Tag Archives: full time mum writing

How does it work? Audiobooks.

Today I thought it would be interesting to do a what-are-the-duck’s-legs-doing-underneath style post about audiobooks. Obviously, I know jiff all about audiobooks or producing them so the best place to start is with someone who does; Gareth, The Voice Of K’Barth Davies. This means I also get to post some of the extensive interview he did, which is going to be delivered in several parts to audiobook listeners on my mailing list. Also, because after pestering him with that many questions, frankly, I think the least I can do is share his answers with as many people as possible.

Boing …

Most of you know how it all started, I’m sure, but for those who don’t, I got an email, out of the blue, in July 2019 from Gareth, with a link to Unlucky Dip recorded on audio. Obviously the email was funny so he had me at ‘hello’ – although it was actually  ‘greetings and salutations’ if I remember correctly – but the recording was brilliant as well. Bonus! I had no clue who he was so I had a look at his website.

He was, indeed, an actor and acted for a living, without doing anything else. This, I suspected, made him impressively bloody minded and, if he could earn enough not to die of starvation, probably quite good at acting.

Gareth cooking audiobooks …

It looked like he had a sense of humour (always a bonus) a bit of a line in pantomime villains (well, he was going to be reading Lord Vernon, wasn’t he?) and it seems he can also jump very high in the air.

In subsequent conversations, I discovered that he is a even bigger sci-fi nerd than I am, which takes a bit of doing.

One of the jolly side effects of this project has been that meeting of the spuds aspect! Put it like this, he kept rabbits at one point and one of them was called Wicket – after the Ewok, naturally. He was a children’s entertainer for many years and you need something to pull out of the … well … I think it was a house rather than a hat but you get the picture.

He can do funny, which is fairly essential for reading my stuff and he is very modest about his achievements. I suspect he’s a lot more distinguished than he makes out.

Having decided the project was go, both of us were feeling our way a bit at the beginning. He hadn’t done a commissioned book before and I … well audio was definitely on my radar but I’d looked at the prices and chalked it up as something to do in my dreams for now. So I hadn’t read up on it or anything and consequently, I hadn’t a fucking clue what I was doing (now I have read up on it I still haven’t a fucking clue but that’s by-the-by). Gareth made relatively few actual mistakes, even on these first books most of the errors I picked up were my own typos. Sheesh.

We were both quite nervous, after recording the first novel, Gareth sent the link to me with the rider, ‘Basically, I’m just hoping for any reaction other than “what the hell have you done!?!”‘

There was also something that went slightly skew whiff with the set up on the third and fourth books because he was experimenting with the sound set up. He did explain it, I think it was called ‘sound gate’ if I recall. Then it was my turn to be nervous, principally, about the weird nature of the feedback I was giving him.

When he’s not illuminated in green or dressed up in costume Gareth looks like this.

Since my only experience of audiobooks was still restricted to Radio 4s A Book At Bedtime it did feel weird marking up a document going, ‘8 minutes 10 seconds you breathed in a weird way there and I heard it!’ I was a bit unsure as to whether I was helpfully pointing out things or being an anally retentive wanker. As someone who is not at all comfortable with the notion of overt wankerdom, I did keep asking, to check. It was probably quite annoying, but Gareth cheerfully continued to reassure me … quite a lot … that it was the former, not the latter!

He has now recorded a lot more audio, including seven of my books, I get the impression that he has definitely evolved a working process that suits him. Clearly, no two people are the same but I hope you will get a general feel for what the process involves and what a narrator does.

As I understand it, Gareth proofs all his own stuff. Some narrators don’t though, so they have to pay someone else to do that for them, usually at an hourly rate. That’s how the costs of audio end up sounding very high. The minute you start to unravel what goes into producing a book you (general ‘you’ here, clearly) start to change your view. Narrating an audio book is way, way more complicated than just sitting (or standing) in front of a microphone and reading stuff aloud as Gareth’s answers show.

Anyway, enough wittering on already. Here he is answering my questions about audio book production.

Gareth on producing audiobooks…

Right oh. First question. You warned me you’d take a while to produce the K’Barthan books but actually I thought you worked impressively fast. How long can you read at a stretch before you lose the will to live have to give your voice a rest?

I work a bit differently now than I did when reading the K’Barth series (I have learned!) For those, I read the whole book through, sent it to you for notes, then rerecorded, edited and mastered the finished piece. That meant that I would just be reading for as much of the day as I had quiet. Which meant, on days where the house was completely empty – if everyone was away for a few days – I could record for many hours. We were up against a very hard deadline to finish the initial reading of the last book because I was leaving the country on tour. I recorded maybe 12 hours each day over a long weekend and I finished reading that at around midnight on Sunday! That’s probably the closest I’ve come to losing the will to live …

Now, I record, edit and master a section each day – that gives the author more manageable chunks to listen to and, on the off-chance a chapter has no notes then it’s finished. Generally speaking, for each hour of finished material, it takes at least two hours to record it, slightly less to edit. So I currently aim to get around 1.5-2 hours done each day, which is roughly 3-4 hours recording and maybe 3 editing. When recording, I tend to work by chapter. So, unless it’s a very short chapter, I’ll take a break; walk around a bit, sit in my comfy chair and – always – go to the loo: you are constantly drinking water when recording.

There was a long stretch at the start of book three where the male MC has a sore throat and Gareth read that with a croaky voice, which was genius. One of the most fun parts of the process is that, if I leave him room to work, this is the kind of thing he does. He did confess to being very relieved when he got to the point where the sore throat is mentioned as having gone. Likewise, I do give some guidance on the voices I want, but mainly because he can do a lot more accents than he thinks he can – and with a gentle (I hope it’s gentle) prompt he can produce a very varied cast of characters, often with just the tiniest tweaks on the same basic set of vocal parameters.

On a side note, that’s also wise advice about the weeing, we know what Billy Connolly said about never passing up the opportunity to use the loo.

Next question …

Do you do voice training and if so, how much? Do you have to do the voice equivalent of warm up stretches before you start reading. Or any other special measures (!) like … I dunno … standing up to read? (that sounds weird but I do it all the time on the phone when I want to make a complaint, or a business call, or pretend I’m a grown up … and I can’t speak and think sitting down sorry. Tangent.). Are there some days where you know your voice is just not going to play ball? Says Mary attempting to break the record for the longest question ever asked.

Oh, there’s a lot there and I feel I might end up giving you an even longer answer than the last one! Yes, I definitely do some vocal warm ups. For starters, I always want to have at least two hours between getting up and starting to record (which isn’t hard cos I’m not a morning person and it takes me ages to get going, anyway). Then, when I’ve got the laptop and mic and everything set up I start warming the voice with some humming, then soft vowel sounds then moving on to phrases I learned 20 years ago at drama school! This isn’t a long process, we’re talking a few minutes rather than half an hour or something, but it’s just until I feel things are fairly loose and I’m not pushing or straining. Then I run through a series of tongue twisters – because tripping over consonants when you’re in mid-flow is deeply irritating and annoyingly frequent!

There are days when you realise your voice isn’t really with it, but you only really know for sure when you’ve started. I’ve had maybe two days where, maybe half an hour in to recording, I’ve stopped and packed it in for the day.

But it’s odd that you mention standing up. I have read everything so far sitting down, but in a session with my singing teacher recently (over zoom, naturally) we found that my system is actually more relaxed and my voice more open when I’m standing, so I’ll be trying that out next – though whether it’s something listeners would be able to pick up on or whether its just for my own benefit remains to be seen…

Gareth’s first standing up book – I think – is Nothing To See Here which we signed off yesterday, as I type this. 🙂

Does your voice change over the course of the day and how do you deal with that when you’re reading audio to a deadline?

Yes, it does change, but maybe not in the way you might expect. Rather than the sound of the voice changing it tends to be more the mental shifting that gets reflected in the way you read. The clearest example of what I mean is that I noticed (to my embarrassment) that chapters I’d recorded first in the day tended to be slightly slower paced than those recorded later – hopefully not in an obvious ‘that’s weird’ way but certainly enough that I started to hear when editing. When you become aware of something like that, you can try to counter it.

In general, I suppose one of the benefits of both voice training and the practical experience I’ve had over the years is that I have a kind of ‘work mode’ so that no matter where or when or what’s going on I do default to that which keeps the voice pretty consistent.

In the 70 or so hours of recorded material Gareth has produced about K’Barth there’s only been two occasions when his voice didn’t play ball, one time he was ill. He was busy being The Fat Controller at Thomas World – a job description that still causes me an unreasonable amount of mirth – sorry Gareth. He was working through the run up to Christmas 2019. The weather was vile; cold and rainy. I should imagine that working outdoors, in the freezing rain, in a soggy fat suit, is a fairly good way to catch pneumonia. I think he felt quite rough for a week. One other occasion, his voice was just tired and not playing ball the exact way he described in the previous answer, so he had to wait until the next day. All in all he’s very consistent, which is handy. Next question …

How do you keep track of what voice you are doing for whom, do they slide a bit from time to time … or do you have an ‘are you nervous son’* for everyone!

* – Gareth told me that to do the accent for Big Merv he would always do one particular line out of Unlucky Dip when BM slaps a giant hand on The Pan’s shoulder and goes, ‘Are you nervous son?’

When I started The Wrong Stuff (book 2) I set up a separate tab on my recording programme. I transferred clips from book one onto it and then added recordings of new characters as they came in. That way I had a quick reference point to go to if I got confused – this was a lifesaver when it came to books 3 and 4. There are several chapters there with eight or more characters in, including many new ones; so I’d think ‘Damn! Which resistance officer is which?’, go and have a listen and then carry on.

Sliding? Yes! Two pairing especially come to mind. The Pan and Ruth, as our central pair, are both more neutral voices so sometimes their dialogue could blend too closely. Also the first few chapters between Deirdre and Snoofle – I kept giving them each other’s accent! But some characters did develop their own reference to help out! Aside from Big Merv’s ‘You nervous son?’, the best is Gladys; whose voice is accompanied by a forward and back shaky right hand! Every single line!

So now I’m wondering whether the hand moves faster if Gladys is talking quickly! I should have asked him.

How do you make up for the lack of audience to keep the buzz and energy in your performance when you record?

That’s not really something I’ve particularly thought about. Obviously for live theatre or concerts or street shows, the audience is a major factor. But there’s also plenty of acting work that happens without one, even in my career which has been predominantly theatre. Even in rehearsals for live shows you’re working for performance level so working without an audience, or rather, working as if there’s an audience is fairly common. It’s mostly just about staying focused on what you’re doing, which is obviously tiring in itself and one reason for frequent breaks!

When I’m recording books, my focus tends to be on the microphone, and the audience I’m thinking about is myself (will I accept that when I’m editing? If not, let’s redo it now) and the author (am I delivering something close to what they had in mind?).

The audio thing … it looks like it takes a hell of a long time to learn; making the booth, learning the tech, choosing the mic, editing out the trains (Gareth lives near a railway line) and mastering the … well … mastering … How long did it take you to achieve book readiness, so to speak?

This is one of those things where, to get to an acceptable level is not too hard, but then you keep learning and making improvements. My booth is basically a corner of my room with a spare mattress behind me (with a very nice Star Wars Lego cover on (next to a Lego Han Solo it says ‘Han shot first), towels on the various surfaces around me and sheets draped in front. I’ve now upgraded so I can remove the sheets.

Gareth’s recording corner, note StarWars tat on top of the sheeted … cupboard? Shelves? That’s probably all the Warhammer figures under there.

I am not remotely tech savvy so that was definitely the thing that slowed me down at first. I followed a guide (specifically for audiobooks) in setting up and using the software I bought. Even now, I barely scratch the surface of all the things that program does and I’m probably ignorant about 95% of it – but I mostly know how to do the things I need it for.

It probably took me two or three months to get comfortable with it, and much of that time was spent playing around recording Unlucky Dip, the short story, and getting that right. Certainly by the time I’d finished the first full book in the K’Barthan Series I felt pretty confident – though I was still referring back to my notes for the mastering process.

Since then I’ve invested in a better microphone and some very clever editing software that makes that process much, much easier! But there are still things I want to learn more about so I can keep improving.

That bit about learning what you need to know to get started completely resonates with me. I’m like that with Facebook ads, I bought a brilliant course a few years ago, learned enough to get them to work and now that’s what I do. There is so much more I could do, and a lot more I want to do, but there’s only so much time and those things come under the other 95%. Mwahahahargh! Sorry, next question.

How many actual hours do you reckon you work for a finished hour of audio?

Oops, I should have read ahead! I half answered this question above. In actual practical terms, for recording and editing, I’d say I’m currently at around 3-4 hours per finished hour. The usual estimate for audiobooks is around 3 hours, so I still have some room for improvement.

That does not, however, include the preparation time. I like to read the book once through just to read it, get the overall story and tone. Then read it through a second time making notes. Technical notes like the start and end page numbers for each chapter and which new characters are introduced when. And performance notes about the characters and any particular points I might need to be aware of when reading. And any questions I have for the author; such as checking pronunciations (we learned that the hard way when I went back and rerecorded every instance of ‘Blurpon’ in Few are Chosen…) their thoughts on character voices and – knowing that typos tend to slip through the tightest knot – even questioning bits of text if I think there might be an error.

