Tag Archives: comedy fantasy fiction

A vole lot of trouble going on …

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

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

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

Frank the vole

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

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

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

Hmm …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeh, I nearly hurled like this guy…

‘Aaaaargh (sorry Mum)!’  I said.

‘What’s up?’ she asked me.

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

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

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

‘Well, you’ll soon know,’ said Mum.

‘How?’

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

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

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

As I write now, the smell has gone.

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

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

And it was.

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

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

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

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

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

Take a chill pill MTM, this is not exactly news

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

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

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

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Nothing To See Here …

Except there is …

More on that story later. First, a quick update on the audiobooks.

It’s been a quiet week. My local writers collective met yesterday, which was lovely, and on Tuesday, I finally managed to send the blips I’d spotted in the audio version of The Wrong Stuff back to Gareth. It’s his birthday today. And looking at the quality of the recordings he’s done so far, I’m feeling a little giddy! As if it’s my birthday and all! I am a little in awe of his talent and I will owe him for this, pretty much in perpetuity.

Clearly I feel a bit nervous about the audio in some respects. This is partly because I can’t quite believe it’s happening but also because, as royalty share, I’d really like it to do well so Gareth actually earns something for his trouble. I suspect it’ll be work from other authors who hear it rather than royalties, but he is aware of that and seems totally undaunted, even if I’m actually beginning to feel a bit guilty.

The other, far more straightforward reason to harbour doubts is because it’s my stuff he’s narrating. And doubting your stuff is all part of being creative. And jeez there’s nothing like listening to someone read your magnum opus, and read it really well, to fully appreciate any deficiencies in the writing. Imposter syndrome anyone? Yeeees a bit. It’s definitely A Thing we creatives get; to shit bricks about what we’ve done I mean, even when we know it’s alright really. But there’s more than a slight feeling here of, ‘Oh god, this bloke is absolutely bloody brilliant and the material I’ve given him is … er hem … not actually quite as brilliant as he is.’ I was aware that my talent lies more in the telling of the story than any linguistic poncing toddling involved so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise, and yet … yeh … there we are.

Maybe one of the biggest, most important things anyone learns, while doing creative anything, is the difference between doubts that are, basically, just your mojo messing with your arse, and real doubts. Learning when to listen to those doubts and when to just grit your teeth, ignore the cringing inside and push on through is a big part of learning how to create. When I’m working on a novel, I usually start to get severe misgivings about a third of the way in. Then I get stuck. Either because I’ve gone off in the wrong direction, or because I just need a bit of time for my subconscious to work out what’s going to happen next. That’s why I had to stop writing the big stuff when Dad got bad, because there was never enough time to get back into the complicated projects, catch up and start working again, before the next crisis hit from the Real World.

Discussing the doubts side of it with Gareth, briefly, it turns out that he gets them too. Like I said, standard creative procedure I suspect, but it’s still comforting, and a little affirming, to have confirmation from someone else, too. Especially someone with less reason to doubt than many of us. Yeh, so while I do doubt the quality of my stuff, I guess I also know, sort of, that it’s probably a load of bollocks in this case.

Anyway, we are hoping to have the first draft done before he heads off on tour at the end of next week. It’s likely that I won’t have enough time to listen and get the alts back, but he will probably be able to do those during the spring holidays, in April, when he gets back.

Talking about doubts … I have a new book out today. Short is not my best metier and I have a few genuine misgivings about this one which, I suspect are well founded. Except the description of Mrs Dingleton’s, I like that. Never mind, here are the details anyway! In a new departure from my standard, somewhat laissez faire release strategy, I’m also running an exciting competition in which someone can win some smashing K’Barthan Blingery. Phnark. Feel free to enter if you like.

Nothing To See Here

Yes! It has landed. The next novella in the series of shorts about The Pan of Hamgee’s time as a delivery man for Big Merv is now out. Woot.

Here’s the blurb …

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

If you’re interested you can find out more by clicking on the picture or clicking here:

The competition

Yes, bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this fabulous K’Barthan Mug.

If you do end up reading and enjoying Nothing To See Here, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot in a game of skill and chance to— er hem. You can enter a prize draw to win this smashing K’Barthan mug worth many Brtitish pounds!

Well … OK at least a tenner, £15, in fact. Oh dear, this is beginning to read like one of those spoof ads in Viz.

Hint, you’ll probably be in with a good chance because I doubt many folks will enter.

All you need to do to is answer a question about the story and you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t.

The draw will be open until the end of February. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Noting To See Here should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though. Once you’ve read the book and can answer the question, you can enter the draw here!

