in there with them have to smoke, too. If you don’t want to wear a mask, stay home, you know, like the vulnerable people are doing, the ones who have to stay home because you won’t wear a mask.

Meanwhile the idiots in charge set an example by wearing masks when they feel like it and then expect us to do as we’re told ie wear them all the time. I do see that side of the conspiracy theorists’ beef.

All this batshit crazy shit, flat earth and the rest of it, science is WRONG because it’s the establishment. Jeez who thinks humans are that malleable. I mean we are but to pick one at random, how could they have faked the moon landings. Seriously did they kill every single person involved? Because they would have to. Because that’s the only way they could get everyone to shut up. It just looks, to me, like the far right – as in the Putin influenced ones – flexing at the democratic world.

‘Hey world leaders! Look how fucking stupid we can make your people be. We own you, weaklings and we will destroy you.’ And I look at the apparently rational-minded and sensible people falling for this shit and I think, ‘yes, Mr P, it looks as if you will.’

Meanwhile they think I’m the sheep because science is part of the establishment and therefore part of the conspiracy. Oh yeh and don’t forget, if you take a knee you’re following in the footsteps of that famous Marxist, Martin Luther King and that’s bad. Oh and if you do anything kind or wear a t-shirt supporting a cause that’s not endorsed by the far right, I dunno something principled and an obviously good like comic relief, you’re virtue signalling. If you say, ‘hey, let’s be kind to one another,’ that’s also virtue signalling. Let’s stop people from doing anything pleasant. Let’s make it shameful to own up to a sympathetic or kindly action. We don’t want it catching on. Way to fucking go you absolute spunk buckets. I’m sure that’ll really help make the world a nicer place and hasten on your utopia! Arnold’s socks! Stop already, Mary.

More tea vicar?

This isn’t true. I know that, but I’m feeling it. And I guess part of the reason I’m feeling it is because good people will keep dying.

This week, a lovely lady who goes to my church died of many and varied cancers. She hadn’t been to the doctor, she wasn’t well but had celiac’s disease so the symptoms were very similar.

I was talking to her just four weeks ago. She always sat in the same place and throughout the Pandemic I’ve walked past her after communion most times and we would exchange conspiratorial winks, grins, waves etc. If something funny happened, she was one of the people whose eye I’d catch.

She was one of those people of quiet, unassuming, steadfast integrity who just got on with things. If it looked like there was tea to be made and I cottoned on, I’d go to the kitchen area to sort it and she’d already be there, putting out the cups, urn plugged in and well on the way to boiling. She was just one of those rock steady people who is utterly solid in a crisis. I went round to tea at hers just before lockdown and was looking forward to inviting her back but then … Covid. We never will have that cup of tea now and it’s a pisser. But I think one of the biggest pissers is that every decent, balanced, kindly disposed person who checks out means there are less of us and more of them.

And I guess my dream was about this; how a couple of good people have left this world and I feel more than ever that it’s down to me to throw my increasingly ineffective clods of logic, facts, kindness, decent behaviour earth in a desperate attempt to hold back the tsunami of stupid and/or evil completely invincible Lord Vernon as it he laughs in my face. I think I’m probably having a bit of a bleak one at the moment, or perhaps that’s how I’m processing my grief at my friends’ deaths. I dunno.

Goebbels, I think it was Gobbels, said once that, ‘the art of propaganda is to convince one group of people, that another group of people is less than human.’

Maybe it’s time we looked or behaved more like the Chuckle brothers, not the comedy duo, the other ones (look it up) because where the far right do have a point, even if they are being disingenuous in making it, is that prejudice does go two ways. It’s hard not to be prejudiced against them the way they are against … well … pretty much everyone who isn’t a white, straight man. It’s hard not to despise pointless bigotry and hatred (it takes a lot of effort though, Arnold’s socks where do they get the energy for all bile and vitriol) but actually that’s just being like them and doing what they do. The rest of us have to be better than that. Because if a person believes they stand for what is good and right, they have to be as good and right as they can. The thing that makes us good and them bad is that we don’t torture prisoners and- oh hang on. Less of the Vernon then and more of the Vimes, perhaps.

Crikey but it’s hard work sometimes, though, isn’t it?

</rantmode>

Well … I definitely went off on one there and now I feel a lot better. If you need to go off on one too, please help yourself and have a rant in the comments about anything you like! Get it off your chest the way I’ve just done.

Now then, shall we all relax with a lovely free audiobook? Yes. I think that would be a good idea.

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Extras, Hamgeean Misfit: Part 1

Destiny called and everyone else was out.

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

This is free to download from most of the major ebook retailers for August and also in audio from my store, the exception is Amazon, I changed some keywords last night and now they’re dicking me about. Also, I can’t make it free from the book vendors in audio so if you’re after that one, it has to be just from my store, you can get it from my store if you normally buy from Amazon too.

If you’re interested in the ebook, click here.
If you’d like to give the audiobook a go, click here.

If you aren’t interested but you want to help, feel free to copy and paste either of these links into the social media thingy of your choice and share away:

Audiobook: https://payhip.com/b/ubYs
Ebook – free from all the main vendors: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

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Floating aimlessly

Yeh. Welcome to my world, the world of what might be the most unproductive human being on earth.

Shit! A squirrel has just run under my chair. Sorry where was I? Apart from outside, I mean. No squirrels indoors at this point, I’m glad to say. Ah yeh. Being the world’s most unproductive human. Not true. I do understand that. It just feels like it sometimes. I need to relax and take a chill pill.

Well, I sort of have. It’s half term this week so I have put writing aside and instead have been Humaning. I enjoy Humaning from time to time, especially when I seem to be particularly devoid of any creative inspiration, as I am this week. By doing nothing on my writing stuff, it’s not as if I’m doing any damage. I did get my ten minutes of writing in on Saturday, Sunday and Monday last week, though. Woot.

As I type this I am sitting outside. Yeh we did that didn’t we? Anyway, it’s cloudy but warm so I am stolidly refusing to acknowledge that it is, actually, beginning to rain. Hopefully it’s just going to be a bit of gentle spattering that passes harmlessly by rather than a full-on, race-for-the-door, deluge. Maybe that’s where the squirrel was going then. Somewhere dry. Hmm.

It being half term for us this week, we went to see the in-laws after nearly a year and a half of their being ill, us being ill, COVID19 or Nicola not letting us in because we have English Covid Cooties. It was wonderful to see them again and check that they are OK. They have a fair bit to contend with but seem to be doing alright, which was a relief. And I think their finally being able to see McOther and McMini after so long must have perked them up a bit.

It was a short trip because we didn’t want to knacker them out. The weather was kind to us and we went to Kelso, where there is a gorgeous house that used to belong to the family that started Pringle. We went for a walk round the lake while McMum and McDad sat and relaxed on a bench. The McOther and I went back a second time because I’d left my glasses there – I’d put them in my glasses case and put on my prescription sunglasses. Then the box had fallen out of my jacket pocket. On the upside, though we did get home to discover I had not brought my specs with me, no water closets were involved. I did find them straight away upon my return too. Someone had left the case in a little hole in the seat, end up, so that it was really obvious and easy to find. Bless ’em.

Impending week of oops-I’ve-lost-my-glasses-and-I-only-have-these-prescription-sunglasses Roy Orbison-ness avoided? Check.

It was a gorgeous house. Big, but not massive. I could imagine that if you were as rich as Croesus you could run a really happy team of staff there. It was a lovely spot, with a very pleasant and peaceful feel to it, which was unexpected. The volunteers gradually doing it up maintain the grounds and there were beds of flowers, not corporate planting but sympathetic stuff that went with it all so well. Cracking job all round. There was a lake too … cf pics I took, shown below.

When we got back, after a very rainy Friday, we spent Saturday with some friends in a cottage they’d hired Burnham Market. We passed a beautiful field of blue flax on the way, which I failed spectacularly to photograph. I also failed to capture a record of the sign to a place called Pudding Norton.

When I was a kid we used to holiday there and the ridiculous place names used to make us laugh. Before he came back to Sussex and met Mum, Dad taught at a school in Holt. North Norfolk was a popular holiday destination, not just because of the scenery but because Dad and Mum could visit all his old friends. Usually it was a bit like an episode of The Road Trip, in that Dad was funny, and a great mimic, and Mum was just plain funny. The friends; likewise. The conversation was always absolutely bats and normally involved Dad or one of his mates doing impressions, be-it Dad’s famous impression of a teacher from his school days at Lancing, who had a wooden leg, dropping dead in assembly one morning, or um … other stuff. All were very wicked and probably quite un-PC except they were always delivered with such obvious fondness for the unfortunate victim. Thinking about it, looking at the way they took the piss out of one another, I doubt the objects of their ribaldry would have batted an eyelid if they’d been around to see it. They were probably similar.

