Tag Archives: full time mum writing

I ai’tn’t dead … honest.

Although I can forgive you for thinking I might have been because, I concede, it’s been ages since I’ve had time to write the blog. I’ve had to keep dropping it in favour of writing for Nano – which I ‘won’ – or doing other things. I even had two posts ready to go but ran out of time to upload photos and then didn’t post them. They’re a bit out of date now although I might post the one about NanoWriMo  midweek just coz … you know … I can.

Truth be told, it was my own fault. I stymied myself completely by ensuring that I’ve not a single clear day in the three weeks running up to Christmas. That wasn’t a good idea. My recent writing deadline of 15k words in three weeks has fallen by the wayside at 5k. Then again that is 5k I wouldn’t have written otherwise and I achieved it in 5 of the 15 days so I’ll take that.

Thursday: I should have realised things might not go the way I planned when I discovered, while having a mid-morning wee, that I was wearing my knickers inside out. No time to change them so inside out they remained. All day. Nice. I’d arranged to go round to a friend’s house for lunch and I discovered, to my complete and utter horror, that I needed to bring some food. This, at a point when the only cooking slot available was just before I set off. So no writing that morning either!

On the up side, once I’d finally got my head round the idea that everyone had volunteered to bring things, I was left with the something sweet brief. Easy, I would make chocolate log, except I’d make the ‘log’ into buns and ice them with a lovely piped rosette of chocolate icing. Mmmmm.

Luckily, it was McMini’s last day of term so we were all up early and the mixer was droning away in the conservatory, with the door shut because it’s a bit noisy sometimes, before McMini even departed for school at 8.10 or at least 8.25 because McMini’s interpretation of time is somewhat elastic. He is a teenager after all.

Talking of McMini, he is still hilarious. I sent him off to get a tea light the other day to go in the lamp on the table which we light at supper. We have three bags of the damn things, but two have been put away by McOther who has no idea where they are and, since they’ve been put away by him in a ‘logical’ place, the likelihood of my ever finding them is, frankly, remote. Luckily I’d bought a big bag a few days previously and kept hold of them in my office so I told McMini where to find them; on the floor by my desk.

The next time we needed one, I said, ‘Remember that you’ve already torn one side of the bag to shreds and turned it over to make it look as if it wasn’t you, so please don’t rip the other side open as well.’

He looked at me with a certain amount of horror the more than a hint of admiration and shock, as if I’d just seen into his very soul.

‘Blimey Mum, I swear you are telepathic or something. How on earth do you know I did that?’

I glanced over at McOther who had a huge grin on his face because he knew the answer, and then back to McMini who was still wearing an expression of complete disbelief.

‘It’s because the genes are very strong, and it’s the sort of thing I would have done,’ I told him.

The discussion then went on to how he was doomed because there was so much of my side of the house in him. Although luckily he doesn’t suffer from discalculia and has a science brain so he won’t have to go through his entire life trying to do arts with a science brain that he can’t use because he can’t speak maths, and being told how thick he is.

Result.

Back to the cakes. I put them into cup cake cases and didn’t bother neatening them up much because the mixture normally kind of … settles in the oven so they look normal. Needless to say, this one time, when I came to get them out of the oven, I discovered that they hadn’t settled and were still as lumpy and strange as they had been when I put them in.

Arse.

Never mind, I can do piping quite well so I reckoned I could squeesh a rosette of icing onto the top of each one, throw on a few chocolate stars, dust it with icing sugar and the irregularity of the buns underneath would be well hidden.

Next stop, while the buns were cooling, make the icing. This was butter, cocoa powder, icing sugar and a little milk. That done, I spooned it all into the piping bag. Buns now cool, I approached the first one, held the bag over it and squeezed. Nothing came out of the nozzle but big brown poo-like gushes of icing oozed out of the seam in a kind of star shape, landing randomly everywhere.

picture of untidy kitchenAh.

That wasn’t how I expected it to go.

The oozing was somehow extremely comic to watch, so of course now I was laughing.

On my own.

In the kitchen.

With a piping bag that appeared to have many extra orifices, all of which were producing something brown and very poo-like in consistency, apart from the one in the nozzle, as if they were the arse end of one of those poodles that shivers a lot.

For a moment I wondered if I should be asking myself some serious questions about my sanity but then I realised that if I was going to get to lunch with my mates at 12.30, I really didn’t have the time.

Onwards and upwards.

Nothing for it then. I turned out the lump of icing, scraped off the bit so f the icing bag that had dissolved and stuck to the outside. Oh dear, that left a lot less icing. Never mind, I washed the bag and threw it in the bin. Why did I wash it first? No clue. There you go.

Taking the pallet knife I smeared icing onto the cakes, but they wouldn’t stay still so the first problem was that my fingers got covered in icing and because of that, the lovely white pristine cup cake cases got covered in icing too.

That done I stood back to have a look. Oh dear. Something about the marks the pallet knife had left didn’t work for brown icing. In fact it made the cakes look like licked turds. Oops. Not the vibe I was going for.

Time for plan … heaven knows, I was probably onto about Plan F by this time, A, B, C, D and E having failed comprehensively. I got a fork and distressed the tops of the cakes so they looked sort of spiky. That was a bit better. Next I got a sieve and some icing sugar and sieved it over the top of them. That was a lot better until I dropped the sieve on the cakes, followed by the palette knife, and then had to do it again.

cakes in a plastic box that looks like abs

Some of the Cakes, this box is called ‘the abs’ although it’s more … the sumo.

