Tag Archives: interviews

Operation ouch …

Ha! No blog so far this week. Bet you were congratulating yourself on escaping the massive ‘my operation’ post weren’t you? Unlucky. I’m an eighth French and what that means, my lovely people, is that if you ask me how I am – or even if you don’t – there’ll be none of that ‘mustn’t grumble’ shit from me. No. You ask how I am and I’m going to tell you. Here, in a departure from the norm … on a Monday is the My Operation post …

I’ve had knee surgery before, so I was, undeniably, nervous about this one. It didn’t help that every single person I encountered who’d had it or knew someone who’d had it came out with a variant of ‘it hurts like fuck but it’s worth it’.  I know it hurts like fuck. It’s a knee. I’ve done labour, not too much, I give you, but enough to know that it has to go on for quite a long time before it passes ripping your ACL ligament on the pain-o-metre. Mmm.

Everything was packed and readied, including crutches because I already have some and, bizarrely, they aren’t covered in the cost of the insurance. We duly got up as sparrow’s fart and drove to London where, with a cheery wave goodbye to the boys, I was absorbed into the bubble. My room was at the back looking out into a light well rather than at the front, overlooking the Thames but hey, you can’t win ’em all. It was comfortable and well laid out.

The NICKERS.

On the bed were the THINGS I must ware; a lovely purple disposable robe, a pair of totes toastie socks – in beige – and a pair of dark green pressure socks.  I was instructed to put them on, with only one green pressure sock on my good leg, so I obeyed orders and waited. Also included were … THE NICKERS.

Suffice it to say, the first time I encountered a pair of these I genuinely believed they were a hair net and put them on my head.

They leave nothing to the imagination but I suppose they stop stray pubes from getting into things, I don’t know. Anyway there they were.

My operation was scheduled for 11.30 which meant I was number three in. I was quite tired, because we’d been up at four in order to get to the hospital for seven am, so I dozed a bit, not that I had time to doze much because a whole host of people popped in to see me, including the surgeon, Mr Davies. He gave me a bit of a look and I confessed that I might have peaked too soon with getting the kit on. See me rocking it here.

We had a brief chat, in which I said I was a bit nervous because he was, basically, going to be sawing the ends off to of my big leg bones. He said, ‘I prefer to call it a light resurfacing procedure on your knee joint’ at least I think that’s what he said but as you can imagine, what I heard was, ‘I’m going to cut up your leg with a big electronic saw.’ Demonic laughter optional. I signed a form to say that I was alright with that, using his extremely swish Mont Blanc pen and handed it back so he could draw a very discreet arrow on my leg. You might just be able to make it out in the picture. There are certain aspects of talking to Mr Davies that remind me of McOther. He’s gloriously understated. He asked me if I had any questions – I didn’t really – ‘splendid, I’ll go and get my pyjamas on now,’ he said and headed off to green up – or at least blue up.

The rest of the morning passed in visits from various people. I had a chat to the anaesthetist, the physiotherapist, I think and a couple of others, all of whom gave me forms to sign saying that I understood what I was doing and that if they accidentally killed me then, short of negligence, I understood it wasn’t their fault. They also took copious quantities of blood. I discovered I couldn’t get the safe to work for my valuables, which stern signs all around the room warned me I must do, so they assured me they’d fix it. When the time came, two cheery porters appeared and put me in a wheelchair.

The lift was a large metal box with two blue circles stuck in opposite corners where people need to stand for appropriate social distancing. They both seemed quite surprised when I said it reminded me of the transporter in StarTrek but they laughed so I chalked it up as a win. Next it was into the anaesthatists’ area. There were two cheery gentlemen with accents I couldn’t place until one of them explained that he was Greek and his name was Adonis. How golden is that? He was a med student and would be asking the questions today, overseen by the actual anaesthesitist. I duly informed him that he had the best name in the world because it would be very churlish not to. His colleague was called something equally fabulously Greek, which might have been Netzahualcoyotl but he’d stuck a cannula and rather a lot of pain med into me by then so I failed to remember it. I’m quite pissed off about that because it was a wonderful word, with a whole stack of syllables beginning with Netza-something.

Greeks at the gates then. My mother spent a lot of time in Greece as a child just after the war while my Grandfather was helping set up the Bank of Greece. It used to take her and my Uncle one and a half days to fly there in a Dakota for the summer holidays. Consequentially, when I was a child, she and Dad took my brother and I back there for a succession of gloriously bizarre holidays. And a special detour to Corinth to see the ten seater loo. Being anaesthetised by Greeks was like being given a little benign blessing.

Introductions made, it was all very business like. I suspect people are often scared so they make it like buying a cup of coffee. Anyway, at that point Netza-not-Adonis (but with the equally fabulous name) told me he was giving me the general anaesthetic and the next thing I knew I could hear voices and the little machine that goes beep. Hoorah, I was awake. I had learned the hard way that no matter how interesting the sounds of the recovery room DO NOT TRY TO WAKE UP QUICKLY AND TAKE A LOOK ROUND. So I just lay there drifting, thinking, ‘I have a new knee.’

The nurse was quite stern and as I drifted in and out of consciousness I heard her saying that I’d been there two hours at one point and that it was probably time somebody came and took me away. There was a slightly strained tone to her voice, as if I was cluttering up the place. Two porters arrived to take me back to my room and they warned me to keep my eyes shut. I had an oxygen tube up my nose … not right in there just up. I felt as if I’d had about fifty pints so was happy to keep my eyes closed if it meant it was just me that moved and the walls and ceilings  stayed reasonably still. They were kind enough to wheel me quickly as well, for which I was eternally grateful.

Back at my room I was informed that there was a front room available and that if I liked they could move me into it. Yes. I very much would like. I drifted in and out of consciousness and finally managed to tackle supper, an omelette and sticky toffee pudding and a flask of coffee McOther had made for me. I rang people and then I went to sleep. I was woken regularly during the night for blood pressure tests and pain meds. I began to be aware that my knee hurt. A LOT. Not so much I couldn’t admire the view though, although I took this picture much later, on my last morning.

The staff were gloriously multicultural, from absolutely everywhere in the world and were utter darlings, every man jack of ’em. I’d forgotten how multi-cultural London is and how much I loved that when I lived there.

During the night the mattress on my bed deflated, which made things a lot more comfortable for my feet but which, apparently, was a bad thing. They pumped it up but it wouldn’t stay full, instead gradually deflating or, if left on, starting to beep after a few minutes and continuing to do so until someone came and turned it off and it went down again. They gave it three strikes and then swapped my bed with another one.

The physio popped in and we had a little walk and she showed me some more exercises and I realised that my leg was turning blue.

Seriously, here are my legs, as they are now. A lot of the after pain is caused by those bruises. The left leg is probably about three or four inches greater in circumference than the right leg.

I was also brought a commode and urged to have a crap. Since they seemed very keen that I do so I obliged. I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of this … By Thursday I was ready to go home. The lady from the pharmacy arrived with what looked like a bag of duty free but which was, in fact, a massive bag of drugs to keep the pain at bay. I noticed it also contained a box of sennacot and what looked like a jeroboam of some other laxative.

Ah.

By Saturday morning, despite taking extra care to dose myself up with the laxatives, as proscribed, I was wondering if I would ever poo again. Ah the joy of opioids. At the moment, things get too painful to stay in bed after about 5 am so I come downstairs, make a cup of coffee, do my first round of Physiotherapy exercises, take the first set of paracetamol for the day and then doze on the sofa in my room of shame. This one morning, I was particularly knackered after a night of needing to … you know … go and yet at the same time, not being able to. There’s nothing more disheartening than sitting on the bog with stomach cramps, and a bottom that feels as if it might be actually tearing … but with no action.

Nurse! Forceps.

So there I was downstairs, having to eat because, ibuprofen, but nervous that I was in very real danger of filling myself to bursting point, like Mr Creosote, because there was nothing coming out the other end. And I noticed, by my bag, a one use surgical glove which had fallen out of my ‘filling up with petrol in times of Covid’ pocket. And I had an idea. An idea of such complete and utter brilliance … but also horror.

I mean … how did they unblock particularly difficult cases?

Did they …?

No.

I looked at the glove.

Surely they had to ‘help’ sometimes didn’t they? If I put on the glove and—

Gads! No!

Could I though?

No.

Than again, maybe it was better than the alternative, I thought, as another wave of stomach cramps hit me. And I swear that bastard glove winked.

Operation one; dignity, nil.

Suffice it to say I an not taking any more opioids, even though I probably should and joy of joys my insides are back to normal, even if my leg is still purple. Strangely, despite the ongoing pain, I can feel that there are things which used to hurt which no longer do, and most of the stuff that does hurt is due to swelling and bruising. It takes my weight and I am taking small walks each day and doing three sessions of my physio exercises, hopefully I can work that up to four later in the week. I’ll see what gives when I go to my first, post-op physio session on Thursday. Also, I’ll discuss pain relief when I go see the nurse practitioner to have the staples out on Friday.

In the meantime, I suspect that, for the next couple of nights at least, I’m just not destined to sleep much. If I get truly desperate, I’ll do a midnight physio session, as the physio seems to help at the end of the day when it’s starting to stiffen up.

Onwards and upwards …

_________________________

If you need something to take your mind of that, my audiobook test is still on.

Yep, I’m still doing my beta test for distributing audible via my own site. Or at lest via my own site an alternative way. 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 a man who can seriously do funny; Gareth Davies. The fellow 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 it gives you right there so remember to write it down.