The competition closes on 29th Feb.

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Chip off the old block …

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

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

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

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

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

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

The jumper tribble … octopus? starfish?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe.

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

_______________________________

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

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

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Quality can’t be rushed …

This week my son invented something called the White Wee Crew. Mwahahahrgh!

NO! You filthy ones at the back. This is about drinking vast quantities of water!

Yep. If you drink enough you end up doing what he used to call a ‘silver wee’ or one that the normals would call ‘clear’. He then changed it to the White Wee Club but has decided that the White Wee Crew is better. He’s read somewhere that being hydrated keeps your brain switched on. I believe that is A THING. So, he’s been proudly coming home and telling me he’s still a member of the White Wee Crew. I love the way his entire view of life is so completely non standard. And aimed to amuse; himself and others, but he seems unfazed if it’s just himself.

Weird square eye thing … eeeek!

Scary!

One of the delights about having a kid is what a complete giggle we have. Normally we’re talking bottom gags here but sometimes other stuff. The comedy of tiny noises, odd squeaks, floorboards that can be reliably walked on to sound like a fart, well yes, more bottom gags there, I suppose. But if anything makes a strange or surreal noise, no matter how quiet or insignificant, I’ll hear it and one look at McMini and I know he will have heard and think it’s funny too. From a squeaky hinge to McCat going mad for cheese. Any sound is fair game. McOther is able to be equally arcane but seems to derive more enjoyment out of watching us do it than indulging in arcanity (is that even a word) arcaneness, himself. Then there was the night at McOther’s parents house where McMini and I spent about half an hour in their en-suite positioning ourselves so we could take a selfie with the reflections from the bright strip light surrounding the mirror reflected in our eyes. We thought we looked like robots, or perhaps, I thought, that thing that happens to your eyes in Dune when you ride the worms. He hasn’t seen or read Dune yet and my memory is very sketchy but I tried to explain.

It does look weird. CF photos.

McMini is naturally funny, one of those people who is going to be funny whatever he tries to do  so has decided to ham it up. I’ve always felt that the trick was to make it look deliberate but I suspect I ham it up, myself. He’s definitely a chip off the old block. Or perhaps he’s just watched my coping mechanism and decided it’ll do for now. The other evening having implored him, with increasing desperation, to remove his socks I finally succeeded.

‘If you throw those at me, I warn you, I’ll get really cross,’ I told him, anticipating his thoughts, mainly because it was exactly what my brother or I’d have done at his age.

Needless to say, the little so and so threw them at my face. So having told him I’d go into orbit, I did. Except that I was doing it because I needed him to Learn A Lesson rather than because I was actually that cross – although it is completely fucking vile and I wish he wouldn’t do it. McMini looked momentarily crushed and protested at my turning into Ogre Mummy without due warning. I told him he’d jolly well had due warning and that he should have taken heed. But then he picked up on the faux nature of my rage and smiled. I desperately tried to maintain a Stern Exterior but failed and found myself laughing.

It took me straight back to being a kid and doing the exact same thing to diffuse my father’s rage. There were incidences, when he’d gone beyond a certain point, when you didn’t do this, but it did work most of the time. If he can see what we’re up to my Dad must be laughing his head off. I hear him in so many of the things I say to McMini. It’s not that I mean to copy his parenting style, although I reckon he was a pretty good Dad so I probably wouldn’t go far wrong if I did. It’s just because I’m like him. And as I tell McMini, of an evening, with increasing frustration, ‘Will you go to BED!’ As he cavorts about the place like a lunatic clown and I desperately try not to laugh so he stops and does as I ask, I hear my father saying the exact same thing to my brother and I, all those years ago. And I can’t help but smile.

Though I have always thought of myself as a bit of a Daddy’s girl, I’ve always felt that I was very much more like Mum, I have Dad’s soft heart, I think, but I am definitely able to override it more easily than him, or at least I was. One of the things about his illness and death is that, coming out the other side of them, I no longer can.

Then again, as far as taking after one or another parent goes, I guess the point is moot. They were both as maverick and non-standard as each other. My father revelled in the eccentric and in pricking the bubble of the pompous, but it was my mother who dragged me into a cupboard to hide from the over-chatty house matron, who popped in as we were about to go out. Yeh … there probably isn’t much in it, between the two of them.

Trying to parent my wayward, but good natured son, I guess I’m beginning to understand what my poor parents, especially, were up against. What makes me laugh is that there is so much of my father in McMini, too, that it’s hilarious. He has a great deal of McOther in him too, jeez you don’t discipline McMini, you open negotiations. It’s really terrible, but I would bet his father was exactly the same. He always drives a hard bargain, too. It’s interesting, he’s kind of cheeky but at the same time, he’s treating me as his equal, which is really rather lovely.