Next I put some stars on them and some chocolate popping candy which neither popped nor tasted of chocolate before putting them into various tupperware boxes. Needless to say, we lack the right sized box to put all the cakes in one so they were added to several different lunch boxes in groups of anything from two to seven. Standing back to admire my handiwork I dropped one of the boxes, resulting in my having to return to square one with the fork fluffing and icing sugar sprinkling.

Head desk, or to be accurate; head counter-top.

On the upside, I did manage to get to my friend’s house with some of the cakes and arrived just as she was sorting out an electrical problem with her toaster. Too many crumbs in the bottom coupled with the fact a stray blini that she was toasting had somehow got across the divide so it was completing the circuit between some of the wires in a way that was not conducive to the happiness of either the toaster or the electrical system of the house. They’re buggers like that, blinis.

We had a wonderful lunch. I ate too much and the three of us consumed two bottles of wine. It was a few minutes before I left for home that I ran one hand across my face and a large lump of chocolate icing appeared on one finger. Turned out it had been hanging from one eyebrow like some giant clagg. Nice.

Thinking about it, I suspect it did me good to walk home in the fresh air. I finished the day feeling very tired, although the fact I went to bed at ridiculous o’clock the previous night and, indeed, had done all week probably contributed to that as much as the wine.

As it was McMini’s last day at school there was that magic moment at the end of the day which I always treasure, when I switch the 7.00 am alarm off on my phone. Sure I get two hours less in the day but lordy me I need the sleep! I’m at the horrible time in the month when I sleep really badly but mainly because I sleep too lightly rather than because I don’t sleep at all. As a result, a couple of extra hours in bed is a tonic.

The next blog post will be Christmas Day and I will be releasing a Christmas story for you all to read. Although clearly, since it’s K’Barth, it won’t be a Christmas Day story exactly, it’ll be about The Prophet’s Birthday, but that’s kind of the same thing.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

It’s called The Last Word … I think, although I’m also tempted by Trouble Afoot: Parrot Abroad, then again, I could use that as the subtitle quite happily. And I’ve sort of done a cover … just. In the end, after three years of not having a clue, I decided to learn to use my iPad and iPencil to draw something. Woah. So that was fun and although it’s still a bit half cock – a lot cock really – it will do until I can get my lovely friends at A Trouble Halved to design one properly … for now.

This is the short 10k version which I wrote for an anthology in the same manner as Nothing To See Here – same anthology too. In this case though, the anthology was never produced so I have it knocking about. As I did with the anthology version of Nothing To See Here, I have expansion plans for this one so it will become another novella – it’s 12k already. I might also, possibly use it as a mailing list exclusive for the series I’m writing now about how Betsy Coed’s guest house ended up becoming a brothel. Alternatively, if it takes ages to finish Misfit Five I’ll switch to this one, finish it and release it in February or March 2022 so that something comes out next year.

The Betsy story will take me ages because that’s a massive sweeping epic but I’m really enjoying writing it. Lots of new characters or at least bit people out of the other books. Doing the Pratchett take-a-sub-character-and-focus-in technique. Oh alright, attempting it, not doing it per se. Big Merv’s in it though and Trev is so lovely. I hadn’t realised until I started to write this one what an absolute sweetie he is. We find out a lot about him because he’s one of the main characters.

Talking about Misfit Five, or at least, I was a couple of paragraphs back, it’s coming on nicely. I have just shy of 65k of it at the moment although I’m thrashing with the wobbly middle before I can get the end done.

To my unfettered joy, I think it’s going involve a fight in a balloon warehouse full of helium canisters. I have warned Gareth because it seemed only fair.  Someone’s going to see the gas canisters and smack the end off one or shoot it thinking that it’s H rather than He and that it’ll blow everyone up, but instead it won’t and they’ll all end up speaking in very high voices like the Chipmunks or Pinky and Perky (depending on your age and country of origin). Obviously I’m looking forward to writing that bit immensely. There will be one cannister of hydrogen – or oxyacetylene, or something else flammable – because the warehouse must blow up. After all, you can’t go wrong with a good fireball and also I have this mental picture of The Pan and two other characters he’s working with walking out of the flames with a bag of Goojan spiced sausages. Thank you diddly guitar bit at the beginning of Coldplay’s ‘Slow It Down’ for that image!

The Hamgeean Misfit series is also turning into a bit more of an epic than I intended as The Pan gets inexorably drawn into Big Merv’s organisation and gets more and more trapped, while the net tightens around him from the other direction as it were, as Lord Vernon increases in power and influence.

There are only going to be six books in it too, because the way the relationship between Big Merv and The Pan is developing is not something I can string out much longer than that. Not if his fear of The Big Thing in Few Are Chosen is going to make any sense. What is fun about that though, is giving the low down on what Big Merv thinks. The Pan is so scared of Big Merv that somehow the idea that he really likes The Pan but is stern and bluff and that because of this, The Pan, mister zero confidence, doesn’t realise, actually works.