Wells next the sea at high tide.

At some point we usually went to Stiffkey salt marsh for the day – at low tide – and walked four half an hour or so to find the sea. There’d be indentations in the sand full of seawater that had been warmed to bath water levels by the sun, there would usually be a seal pup or two and sometime fossils. Finally, after walking for half an hour or so, we’d find the sea and skinny dip in the ice cold water, an event which usually involved a lot of screaming.

This Saturday, visiting our friends, we went past Holkolm Hall, a place of many happy memories, and then all of us went crabbing at Wells Next The Sea. Well, the kids crabbed, we walked along the prom and back. It made me smile to remember the happy times I’d spent up that way as a kid. But it was also lovely to think that I was walking somewhere where my father had undoubtedly walked before he’d ever fallen in love with my mother, in a part of the country where he had been very happy as a young man … until someone broke his heart. That’s why he came back to Sussex; new job, new start.

The architecture and stuff up there is so different that it really is like visiting another country, you know, northern France or something. It reminded me of Valerie Sur Somme, right down to a similar little train! So that was a bit of a gas.

It was gloriously sunny, but with a cool breeze off the sea that took it from a bit much in the heat department, to just right.

Now it’s back to Real Life.

Sea rowers at Wells Next The Sea.

Since Lock Down is ending … supposedly … it seems there’s so much to do. I sat down in a free moment to write this yesterday but realised that I needed to sort out a method of giving away Unlucky Dip in Audio because I can’t set the price to free at all the retailers, although I can set it for 99c so I’ve done that. Then this morning, I realised that I’d forgotten to publicise the fact that my standalone ebook, Escape From B-Movie Hell, is at the promotional price of 99c or pence or whatever, this month. Tomorrow I also have a newsletter to write which will take forever because everything uses blocks and the blocks interface takes about forty seconds to a minute to load.

Fine, roll your eyes and tell me I should learn some patience. But actually that’s a massive time suck. Added to that, doing stupid blocks on here, as I am now, when our internet connection drops, which it does, frequently, it’s likely I will lose it all. Sure I do save from time to time but originally, when the internet dropped and the annoying stupid little circle thing started going round and round on the screen, I could just do select all and copy everything I had written. That way, if I had lost it, I could just cut and paste it all back in and save it when the internet resurrected itself. Can I do that now? Can I bollocks? Stupid knobbing blocks are set up so the CtrlA – or CommandA on an I thing – only saves one paragraph; the one I’m actually editing. How is that in any way helpful?

Creative mojo, a fickle and fleeting thing.

Worse, if you look underneath at the code, it’s exactly the same as the stuff I used to get when I typed it into an editor. Seriously there’s no reason for this blocks shit other than to make it really and I mean REALLY hard for people. Likewise, Mailerlite … I moved to them from Mail Chimp and it was like a breath of fresh air. I clicked to edit an email and up it popped. It was blocks but it was fast. No waiting ages for it to crank up before you could edit. Then you just dropped your block onto the page and wrote in it.

Now? Nah. You have a preview pane and you have to do a paragraph at a time in the side bar.

Just in case that’s not irritating enough there are several parts to the side bar for each block template and there used to be a scroll bar so you could move up and down. That’s now gone. So you get the thing where you’re editing a paragraph and the bit that lets you do bold or alter the justification isn’t in frame. So you have to click on the edge and use the arrow keys on your keyboard to make it move. But they don’t always work because if you click into a box by mistake it just thinks you’re editing that and doesn’t budge. What was wrong with the bloody scroll bar ffs? It didn’t take up any space but it meant I could do those edits way faster. Is this finger trouble? Am I such a moronic twat that I’ve somehow removed the scroll bar from my option and if so why the fuck is there no easy and obvious way to put it back?

At least with windows when I do that thing on the keyboard and the box suddenly appears saying, ‘do you want to turn on sticky keys?’ I can shout, ‘No! No! I fucking don’t!’ and click on cancel. Clearly I’ve borked something the same way but there was no, ‘Are you sure you want to remove this really useful scroll bar that you actually rely on rather heavily?’ box. It just disappeared! Poof! Gone.

Bastards!

Then there’s the fact that fucking Linked In randomly disconnects itself so when I come to publish it tells me I have to go refresh my connection to Linked In. Every. Fucking. Time. Why, Linked in, you total and utter cockwomble! Why? This is total bollocks and phaff that I do not need in my life. I’ve connected you to my blog because I want the two of you to be fucking connected. Randomly disconnecting yourself is not looking after my security. It is bing a fucking pain in the arse. If I wanted to disconnect you from my blog, I would disconnect you from my blog. I haven’t ergo I do not chuffing want to. How hard is that to understand, you absolute fucking muppet?

Yeh, I can imagine what anyone normal and sensible reading this is saying now. This stuff is chicken shit and doesn’t make any difference. Except trust me, it does.

Don’t believe me?

OK, here are some Real Life examples. When I drive to Mum’s on a Wednesday, it takes around two and a quarter to two and a half hours. In lock down, it took two hours. There was no difference in speed. I drive at 3,000 revs which is usually around 70mph give or take a bit – it varies a little with the weather, the gear I’m in and the speed limit, clearly. The reduced journey time was simply caused by the fact that I wasn’t dropping down to 57 as a lorry pulled into my path, or proceeding through the only two miles on the M11 where lorries aren’t allowed to overtake at 57mph, because some absolute bell end in one lorry was overtaking another gargantuan twatwank in another one, and neither of them was giving way to the other. Or, it could be that I wasn’t following a wide load down the double track bit of the M11 with a weaving escort vehicle that wouldn’t let anyone pass for health and safety reasons – even though there was room to put a couple of bloody buses past it side by side without causing the buses or the load any problems. Let alone my stupidly tiny, tiny car.

Likewise, many years ago, I used to commute to Birmingham from Ely. It used to take about two hours or thereabouts going at 70mph most of the way. Limited to 60mph, running-in my brand new Lotus, it took me about twenty five minutes less. Yes even running in at 60mph all the way, it was quicker in a Lotus than in a Triumph Spitfire going 70mph. Why? because those people who sit in the fast lane drifting along for miles and miles saw me coming and actually got out of the chuffing way. It’s the acceleration and deceleration time that drives the journey time up, so the smoother your journey the quicker.

This is not new. There’s a whole fitness and training strategy based on the little things, I believe. I think it was the Team GB cycling trainer who worked out that small things added up. An uncomfortable night with less sleep might make an athlete tired and not quite at their best, it might only make a couple of hundredths of a second to their time but in the velodrome, that might be the difference between winning or losing. So he hit on the idea that if he made sure that all these, seemingly irrelevant, pernickety things were right, the effect on overall performance might be quite substantial. Needless to say, it was. Suddenly Team GB were winning medals.

It’s a genius idea and over the course of my years doing motorway journeys I’ve begun to think that there is definitely something in it. It’s not about whether you blat along in the fast lane at 90mph, it’s about whether other motorists think you will and get out of your way so you can do a solid 3,000 revs all the time. That makes a huge difference to petrol consumption as well. It’s also whether there are a small enough number of other motorists for you to be able to drive smoothly at that speed. And of course, constantly standing on the anchors because a lorry has pulled out in front of you makes for inefficient acceleration and deceleration time. I suppose it’s only natural, there are many proponents of the ten minutes a day fitness regime. I did try doing a 6 minute, high intensity interval thing once a day for a couple of weeks and there was a noticeable drop in my resting pulse so I think there’s definitely something in that approach.

Similarly the ten minutes a day approach to writing, in the last year that I was able to keep it up consistently, 2019, it netted me a stupid amount of words at a point when they weren’t really coming that easily. OK, so, in 2020 it was different. I managed 55k in a couple of months as I changed my 30k short into Too Good To Be True. But that was because there was zero stress on the horizon. Right now I’m back to stressy hormonal can’t think straight so the ten minutes a day is a good discipline to resurrect.

