Tag Archives: creating stuff

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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What on God’s green earth am I doing?

This week I have mostly been, well … to be honest, I’ve been on a bit of a downer. It’s probably just the Christmas blues getting to me, as you know, I loathe it all with a passion and this year, it’s my first one as a demi-orphan, which makes it worse.

On top of that, I think the combination of a moment of extremely bad judgement coming home to haunt me, plus a bit of reality check threw me rather. Also, there’s nothing like a general election campaign to show us humanity at its ugliest. And of course, that makes me miss my dad. Not sick Dad, but the man he was. Who I’m grieving for even more now, it seems.

Eventually, I got so low, I reached the point were I had to open my mental baggage and have a good old rummage about to see if I could work out what the fuck was going on. It culminated with a long chat with my Mum on Wednesday. She’s feeling a bit down, too. I’m going to share the results with you, because as a creative bod, I found them quite illuminating, and quite helpful. Even better, said rummaging complete, I feel several orders of magnitude better about life, the universe and everything this morning. So there we are, I’ve done the thinking so you don’t have to. Fellow creative types will get this, I think, the rest of you may not. It’s difficult to articulate it well, so apologies if I come over as a pretentious prick. Unfortunately, I am. I just hide it well.

Doing any kind of arts, while often a very public act, can also be an intensely personal one for the artist involved. On a more general note, it’s also why artists of all types need self-belief and strength of character in spade loads to keep doing their art, year in, year out. It might even be why some of them suffer from depression. That said, even the successful ones suffer from that. When it comes, validation in the form of popularity, may not necessarily make the artist feel any more fulfilled.

The lovely Dan Holloway wrote a brilliant book about writing and being happy without selling your soul called ‘Self Publish with Integrity: Define Success in your Own Terms and then Achieve It. If you haven’t read it, I can thoroughly recommend it. It is the most lovely book.

In it Dan talks about working out what you mean by success and what your goals are. Know these things, he argues, and you will not be quite so gutted if ‘success’ is more about producing art you are proud of and which speaks of your soul, than art which sells. He talks about the need to get down to the nitty gritty of why you really write so you know, and so your whole business sits on this solid foundation of goals and expectation.

For many years, my rationale has been that I write because I have to. Confidence isn’t a problem. I’m good at something, really not bad, and I want to do that thing. I am a bona fide Authorholic. If I don’t get my fix of writing or writing-related action each day I get pretty crabby, like an addict on the brink of cold turkey. But it’s only recently I realised that, ‘I write because I have to’ isn’t really the answer, because what I need to know is why do I have to write?

Amazingly, it appears that the main reasons are because I have THINGS to say. Sure, I only ever set out to tell a good story and make it funny. I never set out to put the THINGS in, but whatever I write, they are always in there; love, kindness, people being decent to one another, burying their differences to work together, the cost of unkindness, greed, selfishness and the pursuit of money and wealth at the expense of all else. About the danger of treating people as things. I have something to say about the difference between physical and moral courage. About how doing the right thing is really hard the first time but how, no matter how difficult the actual mechanics of acting with integrity are, the more you do, the easier it becomes. I have stuff to say about tolerance, and the nature of true strength of character – which is rather more complicated than just being bolshy or shouting down the opposition with a loud voice. I have things to say about imagination, and how important imagination is to maintain a civilised society where people treat each other the way they’d like to be treated. And of course, I want to make people laugh, because nobody’s going to hoist in that sort of bleeding-heart, love-thy-neighbour, Christian clap-trap unless it’s funny. And anyway, I can’t do serious.

Those things are all quite personal to me. They go deeper than I realised. I think watching my dad ravaged by Alzheimer’s, dealing with the way others behaved towards him, has completely changed me. Perhaps I underestimated the importance of imagination, and using it to put yourself in the place of others. Dad’s suffering also changed the way I view people or social groups with whom I share little common ground. Maybe I can see a bit more clearly where ‘them and us’ tribalism takes us now that I’ve spent a lot of time with one of them. Some people were utterly lovely with Dad and some were utter cunts. Always, their ability to use their imagination, to empathise, was the only difference between the two.