It’s weird. One of the things I really enjoy about writing is not really knowing where it’s going to go and the interesting journey involved in finding out. Somehow, I’ve managed to relax with that over the last eighteen months or so. I’m just taking my time and enjoying what I’m working on. Although I’ve resolved that I must finish the 5th Misfit before I work on anything else. The way my year tends to pan out, the release window is May at the latest, after that, it becomes summer holidays, there are trips abroad and then in September every single piece of admin I have to take care of comes up all at once. So basically, if I miss getting it to the editor before April, it doesn’t get released until the next year.

Also, while it’s nice having lots in progress it’s a shame if there’s nothing actually finished. And I want to release something each year which means Misfit 5 for 2022. But the fact I took a little longer over Too Good To Be True and let it rest before I published left me with a way, way better book.  Therefore, Misfit 5 has got to be done by the end of February if I stand a realistic chance.

If push comes to shove, next year, I’ll finish off The Last Word, publish that in March and do Misfit 5 later on in May or June. After that it’s summer holidays and I can’t write or work until October/November and then only if I completely ignore Christmas like I have this year! Mwahahahrgh! That suits me but probably isn’t quite so great every year.

9 Comments

Filed under About My Writing, audio publishing, General Wittering

Licensed to chill …

Better late than never this week, yes the blog goes out on a Sunday because MTM was phaffing about too long on Saturday. On the upside, the phaffing involved writing 2,000 new words on Hamgeean Misfit 5. Hoorah. On the downside, I wrote 202 words of it today, and this!

Yep. News this week, I decided, at the last minute (but then, how else do I do anything?) that I’d have a bash at NanoWriMo. If you don’t know what that is, it stands for November Novel Writing Month … actually it doesn’t does it?Well look, that’s what it is, anyway.

The idea behind it is that you write about 1,600 words every day throughout November and at the end you have, 50,000 words, which is a novel. Obviously, the chances of me writing anything on a Wednesday are slim so that’s five days down before we start. That means that if I want to write 50,000 words in November I have to do at least 2,000 a day. Hey, you know me. I  like a challenge.

When you’re writing it all on one story it is quite a tall order. My brain takes ages to mull things over and so I usually write several things at once. I might yet do that with Nano and call the results ‘a book’, but at the same time, I want to finish this particular story and this seems as good a time as any. At the moment I suspect that it’s terribly slow and lacking in action but I’m thinking that once I get the bulk of it down I can fix that. Everything I’ve written is stuff I can use, although I did have to move chunks around a lot yesterday to make it work. I guess what I mean is, I’m not so worried about whether or not I’m writing these scenes in the right order (or even the write order, badoom tish! Oh ho ho).

Thus far, yeh, a week in, I’ve managed to write an average of 1,000 words a day because I managed 2,202 yesterday which means I’ve got Wednesday covered. OK that means I’m 600 words a day down. On the up side, this particular book has now reached 17,000 and something words. I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen but I’m enjoying finding out. There are any number of bizarre plot strings which may or may not come together into something meaningful. One involves an actor with a colourful past as an all-in wrestler. I like the idea that Marcella the Pirate, who is a key character and a total cow right now, might reform somehow after a run-in with the Grongles and retire from her life of crime as part of some travelling wrestle-tainment show.

Or not.

This was not a good idea.

Other strings involve someone in The Pan’s party getting kidnapped and the plot, or at least, the next bit, revolving around his efforts to free the kidnapped person. It’s kind of a mystery and I like the idea of them solving things by blundering blindly deeper and deeper into the thick of it like the bunch of clueless fools they are. It remains to be seen if my intellect is capable of constructing a suitably mysterious mystery to solve. Probably not. It’s all rather jolly though because I’m just agog to see what happens at the moment.

Today, I also wanted to share some thoughts that have been drifting about in my head for some time now about writing generally, and my career, such as it is. The hurriedly written newsletter I sent out this week seems to have hit a chord as a fair few people replied. There’s a small group who reply regularly, anyway, but there were a couple of extras this time and one sent me a truly wonderful letter asking why I wasn’t famous, which was actually quite humbling, as well as touching. And then a similar discussion popped up with a member of the K’Barthan Jolly Japery group on Facebook who said I didn’t give myself credit over the books and then proceeded to say lovely things about them which had me walking on air for the rest of the day. Woot!

Funnily enough, I remember asking Gareth exactly the same question on Whatsapp while he was doing the K’Barthan Series. It was a question neither of us could easily answer. Why is one artist famous and another not?

Sometimes, it does appear that an artist’s skill at marketing or reading the zeitgeist surpasses their actual ability. But also, I think there are disciplines where the art of succeeding is about so much more than just the artist doing their thing. It’s really hard to talk about this sort of thing when you aren’t successful because you can come over as bitter, or sad or whatever. I feel none of that, surprisingly.

When I look at my books, I’m pretty sure they’re commercial, yet different. Hell, I’m even confident that, if you like that kind of thing, they are good. They just … don’t sell.

Strangely, I have come to realise over the last year that I am completely alright with that.

Perhaps it’s because I write my books for me. Sure, I want to share them with others but I like them. It turns out, they differ from the type of thing most people want to read, but they are the kind of thing I want to read and the kind of thing I like. I enjoy writing them, indeed, I kind of have to. It isn’t 100% voluntary, this writing gig. It’s a cross between a bad crack habit and a calling. I need to do it, I need to tell and share stories. It’s a compulsion and I think most people practising an arts ‘thing’ feel the same way about their creative weapon of choice. I’d say there are very few of us do it because we can, we do it because we have to.