Then there’s figuring out the voices. For some books it can be a simple thing of pitch or intonation. Then, there are books like the K’Barthan Series ………..

(Obviously, I loved it. Even when I was desperately running out of ideas towards the end!)

OMG the Blurpon thing! We were both so green at the start. I still feel a bit kind of … wandering in the dark sometimes but Gareth definitely has a process now. Not that he was ever anything other than a consummate professional. He has always come over as efficient and unflappable – and if anything did go wrong, like the Fat Controller flu episode – he kept me updated on progress. But I digress, next question.

Is there anything we authors can do when speccing up the audio job, that would be helpful – apart from the really obvious things like, remembering to tell you how all the made up words are pronounced (doh! Although you got them all right bar one anyway).

There’s that Blurpon again! (I really should read ahead…)

Accents is one (though, having just read ahead (finally) I’ll save that for the last question). But overall, I suppose knowing how much of an input you want, and being aware that there’s a limit to how close to your perfect reading any reader can get.

Some authors (like yourself) have very clear ideas in their heads about how characters sound or how certain phrases should be said, so it’s good to know that going in. Other authors have a more, ‘I’ve written it but you’re reading it, so just let me hear it’ approach. And some are in the middle ground. None is right or wrong, none is better than another. As long as that awareness that its someone else reading it is there. A friend of mine read one audiobook, but the author was so on his case about getting sentences exactly the way she heard them in her head, that he hasn’t done any more!

That’s unbelievably sad about the narrator who was scared off by the micro managing author. I think that, as an author, some of us are micro managing, which is fine. But if an author wants their book exactly the way it is in their head, and will brook no movement from that, the only option is to read it themselves rather than hire someone else. I know a couple of authors who feel this, have accepted it and are, indeed planning to read their own. The rest of us … there needs to be some give. Right at the beginning, Gareth made a point of explaining that, while he would give anything a shot – except a Liverpudlian accent – I needed to understand that all the voicing is being done by one person’s voice and the limits are set by what, exactly, that voice can physically do.

For all the caveat, many characters in the K’Barthan Series sound exactly the way they do in my head; Ada, The Pan of Hamgee, Lord Vernon, Ruth (intonation, tone etc), Big Merv to name the main ones. He also got Sir Robin Get bang on but we used that for Professor N’Aversion because the voice he suggested for for Sir Robin was so much better than the one I specced. In the general narration, he also has exactly the kind of voice I would have looked for had he not approached me. I consider myself extremely lucky in that. I think if The Pan, Ruth, Big Merv and Lord Vernon had been too different, I might have struggled … possibly … I dunno. But there is so much more to this than how the characters sound in inner space.

One of the joys of books is that they are living things in a way no other art form is. Because every other art form is presented to you in its interpreted form by a conductor, producer, director or whatever, but a book is something each reader interprets for themselves. Every single person’s head cinema is different. That’s what makes reading so wonderful, you can imagine it from the author’s cues but that’s just the basic framework; a lot of the rest is up to you, the reader. The way Gareth reads some words is different to the way I do, the intonation on some bits isn’t the same. I love that. It’s like a window into someone else’s thinking; how he sees it and hears it. As a nosey author, that kind of thing intrigues me hugely.

Surely, the overall tone and feel the narrator creates for each book is way more important than the minutiae. Is the way the characters interact true to the original – do their relationships come over, their feelings, their dreams their desires (where applicable) the chemistry between them, or lack of it … For me, there is so much more to it than soundy-likey voices.

Er hem, sorry. Went off on one there. Where was I? Ah yes, last and final question.

Is there anything you would categorically refuse to do as part of an audiobook narration, if asked? Or is it just the Liverpudlian accent? Mwahahahargh!

I can’t think of anything. My standard answer of ‘I won’t do nudity’ isn’t really relevant here.

But accents are where it gets potentially tricky. I’m reasonably good with accents, but I’m not one of those phenomenal accent sponge people. (I made that up, but you know what I mean.) But if there’s an accent required, I’ll do my best. The book I’ve just read had a South African character for a few lines. I did my best as a kind of placeholder while I finished the rest of the book, then went and researched and practised and tried to improve and went back and rerecorded it. It was better but certainly not brilliant. Then I was told that a future book in the series was set in South Africa. So I’m putting in more practise now…

But saying no? While I’m prepared to have a go at most accents, I’m a white European, so if an author came to me with a book set in, say, Asia, with a cast principally made up of Asians, I would suggest they find someone more appropriate to the task!

So there you go … A massive thank you to Gareth for taking the time to answer all my inane questions. I hope his take on doing audio or at least his answers to my questions about it, helps to give you a feel for what’s involved. And if you want to find out more about Gareth, you can visit his website here.

Also, one of the best chapters he did was one in Few Are Chosen, you can listen to that on soundcloud here.

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Oh and if you’d like to listen to Gareth’s work, why not try one of my audiobooks? OK not this one because we only signed it off yesterday so it’ll be a month or so before it appears online … and it probably won’t appear on Audible until next year. But anyhoo if you want a listen there are two ways to do so for nothing:

Thing one: If your local library uses Hoopla, Overdrive and Odilo so you should be able to find them on many local library apps – just ask your librarian if they aren’t obvious as some libraries have to buy a copy and you have to borrow it one at a time, others do a thing where multiple people can listen at once and I get paid per check out. The point is, they pay me but you get to listen for free.

Thing two: if you just want to see what it’s like, you can listen to an entire 90 minute story for free if you decide to join my Readers’ Group. A story that isn’t available anywhere else. You also get to listen to Unlucky Dip, the 30 minute short, for free as well.

Alternatively, for a list of my audiobooks, and links to buy from me, direct, or from the main stores, go here.

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Filed under General Wittering

Well … that was weird …

Lancing Beach. Just to throw you when I’m talking about Suffolk beaches later. Some guy found a gold coin here.

A strange week all round. I was going to share some of the questions and answers I’ve been doing with Gareth, because they are hilarious but a couple of bits happened that I thought I’d share instead.

First up Mum. As you know, Mum has dementia. She passed the NHS memory test with flying colours but then, everyone does. My Dad did, even after his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s in 2012 As far as I know, they were still giving him this stupid memory test until 2017 – because nobody told us or the Doctor about his diagnosis until then so we still didn’t know what he had – and he was still passing the bloody thing with flying colours. It’s not just the patient who is in denial for ages when dementia rears its head, it seems. The NHS also.

As well as dementia Mum has arthritic knees. A while back, in 2015, she had them looked at. The surgeon thought a new knee would be too complicated and that the requirements of the recovery process too taxing but they did give her a new hip, which she also needed. To be honest, I think the knee was more the problem but half was better than none and it did remove a fair chunk of pain so that was good.

Off I go wandering from the topic again … back to the point … the result of not having had her knee done is that Mum has one particularly dodgy knee which tends to give way on her. The other day it did and she ended up on the floor and hit her head – I blogged all about it here. Quick recap: because she’s on blood thinners, she had to go to hospital and have a brain scan. She had to go in alone because … Covid … which for someone with dementia who has banged their head, is not ideal. They were great with her, though, and she did well too. They took her in at three pm and was ready for collection by six. But she explained that her knee had given way and she’d grabbed the nearest thing for support which was, unfortunately, a door handle, so the door opened and she slid gently to the floor where she ended up wedged in a small space and so she couldn’t get up.

Having had this mishap, I thought that maybe it was time to get her something a bit more stable than a walking stick to use in the house. A Zimmer frame wasn’t much good as she’s quite frail and couldn’t lift it. She uses a fold up thing with wheels and a seat when she is outside which, I believe, rejoices in the name of a ‘rollator’. These are great because the wheels make them easy to push, the seat provides welcome respite from standing too long and they have breaks to help you control them. This one is ideal for outside but she needs one that’s smaller for use in the house. I had a look … God bless the internet … and found some that I thought might do.

Three Wednesdays ago, I sat down with Mum and the Carer and we looked at three wheeled light weight rollators. There wasn’t one with a seat, well there was but it was about £200 but I found one with a bag that she could use to get from one part of the house to the other. She can still put the secateurs in it lay flowers across the top of the bag etc. Having found it, I showed it to her and we had a chat and she decided it might be a good thing to have so I ordered it, there and then.

A week later and one of Mum’s carers found one that another lady wasn’t using. It wasn’t light weight but she thought it might be useful. I agreed it might be and suggested she bring it round and I’d cancel the other, except of course that the other then proceeded to arrive. Usually when you buy these things you get an email saying it’s been despatched. In this case, we didn’t. So it turned up without warning.

The Carer looking after Mum that day opened it, set it up and Mum … went into orbit.

I kid you not. She rang me, incandescent with rage, asking what the blazes I thought I was doing buying stuff without even consulting her. It was rubbish anyway, she fumed, because it doesn’t have a seat. How could she sit and talk to her friends if it didn’t have a seat?

I tried to explain that it was to use in the house, to replace her stick because it was more stable but a bit more compact than the one with a seat which she uses outside. There was no point in having it then she needed to do various things with it and without a seat she couldn’t.

‘But your stick doesn’t have a seat …’ I said.

‘No and so I can only sit in the kitchen or the drawing room because I can’t get in and out of the chairs anywhere else.’

Fair point but she doesn’t go anywhere else and she uses a shower stool I bought her (God bless you second hand shops in Galashiels). Sometimes though, Mum’s now is not the same as ours. I think she was at some point where she needed a walking aid but was still quite spry and doing stuff about the house. Things like cooking, and sending and replying to emails on her computer. She hasn’t done any of that for ages. I hadn’t properly clocked that her perception of when she is is changing, or how extensive her dementia is because she’s still so normal to talk to … usually.

I asked her if it might not come in handy?

Anyway, She told me in no uncertain terms that it bloody well wouldn’t, that it must be packed up forthwith and sent back.

After gently explaining to Mum that we had ordered it together and that she’d had a very hectic week and must have forgotten, she finally simmered down but wasn’t keeping it, oh no,  she wanted it sent back and replaced with the version that had a seat. Now.

This is where I cocked up. The way you do this with a demented person is not to set them right on the facts, you just say, ‘oh dear, they’ve sent me the wrong one,’ or ‘oh dear, how did I manage to order the wrong one,’ and leave it at that. It would have saved a lot of angst filled explaining.

Never mind, let’s get on with it shall we. I’d bought the thing online with her debit card, because I have power of attorney, except the bank don’t know that or they won’t give us a card so I did it pretending to be her. Easy then, I’d ring them up and sort it out but … they were not answering the phone unless it’s really urgent because … covid. Ugh. So I emailed them. Yes they would take it back. No they would not be able to replace it with another one with a seat, have me pay the difference and swap one for another. Oh and the cost of return would be £16.

Sixteen quid! The fucking thing only cost £48.

Bollocks.

The Carer who’d found a similar one hadn’t brought it round yet and seeing the chat about this on the … well … chat, she asked if she should.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but hide it, she may come round to using it. We’ll have to see.’

In the meantime, since the company that had sold me the new one didn’t have the one with the seat in stock I just thought it best to hang fire for a bit. The carer packed the new walker away and hid the box away where Mum wouldn’t see it.

Two weeks on, and during this week’s visit, the Carer told me that she’d managed to get Mum to use the second hand one for a bit on Monday but she’d suddenly refused on Tuesday. I thought I may as well give it a go, so I wheeled it in to the drawing room and asked her if she’d like to try it. She quite liked it but wasn’t sure because … well because she uses her stick to pull things closer, pick things up, press buttons and light switches she can’t reach, point at stuff etc. That said, after a short test run during which she really quite liked it, I left her with it by her chair.

Thursday morning and she told the Carer how wonderful it was and that maybe we should get it cleaned up.

‘We could but d’you know Mary ordered you a new one, I think it arrived the other day.’

‘Did it?’ Mum asked.

The Carer said that yes, it had and asked if Mum wanted it set up for her.

‘Oh yes please.’

Apparently it is now a hit. So much of a hit that, nine days on from ringing me in a fit of something approaching rage at its arrival, she rang me to say thank you and tell me how wonderful it was.

That, people, is dementia. Light and shade, rain and sun, on and off: random.

The obligatory seal pup picture taken on the beach I was actually at this weekend. 🙂

On a personal note, remember I did an entire day’s metal detecting without sitting down for lunch the other day? Yeh. Well that was a bad idea, I did my back in. It recovered after two days so, happy that all was well again I did more metal detecting on the beach (only for an hour and a half) went for a walk etc. We saw a seal pup and I took the obligatory Norfolk (well … Suffolk) coast seal cub picture. Awww or what. Then we went and had supper at friends. At which point, back fully recovered, I was able to remove the pain relief pad while I was there and felt oh so much better. What a relief.

Or not.