He’s also a kind little lad. The other day I took him metal detecting. McOther was away on business and there was a dig and I really wanted to go. I was aware he might not want to come so we agreed he could bring along his lap top and sit in the car playing games if he wanted to. We had a great morning out. He enjoyed it and he found some things. Worked out the exact spot and got them out. At the end, he told me that he’d had a lovely day and that even if we’d remembered the lap top, he didn’t think he’d have used it. He told me it was all the better because he’d been dreading it.

‘Oh dear, not totally dreading it were you?’ I asked.

‘Yes Mum, completely, but I couldn’t not come. I knew you hadn’t been for ages and you so wanted to go. I couldn’t stand in your way. How mean would that be?’

I thought that was pretty impressive for an eleven year old. So much like his father, and also so much like his grandfather.

Another area I feel a lot of the Dad influence is in cheesy stuff. Dad derived a great deal of hilarity from bad poetry, especially hymns. There were times in church when I could just lean forward and look along the row at Dad with a bit of a twinkle and he’d turn to me with a pained expression and we’d start giggling. We both tended to be a bit vague and sing the wrong verses in the wrong order, if they have them lined up so you go across you can guarantee we’d end up reading down, and vice versa. But McMini gets my hilarity at some of the terribly bad, sentimental Victorian poetry you find in hymns as well. He doesn’t come to church so often now, I don’t want to force it because he has a faith and nothing is more likely to switch that off than forcing him. And the church I go to is pretty good at picking the fabulous poetry rather than the crap stuff, anyway, but McMini, he does, sort of, get it; good and bad. I have come to poetry rather late in life, partly from school, but also, greatly, from my Dad pointing out the rousing stuff, in hymns and … well … anywhere. And then from noticing it in hymns, myself.

McMini can act, too. Really act, unlike my brother and I who are merely funny – not the same thing at all. He doesn’t, of course, he regards learning lines and attending rehearsals is far too much like hard work. Then again, as far as I can gather, so did Dad. Indeed, the old man’s louche approach to knowing lines or giving cues was legendary. Apparently you would often cover the plot points you were meant to in a scene with Dad but not necessarily in the order in which they were written or the time allocated. Sometimes he’d guess. If you were lucky, you might get enough indication, from the general gist of what he’d said, which line you were supposed to deliver in reply. There was also a lovely story a friend told about how he and Dad on stage. They were both very short sighted, but each was trying to help the other across the stage without falling off the edge, into the orchestra pit. The whole exercise was fraught with difficulty and an extra frisson of danger, because neither of them was very sure where it was.

Strangely, later in life, when Dad had Alzheimer’s, he could recite vast tracts of Shakespeare, apparently word perfectly. I’m thinking that he was probably in plays at school as a kid.

If McMini wanted to act in things, I suspect he’d be extremely good … if he could be arsed. Yes, he is so like his parents, but I see so much of my father in him, too. Dad may have died, but whether or not you believe in life after death, he lives on in us. Mwahahahaargh!

Talking about fine acting skills, the audio project is trundling along. Gareth is still coughing a bit and suffering a sore throat but he seems to be happily getting stuck into the second book. He has been surprised to discover the books are much longer than he thought, ‘another learning moment’ as he put it wryly. It sounds as if he’s been thinking, ‘bloody hell! What the fuck is going on! I should have finished this by now!’ Except I think Gareth is a bit less foul mouthed than me so he probably thought it more politely … possibly. I’ll have to get his address and send him some signed books. I suspect we may not get the whole thing done before he’s off on tour but I’m OK with that if he is. After all, quality can’t be rushed.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested, Nothing to See Here is available for preorder. If you want to know more, click here, or click on the picture.

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And now … this!

It’s a bit of an amazing thing that having spent the last four years or so writing posts on my blog that were, basically, excuses not to write, I’m now having to write posts apologising for not talking about the stuff I normally talk about because I’ve too much writing news to impart. Yeh, here I go again, because this week this happened.

Unlucky Dip Audio Book

Yes people, that is an audiobook cover and Unlucky Dip is now live and available for pre order on Kobo. Swoon!

It’s ready to publish on Findaway Voices too but I haven’t dared press the button yet, just in case. Naturally ACX, an Amazon company, is a whole different kettle of fish.

