Tag Archives: full time mum writing

And now … this!

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

Unlucky Dip Audio Book

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

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

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

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

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

Marvellous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My cunning plan …

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

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

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

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

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Shenannagins …

OK, so, I’m not even going to talk about the election result. The choice was a bumbling, everything-that-is-awful-about-posh, bloaty-faced, straw-haired sack of farts, or a man with a rather dodgy looking past who was slightly preferable but wants to do my brother and thousands like him out of a job. What do you want, Mary? Root canal without an anaesthetic or a ghost chilli enema. Choose. I chose, because women died to give me that right. The side I like least won but that’s not saying much. I consoled myself with some guerilla marketing, stealthily inserting cards about my free reader magnet into all the Terry Pratchett books in Waterstone’s. More on those stories, next time … now, it’s back to the matter in hand.

A mish mash of other stuff this week, then. Along with some of the most obscure comedy references available. I thank you. Today, as usual, I am writing to you from the past (Thursday). Well … apart from that first bit but let’s keep this as simple as we can shall we? It was McMini’s last day of term so I forewent parents’ swim, came straight back home after drop off and went into town to vote and do some Christmas shopping. After an hour and a half, I’d been moderately successful, and I couldn’t remember anything else I needed until I arrived home. Once here, realised that I’d forgotten to get the propelling pencil McMini wanted, although I can get that tomorrow.

While I was trailing round Waitrose, I had a quick chat to a friend, and found a small cured meats platter reduced from just shy of £7 to £2 and a rather garlicky curried bean salad which was also reduced. Smugly congratulating myself for sorting myself with a very pleasant lunch, I went home, where I immediately realised I had failed to get the one thing we really needed: milk.

The hat …

Never mind. I’d go up later I thought. And of course immediately I had that thought it began to rain and continued to piss down until the moment I had to leave to collect McMini from school.

Meanwhile, McOther is off on some work thing until late tonight in Oxford so collecting McMini involved going to the final school event of the term, McMini’s carol service. Alone.

The carol service takes place in the cathedral, which is a few hundred yards down the road from our house so I decided to walk. Seeing as it was still pissing with rain, and I had therefore failed to get the milk, I thought I’d take advantage of the time I had to walk into town to leave fifteen minutes early, swing by M&S on the way and pick up a plastic two pint bottle.

The communication from the school warned us that she service would start at two o’clock prompt and that there was stuff on in the cathedral so would parents not take their seats until after one fifteen. Shit were people sitting there for forty minutes? Fuck a duck! How full was it going to be? OK so I’d aim to get there by quarter to, that way I could stand at the back and sing really loudly without disturbing anyone. If I was really lucky, I’d be so far from other people that I’d be able to do the descents without anyone noticing.

There was a queue in M&S and so I strolled in at five to two. The cathedral was packed and, somewhat blinded by the miasma of pathetic rain all over my glasses I set off where I was ushed, if that’s a word, down the aisle.

Half way down, I was shown into a seat next to a pleasant couple who were on the aisle. It being rather bad form to take the outside and obscure their view, I squeezed past them and sat third person in. Shortly afterwards, a family arrived from the other side and took the remaining seats wedging me firmly in place. We were definitely packed in and when Once in Royal started up and we all stood, I turned sideways, which did make things easier. The people round me were pleasant enough but rather serious and staring straight ahead, clearly worried that I might engage them in conversation.

Waynetta Slob … and Wayne.

Then again, that was probably understandable, as they probably thought I was a weirdo. I was wearing a stripy knitted hat, so McMini would see me easily, a manky waterproof coat (think Ted’s out of Ralph and Ted in the Fast Show) a pair of wedgewood blue moleskin trousers that, in the wrong light, can be mistaken for the same kind of velour jogging pants favoured by Waynetta Slob and I was carrying a pint of milk. This, is probably not how the average Christian expects their fellows to turn up at church (well unless it’s mine and the person is doing coffee). I did demur from smiling at them and saying, ‘milky milky’ but I wonder if that might have broken the ice. Possibly, but I suspect it would merely have made people nervous, as a comedy reference goes, it’s too old and too obscure and would merely become the embodiment of the original parody.

The cathedral, itself, looked stunning and as a building expanded by the same firm of architects who designed the one where we had Dad’s memorial, there was a pleasant feeling of familiarity about it. The picture doesn’t really do it justice but they asked us not to take photos (after I’d taken that one) so I had to pixelate the teacher and crop off the parents in front of me.