So where am I going with this? Well, two ways, I guess. First I’m saying that the old adage that you should break a huge job into tiny pieces and deal with each of those pieces one at a time is great advice. But conversely it means that each of these tiny, pissy things that are sent to try us also add up; to something big and, in my case, cataclysmic. In lock down, all the pissy administrative shit went away. I couldn’t have a smear test, eye test, dental check or boob x-ray so I didn’t have to remember to book them, note the correct time/date and get to them. We weren’t going away so I didn’t have to remember to book the cat into kennels. I didn’t have to do social things which involved me remembering to shave my legs or find something that made me look slightly less like a parked zeppelin draped in camouflage material than usual. OK so I still had to make sure I did the wages and fix whatever the latest thing was that had broken at Mum’s house, from a distance, but that’s alright because there was only the one life I had to sort out: hers. Mine was on hold, as were McOther’s and McMini’s so no organising McMini’s bloody PE kit either.

The second point I wanted to make was that sometimes, you just have to let it all go. There is shit I have to do right now. And I have McMini’s birthday coming up which will involve doing stuff like making a cake. And I have some more boring pissy administria to do so I decided that I’d take two weeks out, one before and one after half term, to do it. It’s not going badly. I’ve signed up for too many promos so it will take me all day to sort out the mailing tomorrow. But I have planned time for it. After that there will be more humaning, which will be fun, and a bit more admin, which won’t. But if I can crack through it diligently enough then the week afterwards, with any luck, I may be able to do a bit of writing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to McOther about booking the cat into kennels … while I remember.

Award-winning fiction for a snip!

Escape From B-Movie Hell is down to 99c or p or whatever it is you do instead of cents or pence. In case you have forgotten, or for those of you who don’t know about it, here’s the blurb:

Escape From B-Movie Hell

Escape From B’Movie Hell

First contact, in films, was never like this …

If you asked Andi Turbot whether she had anything in common with Flash Gordon she’d say no, emphatically. Saving the world is for dynamic, go-ahead, leaders of men and while it would be nice to see a woman getting involved for a change, she believes she could be the least well equipped being in her Galaxy for the job.

Then her best friend, Eric, reveals that he is an extra terrestrial. He’s not just any ET either. He’s Gamalian: seven-foot, lobster-shaped and covered in marmite-scented goo. Just when Andi’s getting used to that he tells her about the Apocalypse and really ruins her day.

The human race will perish unless Eric’s Gamalian superiors step in. Abducted and trapped on an alien ship, Andi must convince the Gamalians her world is worth saving. Or escape from their clutches and save it herself.

If you’re interested you can find a page of links to the main retail sites here.

If you are not interested, do feel free to share it with your friends, family, the postman, the bloke who sometimes collects the empty cups at your local coffee shop and anyone else you can think of to spam, because it isn’t spam from you because it’s not your book.

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Another fine mess I’ve got me into …

Although also … possibly … out of.

Too Much Information Alert …

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

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

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

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

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

Usually from a great height.

Possibly even from the stratosphere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of the Meh came forth Merch …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Congratulations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ouch …

Well it’s that time of the week to write a blog and as I sit here, tapping at my keyboard, I see from my BBC Newsfeed that the Duke of Edinburgh has died. It kind of reflects my mood. I sat down, determined to share a couple of stories about him, which reflect a warm, kindly fellow with a sense of humour. Except really what I need to write about today is Mum. Since one of the stories about the Duke is an encounter with Mum I guess it kind of ties in then. This should probably come with a trigger warning. If you do not want to read me whinging about dementia cut this one and wait until next week.

Random picturesque illustration for M T McGuire's blog, in this case Arras Grand Place.
Random picturesque illustration because I’m all out of – shrugs – y’know … pictures.

Right, those of you who are left, on we go.

We’ve had a bit of a time of it with Mum yesterday. First one of the loos at her house has broken and needs fixed. It does need fixed too because it’s the one the guests and the carer’s use. Well, it was put in 48 years ago so it doesn’t owe us anything. It needs a new siphon but odds are, we are better off buying a new loo. As sis in-law said, ‘it’s a rubbish flusher’ and she’s spot on. We could have limped on with it, but now it’s actually bust, I think it has to go. That evening, the night carer turned up to discover Mum sitting downstairs in the kitchen having breakfast. She thought it was morning.

Pretty much anyone who has a relative with dementia will recognise this. I think most of us reach this point in the journey when there is absolutely unequivocal, incontrovertible proof that the person with dementia really has dementia and that it’s getting worse, a lot worse. Not better. That’s so hard.

The thing about dementia is there is no way back, no getting better, no relief, no recourse. Nothing but deterioration and death. I try really hard, but it’s difficult to see that any which way but grim. The only thing you can do for a person with dementia is try to ensure that their days are filled with kindness and sympathy, that the moments they live in are happy and that this will amount to a feeling of overall wellbeing, even if they don’t remember why or where it comes from. Oh and that they experience the least fear possible. There is nothing else to be done. There’s a honeymoon period from the first signs to this point, where you are all denying your arses off and telling each other that it’s just old age and that a gentle peaceful death will intervene way before madness does.

Thing is. It won’t.

And when you hit the point when you realise that, odds are, there’s going to be no mercy. That’s when it’s really, really hard to stay … well … chipper. Truth be told, I do far more snivelling at this point than later on.

But you have this horrible dichotomy when you want the person to carry on living, no matter how ill they are, because you love them and you don’t want them to go. But at the same time, you know they can’t and that if they do, the person with you won’t necessarily be the one with whom you are familiar. So far, Mum is still, mostly, Mum. We are lucky in that.

Mum goes to bed very early. This is partly because if someone helps her to bed at six and she sits and watches telly in bed all evening there is less risk of her falling. She is self aware enough, in her good moments, not only to have mentioned falls but explained that avoiding this risk is a big part of her original decision to get to bed earlier. Later she was always a bit more wobbly, especially if she’d had a sleep in the chair. Now, even more so, it’s a case of doing it while she has someone to help with the buttons and to remind her what she’s doing. It’s also partly because as she becomes less mobile, she is far more worried about lighting the fire in case a log falls out and she can’t get to it or isn’t strong enough to wield the fire tongs and put it back. It’s cold downstairs without the fire and a lot warmer upstairs. Another reason to get to bed early. She is also smart enough to know the extent of her disability and realises that if a log fell out and the hearth rug caught fire, she might not be able to remember how to use the phone if she became flustered or panicked. The third thing is that she often nods off in the afternoon and she didn’t like it if she nodded off and woke up, confused and disorientated, downstairs. She found it easier to combobulate, so to speak (or is that re-combobulate?) if she was already in bed. Hence she started going to bed earlier, straight after she’d eaten her tea at half five, sixish. That way if she did wake up she was already in bed, which reduced the WTF factor when she woke up.

A couple of months ago she rang me at about half past five in the evening asking for help. She’d got herself into a right old muddle, she told me, and she didn’t know what time it was or what she was supposed to be doing. It was easy to tell that she was afraid and it was horrible. I reassured her and explained that it was about time she got herself her supper – which the carers usually leave out for her.

‘What do I do after that?’ she asked me.

‘Ah well, then, usually, you draw the curtains and go upstairs to bed where it’s nice and warm and toasty. You sit in your bed, in your room and watch telly and doze for the evening.’

‘Oh, I see, I’ll do that then.’

‘Good plan. Do you want me to stay on the line and guide you through it all.’

‘No darling, I’ll be alright. Just remind me though, curtains first then supper and bed?’

‘Yes and don’t forget to put your eye drops in.’

After that one, we upped the care so the carers now pop in at half five or six-ish and give her supper, have a chat, help her get undressed and help her to bed.

We’ve had a couple of dodgy episodes since, usually when she knows she’s got something on and insists on getting up and getting dressed if she wakes up at four am to go to the loo, so she can be ready in time. Then there was the moving to higher ground because the news on the telly about Covid was bad and her worry that I’d been trying to persuade her she hadn’t been living in the house very long – that was the other way round. She was saying she moved there in 1986 and I was trying to explain she had lived there over the holidays from 1974.

This one though. Waking up and thinking it’s morning, I’d guess that nearly everyone looking after a dementia sufferer has experienced this. It’s an unmistakeable marker, if we didn’t know it already, that Mum is leaving us. It’s more than an imagined shape in the mist this time, it’s clearly delineated shadow.