So if we’re all telling stories, why do some people succeed and some people not? Well apart from the obvious things, I mean, in that some books are just terrible, or too out there, or badly presented, or the authors have a higher opinion of their own talent than perhaps they should.

Here’s my guess, or at least, this is what I said to the lovely person who emailed me, anyway. I think that ‘success’—or at least financial and fame-type success—in any arts career is about 73% hard work, 25% talent and 2% luck.

While talent and work can get you to the point where you can turn in the kind of stuff you are proud of and which may even get you earning, I suspect that the thing that gets you into the stratosphere, and household-namery, is that 2% of luck. You can probably succeed with less work and more talent, or perhaps if you put in more work, you can succeed with less talent but I suspect it’s the luck that takes you over the edge.

Luck is the right person encountering your stuff and then telling the right people. It’s Stephen Fry discovering one of your books and mentioning it on twitter, it’s David Gilmour hearing you and championing your work to the record company. I genuinely believe that all you can do, as the artist, is make sure you cover your arse; put in the other 98% of the equation, do the work, do it to the best of your ability, rinse and repeat in the hope that it will be enough, and then learn the other skills; do your best to make the luck.

Sometimes, I do feel that my books are the equivalent of Kate Bush’s music. Strange but good, only without the Gilmour. Other times, I think that I am probably being slightly deluded about my skills as a story teller to put myself on the same plane as someone like Kate Bush. And furthermore, that she would have succeeded without the Gilmour factor and that the ‘Dave’ effect was just the icing on a the cake that was already well and truly cooking.

The thing is, you just put your head down, make your shit and put it out there. Because the more of your shit there is floating in the ether, the greater the probability of Mr Gilmour—or equivalent— finding it. Or that huge review blogger—you know, the one with the thousands of followers who blindly buy everything she recommends—she’s more likely to find your books if there are sixty than if there are six.

It’s just maths innit?

That means, I guess, that one of the biggest parts of success is having a LOT of content available. Look at Julia Donaldson. The Gruffalo hit the big time quite recently with the film and all but it actually came out in the 1980s. I remember my friends reading it to their younger siblings when I was at school. Ditto Michael Morpurgo, who spent a lifetime producing scores of the most fabulous books but became major league when, some years after it was published, one of his books was made into a West End show. Behind those big successes are years and years of bum on chair, head down, create, rinse, repeat.

This is how it should look.

In my case, it does feel, slightly, that the amount of material people cite as essential to gain traction is always the number of books I have out, plus about 30%. When I had one book out it was three, when I had three out it was five, when I had five out it was ten, now I have ten out, it’s twelve. It is what it is; funny in a painful sort of way.

It might be, possibly, that availability everywhere also helps. I’m talking less about KU versus wide as large print, paperback, hardback, french, german, audio, ebook etc etc. If I ensure my content is out there in as many formats as possible it has to help a bit, right? And I have ensured that my whole publishing ecosystem is primed and ready so that, should the luck unicorn fart at the right place and time, and a cloud of richly-scented glittery sparkles float my way, I can maximise the exposure to that magic spangly guffage.

If a gargantuan back catalogue is the way to succeed, it’s unlikely to happen for me. My rate of output is way too slow to play the numbers game. But people do succeed without it. Perhaps I could be like that author who wrote a crime book, put it on Amazon so her family could buy it and woke up five weeks later to discover she’d sold 80,000 copies without doing anything. Oh no hang on, that was a) a crime book and the key word there is crime (or thriller or romance). And b) she was a solicitor writing in her spare time, as so many break out indie authors are—maybe there’s something in the mindset. And anyway, I’ve written ten books now and it still hasn’t happened so I suspect that boat has sailed.

As for making my own luck. Hmm … well. There are about 2,965  people on my mailing list. With every new release that number goes up by about 20. It seems that I cannot break through that 3k barrier until the next two books are out, at which point, presumably, my having hit the holy grail of twelve, the magic traction number will be fifteen.

Certainly, if it’s really true that I need about 10,000 engaged mailing list readers for any of my new releases to be even half visible in the stores—and I’m pretty sure it is—I will have to write an absolute craptonne of books.

Yeh. As, you can see I have a very long way to go. If I’m totally honest with myself, it’s probably further than I’m going to get in this life time.

Do I care about that?

Strangely, not the way I used to. When I started writing books, I thought my stuff was so mainstream and bleedin’ obvious that it would sell by the truckload. I thought a good product was enough and, sure, if I went back to 2010 knowing the things about book marketing that I know now, perhaps it would be.

At the time, I wanted to sell enough books to rescue McOther from his job because it was high stress and he was clearly not enjoying it the way he had at the beginning. Even in my most high-powered job—national responsibility, household name company—I didn’t earn what he paid in tax so between you and me, it was probably a rather ambitious target.

However, this last year, somehow, I seem to have let a lot of that stuff go. Perhaps it’s because McOther is retiring so he doesn’t need rescuing and there isn’t that same urgency. Perhaps it’s because he’s at home now and McMini was at home school for a fair part of the last two years and that’s been really lovely. Maybe it’s that life is easier now Dad’s gone. It was bad watching him suffer his illness but it was also very distressing to watch Mum endure it too. Now he is OK, and though she has dementia, Mum is OK at the moment, since she’s happy enough and ensuring that she is as happy as possible is all I can do. Maybe with less angst about other stuff it’s easier to let the writing angst go. Or maybe I’ve accepted that while success, on the world’s terms, is possible, it’s probably not going to happen, and that’s OK.

