Tag Archives: istuffedthisupsoyoudon’thaveto

Urgh! Just kill me now …

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

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

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

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

This was not a good idea.

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

Shit.

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

Nope.

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

Nope.

Shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interesting times

This week, I single-handedly caused a gargantuan traffic jam and discovered that I am strong enough to brake a centimetre thick bar of steel. Move over Hulk, here I come. There’s a story in that and we’ll get to it in a minute. Meanwhile, writing news.

Yes, the writing is creeping along, McMini is off for his last day of school as I begin this, although it’ll probably be Saturday by the time I’m finishing it! It will also have to be today’s word count total as I’m off out with a friend. While working on the space dustmen book I’ve done a little bit of research as well as writing and discovered some information about micro bacterial fuel cells. Really interesting stuff. If you’re interested you can read more here.

As a result, I now have a space station which gains much of its power from the ‘waste products’ produced. Yes. It runs on wee. The stuff that isn’t useable is ‘processed’ by cockroaches who were already planned in as the rubbish processing facility in the plant. They had developed sentience and become minor characters. They still are but now, they run the recycling centre, eating cleaning the kack off the things that have had food or other stuff in them, sorting the rubbish and processing it.

Yesterday, I visited Mum. She wasn’t as switched on as sometimes. Mind you, by the time I got to her, I wasn’t either. The M11 was borked – there was a 2 hour delay – so I had to cut across country a little way and go down the A1 to the M25 instead.

Naturally, by the time I got to the M25, a lorry had caught fire between the A1 junction and the M11 junction. It wasn’t on my side but I made a mental note that it would be, when I returned, and despite being the other carriageway, the road was closed my way too. Joy. I ended up and taking the other, 80 miles longer, route round the M25 via Heathrow. I arrived about an hour and a quarter after I would usually have done but still a good 40 minutes before I’d have got there via the borked M11 route. Despite not being very with it, Mum was in reasonable form.

It was annoying being late as I’d suspected that the raspberries in Mum’s garden might be ready and I’d wanted to get there in time to pick them. I went down to the fruit cage anyway. The kitchen garden there is lying fallow this year. The weeds are up to my waist. I got soaked and it wasn’t helped by the fact there’s a power line over the fruit cage and the birds sit on it and shit onto the waist high weeds in the fruit cage below. Not just water smearing all over my trousers as I moved among the weeds then, but also shit. Copious clods of the kinds of massive turds pigeons do.

Bastards.

The raspberries were way more ready than I thought and some of them had rotted in the seemingly endless rain, which has never fucking stopped. All in all it was a bit of a disaster really. I was pissed off with myself for not checking them last week as I’d have been able to pick them as they ripened rather than letting a load rot on the canes by mistake. Then again, I got some and we had them for lunch. A partial success then. However, by the time I was done I was covered in fruit juice from the mouldy squishy ones along with bird shit.

Nature, one: MTM’s salmon pink combat trousers, nil.

Burrs … many, many burrs

In addition to the lovely fruit juice and turd smears on my trousers, I also had burrs all over my shoes. After lunch, as Mum and I chatted and watched the tennis, I picked them all off. Here they are with a pen in the photo for reference. See? That’s a lot of burrs.

As usual, I left at half two but bearing in mind the lorry fire, I had a quick look at google maps before departure because I reckoned they’d be resurfacing the road after that one. Sure enough the M25 was closed for resurfacing and everyone was using the M11 as the route round it so that was at a standstill. Alternative routes are available for this so I nipped up the A12 and decided that I’d cut across from Chelmsford, via Ongar and Toots Hill (mwahahahahrgh!) on the A 414, cleverly joining the M11 at the junction where everyone else who was trying to avoid the lorry fire was turning off. Away I went with a podcast I particularly enjoy playing on my phone and the plastic lady from Google shouting directions imperiously at intermediate intervals.

All was well until I ended up at the back of a slow moving convoy of vehicles stuck behind a breakdown truck with a lorry on the back. Poor bugger. I felt for him but it wasn’t exactly well met. Top speed? Oh I dunno … 40mph? But it was mostly 30mph. As we crept up a hill the speed dropped and I changed down a gear. At which point, something happened and the gearstick suddenly went limp, between the gears, with my foot on the clutch. I took my foot off the clutch but discovered the car was stuck in neutral. No drive. Just momentum.

As you can imagine, at 20mph, on a hill there’s not much momentum or coasting potential. I managed to creep slowly to the side of the road, but to be frank, not as ‘at the side of the road’ as I’d have liked and there wasn’t enough umph to get it up the curb onto the verge which is where I’d have preferred to have ended up. Once I had stopped, I realised that there wasn’t going to be enough of a let up in the traffic whizzing past for me to get out and push it onto the verge either. Indeed, the cars and lorries overtaking me were probably taking the same detour as I. The road was narrow and they were not leaving any room or taking any prisoners as they passed. Open the door and something would smack it – or me – at high speed. Nope. Nothing doing there. I had to exit, with very little dignity, through the passenger side.

It was looking ominous but not actually raining at this point so I spread my anorak on the grass verge and took stock. There was a lot of traffic because it was a busy trunk road; that is one lane going in one direction and one in the other. And I’d blocked the one going my way. As a result, everyone had to wait behind my car until there was a gap in the almost never ending stream of oncoming traffic or until someone in the huge queue of oncoming cars was kind enough to stop and flash a handful through. On the up side, at least it was a straight bit and there was reasonable visibility both ways so folks could see where the gaps were to try and overtake.

Traffic … as far as the eye can see. Zoom in for the full horror!

Er hem. Yeh.

From my vantage point, the statutory ‘as far as possible’ away from the car, I looked along the road in the direction from which I had come, and which I was now blocking. The queue of cars stuck behind mine filled the whole straight and snaked away into the distance out of sight. About three quarters of a mile of it by the looks of things.

Shizz.

But also, in a very selfish and unpleasant, wow!-I-did-this! kind of way a bit rewarding. It made me understand how satisfying it must be to drive a caravan and cause this kind of mayhem wherever you go. Look at all those gits stuck behind me, they’ll have to learn some patience etc, etc. Except I did have the good grace to be mortified in majority, rather than smug.

Yes, well … that’s enough of that.

OK, better get the breakdown truck. I had never rung my breakdown company, had no clue what they’d be like, and wasn’t confident at all. My spirits sank further as I got the usual recorded announcement about COVID19 decimating their routine, although luckily it was just to apologise that some folks would be answering calls from home and that there might be some background noise. Not half as much as there was my end, I thought. The phone was answered quickly by a gentleman who asked where I was, at which point, I looked at google maps and discovered that I was half way between Chelmsford and Ongar, quite near to the highly amusingly named, Toots Hill. Then I realised that there was an enormous red bit on this road which started right about … ah yes … where I was standing.

When I mentioned this the gentleman on the other end asked if I was in danger. Judging by the number of people hooting and shaking their fists at me, I suspected there might be a small chance that someone who had been stuck in the queue behind me might stop to smack me in the mouth but otherwise, no, not especially. It’s all relative. I said that I was OK and that the car was in the middle of a straight, which was good, but that it wasn’t parked quite as I’d have liked. He suggested that I might be wise to ring off, call the police to warn them that I had single-handedly brought the traffic to a standstill. The call was logged, he explained so there’d be a truck on the way to the Ongar area I could just ring them back in ten minutes or so and fill in the details of my destination. There was much giggling from both of us because I told him that it appeared I’d done some kind of Hulk move and ripped the gearstick off, that it needed a viagra, etc. So I hung up and dialled 101.

It took a while but I finally got through to a dispatch officer with Essex police. She was lovely. The road was a bit loud and her what three words weren’t working so it was difficult for me to give her my exact location. We were on the phone for longer than we might have been, I suspect. I explained roughly where I was and she patched it all through. We then had a conversation that went something like this:

‘The traffic sounds like it’s going quite fast,’ she said.
No,’ I replied. ‘That’s the stuff coming the other way. The traffic my side is mostly stationary.’
Just at that moment a bunch of them got past and someone vented their anger by beeping their hooter long and hard.
‘Are they hooting at you?’ she asked incredulously.
‘Yes, they’re not happy.’ I replied. ‘They’re probably all avoiding the M25 like I am.’
‘Seriously, what do they think you’re doing?’ she said.
‘It looks like they think I’ve decided that this would be a really good place to stop and make a phone call,’ I said with my best sarcastic, idiot-spotting tone in place.
She laughed at that. ’Some people!’ she said.
‘Yeh. They’re not all bad, though. Some are looking sympathetic,’ I said, at which point a girl in a Fiat 500 stopped and asked if I needed any help and I said that I was fine and that the police were on their way.
‘That was a nice woman in a fiat asking if I needed any help,’ I duly reported to the officer who was still trying to get her version of what three words to link up with their mapping stuff.
‘Of course, the only person who offers to help would be a woman,’ she said drily and I liked her even more.
‘Right, there’s a car on its way, they’ll be with you in nine minutes.’
‘Brilliant,’
I replied at which point we said our goodbyes.

Oops …

Before I rang the breakdown people again, I rang the mechanic who fixes my car to ask if I could have it delivered to his workshop. He was fine with that so I then rang the breakdown people and told them where I was. Luckily their what three words was working so that was pretty quick.

Just as I was thinking of writing ‘sorry’ in big letters on a piece of paper and holding it up, I heard sirens in the distance. Yep there was a police car doing the full blues and twos piling towards me down the wrong side of the road past the huge queue of traffic. Shizz, was this for me?

Yes it was. Ooo. That was a bit of a thrill.

And also completely mortifying.

Yes.

They did, at least hold up the traffic and agree to help me push the car off the road but they had a ‘danger to life’ to go to next so instead of being able to enlist their help to push the car to the gateway of a field further up, they pushed it into a sort of half lay-by on the other side of the road. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than nothing and at least now I was safe enough from the traffic.

Now that I was safely parked, I got into the car and rang the breakdown people explaining that I wanted to be taken to the address of my garage. They warned me there might not be room for me in the truck and I might have to be dropped ‘in a safe place’ where McOther could pick me up. Was that alright?

Shit.

‘Yes,’ I said, because, what else could I say?

Then I rang McOther and he was happy to pick me up from the mechanic’s garage. Lastly I rang Mum and pretended that I was in the driveway and that the traffic was the cars on Northgate Street. That done I realised I only had 20% charge on my phone so I got my charger out, fixed it, because it had come apart, and plugged the phone in to charge. By the time I’d finished that lot and discovered the text from my break down people saying the truck would be there at 5.57 I just had a few minutes to nip behind the hedge for a wee and my rescuer would probably have arrived.

The lay-by was part of the original road, which had been moved over. The metalled remains was left, hidden from the new road by a row of scrubby elms and blocked off at the beginning and end with piles of paving stones. There was a path but there were also a lot of brambles. I put on the sheepskin gloves I wear to fill up with petrol, picked my way gingerly over the pile of bricks and slabs and had a very, very much needed wee. Great. Now I was comfortable I could face anything.

Probably.

Even on a tow truck I still think my car looks cool.

The guy arrived exactly when he had said and when I told him my destination, thought he might well have been there before, with other stricken Lotuses, or would that be Loti? He had to pretty much stand in the hedge to get to the winch controls but he clearly knew what he was doing and it was on the back very quickly with the minimum of fuss or bother. Had he been doing this all his life? I asked. It turned out that yes he had. His father had been a mechanic before him and had also done recovery work. He remembered ‘cabbing’ with his dad to help at breakdown jobs from as young as three. He told he was a grumpy old git which made me warm to him immediately.

We didn’t go through the amusingly named, ‘Toots Hill’, much to my disappointment instead the road took us through Ongar and as we approached the junction with the M11 we hit a queue. It wasn’t long before we got chatting. His mother had died of Alzheimer’s. We talked about the first warning signs. In his case, his father had taken his mum away on holiday. She had a light smoking habit, about ten a day, which she started fairly late on in life. While they were away on this particular trip, his father popped out from the hotel to get some bits and bobs from the shops and bought her a packet of cigarettes. When he handed them over, she seemed nonplussed and explained that she didn’t smoke. She’d forgotten that she did, completely. Such a weird thing.

Everything went smoothly. We chatted happily over the course of the journey and arrived back at the mechanic’s workshop a bit after seven pm. Not bad really. He deposited my car exactly where the mechanic had asked me to park it, once more, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of quiet competence, then off he went with a cheery wave. McOther was already there to collect me and we got home just before 8 o’clock.

What was wrong with it? I hear you ask. Well, to be honest, I was expecting it to be the little pin that holds the gearstick onto the … thing. It wasn’t. It turns out that it had broken off. Yes I’d actually managed to rip a piece of steel half an inch thick in half. For fuck’s sake. OK so I get a bit panicky sometimes and miss gears and kind of flap at it in a kind of go-in-go-in headless-chicken panic but I have come away with a rather sobering reassessment of my own strength.

The mechanic, who is called Gerald, but I promise the one in my book was called Gerald/Gerry before this one appeared in my actual Real Life, told me that the gear stick used to be available separately but that even though Lotus only stopped making the 1.6 Elise three years ago, in 2018, they have ceased manufacture of all its bespoke parts. So there was one set of gear stuff that comprised the whole linkage, which I don’t need, but which included the stick, for £650 plus 20% VAT. Otherwise, I could wait until a gear stick appeared on the second hand market. That would render a perfectly serviceable car un-drivable for weeks … months … years? … Until somebody broke one up somewhere.

Yikes.

The supplier had given him three minutes to say yes or no because they knew this was the last one in Britain. Jeez, I know the noisy cricket is inanimate and not sentient and that but seriously? It’s like it knows I spent all that money on art last week.

In case you’d forgotten what the noisy cricket (after which my car is named) actually is, here’s a refresher. 🙂

Yeh. Bollocks.

What to do?

Say yes to the last replacement part in existence, obviously.