When you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play it’ll ask you for the code you jotted down. 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, help @ bookfunnel.com – 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. I leave you with this fabulous book-shaped light. Rock on the lovely gift/interiors store on Peebles High Street. Go there, buy stuff. Oh and pop down the other end and have a sausage roll as well!

Wink wink

 

 

 

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If I die before I wake …

Doubtless you’re delighted to see that I’m not starting off with a melodramatic title or anything, because clearly, I would never be a drama queen about having a totally standard operation or anything. Snortle. All the same, I am nervous so this will be a brief post, because I have an operation on Monday and there’s not much of practicable use bouncing about in my brain. We drove down to London yesterday for my pre op tests which included a Covid19 test where, I swear, they pushed the swab into my actual sinuses. Despite the fact the lady was brilliant and actually very gentle, it was not a good scene.

Rotherhythe tunnel

One of the things I particularly enjoy about visiting London is the stuff you find. We went through the Rotherhythe tunnel, opened by in 1908 by Edward, Prince of Wales who became George V on my and McMini’s birthdays. That was amazing. Filled with porcelain glazed bricks to reflect the light, like the early tube lines; Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Northern. It makes a rather good picture. Who knows when I’ll need a light at the end of the tunnel type shot. It is also a very rare example of a tunnel where pedestrians, cyclists and traffic all go through the same bore.

This morning, having remembered to pay the congestion charge for yesterday and Sunday, ooo get me doing one of them in advance, woot! I realised that I’d forgotten to book any physio so I’ve been looking up the physio peps on my insurer’s books with a view to getting my rehab sorted out. I’ve found one that looks good and they have sent me a message which is handy.

In the spirit of if-I-do-this-hopefully-nothing’ll-happen, and not because I’m a batshit crazy old crone, no siree, I wrote The Letter. You know the one, where you add any bits to your last will and testament that you forgot at the time, or write one, tell your McOthers you love them and give them the passwords for your computer so somebody else can profit from the enormous earnings of your literary empire after your death.  Then you sign it, fold it up, write, ‘Open if it all goes horribly wrong and I snuff it!’ On the front of it and stick it in your desk drawer.

No shit, I even broke down how the film rights get divided up. If that isn’t some kind of optimism, despite the overall pessimism inherent in the act of writing the letter, I dunno what is. Mwahahahrgh! What am I like?

In a packed afternoon’s activity, I also sorted out the blinds in my office, finally. Now, instead of blinds on one window, I have blinds on all of them. Which makes it a bit snugger at night. Obviously this has left me feeling that I am a complete household goddess … and with some unfortunate red pen marks all over the paintwork.

There’s me thinking, ‘I know! I’ll use a dry wipe whiteboard marker and then it’ll just wipe off.’

Yeh. That went well. Let’s label it option a shall we? Note to self, dry whiteboard markers do not wipe off vinyl silk gloss. It’s clearly not glossy enough.

Ho hum, can’t win ’em all.

Other news, I just want to briefly update you on the bit I posted about Audible last week. As an author colleague noted, when you upload your books to either Amazon or Audible, you know you are supping with the devil. And she has a good point.

Audiobooks are great, and Audible is great, but I suspect it needs to get its shit together. Fast. It also needs to accord the people it does business with the basic courtesy of transparency and honesty in its practises. We know these companies are gorillas. We know their contracts probably have a sub clause pertaining to the sale of our very souls, I have probably sold my soul several times over since I’ve signed contracts to access Apple, Windows, Amazon and Audible.

No mention that this is a ‘return’.

Nobody wants Audible to go bust but it would be good if they could stop behaving like idiots. I used to work for a UK household name, I know what big companies are like, but they have taken the crappiness and run with it. Plumbing new depths I’d never have believed possible.

Who knows where the future of creative material is going. In an ideal world, the targeting would become more precise and the algorithm at the vendors better at matching products and consumers that suit each other. If that were the case, the slash in royalties that inevitably comes with streaming would be less of a hit. But of course, it’ll be pay to play, so however excellent the algorithm, it will never be left to work on its own. It’s not as if I or anyone else who is worried about this ‘returns’ thing believes the world owes us a living. But I also reserve the right not to work with wankers more than I have to. Audible is 60% of my audio sales but if they and ACX get too much like hard work I will probably give up on them. For now, I’ll hold off with the new release until they can provide me with some basic, reliable information. Some is there, I just need the rest, as do all of us. All we need to know is:

1. How many books I have sold.
2. How many books have been returned.
3. How much I am being paid for each borrow/read/purchase.
4. Ideally this would be real time.

Over and above this, it would be good to know which books are in this Audible plus thing. Are mine in and being ‘lent’ or are they not? I dunno.

Then there’s submitting books to Audible which is a nightmare. The usual channel is ACX, which is owned by the same people, and kind of a sister company, until you want something looked into in which case each one can tell you it’s the other’s problem. Things that do lie squarely with ACX, though, are the interface, which is abysmal, and the reporting, which is also abysmal and the massive delays, which … well it’s great that a human listens but they still need to tell you where in the 200 chapters you’ve submitted the extra second of silence is, otherwise you’re going to be flailing about, resubmitting that book again and again. No wonder they are inundated. Half those books are probably on their third or fourth submission.

Hopefully, if enough writers, producers and narrators of audiobooks can join together to try and open some dialogue with Audible and ACX we might succeed in getting a bit more transparency and a better service. Things that will help them as much as us.

Remember I told you about the K’Barthan Box set, how I submitted chapters for four books which had already been approved, and waited from July to October for them to, basically, approve the opening and closing credits? Yeh. A lot of authors are abandoning ACX because of that. Likewise, the number of people going exclusive with Audible appears to have dropped. So far, there are – again unsubstantiated – claims that the time ACX is taking to approve files has improved drastically. We need to collect more data on that.

I have, at present, unsubstantiated intel that Findaway to flag any returns on their reports from Audible. I have asked them but haven’t heard back yet. I will keep you posted as to whether these efforts to persuade ACX and Audible to listen turn into anything.

In the meantime, remember there are alternatives to audible, Kobo, for starters. But also Google Play, iBooks, authors websites – including mine – and Chirp – which is not available everywhere at the moment but I hope soon will be. There are alternatives. Better alternatives. Go for it. Look for them.

___________________

If you haven’t tried audio, you can, for free.

Yep, I’m still doing my beta test for distributing audible via my own site. Or at lest via my own site an alternative way. 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 a man who can seriously do funny; Gareth Davies. The fellow 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 it gives you right there so remember to write it down.

When you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play it’ll ask you for the code you jotted down. 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, help @ bookfunnel.com – 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. I leave you with this fabulous book-shaped light. Rock on the lovely gift/interiors store on Peebles High Street. Go there, buy stuff. Oh and pop down the other end and have a sausage roll as well!

21 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Let’s talk about Things …

One of the things I tidied up was my room of shame … well … a bit.

Blimey, it’s already that time of the week again when I’m supposed to be writing a blog post. It’s been a bit of a clearing up week this week.  I’ve finally finished my story for Christmas Lites. It’s absolutely terrible but it’s done. I’m supposed to have sent it off today, but I need to put the last batch of edits in – and possibly write an additional scene. Which reminds me, I must email the organisers begging for clemency.

That said, although it’s terrible, it’s only the first part really. I could probably tidy it up a lot more if I had the actual event they’re trying to sabotage taking place at the end. Then our band of heroes and heroines could all stand about looking smug as their Grongle overlords commit what they think is an act of extreme sacrilege to upset the locals but … well … isn’t. I might miss the deadline if I do that though. I mean, really miss it. And also I doubt I could do it in under 4,000 words and I only have 3,000 to play with. And I have to prepare for my hospital trip.

I also tidied my desk … sort of.

First up I need to work out what I’m taking and I have a lot of paperwork to read about what I should bring, papers to sign about covid and other stuff to bring along. There’s also a lot of stuff I don’t know, which I do hope they are going to tell me. Soon. I’m guessing I’ll need to wear track suit bottoms. I have a mask with a filter in it that’s good for about 700 hours and I’ve bought one of those plastic face screens to wear as well. While I’m writing, I ought to give you the heads up that there may not be a blog post next week. It depends but I suspect I’ll be on the go driving down to the hospital to have my premed appointments. McOther and McMini may drive me but it depends because I don’t know how long these appointments will take.

The knee is really appalling now. I’m so glad I’m having it done, as I can only do tiny stints of walking before I have to go and have a sit down. I did manage to rake the leaves off the path today and clear away some of the dead and dying veg plants from the garden. I brought the things I’d like to try and keep alive over the winter indoors to the conservatory and I have also managed to make a few more inroads in my room of shame office. See photos.

Squee!

Meanwhile, Gareth is working on the next audiobook, Close Enough, at which point we will have my entire catalogue recorded. So in theory the next book, Too Good To Be True, should be released with an accompanying audiobook, and a lot fewer mistakes because Gareth is very good at spotting typos!

As usual, the chapters he’s sent so far are brilliant. Woot.

As always, he asked me, at the start, if I have any preferences for any of the new voices. On the one hand, it’s hard not to be like a kid in a sweetshop, on the other, I don’t like to be too overbearing. Even if I do stipulate something, I try, really hard, to keep it general and not be any more specific than, what about … accent a or b? But at the same time, Gareth can do pretty much anything I throw at him. I suspect he might surprise himself sometimes on that score. Also, he comes over as a man who enjoys an acting challenge, I sincerely hope so.