Obviously, all of us creative nutters care about what we do, we wouldn’t do it otherwise. I’d guess, we all have those days when we look at our work and think it’s crap., and other days when we feel we’re on top of the world – and so is our stuff. Then there’s that horrible bit when you send it out into the world for the first time. That moment when you think, ‘Lordy, what have I done? Is it shit?’ That’s a natural part of the creative process. I’d bet my life anyone who does anything creative, ever, will have felt that. But I suppose what I was trying to get to the bottom of with all this introspection, really, is, when I make something I’m happy with, when I think it’s about the best I can do, why am I sad when the world disagrees? Why do I give a toss what the world thinks? And if I do give a toss, what on earth is it that’s driving me to keep spending money I don’t have putting out books only a tiny handful of people want.

And what this has shown me, I think, is that I care a lot more about my writing than I thought. It means that what I do is not just an addiction, but a vocation. I need to write this stuff. All of it; this blog, the books, the non fiction stuff I’m working on. I need to connect with people. I need to try and spread the light and I need to do it especially badly now Dad has gone, because before his illness, he did all that, effortlessly. And maybe, what this also means is that, when I write a book and it doesn’t sell, it’s the complete indifference of the world to my efforts that hurts. Because I need to make these people understand. Then again, there’s always a flip side; if no-one gives a shit, it’s unbelievably liberating because you can write anything you like, right?

With that better understanding of the unconscious emotional investment I make in each of my endeavours, I think I finally get why that rejection is painful. Why it’s hard to shrug off the heartache when, on another level I’m genuinely not bothered. And maybe understanding this simple fact is, sort of, the essence of producing art. Whatever it is; be it drawings, writing, music, dance, acting … you name it. Because that’s what people do isn’t it? They get good at something. And sometimes, they get noticed. But for every one who does, there are thousands of completely invisible people churning out art because something drives them on, or because they believe in what they’re doing and enjoy doing it, and that’s all they need. A lot of it is fabulous stuff. A lot of these people are amazingly talented yet they receive little or no recognition. But it doesn’t stop them. They don’t care if no-one else gets it. After all, they do. So they keep putting themselves out there, for nothing, because they want to, or have to. Weird isn’t it?

Strangely, a big reason I want to earn cash for my creations is my wish to create faster, and to diversify; large print, hardbacks, it’s all missing because it costs money. Money I don’t have. I save up, when I’ve enough cash, I spend it releasing a book. It takes ages because there’s no time in my life for a real job. It would be amazing if I could earn enough from each release to pay for the next one. It’s a modest ambition and my consistent failure to achieve that is galling.

Now, I have to point out that everything I’ve said about creating stuff is pretty much moot on the eyebombing front. Eyebombing actually is something I do, solely, to make people laugh. It’s light and fluffy. I get to pretend that I’m edgy and street by calling myself a street artist. In truth, I’m just a fifty something mum who likes to prick the bubble of the pompous and has failed, spectacularly, to grow up. It’s taking the gentle piss out of the world and myself. I don’t take it seriously. I’m not putting my soul out there or anything.

However, on the back of the positive reaction to the pictures I post, and to the handful of calendars I had printed for family and friends last year, I genuinely believed the calendar would sell. That it would bankroll my next release, or some of it, and raise some money for charity as well. If the calendar sold well, it meant an eyebombing book would sell. It meant that my publishing efforts might become self-financing.

In the event, I have made half the cost back, and managed to raise a few pence for the things I’m supporting. I can chalk this one up to experience, but my pride is definitely dented. And, of course, I’ve made a piss poor judgement call, not to mention a complete fucking idiot of myself, which is always a bit of a bummer.

It was a bit of a blow to discover the truth a time of year when I’m a little more maudlin than usual anyway. Add in the whole demi-orphan aspect and it certainly explains why I was so utterly down for the first part of this week.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, though. By making an absolute tit of myself and pissing my ill-gotten winnings up the wall I have, at least, learned that a book on eyebombing will not sell. I’ve also learned it for a LOT less than the cost of a book on eyebombing. Sure a book would have a longer shelf life than a calendar, and longer to earn out but I fear the shelf life in this instance would be about the same as that of nuclear waste.

