Tag Archives: K’Barthan Series

Real treasure isn’t always shiny #writing #metaldetecting

Opening a little window on the world of metal detecting today, and chatting about gold, not comedy gold, like last week but kind of tenuously linked gold … Oh, I’ll just get on with it shall I?

A few months back, the finds liaison bod who attends both the clubs I go to and asked us to bring in all the interesting things we’d found detecting. The local museum was mounting an exhibition of lost items and he wanted some of those lost items to be things which had later been found by local detectorists.

To my delight he chose two things from the pile of worthless shite I took along; a King Charles pipe tamper and a Limoges Mount.

It could be that I’ve banged on about them before but basically, they’re that glorious type of find which is not worth that much, so I get to keep it, but is incredibly rare, so it’s cool. The Limoges Mount was made in Limoges (I know there’s a shocker) between the 12th and 14th centuries. At the time a pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella ran past the town and it was very popular. The good burgers Limoges, with their eye on the prize, started to make religious souvenirs to sell to the passing pilgrims. It’s probably an early one because it’s quite good. Close up there are hints of guilding, green and blue and I think there was some ochre coloured glaze as well, I can’t look right now because it’s in the museum, obviously. It’s bent which is a pity but it doesn’t really matter. It’s worth about £70 and when I tried to look it up on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database there had been about six found in ten years, so it’s quite rare.

The King Charles pipe tamper is worth about £45 and took a fair bit of perseverance. I dug out three nails before I managed to find it and had practically reached Australia by the time it came up. It was about eighteen inches down. I love both these items, the mount because it’s so rare and so interesting, the pipe tamper because it is rare, too, but I also love that because it comes from a tumultuous time in my nation’s history.

England at this time was a police state, people were bullied, picked-on and even ruined over their political allegiances, or those of their forebears. Worse, these were decided on the word of someone in favour with the regime. You could, literally, be executed on the word of someone who claimed to have heard you saying something seditious in the pub if they were prepared to swear it in court. Despite the fear of lying after swearing on the bible, it must have been easy enough to denounce someone who stood in your way, especially as both sides were fighting on religious grounds so would, no doubt, be able to convince you that you were doing God’s work perjuring yourself, anyway. It sounds like a grim time. All the theatres were closed, there may even have been a curfew. The arts were dismissed as frivolity, some of the most beautiful religious artworks were wrecked cf every single statue in Ely Cathedral, where the New Model Army also stabled its horses.

Cromwell really was a fucking vandal.

And he was born just outside Ely so in the case of his town of origin he should really have known better.

Despite being three hundred years ago, the language of that era intrigues me, it sounds so modern, Lord Protector, New Model Army. It’s very now. And much of what we consider to be British traits today, the idea of even-handedness and fair play for example, actually come from Cromwell’s ideas. But for all the new dawn he wanted to achieve, it didn’t quite work. There was to be no music, not even in church and no dancing, very Myanmar under its previous dictatorial regime (as opposed to the current dictatorial regime). I believe there are some places where Christians still believe dancing is the devil’s work, mostly in areas Cromwell’s followers fled to when the monarchy was restored; sorry US and Canada, I’m looking at you again; would the Pilgrim Fathers please stand up.

My finds in a glass case, in a museum! Not something I ever thought I’d see.

But for all its horror, or possibly because of it, that time holds a kind of morbid fascination to me. Probably because as an ex stand-up comedienne, who writes comedy, I would be considered the devil incarnate by Cromwell’s regime. However, I also am fascinated at how bravely people stood, and fell, by what they believed. Would I? Could I?

Things I like, they got to wear really cool clothes; you know, big hats, frilly shirts and … swords … and thigh boots. Mmm Three Musketeers anyone? What’s not to like? Oh yes, the dying young, and being a public enemy for making jokes. Alright then, so it’s cool but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Back to the stuff. How did these things end up buried? Who knows? The mount came from just outside Lavenham and it probably fell off something holy as it was being paraded around the fields, to bless the harvest? To pray for newly planted crops? But it could just as easily have been torn off and thrown there by an over enthusiastic Parliamentarian. The pipe tamper would have been a highly political object. If it’s restoration, it’s a celebration of the return to ‘normality’ such as it was – in effect, it was little more than swapping despots. If it’s during the Protectorate, it’s a red hot political potato. The kind of object that would get you beheaded or hung – subject to your social status – if the wrong people saw you with it. Perhaps it was buried, perhaps a concerned wife lobbed it to keep her husband safe? Who knows. But basically, because of that, anything from the Commonwealth era and the years just before and just after it, are bucket list for me.

Which brings me to this:

Cromwell shilling with the sun on it so you can see what it actually is. It’s about an inch and a quarter across.

Woot.

This is a Commonwealth Shilling, from the time of Cromwell, and it belonged to someone who either a) hated the Commonwealth – perhaps it was the same guy whose pipe tamper I found a few hundred yards away in a field across the road or b) someone who was trying to use it afterwards, had missed the date to return it and be issued with new, Chaz II head-on-it legal tender and tried to scrub the picture off so possession of his cash – and it was a lot of cash in those days – wasn’t treasonable and therefore punishable by death.

This is the best picture I could get, angling it on sideways to the evening sun. If you look at it in normal daylight it’s little more than a silver disc. But the point it, it’s good enough for me to see what it is, but too knackered for it to be worth anything. Indeed, the dealer I showed it to reckoned it was worth about £35, which is brilliant because it means that since it’s worth Jack Shit to anyone other than me I get to keep it.

Sod finding a hoard.

That, my friends, is a result.

In case you’re worried that I’m getting ahead of myself, here’s a picture of the kind of thing I usually find.

A piece of aluminium – probably once an aircraft – which McMini and I found. Obviously, the eyes were applied later. It may look like a pug but we are going to call it Glorb.

So how does this link in with my books? Well, some days, when I’m really in the zone, I get impatient with Real Life. It feels as if it is little more than an annoying obstacle between me and the far more interesting places I make up in my head. Other days, usually when making up the interesting places in my head is going well and I know I won’t forget what I’m doing if I walk away from it, I enjoy the Real World as mightily as any made-up place I could concoct brain-side.