We’ve done this with Dad and do you know, I thought it would be easier. Why on God’s green earth did I think that? It’s just as shit. Except that actually, it’s worse, because it makes me miss Dad. I miss Dad with all my heart because THERE’S NO SANE ONE. There’s nobody Bruv and I can talk to who can reassure us we are doing the right thing. It feels as if it’s all guesswork. But worse than that; the most horrible thing of all, is that even though she’s still here, I miss Mum. The time I spend with her is very precious because she’s still there when I’m with her and when we live in the moment. But just as Dad got to the point when he couldn’t really talk so well phone any more, so Mum is beginning to have days when, if I give her a call, I know we aren’t going to have much of a chat. Those are the days when I’ll ask how she is and have a few brief words and then sign off. Kind of a relief if I’m strapped for time, but sad in other ways. And hard now because it’s one of the few things I can do for her and it was something she really enjoyed. But I also miss being able to ask her for advice, because she could do advice and she liked being asked and being able to help. It made her feel useful. Incidentally, that’s a really, really good thing to do in the early stages. Ask them advice. Ask them lots of it. It helps them think as well, which is also good.

This is the hardest bit really. I’m not very good at it. I thought that if we got to this point with Mum I might cry less, but I don’t. I’m not hardened to it at all. It still hurts like a bastard and if I’m going to look after her properly I have to let it, which is a bit of a pisser. The thing is, it’s light and shade, the shadows are there and we can all see them clearly now. Hence the tears. But there is also light and I just have to concentrate on the good days. And possibly up the care a little or have the night ladies come a little earlier. And exorcise it … elsewhere. Doubtless I’m going to be giving The poor old Pan of Hamgee a completely shit time in the next Extra. Either that or the series about Ada, Gladys and Their Trev at the Parrot and Screwdriver is going to get very dark.

Never mind, I have a fun quiz for you to do in a minute and since I’m here I may as well share those stories about the Duke of Edinburgh as well.

Duke of Edinburgh Stories.

The Duke of Edinburgh is controversial in many respects, I know but as someone with an inate and similarly powerful ability to cause unwitting offence he was a man with whom I could empathise. There are folks saying they are glad the Duke has died. The way others see it, the Duke of Edinburgh was the product of a generation which had seen the world very differently and whose intentions were clearly good since, while he might have seemed old-fashioned and insensitive, he had done good things, like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. I remember Dad going to the Palace with one of the boys in the house who’d got a gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. I think the Duke presented the gold awards personally until very recently. He did good stuff and the Duke of Edinburgh Award is both class and colour blind, exactly the way it should be. There’s a good article about it here. So his legacy there is not the way some people, and here-say, paint him.

Already, I know of a couple of people who’ve had a spat over this. Person A believes HRH to be a racist and stated that if Person B didn’t believe the same thing then they were a racist too. Person B said they felt that was a rather black and white interpretation. Especially in light of the fact that all they were saying was that they felt it was not compassionate or humane behaviour to be glad at someone’s death. Person A told Person B that they needn’t bother staying in touch. Person B’s other friends are now taking the mickey out of them for being a racist. Apparently there’s an awful lot of quoting Father Ted.

‘So father, I hear you’re a racist now!’ (best delivered in the voice of Mrs Doyle).

It would be hard to find a more laid back, less judgemental person than Person B, who takes everyone as they come but it does herald the kinds of comments I’m going to get from those who are a little more intransigent about their views than I am for trying to be even-handed here.

Note spud in hand …

Going back to the Duke of Edinburgh. Whatever his faults, he appeared to me, as an outsider, to be a reasonably intelligent man, with an enquiring mind who was interested in many things and, for the most part, wished to do good. He also had a sense of humour, which is a hugely underrated attribute. It’s surprising how many people, if you ask them, have a Duke of Edinburgh story. Well, it was a long old life he lived, and he did get around but that is the point. He tried to promote and help a lot of people and took an interest in many things. Hence I have a picture of Mr Potato, McMini’s godfather, seen here waxing lyrical to HRH at some agronomy do about … well, yes, potatoes. And believe me, this is a man who can wax extremely lyrical about potatoes to the point where HRH may well have been late for his next appointment.

I also look at the Duke through the lens of someone who knows that, as people age, they lose a lot of filters, or unthinkingly say things that would not have turned a hair when they were younger but now do, especially when those things are taken out of context. But I also notice that we, as people, are becoming more literal. I suppose it’s because everything is written down on the internet these days so there is no non-verbal aspect to so much of our communication. But I remember people taking the piss out of me about my looks and not being bothered at all because I understood the spirit in which the remarks were made, while other folks could say the same things in a slightly different way and I’d be extremely angry. I do understand that you can’t say a lot of stuff because even benignly meant, it could be taken out of context and will always be read as nasty rather than cheeky should that happen. But in many ways this loss of judgement and appreciation that there is a middle ground between the black and the white is unlikely to better things or make us happy. Anyway, here are the stories.

Story number one. Back in medieval times, when I was at school, a friend’s mum was big in to scurry racing. This is micro ponies with equally micro light weight traps raced round a course of twists and turns, hills, slaloms etc. Her mum was at some big event, probably the Surrey county show or the like and doing rather well, except there was one point on the course where she kept muddling her left from her right and almost going the wrong way. Friend’s dad was trying to think of ways that Friend’s Mum could remember which her left and right hand were – I so identify with this because I’m absolutely clueless at telling my left from my right. Anyway they were waiting to do their run and still talking about this with the ‘solutions’ suggested by Friend’s dad getting sillier and sillier as he tried to calm her nerves. While they were talking a Random Fellow nearby, overheard them and chuckling, he said.

‘Maybe you should try tying a red ribbon round your right wrist.’

Quick as a flash friend’s dad retorted wryly, ‘Why? Do you do that to your wife?’

There was an almighty guffaw and that’s when friend’s mum and dad clocked that Random Fellow was the Duke of Edinburgh.

Other quick one. Mum was a debutant and as such you get presented at court. I asked her what the hell happened and I wrote it down somewhere but needless to say, I can’t remember where. Basically there’d be a few days of it when hundreds of young ladies gathered in groups in the White Drawing Room, I think it was, at Buckingham Palace, to be herded through into an adjoining state room and PRESENTED AT COURT. No judges or juries involved. You were put into groups and then you were called forward, one-by-one and introduced to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who were seated at one end. Your name was announced and you walked up to them, your name was given, you curtseyed and I think the occasional pleasantry was exchanged after which you went off and the next person came in. Mum had the same knee disease as I did and had surgery aged seventeen. I think she walked with a stick until she was about twenty five although, I suspect, not for this. I remember, as a wee nipper, that every time we knelt down at the altar in church, at communion, Mum’s knees would crack. It was always the same noise, and always quite loud. I could hear my mother kneeling down in another room and know who it was from that crack. Hmm, thinking about it, that probably is quite loud. Indeed every time she bends the dodgy knee, said crack still rings out like a gunshot – only marginally less noisily than it used to.

So there was Mum in her best bib and tucker, walking the length, breadth, diagonal or whatever it was of either the White Drawing Room or a state room into which it led. There was H M The Queen and the Duke at the other end. Mum walked over to them in stately, demure fashion in her smashing debutant’s dress, curtseyed and of course, off went her knee. Crack! She was very embarrassed and as she turned a gentle shade of puce and tried to maintain her shredded dignity the Duke gave her a massive smile and winked at her. It doesn’t sound much, but remember this was the late 1950s so things were very much more austere and proper in those days. Mum assured me that wink was like a giant get-out-of-gaol free card. It was just enough to let her know it didn’t matter, and put her at her ease, without drawing attention to it and embarrassing her even more. I’d have liked to have met the Duke, if only to thank him for being kind enough to put my mum at ease, but I wouldn’t have wanted to meet them like that. Luckily all that malarkey had been done away with by the time I hit eighteen so I didn’t have to do it.

I always felt that The Duke was a man with a sense of humour – and as far as I could tell, from the anecdotes I heard, which are mostly stories like these, he clearly had a somewhat acerbic wit on occasion, and I suspect he may not have suffered fools gladly, but I can also imagine that he was a very much more well-meaning and dignified person than is made out.

And now for something completely different …

Yes, it’s quiz time … again.

Hamgee University Press Logo

OK, so I had an idea that it would be fun to use the black on white and white on black versions of the spiffy new HUP logo to make some print on demand stuff on Zazzle, Society 6 or somewhere similar that will feature favourite K’Barthan centric quotes.