Gareth and I are both on a bit of a learning curve with this audio gig so when I uploaded the book to Findaway Voices, first, I discovered that there was a problem. An error message popped up informing me that the file was qqwe[ru09025jbm’ ytopqq09t574qyhgwa – or at least whatever it was it said, it made as much sense to me as that does. So I carefully cut and pasted it and sent it to Gareth, who knew exactly what it meant and fixed it.

Kobo, well, clearly everything went without a hitch there because we’d fixed the qqwe[ru09025jbm’ ytopqq09t574qyhgwa problem we discovered at Findaway. So with a little trepidation, I decided I’d submit to ACX which is an Amazon company. I’d forgotten why I deal with Amazon as little as possible. This reminded me. I uploaded all the files and when I tried to click the submit button which is labelled funkily, ‘I’m done’ I discovered it was greyed out and when I hovered over it this illuminating message popped up.

‘cannot submit production because there are issues with the uploaded audio.’

Marvellous.

I had a look at the submission guidelines to see if it was anything I’d done. It might be that the name is different. On all outlets the book is called Unlucky Dip but Amazon may want the series title given. This is where the problem will arise, because, if it does, it will not be looking for K’Barthan Series, instead it’ll be looking for K’Barthan Trilogy, because Amazon refuses to change the series name – unlike like every single other site on earth. Thanks for the blistering two star review that invoked, too, Amazon.

I tried to find help but ACX help was about as useful as a chocolate tea pot, thousands and thousands of help pages that tell you nothing and basically tell it to check it your fucking self! Mwahahahrgh! I clicked on their help pages and then on contact to ask their help desk. The link took me to Audible. I tried to contact the Audible help desk and explain. Chat didn’t work just tried to load again and again and asked for my log in details occasionally. Email did nothing either so I clicked on the button that would get them to phone me. A very kind fellow gave me the email address to write to but warned me that ACX help is only open from 12.00 to 9.00pm on Monday through to Thursday. It was Friday.

I emailed them, anyway, and got the standard canned Amazon response that they didn’t like my mail forwarding. So I emailed them again from the ‘right’ address. They replied. Had I published to ACX from Findaway? No. I replied but I had published to Apple, or at least I was going to but I hadn’t actually clicked publish on Findaway yet, in case something went wrong with ACX. Prescient of me eh? That’s as far as we got before 8.00pm.

Despite being officially closed, or maybe that’s the phone line, ACX support have emailed me today as well. Go them. I notice their version of the qqwe[ru09025jbm’ ytopqq09t574qyhgwa problem that we had at Findaway is slightly different. Possibly. So I’ve passed that on to Gareth, who must be doing his nut with all this. Especially as it’s the same as Findaway on the ACX guidelines you download. It’s only different on the help pages you see when you are trying to work out what to do if you have some unspecified error and the boilerplate bit of the support email that says, have you checked this? It’s like querying publishers or agents, they all want the same thing only each one is just that tiny, tiny bit different, and mistakes bar entry!

The little bit I’ve learned about Audiobook publishing so far

What I know about audio could be written on the back of a teaspoon. All I knew was that I wanted to go wide because I want to get my books into libraries if I can, hoping to start that process soon so I’ll let you know how I get on. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far.

You’ll need an ISBN and that means you have to add the record to Nielsen book data here in the UK. I found I needed to do the long form so that I can stipulate that the book is in audio format. (I was only allowed to choose an ebook imprint or a paper imprint so I have emailed them about that but in the meantime, I’ve logged the isbn as an ebook and then chose audio format later on in the form.) Yeh. I know. Counter intuitive or what? Or maybe it’s just me being really dim.

Kobo allows you to upload finished books, direct, but you may have to contact their support and ask them to add the audiobooks tab to your dashboard. I did and they added it swiftly without fuss. Kobo will pay you a 35% royalty for audio books under a certain price and a 45% royalty above it. They distribute to Walmart, Indigo in Canada and something called BOL in the Netherlands.

Findaway pay from 30-50% depending on the model you are using and distribute to over 40 outlets and libraries, including Apple, Audible and Amazon.

ACX accept publications from wide authors, with ready made books, and will pay 25% royalties. They publish to ‘a minimum of’ Audible, Amazon and Apple.

My cunning plan …

Publish to Kobo direct for 40% royalties. Go to ACX for Audible, Amazon and Apple for 25% royalties. Go through Findaway Voices for 40-45% of everything else, including Apple, again, but also libraries.

Knowing that ACX is run by Amazon, I decided that I would only claim the short story on ACX to start with and would see how it went before I committed to using them for everything. If ACX transpires to be as batshit crazy as Amazon, the reduced demands on my time and sanity, from not going direct, may be worth more than the reduced royalty rate in the long run.