But over and above all, I guess it says that I cannot lock myself away, sit in a garret and write – well, I can but only for short bursts. Because if you want to get things out of your head you have to put stuff in. There has to be living between trips to the garret. According to my conscious mind, much of the stuff in K’Barth is informed by my skewed understanding of European history in the 1930s and 40s. But I never realised how thoroughly I rationalised it through my own national view and, unconsciously, though that period of history when England – but Britain also – underwent a similarly monumental upheaval.

Amazingly, it was only a few months after publishing the last K’Barthan book that I realised where I’d got Lord Vernon’s title, ‘Lord Protector’ from. I would have changed that if I’d cottoned on but at the same time, I guess that’s part of the joy of it all. That this shit goes in, my brain mangles it about for a while, warps it through the prism of weirdness and then something else comes out: Cromwellian Britain with multiple alien creatures and flying cars.

Mmm.

One of my current projects, Space Dustmen, features a truly disgusting – but very nutritious – food called Dagon Porridge. I’d got the Dagons down as being a very practical and sensible but utterly unimaginative bunch of aliens who are now extinct and have left the universe with little more than the benefits, if that’s the right word, of their perfectly balanced nutritional meal. The Dagons lacked the imagination to appreciate the joy of making nutrition interesting, of course, so they are roundly and regularly cursed by our protagonists. I now realise I got Dagon from church, it’s the god of the Philistines; Goliath’s god.

Hmm … to change it or not to change it? I might just have to call them Aygons instead, except then they’ll sound like a baby Toyota (Aygo). But it does go to show that there is so much hidden treasure in Real Life. All you have to do is listen, let your brain suck up the information, blend it and spit out the literary smoothie of your unique warped-eye view. At some point, every experience becomes useful.

Example: About twenty years ago, I remember sitting down on a bench just outside Riquwier, in the Alsace, waiting for my husband and our friends so we could go and see a vineyard somewhere. I was joined by a little old lady – rather glam, dressed in a silk shirt, smart skirt, nylons, heels, immaculate make up, jewellery but not too much, dyed brown hair and silk scarf tied into a type of turban (well smart though, not 1960s sit-com cleaner style). I wasn’t in much of a mood for conversation but she proceeded to chat to me, as old dears do. She turned out to be absolutely lovely and told me, from what I could understand with my rather rudimentary grasp of French, that she’d been one of Picasso’s models and a mistress in the 1950s and that she had a book of his sketches which she hoped her family would sell after she died – or possibly which they had sold already, I couldn’t be sure – to pay for her flat, where she lived, in the walls of the town. Obviously, as an art historian originally, I was really chuffed to meet her. So it just goes to show that however unassuming someone, or something looks, it’s worth paying attention, because it might turn out to be treasure.

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Sad

This is a difficult one to write.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I decided I needed to get my books a re-edit.  I’d rewritten bits, added scenes and generally jiggled things about and I wanted someone to go over them. Someone who knew the things I didn’t know like what sized dash to use when and when to use a semi-colon and when to use a colon. I needed a gimlet-eyed grammar spud and the fellow I usually used wasn’t around.

As I pondered whether to wait or find a second editor a post about editing appeared on a blog I follow. I’d give you a link but it isn’t there anymore. After a brief comment saying I thought I needed a line edit and a proof read someone popped up in the comments saying I might not. She said her name was Kate and what she said made a lot of sense. She thought what I might need was just an edit. After a brief conversation in the comments she suggested we moved the conversation to email. She said she was a professional editor and would happily look at some chapters and let me know what needed doing. I said I doubted I could afford her. She said.

‘I’m actually dirt cheap. But I wasn’t offering to work for you, I was saying I would look at something for free and give you a pro opinion.’

So I sent her a chunk – the first ten chapters, I think. She came back with an evaluation, along the lines of, ‘the story is interesting, don’t touch this, this and this it’s fine but I think you should probably fix this and this, and usually that is done like so …’ etc. She asked me a whole raft of questions about how I’d want to hyphenate compound words and other stuff that just wouldn’t have crossed my radar, explaining that I’d need to think about these things so they were always done the same way.

You know how sometimes, when you talk to someone, and you can just tell, at once, that they know what they’re doing? It was like that. I decided to hire her. If she’d agree to work for me. I couldn’t afford her but she was prepared to work in instalments which meant I then could. I asked the author friend who ran the blog where I ‘met’ her if he knew anything about her. Turned out she edited his books and he recommended her highly, so I asked her if she’d work on mine. To my delight, because I’d corresponded with her enough to be pretty sure she was an all round good egg, by now, she agreed.

To start with, she asked me more questions. This took a while and it became evident, very early on, that she had a similarly sarcastic sense of humour to me. She was funny, wise and incredibly kind with her comments – as well as perceptive. Her emails always started with – ‘I like this’ or ‘this was good,’ before she asked for clarification on something that didn’t make sense or suggested a change. She was completely gimlet eyed on continuity and was impressed that I could email her straight back with answers to her questions about the worlds we were working in. I was impressed, in turn, that someone as smart as her could be impressed by anything my brain did!

Kate was absolutely honest, she would not stint in telling you what she thought of something, whether it was bad or good but she could deliver the direst verdict and leave your pride and your feelings in tact. You knew exactly where you were with her. We we spent the next eighteen months exchanging emails most weeks as she sorted me out with a house style for the K’Barthan things and fixed my books. She could make me laugh out loud so the whole process was a complete gas and she was even unfazed when she received an email from my cat.

When we were done, she spent another few months wading through my newly completed book at the time, Escape From B-Movie Hell, then it was the K’Barthan omnibus. She continued to ask a myriad of questions, sought clarification on continuity issues and wrestled with those pesky compound words. All the while she quietly worked her editorial alchemy on my writing so that, without my actually being able to see how she’d done it, she turned my books from not bad to good. I pointed this out and she said,

‘To me, a good editor takes something, makes it better and people don’t realise what has been done, just that it is easy to read.’