The next day, the back pain was back a little and starting to get a bit worse, but nothing major. Thursday morning. Arnold’s dingleberries! It was hideous! Friday; also hideous, and even today it is still evil. Needless to say the first day anyone who might be able to fix it can see me is Wednesday next week. Of course. And needless to say the first day I can see anyone is Friday. It could be worse … I had a club dig scheduled for tomorrow, which I don’t think I’d have been able to go to, and now I have a week to get better, or at least, well enough to do an afternoon of metal detecting without three days of scream ab-dabs afterwards.

The pain levels have been pretty grim. Up there with breaking my collar bone in the constant nature of the pain and, when it has subsided a little, the ease with which the slightest of movements will set it off. Also, at the risk of being a bit personal here … weeing. Or more to the point wiping. Fucking hell that hurts. How, in the name of the almighty do women with chronic back pain wipe their arses every day? Is there a lot of screaming? Is there a … surgical device? Jeepers. It’s alright for you blokes, all you have to do is wave it about a bit and shove it back in your trousers. We ladies have to get our hand a great deal further round and fuck me that smarts. I never thought I’d envy the ancient Romans their communal loos with the sponge on a chuffing stick, but frankly, even the prospect of wiping my personal bits with device of dubious provenance that had been used by multiple others – and probably not washed particularly well – would be preferable to the pain of doing it my bastard self. I have, at least, reached the point where I don’t dread going to the loo but it’s still about as much fun as sticking cocktail sticks into my own eyeballs and possibly slightly more painful.

Yeh so … maybe little bit too much information there. Yeh. On that note … I’ll leave you. Don’t have nightmares kids.

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If you need to take your mind off that last paragraph …

You could always pop over to Kobo or WH Smith and download my latest audiobook from the Kobo Sale. It starts officially on 9th September but it has been reduced from £5.99/$6.99 to £2.99 and $3.99 the kobo link, among others, is on this page … here.

Small Beginnings is not quite out at all retailers but getting there … slowly. More on that story … here.

Read by Gareth (The Voice of K’Barth) Davies to the usual extremely high standards. If you want to see what it sounds like, you can catch a listen to Chapter 1 from my soundcloud page here. Or click on the picture.

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Treasure

Yeh, I know it’s about five hours after the usual time but things got out of hand.

Two different types of treasure this week. First the lovely one that is McOther. Ah bless him. This week he was sixty, a thing that I find almost incomprehensible. He looks about 45 if that. Anyway, in order to mark the occasion I decided I needed to do something. After a bit of discussion with a friend, and McMini, I hit on a series of days out at air museums. I’ve offered him four and he can pick one although there are a couple that I might buy for all three of us at Christmas so long as enough people (or anyone) buys some of my books.

Meanwhile our ‘bubble’ decided we would meet and sort out a birthday evening along the themes of Not France. But clearly the ‘not’ was the same as the ‘nothing’ in Nothing To See Here. We had tarte flambé and wine, obviously. Quite a lot of wine. And then we had Scottish salmon, as a nod to his country of origin. Then to acknowledge where he grew up, we did a Canadian delicacy. Tortine which was, basically, meat pies. I got the recipe from my Canadian sis in law.

As you can imagine, not much of the organising here was done by me. It was very much a group effort because my inability to arrange … well … anything much is known and understood by all our friends. However, I was tasked with the pies and some salmon bites for the champagne. In order to ensure I got this right, I bought everything I needed at the market on Saturday, and from M&S on Sunday. The salmon things were easy to assemble, the pies looked like they were going to take a bit more cooking. For starters the ingredients was all in cups. That’s fine because I have purchased some cups or at least, North American cups because I believe Australian cups are different and New Zealand cups different again.

As a metric raised child with imperial parents I can do lbs and ozs and I can do kg and grammes. Cups are weird but so long as they stick to cups and teaspoons and don’t start suddenly throwing in 200 grammes of something I’m usually OK.

The recipe called for shortening, which I have never heard of until recently, but now I know this one! It’s lard. So I went up to town and M&S had something called baking block, which looked more like margarine when I got it home and, more worryingly, seemed to comprise mostly palm oil. Fucking Nora, I’m killing the planet. Never mind. Press on.

Casting an extremely blind eye to the rain forest murdering ‘lardgerine’ I was using I consulted the recipe and hit a snag. It comprised two cups of flour and one cup of shortening. I looked at the green plastic scoop and at the thing that was not butter but looked like a pat of butter on the counter. A thing that was, undoubtedly, very solid. How did I cupify that? Did I just squelch it into the plastic measure or what? Maybe I was supposed to melt it. Except that I didn’t really know what I was making, but the recipe was echoing somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain. Yeh. If this turned out to be bog standard pastry I was making here, melting it would be a bad idea.

In the end I decided that if it was two cups flour and one cup shortening it must be, basically, two to one. So I tipped the flour into the scales, worked out there was roughly 8oz and so I put 4oz of shortening in. Though I say it myself, the result was a reasonably decent bash at what did, indeed, transpire to be shortcrust pastry. It may be that if I’d found some actual lard it would have been proper meat pie pastry, you know, pork pie style. Not sure. It was alright though. Sure, I could have got some JusRoll but sometimes it’s nice to make this stuff and have it without all the extra additives and shit.

The mince bit of the recipe was much easier; mostly in lbs and ozs and standard tablespoons etc with the odd ‘cup’ of chopped onion or whatever thrown in. Having successfully combined the ingredients for the pie stuffing and made what I have to confess was a really quite decent filling, I got to the bit where it said I should put two tablespoons of corn flour.

We had cornflour. I knew we did. McOther had bought it to thicken something or other a few weeks previously but he’d also tidied the larder so I couldn’t find it. There was none. Now, I only have a certain number of ‘spoons’ on the energy front and it’s not many. I’d used most of my energy quotient for that day going up to town to get the ingredients. Any left I was using for cooking. Furthermore, I was at a point in that cooking when I couldn’t easily leave it. I was going to have to improvise. OK so we didn’t have cornflour but we did have custard powder. If you look on the side of a tin of custard powder, the ‘ingredients’ are corn flour, salt and yellow dye. So I put two tablespoons of custard powder into the pie mix. That was great, except I’d already salted it so now it was way too salty.

Oops.

Only one thing for it then, more water and wine in the mix. Luckily it didn’t do it any harm and – bonus – meant I didn’t have to produce the traditional gravy to go with!

The pies came out looking a lot tidier than the kitchen.

Eventually I managed to bake a couple of experimental pies and hit on which dishes I’d use. All my round biscuit cutters, the ones I was going to use for the pie crusts, they’d moved to somewhere else during the great larder tidy and of course, when pressed, McOther had long since forgotten where. Luckily we had one of those rings they press your veg into when you go to a posh restaurant and have potatoes dauphinois or something in a perfect circle. So I used that for the lids. For the Scottish pie style hole in the middle, I found a thing to put in the top of olive oil bottles which had a little plastic stopper that went on top. The stopper was the perfect size for cutting a small hole in the middle.

Eight decent pies and a dodgy experimental one at the front.

Come Wednesday morning, when the chips were down, I managed to produce some reasonably decent looking pies to heat up that evening. I glazed them with an egg and ate the rest of it, scrambled, for lunch afterwards. I’d already tasted one of the experimental pies and enjoyed it but that doesn’t always mean much when serving them up to Michelin star husband and friends. When I cooked them that night, because they were a bit of an unknown quantity and we’d already eaten a lot of other stuff, I cooked four between the six adults. They made me go and cook two more. So all in all, I think they were a success. So much of a success that I might even cook them again.

Next lot of treasure … some stuff I found. I have upgraded my metal detector. Or at least I have a new one on sort of HP from a friend. It’s like my old one only lighter and even easier to understand.

Yesterday I went metal detecting. I learned many things, principally that my new rain mac is not waterproof, that my waterproof trousers are also no longer waterproof and that detecting all day is probably too many spoons. But after searching some areas where the farmer wanted us to search for lumps of iron, during which I also happened upon a rather lovely watch winder, we went and had a quick hour and a half looking on a field where there was less iron to remove and some other, rather more interesting non-ferrous items as well.

Here’s a picture of the watch winder, which looked rather straightforward but turned out to be rather pretty when I cleaned it up.

For the non initiated, iron usually equals junk. Not always, but a lot of the time. To my delight, the new detector gave me a very accurate picture of what was what. I also found the fifth best find of all time for me, a silver thimble from the 1650s. We’d just been discussing our favourite eras as we walked to the field and I’d said I thought it was the 1600s for me because it was such a turbulent century.

Because the thimble is over 30o years old and more than 10% precious metal it’s actually classed as ‘treasure’ officially.

That means I have to hand it in to the representative from the portable antiquities scheme. I may get it back or it may be purchased by a museum for about £10 because it’s worth seven tenths of bugger all. But it’s interesting because it’s rare. Many of these were handed to the commonwealth and melted down to make money so there aren’t so many left. It’s an interesting thing. I was chuffed because I worked the date out from the type of writing and the fact it reads, ‘Fere God Truly’ which, I felt, pointed to turbulent times. I also found a James 1 penny, too, which was interesting.

This is my second find that is officially ‘treasure’ the other was a bit of a silver Saxon strap end. I think it takes two to three years for the process to go through.

Well … it is the civil service and government after all. The little thing next to it is a James 1 penny. It’s a pity a bit’s broken off because the detail is lovely.

The new detector is called an ORX and bears more than a passing resemblance to the SSS Enterprise, which amuses me. ORX is usually pronounced as the letters in turn, an O-R-X but actually, if you say them, as if they’re a word, you get orcs.

The orcs found me treasure. Bless ’em. That’s a first for us all. Even so.

Woot.

I have done very little new writing this week but I am editing Too Good To Be True like a demon. I am struggling with a canal boat chase though. Canal boats and barges here in Britain have a top speed of about 4 knots. A knot is about 1.2 something miles per hour.

As you can imagine, I loved the idea of making K’Barthan barges and canal boats the same, and then having two parties in boats that go at walking pace in a grim-faced, slow-motion chase to the death. I want people to run along the tow path throwing bottle bombs and our hero to smack them back with an oar, I also think he should probably give them a tow with his snurd, except I don’t think I can quite jemmy those bits in. I have to have the folks on the barge handing him something, in full view of the pursuing hoards. Naturally, that’s thing the ones chasing are after, so our hero can then fly away to draw off any airborne pursuit. Which he does. And they then disappear into the … fog … night … trees … tunnel? Sheesh. I dunno.

The folks in the boat live on it. It’s their home so they can’t give it up. However, they can give it a make over so it looks completely different in about thirty minutes. They can’t get caught at that point because I’ve written a show down that I really like – mainly because it involves Big Merv. I really like the whole book. No-one else will, but I do. Which makes it tricky.

Also, the canal boat chase is something I have to write straight, because otherwise it won’t come out funny. And I love the idea that some people will see it in their heads, see the incongruity of it and laugh their heads off while others will completely miss that. But if it still works it won’t matter and either path will be fine.

It’s tricky though. I might have to rest it again for another couple of months.

__________________________

If you’re impatient for the next book in the Hamgeean Misfit Series why not try listening to some of my books on audio.

Read by the distinguished and extremely talented Mr Gareth Davies, who has turned the K’Barthan series into a bit of a gem. You can find out more about them here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio.html

Also, Small Beginnings is on its way to market in audio format. Once again, read by Gareth who is a bit of a dab hand at comedy. It’s available on Kobo already and should land at the other retailers soon.

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Arnold’s pants!

Blimey but it’s windy here. Must be all the fruit I’m eating. Oh ho ho. The weather is pretty blowy too. Storm Ellen, I thought we’d had Ellen after Dennis but thinking about it I think that was some Spanish one with an exotic name from far further down the alphabet that muscled in.

This week I’m feeling a bit bleargh. I dunno why really because, as things go, I’ve actually achieved a bit of a score.

McOther is 60 next week and I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. Except with covid that’s hard and also McOther, himself, while he likes to be made a fuss of, also, does not like to be made a fuss of. So if you’re going to plan some jolly birthday japes for him you do rather have to go about it the right way. This involves tact, intelligence and subtlety so as you can imagine, I’m pretty much bollocksed from the get-go on that one. I toyed with the idea of buying him a trip in a Spitfire. They do those just down the road at Duxford. Trouble is, while I could, just, run to it, it would wipe out my entire savings … and I have another £1,500 headlight pending for next month. Thinking further, I hummed and haaad about casting the net wider. I reckoned that a fair few friends and colleagues would have chipped in five or ten quid reducing it to a more manageable dent.

However, I am piss poor at fundraising so I’d have probably raised about thirty quid and McOther would have been unimpressed if I’d blown my savings. While I’m scratching my head over this conundrum. Up pops a friend who knows someone who works at Duxford and she suggested some other tours and experiences which this lady is involved in. After a bit of a search, Bob’s your uncle! I think I have found several things I can offer him which he would love. Two or three options at Duxford, one at Biggin Hill, all look completely brilliant.