Even if I end up paying about £500 over the odds for a whole lot of extra stuff on it that I don’t need, I’d prefer that to having a perfectly useable car standing idle for want of of an 18 inch piece of metal. The part will arrive next Wednesday and be fitted soon after with any luck. But now I have to think about what I do from here on in. Because if finding parts for my ten year old car is going to be like trying to source bits for a 1920s Lagonda or something, it’s going to be impractical and expensive. If I’m having to have a new gear stick bespoke machined from the plans from here on in, I’m in trouble.

If I sell it right now, there aren’t any new models of Lotus to buy and the Elises are all being retired. I doubt I’d get one and certainly not in my go to favourite shade of gunmetal grey. Anyway, two years down the line, my three year old car would be in the same situation as the current ten year old one.

Furthermore, I don’t think I can quite afford another Lotus, not new. Although, with the part exchange, if I start saving up I might be able to in a few years’ time. I also have to think in terms of my knee, which doesn’t straighten quite enough for the effortless exits and entries I used to be able to make. I do now look like an ancient old bag heaving herself in and out of it, and whatever the repercussions of walking wrong for so long have been on my hip are causing problems now that I’m walking properly again. The easy twist of the leg to slide under the steering wheel now hurts me. A lot. That said, I was going to wait a year or two and see if I could get physio and sort the hip out because it’s probably something some physiotherapy exercises could fix – shortened flexor muscles or similar.

Perhaps it would be smart to start thinking about what I drive next. Gulp. When the time comes, do I buy another Lotus? Where can they go after the current range of heart-wrenchingly pretty cars? Surely the only way is down. Or is it time to bite the bullet and buy … shudders … a normal car? I’ve driven a Lotus for 21 years and I had a spitfire for 11 years before that. 32 years of two-seaters that are like getting in and out of a sleeping bag. I like it like that. I feel safe looking up at the hub caps of taxis. And whatever car I buy, it needs to be absorbing enough to hold my attention for a 300 mile round trip every week or my mind will wander at the wheel and I’ll die. And when I say absorbing, I mean absorbing in a good way, in a way that makes schlepping up and down to Sussex as enjoyable as possible. And … pointy steering. I need pointy steering. Most normal cars are like driving a water bed on castors.

Also while Lotus might stand for Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious, this one has 81,000 miles on the clock and this is only the third major expense I’ve had … and one of those was the headlight which was a major expense but not quite as life threatening as say, the suspension, which went just after lock down but only cost £600. Most of the things I have done cost about £600 to be honest.

Modern cars are also a bit toss. They’re over engineered where it doesn’t matter, and under engineered where it does. I don’t want a million crappy gizmos. I don’t want caps on my tyres that cost £120 because there’s a pressure sensor in each one, it’s pointless shit. I’m not a complete moron. I can check my tyre pressure. I don’t need an electronic voice to tell me my washer fluid is low, I don’t need a stupid ‘console’ with a smart speaker and all manner of other shizz programmed in that’s connected to the internet and that I have to pay a monthly subscription for (yes another chuffing £7 a month). I have a phone for that. And if there is going to be a nut job at the wheel, I’d prefer it to be me and not some radicalised teenage whack job hacker in a bedroom somewhere who has got into my car’s smart software and is now controlling it.

All I want from a car is headlights, a heater, indicators, windscreen wipers and a radio/cd player that I can plug a flash memory stick into. Hell, even electric windows are a bit of an extravagance in my book. I mean, I have arms don’t I? Likewise, air-con would have been nice last summer but this year I wouldn’t have needed to use it at all so it’s not 100% necessary.

Nope. What I want is the kind of engineering that gets 0-60 in 6 seconds out of a 1.6 Toyota Yaris engine. The kind of engineering that gets me 0-60 in 6 seconds but delivers 40mpg on the motorway. That kind of elegant, logical, common sense, smart engineering that is spectacularly fucking absent from pretty much any other marque of car. The only alternative, really, is a Tesla, but the range is 250 miles and I need 300 to get to Sussex and back.

Or possibly a fiat 500 Abarth because … 0-60 in 6 seconds is enough to give me a thrill but 4 seconds would be even more fun.

Hmm … decisions, decisions …

Talking about vehicles with a mind of their own …

If you want to read about the fictional version of the Noisy Cricket, it features in Too Good To Be True, my latest release in both ebook and audio format. Here’s a bit more about it.

Too Good To Be True

Too Good To Be True (Audiobook cover)

When trouble comes knocking, meet the one man dumb enough to answer the door …

When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.

Written in British English with a dash of light swearing. Suitable for any reader of any age from 10 up – younger readers who have read all the Harry Potter books without any worries will be fine with the Hamgeean Misfit stories.

Suggested cinema rating, PG. Ebook: 247 pages, Paperback: 295 pages, Audiobook running time, 9hrs 57 mins.

You and find out more (or listen to the audio sample) using these links:

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MTM Fails at modern life …

Yeh, I know, again. Here’s the whole sorry tale.

This week, I went to the first art exhibition I’d attended in a long time. It was this one, at Moyses’ Hall in Bury St Edmunds. NB it’s a temporary exhibition so that link might die after September 2021. Basically, it was an exhibition of modern stuff by artists like Banksey, Tracy Enim, My Dog Sighs, Pure Evil etc …

As far as contemporary art goes, I like it, but I guess I’m quite choosey. I love Banksey’s stuff because I think it’s incredibly thought provoking and I enjoy a lot of street art for the same reason. Some contemporary art strikes me as a bit too much about the idea and I find it hard to engage, this exhibition wasn’t like that. Stuff, like Banksey, is subversive, clever and often funny which, of course, I love. Other things, like a Belgian artist, whose name, to my chagrin, I can’t remember does stencils of street cleaners and other municipal workers interacting with a crack in the pavement, the white bar across a no-entry sign, etc. They are fabulous and very subtle, like the army of real municipal workers, street cleaners and dustmen who are pretty much invisible but without whom everything would go pretty pear-shaped pretty fast.

When it comes to street art, I think most folks think of those gorgeous multi-coloured letters – I think they’re just tags aren’t they? Obviously, we all know how hip and down with modern trends I am so I haven’t a fucking clue. Some folks think they are shit, I absolutely love them. I take pictures of French motorway stanchions out of the car window because I’m amazed by the art. Take one grey shitty wall. Add vibrancy and colour. What’s not to like?

The other thing that appeals, I guess is how much someone can say in one line. There’s very little space or time, so it’s a deceptively skilful art parsing that quick quip well enough to count. There were several works in this exhibition with the kinds of massively sarcastic, throw-away comments we British (oh alright, and the French) do so well. It made me think of my friend Duncan. Sat at lunch one day, one of Dad’s colleagues came out with some throw away line which was a bit close to the knuckle and Duncan just said quietly, ‘Well, you’re not a xenophobic old bigot then are you?’ which made everyone laugh, but also made the point.

Some of this stuff has that similar wry directness. I was amazed at how much thought a short, snappy comment can provoke, and also hugely impressed at how well the artists made that short space count. There was a gorgeous one of Captain Tom, usual stencil style, all black and white except for his footprints which were rainbow coloured. It sounds rather cheesy when I describe it, but the actual art work wasn’t. I guess what I really mean is that street art is totally accessible. The other part of the impact is the fact that edgy out-there people who, if you met them, might be slightly intimidatingly trendy, are doing stuff that makes them very normal. Street artists, above all others, seem to be so utterly human, fellows rather than art gods. They’re unafraid to display their humanity in what they say and paint, and I love that, too.

Pure Evil print … Yes.

It was only a small exhibition really, but it took us well over an hour to go round. At the end there were art works for sale and yes … you guessed it. I decided I’d buy one. Except when I looked through, a lot of the prints in my price range just kind of didn’t speak to me … except one. I decided to think about it. By the time I got home I knew I was going to go and buy it, so I turned straight round and went back up the hill. Picture, or at least print, procured (12 of 100) I then went straight to the art shop in Bury to get it framed. That would take 6 – 8 weeks. Ah. Bit too long that. I paid for them to cut a mount in black card for a 50 x 70 frame and took it home where I thought I had a similar sized frame of my own.

Turned out I didn’t.

Oh.

On the upside, I found one exactly the same as the one in the shop in the internet for a great deal less so I ordered it. Looking at it the picture again, I decided that a painted frame would be pretty cool so I ordered a can each of fluorescent pink and green paint. Wednesday I was off to Mum’s so it was Thursday that I picked up the mount – sorry this is beginning to sound a bit like ‘The Gas Man Cometh’ by Flanders and Swan. When I arrived home I received a text to say my proscription sunglasses were ready so back out I went to get those, they are well cool, not that I’m likely to get to wear them again this year. The minute I left the house, the most enormous box arrived with the frame I’d ordered. Woot for me, slight pain in the arse for McOther. While I was picking up the specs, fearing that my fluorescent paint mightn’t arrive before the weekend, I went to Halfords and bought a can each of pink, green, yellow and red.

On the way back I popped into Waterstones to buy a friend’s book. It isn’t in yet so I ordered it from the lady behind the counter who happened to be the mother of one of McMini’s school friends. There are two Waterstones in town and she’d just been moved to this one from the other where she had ensured they stocked the K’Barthan Series (yay for her!). I said it was all still there and she told me to go in and offer to sign it. That way it would get a signed by the author sticker on it. So in I went. By this time it was throwing it down with rain and I looked like a bedraggled rat. I took off my specs, because I can’t see to read or write with them on. As I walked away, delighted that I’d done an authory thing, I couldn’t help noticing how fabulously my glasses were coping with my mask. Not steaming up one bit.

Hang on.

Ah. Yes. They were not steaming up because they were not on. Not on me at any rate. Yep they were on the counter in Waterstones but not on me. Knobs. Back I went and with a brief apologetic explanation I grabbed the specs. I’d walked about five miles by this time so I was a bit knackered on the walk home. This is menopausal me. On the upside, without the HRT I’d probably only be realising that I can’t actually see round about now. That’s the difference; both HRT me and pre HRT me leave the specs behind. Nothing can be done to fix that. But HRT me actually remembers to go back for them.

Back at home, unpacking my booty, I felt that things were getting exciting. I wanted to frame the picture right then but it was supper time. Also, I needed to spray the frame in ‘a well ventilated area’ – or ‘outside’ as it is often known among those of us who do not own a spray booth – and it was pissing with rain so I had to leave it.

Saturday dawned and it was not raining, so I decided to strike while the iron was hot. I took the back off the frame and removed the glass. First to mount the print. We’d measured it in the shop and they’d cut it beautifully but it was too narrow. You couldn’t see all of the signature, and since Pure Evil’s signature has a distinctive bunny shape/motif I wanted it to be shown. Now what? Take it back?

Noooo! That would take too long.

I rummaged in the cupboard and dug out my mount cutting set. Yes. I have one. I used to paint illustrated names and I started cutting my own mounts because it was cheaper.

That said, I was never great at this sort of thing. First side, I took off a couple of mil and it looked awesome. Yeh, still got it after all these years. Second side, total and utter abortion. I ended up taking about 4 mm off until I had something passable. Passable but nothing like as good as the lovely cutting the art shop had done.

For fuck’s sake.

Should I take it back, I wondered. No. Because … time. I was far too excited about this to wait any longer than I had to. I cut another 2 mil off the side I’d already done and of course I fucked it up, not as badly as the other side but enough. Ugh. I fixed the damage as best I could and then tried it over the print.

Mounted print and colour swatches.

Was the signature visible? Yes.

Was the hole in the middle still smaller than the print? Yes. Booyacka!

Did I need to tidy it up? Yes because I— No! Quit while you’re ahead … or at least not as far behind as you were.

Cutting done, I put everything away and mounted the print. That sentence makes the process sound so much simpler than it was but I did eventually get the picture mounted with reasonably equal gaps each side and as much of the signature showing as was ever going to be. Yeh, looking good, despite the fact I’d done such a shite job of the cutting and had been compelled to fix a couple of bits with black pen (shhhh!). I put it on the table and admired it. Yeh. Lush.

Next I popped outside and spray painted three envelopes, red, green and pink. Back indoors to size up which colour would work best. Once again, pink was the colour. Even McOther agreed that, though he hates pink with a vengeance, it was the best match in this case.

Right. Colour chosen. Now to paint it. To protect the patio table, I put a huge sheet of cardboard over it, yes that huge box the frame came in was good for something, after all. I put the frame on top, donned my trusty face mask and began to spray. It took a fair bit and having finally reached the point where I believed I had finished a bug landed on the bottom right hand corner and got stuck in the wet paint.

The bastard.

Knackered bug bit scraped off

When I removed the bug, or at least its corpse, I think the paint fumes killed it off pretty quickly, it left a mark and what looked like some legs … oh dear … sorry bug. At least it was already dead. Never mind, it wouldn’t show if I just scraped that bit of paint off and painted over it again. Offending blemish removed using a hankie and my penknife, I sprayed it with a new coat of paint and of course, after not enough paint had gone on, the paint ran out.

Bum.

Never mind. I’d just nip up to Halfords for more. I was knackered now and my knee was a bit swollen. Too swollen to get into my car so I decided I’d cycle up there, which I did and grabbed a second can of pink paint. Back home I began to apply paint to the disaster area. I didn’t think it was going to work but it matched better and better as each coat dried until finally, three quarters into the second can, I was left with a uniform expanse of fluorescent pink. Yes. After leaving it half an hour to dry it was time to put the glass back in.

First, I laid the frame out on the table, then I picked up the back and the glass. It was going to need a bit of snuggling to fit. I lifted it too high and at the wrong angle, resulting in a situation where I was, basically, holding the bottom half of a 50×60 cm bit of glass. Ooo, better slide one hand up and hold it at opposite corners, I thought, or it’ll – ohmygawd!

It shattered.

Well, bollocks!

Baby Yoda. He likes this too.