If I had enough eyebombing books printed to sell to shops with a decent discount for them and profit for me, apart from bankrupting myself, I should think my descendants would probably be trying to flog the last few in a couple of thousand years’ time. So yeh, calendars-wise, I made an expensive mistake, but it was made with cash I wouldn’t otherwise have had and it could have been so, so much worse. So while I am gutted that my judgement is absolutely fucking miles out, it’s probably just a case of how you look at these things. It was an experiment after all, and it didn’t work out. Dust the sand from your feet and move onwards and upwards.

With the books … well … it’s weird. When I released Small Beginnings it was four years, to the day, since I’d released the previous book. K’Barth is a slow seller (except to a select few loyal fans) so I’d been trying to write other things, but the Real World was doing my head in and it just wasn’t possible. In the end, writing something was better than writing nothing. If that meant more stuff about K’Barth until Real Life calmed down a bit so be it. Anyway, a series of shorter, cheaper books for the haverers to try for less cash made sense, you know, to ease them in. I expected very little from Small Beginnings. I was hoping against hope that I might shift a few more of them over the release period than I had of the previous release but that’s about all.

So did I? Er, no.

Do I care though?

Yes, a bit, but not nearly as much as I did about the calendars. It’s not been a success. But it’s K’Barthan so I haven’t expected it to be. Yes, I feel a bit disheartened in some ways, but people bought it, lovely people who read it, liked it and some even reviewed it. It didn’t completely die on its arse, unlike the calendars.

Furthermore, though I’d planned the launch, it wasn’t the smooth affair I envisaged. For starters, it was suddenly in the middle of an election campaign which is never helpful when you use social media in your marketing. Since the election was announced, most of the on-line groups I frequent have been post-apocalyptically quiet. The cost of advertising has also risen sharply – out of my range – so nothing doing there. Finally, several other authors I know released books at the same time and I missed an opportunity to organise something with them. Teaming up and pooling resources on this kind of stuff always works well.

On the up side, I’ve discovered I can sell books reasonably successfully face-to-face. Conventions and events are clearly the way to go. As my lad gets older it’ll be easier to follow that path. I’ve met a lovely bunch of local authors now as well so who knows, maybe we can work together on that – the cost of a table split between four is much easier to absorb than one on your own.

There’s also been a bit of a change, this last few months, in the way I do my social media interaction, email marketing and Facebook advertising. There’s a K’Barthan Jolly Japery facebook group now, which is a gas. It might be this up-close, personal contact with my lovely readers that fooled me into thinking I was turning the corner. Because though it’s a small group they are hugely supportive. Perhaps I won’t really know if anything’s happening until the group gets bigger. I mean, my books are only ever going to be cult, but if these lovely nutters found me, I can kid myself that others will. Who knows. I’m just glad they’re there.

Perhaps, that’s the secret of happy creativity then; keeping your expectations realistic. Believing in what you do, yet being pragmatic enough to prepare for the worst – even if you are idealistic enough to hope. I’m think I’m, sort of, almost at peace with myself on this. Almost … it’s just that … sometimes … earning the production costs back would be good.

There is a choice, I think. I can try and be an outlier, do something different, or I can write to market. Writing to market will earn me cash, being an outlier won’t. Not unless I’m up there with Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams or JK Rowling. But the thought of trying to find a way to make shape shifters and vampires interesting. Or writing a new slant on manly men fighting other manly men in space – or thin women in leather jumpsuits who are basically, manly men fighting other manly men in space, but with boobs and a high voice … I know it’s what the market wants, and what I should be doing, but the thought of following standard tropes makes something inside me want to curl up and die. I can’t even bring myself to take the piss out of them. I tried with Deirdre Arbuthnot, but I got too interested in her back story and it all went to pot.

I always knew that, if I wrote the books I like, it’d be a niche. I mean, I can’t remember what the actual letters in my Myers Brigg profile are, but it’s 8% of the population. That’s a small niche. Sure 8% of the world’s readers has to be a big enough chunk, but in marketing terms, it’s still like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is going to take ages to find them.

What all that means, is, I have to get real or get over myself. I must decide if the joy of creating these lunatic worlds is more important than earning a living at it. And when I look at it, deep down, I know I have. Well … for starters, it makes my tax returns a lot less complicated to do.

As for the calendars. Well, I’ll just chalk them up to experience and keep on publishing books. Books I like, for the handful of fellow nutters who enjoy them. It really shouldn’t bother me if hardly anyone else gets them. After all, I do and the nutters do. Our own secret in-joke.

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