Perhaps there is just too much joy to be had in the texture of life to obsess over succeeding in one specific area. And perhaps that single-minded approach is what sets successful writers apart from people who are reasonably talented, but unsuccessful, like me. But I don’t want to miss Real Life and anyway, without it I can’t write. The daft games with the McOthers, McMini discovering the first faint signs of armpit hair and obsessively checking for extra growth and reporting his finds. His endless search for thrash metal records, his ludicrous out there view of the world. The pleasant, gentle rhythm of life casa McGuire or the holidays we have. All that stuff has to be experienced and lived. Not only is it important to me but without it, my mojo is as useless as a car without petrol. Life, living, experience has to go in for any writing to come out.

Anyway what is success if it isn’t happiness?

So will I keep writing. Of course. And without the pressure on myself to succeed, I find I enjoy it better and write more. Strange huh?

Will lots of people start reading my books? Will I earn a craptonne of cash from them? Will they become bestsellers? Will they be made into a film? Will The Pan of Hamgee become a household name? Well … it would be nice but if I’m honest … probably not. But you know what? Amazingly. That’s alright.

As long as I can carry on writing books, and as long as the handful of folks who do read and enjoy them keep on reading and enjoying them, I’m OK with that.

Talking about books …

Which reminds me, if you want to decide for yourself if my books are any good, feel free to read one. You can find a list of them, with links to buy them from the major stores, and mine, at the end of this smashing link here:

MTM’s Books

Or you can sign up to my mailing list and grab Night Swimming for free here:

Night Swimming

16 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Urgh! Just kill me now …

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

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

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

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

This was not a good idea.

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

Shit.

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

Nope.

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

Nope.

Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

In brief …

Life is feeling a bit like this at the moment …

Just briefly, some writing news this week. It’s the end of term there’s loads of stuff on at the school, sports day, for example, but because of Covid it’s been split over two days, an afternoon and a morning. I also appear to be completely and utterly knackered in that I have slept through my alarm for two days running. Ugh.

I have also got a bit down with the marketing. Slowly but surely, I am cobbling together a box set of funny books from seven authors. However, I am making very slow progress and at some stage I have to bite the bullet and appreciate that I am going to have to stump up ready money for a cover. This is why I haven’t done one before, of course. The cover. Because if we’re clubbing together to make a free book, I don’t want to charge anyone anything. But the folks I know who have done this are able to design proper, professional standard covers as well.

There’s also a conundrum with the name. I have what I thought was a great name but one of the authors dislikes it intensely and it would be useful if I could come up with something we all agree on. It’s funny fantasy and sci-fi first in series books. Originally I thought of calling it The Light Fluffstastic, in a play on 1990s comedy shows, Terry Pratchett and the fact they are comedy stories. One of the bigger names hates that so I’m trying to think of something else, but of course, I can’t get the light flufftastic out of my head now.

All the other marketing is going rather badly. I’ve tried having a book on 99c special this month, and as it’s Pride month Escape From B-Movie Hell, with it’s gay heroine, seemed like a good one. I’ve sold 10 copies so far, although it has been mentioned in the Ebookaroo newsletter today fingers and toes crossed there may be a handful more. Other authors, most of the ones I hang out with, run sales and give aways at the stores to gain visibility. That is not an avenue of expansion that is open to me because those 10 copies are actually a fantastic result.

How to get my books in front of the people who’d like them then. Hmm. Therein lies the million dollar question.

If only it was this neat in my head …

Advertising is very expensive at the moment. Unless I spend $5 or more a day, my Facebook ads never seem to get out of the learning stage and worse, the ones that had have gone back in! Yeek! This is to advertise books that make me $200 a month maximum. And of course it’s 3 months until I get any of the money from sales via retailers. Bookbub ads … ugh. I spent ages doing one yesterday, only to discover the ruddy thing had signed me out at some point in the process so when I clicked save, it all disappeared. Can I remember what it said? Can I buffalo? But even when I manage one, I can’t get the things to deliver. I’m begging them to spend my money but nothing’s happening. I guess I need to spend $5 a day plus there, too. Then there’s the fact I have more readers on Amazon than anywhere else but that isn’t where I want them. Amazon is volatile and hissy with its suppliers. I don’t want 80% of my income coming from the least reliable of all my outlets. I need to expand my readership to the other platforms but … ugh. Again. How?

Making a book free isn’t working – not enough downloads so it remains invisible, and even where it isn’t there is zero read through, which is a bit of a bummer. Google play, I get stacks of downloads for my free shorts in places like India and the Phillipines. I have reduced my prices in those countries accordingly (I am making 6p on each sale) but there is still no read through. Bit pants really. I suppose that’s why my marketing efforts tend to be quite basic. I get discouraged. And of course, there’s no time to have it running on more than tick over.

Since my marketing efforts at the moment are having such piss poor results, I’ve decided to concentrate on getting the box set finished and writing.

At the moment it’s all a bit like this.