That said, I do try to stick to things he might not have thought about doing and stay within the parameters of what his particular voice can do rather than push him miles out of his comfort zone. The aim is for a positive reaction along the lines of, ‘oh yes, that’ll be fun.’  Part of the sheer joy of it all is feeding the ideas in and seeing what he does.

There’s a character in this one called Marcella the Pirate. I have slightly based her on Edward Teach – also known as Blackbeard. Originally she was a guy but then the idea of having her as a lady began to appeal because it made her seem even more of a scary psychopath. So I did that instead. I haven’t really a voice in my head for Marcella short of hard and nasty.  Gareth asked if I had any particular ideas on how she’d sound. When I came to actually think about it I wondered if Edward Teach was from the West country and thought maybe that would work. I checked with Google and sure enough, he was, so I suggested hard and nasty West Country and let him get on with it. Mwahahahrgh, he has not disappointed.

Just on a quick tangent here, Edward Teach was from Bristol. Could that be why pirates traditionally speak with a Bristolian accent? He used to plait his beard and hair and attach firecrackers to the ends of his plaits. I thought he got this a bit wrong at one point and blew himself up. Na-uh. He was actually ambushed. He was shot 20 times, stabbed five more times, then they cut his throat after which, just to make absolutely certain he was dead, someone chopped his head off. Well. There’s nothing like making sure of something I guess but that, right there, is fear of your enemy.

Also on the audiobooks front, Audible have finally released the box set of the K’Barthan Series. To my complete and utter amazement, it sold 33 copies in the first five days. So at least the royalty cheque I send Gareth in however many months it is won’t be quite as risibly small. At the moment I transfer them with ridiculous references on them like ‘HugeRoyalty’ ‘MassiveCash’ etc.

The conceived wisdom on all this is that big books go well on Audible and small books go well on Findaway – though library borrows mainly. I am discovering this to be true. Neither Audible nor Findaway reports completely in real time, Audible seems to update more or less once a day, give or take. Findaway is quite random. So far, the last month’s sales have all been for library borrows with only three or four of the full length books being sold and absolutely zero sales of the Box set.

Going forward, I suspect what I should have done is kept the box set to myself and sold it via my own site for a reduced amount. I will probably do that with the pending K’Barthan Shorts box set. I have to write seven now, as well, because One, Two and Three make a nice novel length book. Four is a novel and Five and Six … well … I suppose they might be longer but I doubt it so I may need a Seven. Although I think The Pan is going to be getting into more trouble with Marcella The Pirate so I doubt it’ll be too tricky. I will probably sell all the books for a bit less on my own site when I get it sorted. At the moment I’m doing that through Author’s Direct. Gareth and I share a 70% royalty on anything I shift there. However, books I published weeks ago still haven’t appeared on my Author’s Direct dashboard so I’m hoping that eventually, I’ll be using the alternative platform that I’m testing alongside (CF the free book last week).

I’m wondering if those 34 people who bought the box set on audible are people who listened to the free book from the link I provided here. It’s difficult to say. It’s stopping now, but it does appear to mean that 34 people were waiting to download it, which is nice. I wonder what sort of royalties we’ll get paid for an audible token purchase. Probably about £2.50.

Audible/ACX does worry me a bit though – ACX is the platform run by Audible to which you upload books. I’m not even sure if I can remove my books from sale once they are on there, which is the bit of a worry with the subscription model looming. You can’t choose where you distribute either, so you have to put up with two listings on Apple, one which pays 40% royalties and one which pays 25%. You can contact Apple and ask them to give the 40% version precedence though. If I go through an aggregator to Audible/ACX, I think can take my books off there more easily but Gareth and I would take a big hit – we would earn 40% of the 25%  royalty that Audible/ACX pay us to go direct.

Also, their exchange policy is concerning. It’s fine returning books you’re not enjoying. I have zero problem with someone downloading my book, loathing it and returning it. But audible encourages readers to ‘exchange’ a book and re-use the credit. They pitch this as one of the benefits of joining. That means an audible user who has enjoyed my book may well decide to ‘exchange’ it for a different one, Audible pitches this to customers as working like a library but as I understand it, they treat exchanges as a return. That means the author and narrator do not get paid and if they have already been paid Audible will claw back the money from future payments. Readers can ‘exchange’ books for up to ONE YEAR after purchase and yes, if it happens in that time, ACX/Audible will take back your money.

So if you’re an Audible user maybe avoid ‘exchanging’ books by authors and narrators that you like eh? Well … if you want them to continue putting books on Audible.

Authors and narrators are getting wise to this, though. Many are now distributing ‘wide’ beyond ACX/Audible while a growing minority are no longer uploading their books to Audible at all. Add to this that if you don’t go exclusive Audible slash your royalties from 40% to 25% – yeh, how dare anyone put their books in libraries – and although it’s supposed to take ’30 days’ for them to approve a book, in reality it takes three to six months to get a book approved and it’s a bit of a kerfuffle. Case in point, the K’Barthan Series Box Set was uploaded in July 19th and went live on 9th October. The glorious illogic of this was that, barring the five second beginning and ending credits, the entire thing comprised files that they had already approved and which were on sale as individual books. So that’s six months to check the beginning and end credits of the book – about 20 or 30 seconds of audio? Something like that.

In addition I encounter many tales of audible rejecting books after three months with a generic message such as – there is too much background noise. What they don’t tell you, of course, is where that piece of background noise is. Bear in mind this may be a 12 hour book with 70 chapters. At one point they changed the length of the silences they required between chapters, books where the silence had been within guidelines when they were up loaded were rejected because they now were not.

All the author or narrator can do is check their books and resubmit – there are actually pieces of proprietary software that enable you to do this. Not from Audible/ACX, obviously because that would be helpful. Another three to six months later it may well be rejected again. Some authors are resubmitting again and again because even going through their books with a fine tooth comb, they can’t find the place where the ‘mistake’ is and get this … Audible doesn’t tell them. Imagine if school was like audible.

‘Here’s your essay back, there’s a mistake in it.’

‘Oh, what did I get wrong.’

‘It’s not my job to tell you what you got wrong, you should know.’

Contributors check, and recheck, and scratch their heads. They resubmit what looks to be a perfect book, completely within all guidelines and it’s rejected again and again. There are stories of people discovering .5 of a second too long a silence at the end of one chapter in 60, resubmitting and it going through. Folks checking the chapters and over the book and then discovering an extra second on the silence after the opening credits. Seriously, how hard would it be to say, chapter 45 has .5 of a second of extra silence.

Audible/ACX is swamped with submissions but if they identified the mistakes how many hundreds books in the queue for checking would have passed by now. I know authors with books which have been going round and round since February. Would these books be clogging up the system had Audible/ACX taken the simple, blindingly obvious step of identifying where any errors actually are. Even ‘there’s an error in chapter six, you know the one, the forty minute one, it’s in there’ or maybe, ‘here are your first five errors, there were more,’ would be better than what they currently do which is: ‘here’s twelve hours of audio, somewhere in there, is a single, tiny background noise/a silence that is 4 seconds long instead of 3.5. It’s not our fucking job to tell you where it is because that might actually be of some practicable use to you. Now piss off and fix it.’ It’s extraordinary. And worse, people who’ve read too many Geoffrey Archer novels and seen too much shit on TV like Madmen are beginning to think this kind of shambolic, unprincipled, bollocks approach is how actual business works. I don’t think so.

It’s also the reason why, most of the time, any folks using Audible who want to get my books the same time as everyone else have to borrow them from the library. 🙂

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On a lighter note …

Do you remember in this post here, where I talked about doing a podcast interview? Well the interview is now live, so if you’d like to watch me shooting the breeze for half an hour on Bibliofiles, with Bonnie K.T. Dillabough you can. It was great fun, I really enjoyed it although I will have to try a different camera angle next time I do something like that! Double chins anyone? Anyway, if you’d like to give it watch, you can find it here:

 

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That’s … a bit of a thing.

These last fifteen days or so have been a bit of a roller coaster. You may, or may not, know – but I think you will know because I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it – that I have an arthritic knee. Now I am on McOther’s health care but I’ve never thought to investigate it particularly thoroughly because … well I suppose because I had private health with one of my jobs and any problems with my left knee were actually excluded from the policy.

Every few years it flares up and when it recovers, never quite returns to previous levels. Living in a different county, I had a transplant to move some cartilage from a part of the knee where it wasn’t used much to an area where it was. That lasted a year or two, but I don’t think getting pregnant three weeks after the op (by mistake) did it much good.

The NHS will only give you one knee and they seem to have this slight of obsession with not giving it to you until you hit sixty. I suspect it’s because if people have to wait another 20 years there’s a good chance some of them will have died off before the operation has to go ahead. The official argument is that you won’t want to be in a wheelchair as an old person. My counter argument would be that actually, when you are 40 and have just had a little boy, or when you’re fifty and looking down the barrel of another eight years of bone on bone, that’s the time you want to be fit and able and … you know … pain free. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die, and all that.

With lock down came a change in the way I exercised, more walking, less cycling, no gym and with that change came a truly evil flare up. So evil that I looked at our health insurance policy and realised that yes, I was insured for treatment for an acute flare up even if the underlying condition is chronic. So I asked.