How could I be such an absolute wanker? Seriously though, what a complete fucking arse! Does my cockwomblery know no bounds? Mwahahaahrgh! Jeez, clearly not. Once I’d finished mashing my forehead against an empty part of the table I set about clearing up the broken glass, with the help of a very sympathetic McOther. Since there was no glass to put into the frame, I put everything else in. I was happy to leave it without glass for the time being. I was happy with no glass in it full-stop, to be honest, but … dust, thunder bugs, air full of brown smeal from the road and countless other shit so, no. Sure, it looked good, but glass-free was almost certainly bad from a preservation point of view.

Now what though? Put it together and hang it up for now. So I did and hung the picture on my wall. That done I turned to Monsieur Google for advice. Replacement picture glass. Hoorah, there was a firm that would cut me a sheet for £11.50 but wait, no, I had to go there to collect it. They could only post me perspex and they were north of Manchester.

Mmm. Might be a bit of a schlepp. Yeh. Probably not then.

Now there is ‘glass’. It was the wrong light to take this photo … dark basically so the window reflections are horrendous but … you get the gist, I’m sure.

Maybe I should buy a clip frame? Yes. That’s what I’d do. Buy a clip frame and use the glass from that. Once again I turned to my friend, Monsieur Google. Nearest one £8.99 from Dunelm. Right then. I leapt into McOther’s car because 50×70 plus protective packaging isn’t going to fit into my boot, and headed off. Twenty minutes later I was the proud owner of a clip frame with a very and I meant very thin piece of perspex over it. Never mind it would have to do. I disassembled my recently assembled print and put the perspex into the frame where the glass should have been. It was a bit flimsy but at least it fitted. So far so good.

Now I would have to add a bit of packing because the frame was designed to have a 2mm thick piece of glass and the perspex replacement was probably only a few microns. I picked up the piece of cardboard that came in the frame originally, masquerading as a picture. Yeh, that should do it. But wait! No! It was full of acid. Back to my office where I grabbed some sheets of acid free tissue paper to put over the back of the picture. There. Then I stuck in the cardboard and put on the back and although I say it myself, the result isn’t half bad. Except that there is so much shit reflected in the perspex that you can hardly see the picture … although the glass was like that too.

How was your Saturday?

Talking about cool things …

Yes because I’m ridiculously excited about this, too! Too Good To Be True is now available in audio format. As I may have mentioned, I am super-stoked about this because not only is it one of the more decent books I’ve written, and not only is it, to be honest, a bit funnier than some of the others, but Gareth has done a ridiculously good job on it.

Here’s the blurb:

Too Good To Be True

Too Good To Be True

When trouble comes knocking, meet the one man dumb enough to answer the door …

When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.

Written in British English with a dash of light swearing. Suitable for any reader of any age from 10 up – younger readers who have read all the Harry Potter books without any worries will be fine with the Hamgeean Misfit stories.

Suggested cinema rating, PG. Running time, 10 hrs approx (9 hrs 57 mins)

Here’s the sample. And if you like it and want to know more there are links to the main retailers here.

Last of all, so it chooses the right image, I managed to take a lovely just-about-to-spring picture of McCat.

Ready for action

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Filed under General Wittering

Birthdays and some inane wittering

Do you ever wonder what you’re going to be when you grow up? I was 53 yesterday so I suspect I should hvae grown out of the habit by now. However, I still look to the future and wonder what I will ‘be’. Well no, I don’t wonder that, being an author is definitely what I’m here to do but I do wonder if I will ever ‘make it’. Making it, here, is earning £20k a year. Even minimum wage would be nice. I was going to do a long post today, trying to put my jumbled thoughts about selling audio books in order. It’s a bit rambly though, so I’m going to leave it to rest in the faint hope that if I come back to it fresh next week I’ll be able to make it more articulate. Also,it’s my birthday weekend and I decided that, instead, I’d just describe some MTM-ness … so long as I can make it funny enough.

It was a hot day yesterday but I did some gardening so I am still bathing in that warm sense of fitness smugglers I get when I’ve taken enough exercise to get my fitbit in a dither. I was expecting to wake up with vertigo or at the least hayfever. It was hayfever only, which was grand, although not so grand when I had to sing a solo in church. My voice went all crackly on the low notes which was a bit of a bummer so I had to sing very quietly to stop the low notes coming out as more of a yodel. Plus points, well, it was mostly in tune.

Other domestic news and general goings on. It was McMini’s birthday on Saturday as well as mine. This being the case, yesterday, I set about making a cake. McMini being not the biggest fan of chocolate and me loving it, I have resigned myself to the fact I will never have a chocolate birthday cake again. On the other hand … there’s always stealth chocolate. The white stuff. Among my family and friends, I am renowned for my horrible looking, but quite tasty cakes. Thinking about it, there are probably photos deep in the archives of this blog of my cakewrecks from previous occasions. If there are, I will try and find them and dot them about this post when I’ve finished.

There wasn’t much time, when is there ever? But I reckoned I could bash out a fatless sponge (swiss roll cake to the uninitiated) and I had some white chocolate which I could melt across the top of it (Bury St Edmunds market, £1 per catering sized bag). Excellent. I made the fatless sponge and it being a hot day the eggs and sugar took about five seconds to get to the right consistency. Believe it or not, it can take as long as 15 minutes on a cold day, I suppose that’s why they used to recommend you did this in a bowl perched over the top of a saucepan of hot water. That was in the olden days of beating it by hand, of course. Obviously, neither I, nor Mum, who handed this recipe down to me, can be arsed with that sort of malarkey. Also, two words. Kenwood and Chef. Yep. I have two of these babies but McOther has put one away in the pantry under the stairs where I can’t remove it without kneeling down so that one is temporarily out of action. Instead I had to use the, supposedly mothballed, back up machine, purchased some years ago for £5 from a car boot sale. Note to self, remember to mention to McOther that he has mothballed the wrong one.

When I’d finished the mixture I discovered I’d made a bit too much so there were seven bonus buns as well. Jolly dee. I rustled up some icing for the middle; butter, sieved icing sugar, a couple of drops of vanilla essence to taste and then just mix it about and add sugar or butter as desired until it tastes like butter icing. It was one of those days when it all comes together straight away and tastes as if a real chef made it. I was very pleased with the results and even more pleased that I remembered to let the cake get cold before I slathered it all across the middle. Cake pretty much constructed, next it was time to do the white chocolate icing for the top. The trouble with purchasing catering sized bags of stuff is that they are big and this can led you to believe you have an inexhaustible supply.

Over the past few weeks, since I purchased the bag, I have been grazing lightly, on the white chocolate. Just the odd couple of buttons here and there, but when I came to examine it, I realised I might have been grazing a bit more heavily than I’d anticipated. There wasn’t quite enough of the stuff to just melt it and pour it over the top of the cake, indeed, there wasn’t nearly enough.

Mmm … cake!

Bollocks.

Never mind I would add icing sugar and butter, warm them all up in a saucepan and it would set hard with any luck. The result of my efforts was a ball of great-tasting stuff which, unfortunately, was not unlike pastry in consistency.

Right.

After a brief internal debate as to whether or not to ‘loosen’ it with milk, I decided not to because I didn’t have any ingredients left to start again if I fucked it up. Nope. I just spread it on anyway. It looked a bit flakey. In fact it looked like giant lumps of dandruff. And because fatless sponge has a sort of crumbly crunchy outside it didn’t stick.

Ah well, never mind. Nobody would notice if I decorated it with enough crap. I sprayed it with edible gold paint to give it a nice sheen, looked out the Happy Birthday candle that we light every year, and threw some white chocolate stars on it.

Then I discovered some Halloween icing decorations; pumpkin faces, Frankenstein’s monster faces, an eyeball and two severed fingers. Perfect for McMini then. On they want and hoorah, we were done. After a bit of trouble, I managed to remove the airtight box I keep cakes in from the under the stairs bit of the pantry by using a strange grippy handle thing which has been in the family for years. My mother remembers her grandfather using it to reach for high up blackberries when she was a kid. From an early age I spotted it at my grandparents’ house and have been fascinated with it all my life. When my grandmother died, I inherited this strange thing and I am still fascinated by it.

Sorry, digression there. ‘Cake’ made I put it in the airtight box to have on ‘the day’. Birthdaygeddon dawned and McMini went off to town with a friend and disappeared. On the downside, he did not return at teatime and I was agog to try the cake. On the upside, he has grown out of wanting a party. Eventually texted said friend’s mother at five, and asked her to tell him to come home because I wanted to eat the chuffing cake. He arrived at half past five. On the upside, the cake was delicious and the dandruffy icing turned out to be lumps of crumbly fudge (tablet, basically). The most important thing was that it tasted wonderful. Yeh. Job done I’d say.

Having stuffed ourselves with cake at a point in the day which was, if we were honest with ourselves, a bit close to dinner, McOther got the bar-b-queue on and handed me a bottle of beer and some nuts to enjoy while I was upstairs having a shower and getting into my pyjamas. Yes, I put my pyjamas on at about seven pm because I have come to rather dislike going out in the evening. Well, I am fifty three after all. And I already have arthritis and one replaced knee so I may be even older on paper, so to speak. Not that I was going to have time to enjoy the beer and nuts either, since he told me, cheerfully, that I had five minutes. As I mounted the stairs I took a swig of beer from the bottle.

Big mistake.

You know how the first sip of beer from a bottle causes this foam eruption that just goes on and on and looks as if it’s never going to stop. Yeh, well the bastard thing did that. By the time it had finished bubbling it’s guts onto the stair carpet there was only about half the bottle left. Well fuck. Since I’d been gardening all afternoon I needed that shower. I was stinky and dirty and appeared to have a bad case of greenfly … almost as bad as some of my plants. Three and a half minutes of mopping them with a hanky later the beer stains had disappeared. I belted upstairs and hurled myself into the shower. Sod it, I was going to be late for supper which the cook does not appreciate. Never mind better late than stinky, washed the earth off my legs, feet and hands but didn’t have time to rinse the greenfly infestation out of my hair. Oh well.

McMini’s Donald Trump bun … obviously having a plate like that to put it on helps.

Luckily supper was a bit late so I wasn’t and the McOther was not upset that we’d failed to enjoy his smashing cooking. McMini peeled all the coating off his burger bun and it ended up looking a bit like Donald Trump which amused me. An evening vegetating in front of Montalbano and McMini went off to bed. McOther disappeared upstairs to put his light out and after about twenty minutes I realised he’d done that weird thing blokes do when they just disappear up to bed without telling you and you sit there watching telly for half an hour and then suddenly realise that the rest of the house is dark and you can hear snoring coming from the bedroom.

Realising that it was bed time I set about going to bed when McMini arrived for our evening chat. McMini likes a chat before bed. He arrived with a balloon pump and set about trying to puff me to death, at which point I want and got my balloon pump and before long we were puffing things at one another, or he was trying to puff the birthday cards off the mantelpiece while I puffed at them from the other direction, trying to keep them upright. Standard procedure for us then. McMini doesn’t have a sibling but as McOther pointed out, because I am merely another child, he sort of does. Having finally persuaded McMini that bed and sleep would be a good idea, I got to bed at about midnight.

First thing this morning, McOther headed off to car boots. I woke up and discovered that I could hear strange thumping sounds. I couldn’t work out if it was the cat in his ‘bedroom’ which is the room below our en suite, or McMini who is a demi-floor up from us. Our house is the same height all round but there are two rooms on top of each other at the front and three rooms on top of each other at the back, which is weird but just the way it is. Seeing as McOther was not there I indulged my Chaucerian side and ‘lette flye a fart’. Unfortunately, even when I am alone the sound of farts makes me giggle and McMini heard and appeared with a build-your-own hydraulic hand model that he’d been given for his birthday, the previous day. Yes, it seems he had built it over night.

‘Have you slept?’ I asked him blearily.

‘Oh yes, but I woke up at 4 am and was bored so and built this.’

Gads. Four am. Urrgh. Clearly McMini is like his father in that he has never really got the hang of going to sleep, or at least, both seem to be pathologically unable to go back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night. Me, I grew up in a boy’s school so I have no trouble with this. Mind you, not being able to sleep again after being woken up would have resulted in something like the Russian Sleep Experiment for anyone living there. As it was, I learned to sleep through the sound of fireworks – but not bombs, it seems I can differentiate between the two – drunken shouting, loud music and the fire alarm – I will be burned in my sleep if ever a building I’m in catches fire and there’s no one else with me to hear the alarm and drag me out of bed.

McMini was very much awake and ‘tested’ the robot hand by throwing a ball at me with it, stroking my face with it and generally being an evil troll. And now we are just on the brink of going out for a walk, except by the time I’ve found the pictures and phaffed with the stupid keywords, it will probably be evening and we’ll probably have been for the walk before you see this.

In other news …

HUP Swishy new logo.

The results of the K’Barthan invective quiz are in. Mwahahahrgh! Boy oh boy this was close. There were two run-away winners but the rest of the vote was comprehensively split between about six of them. Here are the results:

  1. Smeck: Out-and-out winner this one with a huge 40% of the votes. Smeck is a word I made up that would sound a bit like fuck but not be as rude. I suspect I now need to think of something along the lines of Red Dwarf’s, ‘Better dead than smeg!’ Only in K’Barthan, using smeck.
  2. Arnold’s Y-fronts! Not a huge surprise this one because lots of characters use it. It received 35% of the votes.
  3. There are two in third position: Arnold’s conkers! and Arnold’s underpants! Hmm … do I detect a theme here? These two picked up 30% of the votes.
  4. Fourth equal – because my list making thing can’t cope with jumping to five the way I’m meant to after a tie – with 25% of the votes, we have: Arnold’s bum! Smecking Arnold! Arnold’s smecking sweaty … and a suddenly clean, Arnold’s eyeballs! and Arnold’s Armpits!
  5. Close behind these we have: Arnold’s earwax, Arnold’s toe jam! and Arnold’s plums.