As a result I wrote just under 1.5k yesterday. Was dead cuffed with that. This is a new series and I intend to have written three or four books before I bother publishing the first one. The world is still building itself right now so it’s taking a while but it’s only by beginning to write more of it that I can solve these conundrums … you know … does the station run on fuel cells that synthesise power from wee (actual existing thing) or is it the ship that runs on wee? Stuff like that.

It’s all a bit amorphous still but there’s definitely enough going on to start writing, and my curiosity is aroused enough to work on it regularly, which helps. I began it before and got 40k in but it was more of a sweeping epic, the baddie was bad, the stakes were high and there was a definite arc across the series that lasted about four books.

Right now I need to do things I can write in shorter instalments so while the sweeping epic was happening, it wasn’t happening very fast. Also, I know they don’t sell, or at least, not mine. Reading comedy books from people who do manage to sell them, it seems that they are a) a lot more slapstick and less sophisticated, b) the plots are simpler. I can’t really do slapstick and less sophisticated because I can only do it the way I do. I have no idea if it’s funny or not when I write things, the comedy part has always been more about making it look deliberate.

However, I can simplify the plots a bit, drop the multiple character POVs and make each book more like an instalment in a situation comedy. Or to put it another way, make it less of a Lord of the Rings style epic with added jokes and more like Porridge in Space.

The advantages of doing it like that are that I can probably include more world building as it goes on and the humour will be in the side characters, the surroundings, and our hero’s continued battle to get one over on a Mr Machay type of overseer who has taken against him. I dunno how many I can do, which is why I’m not going to publish the first one until I’ve written several but I can set it up so we don’t necessarily need an end, or at least, not until I decide to write one. The disadvantages to this are that I am very unsure as to whether I can think of that many adventures for them to have. Also, I do love the idea of a sweeping epic battle between good and evil. Although I’m doing another K’Barthan book like that, so I should try to be content with one, I think. In a nutshell, I guess I think that a kind of Porridge in Space might sell better than anything else I’ve done, but have grave doubts as to whether my comedic talent is up to it.

But I’m aiming for something a bit smoother like this.

Only one way to find out. Have a go. So that’s what I’m doing. The first one is provisionally entitled ‘Dignity Pants’. I’m enjoying myself, even if it ends up being crap. Right now, it’s so amorphous that I can’t tell. Then I’ll sell it as a straight sci fi space opera, which will be way, way easier than trying to sell humorous sci fi, which is officially a hot niche – woot – but only because it’s becoming a sub genre of romance, therefore burying my and any other books that actually are comedic sci-fi under a deluge of nekked manchest, rom-coms-in-space. Same thing happened to Fantasy.

Alongside this stuff, I also need to write some more Hamgeean Misfit stories. I’ve made a start on book five but my heart isn’t really in it, except it sort of is so I think this one probably begins in the wrong place. There is something creeping out of the woodwork there so I’ll let it ferment for a day or two and then have another go. I also need to finish the expanded version of the Christmas story I’m doing which features Gladys Ada, Their Trev and, of course, Humbert. That one has reached it’s first end point the mission is accomplished … sort of … but now they have to get home. I decided that they were going to run into some difficulties on that score but I haven’t started writing that bit so I’m not sure how many difficulties there will be or what, exactly will happen. I think that one’s about 12k at the moment so I suspect it will probably hit about 20k or thereabouts by the time I’m finished.

I guess the biggest problem is that I just take too bloody long to write this shit. It’s so annoying. But it is what it is.

Onwards and upwards. I’ll see how it goes.

On another note …

Yep, once again, I’m cutting my own throat here, but if you want to pick up an award-winning comedy sci fi novel for a song, now’s your chance.  Escape From B-Movie Hell is down to 99c/99p for the month of June. If you’ve already picked it up, do feel free to share the news with anyone you think might like it. Here’s the blurb.

Escape From B-Movie Hell, 99c for pride month.

Escape From B-Movie Hell, 99c until July 2021

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

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

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

If you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, feel free to share the ‘good’ news with anyone else who you think might. If you haven’t read it, and think you’d like to give it a go now it’s so cheap, then for links to buy – either from me or your favourite store – click here.

13 Comments

Filed under About My Writing

I am a luddite. It’s official.

Gah! Excuse me if everything is a little off today but … ugh something weird has happened.

For those of you who don’t know, this site is hosted by WordPress. A while ago, WordPress updated their main user interface from this …

Nice isn’t it? Everything’s there at a glance.

To this:

Although, if you increase the screen resolution you do get this:

which is slightly better.

For a while now, I’ve had the control panel rolled back from the new one to the original because it’s just so much easier on the eye and all the data is right there where you want it.

Recently, going along similar lines, WordPress decided to ‘simplify’ their editor – this is marketing speak for ‘make it impossible to find anything at a glance’. Everything is now buried under layers of menus, like the phone app only, in my case, on a pc. They’ve been banging on about something called the ‘block editor’ for months but I’ve just ignored it and hoped it would go away. Basically, as far as I can see, this is just a way of making your posts take longer to write.

You see, the way I do stuff is I barf the words onto the page and then when I’m done, I format them. Blocks mean you have to keep choosing your formatting before you write which is a gargantuan ball ache because it really interrupts the flow.

WordPress says that,

‘Retiring an entire editor — the place where you publish posts and pages on WordPress.com — is not something we would ever do on a whim. What inspired us to take this decision is the positive experience site owners have had with the newer WordPress editor.’