I was given a call back from their triage team that same day. I then had a call booked a few days later to speake to a member of their physio teem who referred me straight through to a consultant. Within the week I was zoom calling a knee surgeon who fixed a friend’s knee. Wasn’t sure about using the local guys because I’m pretty sure one of them was the NHS guy who told me, aged 40, that I’d be fast tracked if I was 20 years older and that I should just go and lose two stones – I went to the gym where I lost two dress sizes and put on a stone so … a partial success there I suppose.

A quick chat by zoom and the following Monday I was making an appointment for photos/MRI etc. They offered me Wednesday but that’s my day to visit Mum so I chose the Monday after that. A week later I was heading down to London to be filmed and meet the surgeon in person. He’s very calm and measured and has a dry humour and subtlety to the way he delivers his verdict about things which reminded me strongly of McOther. He also has the same calm confidence about his expertise, which is always reassuring. He told me, ‘this is rather worse than I was expecting from your story. There’s not any cartilage that I can see.’ Then went on to explain that the knee was actually, ‘completely trashed’ and that a full replacement was the only real option. I may be fifty two, he said, but my knee is every bit of seventy years old. I’m not surprise. I suspect it’s been bone on bone for the last three years, at least.

While he was showing me the MRI it was intriguing to see it zoom through all the meat bit by bit. I looked at it and thought, Hmm, there’s some nice marbling there, if I was a steak, I’d taste nice. Which even I thought was a slightly strange thing to think.

I’ll be having surgery at London Bridge Hospital. The white and brown building second to the left of the Shard. HMS Belfast is near there, too. It’s on the left, just out of shot.

There we are then. As of two days’ time, I am about to plunge into two week’s isolation before having a knee op. When I come out the side I will have a replacement knee … I hope.

In so far as such a concept is possible, I am quite looking forward to having surgery. Counter intuitive as this may seem, if it works, I will be able to do a lot of things I couldn’t. Like … I dunno … walk. I suspect that once I get up and running after the op, I’ll do a fair bit of walking, just for the sheer joy of being able to. I may even be able to run for the first time in about 15 years.

Like any operation, there is a chance it will go horribly wrong. I might die on the table, have a blood clot or end up as a unidexter. But I like to think positive and believe that things will go well and that, by six pm, two weeks on Monday, I will contain some titanium and a lot of painkillers.

Let’s face it, they are sawing the ends off two bones, I’m guessing it’s going to feel a bit like having a broken leg at first. Or to put it another way, I think it might be going to smart a tad. On the other hand, since my knee is bone on bone, I’m probably looking at a reasonably substantial uplift, once I’ve finished the recuperation process, on the day-to-day pain levels I currently … ‘enjoy’ – if that’s the right word. Also, of course, once I’m out the other side I can go to follow up appointments on the train again and stuff. Which will be dandy.

Going to London on Monday used every last one of my reserves but it was fabulous. I left a wet, cold and windy Suffolk and walked off the platform at Liverpool Street into a warm, sunny autumn day. Bit of a bonus there. I do love the feeling of the sun on my skin and all that light on the backs of my eyes.

There was hardly anyone around and so I walked to my appointment and then walked back to Liverpool Street, via London Bridge, to see the hospital in which they will operate on me.

In order to preserve knee spoons I took it very slowly and happened upon Monument and Pudding Lane, which was rather lovely. I enjoyed the sunshine, not to mention the fact I could stand in the middle of Threadneedle Street to take a photo without being bothered by traffic. And I think I might have started a small love affair with the Walkie Talkie.

The Walkie Talkie is slightly nuts, which may be why I like it. Apparently it can focus the sun on a parking spot on the road below and, on the wrong kind of day, set parked cars on fire. I haven’t been able to substantiate if this is really true.

However, for all the rumours of murder rays, it looks a great deal more benign. Indeed, to me it looks like some well meaning creature bumbling through the streets. The others are really cool but they are buildings. The Walkie Talkie looks … a bit cuddlier than that.

When you catch a glimpse of it, over the roofs of other buildings, it looks as if it’s popped up to orientate itself.

If it spoke, I reckon it would make well-meaning noises; a mash up of Dara O’Brien doing impressions of whale song combined with his take on the flowerpot men; as seen on on Mock the Week.

See pictures below.

Boing. Woieoooooow. Blobalobolob.

Lobolobobloboblob!

Can you tell me the way to the river? I need to wash my feet.

Too weird? Yeh. OK.

I lived in London for a little while, and I love it. I left pre Canary Wharf – well I think the big square tower was there but that was it, it hadn’t even reached the point where it looked like a three pin plug. But I think for the most part, they’ve made a really good stab at the modern buildings thing.What seems to have worked well is the juxtaposition of the old and new; the way you have the Gherkin, the Lloyds Building and a bunch of other stuff all hugga mugga with some ancient church (that’s the little sandy coloured blob, right in the middle, with the Gherkin growing out of its head). I like that if something modern is good, it looks perfectly alright next to a twelth century church or the neo classical splendour of The Bank of England. I liked that there was no traffic too. I suppose even Covid has to have an upside.

This street is very K’Barthan. Quite similar to Fuller’s Row for anyone who has read Nothing to See Here. Except there aren’t the same railings.

Then suddenly, you get a whole Victorian row in the middle of it all, shown above. A small miracle, in itself, when most of this area was flattened by the Luftwaffe trying to bomb Liverpool Street in World War II. This is very K’Barthan, and looks more like Bayswater than the city. Looking at it, people might actually even live in these houses.

Looking down Threadneedle Street, with the Bank of England about 200 yards up behind me.

I also love that I managed a couple of shots which I could, plausibly, use for book covers. I have some shots taken from McOther’s London office of the shiny building in the previous shot being constructed. The brown building reflected in the shiny glass is the building in which his office is situated.

And finally, the cover of the ‘Christmas’ story I’m working on would probably be this one. As usual, I’ll do a short version for the Christmas Lights anthology this year and the longer expanded version will be released next year, the way Nothing To See Here would have been if I hadn’t run out of money and had to hold off releasing it until the following February! Oh and … er hem … sorry, we’re talking about Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday, clearly, rather than Christmas.

So yeh … that’s where I am this week. Slightly in shock and about to enter splendid isolation.

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Talking of isolation … if you’re bored and looking for something to keep you amused, I’m still giving away that 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 it gives you right there so remember to write it down.

When you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play it’ll ask you for the code you jotted down. 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, help @ bookfunnel.com – 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. I leave you with this lovely picture of Marvin the paranoid android.

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Winning at cars and losing at life …

Unfortunately, at the moment I am not being one of these …

Once again, it’s the time of the week when I am supposed to be writing my blog and I’ve done nothing about it. Oops.

The fact is, things are properly busy this week. I am organising things. Mostly admin. On the up side … the car … good news on that front.

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about it on here, heaven knows I’ve whinged extensively everywhere else, but you may remember that last year, the lovely mechanic who services my car tried and failed to fix the headlight. It’s a sealed plastic unit but water had got into it, the contacts inside had corroded and to get it apart you have to cut it open in a way that makes it impossible to reassemble. All the lights are angled and if you try to fix it, the couple of millimetres of plastic you’ve ground off cutting it open changes the angle of the bulbs, and suddenly your lights are not shining where they ought to. It galled both of us that something which could be fixed in about thirty seconds with a bit of sand paper cost me £1,200 plus 20% VAT.

Early this year the headlight on the other side started flashing on and off and eventually, died completely. I rang him to say ‘oh bollocks here we go again’ and he was extremely sympathetic. He consulted Lotus and they told him that yes, it would almost certainly be the unit. We agreed that since it was getting lighter and I was no longer actually using it in the dark, and it was only the dipped light I may as well use it through the summer and save up.

Ah yes, re the whinging, because it was the dipped beam that stopped working – ie, the only one I use – I ranted about it quite extensively in this post here https://mtmcguire.co.uk/2020/01/18/chaos/.

Anyhow as we can see, in January this year my stupid headlight went ffffut and died. Knobs. So I’ve been sticking to daylight use and saving up for another £1,200 + 20% VAT bill for the other headlight. My car has done nearly 80,000 miles. It’s getting on a bit in mechanical terms and stuff is beginning to need fixed. So after lock down, when I started using it again, I began to think there was something a bit … odd going on at the back end. Sure enough, it turns out it needed new springs and shocks … and a couple of tyres. Perhaps that’s why it aquaplaned and nearly span at 50mph on the M23 a month or so ago. Hmm.

But on the costs front. Paying for that stuff is fine, I’m OK with that sort of thing because it’s wear and tear and they are standard parts so they don’t cost the earth. It’s the ones which are made specifically to fit a Lotus that cost … like the lights. This year two rear tyres at £116 a pop, rear springs and shocks plus the service and MOT came to about what I expect to pay each year to keep it on the road at this stage – unless nothing is wrong with it – but I usually expect an extra £500 because it’s getting on a bit and something usually is. Then there was the headlight. Gerald had hung onto the old broken headlight. It galled him to bin something which was basically in perfect working order even if it was unusable. Despite being mercilessly teased by his colleagues about the fact he never throws anything away, he refused to budge and kept it in a box in a corner of the workshop.

Upon inspecting the knackered headlight that was in the car he discovered that some of the wiring had burned out. That was bad. On the other hand it was a piece on the outside of the unit. In theory it could be fixed, and because he’d kept the old one, he had an exact functioning copy of that same piece of wiring. Jolly dee eh? So he removed the good wiring from the broken light and soldered it onto the headlight in the car to replace the dodgy wiring. Job done. And I’m about £1,500 up on it. That, ladies, gentlemen, plus everyone beyond and in between, is a proper mechanic. What a legend!

