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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. 🙂

_____________________________

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.

_________________________________

 

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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I am a luddite. It’s official.

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

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

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

To this:

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

which is slightly better.

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

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

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

WordPress says that,

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

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

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

To this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Treasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woot.

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________

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

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

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

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Arnold’s pants!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________

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

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

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

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

 

 

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This week, I have been mostly …

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 …

__________________

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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