Tag Archives: I fucked this up so you don’t have to

A little bit of mousework …

Yep, more rodent-related shizz.

So … this week it’s half term and we’ve been on the road. I’ve realised we are going to be on the road the entire length of all our holidays until summer 2021. This is kind of good, we have exciting plans afoot, but also a little daunting from the point of view of my organising my life at all over this period, let alone doing any writing … Never mind. I’m sure I’ll work something out.

After last week’s exciting vole-centric adventure you may not be expecting any more up-close rodent-related action on my part – and who could blame you – but you’d be wrong.

Visiting my brother and family for the first weekend in half term we looked out of the window and noticed a little mouse on their bird feeder. A very sweet little brown mouse, no less, with a white tummy.

‘Aaawwwww,’ we all said.

And then I looked closer.

‘Hang on, is it stuck?’ I asked.

‘Hmm … might be,’ the others said.

Only one way to find out. I went outside and discovered that, yes, it was, indeed stuck. The bird feeder was an iron pole with two curled arms welded on either side from which to hang bird seed dispensers. Where they joined the main stem was a small gap and the mouse had got its leg stuck in it. It’s foot was very red but not purple, which I hoped was a reasonable sign. It was healthy, its fur luxuriantly shiny and I reckoned it would be fine if it didn’t rip it’s own leg off before I could free it. So with one hand, I held the mouse and with the other I tried to pry the arm of the feeder out a little so I could release its leg.

Nothing doing.

My sis in-law arrived and I asked her to hold the mouse and try to lift it upwards while I pulled the arm of the feeder outwards to widen the gap.

This did not go well.

I suggested we swapped as I got the impression she wasn’t enjoying holding the mouse. Except that the mouse was seriously unimpressed with the entire proceedings by now and had clearly decided the safest, and most prudent, course of action would be to make the big pink things manhandling it go away by biting them.

For a few seconds as I fumbled with it. I managed not to get bitten but then, as the mouse attacked what it clearly considered to be, the lumbering pink fleshy thing which was trying to envelop it in a hot, clammy, marsh-mallowy embrace – or maybe it just thought my fingers were attack sausages, I dunno – with renewed vigour it finally succeeded.

Yes, it got a firm grip on my thumb and bit it. Hard.

Oops.

‘Hold it by the scruff of the neck,’ my sis in-law suggested.

Good plan. Holding the scruff of its neck, carefully, and bleeding all the while, I gently lifted it up while she held the iron bits a little further apart. I put it on the plate of seeds in the middle of the feeder. It bounced off as if it had been shot from a cannon and ran into the undergrowth.

One of us was OK then, even if it was dragging its leg a bit, it looked as if it was going to be able to get around alright. I looked at the blood running down the side of my thumb.

Bro and sis in-law were extremely concerned that I’d die of rabies while McOther, rather cheekily in my view, expressed doubts that any rabidness displayed on my part would result in a noticeable change of behaviour or temperament. We put antiseptic cream on it anyway, and a plaster, but fearful that I might die on their watch, bro and sis in-law rang sis in-law’s mum and step dad who are both GPs. They endorsed our actions and asked if I’d have a tetanus jab recently. I’ve no clue if I have or not. Now I’m back, I might pop into my GPs surgery and ask but I suspect it’s OK, and if it isn’t a week after the event is probably too late anyway.

This reminds me of the story I didn’t have room for last week, and would rather like to tell you now! At my last grief counselling session, I told the grief counsellor about the vole. It turned out she had her own sorry (but hilarious) tale of rodent related social horror.

Some years ago, the counsellor had a cat and the cat tended to catch things and bring them indoors where it would lose interest and forget about them. Yeh, I know, cats do this, they’re gross. Sometimes, it was a case of removing the body, other times it was a case of never knowing until something started nibbling at things left out on the kitchen side or died and ponged. On this occasion, her cat had brought a large rat indoors. Said rat, knackered and a bit stunned but otherwise, basically, OK, had hidden. The cat, unable to find the rat, had lost interest and wandered away, leaving the rat nestled in its warm dark hiding place, sleeping it off.