Which, of course, is marketingese for, ‘we can’t explain to you why we did it because it would take too long.’ I’ve worked in customer service and marketing a long time and like, seriously are they for real? ‘I love the new interface!’ said no software customer, EVER. They have changed the interface from this:

So simple, so straightforward, so why can’t they leave it alone!

To this:

Here’s the new editor where are all the widgets? I have no clue, the editing tool bar is part of the ‘classic’ block. The actual tool bar is those four icons at the top I think. I dunno.

They’ve made it ‘simpler’ ie they’ve designed it so there are fewer things on your screen; just acres of glary white and big writing with the features you need all jumbled up in sub menus and moved around. Because heaven forfend that any of us poor bastards using the thing should have the remotest fucking clue where they are.

They’ve added ‘new features’ ie a ton of pointless bells and whistles that slow down your creative flow. No more ctrl+A to select the entire post. Oh no. Now, if you want to copy and paste your post you have to do it from the front end or you have to copy it paragraph by paragraph – one of the most notable features of block editors which has been useful since never in the entire fucking history of human existence.

I don’t have time to learn that it’s x button, third down, I just look and see, ah yes, I need to click there. This new interface is as Lou might say to Andy … a bit of a kerfuffle.

Blocks are so crap. Why can’t I just type shit and do the formatting afterwards? Why this complete fucking obsession with formatting it all first, with presentation over content, with extra ‘features’ over and above the ones we require ie, things to stretch out the length of the task so we feel busy.

Newsflash! I am busy. I’m so busy I’m disappearing up my own smecking arse! I don’t need to feel it. I don’t. have. fucking. time. And when stuff is pointlessly added to my busyness it’s not going to make me feel important, it’s going to make me fucking irritated.

And if they have to do blocks can they not, at the least, do drag and drop blocks so I can just pick the bastard things out of  side bar and bung them in? I spent ages ferreting about to find the ‘classic editor’ block and even longer trying to work out how make it stick so that I was writing my blog post in it. Thank heavens they seem to have given me the option to switch back to the usual interface to edit this. So I’m now typing this in the understated, elegant peace of the wp-admin and classic editor setting, instead of the shouty in-yer-face, giant-writing, glary, retinal burn-inducing horror that is the new one. So much white … it burns … it burns!

OK so this isn’t the end of the world or anything, I am joke ranting here. The poor buggers at WordPress can’t be expected to keep three editing interfaces going and I know I’m completely at odds with the zeitgeist on this. My blog is about what I write, the content, the words, and I am beginning to understand that priorities for the myriad of other users outside my small circle are different. Everything else is about photos and videos so I guess blogs are no different these days. The salient thing is; text is yesterday. You have a photo and if you want to say something you post a video. Me? Frankly, if I can type at about the same speed I speak and I can edit my writing so it reads more fluently, why would I bumble and stutter at a camera instead?

How many people can touch type though? Not many. I mean, there’s text to speech now. I am pretty much a dinosaur. Touch typing is not a skill developers for places like WordPress are going to be factoring in is it? Not really. Which makes me wonder if a big part of the shift towards video and images is because typing in a phone is such hard work.

A while back, I remember downloading the WordPress app onto my phone. The interface wasn’t as intuitive because it’s a phone. It’s a small screen and there’s less room to work. However, any vague understanding I have of the new interface and where to find stuff is based on my use of WordPress on my phone. Basically, what they’ve done is shut down the desktop site and made the phone app the interface. Why? Well, I suspect what it comes down to is this one word.

Change.

I’ve been writing some sort of blog or other, week in, week out since 2006. All here, on WordPress. The first was called Babychaos and then, from about 2009, I switched to this one. The ‘classic’ editor – the one that is going away, because it’s already only used by a few legacy customers such as myself – that classic editor, is the one I’ve used since then. It’s straightforward, powerful and everything you need to use is easy to see as you look at the screen.

That’s how I work in real life. I lay stuff out on the desk in front of me and I pick the things I need as I work. I don’t work with a completely clear desk and run to the cupboard and get out each tool I need, using it and putting it back back only to have to run back to the cupboard a few minutes later, get the same thing out, use it and put it back again. But that’s how the interface on your phone works. And because that’s what they are used to, I believe this is how a lot of people now do work.

In 2006 phones didn’t do much. The main, online interface of pretty much anything was the web page designed for a desktop computer. The phone versions of web portals were very limited. Then smartphones began to take off. Gradually programmes and interactive web portals became apps, and phones and tablets became as powerful as some computers. The idea of a desktop site has become redundant in many respects.

Add to this that there were parts of the world where computers were never used in earnest, instead people skipped straight past all that and paid one lump sum for one thing that did everything – even if it wasn’t always that easy to do it with – a smartphone. Because if you are living in an developing nation you can’t necessarily afford a separate computer, phone, music player, camera and tablet. Furthermore, you may possibly live in a place where you don’t have electric power to your home, or where, if you do, it’s sporadic. You are going to buy the thing that runs longest off a battery, that does the most stuff, that’s with you all the time, and which will be the easiest to carry. That’s going to be your phone and you’re going to use it for everything. And people did. They started using their phone to play music, watch telly, talk to people, and yes, build their websites, write books, configure online shops. The whole shebang. And because the phone’s memory wasn’t big enough in those early years, they started using streaming services for many of these things and the (shudder) subscription model was born.