Also I have to just say that I met Gerald after I called Gerry the mechanic at snurd Gerry. And anyway, Gerald isn’t a Blaggysomp.

Speaking of being savvy with old stuff, there is a new NHS app out to help with the whole track and trace thing. It is supposed to be compulsory if you have the right kind of phone. The basic gist is that you can consult the app to see if there are any folks who have had or are particularly at risk from the Rona near to you because it’ll flag them up. It does this using anonymous data from their mobile phone, and yours. Think of it as a kind Grinder for Covid. Or do I mean a Corona Tinder? I suppose it depends on your orientation. But like I said, it’s anonymous. And there aren’t any dick or quim picks that I’m aware of. Win win right?

Er … no

Some stores and venues are not allowing people in unless they have this thing installed. That’s all well and good, except the app appears to have a bit of a major flaw. It only works on IOS13.5 or later and Android 5 or later. So as well as the fact that, even now, not everyone has a mobile phone or can use it proficiently, it turns out that most of the people who do have phones might not be able to install it.

Speaking to one of my writer friends, today, who is a retired surgeon, she was bemoaning the fact that there is a store in town she can’t go into because she can’t install the app on her iPhone. She has an iPhone but it’s an older one. It isn’t broken though, and she likes it, and it syncs with all her stuff happily. She doesn’t want to get a new one just so this app will work. But unless she does. Favourite store? Nope. Barred.

Now, I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure there is no newer operating system than IOS13.5 as I write this. My iPad is running the latest one so I’ll have to check.

The point is, if you want everyone to use this, if it’s expedient that everyone uses this, it has to be backwards compatible. Putting aside the fact that many folks only use a small amount of data and don’t want this app suddenly spooging it all up the wall, a lot of us use older phones. Fine, so my current phone is two years old, the one before was two years old when I upgraded, but that upgrade was so I could pass one down to McMini. I used the one before that for eight years and I fully intend to see at least another five years’ use out of the one I have now, unless McMini smashes the screen even more comprehensively than he has now. He does have an unfortunate habit of hitting it with the drumsticks by mistake while he’s practising. If that happens I’ll have to upgrade so I can pass this one on to him. (He loses things a lot so a brand new whizzy phone is not an option until he can manage to hang onto it. Obviously, if he can arrange not hitting it, instead of the drum, by mistake would be a bonus too).

That’s the thing though. We are all skint and many, many people are using older phones, and they are, mostly, the exact people the government wants to see using this app. And guess what? They can’t.

Likewise, as well as not working on anything before Android 5 (also quite recent I believe) it won’t let you install it onto a phone SD card if, say, you have a phone like my original Samsung Galaxy 1 which I was using until about three years ago and which had nowhere near the disk space for the app but would have run it off an 8gb sd.

What gob smackingly, jaw droppingly stupid bellendery is this? Are they fucking serious? Well … it seems they are. But honestly, if I wrote this, people would say it was too stupid to be realistic!

Never mind, onwards and upwards eh?

I had a lovely visit to Mum’s this week. We went to the pub for lunch. She put away a big piece of battered haddock and some peas but decided she wouldn’t eat the chips. It was really enjoyable, we went with two of the carers and had a lovely lunch. Later in the week she rang me, she was on good form and laughing about some things she’d forgotten. She told me how glad she was that the doctor had told her she was just getting old and that she didn’t have dementia (even if she does). But she sort of knows. I talked about winter and how next year we would do x y or z in the garden because there’d be no covid and we’d be able to get stuff more easily. She said she wasn’t sure she’d be here next year.

‘Oh I reckon you’re good for years yet,’ I said.

‘I might be. I would hate it if I lost my marbles though. I don’t want to go mad.’

‘Well, at the moment you have trouble remembering things but you’re not mad mum,’ I told her.

She isn’t stupid. I mean, she taught herself to read so I know she isn’t stupid but … she knows. It’s so sad.

On the other hand, there’s McMini.

Remember all those hilarious quotes he used to come out with as a nipper. And how he used to call me Muggy? Yeh well, would you believe that he is now twelve and has just got into a punk band (that’s my boy) to be the drummer. He is still small. A bit of a pocket rocket and a little outrageous, although he seems to have his dad’s good judgement rather than mine when it comes to knowing what he should and shouldn’t say in front of the normals though thank heavens. Either that or he’s just really good at hiding it from me.

He takes the piss out of me mercilessly, which I consider a good sign and he is still very funny, although it’s a bit more intentional now … a bit more. But like me, he tends to be funny whether he wants to or not and the trick is just to make it look deliberate. I love that I can make him laugh. He’s such a soft audience! Mwahahahrgh!

He has no siblings so there is a definite dash of the sibling thing to our relationship as well as mother and son. It also makes me laugh how similar my relationship with my son is turning out to be to my relationship with my father. Mum too, I mean, let’s face it, Mum and I hid in a cupboard from visitors once, she was, by no means, conventional. But if I was going to shout ‘bum!’ And start giggling it would be Dad I’d do that to. And then he’d try to pretend that it wasn’t mature or funny until the laughter got the better of him. Obviously I’d like to think I’d be shouting something funnier than ‘bum’ unless I made that particular ‘bum’ extremely funny, but you get the picture. If there was an outrageous statement to be made, a statement that Dad felt that his position as teacher, church Warden and Lay Reader precluded him from making, he’d feed the line to me, with a wicket twinkle in his eye, so I could do it. Sometimes I would. Other times I’d tell him that I knew exactly what he was angling for me to say and that if he wanted it said he could jolly well do it himself. As we got older, we’d just swear at each other and guffaw.

Still eccentric …

Now here I am with a twelve year old who is, occasionally, a bit potty mouthed – despite my dire warnings to do as I say not as I do and my efforts not to swear in his presence (although he has an uncanny knack of hearing me swear when I think I’m alone, I’m beginning to suspect he listens out for it). We behave like two people who have watched far too many episodes of The Young Ones, even though I’m not sure he’s seen an episode of The Young Ones at all.

Anyway, one of McMini’s favourite pastimes is making up scathing put downs, most of which he is too kindly to use it seems (and I fervently hope). Mostly these are things that he can only use on me because they are far too rude for a twelve year old to use on anyone else. One of his favourites, should I volunteer any information in which he is not interested – which as a hormonal young man on the brink of teenager-hood, is pretty much all of it – is to pretend to look for something. After a few seconds of watching him search I might ask him what on earth he’s doing (although you’ll only do it once) and he’ll say, ‘I’m sorry I’m looking for the point where I asked?’

Another favourite is: ‘I’ve ordered a f**k to give about that. It should be here by next Tuesday.’ And one he came out with last night: ‘The mistake you made there, is adding a f**k that I didn’t give.’ And then, like my father before me, I find myself trying to look stern and disapprove, because he’s twelve and he really shouldn’t be saying things like that, and then just laughing.

I am a terribly bad parent. In standard terms, I’m a failure at most things. But for the most part, I’m happy.

On the up side, though, at least through me, McMini can see that failure is often a matter of interpretation and that it’s nothing to be scared of. That people who are complete and utter failures at what they do might be doing alright in other ways, or even if they aren’t, are not always unhappy. And of course, if I keep on trying I’m not strictly a failure, am I? Because I can’t really say I’ve failed, for certain, until I give up. And I haven’t. It it’s not like I can’t write the books. I’m just a bit shit at selling them.

Happiness, like the rest of life, can be as simple as the spin you put on things.

_________________________

Which reminds me, the entire K’Barthan Box Set is on special at Kobo at the moment so if you want to see what failure looks like close up … or grab yourself a bargain, just nip over to Kobo and help yourself. To find it on your local Kobo just click on here and choose a link to your own country!

Here’s the link: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/boxlinks.html

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I aitn’t dead

Several things have happened this week which are very apposite to this heading but since they aren’t fully resolved and I want to wait and talk about them when they are, I thought I’d settle for these two.

The strange case of the discombobulated cabbage.

This first piece of oddness is for interest more than anything. A couple of weeks ago Mum’s fabulous garden team started to harvest her rather splendid cabbage crop. Having picked a few on the Tuesday afternoon they left one on the kitchen table for me to take home when I visited the following day. When I arrived I walked into the kitchen and there was my cabbage, except it looked a funny shape and when I turned it over I found … this.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. What the hell takes a bite like that out of a cabbage and how did nobody notice the previous day when they were picked? I’m not that bothered usually, it’s all going to be boiled for a few minutes anyway, but the idea of eating something that was covered in fox slobber during a pandemic didn’t appeal. We were all set to cut large swathes off it, or bin it, when I turned it back over and peeled off some of the outer leaves. The crack went round well beyond the point where they were unbroken and still wrapped round it.

Surely no animal would do that. So what did? We had a look to see if I could piece the two sides of the crack together. While it wasn’t possible to do so en masse, it was possible to see that both halves of the broken leaves on each side of the fissure matched up. These leaves hadn’t been chewed. They’d been ripped asunder (sounds theatrical). The cabbage, once picked, had continued to grow … in parts. Those parts, while growing, had torn the other, non growing leaves apart. So what you see there is a cabbage that has exploded in slow motion. Weird, and kind of cool. Also, I imagine this isn’t that unusual, so presumably farmers and harvesters of fast growing veg have to factor this in when they pick them in case of … accidents. I also love the idea of something taking fifteen hours or so to explode. Wish I’d had a time lapse camera on it.