Our friend the counsellor had no idea the cat had brought anything into the house and so unaware that there was a large rat … well … at large in her house, she put on her jumper and headed out to Palmers department store, in Bury St Edmunds. As she browsed the kitchen section she realised she could feel a lump in the shoulder of her jumper.

Can you see where this is going? Yep I bet you can.

‘Dammit, I’ve got a sock down there or something,’ she thought.

She put her hand up and felt the lump, at which point it squeaked. She gasped and held her jumper out by the hem in a kind of ‘what is this?’ manner, at which point the rat leapt off her shoulder and out of her jumper, or should that be out of her jumper and off her shoulder? The rat fell to the floor and ran off. She saw it disappear behind a display of saucepans and stood, in a state of shocked surprise, very possibly doing a little low key hyperventilating at the same time. I can neither confirm nor deny that about the hyperventilating, though, as I forgot to ask her.

Well, that was grim. She’d been walking around town with a rat in her jumper. But, on the up side, it wasn’t there anymore and, bonus, it hadn’t had a wee or poo while it was in there.

Every cloud has a silver lining eh?

What to do now though? Dare she go up to the counter and explain that she had inadvertently released vermin into their auspicious premises? She looked over at the stern, matronly ladies stationed at the till.

No, not really.

She looked around her.

There were some shoppers about and two women nearby but no-one appeared have noticed her moment of horror.

She could say something to one of the ladies at the till … she could and she probably should … or … not.

Yes. Right then. Probably time for a sharp exit.

As she turned and walked towards the door, the two women who’d been near her headed towards the display of saucepans. Oooo. The counsellor took a deep breath and with her best and fastest nothing-to-see-here walk, she stepped up her pace. Just outside, in the street, she heard a blood curdling scream as one of the women picked up a saucepan from the display, revealing the rat.  I imagine it was rather bedraggled after doing battle with the cat, and possibly a bit spiky haired from jumper static. In my mind’s eye, I see it squinting back at her or, perhaps, raising a quizzical eyebrow.

The counsellor paused for a fraction of a second as more screaming ensued. Once again, she thought about returning and explaining, and again she imagined how well that might go, whether they would believe her, if charges would be pressed and … Yeh. She kept walking.

Apparently, the rat in Palmers episode was quite famous in town folklore. No-one ever knew how it got there, and my bereavement counsellor – who I am not going to name – has carried the secret of its origins for many years. She has given me permission to finally let the cat, or should that be the rat? Out of the bag on my blog.

So now you know …

On the book front … glory be but Gareth managed to pull book four out of the hat before he went off on tour. Despite Storm Dennis, Windy Ethel, Farty Fred, Gusty Georgina or whoever we’re onto now. Fine work Gareth! Thank you, if you’re reading this (but I suspect he has better things to do). Then the book sat there on my phone, and I couldn’t listen, because you can’t really do that while you’re visiting relations, it’s quite rude. And while I think it’s fine if you’re all hanging out reading books together and chatting from time to time, sticking ear phones in and listening to something is definitely antisocial. I did manage the odd listen in the loo, or ten minutes or so before I got out of bed in the morning.

And …

Apart from the fact the anticipation has nearly killed me you mean?

Well, yes. Of course it’s fabulous.

It’s so gob-smackingly fabulous that, hang the expense, I’ll have to pay him proper money to do the other books. I was also surprised that for all the darkness in the story, books three and four made me laugh out loud … quite a lot. Yeh. I’m so horrifically egocentric that I laugh at my own books but obviously I’m going to lay the blame squarely on Gareth’s sense of comic timing. Yeh. Your fault Gareth. Nyar-nyar! But actually, it is pretty spot on so I reckon I can justifiably do that. I’m on chapter 28 so I’ll keep you posted on progress.

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A vole lot of trouble going on …

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

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

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

Frank the vole

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

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

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

Hmm …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeh, I nearly hurled like this guy…

‘Aaaaargh (sorry Mum)!’  I said.

‘What’s up?’ she asked me.

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

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

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

‘Well, you’ll soon know,’ said Mum.

‘How?’

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

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

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

As I write now, the smell has gone.

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

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

And it was.

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

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

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

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

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

Take a chill pill MTM, this is not exactly news

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

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

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

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Why is life so fucking annoying?