She did the same thing for my confidence in my ability, too, because if someone that astute that smart and that mentally agile thinks your stuff is good then you can’t help but believe it is.

Among the talk about the projects in hand, the conversation ranged from pets to cars, to passing (or failing) the pencil test, Christmas, broken down cars, growing vegetables, adopting dogs (her) and cats (me). It really didn’t feel like work at all – I hope it didn’t for her either – yet all the while the project would move quietly onwards, despite the best efforts of fate, power cuts and other sundry disturbances of Gibraltese/Spanish (her) or British (me) life.

Frankly once she’d edited pretty much anything I’d written, and I had nothing new ready, I got serious withdrawal symptoms from our regular contact. But at the same time, we still exchanged regular chats on our respective blogs and as I knew she was working hard editing stuff for other people I tried not to pester her too often unless I stumbled upon something that I thought would really make her laugh.

However, after trouble with the Spanish power companies, she and Adrian, her partner, had to go off grid. So for some weeks the blog went quiet while she researched solar panels, gas fridges, windmills etc. I was therefore delighted when, six months or so after our completing work on the K’Barthan Box Set, I finally finished a short story. We started on it in July and I went on holiday, delighted that we’d be spending a month or so working on it together when I got back. But that was not to be. While I was away, Kate died, suddenly and unexpectedly.

Reading back our correspondence a few days after hearing the news, I found myself crying and laughing at the same time. I am so gutted that she is gone but at the same time, it struck me that I am also incredibly lucky to have worked with someone so multi-faceted, so interesting, such a genuinely good soul. Kate had principles, and she lived by them. I also try to console myself that, though she has gone, she lives on in the books she edited and the reviews she wrote. She is still vibrant and alive on her blog, Roughseasinthemed and in the many comments she wrote on the blogs of others. And she lives on in the hearts of all the people who were touched by her generosity of spirit and all round brilliance.

RIP, Kate Jackson. And thank you.

 

 

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An Offer You Can’t Refuse on a day that, unless you’re British, you won’t understand.

A few bits and bobs today – first, yesterday. Well, that was a bit of a bonus. McOther had a rugby match to watch and it just so happened that the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy had an open day. I’ve missed it the last three years but this time? Booyacka.Yes! We were there.

McMini suggested this one … he’s rather better at eyebombing than me.

As a result, today McMini and I got to look at Venus, the sun and also a far off star through an 1830s telescope which was more steam punk than you could ever imagine, not to mention eyebombing the hell out of the place because … well … it was there.

There were 10 information points to go see, with interesting bits and bobs, stuff to buy but not horrifically exorbitant stuff – indeed I was well pissed off that I forgot to go back to the stall and buy a piece of meteor for a couple of quid. Maybe next year. We also experienced some wonderful glass art, planet like globes that flouresced under ultra violet light – I want one but they were £900 – just a tad out of my range.

It is Mothering Sunday here in the UK today. We not being disestablished, Mother’s day in the UK is set by the church of England, rather than Hallmark, and moves about each year because it’s dependent on Easter, which also moves. It’s usually the 4th Sunday in Lent, which, for any non Christians reading, is the long turgid bit before Easter.
So happy British Mothering Sunday to all the ladies out there.

In case the reflections make that too hard to read it says, ‘Mother’s Day Who needs flowers when there’s gin?! A sentiment I can only admire.

And now bookish things … yes there are some.

K’Barthan Box Set on Kobo for 30% off until 28th March.

First, if you have been thinking about forking out £6.99 or $7.00 for the K’Barthan Box Set, you can grab yourself a copy for a whole 30% less – which is about £1.75. Not sure what that is in other currencies but a fair whack, anyway. Obviously my box set is unlikely to hit the best seller curated content bits, and Kobo being Kobo it’s quite hard to find otherwise, so here are direct links for you to grab a copy from the ‘local’ Kobo of your choice.

If you want to buy the book, just follow the link, click to buy and then, at checkout choose ‘add promo code’ and enter the code MARCH30. You will then score a smashing 30% reduction on the K’Barthan Box Set. You can use the code as many times as you like on books that are in the promo. Kobo is easier to use than you might think. I have an app on my iPad and I can buy and download Kobo books on there without undue hassle … I can’t remember how I did it but I think it was fairly straightforward. Anyway … here are the links.

Kobo US: here
Kobo UK: here
Kobo CA: here
Kobo AU: here
Kobo FR: here
Kobo Ger: here
Kobo BR: here

If you’ve already bought the K’Barthan Box Set – or the stand alone books – or are just thinking, ‘sod that MT!’ never fear. There are many more books to choose from by other authors than me.

All you have to do is go to the Kobo promo landing page, have a browse, pick a book you like the look of and when you buy it, just enter MARCH30 at checkout. You can buy as many books as you like with the code and you can also have your Kobo search results return all the books that are in the promo by using advanced search.

Kobo Promo General Landing Page Links:

Kobo UK here
Kobo US here
Kobo AU here
Kobo CA here
Kobo Ger here
Kobo FR here
Kobo Brazil here

So there we go. I hope you find some interesting books to read in there and remember, you can use the code as many times as you like, which is nice!

For the next couple of weeks I’m going to be running around doing a very good impression of a headless chicken disappearing up its own bottom so you may not hear from me again until Easter. In the meantime, all the best, and happy reading.

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Can I have fried brains with that? Time management/productivity hacks for writers #amwriting #writingtips #timemanagement

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

This week I will be mostly talking about making something out of nothing, or as that pertains to my world: time management.

As many of you will remember, my lack of minutes in the day to do … well … anything much was a continuing trope in many of my posts last year. The frustration of not producing any meaningful work while any ‘free’ time melted away faster than the polar ice caps was strong, and the whinging on my blog extensive, as a result. Sorry about that.

However, good news, I think. It looks as if I’ve fixed it, possibly, or at least, bodged the problem enough for my writerly mojo to return. And as I bitched and complained my way through last year, I did realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing their duties to others and their requirement to write. So I thought I’d share the stuff that has worked for me in the hope that, perhaps, it will help anyone reading this who has similar struggles. So off we go …

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

Last November, actually, Mum was in hospital again, and as I tried to sort everything out, and write, and be a mum to my own son, a good daughter, and be happy, burnout loomed.