There seems to be a theme here, which is that anything to do with bottoms and undergarments or the word ‘Smeck’ is a goer, along with dodgy effluvia such as toe jam and ear wax. I did write my books for people like me. Maybe there are more of them than I thought.

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Filed under General Wittering, Mary Fails at Modern Life

Floating aimlessly

Yeh. Welcome to my world, the world of what might be the most unproductive human being on earth.

Shit! A squirrel has just run under my chair. Sorry where was I? Apart from outside, I mean. No squirrels indoors at this point, I’m glad to say. Ah yeh. Being the world’s most unproductive human. Not true. I do understand that. It just feels like it sometimes. I need to relax and take a chill pill.

Well, I sort of have. It’s half term this week so I have put writing aside and instead have been Humaning. I enjoy Humaning from time to time, especially when I seem to be particularly devoid of any creative inspiration, as I am this week. By doing nothing on my writing stuff, it’s not as if I’m doing any damage. I did get my ten minutes of writing in on Saturday, Sunday and Monday last week, though. Woot.

As I type this I am sitting outside. Yeh we did that didn’t we? Anyway, it’s cloudy but warm so I am stolidly refusing to acknowledge that it is, actually, beginning to rain. Hopefully it’s just going to be a bit of gentle spattering that passes harmlessly by rather than a full-on, race-for-the-door, deluge. Maybe that’s where the squirrel was going then. Somewhere dry. Hmm.

It being half term for us this week, we went to see the in-laws after nearly a year and a half of their being ill, us being ill, COVID19 or Nicola not letting us in because we have English Covid Cooties. It was wonderful to see them again and check that they are OK. They have a fair bit to contend with but seem to be doing alright, which was a relief. And I think their finally being able to see McOther and McMini after so long must have perked them up a bit.

It was a short trip because we didn’t want to knacker them out. The weather was kind to us and we went to Kelso, where there is a gorgeous house that used to belong to the family that started Pringle. We went for a walk round the lake while McMum and McDad sat and relaxed on a bench. The McOther and I went back a second time because I’d left my glasses there – I’d put them in my glasses case and put on my prescription sunglasses. Then the box had fallen out of my jacket pocket. On the upside, though we did get home to discover I had not brought my specs with me, no water closets were involved. I did find them straight away upon my return too. Someone had left the case in a little hole in the seat, end up, so that it was really obvious and easy to find. Bless ’em.

Impending week of oops-I’ve-lost-my-glasses-and-I-only-have-these-prescription-sunglasses Roy Orbison-ness avoided? Check.

It was a gorgeous house. Big, but not massive. I could imagine that if you were as rich as Croesus you could run a really happy team of staff there. It was a lovely spot, with a very pleasant and peaceful feel to it, which was unexpected. The volunteers gradually doing it up maintain the grounds and there were beds of flowers, not corporate planting but sympathetic stuff that went with it all so well. Cracking job all round. There was a lake too … cf pics I took, shown below.

When we got back, after a very rainy Friday, we spent Saturday with some friends in a cottage they’d hired Burnham Market. We passed a beautiful field of blue flax on the way, which I failed spectacularly to photograph. I also failed to capture a record of the sign to a place called Pudding Norton.

When I was a kid we used to holiday there and the ridiculous place names used to make us laugh. Before he came back to Sussex and met Mum, Dad taught at a school in Holt. North Norfolk was a popular holiday destination, not just because of the scenery but because Dad and Mum could visit all his old friends. Usually it was a bit like an episode of The Road Trip, in that Dad was funny, and a great mimic, and Mum was just plain funny. The friends; likewise. The conversation was always absolutely bats and normally involved Dad or one of his mates doing impressions, be-it Dad’s famous impression of a teacher from his school days at Lancing, who had a wooden leg, dropping dead in assembly one morning, or um … other stuff. All were very wicked and probably quite un-PC except they were always delivered with such obvious fondness for the unfortunate victim. Thinking about it, looking at the way they took the piss out of one another, I doubt the objects of their ribaldry would have batted an eyelid if they’d been around to see it. They were probably similar.

Wells next the sea at high tide.

At some point we usually went to Stiffkey salt marsh for the day – at low tide – and walked four half an hour or so to find the sea. There’d be indentations in the sand full of seawater that had been warmed to bath water levels by the sun, there would usually be a seal pup or two and sometime fossils. Finally, after walking for half an hour or so, we’d find the sea and skinny dip in the ice cold water, an event which usually involved a lot of screaming.

This Saturday, visiting our friends, we went past Holkolm Hall, a place of many happy memories, and then all of us went crabbing at Wells Next The Sea. Well, the kids crabbed, we walked along the prom and back. It made me smile to remember the happy times I’d spent up that way as a kid. But it was also lovely to think that I was walking somewhere where my father had undoubtedly walked before he’d ever fallen in love with my mother, in a part of the country where he had been very happy as a young man … until someone broke his heart. That’s why he came back to Sussex; new job, new start.

The architecture and stuff up there is so different that it really is like visiting another country, you know, northern France or something. It reminded me of Valerie Sur Somme, right down to a similar little train! So that was a bit of a gas.

It was gloriously sunny, but with a cool breeze off the sea that took it from a bit much in the heat department, to just right.

Now it’s back to Real Life.

Sea rowers at Wells Next The Sea.

Since Lock Down is ending … supposedly … it seems there’s so much to do. I sat down in a free moment to write this yesterday but realised that I needed to sort out a method of giving away Unlucky Dip in Audio because I can’t set the price to free at all the retailers, although I can set it for 99c so I’ve done that. Then this morning, I realised that I’d forgotten to publicise the fact that my standalone ebook, Escape From B-Movie Hell, is at the promotional price of 99c or pence or whatever, this month. Tomorrow I also have a newsletter to write which will take forever because everything uses blocks and the blocks interface takes about forty seconds to a minute to load.

Fine, roll your eyes and tell me I should learn some patience. But actually that’s a massive time suck. Added to that, doing stupid blocks on here, as I am now, when our internet connection drops, which it does, frequently, it’s likely I will lose it all. Sure I do save from time to time but originally, when the internet dropped and the annoying stupid little circle thing started going round and round on the screen, I could just do select all and copy everything I had written. That way, if I had lost it, I could just cut and paste it all back in and save it when the internet resurrected itself. Can I do that now? Can I bollocks? Stupid knobbing blocks are set up so the CtrlA – or CommandA on an I thing – only saves one paragraph; the one I’m actually editing. How is that in any way helpful?

Creative mojo, a fickle and fleeting thing.

Worse, if you look underneath at the code, it’s exactly the same as the stuff I used to get when I typed it into an editor. Seriously there’s no reason for this blocks shit other than to make it really and I mean REALLY hard for people. Likewise, Mailerlite … I moved to them from Mail Chimp and it was like a breath of fresh air. I clicked to edit an email and up it popped. It was blocks but it was fast. No waiting ages for it to crank up before you could edit. Then you just dropped your block onto the page and wrote in it.

Now? Nah. You have a preview pane and you have to do a paragraph at a time in the side bar.

Just in case that’s not irritating enough there are several parts to the side bar for each block template and there used to be a scroll bar so you could move up and down. That’s now gone. So you get the thing where you’re editing a paragraph and the bit that lets you do bold or alter the justification isn’t in frame. So you have to click on the edge and use the arrow keys on your keyboard to make it move. But they don’t always work because if you click into a box by mistake it just thinks you’re editing that and doesn’t budge. What was wrong with the bloody scroll bar ffs? It didn’t take up any space but it meant I could do those edits way faster. Is this finger trouble? Am I such a moronic twat that I’ve somehow removed the scroll bar from my option and if so why the fuck is there no easy and obvious way to put it back?

At least with windows when I do that thing on the keyboard and the box suddenly appears saying, ‘do you want to turn on sticky keys?’ I can shout, ‘No! No! I fucking don’t!’ and click on cancel. Clearly I’ve borked something the same way but there was no, ‘Are you sure you want to remove this really useful scroll bar that you actually rely on rather heavily?’ box. It just disappeared! Poof! Gone.

Bastards!

Then there’s the fact that fucking Linked In randomly disconnects itself so when I come to publish it tells me I have to go refresh my connection to Linked In. Every. Fucking. Time. Why, Linked in, you total and utter cockwomble! Why? This is total bollocks and phaff that I do not need in my life. I’ve connected you to my blog because I want the two of you to be fucking connected. Randomly disconnecting yourself is not looking after my security. It is bing a fucking pain in the arse. If I wanted to disconnect you from my blog, I would disconnect you from my blog. I haven’t ergo I do not chuffing want to. How hard is that to understand, you absolute fucking muppet?

Yeh, I can imagine what anyone normal and sensible reading this is saying now. This stuff is chicken shit and doesn’t make any difference. Except trust me, it does.

Don’t believe me?

OK, here are some Real Life examples. When I drive to Mum’s on a Wednesday, it takes around two and a quarter to two and a half hours. In lock down, it took two hours. There was no difference in speed. I drive at 3,000 revs which is usually around 70mph give or take a bit – it varies a little with the weather, the gear I’m in and the speed limit, clearly. The reduced journey time was simply caused by the fact that I wasn’t dropping down to 57 as a lorry pulled into my path, or proceeding through the only two miles on the M11 where lorries aren’t allowed to overtake at 57mph, because some absolute bell end in one lorry was overtaking another gargantuan twatwank in another one, and neither of them was giving way to the other. Or, it could be that I wasn’t following a wide load down the double track bit of the M11 with a weaving escort vehicle that wouldn’t let anyone pass for health and safety reasons – even though there was room to put a couple of bloody buses past it side by side without causing the buses or the load any problems. Let alone my stupidly tiny, tiny car.

Likewise, many years ago, I used to commute to Birmingham from Ely. It used to take about two hours or thereabouts going at 70mph most of the way. Limited to 60mph, running-in my brand new Lotus, it took me about twenty five minutes less. Yes even running in at 60mph all the way, it was quicker in a Lotus than in a Triumph Spitfire going 70mph. Why? because those people who sit in the fast lane drifting along for miles and miles saw me coming and actually got out of the chuffing way. It’s the acceleration and deceleration time that drives the journey time up, so the smoother your journey the quicker.

This is not new. There’s a whole fitness and training strategy based on the little things, I believe. I think it was the Team GB cycling trainer who worked out that small things added up. An uncomfortable night with less sleep might make an athlete tired and not quite at their best, it might only make a couple of hundredths of a second to their time but in the velodrome, that might be the difference between winning or losing. So he hit on the idea that if he made sure that all these, seemingly irrelevant, pernickety things were right, the effect on overall performance might be quite substantial. Needless to say, it was. Suddenly Team GB were winning medals.

It’s a genius idea and over the course of my years doing motorway journeys I’ve begun to think that there is definitely something in it. It’s not about whether you blat along in the fast lane at 90mph, it’s about whether other motorists think you will and get out of your way so you can do a solid 3,000 revs all the time. That makes a huge difference to petrol consumption as well. It’s also whether there are a small enough number of other motorists for you to be able to drive smoothly at that speed. And of course, constantly standing on the anchors because a lorry has pulled out in front of you makes for inefficient acceleration and deceleration time. I suppose it’s only natural, there are many proponents of the ten minutes a day fitness regime. I did try doing a 6 minute, high intensity interval thing once a day for a couple of weeks and there was a noticeable drop in my resting pulse so I think there’s definitely something in that approach.

Similarly the ten minutes a day approach to writing, in the last year that I was able to keep it up consistently, 2019, it netted me a stupid amount of words at a point when they weren’t really coming that easily. OK, so, in 2020 it was different. I managed 55k in a couple of months as I changed my 30k short into Too Good To Be True. But that was because there was zero stress on the horizon. Right now I’m back to stressy hormonal can’t think straight so the ten minutes a day is a good discipline to resurrect.

So where am I going with this? Well, two ways, I guess. First I’m saying that the old adage that you should break a huge job into tiny pieces and deal with each of those pieces one at a time is great advice. But conversely it means that each of these tiny, pissy things that are sent to try us also add up; to something big and, in my case, cataclysmic. In lock down, all the pissy administrative shit went away. I couldn’t have a smear test, eye test, dental check or boob x-ray so I didn’t have to remember to book them, note the correct time/date and get to them. We weren’t going away so I didn’t have to remember to book the cat into kennels. I didn’t have to do social things which involved me remembering to shave my legs or find something that made me look slightly less like a parked zeppelin draped in camouflage material than usual. OK so I still had to make sure I did the wages and fix whatever the latest thing was that had broken at Mum’s house, from a distance, but that’s alright because there was only the one life I had to sort out: hers. Mine was on hold, as were McOther’s and McMini’s so no organising McMini’s bloody PE kit either.

The second point I wanted to make was that sometimes, you just have to let it all go. There is shit I have to do right now. And I have McMini’s birthday coming up which will involve doing stuff like making a cake. And I have some more boring pissy administria to do so I decided that I’d take two weeks out, one before and one after half term, to do it. It’s not going badly. I’ve signed up for too many promos so it will take me all day to sort out the mailing tomorrow. But I have planned time for it. After that there will be more humaning, which will be fun, and a bit more admin, which won’t. But if I can crack through it diligently enough then the week afterwards, with any luck, I may be able to do a bit of writing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to McOther about booking the cat into kennels … while I remember.

Award-winning fiction for a snip!

Escape From B-Movie Hell is down to 99c or p or whatever it is you do instead of cents or pence. In case you have forgotten, or for those of you who don’t know about it, here’s the blurb:

Escape From B-Movie Hell

Escape From B’Movie Hell

First contact, in films, was never like this …

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

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

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

If you’re interested you can find a page of links to the main retail sites here.

If you are not interested, do feel free to share it with your friends, family, the postman, the bloke who sometimes collects the empty cups at your local coffee shop and anyone else you can think of to spam, because it isn’t spam from you because it’s not your book.