Next, with a short list, came the oh-Lordy-which-one moment. I’ve narrowed it down to three … possibly four … although unfortunately under 15s aren’t allowed on one, and with the covid malarkey, Duxford aren’t answering their phone so I couldn’t ring and ask them for details (ie does it apply to all their tours or just that one and is it an insurance exclusion, or is there scope for accommodating an extremely sensible twelve year old). I will offer him all three, some as a family day out and some as just him and he can pick the one he wants. And there we are. Some things he might like! Woot.

Then there is the party. Boozy Wine dinner and staying over at some friends who we ‘bubble’ with. Yes I have to cook some things I have never cooked and they will probably taste like shit but luckily someone else is making the cake and I’m not doing all the food. Much of it will be produced by People Who Can Cook! Phew! So Real Life wise … mood nervous but at the same time, cautiously optimistic.

Oh no …

On the books front. Things are a bit crap to be honest. Nothing is selling very well at the moment and I’m trying to organise a free first in series box set for comedic science fiction fantasy. I am extremely nervous. I’m shit at placing stuff like this in the marketplace because I suck royally at keywords. Also, I need to get some covers done and I can’t really afford to ask my usual lovely people to do that so it’s going to be downloaded Creative Commons NASA images with big hand drawn letters … and a unicorn in a space helmet, or possibly Pegasus sans space helmet saying ‘Yes! I achieved escape velocity. That’s magic.’ Or ‘I bet you’re wondering how I can breathe up here, right kids?’ With an astronaut in a space suit going, ‘that’s magic.’ Or hopefully something else that’s actually funny. Anyway, it looks as if there are six of us … hopefully … unless one pulls out. I might do one more appeal for entrants! Ideally we need to be seven or eight, I think.

Writing isn’t going very well either. I haven’t. Not for ages, because Real Life. The only time I’ve had to write this week is now and instead I have to do this. And it’s not going well anyway. The K’Barthan short that’s turned into a novel is a bit of a nightmare and I shouldn’t have called them shorts because if they were called ‘K’Barthan Extras’ I could have put in for a bookbub on them but because they’re ‘shorts’ I can’t. Arnold’s pants! Head desk. I am a total moron. But I’ve reached that point in the process when you are doing the first edit and you look at it and think, crikey this is awful. But of course when you’re mid edit that’s usually because it is. I have a canal boat chase. I so want to keep it in because frankly, few things seem funnier to me than the idea of two vehicles, each with a top speed of 4mph, locked in a grim pursuit to the death. It’s just that … how do I get rid of the people running along the towpath and won’t the bad guys have airborne snurds and just … yeh, heavy on the suspension of disbelief unless I can think of a bloody good reason for it to be just the boats … you get the picture.

Also I’ve been redoing some of my auto responders. The audio ones. So they are now in alignment with the ebook ones in that they start with the mailing list exclusive free book, Night Swimming and then give people Unlucky Dip and then go on with various other bits and bobs.

Revamping these involved looking at my ebook auto responder set up because that seems to engage people quite well. At the end of it, quietly gaining entrants, I have a survey. The idea is that I can find out what readers love and … you know … give it to them. One of the questions asked is how many of my books they’ve read. The people who answer this thing have all been on my mailing list at least a year so by the time they are invited to fill it in so, in theory, they should have read some of my books, right? I mean, otherwise, what the fuck are they doing there? When I examined the answer to that question it turns out the bulk of them have read one or two books – ie the two free short stories I’ve given them – and most of the rest haven’t read anything. Weirdly, I have people on my mailing list who send me chatty, supportive emails who have never read one of my books. I just … dunno what to do.

Worse, one total bastard has joined my list, downloaded the mailing list exclusive and posted it for sale on a pirate site, which is a bit of a shitter, especially as I can’t even sling the fucker off because I don’t know who it was.

Conclusion, over half of the people on my mailing list are other authors who have joined to see what I do. Solution, shut the fuck up about your mailing list on author marketing chat groups. Send them more excerpts and deleted scenes and keep pointing the people who pathologically refuse to pay for a book to their local library or local library’s ebook app.

I can’t do excerpts with the audio, sadly, although I can do interviews with Gareth. But I can with the ebook people. And I have the perfect book to experiment with because it achieves precisely zero sales and it was doing quite well before, when there were three excerpts from it on my auto responder. Then I can look at the survey in a year’s time and see if the number of people actually reading any of my books has risen.

Oh look. I’ve just solved my own problem. That’s jolly spiffing.

Onwards and upwards. I think the pressing thing, now is to write more books. And not books about bloody K’Barth because I need a break and if I want one of those I need to write something the normals will read. K’Barth is too complicated, too rich, too much effort for most readers, I think. It has to be simple, straightforward funny-in-space. Or something. But I have to find a way to write something that people will pick up and read, you know, on a whim rather than because it’s the last thing on their kindle and they are desperate, or being forced at gunpoint.

______________________

Well there we are. If you are bored and at a loose end you could always try reading one of my books. They are a bit weird but I promise they are more interesting than reading a telephone directory … just.

Or alternatively, there’s this lovely box set of first in series which includes Few Are Chosen and a lot of very much better, more interesting books by other people. The stealth approach has worked really well for me. People have read and enjoyed my book from this. In fact most of the people who go on to read my other books do so because they’ve read the first in series that I included in this one.

You can find that here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

That’s all for this week. Next week will be hectic and I will be on the road so there may not be a post. Just giving you the heads up! Until then, hope you have a relaxing week.

 

 

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This week I have been mostly …

Reading.

Well, OK, not this week but I have been reading so I am going to review a couple of books I enjoyed, so here we go.

Erinsmore by Julia Blake

At a recent event … well … not that recent – last year’s Christmas Fayre … I happened on a bunch of local authors. Julia Blake is one of them. Having discovered that I was not the only gay in the village writer in Bury, I have been methodically reading my way through my compadres’ books, one at a time.

As a nipper, I grew up reading the Narnia books, Five Children and It, that kind of stuff so I love things that are a little bit quirky and different. I am a total sucker for anything that involves folks switching from one reality to another so the minute I saw the premise of this book, purchasing it was a given. Similarly to Narnia, the parallel reality in question is a magical world without technology but the legends upon which Erinsmore is based are Arthurian. The story switches from the parallel world to this one and back.

The writing style appealed to me and it was definitely compelling. Do NOT start this book at the beginning of a busy period. Having to put it down and attend to Real Life will do your head in. I was swiping pages on my e reader and was completely absorbed for the entire time I took to read it. McOther was a book widower and McMini a book orphan until I was done.

OK so this is where I have to confess to reading all the Baroness Orczy, Scarlet Pimpernel books – because the only thing that’s as good as a parallel magical world is people with swords and frilly shirts fighting duels right? Right. The reason I mention that here is because I was hugely reminded of all the best things about Orczy’s style in Julia Blake’s. Erinsmore is a lot better written than Orczy’s but there was that same sweeping epic … epicness? Is that a word? There was a sweeping epic nature to this story that was similar. That echo gave the book an added quirk of familiarity which made me enjoy it more.

The premise of the story is a classic battle of good versus evil and I particularly liked that breakthroughs and good fortune were earned or came at a price. It was not all roses. Respect had to be earned, people had to be won round, outlooks changed through discussion, fights won with intelligence and skill. I liked that there many of the traditional tropes we know and love but that they were dealt with in a different and individual way. The characters were decently fleshed out and believable. Everyone in the story went on some kind of journey and although to start with, I identified most with Ruby, you’ve gotta love her sassy older sister Cassie. It is, in short, a glorious romp that should appeal to fantasy fans … and possibly Orczy fans ;-).

While this is the kind of book that is pretty much written to order for someone like me – I’m a fifty something dreamer – I think it would also appeal to the right kind of teenager. Aged about fourteen, I would have loved this. I’d have been pestering my parents to make a trip down to Tintagel and if I succeeded, looking for that mysterious shop. Blimey yes and if I ever found it, I’d but off to Erinsmore like a rat up a pipe.

Oh. And did I mention the dragons?

Great fun. Recommended.

Starship Waking: Archangel Project. Book 4

This book is one I happened upon ‘talking’ internetly (which probably isn’t a word) to other authors on a Facebook group. Yes, I am probably one of the few people who uses social media for actual social purposes. Writing is a solitary profession and I spend a fair chunk of my time sharing stupid pictures on my fan group or chatting to other authors in various Facebook groups; comparing writing techniques, marketing strategies, suppliers and services … or just having a good old gossip. During one of these conversations C Gockel’s name popped up. I had seen comments from her and chatted to her in passing from time to time, but I had not realised her books were funny as well as sci-fi. I asked her if she could recommend one and this is the one she suggested.

The hero of the story is a robot. In fact he’s a sex bot called 6T9. That amused me for starters. As the story opens he’s stuck on an asteroid. His previous owner, for want of a better word, has just died leaving the asteroid to 6T9 so long as he stays there and looks after her pet werfle – a kind of cross between a cat and the kind of small, spoiled, yappy dogs that bite your ankles a lot. Only with more legs. Think Trickywoo with venom if you’ve read the James Herriot books. This is not the ideal answer for 6T9. His programming compels him to seek a companion. Then he is asked to undertake a rescue mission to a luddite world where robot beings are banned in order to rescue a sentient ship which is in distress.

At the time I read this book, I was writing one of my own. I’d just written a scene where the somewhat eccentric main character of my series was dressing himself in purple canvas jeans with a hideous orange, yellow and red silk shirt. Having finished that scene, I picked up this book, and proceeded to read a scene where 6T9 describes himself as wearing purple suede trousers and a gold lame shirt. I knew this was my kind of book already, but I was certain from that moment on.

6T9 turned out to be a lovely protagonist. Having been upgraded from bimbo to something altogether more human with a special chip that allows him to understand things like irony, he has a wit and wisdom that I really liked. It worked especially well when he ends up on a world where robots and AI are banned as evil since he, the ‘evil’ robot has the kind of compassion and humanity that made him rather more humane than the … well … humans involved. I also liked that his ’emotional’ reactions were robotic, flaring circuits et al, and he rationalises them as nothing more than programming. Meanwhile the heroine of the story, who is a sort of were species and lives in penury as a second class citizen, has a kind of hesitant sweetness that had me wanting her to be rescued from the start. Our final protagonist is the small furry werfle ‘pet’. Not the Snowy/Tin-Tin type side kick you might be expecting.

The relationship between the characters is wonderful but I especially loved the exchanges between 6T9 and other computer entities, and of course, the werfle. And I laughed out loud at a couple of bits. Especially moments where 6T9s chip falls out and starts behaving like a complete bimbo. It made me want to go read the first book to see if that’s how he starts out.

What I loved about this book was the complexity, the subtle cleverness of the world building and the way that for all its humour, it had a solid and compelling plot. There were dicey moments for our intrepid trio, there was suspense, action and excitement as they were pursued from pillar to post searching for the ship they are there to rescue. Funny books don’t always have a plot, sometimes the funny takes precedence. All in all it was a great fun read and the minute I’d finished I went and bought a whole bunch of the other books. In fact I’ve just realised that book one is free at the moment, so I must go and download that too.

This one, also highly recommended.

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Dementia too, because obviously dementia once wasn’t shit enough

Yeh, I selected that heading from Whiny Titles R-Us but it does sum up the way I felt at the start of this week and the feeling I’m trying to describe.

The slough of despond; rain and yellow lines …

Bits of this week have been tough. I’ve had a couple of down days, mainly because I suspect I have had a mild UTI but also it’s the time of the month when I can’t remember my own name without cue cards. Worse, I’d forgotten to put the morning HRT gel on for two days running and that does make a difference. The traffic is back to normal so there has been the usual 40 minute delay along the bottom of the M25 on the way to Mum’s. This last two weeks, the journey time is back to three hours down and two and a half back, so long as I am on the road at half two sharp.

Worse, I’ve been finding it really hard engage with Real Life. To care about the little things that other people need me to care about. Silly stuff. McMini’s bedroom curtains need hemming but it’s difficult to do that while he’s in there with them attending his virtual lessons. It’s the last day today, so that’s fine, I can do it tomorrow, but it’s been a long time and both he and McOther have been eyeing them impatiently. Meanwhile, McOther has a favourite beanbag. The material is completely rotten and sewing it up is a thankless task that I have to repeat every three weeks or so, unless he does it. It’s bust again and so the choice of thankless tasks was twofold: try to get him to understand that the material is rotten, which, itself is a hiding to nothing. Or I fix it again when I know it will break in a few weeks. But fixing it is a duty of love, so perhaps it’s a bit less pointless than it seems. Quietly, without saying so, I know McOther feels unloved if I say I’ll fix it and then take ages to deliver. It’s not good to feel so meh I can’t do anything. More on that story later.

This Wednesday, then, I was not in the right place to drive 288 miles, not even in a Lotus. I felt unbelievably meh. I was teary about the state of Mum, teary about the state of myself and feeling miserable. Then the radio proceeded to play some of my favourite songs. Things which are in my record collection but which I haven’t heard for ages because most of my music equipment assumes that anything I’ve ripped from my own CDs or vinyl is a pirate copy and refuses to play it.