Once we got her sorted out, and back home with Dad, I knew that if I was going to carry on writing I would have to make changes, even if it was just changes to my attitude. And I was going to have to make them fast. I’m an old hand at this now. The trick is not so much as to solve the problem but to alter my thinking so I see it differently. This time the ‘solution’ I arrived at was twofold:

  1. I couldn’t write the kinds of books I had been writing and deal with the things I needed to do in Real Life. I would therefore write shorter, less complicated books.
  2. It was clear that many folks who read my books enjoyed the K’Barthan stuff best. And I knew K’Barth well. There wasn’t so much time for experimentation right then – so that was easy. I’d write shorter, less complicated stories about K’Barth.

Enter the new series of 99p K’Barthan Shorts. In a bid to discover more details about the ‘market’s’ demands I asked what people would like to see more of. Gladys, Ada and Their Trev was the answer from everyone.

Roughseas asked me to write on about how Betsy, on Turnadot Street, started her Bordello. The answer popped up almost immediately. Meanwhile there was another one about The Pan of Hamgee’s early years on the Blacklist. That popped up reasonably fast too. So I had two ideas for short stories ready to go. All that was left was to write them.

Keenly aware that I can’t actually guarantee myself more than about 40 minutes to write in each day, it occurred to me that one of the problems with my rate of production was that its slowness sapped my morale, resulting in even less speed. So making some steady progress was essential to keep up my spirits and keep going. Obviously, as an authorholic, I am, literally addicted – stopping would have been much more sensible but it wasn’t an option. I decided to try and find a way to write more efficiently. I had a bit of a think and I came up with five ways that I could, possibly, give myself a hand:

  1. There might be some book production tools I could use to speed up and ease the process – such as writing software or text-to-speech software.
  2. Planning and plotting a bit before I start would help if I could tie it into the way I write.
  3. Writing shorter and less complicated stories would reduce the cerebral load (as previously mentioned).
  4. If I could improve my time management I might achieve more in the moments I had,
  5. My brain was fairly porridgey and I needed to find a way to re-enthuse it and sharpen it up while avoiding burnout.

1. Production tools

Yes, I am aware this sounds nuts but it occurred to me that one of the problems I face, writing, is that I usually keep the whole plot in my head. This is fine until I’m sad, or  stressed about other stuff, or my writing routine is constantly interrupted. Then, I can’t do it. I lose track of who is doing what, and with what, and to whom. When I make notes to help myself I still fail to remember, or at least, I fail to visualise what’s happening where, so written notes are unhelpful. So back in November 2016 I was spending three quarters of each writing session working out where I’d got to and catching up, and then about five minutes moving it forward before I had to stop.

As I pondered how to solve this knotty conundrum I saw a free seminar by a bloke called Joseph Michael about using a writing programme called Scriviner. Now, I confess, I’d never thought about using Scriviner, it seemed completely pointless, but I couldn’t help noticing, as I watched this free seminar, that the way you lay out a project in Scrivener appeared to cover a couple of my big writing problems.

  • Finding a way to list major scenes in a memorable way so I can work out a cohesive plot
  • Finding something that can remember what’s happened so far, and where I’ve got to, when my head can’t in a way that’s instinctive and at-a-glance.
  • Being able to put bits I like but can’t use yet somewhere close to hand so I can just nip over and cut and paste them in and out and remember they are there.
  • Being able to flip from my writing to my research easily  if I want to.
  • Being able to fit more writing into a short time.
  • In short, having all the information and prompts I need to write effectively in one place without burying one room of my house in post it notes.

The way Joseph Michael had his demo Scrivener set up, everything was laid out on screen where I could see it. My mental filing system is visual and it works horizontally. My ideal filing system would be a huge long table, with all the work in progress laid out on it. I’d walk up and down the table and see what needs to be done. If I try to file things vertically, in stacked trays or in drawers I forget they are there and cannot visualise what I am supposed to be doing or the shape of my task. I lose things in a pile.

My computer is a drawer – even using WordPerfect to write doesn’t fully ameliorate the impact of that, despite the fact it has its documents in tabs and I can switch from one to another with a single click. Things get lost and forgotten in my computer. Important things. Scrivener looked as if it might be the computer equivalent of a table rather than drawers, and when I found it on sale for  75% off, I decided to try it.

Bonus! Except While it was, indeed, the closest thing a computer can produce, in organising and filing terms, to a table, it was incredibly frustrating to use because it’s very much NOT intuitive in some respects. So I bought the training course for a truckload of money. BUT ONLY because it has a 365 day money back guarantee. No 30 day nonsense. A whole damn year. If I get stuck, I look up the problem on the course site, watch the video, which lasts about 3 minutes and I’m set. I am quite quick to pick up computer stuff but even so this worked very well for me. The way it’s set out is like an encyclopedia you can look things up in, rather than a course of long lessons which you annotate. Thus you sidestep the thing where your mind wanders as you take notes and you leave out a crucial click or step, one that renders your notes worthless and necessitates spending 30 minutes of your 40 minutes’ writing time watching a video, from beginning to end, to sort out where you went wrong. It’s way more useful than I expected, almost indispensable. Indeed, it’s probably paid for itself already to be honest. Bugger. Won’t be getting that refund then.

Around this time, I also saw McOther dictating email replies into his iPad and a light dawned. I could speak my books. However, after discovering that there is no way to teach my iPad how to write ‘eyebombing’ when I say ‘eyebombing’ and having the same experience with many other words like that, I reckoned it would be more trouble than it was worth. Even doing some dictation for my non-fiction book where I used the word, ‘spectacles’ instead of eyebombing – with a view to using search and replace, later – it was, frankly, too much of a ball ache. It occurred to me that the whole process of teaching speech-to-text software to understand my vocabulary, the correct spelling for the word arse and all the rest might take a lot more time than it would save. Doubtless I will give it a go at some point, but for the moment, I think I’ll put it in the someday-my-prince-will-come section of my list.