Now, normally, when I go to carol services, I’m there with someone I know. So we are able to giggle when I sing the wrong verses to the carols incredibly loudly, or when I try to whisper the responses and end up barking, ‘AMEN!’ At the top of my voice when everyone else is saying, ‘and also with you’ because my voice has done something funny etc. The details of these things always amuse me and I come from a family of people who fuck it up in similar style. As a result, my memories of Christmas services, as a child, are of giggling at stuff ups, or because my brother was singing the carols falsetto, or I was singing them in a really high squeaky voice, an octave above everyone, that I can no longer do. Or Dad was complaining about how ‘fucking high’ the carols were this year (yes, there was plenty of effing, even pre Alzheimer’s) as his voice cracked, yet again, while, with a facial expression like someone sucking a lemon, he attempted the high bits in Hark the Herald.

There was also a propensity to do a kind of irreverent running commentary, among ourselves. In short, in my family, there was, still is, normally a lot of giggling. And if it isn’t family, I’m normally with other parents I know, so there is also giggling.

But when you are on your own you can’t giggle. Especially if you have a) turned up with a bottle of milk, b) eaten an injudiciously garlicky lunch which you are now sharing, through the medium of your incredibly scary breath as you do the singing and c) have already drawn a great deal of attention to yourself with your incredibly loud singing voice and the fact you are dressed like a rubby. On the up side, as a friend later remarked, at least it was only milk I turned up with and not a can of Stella.

Mwahahahahrgh! It’s never too early for a fusilier!

Of course, the absence of other like-minded nutters, or at least, in the event of my failing to out any that were near me, the commentary went on inside my head only.

There was a couple in front of me, sharing their service sheet in a very sit com style and a little old dear with them who I had down as grandma. Grandma (for want of a better name) suddenly upped sticks and with a nod, a smile and a wave at them disappeared off down the aisle to the back.

My brother’s suit! Nearly as loud as my voice, but not quite. 🤣

A few minutes later, after looking nervously round, the lady also disappeared up the aisle. She was gone for the whole of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem and then reappeared in the last verse but still sans old dear.  Had she gone to the Cathedral Centre lavatories to enquire after the old dear’s health? Was there a family crisis being played out here? I’ll never know, even though, as a professional nosey bastard (I’m an author after all) I’d like to.

There I was jammed in next to all these very nice but incredibly serious people. Their horror was almost palpable as I yelled my way through what felt like a million carols at the kind of volume that comes close to competing with a set of bagpipes. Maybe that’s why the old dear left. But the alternative is not to sing, which I will not countenance at a carol service, or to sing a bit less loudly, which is still deafening, but risks being really rather out of tune with it.

At the end of the service, the headmaster read the last lesson. They’d gone for a different response to the usual and he reverted to the traditional one. Except instead of giving the feed line he gave the response. Everyone tried to say something but nobody knew what to do so we all just went kind of, ‘mana-manah.’ And quick as a flash, a little voice in my head went, ‘do dooo do do do!’ And I started thinking about the Muppets song.

It wasn’t funny exactly, but it was accumulative funny, the sort of thing which would get a laugh if you added it to other stuff in a comedy. And if you have the kind of mind that’s already seeing a rich comedy of the absurd in yourself and everything around you, and has been attempting to do a Terry Wogan at seventies Eurovision-style voice over throughout the service. Or if you’re from the kind of family who’d start giggling. It’s really hard not to nudge the people either side of you and laugh. I resisted the temptation to nudge, but a small chuckle escaped.

Nobody else made a sound. Oops

Then Hark the Herald began.

Fuckity fucking fuck! (Sorry.) But seriously, Dad wasn’t wrong, I swear it goes up a key every year. For me things get a bit dicey over top f, I can do top g but only on days when I can’t get down to bottom g. Otherwise I have to do the special high note gurn. It’s a facial contortion that throws Dad’s sucking a lemon high-note reaching expression into the shade. And you just can’t go about doing that kind of thing in decent lighting, in front of people you don’t know. Most cathedrals are chuffing dark so hardly anyone can see. Not this one. Today was low voiced Mary, I’d managed to produce a crystal clear, non crackly Little Town of Bethlehem. I knew that fucking high note was going to be a bit of a stretch. And we were definitely up there.

So there I was wearing my manky old waterproof coat and my ridiculous pussy hat, screeching the carols like some peri-menopausal banshee. With a bottle of milk. And garlic breath. Trying not to show any outward signs of amusement or … well … any outward signs. While in my head I could hear my father guffawing his head off and saying something like, ‘Well Mary, you really have excelled yourself this year.’