  1. ACX does not allow you to opt out of Apple at the ACX end, more on that later.
  2. As I understand it, if you go to ACX through an aggregator you will not be eligible for their bonus system – so if you get someone go sign up to audible to buy your book, you won’t receive a ‘bounty’ unless you’re direct. Likewise, I think it precludes you from tokens to give away free books. This is why a lot of people go to both.
  3. The authors who I ‘spoke’ to have mixed results with the bounty system, some have done really well, some haven’t had a blip.
  4. At the moment, you can publish to Apple through Findaway and ACX at the same time, then you contact Findaway and they will contact Apple who will prioritise your Findaway, higher-royalty-paying listing. However, the support email I received said,‘Findaway distributes to Audible and Amazon through ACX, so if you already distributed you book with them you cannot submit the book through ACX yourself.Duplicate products are prohibited as per our legal contracts and agreements.’Which looks a bit worrying, although it doesn’t mention Apple specifically. I’ll have to double check the contract. I have demurred from pressing the go button at Findaway, anyway so I can deselect Apple if I have to.

So there we are … baby steps but yeh, audio is going to be a thing …

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Shiny things and other news!

Apologies for my sudden absence last week, I was on holiday – woot. I meant to write something but when the time came, I wasn’t so inspired. Portugal was lovely, as always, although on the down side, I failed to score any Don Rodrigo this year, which was a blow. I should point out that Don Rodrigo is not a bloke or drugs but is, in fact, this weird Algarvian pudding. Imagine Baklava, you know, the ones that look like shredded wheat, but the shredded wheat bit is made with egg. Egg they’ve extruded and done odd stuff to, good stuff, but odd nonetheless. That’s Don Rodrigo, it’s like … I dunno … deconstructed custard, but it’s Oh so much more than that! It is one of my favourite things. McMini and I have even made a rap type song about it because we’re both nuts.

We had some fantastic pork and clams, fish stew, piri-piri chicken, and other general om-nomess, the sun was out, and I did loads of work. Work on holiday? I hear you cry. Well, yes, but then, my job doesn’t feel like work, so it was more of a case of it being a holiday from Real Life to have some fun. Indeed, I managed to finish the next short in the series, which was weighing at a measly 10k and needed to be 15 or more. It’s now up to 19 with an added twist. I managed to sort out one that was done but … you know, not done. Although that went up from 20k to 26k. Then I tidied up the one between.  McMini was hugely pleased when McOther gave him his old flippers. So pleased that for the first couple of days he wore them as slippers.

Also, I was delighted to find I was able to eyebomb the Zamboni at Faro airport. McOther refused to wait, initially. Then as we sat outside on a bench outside the terminal while McMini finished his lunch he relented.

‘Just five minutes, and if you get arrested, we’re not coming to bail you out.’

Anyway, I meant to post something a bit more meaningful today but things have overtaken me and I’ve got distracted by shiny things again. Mind you, since I’m here, I feel I may as well share some of the shininess with you.

First up; the audiobook, MTM starts fidgeting and jiggling about with poorly suppressed excitement and glee. Last night Gareth The Voice sent me the recording of Few Are Chosen to listen to. It’s the weekend, and I have things to do and Real Life to interact with but I managed to get to chapter 17 as I wandered round the market. The first appearance of Humbert made me laugh out loud and the good burghers of Bury St Edmunds  around me stepped gingerly away from the mad woman guffawing to herself! My early first impression is a good one. I still can’t quite believe that a person with a voice that’s so totally right for the story has popped up out of nowhere, unbidden. Then again, Gareth is a bright bloke and he’s probably smart enough to pick something that his voice fits. I’m just delighted it was my stuff.

There could have been a lot of auditioning, even if I’d had anything approaching the money, and it had been on the radar. And while it could have been a lady or a man, I would have spent ages trying to find the right person. Instead, he finds me. I have been an unbelievably jammy bleeder in this respect.

It feels as if, finally, when the unicorn farted, I contrived to be vaguely downwind. Mmm. Go me. Phnark.

It’s a really intriguing process, and kind of nerve racking in a way, so, for example, Gareth’s Lord Vernon is kind of a cross between Donald Pleasance doing Blowfeldt, with a dash of Peter Cushing saying, ‘you may fire hwhen ready,’ in Star Wars. It’s quite strange because it’s not quite how I imagined it, but bloody hell it works. He sounds so fucking evil! Mwahahahahrgh! Several folks who have listened to Unlucky Dip since I posted it here thought Gareth had Big Merv and The Pan bang on, too.