2. Planning and Plotting

Obviously what I envisioned achieving for myself here is far removed from compiling a comprehensive plot and then sketching the story by numbers.  I am, at heart, a pantser. However, it did occur to me that I could save myself a lot of time if I could kick the habit of developing so much backstory that my first scene ends up being one of the last ones. This is how I write: I get to know my characters, get interested in their pasts and before I know it, a new story has emerged. It’s usually a better one but having it turn up a bit earlier in proceedings would save me … well 60k of wasted words last year so, in short, the entirety of last year’s output (some of those words will be rescued or recycled but not all 60k).

I heard about a free seminar promoting a course called Story Engines. Story Engines sounds brilliant, but I can’t afford it. It didn’t help that there was only a short window, during the zenith – or is that the nadir – of the Christmas and post Christmas bankruptcy period. Why does everyone who runs a $500 closed course think a good time to open it up is December when everyone is skint? Sorry, I digress. The seminar was pretty good and opened my eyes to the kinds of questions I should ask myself. Questions which I thought I was asking already but clearly haven’t been. However, I could only afford one course and I thought that, possibly, I would work out more of the plotting stuff on my own than I would the workings of Scrivener. And the Scrivener course cost less. A lot less.

And I still have about 335 days in which to decide whether or not I like it! So I bought it.

3. Writing shorter

An absolute epic fail. For example, I’ve binned 20k of the ‘short’ about how Betsy’s bordello opened and I’m now just bubbling under 29,000 words into the new one. I think I may squish it into about 40,000 but it could run to 60,000. On the upside, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yeh. Thank you, Story Engines free training and lovely easy-to-see-what’s-going-on Scrivener layout. The magic is still happening, the picture is slowly de-pixilating and sliding into focus and the process is fun again. I also have a very much clearer idea of how Space Dustmen, the new series I’m working on, is going to go, and I’m really enjoying making notes and thinking about ideas. The characters are more focussed and yeh, things are happening there, too. Oh and there’s a non-fiction book.

On the writing shorter books front, then, null points. But on the writing, generally, a massive booyacka!

4. Time Management

We talked about the minuscule size of my writing window. How to make those minutes count then?

Scrivener was surprisingly useful and the plotting was helping but it was only a partial success. My efforts to write were still resulting in redundant words. Cf that 20,000 odd I mentioned just now and the other 40,000 from last year. Even though I will probably use three quarters of them, tweaked, a bit later in their prerequisite stories it was fairly essential that I did something to increase my rate of production and increase the suitability for immediate use of the stuff I produced.

So far, I’d some ideas plotted that I was really chuffed with, I’d laid out the basic chapters I thought I was going to write in Scrivener, added some notes, done the cards etc. But I needed more.

Somewhere, I read that comparing notes with other writers and posting your progress daily can really motivate you so I started a thread on a forum I visit. I’d also read that doing sprints works well for many people. You set a timer for twenty minutes and write until it goes off, have a 5 minute break and then rinse and repeat. I thought I’d see what I could do with that. I reckoned if I spent the first twenty minutes planning the scene and maybe writing a bit, and then the next twenty, going for it, I might get somewhere. No distractions, nothing, just writing the rest. So that day, I started my thread and explained what I was going to do. Then I turned off the internet, opened scrivener, sat down with the pinger set to twenty minutes and off I went.

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

First sprint: 400 words, second 1000. Smecking Norah! Four weeks later, I have 28,800 words down. Even a hard, pulling-teeth-style sprint nets me 400 words. Just three of those sprints, ie an hour and a quarter given over to writing, and we are looking at 1,200 words, minimum. My record in one 20 minutes is 1,700. Typing. Every morning I can wake up knowing that, even if I only have half an hour to work that day, I can get a few hundred words done. Few things boost a writer’s spirits better than being productive.

I love the sprints and I love the camaraderie of chatting on the thread where we encourage each other and compare results. Definitely a really effective strategy, that one.

5. Avoiding staleness: saying, ‘bollocks’ to social media and making it quality time

With the sprints, Scriviner and even the plotting going well. I wondered if I could work on my freshness of approach. What I mean is, trying to persuade my times of  maximum brainpower to coincide with the times I had available to write.

After a lot of head-scratching it occurred to me that this writing game is a bit like a relationship in many respects. Sometimes, with dating, less is more. Three hours of quality time are worth many more hours of half cock time spent not really connecting that just make the whole thing go stale. I realised that, when quality writing time was thin on the ground, I was spending hours on social media while I did other things looking at emails, or generally staring at my iPad and phone to try and keep myself connected to the electronic ether and with that, somehow, to my writing. Even sitting at home in the evening watching tv, or while I was cooking, or some other situation in which I could never hope to produce any meaningful content for my books I would be gazing soulfully at the screen convincing myself it would help.

It didn’t.

While, on one hand, all this screen time made me feel as if I was maintaining the connection, on the other it fogged it, made me feel as if it was sapping my creativity somehow. And the more in touch with it all I tried to be, the more time was sucked into this faux ‘keeping in touch’, and the less time I spent actually writing. Across my wider life, writing was all I was doing … Oh and panicking about having no time. I did a lot of that. So as well allowing my brain to be gloopified by the wrong kind of screen time, I was starving it of stimulation. No fuel. Poor brain. How could I expect inspiration?

More head-scratching, and then I decided to try and make all the time I had count, across the board, not just in writing but in everything. So I limited social media and marketing time and added other things to my day, experiences, like coffee with a friend, a walk, reading, listening to music, shopping, eyebombing, etc. I also tried switching off the computer at six pm and not turning it on again until the next morning. I still checked my emails and social media first thing as I sat in bed with a cup of coffee. However, I started writing a to do list for the day at the same time. Then when I sat down at the computer after the school run it was easy to reorientate myself. I started experimenting with using sprints to write emails and social media posts. I listed things I needed to look at, set up a sprint to do it in and then stopped when the bell rang. I found I could achieve exactly the same amount of interaction in a fraction of the time. In the evenings, in front of the telly, I stopped checking Facebook on my phone and started knitting socks. Um … Yeh.