 

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What on God’s green earth am I doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So did I? Er, no.

Do I care though?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s talk about things …

Wow, I have a whole gamut of stuff washing around to talk about this week. I’m not sure if I’ll get through it all or do it justice but off we go.

First of all, last week, you’ll have noticed there was a break in transmission. Yep. No blog post. I meant to do one but then it was time for the Christmas Fayre I was getting all my shizz ready and … er hem … I forgot.

In my defence, my father’s memorial service took it out of me. It was wonderful but blimey I was knackered afterwards. Lots of emotional stamina required. Which reminds me, I should write and thank a lot of people. Yet more stuff to add to the gargantuan, War And Peace-length list of Shit MTM Hasn’t Done. Gulp.

The fayre was kind of a mix. It was the first time in a new venue and it took a while for people to realise we were there. Friday was quiet, Saturday reasonably busy, and Sunday a lot busier. The books sold well, although differently, a lot of people bought two; a copy of Escape From B-Movie Hell and a copy of Small Beginnings. The EyebombThereforeIAm calendars, which I thought would sell like hot cakes and bankroll everything, they didn’t sell at all. So that was bizarre.

The ill fated eyebombing calendar

The consensus among friends and family is still, ‘oooh I’d buy one of those,’ and some even have, but they clearly left the general public cold. I am selling some for charity, which might help. I had to sell 30 at £9.99 to pay for costs, I sold five at £9 and I have sold three to a lovely friend for £9.99. I picked £9.99 after researching them in local shops and discovering they were mostly £9.99 – £15.99 so I went for the lowest price. However, McOther tells me a pop up calendar shop has opened in the new shopping centre with prices from about £7.00 to £9.99 so perhaps I’m now at the high end.

Never mind, onwards and upwards. If you think you’d like one you can find out more here.

Dad’s memorial went well. It’s always interesting going back to Lancing because for the first sixteen years of my life it was my home. I also had another home, kind of a two sheds Johnson, that was me, because we lived off site in the holidays. But Lancing means as much to me, in a different way, as the other place I grew up, which Mum still lives in now. Going back is like having a little squiffy in your old house, seeing how the new owners have changed the decor! Although I haven’t been in our actual old house.

It was a glorious celebration. Really lovely. I cried my eyes out at the end in a way I hadn’t at the funeral, which was a bit embarrassing but also kind of cathartic and easy enough to hide because I was wearing a big hat. Just look down and hey presto! Nothing to see here. I suppose I felt it more because this was the last goodbye and the last thing we can do for Dad … well … except inter his ashes but we are going to … er hem … batch him and Mum. The eulogies were great, really funny, the way Dad would have wanted. Lots of stories about his antics. Some good shouty hymns. Really well chosen readings and the readers and speakers did a grand job. I even managed not to cock mine up! Woot! Although I was last up so I was shitting gargantuan bricks for most of the service. Listening to audiobook proofs all week helped in that respect as I just followed the little voice in my head that said ‘read it the same way’ and did. Minus the funny voices, of course.

Highlight of the readings they chose an excerpt from 1 John Chapter 20, which included verse 4:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

A perfect summation of Dad’s attitude, since he was the embodiment of love thy neighbour in a way that many of the loudest Christians on the internet – especially the mentalist, old-testament-thumping, gun-loving ones in the US – are not. Yes, if you think anyone is Satan’s own spawn because they think differently from you and say you love Jesus, you’re a liar! Love that.

Desmond Tutu stood here and so did I.

Huge amusement afterwards when we discovered a plaque bearing the legend, ‘Desmond Tutu stood here to dedicate this window to his friend Trevor Huddleston.’ Much incredibly mature ‘standing here’ where Desmond Tutu had stood ensued, from me, Bruv and Eldest Nephew, Good-King-Wenceslas-‘heat-was-in-the-very-sod’ stylee. Mwahahahrgh! Phnark.

With the election on, I think I am feeling Dad’s absence a lot more, mainly because of the race the bottom that is the election campaign. I’m one of these weird, old fashioned people who thinks that lies, soundbites and dirty tricks, just make a party look like a bunch of twats. I think fake news is a danger, not something to be embraced. I’m one of these old fashioned people who thinks dishonourable and shoddy behaviour, unkindness, opponent smearing, hypocrisy and bare faced lies, you know three year old caught with a hand in the biscuit tin and denying it, Scottish Spaceport is nearly built, let’s change our twitter name so we look like an impartial not for profit organisation disseminating facts rather than one of the contenders, kind of lies, and a general complete lack of integrity, are actually bad things. I still believe elections should be fought on issues although I’m not 100% sure if the labour site I’ve found is their real site or a conservative spoof. Sigh.