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Another fine mess I’ve got me into …

Although also … possibly … out of.

Too Much Information Alert …

OK, this post is, officially, going to begin with Too Much Information. I’m going go talk about one of the last taboos, my monthly cycle.

As a lady of a certain age, who is fitted with an … er hem … coil … I have been spared the joy – a word I use with extreme irony – of periods for the last ten years. Gone are the days when, were I to get appendicitis at the wrong moment, I would simply fail to notice and die. I have had both (although I still have an appendix) and on the pain-o-meter the monthly cramps won hands down.

However, despite this, I still have a, you know, cycle. There are days when I am completely sapped of all creativity and depending if it’s a long or short cycle the creative down times last from between forty eight hours to two weeks. I call this the meh time.

When Meh strikes (let’s give it a capital M) the trick is just not to try too hard until it’s gone. I can do artistic creative so long as there’s zero pressure on myself to succeed. So I can draw or twiddle with things in photoshop so long as I don’t take it too seriously. With writing, I can sometimes do stuff long hand but basically, I have to accept, at that point, that my muse has gone on a bender. I’m never sure if it’s on holiday, relaxing on a beach somewhere or if it’s lying in a dark back alley somewhere, out cold, in a pool of its own sick, empty vodka bottle still clutched in one limp hand. If I give it the time to have a bath and several black coffees it might produce something intelligible but on the whole, at moments like this it’s best left to sleep it off. I let it be and get on with other things. To do so is quiching out in many respects. But I’m not really talking about failing to turn up to the chair and write, this is more about sidestepping burnout.

An interesting aspect of this is that I hadn’t thought to count non fiction in the writing I do. Because despite the muse having fucked off on a bender, I have written quite a lot of things this week and historically, have written a fair bit of stuff in these phases. The bit that’s in trouble is the bit that makes up an intelligible plot then, it would seem. It may be that it’s not all Meh, or at least, not all Monthly Meh. I’ve found it really hard to get back into the saddle with the Sussex run and the whole looking after Mum thing and, as discussed last week (or was it the week before?) we have reached the stage where there is no point in denying our arses off any more. We have to accept that her memory is not what it was or, to be honest, I could probably just leave that statement at simply, her memory is not. It is slightly as if the whole looking after Dad thing has left me too exhausted to carry on. Whenever that thought occurs to me, I just have to accept that it’s probably true, file it in the can’t-be-fixed section and then ignore it and hope it goes away. Think of me as the owner of a 1960s car with a snapped fan belt, looping an old pair of tights round the alternator so it will generate enough juice to get me home. All that increased care and concern does tend to drop an anvil on the fiction-creation centre of my brain.

Usually from a great height.

Possibly even from the stratosphere.

Ideally, what I’d be doing right now is starting some K’Barthan Extras. But what I want to write is the big sweeping epic that will take years to finish and won’t sell (not that any of my books sell) – the Betsy’s Bordello origins story – and of course Space Dustmen. Neither of these will be finished by September which is, ideally, the point at which I ought to be publishing my next book. That said I could give Space Dustmen a go as I think that’s going to be less complicated and easier to split into adventures but in my world of highly-polished, unmarketable literary turds it’s the K’Barthan stuff that sells.

That said there wasn’t anything doing this week so I decided to do some of the things I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t got round to. This includes the thing for my will which I still haven’t done but hope to have finished today. Fingers crossed. It also included having a go at some of the settings on my metal detector and finally sending Gareth his share of the royalties for this quarter. Note to self: do the royalties quarterly from now on, it makes it look as if there are more of them. Mwahahaaaahrgh! Self-deception is my friend.

Chatting to Gareth via whatsapp this week, he was talking about his singing lessons and how he is trying to alter some of the physical aspects about the way he sings so it’s more natural – and is therefore more effective – I think that’s the gist. He was worried about sounding ‘wanky’ snortle – one of my own favourite descriptors, that one – so he didn’t go into too much detail.

However, it did strike me that talking to Gareth about these things is very like conversations I’ve had with an ex triathlete friend, who now mostly rides a bike. Both are extremely talented, but a big part of it, I suspect, is that they are also very aware of absolutely everything that they can do to maximise that talent. They have learned every shortcut that will speed their progress from bleargh to perfection. Actually neither of them is starting from bleargh, they start from exceptional and kind of go on from there but you get the picture. I love that artists and sports people are as insanely geeky about their various theatres of operation as any scientist – although Triathlon Man is a scientist so perhaps the geekery is slightly less unexpected in his case. But I’m drifting from the point which is that this intensity, to me, is what separates the men from the boys and, probably, me from the professionals. I have those short cuts but … I dunno … I still seem to get nowhere. I spent the last three years doing a ground-up rebuild on how I produce and think about the books I write. Maybe it hasn’t worked so well, or maybe it’s just that the background stress levels are going up again so, once more, I’m having to fight harder. I’m at a bit of a loss. Again, I’ve reached a stage with my writing where I should accept that I’m not in a situation where I can have a career of my own. I should stop and give up but I just … can’t. On the other hand, I’ve just read an article by Robert Webb during which he stated that having said he wanted to be a novelist he has realised, after staring at a blank screen for the last twelve months, that he might need to give himself some other options. Ah Robert, Robert … I feel your pain. Welcome to the writing pleasure dome.

For whatever reason, writing, for me, seems to take a huge amount of emotional energy, and after years and years of grinding, spirit-sapping stress with Dad and now Mum, a whole decade plus of playing to everything I’m shit at in life and existence – thanks a fucking bunch there, God – I just don’t seem to have that energy any more, or at least, only in very small amounts. I am so, so much closer to burn-out over that than I was with Dad, because I’ve already done ten years of worry – including five of the kind of high intensity stuff I expected to have to maintain for three or four years at the outside. Right now, after a brief dip, I’m looking at another five or ten years of the same thing again. It is not … yeh. Let’s just leave it at … it is not. But having time off in lockdown, while handy at the time, might not have helped to be honest. Not at all. It just gave me a glimpse of what could be, but which I’m beginning to think never will be. There will always be someone with dementia I need to look after, until I reach the point where it’s me. I am really, really struggling to get back into it all. At the start, I remember thinking I probably had the stamina for three years or so, five at the outside. I guess the basic gist is, I was right. But there is no option for the battery to run flat. No way out. No end in sight. Just more and more and more admin, my mother’s, my son’s, my own – blimey but I’m a miserable bastard today aren’t I?! I just have to get better at pretending it’s not happening and carry on. Tights round the mental fan belt. I can do it. I might need a bit more CBT. I’ll look into some options.

Additional Meh factors might be the fact that it’s April, a month during which I traditionally sell fuck all books but I’ve had the worst month for book sales for five years. I’ve up to earn 40 dollars this month. All on Amazon. Usually I earn over a hundred. The fact that I can no longer construct a Facebook ad of any description that gets out of the learning phase isn’t helping either. The frustrating thing with those is that I had an ad that was working well, inadvertently edited something and had to reload it and now it can’t get out of the learning phase. That said. People are signing up it seems so maybe I should just leave it. My Facebook ads always go tits up around Christmas, Halloween and American Elections. But there’s nothing worse than spaffing a load of money up the wall for zero return in a field of operations at which you used to excel. I don’t understand it. If I narrow it down it says my audience is too small to have any hits, but it’s saying my audience is to small to achieve any hits if I choose people in NZ and AU who like Terry Pratchett and Books. According to the numbers, when it bothers to say something other than that my audience is to small, that’s well over a million people. At the same time, I’m getting three sign ups a day for my two bucks so I dunno, go figure.

Out of the Meh came forth Merch …

Back to the point. Meh. I decided that if writing was difficult I’d do something book related that didn’t feel like pulling teeth but needed to be done. So it was that out of the Meh came forth Merch. I spent Tuesday and a lot of Thursday making products which featured Humbert the Parrot quotes. I also did a couple of K’Barthan swearing things. So far I’ve done a couple of badges – oh and one sticker! Mwahahahrgh. Despite feeling a bit Meh, I observed that I was still able to do stupid product descriptions. Well, they made me laugh anyway. Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are funny. Still after anticipating a rather flat couple of days, I had a remarkably amusing time with myself. Mum was on good form too, on the Wednesday, which always helps and we went to the beach yesterday for a walk and it was beautiful light with bright sun.

I think these Meh periods are probably part of life for every creative. OK some folks seem to be able to produce hundreds of books and I salute them. I could do that if literary creativity was like painting. I can paint like ringing a bell just … not as well as I can write. The fact is though, I seem to be so adversely affected by every little thing that sometimes, I’m surprised I produce anything at all. What I do manage is the result of hours of analysis and effort into the how and why of my ability to create so I can squeeze the maximum juice out of each tiny drop. I suppose if you want to be good at something that’s what you do. Maximise it. But … I dunno … it’s as if I have a few drips of potent creativity and I have to make it cover each book. While everywhere I look other writers seem to be just vomiting out books. Really good books too. Burp! Oooh there’s another one. I am probably looking at the wrong people and in the wrong places.

Talking of books, Gareth is hoping to start work on Too Good To Be True soon, singing-related shenanigans permitting. Which made me think of something else and that is, how intensely physical the performing arts are. I remember reading somewhere how people who are in a production full time often have to do an extensive range of weird and arcane physio exercises to keep all sorts of obscure body parts in trim. It’s amazing how much of something that seems large cerebral is, in fact, physical when it comes to doing stuff with your voice or an instrument. I do remember talking about this kind of stuff with my violin teacher when I was small and good at it. Body posture and stance are a huge part of it because you’re not just playing the instrument, you’re part of it because the sound is resonating through you. And that’s why the way you stand or breathe can make a huge difference.

That got me thinking more about writing. There seem to be three important factors that can fuck mine up. The first is pressure. Can I make up stories under pressure? No. This is probably why I am struggling writing more K’Barthan extras. There is pressure to finish them whereas there is not any pressure to finish the other projects which are ticking along nicely. Well … not really. So I have this strange dichotomy where I can write an 85k novel in about six weeks but only if a) that’s not what I’m actually trying to do, b) other stress is reduced and c) the six weeks are spread out over the course of about a year. It’s like learning to fly Adams style. Except instead of throwing myself at the ground, getting distracted before I land and missing, I have to throw myself into writing the next book, forget why I’m writing it and just … enjoy my K’Barthan holiday.

Getting the first set up started is the difficult bit. Once that’s there, if it’s a simple story with a main character and not much else, it will get from beginning to end reasonably fast.

Second thing … admin. If I have something looming, like a tax return or, in this case, some bits and bobs for my will, I feel pathologically compelled to do it before I write. But when I come to do it, because I want to write, I get bored and my mind wanders and I stare at my computer and get distracted and before I know it a day has gone by of me staring at the screen doing … I dunno what. The way round that one is to do a short burst of writing before I start the admin. Then at east I’ve done a bit of what I’m supposed to.

Third thing, hormones. There is the one week in every four where I’m never going to write anything. This is the time I use for editing or to drop writing and have a pop at other stuff; newsletters, writing ads, booking promos. Downloading the graphics and sorting all the links I have to share … that kind of stuff.

Fourth thing, I need to take the right measures. If that means giving up on it for a day or two and doing other things so be it. Yesterday we went to the beach for a day. We spent an amusing hour having lunch in a pub garden and the conversation included inventing euphemisms for going to the loo. Starting with the well known ‘I must go siphon the python’ we built on the theme and finally ended up with McMini calling it, ‘I just have to go and deal with some yard trimmings,’ while I preferred, ‘I just have to go and fly-tip a sofa’. Yeh, I know but we thought it was funny. McOther just sat there with a contented, these-are-my-children kind of smile on his face.

picture of the sea
I must go down to the sea again, the lonely sea and the sky. I left my socks there yesterday. I wonder … continued on page 94/…

Thing is though – going back to my ongoing fight with my muse – for most of 2020, pandemic aside, I was in post op recovery or a great deal less stressed. I couldn’t do the Sussex run for a lot of it and in many ways, Mum’s well-being was out of my hands – or at least, I didn’t feel as painfully responsible for it and I was able to let so much stuff go. It was awesome. I didn’t need to take measures, or follow any of the protocols I usually have to follow to write. I ate exactly what I’m eating now, but I lost weight instead of putting it on. There was no need to keep a daily word count and do the ten minutes a day thing. Now there is. Now, I’m back to the place I was in 2018. I need to pull every trick in the book to keep the tiniest trickle running from the creative well. I need to keep it alive because if I don’t the other stuff is going to get a bit overwhelming and if I get overwhelmed, I’ll be no good to anyone. I need another holiday – already – and since I can’t have a real one, I have to pretend. And if there is any talent in me, it seems that I have to support it with a lot of painfully convoluted mental gymnastics. It’s a a gargantuan ball ache but it is what it is. I just have to accept it and get on with it. I guess part of it is simply that I’ve reached a perfect storm where everything writing related is going dismally badly at once. I just need to grit my teeth and push on through. And do those bloody lists for my will. Ugh.


On a lighter note … K’Barthan invective poll results! Phark.

As discussed here, last week … K’Barthan products. Mmm. Last week I asked if you’d like to vote on your favourite Humbert phrases. Many did.

Congratulations.

As you may have gathered from my previous wittering, I took the recommendations and ran with them, well, OK, it was more of a case of, I shambled crazily for a few metres, went purple in the face and had to sit down for a minute or two … but it’s a start!

The runaway winners, if that’s the right word, were ‘Wipe my conkers!’ and ‘Bite my winkey!’ but there were many more, here are the top six:

  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Bite my winkey!
  • Windy trussocks!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin but don’t touch my drink!

Extremely close behind ‘windy’ and ‘jiggle’ were:

  • Arse!
  • Shroud my futtocks!
  • Bombs away!
  • Gits in a bag!