The results of this have been amazing. I have way more creativity. When I started this, a month or so ago, there was only really room in my head for one project. After a week, I started having ideas about a project I’d shelved because it was too complicated. After two weeks the short had turned into a novel. After three, a non fiction project popped up. It looks as if I may finish a novel this year. One that I only started writing in earnest four weeks ago. It is as if this simple act of giving my brain time to rest has jump-started my creative mojo. Yes I still get tired, I still get sad about my parents, I still have the odd week of PMT when I can’t meaningfully achieve anything but I also feel fulfilled and fantastic because I am creating stuff – and when I feel like that I create more stuff – and even when it’s not books, it’s very comfortable socks!

Conclusion

So what gave I learned here that might help anyone who has waded through to the end of this? D’you know, I think probably this:

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
20160412_mandslemon

Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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Do you believe in socialism or the labour party? And other questions. #rantmodeon

I’ve just been reading an excellent post on Jim Webster’s blog about education. If you haven’t tried Jim’s blog you really should, all his posts are thought provoking, interesting and grounded common sense. Jim is smart.

He talks about education: what we should teach our children, what he’d like to see them taught, how we should teach our children and whether, actually, everyone needs to go to university. He makes the good point that because so many of our political leaders have been university educated, they tend to think that what worked for them will work for everyone – ergo that everyone should be able to go to university. And Jim makes the point that we’ve sort of dropped the ‘be able’ from that sentence, so now it’s considered essential that you go to uni if you want to make anything of yourself. But it doesn’t always work like that.

And it got me thinking about Education, and politics and also thinking, ‘Yep.’ And before I knew where I was, up popped a parallel rant. My American friends will not like this, because I do imply, at one point, that America doesn’t always look like an idyll to me and I have learned this doesn’t always go down well.

OK so, first up, I should fess up that I am university educated. I went to university because I hadn’t a smecking clue what I was going to do with my life and uni meant three more years to think. You didn’t have pay nearly as much for it in those days, of course, so you could do that – they introduced crippling fee loans the year after I left.

To me education is a tool, and it’s a tool for life. So, to me children need to come out of it with life skills. They need to be able to run a budget, fix stuff and also be furnished with the knowledge to be able to think independently. The more facts you have at your fingertips, the more information you are exposed to, the greater your capacity for understanding, and rationalising, what goes on around you. But you do have to be taught how to use them. Once you are, the better you are at that rationalisation process, the less likely you will be to follow a political party, or extreme religion, blindly, like a brainwashed sheep, without any thought to the veracity, ethics or long term effects – let alone truth – of what they tell you you ought to believe.

What university did for me was show me that there is never any cut and dried, there are always shades of grey. And I wonder if maybe one of the problems the US is facing, now, is the culmination of years and years of every single issue being pitched to them as binary: Right or Wrong, black or white, a cartoon of life as it never has been nor ever will be; simplified into extremes without middle ground. I suppose if you bludgeon people into believing like that then, after enough time, they become polarised – look at any republican and democrat ‘debating’ something on Facebook and you will see what I mean. Each side sees the other as Morally Wrong, possibly even evil and there’s a trend to suggest that the tactic on both sides is ‘he who shouts loudest and acts nastiest wins’. In many instances, it’s a simple slanging match and no actual debate is ever entered into. If it is there tends to be a suggestion that whatever each protagonist’s party says is right because the party said it. Like the party leaders did the thinking so no-one else has to.

So the first thing I’d teach kids is the difference between old-fashioned, proper right and wrong – you know as in not being a complete and utter bastard to everyone you meet or behaving like a shit – as opposed to the pseudo spun political party ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ that some folks put into the void in their soul where the original sentiment should be. And then I would teach them to judge everything against that knowledge of good and bad.

These days, I find it impossible to look at anything without seeing the grey. Lots and lots of grey. Which is how I find myself in the odd position of having voted for all the major political parties here in the UK despite being, pretty much, a socialist – yes I genuinely believe we should re-nationalise our assets. BUT in a radically different way than was done before. I suppose that’s the point, I believe in socialism, but not necessarily in the Labour Party.

Then, perhaps our Government could do something radical too – it could set an example. At every level it fails to do this. From letting Google off masses of tax because it’s too busy chasing the 0.08% or whatever it is who are supposed to be defrauding social services. The logic of that is like turning your back on a suitcase full of easy money and, instead, concentrating on chiselling off a 50 pence piece that someone’s glued to the pavement for a laugh. Here’s another one, stating that you’re not going to condemn torture, because you want to strike a deal with the saviour of the American Way – or alternatively the Nylon-haired hate-carrot – from across the water who thinks torture is a Good Idea.

Here’s another example at grass roots level. My granny was a school governor. She said that the school she was a governor of needed new portacabin classrooms for the cost of their budget for the whole year. They asked for funding from Government/Council and were refused. So then they worked out that if they were really thrifty they could save enough money out of their budget for the classrooms over five years. They put this to local government and were told that any unspent cash at the end of the year is evidence of over-provision and it would be cut from the next year’s budget. If that’s how bureaucracy rewards long term planning how is anyone going to learn about saving up versus instant gratification? How will it help people whose ambition is ‘to be famous’ accept that unfortunately, their entire class cannot all be the next Katie Price.

So somehow I think we also need to find a way to educate kids that there is more to life than digital options: more than black or white, success or failure. There is the middle ground of contentment. At the least we ought to define ‘success’ slightly differently – as happiness, perhaps? It seems to me that we have a nation of people who aspire to degrees and business and money. Yet again and again, the successful people I meet who are happy are the artisans, engineers … people who MADE stuff. Then again, I suspect, that because the successful people I meet are inventors, the underlying trait in them all is actual brain power rather than education level. Interestingly, most cite things like family, or job satisfaction as s source of happiness, rather than what they earn doing it.