Yeh, I know. There’s an eternal question if ever there was one. Not a great week so far. The chaos fairies are afflicting me with a vengeance. I literally cannot remember my own name, or the names of, for example, any of the ladies I go swimming with.

Everything seems to be a bit up and down. Good things happen but the frustration levels of every day existence are at an all time high. Why, I can’t fathom. I’m not sure if I’m feeling it extra specially at the moment. Maybe I am. I got the power of attorney over Mum’s finances back this week. I’ve been managing them for nearly four years, but this does make her vulnerability that bit more official. Maybe I’ve passed through the eye of the storm with the relative calm after Dad’s death, and it’s the prospect of going through something similar with Mum that’s hurting. I suppose that could be it. Or am just going through one of those phases when every single fucking thing that can go wrong does, at a point where I’m not quite as emotionally robust as usual? Hmm … could be that too.

Whatever is causing it, I’m afraid the irritation needs to be exorcised the only way I know how. Yeh, this is going to be a rant, although I’ll try to walk the line between a Basil Fawlty style funniness and poor little me. Apologies in advance if I fail on that one. And of course, as usual, there’s a certain amount of melodrama.

But seriously. Why does life have to be so fucking annoying? And why won’t the Chaos Fairies piss off?

First up, Mum’s electricity. She pays by direct debit but she’s over paid this year so they have told me they’re carrying more than £200 over to her next bill. So I have to ring them and ask for it back. At the time I phoned them, I had to do this with Mum so she could tell them it was OK for me to speak on her behalf. So yesterday, we duly rang and after pressing various buttons to navigate our way through the menu reached a message which said.

‘Our offices are currently closed for staff training. We apologise for any inconvenience this will cause. Goodbye,’ click, dialling tone.

NO, SSE. This is how it’s done,

‘We apologise that our offices are closed for training today but we will reopen on X date at X time.’

And you don’t leave customers navigating through all the bloody menus first either, wasting minutes of their precious chuffing time. Even a government department, like the Office of the Public Guardian, knows to tell you about that sort of stuff up front.

Second, I’ve been referred for a gym membership on the NHS, three months at a reduced rate to try and get my knees a bit better. Unfortunately, I sat on this for a while, I got it in the last week of November, just after Dad’s memorial. Two weeks before Christmas I rang to book an evaluation. I got an out of office reply message explaining that the lady was now away until after Christmas. I tried ringing, anyway. The answerphone message said that we would be contacted about appointments in the order we’d rung.

When the lady returned to work in January, I discovered that no, the appointments were not being allocated the way the message said, it was the usual free-for-all, post-Christmas gannet fest where the Normal Organised people ring and bag the appointments for the next four months within about three minutes of the lines opening and the rest of us are left with their pecked over, spittle-flecked remains. Bastards.

So now they’re taking bookings for February but the lady only works three days a week and of course one of them’s Wednesday. Sigh.

Double foiled then, in my efforts to get the booking in before Christmas and then in believing the message. I found this out when she sent an email saying she’d a few appointments left in January to everyone on the waiting list. I emailed back about the one I could do, which was gone, and she suggested I call and gave me the number.

I called the next day, and was told that they only had January’s appointments, that she’d already gone home and to ring the following day, which was Wednesday, of course. So I rang from Mum’s at two and discovered that she’d already gone home. The staff informed me that they’d lost the appointment sheet so I was best emailing her, I explained I had and she’d told me to ring them. They suggested I try a different email address, which bounced.

So I sent her an email saying, politely, and I hope humorously, ‘throw me a frigging bone here.’ I’ll try again on Monday. Who knows, some time in the next month, I might manage to swing things so that I remember to ring at a point when she’s actually there.

Third … sort of … Wednesday’s visit to Mum’s was good and bad. Mum was on form, but very tired after an extremely windy night – wind blowing round the house and garden banging things about, I mean, not Mum’s bum. I could go off on a tangent here about how much Mum and I laugh about farts, but luckily for you, I’ll leave that for another day.

Anyway, Mum was knackered so not as switched on as sometimes. And she kept falling asleep, which made it hard to have a conversation, but at the same time, instead of just relaxing and having a snooze, she was trying to stay awake, bless her, so she’d just drift off and I’d keep talking until I reckoned she’d gone off, get out my book and bing, she’d wake up again. So the conversation was quite weird because it happened in instalments and I had to keep reminding her what she was saying before she dozed off. At which point, on a couple of occasions, she dozed off again.