Living on the edge! Because that’s how I roll …

Recently I was listening to Joanna Penn’s excellent podcast and she was talking about setting goals and also the whole getting comfortable with smaller horizons aspect of lockdown. Her podcasts are great by the way, if you are interested, you can find a list and listen to them here.

When it comes to targets she was saying she’d love to earn seven figures. Frankly, I think seven figures in comedic sci fi and fantasy probably isn’t going to happen unless my surname is Pratchett, Fforde or Adams. I’d be really, really happy with five figures, per year, sod it, four would be good. If I made myself a profit of £1000 a year I’d practically jizz, except I’m a lady so I can’t. Yet my ultimate ambition, though it isn’t exactly monetary is that I want the action figures on my desk to be characters from my own books. That’s probably more than a seven figure ambition right there – so it’s pretty unlikely – but hope springs eternal eh?

Focusing on reality, in the short term, I want to try and push my monthly sales from £150 – £200 ish to £500 and my resulting profits from about £10 to say … £50? This will involve writing more books I suspect. Working on that, I promise. As well I suspect it involves working on a series that people actually want to read, rather than one that they love but only after they’ve been forced to read it at gunpoint.

Further to my ultimate end of maybe earning … something … I’m hoping to produce a box set of first in series funny sci-fi and fantasy books. There are ten of us and it will be given away free. This is one of those projects that’s happening, slowly. I’ll keep you posted on progress with that because it should be a good read once it’s sorted and of course, it won’t cost anything. Woot!

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the broadcast. Joanna was saying that one of the things she loved about travel was how it pushed her out of her comfort zone. She felt that it was important to do that every now and again, step out of the comfort zone I mean – and I agree with her. She asked what her listeners were doing to push their boundaries … if anything. Well it just so happens that, this week I did worry myself and learned that travel isn’t the only way out of your comfort zone. Oh no. I present to you … this tried and tested method.

I grew up in the country and was brought up as a bit of a forager. If I go on a walk I’m the one at the back of the group picking fruit out of the hedges or leaves from the verge and eating them. I also grew up picking mushrooms. There are a number of these that I am totally comfortable picking and eating, some that I’m perfectly comfortable picking but can’t eat because I’m allergic to them and others that I’m pretty sure I can identify but am not comfortable putting in my or anyone else’s mouth (phnark).

Young parasol mushroom, the snakeskin er … shaft is unique to this mushroom. If it has that, you will not die from eating this.

A few years ago McOther and I went on a mushroom picking day at one of the nature reserves on the fens somewhere – probably Welney. They showed us how to identify a parasol mushroom and then they cooked some, which we ate. They were delicious and as they have some unique aspects I swore that I would pick them and eat them the next time I saw them.

However it was 5 or 10 years until I saw my first parasols in the wild and I wasn’t confident enough to pick them. Especially as the folks I was with patently had zero confidence in my fungus identifying abilities. This was in the days when all you did on a mobile phone was talk to people, text them or play snake so there was no looking on t’interweb to check. Anyway looking it up on t’interweb doesn’t always help and the point is probably moot because, at the time we happened upon them, we were on on roof of the Shropshire hills. Even now I doubt you can get a signal up there. Then last week while having a walk in the grounds of McMini’s school I found a load of them. I was almost certain what they were but – as usual – not 100 percent.

Having erred on the side of caution, I went home and looked them up. Now, I was as sure as I could be that these were the Real Deal. Still too scared to pick one though. Then I hit on a way to jog myself out of my inertia.

I was due to be driving to Mum’s to have lunch after school drop off the next day. To gather that much needed vote of confidence, I hit on the idea of asking her care team if any of them would like me to bring a mushroom down and leave it at hers for them. My cunning plan was that my Mum’s country care buddies could identify it, know it was parasol mushroom at once and asked me to bring one for them I would know it was edible.

Sure enough. The lady with Mum the day I was to visit said yes please.

Good. Now I had to pick them.

A mature parasol mushroom.

That Wednesday, morning I dropped the lad off and headed across the park to pick me mushroom … or two. In the end I picked three. I also photographed some of the mushrooms in situ in various stages of development. Naturally, once I was half way back to the car I realised that, having taken those photos, I’d left my phone on the ground by the mushrooms.

Bollocks.

Back I went. As I swished through the grassy field, filling my sandals with dew and soggy dead grass, I turned on my Bluetooth headset. Eventually the plastic voice said ‘connected’ in my ear and I knew the phone was within a 12 metre range. After a quick search I found it, put it in my pocket and returned to the car. Never mind, I expect the extra walking did me good.

When I arrived at Mum’s the lovely carer and I had a look at them, consulted our phones decided that we could definitely eat them without dying. She cooked one for Mum and I, took one home for herself, and I took the other one home and had it for my lunch on Thursday and Friday.

All three of us; Mum, career and I are delighted that we are not dead. And I’m very glad that I stepped out of the zone and finally summoned up the courage to eat a parasol mushroom after a mere twenty years. And it tasted chuffing marvellous, too. Another edible fungi on the list of things I’m confident picking, then. I call that a win.

I think the three of us felt quite pumped by the act of taking that small risk.

So the moral of this rather long story is that you don’t have to leave the country to enjoy that little frisson of danger. You can experience it right at home.

___________________________

Has this inspired you to do something unusual? (Trust me, this is unusual.)

If you’re feeling like pushing the envelope (snortle) or stepping out of your comfort zone, you can always try reading one of my books. I mean, they’re not that weird.

Well … only a bit.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling up for anything and really, really brave, you can help yourself to a couple without even paying for them when you join my mailing list.

If you want to do that, you can join here:

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/freens.html

Think how pumped and smug you’ll feel afterwards, as well.

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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.

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Filed under General Wittering

This week, I have been mostly …

How are you all doing?

This week, I mostly did … a podcast appearance. The one I mentioned last week with Bonnie Dillabough. OK so I’m not sure I acquitted myself too well, especially not when it came to answering the questions, but Bonnie is a complete scream. Ex website designer and ex professional clown among many other things. She’s also worked in audio visuals so she edits her own stuff. She has six kids and she has grandchildren … I’ve no idea when she finds the time to write books! The editing and geekery is impressive but the coolest bit is the professional clown part! I got the feeling that we have a similar outlook. She started off in KU but soon decided that she wanted to get her books into libraries and similar and so she is in the process of going wide with all retailers, which is brilliant as it means I can share her books with my mailing list a lot more easily.

She asked me what I loved most and hated most about writing! Jeez that was hard. So obviously the bit I love most is the writing bit. The daydreaming, writing stuff down, giggling at the funny bits. The bit I dislike most is probably the fact there isn’t enough time to do it in. But unfortunately, that’s not what I said. I went completely blank.

In the end, I cited one of a number of pet hates: those people who take the time to email you to be pissy rather than just unsubscribe.

The way I advertise is to invite people to sign up to my mailing list in return for a free book. A few weeks afterwards, I send them links to download a second book. My theory is that sending people a couple of free books is quite a decent thing to do – even if they’re short books at 14k and 4k, respectively (or 90 mins and 30 mins in audio). Obviously I’m hoping they’ll like the book but if they don’t that’s absolutely fine, there’s a big unsubscribe button so they don’t have to carry on receiving my emails. Usually, if the book isn’t their thing, the point they unsubscribe is when they receive an email about the second book, ‘would you like another book?’ It’s called. I guess it serves as a reminder. The last thing I want on my email list is folks who don’t want to be there, so if the book isn’t their bag and they unsubscribe I am, quite frankly, delighted. I’m aiming for a small, but perfectly formed, email list where I have a couple of thousand subscribers and an open rate that’s as close to 100% as is actually possible.

Sometimes, people write me really lovely emails saying that they appreciated the free book but they are going to unsubscribe because my stuff is not for them. If they take the trouble to do that I always thank them for their time and reassure them that I’m absolutely OK with their unsubscribing because it would be daft for them to stay.

Other times though, you get people who don’t unsubscribe, oh no because that would be sensible. Instead they email you to be condescending and unpleasant about the book you’ve given them. They act as if your offering them a gift, which they were perfectly at liberty to refuse, is an act of deliberate disrespect on your part.

‘How dare you give me a book I don’t like!’ They cry usually in the most pompous and condescending tone they can muster. ‘You have wasted my precious executive time.’

Also, as stated, they are often so tied up with being pissy that they do this without even asking to unsubscribe in the email either. I had one recently and I suppose that is why I cited people like this as my pet hate. I shouldn’t have done. It makes me come over as similarly small-minded. But I have to admit I do heartily dislike that handful of people in the industry; readers, other authors, sometimes editors, who actively go out of their way to be pissy to everyone else. Like those morons who register words like ‘tree’ and ‘sky’ as trademarks. Bellends, every man jack of ’em. I have no time for such cockwomblery.

Also, if you’re going to write to an author making disparaging comments about the quality of a book’s editing, it’s a good plan to check the email for typos before clicking send. So few of these people do.

Mostly, I simply unsubscribe them without bothering to reply. However, sometimes, if they are pompous enough, I will send them something along the lines of, ‘thank you for your honesty, I assume the purpose of your contacting me was to request that I unsubscribe you from my mailing list, this I have done.’ The more pompous and pointless their email the more scathingly polite my reply, and of course, if I can match their pomposity I give myself bonus points. This probably makes me a troll, but I reckon that since with this sort of bellendery is an unavoidable part of doing anything on t’interweb, the least I can do is have some fun out of it.