Hearing all these songs again, it seemed that something out there in the ether was trying to tell me to cheer up. Finally one of my very favourite songs as a teenager; Big In Japan, by Alphaville came on. Despite being in very slow moving traffic jam, the gauntlet was thrown down. I was going to sing. I rolled up the windows so, in theory, nobody would hear me, jacked up the volume and joined in. This involved full on pop star style gurning and a selection of ridiculous hand actions, I kept going, even when everything started moving. There’s nothing like giving zero fucks to cheer yourself up, and it did, at least for long enough to realise what was wrong.

You see, lockdown was quite easy, it was like a little six week holiday from the administriviative  shit. I worried about Mum but I rang her every day and I didn’t have to go anywhere or organise anything except my books! I just hung out with the McOthers and sat around in the sun writing. Woot.

Pseudo lockdown is insanely difficult. All the admin has returned with a vengeance, except because of Covid19 it’s about six times harder to do all the things you should be able to do by making a phone call. It’s the hard bits out of Real Life plus extra duties of lockdown, like the calls. All the hassle but none of the convenience. I did manage to get the scan I was due at the hospital but now I need to try and get the cat some shots. As usual, every piece of admin which should involve nothing more than a phone call involves several, and a protracted, drawn out effort, posting things, sending things. Case in point, I’ve just stuffed up my chances of opening a Barnes and Noble vendor account by transposing two numbers in my bank account number. It’s gone into ‘pending’. Probably forever. I can’t change it and I know their help desk is offline until after covid. I think they’re the only site where I have to have a W8EN still too. Everyone else you can just add your tax number and it works. I don’t know much about it but I suspect I have to get another W8EN as mine’s probably expired. Sadly, I do know that this is a great deal more complicated than it was because Americans don’t really understand what a sole trader is.

Meanwhile Mum is still shielding so she can have a few people round but not everyone. The lady who cuts her toenails has started coming again. Yes, when you’re old and arthritic you can’t do that anymore and you have to have someone come and do it for you. The lovely lady who cuts her hair came and gave her an appropriately socially distanced ‘do’ this Wednesday as well.

However, a lot of her friends are shielding, too, or can’t come to see her because she is, so she’s still bored stupid. Hopefully, as the small things that structure her life return, like the hairdresser visiting and the foot lady, she’ll gradually be more grounded again. Just as Dad did, she thrives on social interaction. My fingers and toes are, therefore, crossed. Although I have to accept that there is no guarantee of this. Because I think the main source of my malaise this week was realising that Mum is going to take the same path as Dad. Her own version, but the same horrific journey into oblivion. And I’m going to have to walk beside her; because I love her, and because, if I want to be a decent human being, that’s what I must do.

Please do not feed the animals

As we take these first steps, I guess what struck me down, temporarily, was the renewal of that familiar pain. It still hurts. Even though I’ve done it before and I am aware of the cost. I should know by now. I should be strong. But I’m not. I really wonder if I have the courage to do this a second time. I don’t want her to die, I don’t want to lose her but I pray that she will enjoy a kindly easy passing before it gets too bad. Yet, at the same time, I know she won’t because that might actually be kind to all of us and God forbid that my family should be shown a scrap of mercy over this. Instead, it seems life brings whatever will cause the maximum amount of misery and pain to all of us. Sorry Mum.

I have wondered about consulting my doctor and seeing if some medication might be in order. The trouble is, I’m pretty certain that any kind of medication for depression will merely make me even more forgetful than I already am. And since three quarters of my insane frustration is with my inability to remember a single fucking thing for more than about two and a half seconds, I suspect it would be a bad idea. And anyway. I’m not depressed. I’m sad. There’s a huge difference. When Dad died, there was grief but the sadness went away. It was a liberation.

Now that Mum is showing more acute signs of dementia, it’s back. If you wanted to present me with the perfect storm of things I am shit at dealing with, there are parts of my life over the last eight years that would be an excellent fit. I can do level-headed, clear thought in a crisis. Yeh, I can do that. But long, slow, sustained suffering. No. Not very good at it to be honest.

As I sat there, singing in the car, I realised that I’d started to withdraw completely into inner space. I lost myself in K’Barth, where my characters were suffering but where, I knew, eventually, they would be OK. I made them suffer in the faint hope their pain would somehow alleviate my own. I gave them a happy ever after in the hope that maybe if I did that, I could have one. This is an approach which works really well for me, but, unfortunately, not for those around me. That was another cause of the misery, the misery I was inflicting on my very much loved McOthers. Withdrawing helps me but it hurts everyone else. Small doses then.

As I drove, something happened. I don’t know how, but something in me fixed it. The blinkers came up again and I saw what I needed to see. I saw what was there in Mum rather than what wasn’t there. I stopped seeing drudgery and saw small acts of love. And I remembered that I have done this before. And suddenly, I slipped into the coping strategy. Short bursts of activity. An hour at the computer and then half an hour doing something else around the house. Tiny steps. 10 minutes a day. Pigeon steps, inching forward one tiny step at a time. Lists. Lots of lists. Each project broken down into manageable tiny items which are ticked off as they are done.

Don’t be a … or maybe do be one … or work smarter not harder … or something.

Lockdown was a luxury. Lockdown afforded me big chunks of time in which to write. My work came on in leaps and bounds. But lockdown is over. I need to see the me time as brief moments of something else among the admin. I need to see life as peppered with acts of love, which is what the housework side of stuff really is. Except it’s a horrible phrase … very ‘putting out love and keeping it there’ but until I can think of something better it’ll have to do. And anyway, because it sounds like fake Oprah, it’s sort of funny and that helps. As for the worry about Mum and the trying to sort things out for her. I need to call all that something different too. Same thing? Ah why not?

Duty is a crushing, heavy suffocating word, calling it an act of love makes it feel a lot lighter.

It’s amazing how, always, always, always, holding onto your sanity is about how you look at what’s happening, how you frame it to yourself. That simple switch and I’m cheerful again, and reasonably happy. I feel the weight, for sure, but it’s lessened. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is a chuffing marvel. If you are struggling with anything heavy and millstone-like in your life, I urge you to look it up. I never cease to be amazed how I can actually do a PR/Propaganda job on myself. I know what I’m doing, I know I’m just putting a different slant on it, yet it works.

You may consign the coping strategies to the past when you don’t need them, but it’s slightly miraculous how quickly they came back when you do. I feel better, a lot better. To be honest, I still don’t really don’t know if I can do this a second time. But there’s no point in wondering. I swam through the dark waters with Dad and came out the other side. I’ll just have to take each stage as it comes, strike out into the void and give it my best shot.

_______________________

If you are feeling a bit meh, yourself, you could always pick up a good book! Indeed, if you’re feeling really lazy you don’t even have to read it. Choose one of the audiobooks and Gareth will do that for you. Indeed anyone who signs up for my audio mailing list gets two books free; Unlucky Dip and Night Swimming. That’s two hours of glorious K’Barthan lunacy for zero pence. Yep! Night Swimming comes later on, although I may switch it so it’s the story people get first. It’s just that suddenly I have very little time so for now it’s Unlucky Dip first, then a week or two and Night Swimming.

Anyway, Gareth played a blinder on both but the really lovely thing about it is that Unlucky was the first one he did and Night Swimming is his most recent. You get to see what he’s learned in the interim. So there you are, if do want a listen, just go here, sign up and they should both arrive in your inbox over the course of about three weeks: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio1fb.html

Unlucky Dip Audio Book


If you do join in, and it’s not obligatory or anything, but if you do, or if you have and there’s any stuff you want me to ask Gareth about how he did the recordings, let me know and I’ll ask him.

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Today, a bunny thing happened …

This week, I had intended to write a deep and poignant post about stages along the dementia path. But then stuff happened. So, instead I’m going to share another slice of my completely bat shit crazy life. Something connected with my oh-ho-ho so clever pun in the title there (phnark).

First up, I invented a joke. Who do mice worship? Cheesus. This is, possibly, the only funny joke I’ve ever thought of, and probably ever will so enjoy it while you can.

Next, ACX, which publishes audiobooks on Audible. Jeez but seriously? What a chuffing shower. Talk about arse doesn’t know what the elbow’s doing. Seriously, total, epic big-company style fuckwittery. They used to approve audiobooks by listening to them, which is commendable, but takes ages. I think they still do but they have an autovetter as well, now, that saves them a lot of time. There was a big surge in audio submissions at the end of last year apparently, and basically, they were swamped.

Friends submitting books early December were only having them put on sale in late February/early March. One of the biggest reasons I published non-exclusively with them is because I looked at them and I just thought … do I really want to rely on these insane nutters for all my audiobook income? And the immediate answer was no. Lucky because they removed the key benefit of going all-in just after I uploaded my first book with them – on a non-exclusive deal. Phew.

Anyway, the issue is that I submitted four audiobooks which are in a series. The audiobooks were submitted in order one, two, three, four in the hope that they would appear on the market in that same order. Did they? Of course not. Book two appeared first and then, worse, some poor bugger bought one – they’re going to be well confused, unless it’s Gareth’s mum (my mum wouldn’t be up to that kind of thing) but Gareth doesn’t think so.

Anyway, I wrote to ACX help, you can’t reach that from the UK by the way, the help links just pipe you through to sign up to audible, but some friends in the US and Australia shared the web address. I wrote and explained that the books need to be read in order and asked if there was any chance they could hurry up book one. I received a boilerplate reply saying that they’d look into it but that book one would probably go live before they came back with an answer. The best way of saying ‘we’ll investigate this when hell freezes over’ I’ve come across.

Well done ACX! Mwahahahargh!

OK so maybe I’m being harsh, the (possibly) person or (probably) bot replying might have made some sort of effort. Who knows, but the result of my enquiry after the status of book one was the rapid release of book four. Mwahahahahrgh!

What cockwomblery is this? I thought, but give them some time. Maybe the first book will appear next.

Sure enough ACX did put another of the books on sale that very same day, can you guess which one? Yes! That’s right. Book three! Mwahahahahrgh! Book one, which was submitted before all of them, remains stolidly ‘in review’ at the moment. Gareth’s reaction, ‘that is mad in so many ways’ pretty much sums it up.

Writing has been a bit on the back burner this week, although I have written about 6,000 words because I know exactly what’s happening so I can dash off a thousand in a few ten minute stints here and there. Also did the first Sussex trip for nine weeks, which was lovely in most ways and a little difficult in others. I will be taking McMini next week, which we are all looking forward to. McMini lost a bit of focus on his school work recently. Got a sucked into his gaming. The school raised concerns so we’ve been liaising with them since. He’s been really good about catching up. It’s half term this week and I think he has a couple of assignments left to do but otherwise, he’s nearly back on track, which is brilliant. But it does mean we’ve been spending a lot more time checking his work over with him and ensuring it’s all done. He responds much better to hearing and seeing someone explain a concept rather than reading it … like me bless him. We’ve also been distracting him from his screen so it’s been good to spend more time with him.

On Thursday, after he’d finished his lessons, he came through to the kitchen and after a bit of chatting we decided we’d go for a walk. Off we went and half way round our usual circuit McMini asked if we could take a different path and explore, so we did, ending up on a really lovely cycle/foot path through the countryside – even if it was a bit close to the A14. It came out on a road I know well and I worked out we could do a loop back home. Having decided to do this we set off, onwards, when I noticed a black rabbit calmly munching grass in broad daylight on the verge.

‘Uh-oh, looks like someone’s rabbit has got out,’ I said, making to walk on.

‘Mum! We can’t leave it. Remember when we lost our cat, remember how horrible it was, there will be people looking for him.’

‘Well … we can’t catch him,’ I said, dubiously. ‘Tell you what then, let’s ring the vet.’

Our vet was on another call and anyway, I knew they were only taking emergency calls and that they were well busy – we’d walked past the surgery and seen that the car park was hooching with folks and pets, all emergencies, waiting to be seen. So I rang another vet. They said to ring the RSPCA. I found a local rep but the number went to voicemail so I rang the hotline.

‘Your call will be answered in … thirty … minutes,’ said the electronic voice. I relayed this, pretty horrific news to McMini.

‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I asked McMini.

‘Yes Mum.’

‘Right oh then.’

Bunny!

So we held … for forty minutes. During which time we stayed with the rabbit so we didn’t lose it. It was very friendly, sniffling at my feet and sniffing my fingers. Definitely tame but a bit shy as well and seemingly very short sighted. At one point it was attacked by another wild rabbit. Did you know that when one rabbit jumps another rabbit from behind, the surprised one can jump at least four feet high? No, neither did I but it did. It was chased around until it ran back to us and the wild rabbit stopped. There was stare down for a moment or two and then I clicked my fingers at the wild rabbit and it scarpered whereas our chap, being tame, was not alarmed.

Finally, the RSPCA answered and told us – you guessed it – to call the vet. They gave us the number of our own vet, the one which was engaged in the first instance and extremely busy. I rang them and told them that I hoped to be bringing in a rabbit. However, while waiting, I had texted the RSPCA local rep to explain what was happening. I texted McOther as well. He came to collect us with the car, some carrots and lettuce, and a cat box. There was a lay by just near us so he parked there. By six fifteen, we reckoned we weren’t going to get the rabbit, it came close, a couple of times but we decided we’d have to leave it and we came home. Rabbits do get out and usually, they do go home on their own.