When it came to the day to day discipline of running his house, Dad had zero tolerance for three things, drinking hard spirits (he’d Not Catch boys drinking beer, wine or cider, so long as it wasn’t too out of hand but he would catch the spirit drinkers) drugs and bullying. Even so, nearly every boy my Dad expelled was expelled for bullying. One, who was expelled for doing something particularly stupid but which wasn’t bullying, was finally reinstated after three days, at my Dad’s behest. He didn’t stand by and let something go if he believed it to be an in justice.

Maybe that’s the trouble with this election; the glaring lack of statesmanlike behaviour in pretty much every one of the high profile politicians. The trouble is, there are decent people beavering away on the back benches for all parties. They just never seem to make it to the front.

To me and many others, the NHS is a good thing, and the death of a thousand tiny cuts to which the current and previous governments (of all colours) have subjected it is a bad thing. Successive governments have been breaking it so they can say, ‘look this doesn’t work’ and contract it out.

Take dementia care. My father paid tax all his life but until he was down to his last £14k he was not eligible for free health care, and even when he was, because he had a work pension, he actually paid for it, they just charged a lower rate. If he’d had a frontal lobe tumour it would have presented the same symptoms, but he would have been half a million quid richer when he died. Half a million quid of life savings which he’d earned and already paid tax on. You know tax don’t you, the stuff you pay so you get things like free healthcare from the NHS? At the point where he was weakest, most vulnerable and most in need of help, Dad was betrayed.

The thing is, hanging out with my Dad, as he became more and more mentally disabled, has turned something round in me. My Dad said and did some pretty grim things during various phases of his disease. Partly because there were no filters, partly because his world was warped and distorted by his disability, and I guess partly because his disability also warped his efforts at self expression. Sometimes he was horrible and that hurt because he was always my dad. And I knew that somewhere inside that inappropriate, screaming exterior was the gentle, kindly soul I knew. He just couldn’t reach us. A lot of the time, all he needed was the right word, the right help, to bring him back. We couldn’t always find it but we tried and I think he was aware of that.

But now when the conservatives talk about scroungers and tell disabled people to get jobs, when they foster the zero tolerance, claw-it-all-back attitude to social care and disability benefits I begin to wonder if I’ve jumped timelines or something, I’m so out of kilter with the way other people think. When they shame and vilify disabled or chronically ill people as scroungers, I feel sick. When Social Services ask my friend’s daughter, with achondroplasia, when she expects to get better I am unimpressed. This, a bright, very bright, intelligent human being, someone with a great deal to contribute to society, who was also in with a chance of becoming a future Olympic athlete. So not a scrounger or a free loader then. I’m beginning to understand what Sir Terry meant when he talked about holding onto the anger. It’s not angry ranting, well not always, it’s just righteous ire that burns the whole time. That’s why I have to write it out, it’s doing my head in.

The anguish of Dad’s last half year or so still haunts me and it probably always will, but it has also profoundly changed the way I see my fellow humans. I now realise, more than anything, that imagination is the most important gift we possess. It’s imagination that makes us able to see the other person’s side. It’s imagination that enables us to find a way through. It’s imagination that helps us understand that, if our enemies saw people’s heads off with a kitchen knife and post it on YouTube, the thing that raises us above them is that we don’t. It’s imagination that allows us to understand that torturing suspected torturers, ‘because they do it to us’ merely makes us one of them, possibly worse, because while they’re brainwashed and uneducated, we have the tools to know better and have made a conscious choice. It’s because we have imagination what we can realise that an eye for an eye merely debases all the arguments that our way is better than theirs at a stroke.

It’s imagination that makes us think before we wade in. It’s imagination that tells us when taking sides is necessary or merely petty. It’s imagination that allows us to step outside the bubble, accept and enjoy friendships with people who have different political viewpoints to us or are friends with people we don’t get on with. Politics is about issues and problem solving, it’s not a competition to see who can tell the most lies or paint their opponent as the biggest shit, although anyone looking at it now could be forgiven for thinking it is.