Software production shifted from emulating the way human beings naturally work to the way phones work – or at least to the closest version of how a human being works that a phone is able to deliver.

I know people who write books on their phones. I cannot imagine why anyone would voluntarily put themselves though such a profoundly horrific experience as trying to type text, in volume, on a phone but there you go. Folks do it. Perhaps they have less arthritic thumbs than I do. More likely they don’t touch type at 90 words a minute plus, so typing on their phone doesn’t feel like they are working at about the same speed as continental drift. Or they use speech to text and they have an American accent so it actually understands what they say and produces something vaguely similar to the original. Or their slidey keyboard works rather than guessing just about any word in existence if it can avoid using the one they’ve typed. Or maybe their spelling and autocorrect tailors itself to them personally, rather than using an algorithm that condenses information from all users, rendering three quarters of  the vocabulary the person uses unknown to it. I dunno. But I digress …

The thing is, even with all this capability behind it, the screen on a phone is still tiny, so you still couldn’t have the same kind of information packed interface in the app as you would on a larger screen. It has to be built around the phone. Me, I like the larger screen and detailed interface you get on the desk top version of a site. But that’s because I read information best when it’s laid out. Some people – most people it seems – stack their info. They file stuff in drawers, they see their information in towers. Me, if I were to file things my ideal way, everything would be spread out around me on a huge long table. Seeing stuff is an important part of the way I interact and process information. I think I may be unusual in this respect, but I doubt I’m unique.

That’s why I always use the desktop site if there is one, either on my lap top or, if I’m on the road, on my iPad. I can easily see how the phone interface of anything can only function with about five items, maximum, on each menu. And that is specifically why I avoid using my phone, except when I need to or I want to comment or in an emergency but … not for the day-to-day important stuff. To me, having experienced the joy of desktop sites where everything is laid out clearly, the phone-friendly versions are hugely counter intuitive. Things are hidden at the top of lengthy menu trees and going off down a rabbit hole to find each function is a pain in the arse. I get distracted, I get lost. I lose my way back. But that’s because I’ve grown up with the pre-smartphone technological experience. On my phone the text on desk top sites is tiny, I have to zoom in to read it or format it. I totally get why things have to be simplified even if, yes, I still find it easier to browse the miniscule desk top sites on my phone than the stark phone-friendly versions.

I can do all this stuff on my phone, but it’s like viewing the world through a tiny crack in a wall while a bigger screen allows me to out there in the open and gaze at my surroundings.

The nub of the problem for people like Microsoft and WordPress is that two different versions of a thing are expensive to run. So what do they do? They, build their interface to suit the majority of their users. And these days, if you are a world-wide operation, the majority of your users are phone users. That’s why Windows 10 feels like it’s, basically, the Windows Phone interface. There aren’t as many options, it’s hard to get underneath things unless you use legacy stuff like the control panel. It’s probably why you can’t choose what up-dates you download. With the pursuit of ‘simplicity’ comes less and less flexibility and it’s … weird. The richness of the desktop experience is going to disappear because the majority of modern internet users have never experienced it. The only exception to this is the Apple interface, which has always been a bit more like that, as far as I can tell, which might be why it’s never come as naturally to me. Maybe these transitions are easier to make for Apple aficionados.

But … that’s why I find the new WordPress interface hard work. Because it’s the same as the phone app. It looks weird and huge on a large screen and the stuff they’ve prioritised: the stuff that other people use, is not the stuff I use. Because hardly anyone values the large screen experience anymore, just a few luddites and writers like me. Hopefully, one day, they’ll get the folding or holographic phone screen down pat. And when they do, maybe, when screens are bigger, some of the richness and complexity of the desktop interface will return to the software and websites we use. Maybe … I can hope.

Right, I’d better go and write something. I have two old ladies, a bunch of n’er do wells and a parrot stuck in a warehouse … they need my help to get out.

________________________________

Talking of luddites … does anyone fancy a 12 hour audiobook?

Yes, word up. Right now I am looking into ways I can deliver audiobooks direct to users: they buy from me and they can listen to the book in an app or on their computer. If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to download the bookfunnel app or join bookfunnel. If you’re happy doing that feel free to help yourself – the link is below.

It’s in beta, yes you are testing. That’s why you get a 13 hour audiobook for free read by one of the most distinguished actors you’ve never heard of: Gareth Davies. The man who made Roy Hudd laugh … and laugh enough to be asked back to do it again.

Once you click on the link, below, you’ll end up on a download page for the book. When you click listen/play it will ask you to download the bookfunnel app and enter this code … which is some letters on mine. Write down the code then when you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play and it asks you for the code, you have it right there to put in. I don’t know if the code is case sensitive but I’d presume it is!

This is a brand new app and brand new audio player, and Bookfunnel appreciate any and all feedback. If you get into trouble, or can’t get anything to work, contact their help address – which is given on their site, I’m not 100% sure I should give it here – with a header: ATTN: Julie.

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fxd6bnoy7k

If you decide to listen to the book. I hope you enjoy it.

This is to stop all my bog posts being illustrated by the picture of the book at the bottom! Mwahahahrgh!

15 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

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.

_________________________________

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.

15 Comments

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.

____________________________________

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.

8 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

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.

20 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

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.

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

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.

8 Comments

Filed under General Wittering