In particular I like the idea of a set of mugs with the things that Humbert shouts. What could be more fun then wowing your work colleagues with a mug that says, ‘Bite my winkeyi!’ Yeh. OK, possibly quite a few things but … you get the picture.

Alternatively, some mugs or possibly even t-shirts and badges/pins featuring K’Barthan swearing would be fun and a Great Snurd (of K’Barth) Company Limited baseball cap.

That said, I think a first wave of Humbertisms, to test the water, would be best to start. To answer the question click the button or click here.

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Small wins …

Spring in Bury St Edmunds
Spring. In case, like me, you’d forgotten what it was fucking like.

So here we are at Easter. Recently, here in GB, we passed the anniversary of lockdown one. Things are still strange, although I’ve had the first shot and we are hoping to see some friends for a meal in the garden tomorrow. Note to self, put thermals on. Spring appeared for a day at the beginning of this week, which was nice. Now we are back to the usual yellowy smeary grey skies and absolutely fucking freezing north wind. Bastard global warming. We are not getting as much of the gulf stream as we should be and the absence of that warming/cooling effect of the current on our shores is making for colder winters, hotter summers and it would seem, this year at least, no spring. Winter is getting very, very old but still it persists. Thermals at the ready? Yea even unto eternity, it would seem.

Spring in Bury St Edmunds
Ditto.

Never mind. Onwards and upwards.

Small breakthroughs this week. First up, I have wanted to do a humorous first in series box set for ages. The idea is a bunch of us who write funny books get together to put all our first in series in a a funny box set and then I make it free. That done, we share the crap out of it with our mailing lists and hopefully keep a steady stream of new peps introduced to our work, for nothing. I have a book in one of these which is riding high in the best seller charts and I reckon it probably accounts for most of my sales. I got some really big hitters to sign up to the one I’m doing and there were ten of us all told. Unfortunately, the deadline came and went and the three biggest authors never submitted their books. They were happy to go in but unfortunately, I need a word doc of their files to make the book. I’m guessing they didn’t have one. I dunno. You can only write to them and ask so many times. I made that number of times three.

A lot of authors are mac based and use a thing called Vellum so maybe their most up to date versions of their books are in that. But I’d have thought they would need to export to a word doc to get their stuff edited so presumably it’s not impossible. I dunno, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they’re so big their editors use Vellum too. Shrugs. Anyway, they didn’t so …

The idea of organising a box set is quite daunting. Mainly because I can’t design for toffee and can’t afford to pay for a cover, but also because I am spectacularly shite at organising things. Seriously, I’d have trouble organising myself enough to breathe and do other things at the same time.

The only thing I might, possibly, be able to do for this box set was making the actual ebook. Even so, when the others signed up, I hadn’t a chuffing clue how it was done, only a vague idea of how it might look. The big sticking point was how to sort out a table of contents for seven novels. My box set is on Amazon at the moment but I daren’t update it because it’s a word file and it has something shonky about the table of contents which Amazon doesn’t like. They fixed it for me last time but sternly warned me that on no account would they be doing so a second time. I haven’t dared change it there for the last six years! The box setters and I agreed we’d do this thing about six months ago but LIFE has interrupted my efforts rudely. Well, life and launching my own book.

As I may have mentioned, McOther is sorting our wills which has not helped me to be efficient either, because it means administrivia. This week I was trying to get hold of a building society to see what I needed to do to so they would allow the investors McOther has chosen access to the account we hold in trust for our son. I knew I was in for a long time on hold and the music was a particularly grating piece of muzak on loop. After ten minutes someone answered but she simply said she’d put me through to another department and I was back on hold.

Sod it.

There was no doubt about it, if I listened to much more of this muzak I was going to do someone an injury so I opened up my lap top and decided it was time to do something. Yeh. Something mindless and yet … absorbing. Absorbing enough to blot out the muzak while, at the same time, not so absorbing that I’d fail to notice if a human appeared on the line at any point.

Opening my lap top, I began tinkering about with Jutoh which is the software I use to build my epub files. Completely by accident discovered how to do a table of contents for seven novels so the one at the start of the document has seven items, rather than 7×50 or however many chapters there are in each of the books … at least I think I did.

OK, so I’m going to have to import the word document for each book and then go through them separating out the chapters into individual files in each book’s directory. I am not quite sure, yet, if I can get a proper table of contents for each book into each folder, but if I’ve worked out how to do the first bit, I’m more confident I may manage to do that, too. The important thing is … it’s going to make a book with a table of contents and chapters and … Halellujah! Woot and t’ing. So having got the books and the copyright forms back from these authors about six months ago I have finally started sorting out the book. I can see, as I look, that there are bits missing but I am way, way more confident that I can fix those. I’m also toying with using another book, rather than the first in my full length series, since that one is in the box set that’s already out there.

Thinking about it, I could put in Too Good To Be True but that would put more pressure on me to write more full length books for that series. It’s highly likely I will anyway, but it’s a lot less likely if I put pressure on myself like that. The Hamgeean Misfit series is good for any number of stories but if none of those is a novel, using Too Good To Be True will merely give people false expectations about the others, and it may not make sense. On the other hand, I could put in the first two books in that series, especially as Nothing To See Here is hugely popular. It’s the one in that series which everyone downloads and the two together would be novel-sized. Small novel, but novel-sized nonetheless. It’s a thought.

On the other hand, the box set Few Are Chosen appears in is one for planet-based sci-fi and as such comedy isn’t a feature – so there are some advantages of having a total genre mash up. That being the case though, I could probably get away with using it twice because it’s two different markets. And if readers on my mailing list are folks who have come in from the two box sets, each has the six other books to read for free, even if they’ve already read mine.

The other slight worry is the cover. Having cracked the innards, possibly, I am now thinking that I might be able to do that, myself. If it’s just a black, star-covered background with lettering I should be alright for it. There seem to be two styles for comedy books, very simple, like that, or insanely excellent drawing. I can’t afford the drawing and might have to pay for a star-field-and-words style cover. We shall see. I am hoping that I can do enough and that, if I can’t, we can get away with something simple enough for me not to have to fork out masses of cash on it.

Mood on the writing front then, cautiously up-beat. The good thing is, I can keep work on the box set going even if doing my will and all the associated admin cuts into the available bandwidth to do anything else. And so much of this is about psychology. Keeping things moving forward or at least ensuring that it feels that way. Not quite a productivity hack then, more of a hackette, to be honest, but something to remember, nonetheless.

McCat being a pain in the arse.
Before …

Another productivity hack I have discovered is in the arena of cat management. The current McCat is basically a labrador – not just in the sense that he enjoys having his tummy rubbed – but also in that he’s a stomach on legs. He is also incredibly bossy and a terrible attention-seeker.

I tend to find that I can do a bit of writing stuff at the beginning of the day but can’t really persuade myself to do anything much until I’ve done the stuff I’m supposed to do. But because of whatever weird thing it is in my make up that makes Real Life impossible to organise, to the point where it takes me two or three weeks to do something that McOther can smack on the head in ten minutes, I tend to spend almost the entire day doing the things I ought to do before I get round to doing the things I want, or am supposed, to do.

This means that by the time I think, phew, that’s those taken care of, now I can do some writing, it’s about ten to five and I have an hour before it’s time to switch off from my writing and go and Interact With The Other Humans. Other Human Time is important, obviously, because it’s fun and I love them.

McCat
Yes I know I like having my tummy rubbed but if you try it, I’ll have yer arm off!

The other slight downside of this is that McCat usually decides it’s supper time somewhere around four p.m. and pesters me. His methods of pesterance vary but a lot of them involve jumping onto my desk and sitting himself down on my keyboard. Interestingly, McCat MK1 used to do exactly the same thing. Usually I push him off, at which point he sits on the table next to my desk where I keep my printer and when he is certain he has eye contact, he begins to push things off my desk, a pen, an elastic band, a coaster, a box and anything else that is placed on the desk to that side of my computer. This goes on, ad infinitum, until he is fed.

Every now and again, he gets all wild-eyed and bitey, which is no fun.

This seemed to be my only meaningful writing time so I didn’t really want to be distracted every few minutes. After all, if you’ve been thinking about it all day, it’s amazing how much you can write in an hour. But if it’s an hour punctuated by cat shenanigans every ten minutes it’s amazing how much less you get done. When I had my knee done, my brother and his family sent me a baby Yoda.