I was thinking about marketing this week. Yeh, I try not to but [MTM leans in and whispers] I enjoy it. The geek in me likes tinkering with marketing, yep the same one who would have loved to have done something scientific but … maths. Marketing is one of those things where you get to do your own mad experiments. Thus far my advertising has had the strap line, Dr Who meets Terry Pratchett … sort of. I then talk about how I’m cutting my own throat giving them a free book. I don’t think the nod to Pratchett in the body matters, but having it in the strap line makes me nervous. I’ve been looking for something else. I came up with a list of rather similar ones:

  1. When the finger of fate points, duck.
  2. When fate comes knocking, be out.
  3. When destiny calls don’t be at home.
  4. When destiny calls pretend to be out.
  5. Destiny called but it got the wrong number.
  6. Destiny called but it got the wrong guy.
  7. A man called by fate: the wrong man.
  8. Fate called. The wrong man listened.
  9. When fate calls, don’t be at home.
  10. Use ‘Destiny called. The wrong man answered’ anyway

The results were intriguing. The clear winner was 1, but hide or run were also suggested. 5 also got a fair few votes and there’s me thinking 7 or 8 were the best! If it’ll fit on the ad I think I’ll probably settle for ‘When the finger of fate points, run away.’ But it also opens up the possibility of, ‘When Destiny calls, hide’ ‘When Destiny calls, run,’ or even, ‘When Destiny calls, hide behind the sofa.’

If you have a favourite feel free to post it in the comments!

Other smashing news … despite our respective feelings of lock down meh, Gareth and I have got it together enough to do another audiobook. Small Beginnings will soon be coming to a store near you on audio!

Yesterday we had a slight alarum with Mum. She fell in the kitchen and hit her head so, because she’s on blood thinners, they carted her off to A&E for a brain scan. It happened at 11 ish. She said she lay there a while and then thought that if she could turn over she might be able to get up. But then she ended up trapped on her side and couldn’t even sit up, at which point, she admitted defeat and pressed her panic button. It goes through to two different people nearby and one couple came round and picked her up. The ambulance was also called automatically. Mum’s carer arrived shortly afterwards and after a brief chat the other lovely peps went home.

As the ambulance was going to be two hours, the carer very sensibly gave Mum lunch. Then they arrived and despite my brother and I saying no they insisted they took her to A&E to be checked. We were all a bit worried as she had to go on her own. No-one was allowed in with her.

Eventually, at 6.00pm I rang to see how she was getting on. The staff member answering the phone sounded a bit brusque and said that no-one had even seen her yet. I thought she was angry with me, it was only afterwards I realised she might have been as pissed off as I was about the fact Mum had been sitting there for three hours, rather than annoyed with me for calling. Nobody helped Mum but I doubt she asked. She went to the loo by clinging onto the wall. She gets confused but I think her dementia is vascular rather than Alzheimer’s so it’s different and definitely far more variable. By a stroke of luck she was having a really good day and was very on the ball. Even better they’d scanned and released her by seven and she was home and in bed eating a light supper by 8.00 at which point she rang me to give me a blow-by-blow account of her adventures!

Luckily, all is well and I didn’t have to go down there. I’m thinking that, since she has arthritic knees that give way and she is already very tottery, it might be time to start trying to persuade her to use a zimmer. I do have a thing you can strap on so she’ll still be able to carry stuff. It’ll take some time though.

Although it was not a pleasant few hours, I did feel hugely relieved when I chatted to her by how much more with it she was than sometimes. We had a lovely conversation and it left me hoping that some of her recent deterioration is more about lockdown fatigue. Fingers crossed.

Which reminds me …

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If you’re looking for something to take your mind off all the pissy administrivia that takes six times as long under the ‘New Normal’ (lord I hate that phrase) Small Beginnings is currently free from all retailers. Or you can try some other authors by downloading the free box set anthology, ‘Future Adventures’ which contains eight excellent books but a number of different authors, including me – Few Are Chosen. To find out more, or discover a link to download either at your vendor of choice. Just click on the picture of the one that interests you.


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Smug mode …

One of the things I’ve been trying to do since lockdown eased is continue walking for an hour each day. Unfortunately, I’m coming up against the usual problem which is that post lock down is back to busy holidays mode and I don’t really have time to walk for an hour each day. As a result I’ve been trying to incentivise myself by listening to podcasts.

Last week, I listened to Joanna Penn’s interview with Marion Roach (episode 496) about writing memoir. In the preamble, she talked about experiencing feelings of tiredness, possibly even exhaustion. She explained that she’d looked it up and discovered that there is a phenomenon called lock down fatigue.

As I understood it, the gist of this goes as follows; while things are opening up and people are able to get out again, there is an increased sense of danger. So on the one hand, your social well being is probably increased. On the other, your limbic system doesn’t really know the difference between the danger posed by a stalking tiger and the knowledge that if you get COVID:19 you might die, or might not. The whole Russian roulette nature of the thing is classed by your limbic system as ‘danger’. This, in turn, means that whether or not you actually notice, your fight or flight centre is at heightened awareness. Think of it as amber alert.

The theory is that this constant state of readiness on the part of your limbic system makes you feel tired, whether you consciously realise it is in action or not. Other symptoms include struggling with memory, lethargy, having difficulty concentrating … there’s a pretty good potted summary of the main points here. The main gist of it is that the limbic system regards mere worry as a danger. As I listened to this, I suddenly had a bit of a penny dropping moment.

I’ve been worried about my father, and then my mother for a good fourteen years but certainly in earnest since 2012. 2012 was the year I had shingles and sought help dealing with the fact that I would not be looking after my parents the way I had expected to. After a fair amount of CBT I got to the point where I could cope. Add to this long term arthritic pain, which, in itself is thought to stimulate your limbic system to think danger and fog your thinking. Now throw in hormones, some people going through the menopause also get brain fog – both peri and post menopause (I’ve no idea which I am on the peri/post front but the brain fog was the clincher in actually diagnosing it).

Or to put it another way. I’ve had lockdown fatigue for the past eight years.

And with that realisation came a whole load of secondary ones. I realised that I probably don’t have dementia – if I had it when I thought I did, at the start, and I’d followed the same path as Dad I’d be at the shouty sex pest stage by now. So clearly, while I could have segued seamlessly into the early stages by now, without noticing, it’s most likely a no for the moment. That’s quite a relief.

Then there’s the mental exhaustion. I have been on the brink of burnout, and suffering mental exhaustion for at least eight years. OK, so that is a massive pisser in many respects, but at the same time, a sustained situation like that means that coping mechanisms are already learned and lock down is merely more of the same. Most likely, there is another eight years or so to go but once Mum gets to the lying in bed stage, or reaches the point where visits are really hard and she doesn’t have much idea who I am, I will probably cut the visits to once a fortnight, maybe even once a month. It will be easier this time with just the patient to consider. Some of the hardest things to deal with about Dad was seeing Mum’s distress and trying to support her through it all as well.

The single most wonderful thing about lockdown was not having to disrupt my momentum mid week. There is a lot of shite in my life which I can’t ditch, but there is a lot that I can. I’ve decided I will ditch that. Also, I think I will see if I can be referred privately to see a knee surgeon. I want to know all the alternatives which are available to me. There are people in the US with severe arthritis who are already having stem cell treatment. Here in the UK there is very little of that kind of thing available.

There is also the option of a partial replacement. I’m not sure the NHS even does those. They are still in a situation where they can only do two knee replacements so they prefer to wait until you are desperate. The idea is that one replacement only lasts x number of years so if the first implant goes wrong you may be in a wheelchair if it’s done too early. However, since I will definitely be in a wheelchair if I have to wait until I’m sixty, I’d rather do the wheelchair bit aged 70 or so than … well … sometime in the next couple of years. So my target now is to persuade the NHS, while, at the same time, saving up £20 grand for a knee op in case the NHS refuses. Hopefully, it wouldn’t cost that but I suspect all the preceding appointments, x-rays etc might up the cost a bit. I haven’t checked if the figures I’ve read are all in. So yeh, this week, I am mostly looking at, knee replacement costs.

Finally sent off my W8-BEN to Barnes & Noble. As far as I can see, if you have an EIN you use that where other folks would use an SSN (social security number). That checked, I’ve filled in the form, here’s hoping it works. Presumably I’ll hear from B&N when they receive it and They will soon tell me whether I have got it wrong or not. More on that story as it unfolds.

Have just been for a night with Mum to get this nipper together with his cousins. That was fun and involved going to the beach, even though it was not that warm. It was windy though, and they had a kite so McMini and I flew that while others swam.

Other cheerful news. I finished my first novel in 5 years. This is a major achievement. OK so it isn’t great but it’s 75k and it isn’t that awful so I’m hopeful I can turn it into something some people might enjoy reading. The only thing I have to decide now is if I’m going to write another short in the interim to be ‘Too Good To Be True’ and call this one something else.

Ah the joy of simple decisions.

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Talking of simple decisions, if you want to try out one of my books feel free to have a look at this one. I’m afraid you’ll have to sign up to my mailing list – otherwise I can’t send it to you – but it’s not a problem if you unsubscribe afterwards! To find out more go here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/freens1.html

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General wittering …

A quick one this week as I am currently in the thoes of trying to locate my W8BN form. Gads! I have decided to open a Barnes&Noble publisher account to sell my books direct. Why in the name of Pete I decided that would be a good idea now I do not know. These days, Amazon and the like ask you to fill in tax information and giving a UK tax number is enough for them not to withhold 30% of my earnings.