More bunny!

Later, while exchanging messages with Gareth about the curious antics of ACX I mentioned the rabbit. He said he’d owned two pairs of rabbits and that yes, he did indeed pull them … well … not out of a hat but out of a house apparently. Mwahahaargh. He gave them to his nephew and nice when he quit being a children’s entertainer and got a job with a touring theatre company. He had two pairs and told me his would get out frequently, to the point where he stopped trying to catch them because it was a pain in the arse and pointless, anyway, when they’d always come home.

This was reassuring but our bunny seemed to have very poor vision, and while he probably wanted to go home, I wondered if he’d be able to find his way. More to the point, surely he’d have left the area when the other rabbit attacked him if he knew how to get home. Worse, there was the possibility that he might have been abandoned, in a moment of desperation, by skint, locked-down, parents who’d told the kids he ran away. Maybe that was why he was staying where he was, because that was where he had been let out of someone’s car. Or maybe he was just lost. Perhaps the increased traffic on the A14 was drowning out the noises he would have used to navigate his way home. Or, he may simply have stayed in that spot because, as a tame, domesticated bunny, albeit a lost one, he liked human company. Maybe munching pine cones and relaxing on the grass near a busy footpath was as close to human interaction as he dared get. I thought way too much about this, as you can see, but I decided that in order to come out of this liking myself, I’d have to go back and have one last go at catching him the next day.

Action bunny!

During our NHS clapping session, the local RSPCA lady who I’d texted got back to me. She’d called a local vet, would I mind if the vet called me? I said not at all and sure enough within a couple of minutes a lovely lady from a completely different vet’s practice called me. Yep, there is a third practice in Bury of which I knew nothing and this lady was from there. She went and found the bunny, but she couldn’t catch him either. I said I’d try again the following day and she told me to pop by and she’d give me some food and a box. That morning, McOther had planned to go to a supermarket near the spot where we’d seen the rabbit. He said he’d go check and see if it was still there. However, when he reached the spot, the lay-by had eight or nine cars in it and there were loads of blokes in yellow tabards wielding noisy gardening machinery. No sign of the rabbit. Unsurprisingly. Maybe it had moved on. If it hadn’t, it would now.

Later, at about two fifteen, I reckoned the council gardeners would probably have gone and wondered, that being likely, whether I should go and have one last go at finding the rabbit anyway. It had probably run away to somewhere else, but it was more than just a lost bunny. It was someone’s loved pet. And it was so very clearly a particularly docile, kindly and sweet natured one. The more nights it was out, the higher the chances it’d be eaten by a fox. I dashed off a thousand words of the W.I.P. but by about quarter to three, I knew I would feel terrible leaving the poor little chap out there for another night without trying to catch him first. Cursing my soft centre, because I had other things to do, off I went.

I packed two bowls and a bottle of water into a rucksack and stopped at the vet’s surgery, which was on the way, where they donated a box and some rabbit pellets to help me catch him. The rabbit took about ten minutes to find and was roughly where McMini, McOther and I had given up on it the previous day. It hopped into a patch of grass so I sat down with it, put some rabbit mix in one bowl and some water in the other, opened the box and waited. I noticed there were several big balls of fluff about which had clearly come off something during a fight, one was damp with dew so might have been there a day or two, the other was much fresher. I hoped they weren’t off the rabbit I was trying to catch.

Gradually, as I sat still, reading, my rabbit-shaped friend came nearer, probably more by happenstance than design. I rattled the bowl of grass pellets and almost got it to follow them into the box. Almost but not quite.

For a few minutes I let it get on with eating grass and just sat there with it. It sniffled my feet again at one point and then wandered off to wherever its nose for tasty forget-me-nots led next. It looked like I wasn’t going to tempt it into the box this time. I’d report back to the vet and try again tomorrow. I was a bit worried it might be thirsty, so I thought that before I left I should, at least, try to get it to drink some water. I flipped my finger in the bowl to make … what the hell do you call them … watery noises and it perked up and listened. More splishing and … yes, it was definitely interested. I leaned down and put the bowl right in front of its face. It sniffled it a bit and then had a long drink. Excellent.

After that I put the food bowl down and it nibbled a few grass pellets, I tried stroking it, and it moved on a foot or two. Gently, followed and tried again, stroking its head. I could almost hear it go, ‘Aaaaaaaa.’ It was clear it loved this, had missed it and was craving affection. So I kept stroking it and talking gently to it and then I put my hands round it to pick it up. It still didn’t tense or get scared, not until the point where I lifted it into the air. I didn’t dare support it’s back legs in case it sprang out of my grasp so I did get a couple of scratches from it’s paddling back feet but managed to put it into the box and close the door.

In the process of kicking, one flailing leg caught its own fur and ripped a lump off its tum. It was the same as the lumps of fur strewn around on the grass. The poor little thing had clearly had a horrid night, presumably being attacked by the other rabbit.

On the way back to the vet surgery the box nearly came open. Luckily someone stopped me to ask what I was carrying, noticed and told me. When I told her the box contained a rabbit she melted a bit – clearly a rabbit fan – and asked if she could say hello. I told her of course and as she put her finger through the grill and stroked its head I explained where I’d found it. She’d seen it too, it transpired. I said I thought it might be a bit blind and that, when I’d told a vet this, she had said rabbits get glaucoma. Yes, the lady said, they do, it’s quite common. She told me she still had a hutch and that she’d kept rabbits but didn’t have any right now. She had been with friends when she’d seen this bunny the previous day and intended to see if it was still there. She, too, was wondering whether she should try to catch him. Why wasn’t I just taking him home and keeping him, she asked. I said that he was so trusting and loving that I thought he must belong to someone who’d be sorely missing him. I told her where I was taking him and that if the owners didn’t come forward they’d have to re-home him, encouraging her to ring and say she was interested if she thought she’d like to keep him. She said she’d pop in and ask.

Second owner lined up then … although I am very, very tempted. McOther says that he already has three dumb animals to look after though (McMini, McCat and myself) and felt a fourth might tip him over into insanity. Mwahahaargh. Still …

As I walked on, I felt the rabbit shift and relax and all the weight in the box moved to one corner. Tufts of black fur stuck out of the air holes where he was reclining against the side. A good sign, I thought. Clearly a relaxed bunny. So there we are. The rabbit is safe, with kindly humans who will treat him well and look after him. He’ll spend a week at the vet – which is a legal requirement – during which they’ll try and trace his owner. Then, if they can’t find the family who lost him, he will be re-homed. Who knows, perhaps, with the lovely lady I met on the footpath.

Mood this week. Smug.

_____________________

If, like our friendly bunny, you wish to escape for a while, why not get yourself lost in a good book? And if you can’t find one of those, there’s always one of mine. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit No 3 will be available from many public libraries (check your app or contact your librarian) and is available for preorder from most of the major retailers, as well as from me. For more information click here:

Close Enough … available 18th June 2020

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Sod’s law and other constants …

This morning, I woke from a dream in which McMini and I were trapped in a version of my parents’ bedroom in our house in the school in which I grew up. We were about to be mauled to death by a very well-meaning and playful – but nonetheless large, powerful and dangerous – semi-adult tiger cub. It was early but even so, I was uncharacteristically pleased to be waking up at such an hour, the alternative being a certain mauling. Groggily I looked at the clock and I realised it was Sunday.

On Sundays, I attend church via t’interweb. This one was no exception. As a somewhat stolid anglican, I tend to go for the Church of England website. Also it’s at 9 am and if I have to set myself apart from the McOthers to do it, as opposed to going somewhere, it’s easier if it happens earlier than later. Something said by the lady preaching struck me. She was talking about trust, trusting in the future, in a future and it got me thinking about routine.

Routine is something I’ve written about before. When things get a bit overwhelming – in my case, in the situation with Dad – hanging onto the small bits of routine can keep your feet on the ground and get you through. This Corona thing … this feels like the opposite. I don’t know about you but my routine had been severely disrupted. I don’t go out or to the same places, the morning routine is different. We are all here together every day, which we are lucky enough to enjoy. But is it the same? No. Not at all. And that’s the thing.

If you think about it. We humans are often creatures of habit. We like routine. Without routine, everything feels a bit impermanent. I’m guessing this is a part of our self-preservation genes. Doubtless, to our cave dwelling ancestors, impermanence and change were synonymous with danger. Life on the move, looking for food and water which might not always have been abundant. Moving from one source of water to where we hoped there was another … everything was a risk. No wonder we stopped and put down roots. No wonder we grew our food, which gave us a much higher guarantee of eating then wandering around trying to forage for it. We could store it, too, rather than carrying a little with us. Maybe it was being settled with part of the day’s chores done – like finding a place to sleep and maybe building a shelter for the night – that gave them that little bit more time to think and have ideas.

Coming back to us, with routine, there are bits of the day you can conduct pretty much on autopilot, freeing up important mental resources for other things. My grandmother always used to say that innovation and technological thinking in the ancient world was bound to be centred round the Mediterranean because it was warm. She felt that those of us unlucky enough to live in Northern Europe at that time had far too much surviving to do. She reckoned that after we’d kept warm through the winter and then spent the summer months gathering and growing enough food, and finding enough wood, to get through the next winter without starving, time was scarce for for thinking, discussion and sitting about having ideas. I’m not sure it quite holds water – after all, look at the way dire times like war always seem to put a bomb under science, which there is never quite enough money for in peacetime (yes, that’s what happened to scram jets and Australia to London in 3hrs, no war, no money, no-one bothered) – but I reckon she might have been onto something.

Personally, I have this theory that on an instinctive, animal level, freeing up brain power and thinking time is what the whole routine thing is about. You don’t think about cleaning your teeth every morning, you just do it. If you did have to plan it and think about it every day it would take longer and it would take more brain capacity. So we’ve learned to do some small tasks, unthinkingly by rote. Once we’d evolved that big brain, it makes sense that changes in our behaviour might have evolved to give ourselves the time and space to use it. Could it be that we are evolutionarily hot-wired to thrive on stability and routine? Maybe it could. Especially as the first of our ancestors who settled were probably safer from predators – although I should imagine they were a bit of a sitting duck in the face of surprise attack from other hostile humans. Hence the practise among our ancient forebears of putting walls around towns.

The thing about Covid:19 is it’s completely buggered this routine. I reckon that’s going to leave certain humans feeling very vulnerable straight off, even if they have no idea why. There is no certainty. What lies ahead? A lot of money troubles for starters. Barring a handful of billionaires, every single person in the world is going to take a hit financially. A lot of people are going to be completely and utterly screwed. Except that may not be the case. We don’t know for certain, because we don’t know what the future holds. The solid ground on which we stand has shifted, but it’s difficult to do anything more than try to stay upright for the moment, until it stops moving.

Then there’s the uncertainty. Each day I set out in hope; hoping the virus will become a bit less virulent and SARS like. Hoping that, if I catch it, I’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets sick without dying. I imagine a lot of the people who died in the Blitz felt the same way as I do at the start of the Second World War. Their hopes and dreams were just as valid as the ones who made it to the other side but … they didn’t. Even so, everyone must have felt like this, survivors and casualties; unsure of the future, wondering whether they would come out the other side. Whether they’d be one of the lucky ones. It’s hard not to keep wondering, which one am I?

Life with Covid: 19 is the human race stepping off the precipice. Nothing above us, around us, below us. Out into the blackness of the unknown. I think that, without the Dad thing, that would have disturbed me a lot more than it does. I like my routine and my life. It being my life, though and my routine, I’m aware that there’s nothing more guaranteed to provoke Sod than getting comfortable, or content in my existence. Doubtless everything is about to go completely tits up, accordingly. That’s how my life goes. But even so, this is the first time I’ve felt that my weird, mixed up manner of existence has put me at an advantage. Because that side of it, at least, holds no fear for me now. I’ve done it and come through the other side.

It’s true that I dislike change, I dislike the feeling that I’m not in control but I know the only thing I control is my reaction. I learned that lesson years ago.

What I’m trying to say is that although it’s a pain in the arse and can also be very sad and painful – depending on how, exactly, Sod and his law choose to fuck up your life, good things can come of it too. Case in point. Writing.

Writing is the best thing ever. I love writing. One of the reasons I loved the jobs I had in marketing was down to the amount of writing required and the fact I didn’t have to look for it or think about it. It was just always there, as part of the job. Explaining concepts and ideas, instructions, press releases. I liked the geeky stats, the parsing spread sheets because I can’t add up and all that, but I enjoyed the writing bit above all else. It’s why I ended up specialising in branding, because they liked my ‘voice’.

Loads of people who want to write a book never do.  The existence of the K’Barthan series is down to many things but there are two specific events that were mostly responsible. Two events which, on the face of it, could each be classed as a bit of a fucking disaster. Since I’ve nothing better to do this week, I’m going to share them with you now.