Also, while the world is never fair, I wonder if it would be good, at school, to ask kids this:

Imagine you live in a country where there is a civil war. Imagine what it would be like trying to earn a living, buy food, get an education for your kids, get health care, dental care. As well as that, imagine that in this war torn place, you live in the equivalent of a garden shed, with no heat, no electricity, no running water and you cook on a fire. You walk everywhere because you can’t even afford to buy a bicycle. There’s not much food so you have to grow most of what you eat. You don’t eat meat. A constant supply of eggs is far more valuable than chicken stew for a night. Yet, imagine that among all this, you still have a mobile phone, that you can see the internet, and you see pictures of people in a country where there is no war and even the poorest people earn more in a year than you can imagine earning in a lifetime. They have heat, light, bicycles, cars and free healthcare. They have public transport and free education. And they are complaining that they have nothing and saying they will not work for this unimaginably huge salary they are earning.

What are you going to do when you see that? Well, I don’t know but I imagine you look at that and you think that yes, you could go there, because you have never had a lot of the stuff they take for granted, and you wouldn’t need it. You could live as you are now, but there, saving yourself the cost of the luxuries they assume as their right and happily do those jobs they won’t or can’t do for a profit. I’d guess you’d think, ‘I’ll be minting it!’ Your children would be educated – something you could only dream of where you are. They will learn English, maths and science. They will be able to become something instead of dying in this hut or being drafted into the army and shot in battle before they are twelve.

Now I know life is never fair, but McOther grew up in North America: the US first, for a couple of years, and then Canada. Originally he came from Scotland. In Scotland, McOther’s dad played in a band every night, worked a day job and repaired other people’s washing machines at the weekend while McOther’s mum looked after the kids. Even so, money was still tight. Then, when McOther was ten, someone in a park asked him if he was Catholic or Protestant. He gave the wrong answer and the person smashed a bottle over his head. His parents decided they would move to a place where their kids would get a good education, everyone could afford a car, the standard of living was higher and no-one did that moronic, brainwashed, dickwad sectarian shit.

Does that make them bad people? Wanting a better, safer future for their kids?

I’d say not. They left their home, their family and everything they knew and made a new start. For their kids.

These immigrants aren’t ‘taking our jobs’. They’re doing stuff we refused to do or just weren’t doing – for whatever reason. Maybe, the reason all those Polish plumbers came to Britain was because, after years of Blair, our young people had been taught that they were above going into a trade, so there weren’t enough plumbers in the UK. Back in the late 90s, I lived in East Anglia and if you wanted anything more than small job done, every plumber had a waiting list months long.

People from third world countries can live a lot more frugally than we do, even here, because the stuff we see as our basic right is untold luxury to many of them. Should we blame them that they are able and prepared to work for less, or should we be blaming the businesses who were happy to employ them for those wages? Or should we be blaming ourselves, for insisting on rock bottom prices, for shopping in supermarkets who pay their suppliers less for the goods than they cost to produce. Or a system which thinks that leaving over 70,000 perfectly edible cauliflowers that are too bumpy, too small, or the wrong colour for the supermarkets in a field to rot is a ‘good’ result because a few extra thousand were sold in the ‘knobbly’ range. Perhaps those 70,000 cauliflowers in that one field, multiplied to the power of however many fields of cauliflowers there are, is the difference between the farmer using cheap imported labour and being able to source labour locally, or employ casual labourers. A friend’s son has autism, he finds it very hard to hold down a conventional job but he loved doing casual farm work. He was good at it too. But now there are no jobs for him, the work is contracted out to gangers who provide itinerant labourers from abroad.

So yes, by all means put some limits on immigration but show our kids the value of the freedoms we have, that we take for granted, that these people can only dream of.

Edited to add: Also, right now, there are refugees. We are talking about a situation we haven’t seen since the 1930s. At the moment, if you read up on how we treated Jews, fleeing Nazi persecution and how we are currently treating refugees, our forefathers look a lot more generous of spirit and kindly than we do.

Lastly, shouldn’t be be teaching kids what the world is actually like, and how much stuff actually costs rather than that it’s their oyster?

Should we be teaching our kids that they can’t have it all now? Should we be teaching kids to save up, and ourselves to pay what things actually cost so British workers in the few industries we have left can earn a living wage? And shouldn’t our government be going after the big money: making companies like Google actually pay their tax? And telling people who endorse torture that the British nation does not.

I guess what I’m saying is that maybe education should be a bit less about the facts kids know, and more about what they learn, which, over and above the facts and figures, should be, basically, how to be this bloke.

bethisguy

Picture scrounged from Oldroadapples

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The traditional MTM Christmas Post #scrooge #bahhumbug #chaosfairies #jollyjapes

Well, that’s everything done for another year, despite small scale assistance from the Chaos Fairies. Presents given, card sent … well, OK, they’re sitting in the post box still I expect but I put them in there before Christmas day, on Christmas Eve to be precise, so it’s done.  I even managed to get a newsletter written to go into them, despite 40 minutes of making paper jam until I realised that the printer had eaten the small cloth I use to clean my glasses and it was clogging everything up in there. Well … it is in a rather dark corner, but I did feel very middle aged when finally, with the help of a torch, I discovered the cleaning cloth, which I hadn’t, hitherto, seen, in my defence it was black – despite multiple openings of the printer and inspections of its innards.

To my unbridled delight, the Christmas pop songs in the shops until our ears bleed (from about September) factor has now passed. Let’s listen to the Phil Spectre Christmas Album. Mwahahhahargh! No. Let’s not.

We’re in Scotland this year, which is always a longer visit than when we go to my Mum and Dad so there was even less point in decorating our own home than usual. Even so we put up a tree and in a fit of rare unscrooginess I went and got some of those gel window decorations, you know, like stained glass: two reindeer, two snowmen, two Santas and two er … penguins? Mmm. First window done, and with a snowman on the second only half complete the cat had already eaten one of the Santa’s hands and a leg. I had to guard them jealously after that but apart from a brief run in, during which one of the penguins nearly lost his feet, they have survived. Note to self, might not do this next year.