Unfortunately, unlike every other US based company I deal with nowadays, Barnes&Noble still require you to do the whole get the form from the IRS and fill it in yourself malarky, which I can do but … just not anywhere I can track it down without about five days of rigorous searching. Worse, I suspect that what I have is an EIN number which may mean that for the sake of about three quid a month I would have to spend 40 minutes on hold to the IRS to have an ITIN assigned to me, and I have a feeling that this involves affadavits and sending my passport off to the IRS in America which is not an appealing prospect.

Naturally, there is no question that I should just do this when I have time. No, I have to do it all within 30 days of opening my account. Except they don’t tell you that until after you’ve opened one at the beginning of the holidays, like a moron, when, frankly, you haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of writing that 1,000 words you need to write to finish your next book.

So we’ll have to chalk that one up to experience. Gah except now I am worrying about it so I will have to go through all my stupid bits of paper because, naturally, the W section in my filing case, which I thought was the location for my Withholding/W8bN information, is missing. Jeepers. Head. Desk. With any luck it’ll be in the folder for special urgent things at the front. There isn’t time to look and do this so I’ll have to check when I’m done. Sorry to leave you in suspense. Fingers crossed.

On the up side, it seems I have grown a triffid. OK it’s not strictly a triffid, it calls itself an epiphillium. There’s a guy who sells plants from his front garden for charity – you know, take one and put the money through the door. One Sunday a few years ago, on the way home from church, I found this in his tray of for sale plants. It was quite small and it was labelled, ‘epiphillium/moon flower’. It was only 50p so I bought it.

On a side note, this is the guy who put a big wooden trunk outside with ‘free to a good home’ on it once. I carried it a little way home and then two kind gentlemen took it for me, which was jolly splendid of them. It became the box for McMini’s lego. Turns out this fellow’s father was a seaman and that the box was the trunk in which he kept all his possessions. It has travelled all over the world.

Back to the plant. What does it look like? Well … imagine a Christmas Cactus on steroids. It’s getting a bit big. The two segmented um … bits … in a pot have become a large … thing. Every now and again it sends out an enormous long shoot which turns in to a long spindly branch. It has little hairy bits that grow out of it occasionally, leading me to suspect that normally it would climb things. This one doesn’t. It sits in our conservatory. A couple of times in the last four years, it has produced a flower bud. My life being what it is, we are usually away when this bud opens up so I have never seen a flower until now.

Note my hand in the left bottom corner for size reference.

This year it’s gone a bit mad. It started off with sixteen buds but a few died off and we were left with nine. One day this week, as we were eating supper, I noticed the first flower was opening. It opened so fast it was almost possible to detect the movement with the naked eye.

Each day this week it has treated us to a nightly display of gargantuan triffid like flowers which are really rather splendid. Weirdly, they don’t smell of much close up but the part of the house in which they are situated ends up smelling strongly of vanilla. Which is lovely. They last the night and are wilted by morning.

Naturally, in a spirit of scientific enquiry, I have set about them with a paint brush to see if I can pollinate them and make seeds. Why I do not know. I mean, if I want to grow more of these all I have to do is pick a leaf and plant it in some compost and it will grow. But I want to see the weird triffid fruit I guess.

Yeh. Okaaaaay.

I wonder what these things are pollinated by in the wild. I’m not sure but I’d guess it is something like an actual bird, a humming bird? Either that or the biggest fuck off moth imaginable. Hang on … OK I’ve just had a quick google and it is, indeed, a big fuck off moth. A sphinx moth – which, as far as I can make out, is a variant, or possibly another name for, the humming bird hawk moth or the like – and Bats. Yes actual bats. Fuck me.

Hmm … Well … these flowers are enormous. Clearly despite being an old bat I am not a bat – or a moth – and my pollination efforts may not work. Also what with it being flowers on the same plant it may not work for reasons of floral incest but then again … they might.

Before and after, spiffy new case for my kindle although it hurts my eyes in the morning.

Other news, my kindle broke a couple of weeks ago. There was a crack in the screen, NB do not let fat cat walk across screen of kindle while it is left in dodgy old case on bed. Yes that is how it cracked. Not the front but behind it. Head Desk. After looking at the price of a new kindle I wondered about buying a KoboGlo. But I wasn’t sure how much of a ball ache getting amazon books onto Kobo hardware would be. I reckoned impulse buys on holiday would be right out as I tend to leave the lap top at home. There’s the remarkable, that does ebooks but not very well to be honest. I use both for editing, making notes with the keyboard on the kindle and scribbling all over it on the remarkable but the remarkable displays it in a very strange way so I prefer the kindle.

After a bit of thought, I decided I’d see if I could get a new screen. God bless the internet for making these sorts of endeavours possible. So I sent off for a new screen from China which was, apparently delivered yesterday. But not here ‘to PO Box’. Hopefully that means it’ll be actually delivered on Monday.

Luckily having mentioned it in passing, a dear lady on one of the Goodreads groups I visit mentioned she had the same model as mine but doesn’t use it any more. She warned me that the battery no longer works and the on off switch is a bit shonky so she’s bought herself a new one. She asked if I’d like her to send it to me. I said that yes, I would and bless her, it arrived way before the official new one I’m expecting. A couple of weeks ago, on Monday, I sat down and took both kindles to bits, swapped the screen from hers into mine and … wahooo … it works again. I was so excited by this development that I treated myself to a spiffy new case from Caseable – the state of my old one was part of the problem, the elastic had gone soggy and it was knackered. Now that the print version of Close Enough has arrived I can send the lovely lady who helped me out the first three Hamgeean Misfit books to compensate.

Talking about books … it looks like there might be a gap in Gareth’s schedule for another audio book in week or two – aaaah be still my beating heart! I know but this is still such a massive novelty. Squee! Shiny thing! More on that story as it unfolds.

It seems that my ridiculous, childish excitement at hearing my books in audio is not going to abate. I’ve been listening back to them recently, kind of by mistake because I set my phone to shuffle and it keeps playing me chapters in among the music. But bizarre as this sounds I have loved hearing the odd one when it crops up and then there is the whole, is the next song going to fit in with what I’ve heard? thing. I’m amazed how often it does. This is probably very egocentric of me but it also amuses me, although when I get McMini’s grade three drum pieces it’s not quite so splendid. Can’t win ’em all.

This week at casa McGuire, there has been a lot of furniture moving going on. McMini has requested an office swap. I am delighted about this as my office is upstairs next to his bedroom. I love it up there when the house is quiet and it’s just me but with e-school and all day gaming it’s a) not quiet and b) understandably, McMini doesn’t want his McMother lurking within earshot all the time. Since it’s two rooms and a bathroom up there, it makes sense to have his ‘office’ up there too. It also means that when he has cousins or friends to stay they can stay in that room, all kids together on the same floor, rather than having a room next to his that I’d rather no kids went into!

The room downstairs, which was his playroom, is near to the kitchen and other areas where I might normally be doing things. It worked brilliantly for him as a nipper as I was able to whizz through when he called but now he’s older it makes more sense if it’s an office for me.  We have been setting everything up in there including my music system, which has not been in operation for twelve years. I’d forgotten how good actual vinyl records sound. Although mine are all a bit dusty and need fixing. Anyway, so far, the room looks like this. The wooden things in front of the shelves are a pair of 1930s (I think) skis which came with Mum and Dad’s house. Nobody wants them and I was going to sell them but now I think they’re too cool. This happens when I think I might be able to sell something. The blue oar is part of the escape dinghy set which came set into the wings of a B15. It’s from the rubber dinghy Mum and Uncle had when they were kids. It was yellow, apparently. Grandpa sourced it from army surplus me thinks! I’m pretty sure I mentioned that in another post somewhere. If I was any good at this blogging thing, I’d link but it will take me too long to find it if I want to publish this by the correct time.

McMini has also, finally, managed to procure all the items he needs for his ‘army costume’ and I thought I’d share the slightly sinister results. He’s now on the search for a thermo nuclear war suit. Hmm.

McMini talks a good army/sport but left to his own devices he is such a complete couch potato that I suspect he would dislike the army intensely. Frankly, I see him more as a Bletchley Park kind of guy. But I thought I’d share the completed kit. Most comes from car boots but the odd bits come from t’interweb. The bizarre four way goggles are pretend night vision glasses. They are fitted with blue lenses which look very impressive but render him completely blind when they are in use! He is so going to be doing cosplay at conventions.

We are starting to do social stuff again. Hoping to make a quick trip to Scotland to see the in laws for McDad’s birthday, which should be lovely. McMini and I are heading down to Sussex to see Mum next week and spend the night as the cousins are in residence so that should be a gas and we are seeing friends again too, for appropriately socially distanced gatherings, obviously. My writers groups are still suspended or on line because we have members who are shielding. But the local restaurant we always visit is opening this week which is very exciting. And the sun’s out today … woot.

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Smashing K’Barthan Mug Competition

Perhaps you can ameliorate the total mundanity of this post by making me give you a cup. You can do this by winning my competition and evincing extreme mug envy from your friends and family. Or if you’re feeling outrageous, you could use it to hold your hot beverage of choice. Or cuppa soup if that’s your thing.

Because yes. That’s right! I’m giving away another mug like this one in the picture. You have until Sunday 20th July 2020 to enter.

All you have to do is read Close Enough answer the easy question and fill in your email you can find out more here: https://forms.gle/6dDGpnQU23bdMpwT7.

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