Tag Archives: K’Barthan Series

Weird things …

It’s been an interesting week this week. I did a lot of writing and discovered that I’ve spent the last three weeks going in the wrong direction. After that I went back to what I thought was square one and off in another direction, only to discover that was wrong, too. So now it’s back to another point where it went wrong. It feels right this time, though so I think it probably is and of the binned scenes, it’s probably the outcome of second one that’s right with a kind of mash up of the two beforehand.

So now I’ve managed about 800 words in what looks like it’s the right direction. I might have to sit down and do a time line or just work out how many plot threads I have before I go on though because it seems to be getting a bit hectic. And I so want the gunfight in the balloon factory where the helium canisters start leaking. I suspect I’m losing my grip on it because of the Mum thing, in which case, I need to make some kind of timeline/table of what happens when so I can lean on that and write it by numbers. Right now though, I’m just really enjoying writing it. Also, I’ve found a tracer I put in The Last Word that I’d forgotten about. I think I can use that to make it into something a bit longer, just another 12k or so to get it novella length.

I have also made a start on cataloguing my massive collection of sci-fi tat! That’s five items done so far. More on that story … next week … probably.

Other news, I’m going to be putting my author hat on (more on that story, in a moment) and going to two events this year to flog books. The first is St Albans comic-con in July, the second; Norcon (Norwich) in September. Several of us in my local authors’ group have booked a table so we can share the work, cover loo breaks and that kind of stuff. Also it’s much easier waxing lyrical about someone else’s books other than one’s own.

While we were discussing it a few weeks back the topic of cosplay came up.

Cosplay anyone? Er … no.

When people go to conventions, quite a lot of them dress up as their favourite sci-fi character. We discussed who we could be and whether going as characters from our books would be fun. The first question to me was, ‘Are you going as full Lord Vernon?’ Mwahahahargh!

Sadly, though I’m sorely tempted, I felt that the green face paint involved was probably a step too far. And suede gloves in July. A Big Merv-style suit with a light blue pinstripe was an option but it might make me look more like The Doctor.

The face is wrong but the hat’s right. Big Merv isn’t big enough either Mwahahahrg!

That left The Pan of Hamgee. He is my favourite character, except when I prefer one of the others, because they’re like kids. It’s hard to pick one. He also wears a hat, which is nice and distinctive; a cross between a Mel and Kim hat and a Zorro hat. Like Zorro he also wears a cloak, but it’s ankle length—unlike 1960s Zorro … although, did the Antonio Banderas version have a long cloak? Maybe he did. I can’t remember, anyway, onwards. The Pan wears a velvet jacket—I’m thinking the kind of gothic brass buttoned number you might have seen on members of Pink Floyd in the 1960s—and obviously the canvas jeans and elastic-sided boots. How much of this shizz do I have? Oh look! Everything except the hat!

Woot.

Hang on though.Does it fit?

… No. Not even the cloak.

Now what?

Go shopping of course.

First the shirt. Since my enormous, post baby, H-Cup boobs are too big to jemmy into any of my old shirts, I started with that. There are three vintage clothing shops in town, I found it at the second. It’s not quite as virulent as I’d hoped and it’s not silk, because silk paisley shirts are about 200 quid, but it’s dark blue cotton and perfectly good for this. If I find another one somewhere, I’ll buy that. In the meantime, job done I’d say. Next, I have the jeans and I also have some suede, elstic-sided boots. The most comfortable pair for a warm day is pink, which is the best that I can do.

Next … the hat.

Until I was about 40 I used to wear a hat every day. Usually a fedora, a wide brimmed trilby or a straw boater in the summer. I especially liked the hats worn by two stars called Mel and Kim in the 1980s but never bought one when they were ‘in’ and kicked myself for ever after.

However, a few years later at the Spanish/French border, I saw something very similar in the gift shop. I was on a coach trip and it was just a bathroom break so there wasn’t time to buy one—and they were too expensive anyway—but I did now know that Mel and Kim wore Spanish Flamenco Hats. Clearly then, since there is more than a hint that the original Zorro was hispanic, the Spanish Flamenco Hat would be the place to start.