The journey to Scotland passed uneventfully enough, although there was some massive rain and we drove through some of the biggest puddles ever! Much to McMini’s joy as it does all fly up well if you trundle through at speed – aka hit an unexpectedly deep one. We did some last minute shopping, sent the last cards and then I managed to drop my mobile phone down the toilet. Sadly this was as I stood up to flush. On the up side, no number twos were involved. I grabbed it out of the loo yes my desperation not to spend £500 on a new smartphone was enough for me to plunge my hand into a loo full of wee without a thought. I suppose my Dad has weed over my feet enough times, during loo assists, for me not to care any more. I did run the phone under the tap in case the wee was corrosive. Then I took it to bits and laid it on a paper towel over the radiator to dry.

After borrowing a phone from McDad in-law, I then took McMini to one of the best Christmas Even Christingle services I have ever been to. Hello to all at Melrose Episcopalian Church, thank you for that. Basically, short prayers to begin and end and a strong onus on learning through play: a dimly lit church, plus torches for the children, a hunt for a selection of knitted crib figures, ‘I need you to look for Joseph and Mary now … yes … they are both wearing skirts … well, every marriage is different.’

It was a very amusing script which made all the main points without labouring them and was delivered very well by a bloke who looked and sounded like he was Armstrong – or is it Millar’s? cousin. Even better there were loads of kids, far more kids than adults. McMini had a gas and so did I, especially singing the Calypso Carol which I haven’t sung since I was in the school choir aged 10! Mwah hahaahrgh! Ah memories. It was even warm in there, too.

Church ticked off our list, it was back to check on the phone. I took a bit more of the back off and discovered a few more patches of ‘water’ which I dried off. But luckily the main foreign body present appeared to be pocket lint: still dry. I need a smart phone because I have to be able to run secret squirrel dual authentication on my parent’s internet banking app. I do need a new one, and I’m saving up and will have the money in a few months but it isn’t there now. So I really didn’t want to shell out for a new phone, or even buy a £20 cheapy one. So I waited, with every appendage crossed and hoped that my phone would survive it’s excremental dunking.

Probably the best present of all, for me, was the moment when, late on Christmas Day, I put my phone back together, powered it up and … it worked.

However, the whole episode made me think of a TV programme I watched a couple of years ago, when they were talking about the kind of yuck you find on every day items. They took swabs. The results were gross. My wee phone, which actually really is a wee phone, now, in the truly urinous sense of the word, would clearly have had them all gagging.

I have to report that it was only 24 hours before I said ‘aye’ for the first time instead of yes.

Afore I go, if you’re looking for interesting books, I wanted to give you the heads up about a promo that’s currently running over at sci fi author Patty Jansen’s site. Basically, Patty has noticed that there are a lot of authors out there who are struggling. Perhaps, it’s because, as she herself points out, when life is tough, often, one of the few ways a person can still earn is through writing.

The books are all full price in this one – although ‘full’ in most cases is still excellent value for money – there’s a giveaway to win one of Patty’s books and there’s a donate button which is the main point, as she is using those donations to give grants to authors who are struggling financially.

So far I haven’t read all of the books but the ones I have read have been excellent, so if you think you’d like a look, or think you would like to recommend you can find it here:

christmaspromo

And that’s it. Merry Christmas and all that malarky.  I hope your festive period has been eventful and fun – in the right way. I see that Death Year 2016 is doing it’s best to carry off as many people before it ends – although deaths peak at this time of year, anyway. Good riddance to it, anyway. Here’s to 2017. All the best to everyone and may the phone of your endeavours never fall into the lavatory bowl of failure.

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Evolved or spun? Meet my shorts. Born Free: news, views and free books … #giveaway #sffbooks

First of all, thanks to everyone who responded – in the comments or by email – to my rant last week. My folks are a lot better, which is heartening, and their new boiler is fitted. Things are calm for the moment, although I’ll probably have to try and get them to a funeral some time in the next couple of weeks. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I also did reasonably well at the Bury Christmas Fayre this year, in fact I ran out of copies of Few Are Chosen, which was a good predicament to be in but also a bit annoying. I did £470 over three days, £12 more than I did on my best year, in two, but a full £170 more than last year – although they hadn’t put me next to a stall selling brand new, best selling kids and teen books for £1 a pop this year, which was a relief.

There has been more time to reflect over my life and career this week, to, and I am feeling on a slightly more even keel. I have stepped down as editor of the parish mag, freeing up a minimum of seven hours a month and after Roughseas’ question in response to my last post, I started a short story to explain exactly how Betsy Coed did end up running the Bordello on Turnadot Street. Amazingly, it’s moving along nicely and I now have a princely 4009 words in the bag – only 16,000 to go then. Not so bad; if I keep up progress at this rate, it’ll be done in 4 weeks. It won’t, of course, but I will be done a lot quicker than I usually am and might even manage to squidge a second in before the summer holidays begin.

At the same time, the longer stuff has started moving again, so I’ve written a couple of thousand words of the work in progress, too – which is the first in a series and not set in K’Barth. However, I have made the usual discovery, a third in, that what I’m really writing is book two. So I’ve had to take stock a bit, go back and start book 1.

Isn’t it bizarre? Nothing has changed, I’m still trying to write a mix of full length novels and, in an ideal world, some shorter stories to go with. However, instead of seeing it like that, I’ve simply switched priorities, put the short stories as the priority and the novels on the ‘in an ideal world’ back burner, swapped a difficult goal for an easy one. The result? Suddenly I’ve made more progress on both in a week than I have in the preceding two months! So it just goes to show how important it is to look at things in the right way – or perhaps, that I’m so credulous that I can even do spin and puff on myself! Or possibly CBT.

Anyway, a propos of the shorts, I’d really appreciate your help with something. If you have a burning question about K’Barth, the back story to the series, the back story to the characters, anything characters do ‘off stage’ over the story line of the series, can you let me know what it is in the comments? I will then answer it, using the medium of the short story, because a few questions will really help to get this kickstarted.

Second thing, I am taking part in a giveaway this month. A group of science fiction and fantasy authors have got together and we are all giving our books away for free. You don’t have to sign up to anyone’s mailing list or jump through any hoops, AND you don’t have to be tied to one particular book retailer. You can go to the page for your favourite retailer and download the books that interest you.

To find out more, just click on this smashing graphic, here.

pattyjansenpromodec16

 

 

 

 

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