Second, yesterday, I managed to sort out this year’s, or at least, next year’s EyebombThereforeIAm calendar. I’ve used the prize money I won in the photographic competition and had 100 copies printed. So far, I have offered to sell it and split the profit with three separate entities. Hopefully that should account for all 100. Having them printed up front does give me a chance of actually getting somewhere with them because it’s cheaper so I can sell them for £10.99 rather than having to sell them for £16.99 to make 99p profit. I think I may have misspelled instagram in the blurb on the back though. Such is life. It wouldn’t be me if I got this stuff 100% right it seems.

Third, the next instalment of the Hamgeean Misfit series of shorts should be ready for editing by the middle of next week. Indeed the only thing that’s stopping it at the moment is my usual chronic lack of cash. I’m hoping to have it ready for sale by January though, since it’s sort of, about Christmas really, but a midwinter-ish release date is fine.

Fourth, Future Adventures seems to be doing well, I am loving it anyway, but other readers seem to have enjoyed the book I put in and have bought the others. There’s been a significant uplift in income this month … or to put it another way, there’s been some, and I can’t think of anything else that would be responsible. Whoopeee!

On the home front, we are ramping up for Dad’s memorial service, not next week but the week after. It should be fun as it will just be a celebration more than anything. A group of people standing around telling silly stories about him. When I think about Dad now, I am just overjoyed to have known such a lovely chap, and unbelievably proud that he was my Dad. I do also feel that I have to step into his shoes, try harder at acts of random kindness and at being the voice of reason. I will post more about that soon, but I have to be in the right mood to write it up and at the moment I’m just too exuberant and excited about all the other stuff.

Yeh, another champagne week, I guess.

_____________________

If you’re interested and missed it before, you can find out more about Future Adventures and Small Beginnings by clicking on the links, below:

Future Adventures

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 1

If you click the Small Beginnings link and scroll down, you can also sign up to be informed when the other books in the series come out.

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This week I am mostly …

On holiday! Indeed, that being the case, I was going to have a week off. However, as a writer of comic science fiction fantasy, which is mostly just fantasy with science in, it’s difficult to come here and not be inspired.

Where the Goojan Quarter backs onto the canal.

As you know, those of you who’ve read any of my books, most of the K’Barthan action is set in Ning Dang Po, the nation’s capital city. I imagine it being a bit of a mix up. A few years before the action in my stuff begins the Grongles invaded K’Barth. In doing so they bombed large chunks of K’Barth to bits, including parts of the capital. Many of these areas are still bomb sites, while others have been developed, new shiny stainless steel and glass buildings are going up in the commercial centre.

Ancient streets of the Goojan Quarter

A lot of the old warehouses, which I imagine as either medieval or Victorian stand empty, although some have new Grongle owned or Grongle sponsored businesses moving in – the Grongles have destroyed most K’Barthan trade by systematically taxing it out of existence, or they have simply appropriated K’Barthan businesses into Grongle ownership.

It doesn’t always work like that of course, there’s a point at which anyone is too rich to touch. Then there’s ‘old’ Ning Dang Po, which tends to come in a variety of architectural styles but if you’re trying to imagine it, think eighteenth century Britain back to medieval and Tudor. Imagine the shambles in York, with shades of Bath but mostly run down and then throw some of the new bits of the City of London into it all hugga-mugga.

One of the wider streets maybe?

The new shiny buildings are built by Grongle companies with Grongolian finance and are not available for the use of ‘native’ K’Barthans. Sometimes K’Barthans are full-on barred but mostly it’s just a case of K’Barthans lacking the hard cash, case in point The Planes, where Big Merv lives. Other K’Barthan buildings have been reallocated for Grongolian use only, their original K’Barthan residents evicted to make way for the many Grongle officers and their families moving in.

So now you have this kind of two tier system where the Grongles have nearly all the money the privilege and the power and the K’Barthans are their second-class servants. At the same time, the oldest parts of the city, those still standing, have aroused a strange kind of sentimental streak in the Grongles who have slapped preservation orders on the areas they consider to be ‘pure and true’ architecture, as well as completely assimilating others. One of the things about the Grongles is that they think K’Barth

Nearly The Parrot’s courtyard.

and K’Barthans were once great but have now become decadent or dissolute. They are determined to reform their K’Barthan subjects, although some hard liners think K’Barthans are beyond redemption and wish to destroy them.