Event one; I was in an extremely unsuitable job which was not working out, at all. It was a two and a half year contract for a great deal less per annum than the previous job I’d been in (but it was in Cambridge where you pretty much need a maths degree to get on a work experience scheme, and as I have no maths qualifications it was kind of needs must). It was also in a university museum so, for an art history graduate, it should have been ideal. It wasn’t. They did their best but I never really learned how to get on with my boss.

When I arrived, a month after accepting the job, I had no work station. I fished an old desk out of a nearby skip along with a chair. That was my work station the first few months until my actual desk arrived. They tried so hard to be a decent employer but they were struggling with a university politics nightmare that made it tricky. I believe they did crack it eventually but only some years after I’d left. For the first six weeks I did nothing because I had no computer. Even after it arrived, neither of my bosses would give me anything beyond the most mundane secretarial tasks to do, although one was slightly ahead of the other in that respect, and significantly so as she began to trust me to write her correspondence. It was still very much PA stuff though rather than the assistant’s role I was supposed to be in. She left soon after I arrived. With the other one … I guess I just completely failed to gain her trust.

I should add that the Museum, itself, was a great place to work and the people, including my boss, were lovely. But though the boss meant well she was pathologically unable to delegate. Most of the time I would invent spurious tasks to do for the Friends organisation that involved going into the Museum so I could twiddle my thumbs looking at the exhibits rather than sitting at a desk. If that job was a crisp flavour this would be it … a combination of things that are fine separately but which, put together, are stonkingly awful.

It was well into year two of this job and I was looking for an out before my contract expired. It really wasn’t going well and an extension looked unlikely. Another department in the Museum was advertising a very much better paid and more senior job and the department head contacted me one day, while my boss was at a meeting, and invited me in for a chat about it. I left his office with what sounded like it might be a job offer … possibly … at the least, I’d just been invited to apply if the job was advertised. It looked very hopeful.

Back in the office, my boss had returned from her meeting. She knew the job was coming up and seemed to know I’d been to see the department head about it. She expressed what appeared to be a genuine interest. I was delighted, as usually any conversation I had with her was like the Handsome Dan scene in Wayne’s World. She’d ask me a question and then about half way through the first sentence of my answer I’d realise she wasn’t listening. Then I’d be in a quandary as to whether I should just stop talking with my reply half said – which felt a bit odd – or soldier on as if she was actually listening. But no, on this occasion, she was friendly, open, encouraging and all years. I admitted to chatting, informally, with the head of department. She was very enthusiastic and interested and asked all about it, including how much they were offering. Moron that I am, I told her the salary range he’d mentioned.

The next morning, arriving at work, there was a lot of shouting coming from somewhere. One of the voices was my boss and she was having a stand up row with someone in another part of the building. She appeared in the office an hour later, and, when asked if she was ok replied with a rather tart, ‘yes’ and nothing more. Then she got down to work. Shortly after she had left for the day I was called over to see the head of the department who’d discussed the job with me.

Turned out he hadn’t told my boss, she’d guessed. Turned out I wasn’t supposed to say but he hadn’t told me that, and I was a very naive 28 year old, and too dim to clock it on my own. And because my boss said she knew and gave me the impression she and he had talked about it, I thought it was OK. Clearly I had got completely the wrong end of the stick from him about what salary range he was offering because he told me he’d never mentioned the figures I’d remembered. He said he couldn’t possibly offer me the job, now, because the internal politics of it would be too complicated. They advertised it a week or two later. I was told I needn’t apply.

Wow. Invited to apply for the ruddy job, at the very least and I’d still managed to blow it. That took some going. I had completely fucked the dog, as the Americans say. OK. So maybe the world was trying to tell me something. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the world of work. Maybe I should write that book. So I did. I wrote three books. OK so reading them now, I kind of wish someone else had written them but I got them done. And I learned things. And eventually, before my contract expired I got a much, much more interesting job as a marketing manager for a transport group.

Four years later, working for a company who’d acquired the transport group, I was in a High Powered Job that also paid reasonably well. For the first time in my life I was a Successful Human Being in that respect. OK so my salary was still nowhere near what McOther was earning, but it was getting close to my secondary ambition, to earn what he paid in tax. I was masquerading as a Normal. Succeeding on their terms without compromising on who I was. I was valued, so valued that I’d survived four rounds of redundancies. I was flying.

One Monday morning a very excited colleague greeted me on arrival. He told me he’d been to a company meeting the previous Friday and that the MD had gathered the entire junior management together and told them, among other things, that if they wanted to know who his ideal employee was they should come to the marketing department and seek me out. ‘That’s what I’m looking for in a manager,’ the MD had told them. What he didn’t know, when he held me up as a shining example to his junior managers, of course, was that my salary was paid by a different part of the organisation and their MD didn’t value my input quite so highly. Despite hearing this shining accolade upon my arrival, the HR Director arrived a couple of hours later to tell me about the special fifth round of redundancies they were making for one employee: me.

See? Sod. I remember thinking at the time, ‘This would be quite funny if I wasn’t living it.’

If I put either of those events in a book, people would say, ‘well that would never happen.’ But both did. You couldn’t make this shit up. I remember driving back to Cambridgeshire from Birmingham after my redundancy in a state of complete disbelief. It felt as if another version of me from a different reality had somehow swapped our timelines. Weirdly, I felt the exact same thing, in reverse, when Gareth appeared out of nowhere and wanted to narrate the K’Barthan Series. To the point where there were several occasions where I caught myself muttering, ‘Ha! Take that you cow!’ at her.

Again, the bombshell stopped me in my tracks and the world fell away. It was back to hunting for a job in Cambridge, land of maths and science geeks, looking for someone, anyone, willing to give an arts graduate a job. Opportunities were extremely thin on the ground. It didn’t help that I wasn’t actually qualified to apply for jobs at the level on which I’d been operating. And of course after working in Birmingham, where salaries are exponentially higher than Cambridge it was a tough call applying for jobs which paid what the people working for the people who worked for the people at my level earned. After a couple of months sharing my pain with McOther, he said, ‘I think we can survive if you don’t work in a full time job.’ So I went freelance. And one day, when things were a bit slow, dusted off the appalling books I’d written and thought, ‘hmm I wonder if I could write a real one …’

It’s always been about communication, I guess; about the writing. Writing corporate puff was the lazy way to write for a living. No plotting required, just clear, concise and (hopefully) charming prose and a really big learning curve. I thought I was happy with that. And if sod hadn’t shat on me I expect I would have been. That’s the thing isn’t it? We get comfortable in life. We think we’re OK.

But brand manager wasn’t a vocation.

And I’m an authorholic.

As well as communicating, I need to tell stories – to escape Real Life into a world of my own creating. Sitting down at the desk and writing is completely fulfilling. It doesn’t matter that hardly any fucker reads the lunacy produced, so long as writing it is fun and it means something, anything, to the handful who do read it, that’s enough. Writing books is what I’m for. But it took two major setbacks to realise it.

In conclusion, I guess what I’m saying is this: the whole corona virus thing feels like a kick in the teeth to the human race from Sod doesn’t it? Each one of us everywhere is being shat on by Sod right now – to a greater or lesser degree. Trust me though. No matter how difficult it feels. You will come out the other side of this stronger, more confident, smarter and with any luck wiser and kinder. Because when Sod kicks someone in the soft and squelchy bits it’s amazing how often it ends up doing that person a favour. Not then, but somewhere else, later down the timeline. One of the most interesting reactions to my redundancy was that of one of my oldest and dearest friends who said, ‘It was a great job and I know you had a wonderful time, but it had to end. It wasn’t real. None of it was real. It wasn’t you.’

Take my hand, walk into the darkness with me and we will step into the void without fear. After all, God knows we’re not alone, the entire chuffing planet is in the same shit.

Are you happy now, Sod?

_____________________

If reality is feeling a bit dystopian for your taste right now you can always escape into a good book. Close Enough, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit No 3 will be available from many public libraries (check your app or contact your librarian) and is available for preorder from most of the major retailers. For more information click here:

Close Enough … available 18th June 2020

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Random thoughts …

This week I’ve been mostly feeling rather smug because I am taking part in a blog tour and my blog post has been kindly provided by Jim Webster. Except, of course, that when I scheduled it, I discovered it’s next week. More on that story … well … you know … next week. Obviously.

Doh.

Life feels a bit like this right now, doesn’t it? This is McMini’s work.

In the meantime, I have wondered if I should even say this because I don’t want to be tactless but the honest truth is, I am beginning to rather enjoy lockdown. Far too much for my own good I suspect.

Yes, it will be nice to see people again, but life locked down is gloriously uncomplicated. With all this space to think I have realised a lot of things. For example, I had no idea that my biggest source of stress is getting to appointments on time, or just … remembering them. The endless pressure to to conform with the way the normals structure their day is a bigger source of pain than I realised. Getting up in time to get McMini ready for school, getting to the school to pick him up on time, remembering I have a dental appointment, remembering I have to take the cat for his shots, remembering to book the cat into kennels while we are away, remembering to go to the gym, remembering that I need to pop out to the shops and get milk, remembering all sorts of ridiculous stupid shit that I would gravely upset other people – or the apple cart – by forgetting.

I have absolutely NO need to remember now!

The pressure is OFF.

Booyacka!

Apart from my name, what day it is, to ring my mum, my on line bi-weekly writers’ meet, which I have forgotten once but managed to join before everyone else had stopped, and a few other bits and bobs, I don’t have to remember jack shit. You have no idea how fucking marvellous that is, how liberating.

Off the scale liberating.

Apart from the wages – which is more of an honour than a chore, all those little admin tasks that should, ‘just take five minutes’ and end up taking the whole bastard day have temporarily been suspended. Although I have friends I am worried about who I need to (and haven’t) rung. But I have time now. I can even write them letters.

What has happened instead?

Well… first up, the mojo has returned. I have been writing again, OK I haven’t written any fiction today, I’ve written this, but I mean generally, I’m writing. That’s not something that happened at once. I’m very lucky in that I have always been reasonably pragmatic, for all my tendency to worry. I can just sit here and accept that while things might be very weird right now, the world is out of my control. I have already learned that lesson through Dad’s illness. For so long a big chunk of my life was about what happened in his. Once my anxiety about the rona subsided a bit and I stopped watching the news, I began to feel happier.

Then I started having bizarre dreams. Absolutely nutso. Not quite as absolutely hat stand as all those ones about crapping in the wrong place. Most of these are about getting lost or losing people and then trying to find them or leave a message. Trying to organise stuff, basically and failing.

At one point I dreamt was wandering round some Italian town on holiday, where I thought McOther would expect to find me, but I wasn’t sure, and couldn’t get hold of him so I was trying, and failing to find the bus station which is where I reckoned he’d find me. Just as I found the bus station in question, although not McOther at that point, I woke up, exhausted.

In another dream, we were out to dinner at a night club (no sane person, and McOther and I are definitely sane in this respect, would eat at a night club – for starters loud noise dampens your sense of taste, although with most night club food that may be an advantage). McOther and the others just upped and left without my realising. How did I miss that? I ended up wandering round this bizarre town looking for them. Eventually I realised they would have gone to a club called Ritzy’s (Mwahahahahrgh every town has one of those) but there was a huge queue on the door. So I told the bouncer McOther knew the proprietor. I got ushered in and they weren’t there.

The next thing, it’s morning, having found McOther and I’m giving him a bit of grief for buggering off and leaving me when I get a call from the bouncer I lied to the previous night saying I have to persuade McOther to work for his ganglord boss or McMini will be murdered. Then as I lie there in bed dreaming this, snoring, I’m aware that I’m dreaming and I’m thinking, ‘there’s a plot hole here. He couldn’t have got my number.’ But I’m still in the dream. There I am, knowing McOther will tell them to piss off, and knowing there’s no point in asking and that I don’t want to persuade him, anyway. And I’m trying to flannel this guy so we have time to escape and go into hiding before I’m forced to meet him and confess to my failure – dooming McMini to an early death. And then—

Thank fuck I woke up at that point, as I was properly at a loss for a way out of that one.  In short, sleeping became fairly exhausting for a while there. Many mornings I was waking up thinking, What in the name of Pete was that about?

But slowly, the dreams have abated. The weird has stopped coming out in my sleep and is now quietly seeping out in the usual manner, through my fingertips and a keyboard into words. Don’t worry, I haven’t turned into one of those disgustingly productive people who does more in a day than the rest of us achieve in a year and then flaunts it all in everyone else’s faces. It’s more a case that I’ve just been … doing stuff. I’ve been productive as if I was doing my job, day in, day out, like one of the normals. Some work on the latest set of hello emails, a bit of editing, sending the next K’Barthan Short to the editor – hopefully that’ll be out in June.

Yes, I am still vague but I can complete a thought every now and again, and that, my lovely people, is a WIN. I am feeling less stressed than I have in ages. Life has slowed down. Some days I go for a walk, others I ring Mum and walk round and round our tiny lawn as we talk. I’ve worn a little path. My Fitbit tells me I am doing my full half an hour of getty-out-of-breathy exercise every day. Not something I’ve achieved more than twice a week pre lockdown despite going to the gym and spending a lot more of the day walking about.