Another thing I have learned from the experience with my Dad is that everyone has a value, everyone is of some importance, everyone has something to contribute. I’m even beginning to see how Corrie Ten Boom’s sister, in Auschwitz, was able to feel sorry for the guards because they were so cruel. She thought their lives must be so empty, so without empathy, love, compassion and all the other things that make living so wonderful. I thought she was nuts at the time, now … I dunno. I am beginning to think it must be truly terrible to be as pompous as vainglorious as desperately in constant need of ego affirmation as Trump or Bojo. And yet I’m also beginning to see the humanity in the psychopaths, the killers, the mentally ill; those who I would have dismissed without a second thought as evil before I watched my father go insane. Perhaps I’m beginning to understand that many of them are just unwell. Mental illness is horrifically complicated but I seem to be able to extend them a courtesy I am finding it very difficult to give Boris, Trump and their ilk.

Dad always held the view that to get anywhere or do anything, you had to be a decent human being. He believed that being decent and honourable gets you quietly, unobtrusively, where you want to go. Because if you are straight with people and stand by them they will love you, and people who love you will move mountains for you. Not necessarily at the times, places or in a manner you expect but they will.

More and more, now he’s gone, I find myself sticking my head above the parapet, not because I care that much even, but because Dad’s not here to do it. Even if it’s just to joke about being the token bleeding heart liberal in some of my friendship groups and put a different point of view. But the thing is, despite half my friends having voted Brexit, which is a bit of a downer, we still all have so much common ground and we are still friends. Maybe this country will heal, if the politicians and the loud mouths will stop using the divisions to score points and entrenching them further; ie, shut the fuck up and give it time.

I can’t wait until this bloody election is over.

 

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Shiny things and other news!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeh, another champagne week, I guess.

_____________________

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

Future Adventures

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

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

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My lord! I bring news!

This week has been quite a contrast to last week.

First of all a brief word about superstition and its place in society. Now there are some folks who say that butterflies are a sign that angels/dead loved ones are watching you, and ditto about white feathers. I have no idea if any of this is true, but if I can see a white feather bobbing down from the sky and use it to make myself feel less sad, I will.

Obviously, it would be lovely if it was a message of support from Dad. There have definitely been a few white feathers over the past few years, something I’ve noticed because John Lennon always told his son that he’d send a white feather drifting across the room as a message after he died. Julian Lennon said once, ‘I’ve always been looking for that white feather.’  So when I saw my first one, during a pretty grim time in Dad’s illness, it left an impression.

No, I didn’t think it was John Lennon, but I’d never noticed a white feather drifting down from the sky before and I thought that pushing fifty was quite late to notice my first one, so it did make me wonder, slightly, if some dead relly somewhere was sending me a message of support – look I’m a writer, OK? I imagine all sorts of weird shit, it’s my job after all.

The instances have increased dramatically recently, and they have definitely coincided with good days, not just because I can use them to pep myself up but because genuinely good things have happened on the days when I’ve seen them. Coincidence? Probably. They are white, so they’re coming from the gulls rather than our local pigeons, who are all grey. Perhaps there is a particularly scrofulous gull flying over our house every day, one with a dash of the gift,

‘Ah yes, I must drop a feather on MTM today, good things will happen to her.’

Mwahahahrgh! Or perhaps he’s just the gull equivalent of Humbert. Hmm… could be. I don’t really mind, I’ll even put up with them shitting on the conservatory roof if I can use this phase of vigorous moulting on their part to help me be positive.

It’s like the bit in Terry Pratchett where he talks about telling people stories, or at least, Granny Weatherwax does. Tiffany Aching is trying to use facts and truth and Granny Weatherwax contests that people don’t respond to facts and truth and that you must tell them stories.  Tiffany is at her wits end because a family in the village have dug their outdoor lavvy too close to the well and they keep getting ill. Despite her most earnest entreaties to move it, and despite her repeatedly explaining to them that the crap is seeping into the drinking water and making them ill Tiffany can’t galvanise them into moving their out door kharzi. They can’t be arsed. She seeks Granny Weatherwax’s advice. A few days later, Granny Weatherwax tells Tiffany she persuaded them and the two witches visit. Sure enough, the bog has been moved.

‘How did you do that?’ asks Tiffany.

‘I told them there’s goblins down it,’ says Granny Weatherwax matter of factly.

So another brief lesson about grief then, don’t be afraid to use headology on yourself! If seeing a white feather floating in the air makes me feel something good will happen, my attitude is going to be such that it probably will, even if it’s just something that mightn’t have registered on another day or in different circumstances.

But, that said, quite a lot of smashing things are happening! Here are some.

Big news this week.

Small Beginnings is now available for pre-order in some but not all places, I’ll post a proper link next week when it’s live everywhere. In the meantime, click on the picture for more information, or if you want to to, you can sign up to receive three email reminders around launch time. To do that, click the link below.

Receive a reminder when Small Beginnings comes out.