We had lunch, and it was pork chops. It was one of those days when the rinds hadn’t caught. I looked at the uncrackled rind on my plate and then at the fire, which Mum laid first thing, and which had lit itself, and was now burning merrily in the grate. It would be nice to have crackled pork skin, but we didn’t want to go obviously into the kitchen and put it in the microwave (brilliant way to crackle crackling is 1.5 minutes on high, however many times it takes). We didn’t want to do it because it might look like an oblique criticism of the lovely lady who’d cooked lunch. (Not overthinking this in a ludicrously British way at all, there, were we?)

We decided we’d try toasting the un-crackled crackling on the fire and after some reminiscences about Dad toasting crumpets that way, when my brother and I were small, I toasted both our rinds. The two of us giggled like naughty children as the rinds bubbled and spat in the flames. If I’m honest, I could have done with another foot on the toasting fork, but never mind, our skins crackled up beautifully and no matter how it might have felt, I was relieved to discover that my knuckles hadn’t.

So it was light and shade, but sad – especially as, of course, Mum still gets 28 out of 30 in the pathetic NHS memory test which seems to be constructed as a method of delaying any meaningful treatment for as long as possible. I’m guessing Alzheimer’s drugs are expensive. But whatever they say, she’s not alright. There is something wrong. And it may be vascular dementia but it may also be Alzheimer’s and if is Alzheimer’s and we knew, we could hold it back for a little while with treatment. The Doctor said he’d put her through, but she’d have to have blood tests first, and that he thought, personally, that she was OK. She’s said she’ll go with what he advises, sigh.

Meanwhile, fourth my car. One of its dipped headlights has been randomly turning on and off for some time. Serendipitously, I discovered, this week, that Kinky Winky, as I’ve been calling it, is probably the same trouble as last time. The £1,120 plus VAT part trouble. How did I discover this? Incidentally actually, during …

Fifth, my car ate my son’s sports bag.

Six, because of five I missed parents’ swim.

Bastard thing. It may look the dog’s – it may be the dog’s, it can proceed, axle deep, across a muddy farm yard and it ploughed through at least six inches of standing water at 60mph without so much as a twitch on Wednesday (driving in the dark with one headlight anyone?) – but aspects of it are ridiculous. And why does Kinky Winky have to afflict dipped beam? I probably used full beam for about five milliseconds last year, in 25,000 miles of driving. And driving with one light, well, when the person in front of you who’s overtaking suddenly slows up and pulls in … because he’s seen a massive puddle that you haven’t … that’s when two working dipped lights are a lot better than one.

Because I hit the massive puddle with McMini on board and two cars next to me. And the bow wave came over the windscreen. Tight lipped I hung grimly onto the wheel and kept accelerating, in the hope that I could keep the pressure of the exhaust coming out of the pipe higher than that of the water wanting to come in, and the balance of the car where it was. The ABS light came on to tell me that it was giving up on this one, but the car stayed straight and true. Which was good because with the two cars next to me on McMini’s side, any fishtailing would have ended badly.

We did get steam in the ventilation system though and the entire car fugged up, instantly. I had no meaningful clue as to the location of the traffic round me, although I knew it was clear ahead and that I was approaching a roundabout. Once there I was supposed to be turning left. Rather than try and pull in where I knew there were two cars … somewhere … I wiped a quick hole in the fugged up windscreen, opened my window so I could see, indicated right and turned left by going all the way round.

That was when I thought maybe I should get the Kinky Winky syndrome investigated. I should have known. I mean this is Britain, and if there’s one thing we do know about Britain, it’s that it’s fucking heaving with people. And they all drive. You know when you lift up a stone and there are loads of ants under there, rushing around with white eggs? Yeh, that’s Britain’s roads, except there aren’t enough bastard ants for this analogy to ring totally true. Our roads are a lot busier than that.