After talking to Gareth, I realised that I’d completely forgotten to offer ‘Futtocks away!’ as an option which is, apparently, his particular favourite, and one of mine, too. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all. If you’d like to see the resulting merchandise you can find it here:

This week, K’Barthan swearing is under the spotlight. So if you wish to vote for your favourite piece of K’Barthan invective, you can go right ahead and do that too. The ‘voting’ form is at the end of this link. Enjoy.

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Small wins …

Spring in Bury St Edmunds
Spring. In case, like me, you’d forgotten what it was fucking like.

So here we are at Easter. Recently, here in GB, we passed the anniversary of lockdown one. Things are still strange, although I’ve had the first shot and we are hoping to see some friends for a meal in the garden tomorrow. Note to self, put thermals on. Spring appeared for a day at the beginning of this week, which was nice. Now we are back to the usual yellowy smeary grey skies and absolutely fucking freezing north wind. Bastard global warming. We are not getting as much of the gulf stream as we should be and the absence of that warming/cooling effect of the current on our shores is making for colder winters, hotter summers and it would seem, this year at least, no spring. Winter is getting very, very old but still it persists. Thermals at the ready? Yea even unto eternity, it would seem.

Spring in Bury St Edmunds
Ditto.

Never mind. Onwards and upwards.

Small breakthroughs this week. First up, I have wanted to do a humorous first in series box set for ages. The idea is a bunch of us who write funny books get together to put all our first in series in a a funny box set and then I make it free. That done, we share the crap out of it with our mailing lists and hopefully keep a steady stream of new peps introduced to our work, for nothing. I have a book in one of these which is riding high in the best seller charts and I reckon it probably accounts for most of my sales. I got some really big hitters to sign up to the one I’m doing and there were ten of us all told. Unfortunately, the deadline came and went and the three biggest authors never submitted their books. They were happy to go in but unfortunately, I need a word doc of their files to make the book. I’m guessing they didn’t have one. I dunno. You can only write to them and ask so many times. I made that number of times three.

A lot of authors are mac based and use a thing called Vellum so maybe their most up to date versions of their books are in that. But I’d have thought they would need to export to a word doc to get their stuff edited so presumably it’s not impossible. I dunno, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they’re so big their editors use Vellum too. Shrugs. Anyway, they didn’t so …

The idea of organising a box set is quite daunting. Mainly because I can’t design for toffee and can’t afford to pay for a cover, but also because I am spectacularly shite at organising things. Seriously, I’d have trouble organising myself enough to breathe and do other things at the same time.

The only thing I might, possibly, be able to do for this box set was making the actual ebook. Even so, when the others signed up, I hadn’t a chuffing clue how it was done, only a vague idea of how it might look. The big sticking point was how to sort out a table of contents for seven novels. My box set is on Amazon at the moment but I daren’t update it because it’s a word file and it has something shonky about the table of contents which Amazon doesn’t like. They fixed it for me last time but sternly warned me that on no account would they be doing so a second time. I haven’t dared change it there for the last six years! The box setters and I agreed we’d do this thing about six months ago but LIFE has interrupted my efforts rudely. Well, life and launching my own book.

As I may have mentioned, McOther is sorting our wills which has not helped me to be efficient either, because it means administrivia. This week I was trying to get hold of a building society to see what I needed to do to so they would allow the investors McOther has chosen access to the account we hold in trust for our son. I knew I was in for a long time on hold and the music was a particularly grating piece of muzak on loop. After ten minutes someone answered but she simply said she’d put me through to another department and I was back on hold.

Sod it.

There was no doubt about it, if I listened to much more of this muzak I was going to do someone an injury so I opened up my lap top and decided it was time to do something. Yeh. Something mindless and yet … absorbing. Absorbing enough to blot out the muzak while, at the same time, not so absorbing that I’d fail to notice if a human appeared on the line at any point.

Opening my lap top, I began tinkering about with Jutoh which is the software I use to build my epub files. Completely by accident discovered how to do a table of contents for seven novels so the one at the start of the document has seven items, rather than 7×50 or however many chapters there are in each of the books … at least I think I did.

OK, so I’m going to have to import the word document for each book and then go through them separating out the chapters into individual files in each book’s directory. I am not quite sure, yet, if I can get a proper table of contents for each book into each folder, but if I’ve worked out how to do the first bit, I’m more confident I may manage to do that, too. The important thing is … it’s going to make a book with a table of contents and chapters and … Halellujah! Woot and t’ing. So having got the books and the copyright forms back from these authors about six months ago I have finally started sorting out the book. I can see, as I look, that there are bits missing but I am way, way more confident that I can fix those. I’m also toying with using another book, rather than the first in my full length series, since that one is in the box set that’s already out there.

Thinking about it, I could put in Too Good To Be True but that would put more pressure on me to write more full length books for that series. It’s highly likely I will anyway, but it’s a lot less likely if I put pressure on myself like that. The Hamgeean Misfit series is good for any number of stories but if none of those is a novel, using Too Good To Be True will merely give people false expectations about the others, and it may not make sense. On the other hand, I could put in the first two books in that series, especially as Nothing To See Here is hugely popular. It’s the one in that series which everyone downloads and the two together would be novel-sized. Small novel, but novel-sized nonetheless. It’s a thought.

On the other hand, the box set Few Are Chosen appears in is one for planet-based sci-fi and as such comedy isn’t a feature – so there are some advantages of having a total genre mash up. That being the case though, I could probably get away with using it twice because it’s two different markets. And if readers on my mailing list are folks who have come in from the two box sets, each has the six other books to read for free, even if they’ve already read mine.

The other slight worry is the cover. Having cracked the innards, possibly, I am now thinking that I might be able to do that, myself. If it’s just a black, star-covered background with lettering I should be alright for it. There seem to be two styles for comedy books, very simple, like that, or insanely excellent drawing. I can’t afford the drawing and might have to pay for a star-field-and-words style cover. We shall see. I am hoping that I can do enough and that, if I can’t, we can get away with something simple enough for me not to have to fork out masses of cash on it.

Mood on the writing front then, cautiously up-beat. The good thing is, I can keep work on the box set going even if doing my will and all the associated admin cuts into the available bandwidth to do anything else. And so much of this is about psychology. Keeping things moving forward or at least ensuring that it feels that way. Not quite a productivity hack then, more of a hackette, to be honest, but something to remember, nonetheless.

McCat being a pain in the arse.
Before …

Another productivity hack I have discovered is in the arena of cat management. The current McCat is basically a labrador – not just in the sense that he enjoys having his tummy rubbed – but also in that he’s a stomach on legs. He is also incredibly bossy and a terrible attention-seeker.

I tend to find that I can do a bit of writing stuff at the beginning of the day but can’t really persuade myself to do anything much until I’ve done the stuff I’m supposed to do. But because of whatever weird thing it is in my make up that makes Real Life impossible to organise, to the point where it takes me two or three weeks to do something that McOther can smack on the head in ten minutes, I tend to spend almost the entire day doing the things I ought to do before I get round to doing the things I want, or am supposed, to do.

This means that by the time I think, phew, that’s those taken care of, now I can do some writing, it’s about ten to five and I have an hour before it’s time to switch off from my writing and go and Interact With The Other Humans. Other Human Time is important, obviously, because it’s fun and I love them.

McCat
Yes I know I like having my tummy rubbed but if you try it, I’ll have yer arm off!

The other slight downside of this is that McCat usually decides it’s supper time somewhere around four p.m. and pesters me. His methods of pesterance vary but a lot of them involve jumping onto my desk and sitting himself down on my keyboard. Interestingly, McCat MK1 used to do exactly the same thing. Usually I push him off, at which point he sits on the table next to my desk where I keep my printer and when he is certain he has eye contact, he begins to push things off my desk, a pen, an elastic band, a coaster, a box and anything else that is placed on the desk to that side of my computer. This goes on, ad infinitum, until he is fed.

Every now and again, he gets all wild-eyed and bitey, which is no fun.

This seemed to be my only meaningful writing time so I didn’t really want to be distracted every few minutes. After all, if you’ve been thinking about it all day, it’s amazing how much you can write in an hour. But if it’s an hour punctuated by cat shenanigans every ten minutes it’s amazing how much less you get done. When I had my knee done, my brother and his family sent me a baby Yoda.

Angry cat.
Touch me and I’ll fucking kill you.

McCat has been sitting in the box Baby Yoda arrived in since … well … since it arrived. He also sits on the sofa. But as yet, I haven’t been able to find him somewhere to sit on my desk. I bought him a special hammock which you could stick on the window with suckers and which he was then supposed to be able to lie in and enjoy. Except he spurned it and no amount of gentle coaxing would persuade him to sit in it.

After some deliberation, I put it on the radiator in front of the desk, with strings between sucker and hammock to hold it steady. He wasn’t having that either.

Until I found a box. On Tuesday, I took the spurned hammock away, put the box over the radiator and some of the desk, and turned the lovely, boiling hot desk lamp onto it. McCat appeared and did indeed sit in the box for a bit, allowing me twenty minutes at a stretch, which was an improvement.

The obvious, sensible answer, is just to feed him. But if he’s fed too early he’s ravening the next day and hungry for supper at about three p.m. I bought a lovely hammock that sticks on the windows with suckers so he could lie in it and look out. The result was a very definite no thank you.

After

Then, yesterday, McCat appeared at ten to five by alighting beside me on the desk with the lightness of a frozen checking that had been fired from a cannon hitting a wall. I rubbed his ears a bit and then patted the bottom of the box. He does understand the phrase, ‘get in your box,’ but tends to go to the one on the floor so rather than say anything, I just kept patting it and pointing. He got the message and climbed in.

He is keen on the desk lamp. One of the unwelcome places he likes to sit is beside me, right under the lamp, absorbing the heat. Therefore, in order to sweeten the deal, I turned the desk lamp round a bit so the nice warm bulb was pointing at the box. He, curled up and after making a few purry whiffly noises, he went to sleep.

He was still asleep in there at twenty past six, well past his supper time. The moral of this story? For all the motivating platitudes circulating around t’interweb, there’s only one that really matters and it’s this one; ‘if I fits I sits.’

Yeh.

It may not last, but for now, I will chalk that up as a win, I think.

In the meantime, Happy Easter!


Win a mug competition deadline extended*!

*Because I forgot to send a reminder to my mailing list so I have to send one on Tuesday.

And also because hardly anyone’s entered. Mainly because I keep forgetting to share it on Facebook and Instragram … or with my mailing list or to be perfectly honest, with anyone!

It’s competition time! In case you didn’t clock this last week.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until 19th April (yes, I did pick that date completely at random). Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

7 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Had I but world enough, and time …

Blimey, it’s already time for another blog post. The days and weeks seem to be flying past at the moment but at the same time, nothing much seems to be happening. Life, time, existence seems to be stretching like a piece of grey plasticine, infinite yet very finite, lightning fast the moment you attempt to achieve anything, and yet, when you’re at a loose end, soooo slooooow.

That being the case, this week, I’ve been trying to analyse my book sales. Yeh, I know there probably aren’t enough to make it viable. I’m struggling a bit. In theory, for every ten people who visit a books sales page, one will buy. That’s the ‘rule of thumb’ most marketers apply. In theory, this means that all I need to do is get 100 people to click on any one of my books sales pages (be they mine or with a retailer) and ten folks will buy a book.

Nice idea, so I wanted to try and crunch my sales and download figures to see if it works. Few Are Chosen was permanently free for a while and according to my stats I’ve given away 20,154 copies from retailers – I haven’t counted the ones I’ve given to mailing list people or it’s going to get too complicated.

Of those people, it looks as if 841 people have gone on to read The Wrong Stuff, 793 read One Man: No Plan and 742 Looking for Trouble, except 273 people also downloaded the box set as well. I’m going to assume all 273 of those people read the entire thing, so add those and my revised figures come out as 1,114 people have read Few, 1066 people have read One Man: No Plan and 1,015 have read Looking For Trouble. That’s publication to now figures for the three follow on books but most of the free books were given away before 2016. I think I’ve given away about a thousand since then.

What these figures tell me is that out of all the thousands of people who’ve downloaded Few Are Chosen for free, only 5.5% of them have read it. On the up side if I do the percentages for the rest of the series, 95.6% go on to read book three and 95.2 go on to read book four. That means I need to get 200 people looking at my sales page to get 10 people to buy my books. That was a bit of an eye opener. I’m also not certain how current that intel is. The uptake on the free books may actually be a lot lower, more like 2% because I’ve been giving away Few in a first in series box set for two years and I don’t know how many of those have been downloaded. I have experienced a big uptick in sales of the rest of the series since that went live. Two per cent is probably nearer the true figure. The percentage usually expected to act on any advertising then. Considering my books sell in numbers that keep them firmly at the invisible end of the spectrum and are written in a genre that is a really hard sell, that’s probably not bad.

Aside from the box set of free firsts and the odd promo, I have stopped giving Few Are Chosen away for free. Instead I now give away a mailing list exclusive short story which I advertise on Facebook – Facebook only so far because I’m looking to grow my sales at Apple, Kobo, Google Play, Barnes & Noble et al; Amazon is doing fine without help.

When people have had a little time to read that free book, I point them to a second short story that’s free on all the retailers, and when they’ve read that I point them to the free box set of first in series which contains Few Are Chosen. I didn’t produce the box set so I don’t know how many of those are being downloaded but I’d guess the take up rate is higher with that and, possibly, skewing my read through percentages. Or to put it another way, I suspect the percentage of people who read the other books after downloading the first one free before 2016 is probably more like 1% or 1.5%. Yikes.