Ultimate launch date is 19th November. Feel free to tell your friends.

Eyebombing news

I have to fess up to being piss poor at posting my eyebombing recently, but I’m also hoping to organise the eyebombThereforeIAm calendar a bit more formally this year. It depends if I can get a stall at the Christmas Fayre though, and I won’t hear about THAT until Monday or Tuesday. More on that story next week.

And some even bigger news this week. Um … yeh.

So a while back a chap contacted me explaining that he was an actor and that while it was a grand and jolly life, he would quite like to do a project of his own.

[MTM waves] hello Gareth!

This being the case, he’d decided he would learn to read and produce audio books. He wanted to use something as a guinea pig while he got to grips with production skills, sound booth construction, etc, and for this purpose, he chose the K’Barthan Series.

However, he hadn’t just said he’d like to do it, he’d already recorded a rough outline of Unlucky Dip. Since then he’s recorded another one. So yesterday we had a chat on the phone about well … basically about the recordings he’d sent me, and the characters. It’s a pretty great project to be involved in when two people can spend over an hour on the phone doing silly voices at one another, and giggling, and then tell people, solemnly, that it was work. Mwahahahaahrgh! Yes he’s as nuts as I am but then, what would you expect? He likes my books!

If anyone wants a listen, you can do that by clicking the link below. It is a draft, so it isn’t nearly finished, and he’s reading it off his kindle, rather than a marked up script so he sometimes puts the emPHAsis on the wrong syllAble, but as an outline sketch I reckon it’s chuffing marvellous! He’s got Big Merv and The Pan of Hamgee, absolutely how I imagine them and he also knows how to put in the right kind of energy to bring it all to life … through the magic of acting he tells me with tongue firmly in cheek. Feel free to have a listen and let me know what you think.

Unlucky Dip Sketch Number Two

So yeh. All in all, a good week.

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This week, I am mostly, cheating!

Greetings, late as ever. I appreciate that this is a late post. I knew things were going to get a bit hectic and sure enough they have. I had to set up McMini’s computer for school and it took approximately one thousand years. OK not quite one thousand but it felt like that, especially when I had bloody microsoft asking me to sign in and then saying ‘oops there seems to be a problem.’

After searching for what felt like fucking aeons, I realised that the problem was simply that McMini is under age and therefore I had to sign in as me to move windows from some crappy version, where you can’t download anything off the Microsoft app store, to normal windows that everyone else uses. As a result I have nothing to witty to blog this week and had to resort to Things I Have In Reserve, in this case, my Dad’s Eulogy.

It might seem like a strange thing to share, but it was written for laughs and it even got some! Next week, I have some absolutely chuffing amazing news for you! In the meantime … enjoy …

________________________________

Dad post retirement but pre dementia.

The difficulty talking about Dad is that I have so much material, so it’s tricky to know where to begin and when to stop. The fact his nick name, at the school, was ‘Johnny the Legend’ probably says it all.

I’ve made some notes.

Obviously, as his daughter, I’m biased and see him as a shining example of what it means to be human, and a Christian, and to do Christianity and humaning really well. There are certain words that crop up again and again in the letters and cards we received; Gentleman, kind, warm, radiant, humour/joie de vivre, fun, funny, witty, generous, non-judgemental, wise, humanity and a word he used about others but which also very much applied to Dad, himself, effervescent! Dad lived his whole life with an aura of intelligent enquiry and seemed, to me, to have a genuine interest in everything and everyone around him. He also had a sense of fun and mischief but coupled with a sense of social justice and a kindly disposition which meant the mischief was never cruel. He was genial and good humoured and would often tell stories against himself if he believed his antics were funny enough. Probably one of the most indicative things about Dad, and Mum, is the friends they made and the people they have around them. They seem to be pied pipers of lovely people.

Dad delighted in sharing the Latin and Greek roots of words, especially if they were slightly dodgy or a little bit lavatorial. I can still decline the latin verb from which we get the word, ‘constipation’. Despite being a committed Christian, Dad would sometimes take me aside after church and we would both giggle as he pointed out the double entendres which Victorian poets, in a more innocent age, had unwittingly put into that Sunday’s hymns. ‘Oh Lamb of God, I come,’ was a particular favourite, and the fact it was written by an ancestor on my Mum’s side just made it even funnier.