A place that crops up a couple of times, especially in the new series I’m writing is the Goojan quarter, where the houses are very close together, the streets narrow and where the land was, originally, far too valuable to waste on things like courtyards and gardens – these are now all on the roofs.

At the moment, I don’t really have any pictures of the kind of new, shiny, steel and glass Ning Dang Po and a lot of the other bits, think Ely in Cambridgeshire or possibly some of the back streets of Cambridge, or for the posher areas bits of Bath and Buxton. But I do have some pictures of the Goojan Quarter, or at least I have some pictures that are about as close as reality gets, now that I’ve spent a week in them! Here’s a little snippet of stuff about the area in question from Too Good to be True which will be out early next year, if I can get the cash together for editing any time before I die of old age (rolls eyes).

Enjoy.

________________________

Excerpt from Too Good To Be True:

The Pan made his way through the twisty streets of the Goojan Quarter, they were narrow, cobbled, and at street level, dark. The ancient houses were close enough together at the bottom, but in times gone by the Goojan Quarter had been prime real estate. Most of the merchants opening businesses there could only afford a small area of such premium land and since it came at couch a premium nobody was going to waste any on wide boulevards. The streets and alleyways were wide enough to let a cart through and that was all. There was also a complicated one way system which all beings followed, even now.

Few of those early merchants could afford a home after stumping up for a plot of land in the Goojan Quarter so many lived above their shops and businesses with their families. In order to maximise the amount of living space they would build the floor above jutting out a few feet over the shop window below. As time went by they built more and more floors, each one jutting further out than the ones underneath, until the streets below became darker and darker and, at the upper levels, it was often possible to reach out of the window and shake hands with the people living in the property opposite. Because of this, the Goojan quarter was one of the few places where The Pan couldn’t really stick to the roofs, or at least not if he wanted to find anything, it was impossible to read the house numbers from above.

Luckily it didn’t matter as much as it should. The Grongles didn’t venture into the quarter often. So, much to The Pan’s relief, he only had to look out for any K’Barthans who might be following him as he moved through the streets at ground level. He wasn’t sure why the Grongles left the Goojan K’Barthans alone. It might possibly be something to do with the height of the first floors jutting out at every street corner. The properties in this part of town had been built hundreds of years previously when all the beings using them were universally smaller and shorter. Even The Pan had to duck sometimes and he was a lot less tall than the average Grongle. He could imagine an unwary might smack his head on every single building.

Yeh, perhaps that was the reason.

On the other hand, The Pan reflected, it might just as easily have been the smell that kept the Grongles away. Goojans used spice, they used spices in ways that even Hamgeeans hadn’t thought of. A visit to the Goojan Quarter was always an aromatic assault. It made The Pan feel hungry, but since many Grongles preferred plain boring food, they probably had a different reaction. Grongles were much like the inhabitants of Ning Dang-Po in that respect.

The mixture of strange and exotic perfumes in the air was particularly strong in the heat; spices, cooking food, aromatic teas and herbs, plus the odd whiff of drains. It was even strong enough to cover the aroma of the spiced sausage in The Pan’s bag. Or at least, if anyone noticed the smell as he passed, they made no sign.

At last he found the place, he checked the address on the card in his hand one more time and knocked on the door.

Silence. Maybe Goldy McSpim was out. No, The Pan had rung the number on the card and asked him for a valuation of goods, hopefully that was vague enough not to bother the Grongles listening in. He checked behind him again, just in case, but he knew, categorically, that he wasn’t being followed. Not at the moment. Then again, The Pan supposed, if he was checking for anyone tracking his movements. Maybe Goldy McSpim was doing the same, for himself. Finally a window opened far above him.

‘Just on my way down!’ called a voice.

‘Right,’ said The Pan. Presumably that was the man, or at least the Spiffle, himself. The Pan slipped the card into his pocket and waited.

At last the sound of bolts being drawn back came from behind the door. Clearly Goldy McSpim was careful about security as there appeared to be about ten bolts. After that The Pan listened to a lot more unlocking sounds and the door finally swung open. It was opened by two ferocious looking Blurpons, creatures related to Spiffles in that they are short and furry but in all other ways about as different as it is possible to be. Blurpons have red fur, as opposed to the orange fur of Spiffles, and are known for their unsurpassed skill at laundering and a tendency to psychotic violence and ease of offence. They have one leg but The Pan knew, from experience, that this wouldn’t present them with a problem if they decided to get antsy. These were Goldy’s bodyguards. They had to be; employed on account of their violent streak rather than their laundering abilities.

‘Ah gentlemen, thank you,’ said a voice from inside. ‘Do let the young man in.’