That said, I am thinking of reducing the price of Few Are Chosen. At the moment it’s £1.99/$2.99 in most places but I’m thinking of making it cheaper: 0.99 of whatever unit people are working in as I suspect that might encourage a few more of the handful of folks who stumble upon it independently to give it a go. I may need to look at the metadata too. My perma free which, I suspect, is on about page five million of the freebook listings on most retailers probably has more downloads, especially on Google Play. The likelihood of it languishing way down the rankings is why I no longer have the first book permanently free outside the box set – because at the level where I operate, I couldn’t give away enough to achieve any organic visibility with my own publicity and since that’s the whole point, I don’t bother unless I get a promo.

The difficulty with a closed system like this is that it’s really difficult to work out what I’d need to do to get more people buying my books. I have a first in series box set planned with seven comedic sci fi and fantasy authors but that’s down the road a bit. Right now, say I wanted to earn $500 a month. In theory if I had one book at $4.99 I’d only need to sell five copies every day. If you go on the standard marketing thing that it would take 10 target readers to see the book for each one who made a purchase you’d be looking at 50 people needing to see the book’s page each day for one to buy. In advertising terms, that’s not a huge amount.

If some of those five readers go on to buy the other books, clearly you don’t need to sell five copies a day either. In theory, if you have six books available for $4.99 the way I do then, some of those initial readers will read all of them. Although, in my experience, probably not that month or year, but if you’re lucky maybe this decade. Even so, if each person who bought Few Are Chosen was good for the other four then, in theory, I’d only have to have a quarter of the eyes on the Few Are Chosen download page to get the same result … in theory.

There is a whole strategy based along these lines, the gist being if you have 20 books out and can sell a handful each day you can make $50k a year, which is a reasonable living. Believe it or not, this approach, coined by two giants of the indie writing world, is called 20booksto50k.

My books are comedic science fiction fantasy with a dash of romance (but no squelchy bits) and they’re British in a way that is completely un-tempered to the tastes of foreign markets. My publishing and story model are shows like Dr Who, Red Dwarf and writers like Irving Welsh, entities and people speaking in a voice which reflects their origin. I think it helps, in that respect, that most people coming into my ‘ecosystem’ get to read a novella/chapter book, a short and a first in series for nothing before they start on the other books. So on the whole, the people buying are already converts. I’d say most of the people who buy my books come from my mailing list, although there are other authors feeding into the first in series collection, so some must come from there too. I’ve no idea how many people are actually reading Few compared to those reading the others. Also it means that there’s a good 40% churn on my mailing list as people read the free stuff, decide it isn’t their bag and leave.

Please do not feed the animals

I suspect my books are probably marketed to within an inch of their lives, in fact, I suspect what we’re looking at with my sales figures, is one of the most finely polished turds in history. That said, there will always be new things to try and new ways to reach readers. I’ll give most things a go with an open mind.

As I mentioned, despite being about a completely different universe (well, apart from one) all my books remain unapologetically British. This does not give them universal appeal. It’s probably going to be more like 50 books to 20k for my stuff. But at the same time, it does act as a filter. The kinds of people who are going to get angry because my book isn’t set in their country and doesn’t reflect their national ethos aren’t really the kinds of readers I’m after. I need someone with a bit more imagination than that. People’s minds need to be open and they need to be prepared to let them wander if they’re going to get anything from the shite I churn out.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those filling-in the reader questionnaire I send often cite reading and books as a form of travel; a holiday. Certainly, that’s definitely one of the ways I see books. I enjoy reading stories set in other countries if they are true to culture because it’s always interesting to have a glimpse of how those people might think and their societies might work. Hence my love of sci fi, fantasy and yes, historical novels because it doesn’t really matter when or where, they are all new and interesting alien civilisations to me.

Where I’m going with all this stuff is, I suppose, that these last few months I’ve had a kind of epiphany. Originally, my aim, what I wanted from my writing was that the action figures on the desks of geeks should be characters from my books. That was the target. To be successful enough for that. The reason I wanted to earn stacks was because I wanted to get to the point where I could liberate McOther from his job. If he wanted me to of course. I wanted to take the slack, be the bread winner doing something I loved so he didn’t have to do something which, while he quite likes it, does regularly piss him off.

McOther is retiring soon though. My cunning plan to rescue him from his workload has failed. Turns out he’s rescued himself. So it started me wondering if my priorities have changed. I know I can’t stop writing but I also have a life that makes writing difficult. What do I want from it?

  • Some cash. These days, it doesn’t have to be that much. Understanding that was a huge revelation, right there.
  • To get lost in my imaginary world because Real Life can be a bit grim.
  • The pleasure of doing something reasonably well.
  • The enjoyment of creating and marketing my books.
  • To be content with the amount of writing I am able to produce but at the same time, produce the maximum amount I’m able without pissing off friends and loved ones.
  • Accepting that I might not be writing much, sometimes, so I can concentrate on people.
  • I, personally, would rather not be famous but I would love it if my work and my characters were … preferably while I was still alive.

Nearly every single book you read will say something along the lines of, ‘if you’re prepared to put in the hours you can make a success of your author career.’ I’m in my fifties now and once you reach this age, you realise that hours to put into anything are hard to come by. Hit my age, and a lot of your life is going to be about looking after other people in the generation ahead of you. Whatever else you do, there are going to be people who need you. And if you want to like yourself as a person you’re going to have to help them. That takes time, so the lesson I’ve learned about time is this:

My time is finite. The trick is not how many hours I put in, but making the time I can devote to this effective.

Woah. That’s a bit of an eye-opener. I dunno why because it’s blindingly obvious but it was still a bit of a scales-from-the-eyes moment for me, that one.

I lack the time in my life to wrangle the kind of author career that will set the world on fire. Amazingly, now that McOther has rescued himself from his own job, I’m OK with that idea. But despite my time constraints, I might do alright if I keep writing books and make the time I do spend effective.

And life, that’s pretty much the same isn’t it? I could die tomorrow. I hope I don’t because it’d be fucking inconvenient but the point is, our time is finite. I am learning to walk the line between the things I want to do and the things I have or need to do. I am learning to ditch the other stuff. I only have bandwidth for a certain amount of stuff. The rest has been removed, my activities pared down to the things I love and the people I love because there isn’t the time or energy for anything else.

Holy fuck. No shit, Sherlock. Mwahahahrgh!

Seriously though, I care. I want my stuff to do well and to gain recognition. Yet, at the same time, I’d be happy just to earn enough to buy nice things, a decent car and enjoy life. $20k would do me. Oh. Only $18k to go then. Oh dear, that looks like 60 books to $20k. Lorks! I’d better get my finger out.

For example, if all the cash I earned was coming through my own web store it would be grand. I’d be earning, folks would be reading and enjoying my books, but I’d not be making a blip on the best seller charts so no-one would have a chuffing clue who I was in the wider world. That’s no bother, ranking is just vanity metrics, it’s gathering the tribe that would count. The only new readers I scored would be friends of current readers, it would all be word of mouth, and possibly the odd advert on Facebook or its replacement. I’d have the things that were important, books out, writing to do and people who loved the books to lark about with. Without the scary stalker risk of actual fame.

It makes me wonder, though. Does time spent marketing work like writing hours? If I have to put X hours in to be a success, can I put them in over a period of 20 years instead of the three or four months my writing compatriots seem to take to go from earning about five quid a month on their first book to publishing their five hundredth 120k novel and earning six figures. OK I’m joking here, maybe I should hang out with fewer romance authors.

Other people do seem to be alarmingly prolific though. Then again, as the lovely Erin Wright, the lady behind the wide for the win group says,

‘Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.’

Great advice that and, after this year, I seem to care a bit less about that though. Something has shifted. I’m not going places, I still earn diddly squat, I still dream of breaking the $300 a month earnings barrier. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. Have I just given up? Is that it? Or is it that I finally feel that things might be moving? Is the rock, if not rolling then, maybe … wobbling a little bit? I dunno.

On the lighter side … Merchandise! Mwah hahaharhgh!

I have been thinking about making some mugs, books etc with the Hamgee University Press logo on them. At the moment, I’m thinking black on white and white on black. The logo one side and some pearl of wisdom from Humbert on the other, possibly cup-icised to reference tea, coffee or just drink. HUPLogoWonBSo the image above on the cup and stuff like.

  • ‘Windy trussocks!’
    Never mind, a nice hot drink will warm you up – or possibly, never mind, just open the window.
  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin!
    But DON’T touch my drink.
  • Polish my melons.
  • Polly want a cracker.
  • Arnold’s air biscuits.
    Not something you should think about dunking. Biscuits, something you should think about dunking – this will only work for Australasian and Brits.
  • Bombs away.

What do you think? If you’ve read the books what are your favourite Humbertisms? Are there any purlers I’ve missed?

________________________________

In case you missed it …

I had a book out this month, the paperback landed this week, not that anyone’s bought any yet but y’know, they’re there. But even better than that, the presence of a new book allows me to run another of my famous competitions. Yes! Woot.

It’s competition time! In case you didn’t clock this last week.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until the end of March. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

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Filed under About My Writing, General Wittering

And finally …

Finally – in the ‘at last’ sense – all round this week.

First up, and briefly, I went to get my jab yesterday morning – or my jag if you’re Scottish – so I started quickly typing this before my arm went dead. In what was possibly a foolish move, McOther and I ordered a takeaway for yesterday evening from one of the town’s two Michelin starred restaurants. This is the French one that’s had a star for some years, but our other favourite restaurant, just round the corner from us, was awarded a Michelin star a couple of months ago, too, which is fab. Amazingly, there were no side effects post jab that detracted from my ability to enjoy an epic meal … not until afterwards anyway. As I sat watching telly with the boys I suddenly began to feel rather cold. I then proceeded to run a high temperature and methodically work my way through the side effects listed during the night. I even scored some of the rare ones – nausea, dizziness and stomach cramps.  Oh and a resting pulse of 110 bpm (instead of 67 ish). If that’s a few light side effects, I can’t imagine how grim Covid must feel if you get it properly. Needless to say, McOther had nothing more than a slight headache, because he is a spawny so-and-so.

The other, more significant ‘at last’ is the novel; Too Good To Be True. I had wondered if I’d be able to write a novel, ever again, and so it was fabulous when this one pretty much wrote itself in Lockdown One. I just have to write another one now. Er hem, yeh. Joanna Penn talks about starting energy and finishing energy in her podcasts. I’ve been in finishing mode for some months now, topping and tailing and generally sorting the book out. I’m looking forward to switching to ‘starting energy’ and beginning a new one, I think having the jab will help with that as ultimately it’s one source of stress removed. Priorities are to write Misfit 5 and get my finger out of my arse and do something meaningful with Space Dustmen. But the one I’m constantly drawn to is the one about how Betsy Coed’s guest house ended up becoming a brothel. It lets us in on what Trev, Gladys and Ada are really up to. The extent of their exploits is only hinted at in my published books because we always see them from the point of view of The Pan of Hamgee and he has no clue.

Finally, the penny dropped that the only way I can relate the clandestine activities that go on at the Parrot and Screwdriver is if I write a story about it in which The Pan doesn’t feature. Over the last couple of years, on and off, that’s what I’ve been doing. I am really enjoying it but I am aware that as marketable assets go, it isn’t really the project on which to concentrate. No. The one I really need to make a proper start on is Space Dustmen. That said, better make a start on Misfit 5. And there’s another K’Barthan Extra about Gladys and Ada which would do nicely as a lead in to the sprawling how-Betsy’s-Brothel-started epic that I’m writing now.

Most likely, it’ll be whichever bunch of characters manages to shout the loudest that wins. I’m looking forward to writing again. It’s always lovely, that feeling of looking out over the face of the waters of my imagination, where dark is separated from night but not much else, and turning it into some new and barking world. Yeh, rubs hands together. That’s going to be fun.

Launch update on Too Good To Be True … was it?

If K’Barth were a lava lamp. Weird and yet … cool? Er, yeh. Hopefully.

No, I think it went actually went quite well for someone with a very small fan base selling something with about as much instant appeal as a fart in a lift. Folks definitely have to live with the smell of K’Barth a little while before they begin to appreciate it … like … the scent of a rubbish dump, or perhaps, a path lab … um … like truffles. Or possibly Goojan spiced sausage.

First up, felt as if I’d got production down a bit more pat. I was slightly up against the deadline at the end there, what with Mum having a stroke, but it wasn’t too bad. Maybe I’m better at separating out my emotional and work life than I was, or at least, the work admin side – because a launch is admin, really. Creativity at times of emotional turmoil is still a bit of an ask. It’s possible I spent a bit more time sitting at my desk than was properly healthy. However, it all seemed to go reasonably smoothly. I haven’t tried using beta readers for a while and it had spectacular results. A novel that was close to four times the length of the previous book took a great deal less editing, which saved time and money so I’m chalking that one up as a win. Am I going to carry on using beta readers? You bet your arse I am! 🙂 If they’re all prepared to carry on reading my drivel. Thank you to any of those lovely beta readers reading. You are awesome.

Second, when it came to launching it … there’s a theory that you have to tell people about something three times for it to work. At the same time, I have no desire to spam people so I always have trouble with creating too much buzz around a book launch. You know how it is; sometimes a bit of buzz is good, other times it’s wasps. However, I have mentioned the book more often in the run up to the launch both here, on the blog and to my mailing list – I think I mentioned it twice in a row to them and three times to you lot. I may yet send out one more final reminder to the list though so they get two reminders about the the competition – because obviously, there’s a competition (more on that story … later). Mwahahahrgh. What was interesting about the three mentions thing was that there were sales each time, which suggests that there is something in the jog-the-memory a couple of times approach.

I’m still at the stage of clutching these to my breast and going, ‘Mine! All mine!’

That said, I didn’t really do much to launch the book as such. I’m bad a tying myself down to dates in advance. That creates pressure and pressure tends to do for creativity. No interviews, no blog tour, not even one of those things where you answer questions on Facebook. Other authors do all sorts of live stuff on line and they also set up a street team of super-fans to post about their book in all those groups where it would be spam if they posted it themselves. That’s something I want to do eventually, get people who like the books to post in the book groups they’re in, just to amplify the noise so to speak. Not sure about the tours, questions and stuff although I am wondering about rabbiting on, on video at some point. But that would just be things like this post, spoken. On the whole though, I think most of that is for writers with a bigger fan base than me.