Angry cat.
Touch me and I’ll fucking kill you.

McCat has been sitting in the box Baby Yoda arrived in since … well … since it arrived. He also sits on the sofa. But as yet, I haven’t been able to find him somewhere to sit on my desk. I bought him a special hammock which you could stick on the window with suckers and which he was then supposed to be able to lie in and enjoy. Except he spurned it and no amount of gentle coaxing would persuade him to sit in it.

After some deliberation, I put it on the radiator in front of the desk, with strings between sucker and hammock to hold it steady. He wasn’t having that either.

Until I found a box. On Tuesday, I took the spurned hammock away, put the box over the radiator and some of the desk, and turned the lovely, boiling hot desk lamp onto it. McCat appeared and did indeed sit in the box for a bit, allowing me twenty minutes at a stretch, which was an improvement.

The obvious, sensible answer, is just to feed him. But if he’s fed too early he’s ravening the next day and hungry for supper at about three p.m. I bought a lovely hammock that sticks on the windows with suckers so he could lie in it and look out. The result was a very definite no thank you.

After

Then, yesterday, McCat appeared at ten to five by alighting beside me on the desk with the lightness of a frozen checking that had been fired from a cannon hitting a wall. I rubbed his ears a bit and then patted the bottom of the box. He does understand the phrase, ‘get in your box,’ but tends to go to the one on the floor so rather than say anything, I just kept patting it and pointing. He got the message and climbed in.

He is keen on the desk lamp. One of the unwelcome places he likes to sit is beside me, right under the lamp, absorbing the heat. Therefore, in order to sweeten the deal, I turned the desk lamp round a bit so the nice warm bulb was pointing at the box. He, curled up and after making a few purry whiffly noises, he went to sleep.

He was still asleep in there at twenty past six, well past his supper time. The moral of this story? For all the motivating platitudes circulating around t’interweb, there’s only one that really matters and it’s this one; ‘if I fits I sits.’

Yeh.

It may not last, but for now, I will chalk that up as a win, I think.

In the meantime, Happy Easter!


Win a mug competition deadline extended*!

*Because I forgot to send a reminder to my mailing list so I have to send one on Tuesday.

And also because hardly anyone’s entered. Mainly because I keep forgetting to share it on Facebook and Instragram … or with my mailing list or to be perfectly honest, with anyone!

It’s competition time! In case you didn’t clock this last week.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until 19th April (yes, I did pick that date completely at random). Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

7 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Had I but world enough, and time …

Blimey, it’s already time for another blog post. The days and weeks seem to be flying past at the moment but at the same time, nothing much seems to be happening. Life, time, existence seems to be stretching like a piece of grey plasticine, infinite yet very finite, lightning fast the moment you attempt to achieve anything, and yet, when you’re at a loose end, soooo slooooow.

That being the case, this week, I’ve been trying to analyse my book sales. Yeh, I know there probably aren’t enough to make it viable. I’m struggling a bit. In theory, for every ten people who visit a books sales page, one will buy. That’s the ‘rule of thumb’ most marketers apply. In theory, this means that all I need to do is get 100 people to click on any one of my books sales pages (be they mine or with a retailer) and ten folks will buy a book.

Nice idea, so I wanted to try and crunch my sales and download figures to see if it works. Few Are Chosen was permanently free for a while and according to my stats I’ve given away 20,154 copies from retailers – I haven’t counted the ones I’ve given to mailing list people or it’s going to get too complicated.

Of those people, it looks as if 841 people have gone on to read The Wrong Stuff, 793 read One Man: No Plan and 742 Looking for Trouble, except 273 people also downloaded the box set as well. I’m going to assume all 273 of those people read the entire thing, so add those and my revised figures come out as 1,114 people have read Few, 1066 people have read One Man: No Plan and 1,015 have read Looking For Trouble. That’s publication to now figures for the three follow on books but most of the free books were given away before 2016. I think I’ve given away about a thousand since then.

What these figures tell me is that out of all the thousands of people who’ve downloaded Few Are Chosen for free, only 5.5% of them have read it. On the up side if I do the percentages for the rest of the series, 95.6% go on to read book three and 95.2 go on to read book four. That means I need to get 200 people looking at my sales page to get 10 people to buy my books. That was a bit of an eye opener. I’m also not certain how current that intel is. The uptake on the free books may actually be a lot lower, more like 2% because I’ve been giving away Few in a first in series box set for two years and I don’t know how many of those have been downloaded. I have experienced a big uptick in sales of the rest of the series since that went live. Two per cent is probably nearer the true figure. The percentage usually expected to act on any advertising then. Considering my books sell in numbers that keep them firmly at the invisible end of the spectrum and are written in a genre that is a really hard sell, that’s probably not bad.

Aside from the box set of free firsts and the odd promo, I have stopped giving Few Are Chosen away for free. Instead I now give away a mailing list exclusive short story which I advertise on Facebook – Facebook only so far because I’m looking to grow my sales at Apple, Kobo, Google Play, Barnes & Noble et al; Amazon is doing fine without help.

When people have had a little time to read that free book, I point them to a second short story that’s free on all the retailers, and when they’ve read that I point them to the free box set of first in series which contains Few Are Chosen. I didn’t produce the box set so I don’t know how many of those are being downloaded but I’d guess the take up rate is higher with that and, possibly, skewing my read through percentages. Or to put it another way, I suspect the percentage of people who read the other books after downloading the first one free before 2016 is probably more like 1% or 1.5%. Yikes.

That said, I am thinking of reducing the price of Few Are Chosen. At the moment it’s £1.99/$2.99 in most places but I’m thinking of making it cheaper: 0.99 of whatever unit people are working in as I suspect that might encourage a few more of the handful of folks who stumble upon it independently to give it a go. I may need to look at the metadata too. My perma free which, I suspect, is on about page five million of the freebook listings on most retailers probably has more downloads, especially on Google Play. The likelihood of it languishing way down the rankings is why I no longer have the first book permanently free outside the box set – because at the level where I operate, I couldn’t give away enough to achieve any organic visibility with my own publicity and since that’s the whole point, I don’t bother unless I get a promo.

The difficulty with a closed system like this is that it’s really difficult to work out what I’d need to do to get more people buying my books. I have a first in series box set planned with seven comedic sci fi and fantasy authors but that’s down the road a bit. Right now, say I wanted to earn $500 a month. In theory if I had one book at $4.99 I’d only need to sell five copies every day. If you go on the standard marketing thing that it would take 10 target readers to see the book for each one who made a purchase you’d be looking at 50 people needing to see the book’s page each day for one to buy. In advertising terms, that’s not a huge amount.

If some of those five readers go on to buy the other books, clearly you don’t need to sell five copies a day either. In theory, if you have six books available for $4.99 the way I do then, some of those initial readers will read all of them. Although, in my experience, probably not that month or year, but if you’re lucky maybe this decade. Even so, if each person who bought Few Are Chosen was good for the other four then, in theory, I’d only have to have a quarter of the eyes on the Few Are Chosen download page to get the same result … in theory.

There is a whole strategy based along these lines, the gist being if you have 20 books out and can sell a handful each day you can make $50k a year, which is a reasonable living. Believe it or not, this approach, coined by two giants of the indie writing world, is called 20booksto50k.

My books are comedic science fiction fantasy with a dash of romance (but no squelchy bits) and they’re British in a way that is completely un-tempered to the tastes of foreign markets. My publishing and story model are shows like Dr Who, Red Dwarf and writers like Irving Welsh, entities and people speaking in a voice which reflects their origin. I think it helps, in that respect, that most people coming into my ‘ecosystem’ get to read a novella/chapter book, a short and a first in series for nothing before they start on the other books. So on the whole, the people buying are already converts. I’d say most of the people who buy my books come from my mailing list, although there are other authors feeding into the first in series collection, so some must come from there too. I’ve no idea how many people are actually reading Few compared to those reading the others. Also it means that there’s a good 40% churn on my mailing list as people read the free stuff, decide it isn’t their bag and leave.

Please do not feed the animals

I suspect my books are probably marketed to within an inch of their lives, in fact, I suspect what we’re looking at with my sales figures, is one of the most finely polished turds in history. That said, there will always be new things to try and new ways to reach readers. I’ll give most things a go with an open mind.