The only thing you can guarantee about driving in the dark here in Britain is that no matter how obscure or empty the road appears to be THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SOMETHING COMING THE OTHER WAY. If you are living in an obscure part of the Outher Hebrides and there’s only one other car on the entire fucking island, IT WILL BE COMING THE OTHER WAY should you decide to drive anywhere at night.

Yes. You’d better get used to driving with dipped headlights people, because if you think you’re going to be able to use full beam for more than a fucking millisecond per nine billion hours of night driving, you’ve another think coming. So yeh, completely missed the existence of a massive eff off puddle. Won’t be doing that again.

Where was I?

Oh yes. Thing five.

My car ate my son’s sports bag.

No shit. It has a ridiculous boot which opens by pulling a string in the cab. Every now and again the string breaks, or becomes detached. When it does that, the boot can sometimes be opened with a bit of jiggling the lid but mostly it’s only going to be opened by experts. The latch on the boot is adjustable, so it can be aligned, precisely, to go through the hole in the bodywork where the rest of the lock is.

Mmm sports bag. Om-nom-nom. Look at its smug fucking face. The git. 😡

Trouble is, roads are bumpy and so this beautifully aligned latch, which is held in place with a bolt, can move if the bolt loosens. And it does.

Muggins here, with her arthritic thumbs, was aware this was happening and tried to put it back. This worked but only sporadically as the Stupid Hands won’t do it tight enough, even on the rare occasions when I can find The Right Sized Spanner. So it was that on Thursday morning, I put McMini’s bag in the boot, plus the clubs he takes to after school golf lessons, and closed the lid. Then I remembered I’d forgotten his sports shoes. That was OK, I would just open the boot and … add … them …

Could I open the boot? Could I bollocks?

No of course I could. I tried all the usual things that work.

Nothing.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

I stalked back to the kitchen, because if I stayed in the garage with that bloody car I was going to take a hatchet to it. And then … which is the slightly worrying bit here … I had a full on melt down. At my husband. Well, not at him, but to him, about … everything. I cried and railed and told him that he and McMini were the only good things in my life (which is not entirely true but they are the only consistently wonderful things, everything else does tend to be a bit off and on … rather like the Noisy Cricket’s stupid bloody headlight).

And McOther listened in silence. And then he said.

‘I’ll take McMini to school, you get onto the mechanic and get this sorted.’

And he did.

And I hot footed it to Newmarket to get the lovely and extremely competent mechanic who works on my car to open the fucking thing. He has constructed a special tool out of wire to do this.

It turned out the latch was so loosely attached to the lid it had, basically, enmeshed itself in the lock and got stuck. While I was there I asked him about the headlight, which is how I know. As he was pretty sure it’s the same deal. So we’re starting to look into that, because it’s only the dipped light at the moment and it’s not off all the time so if I can limp through to summer, it should be OK until next October.

So … I’ve a car that ate my son’s bag and doesn’t work properly in the dark.

Footnote, or possibly seven and eight, my metal detector turned itself off the other day and wouldn’t turn on again for five seconds. I’ve a dig on Saturday, and I bet I’m going to discover that’s not a one-off anomaly. Nine, I’ve just put the washing out and some Important Piece of Metal pinged off the washing line. It pinged off easily enough but would it go back? Would it fuck? I had to go and slip it over the side of a saucepan and pull the long end about so it’d widen and go back on. Now it’s too wide and it’ll ping off every time. Grrr. And having phaffed about with all that and put the washing out in bright sunlight, here we are ten minutes later and it’s sodding raining. Biblically. So that was another twenty minutes of my precious fucking time pissed up the wall to nowhere!

See that? That’s the road of life … cold, dark, uphill the whole fucking way and all the shops are shut!* It’s doing my head in.

I also finally reached the stage where, instead of laughing at the fact every single fucking thing I do goes tits up, or odd, or according to someone else’s bastard plan, I lost it. Totally. When I am looking at one to five years of walking beside Mum and with the very real prospect that we will be following the same journey as Dad I know it’s going to cost me. Keeping my shit together is quite important. So that’s not a great sign. Protective measures will be taken. I’ll let you know what they are when I do.

Oh yeh, ten, The Stupid Hands … knees, shoulders back and ankles. And eleven. I still have my tax return to do. I suspect I’ll feel a lot better when I’ve done that.