I’ve started doing the stuff I couldn’t fit in before. I’m doing more physio exercises for my knees. I’m doing weights three or four times a week. For the first time since I had my son there is space in my head for everything I need to put in there. Stuff that I want to remember is no longer falling out, pushed out by all the administriviatative shite I have to remember and being forgotten. I am doing what I should do rather than what I have to. I am retreating into inner space. I am so far into K’Barth I may never return to you. No I will at some point, I promise. Hopefully, with a massive book.

My point is, I needed this space. And thinking about it, I wonder if, maybe, in some respects, we needed this. Not the bad stuff, the horrors, the financial hardship so many people are going through. I mean the pause. The time to think, and maybe, the impetuous to step out of things in a way that, perhaps we might not have done without this involuntary thinking time.

Maybe it’s just me but modern existence seems to be a succession of trivial shit that expands to suck in the entire day. A perfect storm of everything at which I royally suck. Mentally, having to stop; being forced to stop, has been good for me. I might be quite rare in that but I have needed downtime for so long. For the last eight years, my life has felt like running for an old London Routemaster bus, one that’s open at the back so people can hop on and off between traffic lights. Eight years I’ve been metaphorically chasing up Piccadilly after that sodding thing and now it’s finally got to a red light and stopped. At this rate, I might even catch up with the bugger and step on.

Or maybe a better metaphor is a hamster wheel. But instead of running on the spot and getting nowhere, it’s like the hamster wheel has stopped and I’ve just stepped off. I don’t want to get back on again. I really, really don’t. I will have to, of course. Early mornings will return. Which isn’t so bad because despite finding them really hard, they do provide me with a lot of day. Stuff to organise will return; holidays, organising kennels for Christmas, New Year and family commitments, school charity days, remembering birthdays and which things McMini is supposed to take in to school on what days – because he hasn’t (and never will have) a fucking clue. I’ll return to being a square peg in a round world constructed for the organised, normal early risers with no imagination. But my brain will have had this little holiday. Even if the lights go green just as I get there and the bastard bus drives off before I can leap on, maybe normality will be easier for a little while after this. And I am looking forward to seeing Mum again.

At the same time. Would it be such a bad thing if the world changed? Imagine if we all stepped off the wheel, or slowed it down just a little. If we stopped our headlong pursuit of pointless shiny shit that we think we need, that we think makes us better, that we buy to cover the cracks and addressed the emptiness inside instead.

There’s a horrifically schmaltzy video going round of some bloke reading to his kids in bed at night. Looking back at now from then, as if we are somehow going to move on to a new and more compassionate world. As if we are going to change.

It’s a thought though, isn’t it?

Do you think we can?

No. Of course we can’t. I may be a dreamer but I’m not that naive. Maybe few people will be in the right place at the right time and earn a fortune making and selling PPE, the kind of dot com millionaires of our generation. Good luck to them.

Perhaps we will start taking an interest in how the things we buy are produced and where they are from. Perhaps we will actually have some respect for the people who produce our food. Perhaps. But that would take principles. Most of us will be very poor when this is done, and principles are not just difficult, they are expensive. Unless someone in power comes along and makes principles a LOT cheaper, I suspect we’ll take the cheapest, easiest path. That’s the one we know. The one we’re on. The one that keeps the oil lobby happy, along with the handful of billionaires* who are so shit at business that they can’t change or adapt and who, rather than try, prefer to pay millions to stamp on change and keep things the way they are. Built in obsolescence at the cost of … the earth.

I hope we’ll stop self actualising through our looks and start to understand that the important bit of a person is not the face but what’s behind it. I hope we will lean less on the pronouncement of self-obsessed vacuous ‘influencers’ who teach us we should obsess over the minutiae of our body shape, or some other pointless crap which means nothing and which nobody needs. Perhaps we will be happy if we have a slightly less ready supply of pointless plastic tat to buy, although, I confess, I love a bit of plastic tat as much as the next person. Perhaps we will start looking to something other than the accumulation of possessions for fulfilment.

Perhaps we will come out of this knowing how fluid a term ‘success’ actually is. Perhaps we will understand that ‘happiness’ is the best kind. Perhaps we’ll know that contentment doesn’t necessarily equate to owning lots of stuff and that possessions bring a lot of complications.

Perhaps we’ll know the answer.

Yeh. Well. We can only hope. Maybe we’ll learn something, maybe we won’t. But before it all starts up again, I am going to make the most of it … Who knows, maybe I’ll catch up with that fucking bus.

 

*not all multi-millionaires/billionaires are idiots. I’d just like to point that out here because it is just a handful of jerks with money that I’m talking about.

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Interesting times …

This week I have been mostly …

Doing loads of stuff.

OK so there’s a lot I haven’t done but I’m feeling productive. I’ve managed to do some housework, some book marketing (more on that story later) and some writing. I’ve done some work on the model I’m building – a Lancaster Bomber which my son abandoned. I’ve also managed to take 12 used deodourant sticks, take the quarter of an inch of deodourant that ends up below the rim of the plastic casing and meld them into another one and a half deodourant sticks. Don’t ask me why I do this, or how because it makes me look even more weird and OCD than I already am.

The writing was fun, indeed the reason this is late is because these over verbose bloatings take me about three hours to write and instead of doing it yesterday, when I was supposed to, I did a real, professional day’s writing; at least an hour on three separate projects. I’ve also managed to do some weights and keep my walking up, although only half hour a day for most of this week as I’ve been a bit busy. The weights are good though. After 8 years going to the gym, I have a fair few exercises designed for arms and stomachs which I can do on a Swiss Ball. It’s early days, but my triceps are feeling stiff so with any luck it’s doing something.

Any weight lost? Nah, but I haven’t gained any either so I’ll take that as a win. Woot.

Making a tit of myself.

A few weeks ago, I was chatting to an author friend and she tipped me the nod about a virtual book fair that was being put on by the lovely folks at Our Own Write. This seemed like a great idea so I signed up, only to discover that in order to do the virtual book fair, I had to do a half hour virtual spot on … twitter!

Gads. But I never use twitter! I try but it’s an impenetrable wall of noise, I find it impossible to find anything. Even if I put hashtags in I just get a wall of posts from people I don’t know. Finding my actual friends there, and talking to them, is really hard. At least I can read my facebook feed and see stuff that’s been posted by people I’m following. Twitter? Nah. It’s all influencers and Americans I’ve never heard of. People it thinks I’d like to hear from, rather than the ones I actually would, ie the folks I’m actually following. It’s like trying to find a comment from a friend on the most obscure article in existence on the BBC news site. I must be doing it wrong but so far, I’ve failed to figure it out over all but I seem to be able to take little bites here and there. That said, these posts all go to twitter once a week and people can tweet me if they want to, at which point, twitter does usually tell me.

Anyway, having dumped myself comprehensively in the soup, on a platform where I have no following with tech about which I was clueless there was only one thing for it. I was going to have to try and attain bluffer’s level Twitter, learnhow to make a live broadcast and then, you know, do it. Luckily another author friend was taking part in the book fair too and she had the slot before me so in the days running up to it we exchanged notes and lessons learned which was handy.

Because these times feel a bit apocalyptic, the obvious choice was something that poked a bit of light hearted fun at apocalyptic/disaster movies. So I chose Escape From B-Movie Hell … partly because of that and partly because escaping from the b-movie hell we are in quite now probably holds a fair amount of appeal to many folks right now.

The learning curve was all quite daunting but surprisingly fun!

The first thing I discovered is that to live broadcast on Twitter you must connect it to another app, specifically for broadcasting, called Periscope. Having downloaded and joined up Periscope, that was relatively straightforward. You have to use a phone or a tablet, but at the same time, not my iPad Pro, it seems. That just hung. Never mind, the phone it was. So far so good.

Once I’d done that it was time to experiment. What I planned to do was write a hello and welcome to my spot tweet with all the hash tags people would need to link it to the virtual book fair. Then I had to click on the photo icon as if I was going to add a photo to my tweet. The first icon in my gallery is a picture of a camera, click that, click go live and it’ll connect and Bob’s your uncle. I’m live. Except on the day, I guess I was in a bit of a panic because … aaaaaaargh! It didn’t happen. I could not get Twitter and Periscope to talk to each other.

When you try and do this back the other way, Periscope does send your stuff to Twitter, but you can’t put in the hashtags so nobody who is searching for the VirtualBookFair hashtag was going to find my broadcast. However, my slot had started and therefore, by hook or by crook, I had to. So there was only one thing to do, I was going to have to broadcast my slot on Periscope. Periscope which I had only just joined three days before, where I had one follower.

Luckily that ONE follower was my lovely author friend Rachel Churcher and to my eternal gratitude, she shared my live broadcast with all the right hash tags on her feed … and then the lovely folks at Our Own Write shared it on theirs, I think, so after a few minutes stalling, while I waited for someone, anyone to be listening, finally people started to arrive.

Anyway, if you like that sort of thing, you can witness this car-crash of an episode by clicking this link – oooh Twitter has given me a special preview box. Well anyway, if you’re game for a laugh you can have a listen there … apologies to Diana who has already sought it out and listened after last week, definitely an A plus there Diana, and no homework this week, because you’ve done it in advance! Mwahahahahrgh! Sorry I was going t post the link wasn’t I? Yeh, so if you want to watch it’s here:

Lessons learned? Well, despite the rank fear, it was great fun. The people who showed up to my broadcast were lovely and asked me some really interesting questions. I also have those tiny initial rumblings of a thought that suggest I might end up writing another book about Andi Turbot and the Threeps. I’m definitely feeling light hearted enough to give it a go at the moment.

On top of that, I really enjoyed learning a new skill. A skill I think I may be able to use. For a while now, I’ve been thinking I need a podcast, and what better thing than just reading these posts aloud? They are all about fifteen to twenty minutes read aloud and after doing my live broadcast I am a lot more confident that I could do that. The idea of using a proper piece of software is extremely daunting … it’s all levels and audio gain and a microphone and … maths. Even so, I may use a proper piece of software, record them and then put them out as a podcast, or I may just do them as twitter broadcasts and attach my Periscope account to Facebook and YouTube as well. I do need to do something to reach the audio people though.

What else did I learn? That most people use Periscope for evangelism. That some people just stare at the screen, I swear there were a couple of broadcasts I happened upon where, to all intents and purposes, the person appeared not to know they were broadcasting. There are some which are clearly groups of mates having a chat. And there are ladies … yes it seems to be a hotbed of home strippers. Or possibly they are just videoing themselves having a J Arthur. It’s difficult to tell because I’m not bloody hanging round long enough to find out.

Other joy … I have some book promos on

Relax with a good book … or relax with one of mine, the choice is yours.

This week our lovely friends at Kobo are running a 40% off Box Set sale. Naturally the K’Barthan Series is in it so if you do Kobo, it’s worth nipping over for a look. It’s not just my book, it’s a whole load of Box Sets and you can buy as many as you like so if that’s a thing that interests you click this lovely link here. None of them will look as if they’re reduced but if you enter this code at check out APRILSAVE it should take off 40%.

Also to go with the VirtualBookFair, Escape From B-Movie Hell is reduced to the nearest equivalent to $2.99 in all currencies. So if anyone’s interested in reading that, this might be the time to pick up a copy cheap.

That said … ALL my books are available in the major public library apps. While unfortunately, you can’t ask a librarian to get a paperback version in because all the libraries are closed, their apps are alive and well and … seeing a 35% uplift in new users apparently. So where your library lets you, you can borrow all my books for nothing, but I still get a payment. Win-win.

Audiobook revenue has happened

OK don’t get too excited – but anything is a surprise because they’re not all up for sale so I’m not marketing them yet.

Three of the four audiobooks – and Unlucky Dip – are live on Findaway Voices and Unlucky Dip is live on ACX. Obviously it will be three months or more before the others get approved on ACX, which is one of the reasons they are on Findaway as well. That and because it’s Findaway that supplies them to public libraries.

Anyway, ACX has reported that I have royalties due on Unlucky Dip but I cannot for the life of me discover what I do to find out how much. To my delight, Findaway also reported a library borrow of Unlucky Dip, which means Gareth and I have earned the princely sum of 16 pence each.

Woot!

Upon hearing this news Gareth’s reaction was, ‘finally that private island is in sight.’ Mwahahaargh! While McOther said, ‘I guess I’d better hold off from ordering that Aston Martin for another couple of weeks, then.’ But hey, as I said, I’ve done zero marketing so far, and these are not books that sell themselves. I’m not going to be uploading a book to Amazon, going away and discovering, two weeks later, that 50,000 people have downloaded it. That has happened to some authors, but my stuff … nah, I have to work for every sale I make. So if someone buys one without any input from me that’s a pretty good start.

In another happy chance, Playster says it sometimes gives audiobooks a rating before customers do in cases where their editors like them. I see that all the ones I have on there so far have been given four stars, which is nice. It may just come from the book ratings as my books are on there, too. Whatever it is, I’m chuffed.

 

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