The thing is, the standard practice for launches is that you build up a buzz, get loads of people enthused and then unleash hell in the hope that you will tip the algorithms in the stores to the point where they start recommending your book to new readers. But you need a list with about fifteen thousand people on it to do that because you need about three or four thousand people to buy the book in the first week. Because of the way my author eco-system, genre and budget work I have 2.5k people in my fan base (phnark) and that’s my mailing list so some may not be fans yet. On the up side, quite a few of them do appear to be genuinely interested. The size of my operation being what it is, the slayer tactic, for me, is always going to be about how many of the folks who sign up to my list actually open the emails, click on stuff and generally interact. Until I reach the point where something magic happens, more people join the newsletter group than leave of a month and it starts to grow in size it’s all about getting to know and engaging the folks who are on it as much as possible. I have got the open rates up from 13% to 30% so I’m getting there but these things take time. I just want to enjoy writing and bring anyone who wants to tag along on the journey with me!

Bearing all that in mind, I aim to try and make 50 sales over the course of the pre-order period and the first month.

Obviously, it’s a bit early to tell if I’ve done that yet. Total so far is – don’t laugh – 34. This is not as many as Escape From B-Movie Hell but I launched that one at 99c so I think quite a few folks took a punt on it because of the price. Also it was straight comedic sci-fi which made it a lot easier and you could make a new release more visible with the right keywords, alone, back in 2015. But with my size of operation, reducing the new book isn’t going to change anything – by catapulting it to the top of the best seller lists for example. And I’m leery of that sort of thing unless it’s going to achieve something meaningful. I’d rather discount it on my own store and give something to my regular readers that way.

Are there any differences? Yes. This time, I have sold way more books via my own web store, indeed, my web store was second biggest source of revenue after Amazon. That might be because I did discount it a bit there, but it’s lovely that folks are beginning to buy direct from as a way of supporting my efforts.

A side note, the third place for revenue was Kobo – God bless you Kobo! There was also a first in that I sold one on Barnes & Noble which was my first sale there after going direct.

Another striking difference, people haven’t just bought this book, there’s been a little blip sales for all the others in the Misfit series at the same time. People have bought K’Barthan Series books too, the box set or the first one. I guess that might have been happening over the other launches a bit but it looks as if there are more of those companion buys at this stage. Unless it’s just more noticeable now there are three other books in the series as opposed to just one or two.

The web store sales might make for a lower ranking on the retailers and less visibility with them, but unless the rank is high enough to make a serious difference – top ten at the least – it’s all just vanity metrics anyway. The lovely thing this says to me is that I am gradually managing to engage with all the folks who have signed up to receive my emails. And that’s bloody marvellous.

There are unique aspects of operating on my shoestring level which mean I kind of do the audience thing backwards.

OK, so, what normal authors do is this: they make a first in series book free on all the retailers or 99c. They advertise their free/cheap books, folks see the ads, download the books and the books start to rise in the store rankings and more people see them and download them. Some of the readers enjoy the books so much they sign up to the mailing list – usually via a link in the back.

Folks who join the mailing list like this are called organic sign ups. They’re folks who love your books because they’ve read one and decided they want to know about everything you do. They are golden.  The point is, it’s a combination of adverts and the stores that are bringing the people to the books and the books that are bringing the readers into the mailing group.  This is a brilliant strategy but works especially well if your books are hot property, or even lukewarm property, or appeal widely to Americans but I’m not quite there yet. In addition, people can just stumble on the free/cheap books on the stores and download them. Sometimes the store may promote the free book if it’s something people want, or sits well within an easily identifiable genre, mine are quite niche so that doesn’t happen. Also, the stores are gradually learning that they can skew the results. In Amazon’s case KU books are weighted in the ranking so they are more discoverable. Then authors do Amazon ads, so Amazon pays a 70% royalty and gets half of it back as advertising revenue. As far as I am aware, the only store where this isn’t particularly skewed in favour of exclusives, advertisers, trad or whatever is Google, which still works on SEO principles I’m told, so you can just put a free book on with the right keywords and people will find it.

This Google thing is something I’m testing. I have two free books on there now and hopefully, I’ve set that up so that any people reading the free books and going on to the others will be reasonably easy to spot.

Anyway. Most of these strategies involve throwing a stack of cash at promos and ads which put your book in a place where it’s visible. As a plankton level author, I haven’t enough cash to make that sort of difference so I get more bang for my buck by advertising the mailing list, which is quite odd but is how it seems to be working out. I would advertise the perma free books but they’re shorter stories so most promo sites won’t take them (note to self, write more novels). However, sign up to get a free book, read it and depending on the results, decide to stay or go, I have this weird thing where my mailing list is stuck at 2,500 and has been for five years. Most of those people are different from the ones who were on there five years ago, but not all. There are about 600 who are really enthusiastic. The way I see it, if I can get to the point where I have 2,500 people who are as enthusiastic as that 600 the compact and bijou size of the list will be less of an issue.

Why do I need a newsletter? Because, like this blog, it’s good to be able to let people know when I have a book out, share stuff I’m working on, and generally not be operating in a vacuum. I like to feel I’m doing this with people rather than doing it alone.

Which reminds me … the competition …

______________________

It’s competition time! Oh yes it is.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until the end of March. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

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Thinness, lacklustreness and bling …

Thinness.

Well, here I am. I told you I was a nutter. Something clicked on Tuesday. I hit the afternoon

Mum’s semi domesticated pheasant. He’s a big boy.

and didn’t feel so bad. By Wednesday morning, with five hours on the motorway network ahead of me, you’d have thought I’d be feeling extremely mortal but no, I felt a lot better by then. I felt even more chipper when pulling up the first part of the drive I discovered a pheasant in my path. I dug some more holes in Mum’s garden in the rain and got rather more soggy than I’d realised. I didn’t find much just a very pretty little butterfly and a thimble for someone with very tiny thing long fingers, like maybe Groot? Or a child, but it would go over the top joint it was that long and weird. Brass by the looks of things and probably Victorian but late on. It would have had a fruit tree standing on top of it for most of the twentieth century though so I’m guessing it was from the days when the house was still a cart shed.

Anyway, it was all normal and I’m delighted and grateful that I’m no longer feeling the thinness of the barrier between this world and the next. And relieved to still be here. McMini helped hugely. I explained it to him and we made endless jokes about my impending doom. It was all a lot easier after that. Onwards and upwards via a bit of a dip.

Lacklustreness

Here’s the butterfly I found at Mum’s

Not sure what was going on on Thursday but I had a terrible attack of the meh. I felt tired, sad, and because the stress has ramped up over Mum I’ve started putting the weight back again. Sigh. It all felt a bit lacklustre. I had a think and I suspect the basic gist of the problem is this … During the first half of lockdown, I was going up to town to run small errands or just have a walk most days and, it being Bury, I usually ran into someone I knew so I didn’t have the feeling of being cut off which I might have had. Then, I had to islolate before the knee op and I didn’t really get out and about much again before the more catching versions of Covid started popping up. No-one appeared not to give a shit in public spaces, Bury wasn’t as bad as some places but it still wasn’t great. Personal space was at a premium and I just felt a bit vulnerable. I really do NOT want to go getting covid. So I started going out less.

On top of that, I was trying to get the book done and Mum wasn’t handling this one well and needed me to phone more, which took time, and I had to make sure I remembered, which was a task in itself. We’ve upped her care time a little now and of course there’s been the stroke. The constant flutter of nerves in the pit of the stomach is back. I’m back to jumping every time the phone rings in case it’s ‘the call’. I’ve put on four pounds in three days – that’s just under two kilos in new money. Looks like it’s back to piling on the weight now. Never mind, at least I know it’s possible to lose it if the stress levels drop again.

Friday, it was time for my fortnightly zoom call with a bunch of lovely local writer friends. I decided that I needed to smack the meh on the head beforehand and thought I might have worked out how. Popping out to get some Mother’s Day presents on Tuesday so Mum and I could have NOT Mothering Sunday on Wednesday, I met a friend from McMini’s old school and had a lovely chat to her. I realised that single piece of interaction had significantly reduced the meh. Therefore, it seemed logical that popping into town for some bits and bobs, would, most likely, lead to some human interaction and whack the bleargh. It seemed to be a theory that was worth testing anyway.

One of the joys of living in Bury is that I seem to know a lot of people. I’m not sure how this has happened but it is rather lovely because it means that if I go out, I often end up meeting someone I know on the street and we’ll have a chat. In these strange times this is a lot more social interaction than many people get.

Thus it was that I put my cunning plan into action and headed out to buy some cat food, grab some shampoo and stuff and pop into church to have a gossip with the ladies ‘invigilating’. You know, sitting there and then cleaning everything after any visitors have gone. I gave them something to do by putting my potentially covid-infested bottom on a chair and it was just lovely to have a chat to someone again. Following on from that was two hours chatting to the Bury Writers on zoom and then a zoom call to wish my Aunt a happy birthday with all my cousins.

Source of meh identified? Check. Cure, go out and bump into more people.

Interestingly, I read an article someone shared on Facebook recently called, ‘Why the pandemic is doing our heads in.’ If you’re interested in having a look at it you can find it here …  The basic gist was that the human brain is not designed to cope well with constant prolonged stress. Short bursts of the hard stuff, fine and dandy, but endless grey, grinding, worry-filled days? Nah. Not really. What amazed me was some of the things they listed as side effects. These included short term memory loss and cognitive impairment.

I may already have mentioned this (sic) but these articles about the impacts of lockdown are incredibly comforting because they explain exactly what has been happening to me for the last twelve years. I went seamlessly from baby brain to stress brain. I’ve had a hard time remembering my own name without cue cards since about 2008. Now, I understand why. I have years of it to go, but at least there is a logical explanation for it and Mum’s dementia has been so much kinder to her so far, so maybe the levels will be lower than they were for Dad. Who knows?

There we are, anyway, meh-buster now sorted.

Sneaky covid vaccination attempt …

Closest I get to a science picture; weird wax formations in my lava lamp

McOther, being sixty, was called in for his Covid vaccination recently. He booked one of the centres and was then contacted by our local GP surgery who could do it earlier. I mentioned this to a couple of people who said that it’s possible to get an early covid vaccination sometimes if you go along with someone who is eligible. The sources were good, and I know it does happen with the flu jab, so I went along with McOther when he went to get his shot this morning. Seeing the queue, I was pretty sure they’d have matched people to slots and orders of vaccine very carefully, but I queued with him anyway.

After an hour, we got inside and I discovered that, while spousal sneak-in may be possible at the centres, it wasn’t at the surgery. I didn’t go into the consulting room with him but there were permission forms to be filled in and all sorts of stuff first so I doubted they’d just go, ‘oh do you want one while you’re here?’ the way they do with flu jabs sometimes. That said, I double-checked and was glad to see that despite giving me a ‘no’ in answer, they clearly didn’t think I’d been mad to turn up and ask, but sadly they had ordered the amount of vaccine for the amount of people and there wasn’t any spare.

If you hear that rumour, then, take it with a pinch of salt. It’s definitely not the case in Suffolk. But it might work somewhere else or possibly with the vaccination centres. It was an NHS worker I heard it from so who knows, maybe I was just unlucky. I guess it might work on slow days at the centres, I’d heard rumours of the equivalent of stand-by where you can turn up at the centres and wait and if they have a spare slot or someone doesn’t turn up you’ll get a shot. Something to try in the week, possibly. Although presumably I’ll get the call in a couple of months anyway.

Bling …

As far as I can work it out, I have now done everything required to launch my book, which is a first. OK so there’s not been much advertising but I have got the paperback done and all the ebook versions locked and loaded and Gareth will start the audio after the book he’s doing now so it should be done mid April … fingers and toes crossed.

Too Good To Be True? It does feel like it …

It arrived in the middle of a zoom call with the Bury writers so it was great to be able to show it to them. It does feel a bit too good to be true. I’m bound to have fucked something up but so far, nothing obvious. I’ve even remembered to do one for the British Library although I haven’t ordered it yet … which reminds me I’d better do that in a minute.

You know how these things are, you’re never sure how they’ll turn out. I was stoked because the docket said not to expect them until Monday. I only ordered a few, and one copy of all the newly re-vamped books with the logo and everything attached. I’m really glad I put the original K’Barthan Series into matt covers, they look much smarter. Anyway for your delectation, somewhere near this bit what you are reading now you will see a picture of the Too Good To Be True paperbacks. Though I say it myself, they are lush and this time, I just went for it and did the font a decent size. As a result it even looks decent inside too. And it’s the first full length novel I’ve written from scratch since 2014 (Escape From B-Movie Hell was a rewrite of one I’d written in 2007). So it’s kind of a landmark.

_________________________

Dispel the meh with a funny book! This funny book.

Too Good To Be True  is out on 18th March in ebook format and 22nd March in paperback. This one is sort of a stand-alone. Officially it is, although I realised a moment ago that I do not, at any point, mention that Grongles are green. Not once in the entire book. Ah.

On the other hand, amazingly, I have, finally got my shit together and it is live for pre-order everywhere – if buying from retailers is your thing. Or you can still pre-order it from my website or my web shop for a whole £1 less than it is everywhere else! Mmm. By Grabthar’s Hammer! What a savings!

Anyhoo, here’s the gen …

Too Good To Be True

When the trouble comes knocking, meet the only man dumb enough to answer the door!

When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.

Suggested UK cinema rating for this one PG (parental guidance) there’s a slightly saucy bit and a bit of light violence. Even so, this is a humorous science fiction fantasy story set in a parallel reality.

To find out more, and for links to pre-order it if that’s your thing, go here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infotgtbt.html

 

 

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