As I mentioned, despite being about a completely different universe (well, apart from one) all my books remain unapologetically British. This does not give them universal appeal. It’s probably going to be more like 50 books to 20k for my stuff. But at the same time, it does act as a filter. The kinds of people who are going to get angry because my book isn’t set in their country and doesn’t reflect their national ethos aren’t really the kinds of readers I’m after. I need someone with a bit more imagination than that. People’s minds need to be open and they need to be prepared to let them wander if they’re going to get anything from the shite I churn out.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those filling-in the reader questionnaire I send often cite reading and books as a form of travel; a holiday. Certainly, that’s definitely one of the ways I see books. I enjoy reading stories set in other countries if they are true to culture because it’s always interesting to have a glimpse of how those people might think and their societies might work. Hence my love of sci fi, fantasy and yes, historical novels because it doesn’t really matter when or where, they are all new and interesting alien civilisations to me.

Where I’m going with all this stuff is, I suppose, that these last few months I’ve had a kind of epiphany. Originally, my aim, what I wanted from my writing was that the action figures on the desks of geeks should be characters from my books. That was the target. To be successful enough for that. The reason I wanted to earn stacks was because I wanted to get to the point where I could liberate McOther from his job. If he wanted me to of course. I wanted to take the slack, be the bread winner doing something I loved so he didn’t have to do something which, while he quite likes it, does regularly piss him off.

McOther is retiring soon though. My cunning plan to rescue him from his workload has failed. Turns out he’s rescued himself. So it started me wondering if my priorities have changed. I know I can’t stop writing but I also have a life that makes writing difficult. What do I want from it?

  • Some cash. These days, it doesn’t have to be that much. Understanding that was a huge revelation, right there.
  • To get lost in my imaginary world because Real Life can be a bit grim.
  • The pleasure of doing something reasonably well.
  • The enjoyment of creating and marketing my books.
  • To be content with the amount of writing I am able to produce but at the same time, produce the maximum amount I’m able without pissing off friends and loved ones.
  • Accepting that I might not be writing much, sometimes, so I can concentrate on people.
  • I, personally, would rather not be famous but I would love it if my work and my characters were … preferably while I was still alive.

Nearly every single book you read will say something along the lines of, ‘if you’re prepared to put in the hours you can make a success of your author career.’ I’m in my fifties now and once you reach this age, you realise that hours to put into anything are hard to come by. Hit my age, and a lot of your life is going to be about looking after other people in the generation ahead of you. Whatever else you do, there are going to be people who need you. And if you want to like yourself as a person you’re going to have to help them. That takes time, so the lesson I’ve learned about time is this:

My time is finite. The trick is not how many hours I put in, but making the time I can devote to this effective.

Woah. That’s a bit of an eye-opener. I dunno why because it’s blindingly obvious but it was still a bit of a scales-from-the-eyes moment for me, that one.

I lack the time in my life to wrangle the kind of author career that will set the world on fire. Amazingly, now that McOther has rescued himself from his own job, I’m OK with that idea. But despite my time constraints, I might do alright if I keep writing books and make the time I do spend effective.

And life, that’s pretty much the same isn’t it? I could die tomorrow. I hope I don’t because it’d be fucking inconvenient but the point is, our time is finite. I am learning to walk the line between the things I want to do and the things I have or need to do. I am learning to ditch the other stuff. I only have bandwidth for a certain amount of stuff. The rest has been removed, my activities pared down to the things I love and the people I love because there isn’t the time or energy for anything else.

Holy fuck. No shit, Sherlock. Mwahahahrgh!

Seriously though, I care. I want my stuff to do well and to gain recognition. Yet, at the same time, I’d be happy just to earn enough to buy nice things, a decent car and enjoy life. $20k would do me. Oh. Only $18k to go then. Oh dear, that looks like 60 books to $20k. Lorks! I’d better get my finger out.

For example, if all the cash I earned was coming through my own web store it would be grand. I’d be earning, folks would be reading and enjoying my books, but I’d not be making a blip on the best seller charts so no-one would have a chuffing clue who I was in the wider world. That’s no bother, ranking is just vanity metrics, it’s gathering the tribe that would count. The only new readers I scored would be friends of current readers, it would all be word of mouth, and possibly the odd advert on Facebook or its replacement. I’d have the things that were important, books out, writing to do and people who loved the books to lark about with. Without the scary stalker risk of actual fame.

It makes me wonder, though. Does time spent marketing work like writing hours? If I have to put X hours in to be a success, can I put them in over a period of 20 years instead of the three or four months my writing compatriots seem to take to go from earning about five quid a month on their first book to publishing their five hundredth 120k novel and earning six figures. OK I’m joking here, maybe I should hang out with fewer romance authors.

Other people do seem to be alarmingly prolific though. Then again, as the lovely Erin Wright, the lady behind the wide for the win group says,

‘Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.’

Great advice that and, after this year, I seem to care a bit less about that though. Something has shifted. I’m not going places, I still earn diddly squat, I still dream of breaking the $300 a month earnings barrier. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. Have I just given up? Is that it? Or is it that I finally feel that things might be moving? Is the rock, if not rolling then, maybe … wobbling a little bit? I dunno.

On the lighter side … Merchandise! Mwah hahaharhgh!

I have been thinking about making some mugs, books etc with the Hamgee University Press logo on them. At the moment, I’m thinking black on white and white on black. The logo one side and some pearl of wisdom from Humbert on the other, possibly cup-icised to reference tea, coffee or just drink. HUPLogoWonBSo the image above on the cup and stuff like.

  • ‘Windy trussocks!’
    Never mind, a nice hot drink will warm you up – or possibly, never mind, just open the window.
  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin!
    But DON’T touch my drink.
  • Polish my melons.
  • Polly want a cracker.
  • Arnold’s air biscuits.
    Not something you should think about dunking. Biscuits, something you should think about dunking – this will only work for Australasian and Brits.
  • Bombs away.

What do you think? If you’ve read the books what are your favourite Humbertisms? Are there any purlers I’ve missed?

________________________________

In case you missed it …

I had a book out this month, the paperback landed this week, not that anyone’s bought any yet but y’know, they’re there. But even better than that, the presence of a new book allows me to run another of my famous competitions. Yes! Woot.

It’s competition time! In case you didn’t clock this last week.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until the end of March. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

18 Comments

Filed under About My Writing, General Wittering

And finally …

Finally – in the ‘at last’ sense – all round this week.

First up, and briefly, I went to get my jab yesterday morning – or my jag if you’re Scottish – so I started quickly typing this before my arm went dead. In what was possibly a foolish move, McOther and I ordered a takeaway for yesterday evening from one of the town’s two Michelin starred restaurants. This is the French one that’s had a star for some years, but our other favourite restaurant, just round the corner from us, was awarded a Michelin star a couple of months ago, too, which is fab. Amazingly, there were no side effects post jab that detracted from my ability to enjoy an epic meal … not until afterwards anyway. As I sat watching telly with the boys I suddenly began to feel rather cold. I then proceeded to run a high temperature and methodically work my way through the side effects listed during the night. I even scored some of the rare ones – nausea, dizziness and stomach cramps.  Oh and a resting pulse of 110 bpm (instead of 67 ish). If that’s a few light side effects, I can’t imagine how grim Covid must feel if you get it properly. Needless to say, McOther had nothing more than a slight headache, because he is a spawny so-and-so.

The other, more significant ‘at last’ is the novel; Too Good To Be True. I had wondered if I’d be able to write a novel, ever again, and so it was fabulous when this one pretty much wrote itself in Lockdown One. I just have to write another one now. Er hem, yeh. Joanna Penn talks about starting energy and finishing energy in her podcasts. I’ve been in finishing mode for some months now, topping and tailing and generally sorting the book out. I’m looking forward to switching to ‘starting energy’ and beginning a new one, I think having the jab will help with that as ultimately it’s one source of stress removed. Priorities are to write Misfit 5 and get my finger out of my arse and do something meaningful with Space Dustmen. But the one I’m constantly drawn to is the one about how Betsy Coed’s guest house ended up becoming a brothel. It lets us in on what Trev, Gladys and Ada are really up to. The extent of their exploits is only hinted at in my published books because we always see them from the point of view of The Pan of Hamgee and he has no clue.

Finally, the penny dropped that the only way I can relate the clandestine activities that go on at the Parrot and Screwdriver is if I write a story about it in which The Pan doesn’t feature. Over the last couple of years, on and off, that’s what I’ve been doing. I am really enjoying it but I am aware that as marketable assets go, it isn’t really the project on which to concentrate. No. The one I really need to make a proper start on is Space Dustmen. That said, better make a start on Misfit 5. And there’s another K’Barthan Extra about Gladys and Ada which would do nicely as a lead in to the sprawling how-Betsy’s-Brothel-started epic that I’m writing now.