The Pan was ushered into the coolness of the interior where he listened to the sounds of the many bolts and locks being re-secured behind him. It suddenly occurred to him that if Goldy wanted to steal the sausage and send him on his way with a flea in his ear, it wasn’t going to be difficult. Oh dear had he walked into a trap? Idiot, he should have left half the sausage in the SE2.

Goldy was wearing a beret, which was surprisingly understated for a spiffle, it was only when he smiled that The Pan realised why his hat was so restrained. He supposed the traditional Spiffle love of decoration had to come out somewhere but his teeth? The Pan speculated to himself that Goldy’s nickname was probably something to do with the entirely gold contents of his mouth. Not only were his teeth gold but they were studded with precious gems cut cabochon style; emeralds, rubies and the odd diamond. The Pan realised his own mouth had dropped open and closed it quickly.

‘If I should ever need to leave here in a hurry, the sausage will not travel,’ Goldy explained, ‘this way,’ he flashed The Pan a blinding smile, ‘I will always have some assets with me.’

‘Won’t people notice?’

‘Not if I do not smile,’ said Goldy. ‘Now. Come, come,’ he said and headed off down four stairs at the back of the shop and through a large metal safe door into a back room.

The Pan followed, slightly nervously because if there was any trouble, the only way out was past the Blurpons and he didn’t fancy his chances. Goldy took his place on a tall stool behind a table spread with a crisp white damask cloth. In front of the table was a battered antique dining chair with arms and an open back, the seat upholstered in worn leather.

‘How is Mrs McSpim?’ asked The Pan politely.

‘She is very well, yes, yes.’

‘Please thank her and send her my best wishes.’

‘Ah I think you should wait until I have valued the goods before you thank either of us yes?’

The Pan’s eyes were drawn to the blinding whiteness of the tablecloth. Maybe the two Blurpons did the laundry as well as the bodyguard duties. Yes, of course they did, and come to think of it, there’d be more than two, they would be part of a team and someone would always be on duty, round the clock.

The Pan turned in a circle, examining the rest of his surroundings. Ranged along all four walls of the room were glass fronted shelves. Airtight and climate controlled they were divided into square units like some huge safety deposit area. Well, yes, The Pan supposed, it probably was, he cast another quick glance at the foot thick metal door. He was clearly inside a giant safe.

One of the Blurpons had flicked a light switch and a dim glow illuminated all the boxes. There were a few empty ones, but most contained sausage, some contained two.

‘This is …’ what to call it? ‘Impressive,’ said The Pan. ‘Are these sausages all yours?’

‘Oh no! But as you know a good sausage is expensive! It needs to be kept securely. A bank vault is not good for that purpose, the air is stale. No-no-no, a sausage is a living thing, starve it of the correct temperature or humidity and it will pine away and die, the balance of spices will soon fall off, mould will grow,’ he shuddered, clearly that would be bad. ‘These storage units are state of the art. For a small fee you can keep your family heirlooms here and my assistants will deliver slices of your precious treat to your door, as and when you require.’

‘Heirlooms?’

‘Yes, yes! Some of these sausages have been in the same families for centuries. Our climate controlled storage keeps them at the optimum temperature for years of enjoyment. And we are fully insured, of course, so it is more cost effective, as well as safer, to keep them here than at home.’

‘Yes, I can imagine,’ said The Pan.

‘The service is very competitively priced, if you are interested.’

‘I— well, I suspect I will be selling.’

‘You have debts huh?’

‘Something like that.’

Goldy stared at The Pan, a long hard stare, he had the same look of shewed intelligence as his wife and was clearly missing nothing. He nodded slowly.

‘Please sit.’

The Pan did as he was told, seating himself in the chair and placing the bag with the sausage inside on his lap.

‘Do these all belong to actual beings?’ he asked looking at the shelves around him.

‘You are wondering how there can be so many rich people in the world I would guess. Some are,’ Goldy paused for thought, ‘how would you say it? Unclaimed, they belong to the blacklisted, or the mislaid. They will have family, descendants. One day, I will find them, or they will find me.’

He smiled almost blinding The Pan with another flash of his bejewelled teeth despite the ambient dimness of the lighting.

‘And the others?’

Goldy gave The Pan a long, hard look.

‘The richest few percent of the population have ways of surviving anything. Very little changes for them, no matter who is in charge or what is happeing to the rest of us. It is all a game to them. Now. You have a sausage to show me.’ He held out his paw and wiggled it in the type of beckoning gesture that is the universal sign language for gimme-gimme the world over

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