He loved to prick the bubble of the self-important and was proud of any signs of rebellion in my brother and I. He once hauled a colleague to the window of the master’s common room and, glowing with proprietorial, that’s-my-boy pride pointed out a scene in the quad below, where a member of staff who ran like the original Minister for Silly Walks was sprinting across the grass followed by my brother doing a near perfect impression of the man’s ridiculous run a few yards behind. Another time, I remember Dad carrying a copy of the unofficial school newspaper round one speech day and, when he met the right parent or colleague, he would whip it out of his inside jacket pocket, like some war time black-marketeer selling stockings, to show them a slightly scurrilous cartoon I’d drawn of the Bursar.

Life with Dad was never dull. He was always cheerful and sociable. He enjoyed entertaining friends and relations during the holidays and would wear his bedroom slippers ‘to make it more relaxing’ often prank phone calls would be made to other, absent, members of staff, or those who’d moved on to better things at other schools. Sometimes he would invite people round and forget so Mum would be surprised and delighted to see them arrive but have to pretend that she knew they were coming. She, and we, usually pulled this off, except for the time my uncle and aunt turned up and found the four of us sitting down to a grilled trout each.

Dad was, as he would have put it, ‘a good trencherman’. On holiday France Dad demonstrated that, were he ever to go on Mastermind, his special subject would be not classics but instead, Guide Michelin, Normandy edition. As we drove through some village he’d suddenly stop the car and announce that it was lunch time because the auberge had a red underlining. No-one I’ve ever met before or since could sniff out a good restaurant as surely as Dad.

He also enjoyed wine, although, in that respect he was quite a long suffering father, luckily he had a very forgiving nature. I remember I inadvertently drank one of his best bottles while he was away on holiday. ‘What? You drank my Gevrey?’ he cried, his expression a mix of horror and disbelief at my iniquity in drinking his wine and pride that I’d made such a quality choice. Luckily pride won out although I did replace the bottle as soon as I could. I also remember spilling mayonnaise all over him at a restaurant in Durham when we were having a meal to celebrate Giles’ graduation. There was complete silence and, again, Dad’s face was a mixture – of anger and humour, this time. For a few seconds we watched the two emotions battle for control. God bless Lil, who guffawed before she could stop herself, Dad’s habitual good humour reasserted itself immediately and all was well.

I’ve already alluded to Dad’s selective memory. Any timely attendance at social events was due to Mum’s insistence that he put them on the kitchen calendar … also, most friends were wise enough to ensure she knew about them. The odd one or two slipped through the net though. I remember in my last year at school, Dad had just left the house and was commuting in daily from home. One evening, I found him, Mum and two friends wandering disconsolately through the cloisters in their dinner suits having arrived at the common room guest night a week early. This was a particularly spectacular achievement since Dad was chairman of the common room at the time and, therefore, the person responsible for organising it.

A familiar refrain in our house when I was growing up was the phrase, ‘have you seen my biro?’ Dad had two Papermate biros: there was a red one, which with Dad’s characteristic fuzzy logic, contained black ink, and a turquoise one which contained red ink. The hunt was on for one or other of them (and his keys) most of the time. Finally, he lost the red one, apparently forever, so I bought him a new one for his birthday, a top of the range black and gold Papermate. Yes, from now on the ‘black’ biro was going to BE black. I was incredibly proud when he hung onto it for years, although it turned out it was several biros. He couldn’t bear to upset me by admitting he’d lost my gift, so he kept buying replacements. It was only after he tried to buy replacement number five and he discovered Papermate had discontinued that model that he was forced to come clean. It was typical of Dad’s kindness. He was a soft old thing. He used to hug the cat goodbye before work in the mornings. She always smelled of aftershave at the start of the day.

For all Dad’s legendary forgetfulness, though, the headmaster’s secretary once told Mum that he was the one housemaster she could always rely on for an instant answer to any question asked about any of his charges. There was no filing system, no having to look things up. He always remembered the things that mattered.

One more instance of fuzzy logic. One summer night we left our pet rabbit in his outside run which had shade but very little shelter. Mum was the first to realise when she was awoken by a rumble of thunder.

‘Darling! There’s a storm coming and the rabbit’s still out!’ she cried and Dad went out to rescue him.

Mum heard the door go just as it began to chuck it down with rain. She ran to the window to see Dad rush into the orchard, completely starkers, barring a pair of wellies, grab the rabbit and take him, through the pouring rain to his more permanent home in the garage.

‘I didn’t want to get my pyjamas wet,’ he explained when Mum asked what on earth he was doing.

Dad was a committed Christian with a deep and enduring faith. Interestingly, his efforts to be Christ-like in every aspect of his behaviour could make him come up as a bit of a maverick – which suggests he may have been doing it properly.