Most likely, it’ll be whichever bunch of characters manages to shout the loudest that wins. I’m looking forward to writing again. It’s always lovely, that feeling of looking out over the face of the waters of my imagination, where dark is separated from night but not much else, and turning it into some new and barking world. Yeh, rubs hands together. That’s going to be fun.

Launch update on Too Good To Be True … was it?

If K’Barth were a lava lamp. Weird and yet … cool? Er, yeh. Hopefully.

No, I think it went actually went quite well for someone with a very small fan base selling something with about as much instant appeal as a fart in a lift. Folks definitely have to live with the smell of K’Barth a little while before they begin to appreciate it … like … the scent of a rubbish dump, or perhaps, a path lab … um … like truffles. Or possibly Goojan spiced sausage.

First up, felt as if I’d got production down a bit more pat. I was slightly up against the deadline at the end there, what with Mum having a stroke, but it wasn’t too bad. Maybe I’m better at separating out my emotional and work life than I was, or at least, the work admin side – because a launch is admin, really. Creativity at times of emotional turmoil is still a bit of an ask. It’s possible I spent a bit more time sitting at my desk than was properly healthy. However, it all seemed to go reasonably smoothly. I haven’t tried using beta readers for a while and it had spectacular results. A novel that was close to four times the length of the previous book took a great deal less editing, which saved time and money so I’m chalking that one up as a win. Am I going to carry on using beta readers? You bet your arse I am! 🙂 If they’re all prepared to carry on reading my drivel. Thank you to any of those lovely beta readers reading. You are awesome.

Second, when it came to launching it … there’s a theory that you have to tell people about something three times for it to work. At the same time, I have no desire to spam people so I always have trouble with creating too much buzz around a book launch. You know how it is; sometimes a bit of buzz is good, other times it’s wasps. However, I have mentioned the book more often in the run up to the launch both here, on the blog and to my mailing list – I think I mentioned it twice in a row to them and three times to you lot. I may yet send out one more final reminder to the list though so they get two reminders about the the competition – because obviously, there’s a competition (more on that story … later). Mwahahahrgh. What was interesting about the three mentions thing was that there were sales each time, which suggests that there is something in the jog-the-memory a couple of times approach.

I’m still at the stage of clutching these to my breast and going, ‘Mine! All mine!’

That said, I didn’t really do much to launch the book as such. I’m bad a tying myself down to dates in advance. That creates pressure and pressure tends to do for creativity. No interviews, no blog tour, not even one of those things where you answer questions on Facebook. Other authors do all sorts of live stuff on line and they also set up a street team of super-fans to post about their book in all those groups where it would be spam if they posted it themselves. That’s something I want to do eventually, get people who like the books to post in the book groups they’re in, just to amplify the noise so to speak. Not sure about the tours, questions and stuff although I am wondering about rabbiting on, on video at some point. But that would just be things like this post, spoken. On the whole though, I think most of that is for writers with a bigger fan base than me.

The thing is, the standard practice for launches is that you build up a buzz, get loads of people enthused and then unleash hell in the hope that you will tip the algorithms in the stores to the point where they start recommending your book to new readers. But you need a list with about fifteen thousand people on it to do that because you need about three or four thousand people to buy the book in the first week. Because of the way my author eco-system, genre and budget work I have 2.5k people in my fan base (phnark) and that’s my mailing list so some may not be fans yet. On the up side, quite a few of them do appear to be genuinely interested. The size of my operation being what it is, the slayer tactic, for me, is always going to be about how many of the folks who sign up to my list actually open the emails, click on stuff and generally interact. Until I reach the point where something magic happens, more people join the newsletter group than leave of a month and it starts to grow in size it’s all about getting to know and engaging the folks who are on it as much as possible. I have got the open rates up from 13% to 30% so I’m getting there but these things take time. I just want to enjoy writing and bring anyone who wants to tag along on the journey with me!

Bearing all that in mind, I aim to try and make 50 sales over the course of the pre-order period and the first month.

Obviously, it’s a bit early to tell if I’ve done that yet. Total so far is – don’t laugh – 34. This is not as many as Escape From B-Movie Hell but I launched that one at 99c so I think quite a few folks took a punt on it because of the price. Also it was straight comedic sci-fi which made it a lot easier and you could make a new release more visible with the right keywords, alone, back in 2015. But with my size of operation, reducing the new book isn’t going to change anything – by catapulting it to the top of the best seller lists for example. And I’m leery of that sort of thing unless it’s going to achieve something meaningful. I’d rather discount it on my own store and give something to my regular readers that way.

Are there any differences? Yes. This time, I have sold way more books via my own web store, indeed, my web store was second biggest source of revenue after Amazon. That might be because I did discount it a bit there, but it’s lovely that folks are beginning to buy direct from as a way of supporting my efforts.

A side note, the third place for revenue was Kobo – God bless you Kobo! There was also a first in that I sold one on Barnes & Noble which was my first sale there after going direct.

Another striking difference, people haven’t just bought this book, there’s been a little blip sales for all the others in the Misfit series at the same time. People have bought K’Barthan Series books too, the box set or the first one. I guess that might have been happening over the other launches a bit but it looks as if there are more of those companion buys at this stage. Unless it’s just more noticeable now there are three other books in the series as opposed to just one or two.

The web store sales might make for a lower ranking on the retailers and less visibility with them, but unless the rank is high enough to make a serious difference – top ten at the least – it’s all just vanity metrics anyway. The lovely thing this says to me is that I am gradually managing to engage with all the folks who have signed up to receive my emails. And that’s bloody marvellous.

There are unique aspects of operating on my shoestring level which mean I kind of do the audience thing backwards.

OK, so, what normal authors do is this: they make a first in series book free on all the retailers or 99c. They advertise their free/cheap books, folks see the ads, download the books and the books start to rise in the store rankings and more people see them and download them. Some of the readers enjoy the books so much they sign up to the mailing list – usually via a link in the back.

Folks who join the mailing list like this are called organic sign ups. They’re folks who love your books because they’ve read one and decided they want to know about everything you do. They are golden.  The point is, it’s a combination of adverts and the stores that are bringing the people to the books and the books that are bringing the readers into the mailing group.  This is a brilliant strategy but works especially well if your books are hot property, or even lukewarm property, or appeal widely to Americans but I’m not quite there yet. In addition, people can just stumble on the free/cheap books on the stores and download them. Sometimes the store may promote the free book if it’s something people want, or sits well within an easily identifiable genre, mine are quite niche so that doesn’t happen. Also, the stores are gradually learning that they can skew the results. In Amazon’s case KU books are weighted in the ranking so they are more discoverable. Then authors do Amazon ads, so Amazon pays a 70% royalty and gets half of it back as advertising revenue. As far as I am aware, the only store where this isn’t particularly skewed in favour of exclusives, advertisers, trad or whatever is Google, which still works on SEO principles I’m told, so you can just put a free book on with the right keywords and people will find it.

This Google thing is something I’m testing. I have two free books on there now and hopefully, I’ve set that up so that any people reading the free books and going on to the others will be reasonably easy to spot.

Anyway. Most of these strategies involve throwing a stack of cash at promos and ads which put your book in a place where it’s visible. As a plankton level author, I haven’t enough cash to make that sort of difference so I get more bang for my buck by advertising the mailing list, which is quite odd but is how it seems to be working out. I would advertise the perma free books but they’re shorter stories so most promo sites won’t take them (note to self, write more novels). However, sign up to get a free book, read it and depending on the results, decide to stay or go, I have this weird thing where my mailing list is stuck at 2,500 and has been for five years. Most of those people are different from the ones who were on there five years ago, but not all. There are about 600 who are really enthusiastic. The way I see it, if I can get to the point where I have 2,500 people who are as enthusiastic as that 600 the compact and bijou size of the list will be less of an issue.

Why do I need a newsletter? Because, like this blog, it’s good to be able to let people know when I have a book out, share stuff I’m working on, and generally not be operating in a vacuum. I like to feel I’m doing this with people rather than doing it alone.

Which reminds me … the competition …

______________________

It’s competition time! Oh yes it is.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until the end of March. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

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