Ho hum. I swear this would be a lot funnier if I wasn’t fucking living it.

* Yes. I do completely, and utterly know that’s not true. I’m actually ludicrously blessed and I understand that. I’m just having a rough time right now so it’s harder to appreciate.

Never mind, on the upside, thanks to the HRT, my hair’s looking quite good at the moment. Suddenly it has body again. It’s all long and curly and everywhere. There aren’t many people who could rock a periwig without one! Mwahahahargh! And it’s keeping my head nice and warm.

Eeee look at my chuffing periwig! Phnark.

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And now … this!

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

Unlucky Dip Audio Book

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

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

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

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

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

Marvellous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My cunning plan …

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

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

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

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

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Shenannagins …

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

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

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

The hat …

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waynetta Slob … and Wayne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody else made a sound. Oops

Then Hark the Herald began.

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

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

 

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What on God’s green earth am I doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So did I? Er, no.

Do I care though?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Alarums, excursions and jolly japes

This week, I am speaking to you from the past by the wonders of scheduling, as I do from time to time. When this post goes live, I will be at Dad’s memorial service, which, incidentally, takes place in a building that, with a few tweaks, became the High Temple in the K’Barthan Series. Here it is. It looks a bit frillier in this picture than it really is. I think I wrote in prettier chandeliers though.

This is where I went to church every other Sunday in term time, from eight weeks old to when I was a teenager. We sat in a stall; one of those raised seats at the sides, the second one on the left in this picture. As a small child, I remember playing in the Chapel (that’s its name) while Mum did the flowers. Running up and down the aisle under the kind auspices of Mr Kendall, the verger who would warn me not to run past the altar rail for fear of setting off the burglar alarm.

Once he gave me one of the hosts to eat. It was delicious! Just like a flying saucer only without the sherbet. I also remember playing with the hassocks, but they were blue leather, like cushions rather than the traditional home-embroidered, sorbet-rubber brick, so they couldn’t be stacked into walls or towers, and weren’t nearly as much fun as they should have been. It was a school, so they were probably designed like that deliberately. Therefore, I usually eschewed hassock-related japes in favour of running around. Sometimes I went down the stairs into the crypt, although, not so often after I fell down them and cracked my head open (3 stitches).

Later it wasn’t as much fun. If you will, imagine sitting raised up on high like that as a shy gawky teenager, looking out over around 500 or so boys who were sitting in the seats below. I was a shade of puce throughout the whole hour and it felt as if every single one of them was staring at me. I liked the music, I sang in the choir of the other church we went to and I enjoyed listening to most types of music (still do). The hymns helped, in that they were usually tub-thumpers and it was fun to listen to the boys and try and work out what their alternative words were; Glory, glory Brighton Hove Albion, with a small contingent trying to shout Glory, glory Man United more loudly, etc. But apart from that, mostly it was a pretty cringeworthy experience.

If you do that every other term Sunday, and get as many regular bollockings at your own school as I did (a different institution to the one attached to the chapel in the picture) you come out the other end almost unembarrassable … if that’s a word. I was so glad when I finally went to the school I actually lived in (girls were only allowed in the sixth form in those days) and I was able to leave the stall and disappear into the anonymous mass of pupils below. Actually I sat in about the position this picture was taken from.

Anway I’m wandering off topic terribly here, what I was really going to say was that I’m actually writing this from a few days in the past. It’s been a busy week but all in all, things seem to be going reasonably well.

First up, Mum. After discussing it with her financial advisor, we have decided it’s time to get Mum’s enduring power of attorney for her finances activated. I looked out all the paperwork we’d done on Dad’s and dropped the solicitor a line, by email, explaining what we were going to do and asking if she could send me the original document of Mum’s enduring power of attorney. I did it first thing but got one of those weird, ‘your message couldn’t be delivered so we’ll try again’ type things. Not an out-and-out bounce but a kind of, might have, maybe bounced.

After a bit of thought, I decided that the best thing to do would be to ring the solicitor, explaining what had happened and apologise for pestering her by phone as well if it had got through. The lady who answers the telephone there is great, we had a chat, I explained what had happened and I gave her as much info as I could. She asked the date Mum and Dad signed their powers of attorney and I reckoned it was 2004 but I had all the paperwork in front of me.