Dad had a very firm idea of right and wrong and, as it was governed by his faith, it didn’t necessarily involve proceeding as convention, or the rules, dictated. Luckily most of the people he encountered appreciated this, even if his tendency to take the same approach at work, coupled with a propensity to forget housemaster’s meetings frustrated some of his bosses. Neither tendency let up after he retired.

One evening he and Mum got talking to a homeless man in the churchyard and brought him home to spend the night. Mum, rang me and explained that if I hadn’t heard from them by half nine the following morning I must call the police as they would probably have been murdered. She put the phone down with the parting shot, ‘Don’t tell your brother darling, he’ll go into orbit.’ Mum and Dad were a team and as you can tell from this story, it was definitely a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other.

One of Dad’s maxims was,

‘Never let anyone see you’re shocked by anything, most of the time, it’s what they want.’

Dad was pretty good at not being shocked especially by some of my more punk friends not to mention us, his own kids. I remember his reaction after I attended my first party. Unfortunately I mistook the fruit punch for a non alcoholic beverage. By the time I realised my mistake I’d downed gallons of the stuff and I was terribly ill. The next day, I felt truly awful and spent the time very quietly in my bedroom. When supper time arrived, I came downstairs and Dad said,

‘I thought we could have a treat tonight, I’ve made some wine cup.’

I have no idea how he did it but Dad had managed to replicate the exact same punch that I’d drunk to such horrific excess the night before. I sunk two glasses with a heaving stomach and a thin pretence of enjoyment. It was a much more salutary lesson than any lecture on the evils of drink. Fizzy logic, perhaps, in that case, but no less effective.

Dad was also great at understanding the way other people thought. A naughty friend of mine told how, when about to be cautioned by the police for some argy-bargy at the Goldstone, Dad stopped him just before he went in and said,

‘Now listen, Duncan, there’s one thing you have to remember and it’s very important.’

‘Yes Mr Bell?’

‘Yes, whatever you do, DON’T laugh! It’s yes sir, no sir, thank you sir and out again. No backchat, and NO arguing the toss. Right?’

My friend confessed that, the moment he was confronted with the police officer cautioning him, he was indeed, seized with an urge to guffaw or make sarcastic comment, but he managed to contain himself because of what Dad had said.

Dad wasn’t afraid to be human if, by venting occasionally over something small, he could be better at something bigger and more important. I remember him mowing the orchard at home. The lowest branches of the trees were all about four feet off the ground. As Dad mowed he was watching the grass in front of him so he bashed his head on pretty much every single tree. Each bump was greeted with an ever lengthier flow of invective, mostly comprising the word, ‘bugger!’ It lead to a new family measurement scale of vexation, ‘how manyb’uggers was that, Dad?’ we’d ask after a particularly vexatious escapade doing something or other.

Dad told me that he’d wanted to be a teacher for as long as he could remember. To be honest, if you grew up around him while he was going about his job it was fairly obvious. He was extremely dedicated, but even when he had retired, even when he had Alzheimer’s, children still flocked to him to chat.

His pet advice on housemastering was, ‘It’s not about catching the boys it’s about knowing when NOT to catch them.’ I only found that out recently, which is probably why it was many years before I realised that, when he came home to regale us with something funny he’d caught the boys doing, they didn’t actually KNOW. The famous Johnny Bell warning cough made sure of this, unless they were seriously up to no good, in which case Dad would omit the cough and attempt to catch them. He allowed some slack but had a zero tolerance policy for bullying. I remember him agonising when he had to send boys to the headmaster for drinking, smoking, going awol or the like, but if they’d been bullying people he never had a qualm about having them expelled, which was entirely in keeping with his sense of right and wrong and social justice.

One of the greatest gifts Dad taught me was that, if you want to be happy in life, it’s essential to be able to laugh at yourself. He had a way of being self depreciating and using humour to keep things light without losing the message. His humour also helped him keep things in proportion, in a way that not everyone can. Perhaps that accounted for some of his courage when facing the grimness of Alzheimer’s. Wherever he is now there will be light and laughter.

In the classroom, too, Dad liked to allow space among the learning to enjoy a bit of levity. His pupils soon realised that you could have a far more interesting Greek lesson if you got Dad onto some off the wall topic after about five minutes. He got decent enough results, so it seems to have worked. Even after he’d retired, Dad’s one-to-one students knew to ask about his most recent holiday if they wanted a break. At school, the lateral and inventive nature of Dad’s red herrings was so famed that they were featured in an article in the school magazine, which amused Dad greatly. I have a photocopy of that article which I’ve included, below.

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