‘Give me a sec, I have Dad’s here, I’ll look it up,’ I said. I grabbed the document in front of me. ‘Oh … hang on,’ I said as I read the name on the front, ‘Um … this is Mum’s. Oh … I must have got you folks to send it through when I did Dad’s. That was … surprisingly organised of me.’

‘I bet it’s a nice surprise,’ she said.

‘It is but I still managed to forget, phone you lot and make a monumental twat of myself,’ I said.

She laughed, which was lucky. I doubt she gets many people telling her they’re twats. She told me she’d tell the lawyer I’d emailed that I didn’t need her to do anything and I thanked her and hung up. Then I made some toast by holding a piece of bread against my red face. No. I didn’t make toast actually even though I was quite embarrassed and my cheeks were burning. NO! The ones on my face you dirty bastards!

And there we have it. Three years ago, while sorting Dad’s enduring power of attorney I had been prescient, not to mention organised, enough to get them to send me Mum’s as well. It was heartening to know that I am capable of such giddy heights of organisational prowess, but it would have been more heartening if I’d remembered, or at least discovered my uncharacteristic attack of forward planning before I’d made a tit of myself.

Ruthless efficiency, and yet also, gargantuan twattery. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

Meanwhile McMini is enjoying his new school and is as nuts as ever. Lately, he has introduced me to the joy of ttsreader.com This is a site which allows you to type text into a box and it will then read it in an electronic voice. For some strange reason best known to ourselves, McMini and I find this unaccountably funny. Obviously, we don’t use it as it is intended. Although we do happily conduct whole conversations using it in about six times the time it should take were we speaking; laboriously typing what we want to say into the reader, highlighting it all and clicking play. Clearly we try to do more than talk with this thing, I think McMini has come closer than I to getting it to produce a realistic raspberry but that’s not for want of extensive effort on both our parts. All the while, as we pursue this ridiculous game, tears of laughter stream down our faces – because we’re really mature. Well, OK to give him his due, McMini is only eleven, after all, and probably is quite mature for an eleven year old. He already displays a great deal more maturity than I but then, I guess that’s not difficult.

Even McOther started giggling the other day, though, when McMini finally scored a realistic sounding raspberry.

On the books front. They’ve managed to squeeze me in at the Christmas Fayre so I am busy ordering books etc, which reminds me … Even better, the date of the new release creeps ever closer. Anyone who has pre-ordered it should get the ebook on Monday 29th. Woot. The paperback is coming later. I have also been doing lots of research into audio books. It’s kind of doing my head in because there have been a lot of changes to the audiobook scene just recently, with evidence that Findaway Voices might be edging ahead of ACX as a provider. I might post more about that as I discover it, or at least, some pros and cons if I can. But my own experience is going to be atypical because Gareth The Voice and I have done pretty much the opposite of what you’re supposed to! Mwahahahargh!

Anyway, that’s enough of that, here is a quick reminder about my two new releases … on about to come out and one out already. Pipple toot!

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

Available for preorder. If you are interested there is a page which gives you link to the main book vendors. Just click on the picture or follow this link here …

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

There will be print links, to follow. The print version is out on 23rd November.

Here’s the blurb:

Terry Pratchett meets Dr Who … sort of. When your very existence is treason, employment opportunities are thin on the ground. But when one of the biggest crime lords in the city makes The Pan of Hamgee a job offer he can’t refuse, it’s hard to tell what the dumbest move is; accepting the offer or saying, no to Big Merv. Neither will do much for The Pan’s life expectancy.

Future Adventures Box Set … Gorge yourself on free sci-fi!

This features full length novels from eight science fiction authors. I can vouch for the quality of the books in here, even more so now that I’ve read some of them!

But, if any of you haven’t read my first full length novel, Few Are Chosen, and would like to, it’s in this book, which is free, but more importantly it comes with all these other brilliant stories by seriously accomplished wordsmiths who really know what they are doing. So, you can grab a copy of Few Are Chosen with seven other books by authors who are seriously gifted and of whom I am, frankly, a bit in awe. And all for zero pence. If you want to pick up a copy, just click on the picture to visit a page of links to find it on all the major stores … or click on the link below:

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

 

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