A rigorous search on t’interweb revealed that yes there are such things and you can actually have one made for you for 120 Euros! Or you can buy one for 50 Euros. They were pretty much right but I couldn’t find a company that would ship to the UK … because bloody Brexit. Ugh. On the up side, there is a type of riding display where the horsemen and women wear these hats and there are sites selling them to horse people.

So then I thought what about Portugal … I mean, Britain’s oldest ally at 600 years and there’s the port logo right? The police officers mention that in The Wrong Stuff. So I googled, Portuguese traditional hat, and one of the things that came up was this. Oh my lord! Perfect. Even better it was a shade over 30 Euros from a Portuguese riding shop.

Yep. This, my friends, is a Bolero, one of the traditional hats of Portugal. It is also the hat worn by the geezer on the Sandyman port logo and the hat of choice if you want to look like Lee Van Cleef, or even Clint Eastwood, in The Good The Bad and The Ugly. Those are traditional Portuguese cowboy hats … totally different to the Texan thing, y’all but very much what you see them wear in the films.

Yeh. Well … the hat helps a lot. That’s the shirt.

Interestingly, while I was researching all of this, I discovered why the Sandyman port geezer has a cloak as well as a hat. This is not because he’s a cowboy—though a cloak would be practical to keep you and the horse warm and dry, Drizabone style. Nope. The Sandyman geezer is just a student. Mwahahahrgh! That hat and cloak is what Portuguese students wore when the logo was designed. They still do at some universities. I suspect the public image of port has altered somewhat since then, either that or students weren’t perennially brassic the way they are now.

Plastic loo-seat-shaped hat preserver.

It arrived in a huge box and since I was buying the hat I also bought a thing that looks like a clear plastic loo seat which keeps it flat and in shape … see below.

The correct way to wear it if you’re Portuguese is tilted to the left, if you are a British lady you’re supposed to tilt it to the right. I think I’ll wear mine going left the Portuguese way from now on.

I love that by pure happenstance The Pan’s father, the original owner of his cloak and hat—and lecturer at the University of Hamgee—turns out to have dressed as a Portuguese student. It kind of works too becuase in my mind’s eye, The Pan was always olive skinned until his blood went blue.

Other interesting factoid. Blood in its natural state actually IS blue at some stages in its journey round the body. It’s only when it hits the air and oxygenates that it goes red.

So there we are. Funny what you find out isn’t it?

On a different note …

If you’ve stumbled on this page looking for information about hats and are now wondering who on earth all these imaginary people are well … there are some books about that and they don’t even all cost money. Feel free to read one of the free ones if you’d like to give them a try. You can find a list of them, with links to buy them from the major stores, and mine, at the end of this smashing link here:

MTM’s Books

Or you can sign up to my mailing list and grab Night Swimming for free here:

Night Swimming

 

 

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Filed under General Wittering

This week I am mostly … wittering

So a quiet one this week. I’ve been trying to finish off some of the admin. I’m getting there but rather slowly. Big pluses this week, I have done my tax return! Woot. It’s always a weight off when I finish that. It was made easier this year by the fact I started getting the information together a while back and so I’d collated the various bits of paper I need.

The hardest thing is that originally, when I did my tax, I would have a four page short form which I’d fill out and send in. I just declared how much I’d earned, how much I’d spent and then any income from bank accounts and shares. Now that I do an online return, I have to fill in the long tax form, which appears to be written in a cross between legalese and accountant speak. Jeepers. Even the simple stuff is complicated. Where it was profits, turnover and loss it’s now turnover and ‘allowed expenses’.

Expenses used to be extra things you could claim, for example if you bought a computer you could spread the cost as a loss over three years and that was a business expense.

Now, I don’t actually know if the ‘expenses’ it’s talking about are business expenses, or the day-to-day costs of running the business. I’m allowed legal fees and accountancy fees but is paying my cover designer an ‘allowed expense’? I dunno. Everything is so much more complicated. Thank you, Gordon Brown, for mushrooming the amount of tax law from one weighty tome to an entire fucking truckload of weighty tomes.

Bastard.

Onwards and upwards.

As a person with discalculia, numbers are extremely difficult for me. We are talking wading miles up to your neck in treacle. Weirdly, I actually have some scientific and mathematical pragmatism and logic but numbers themselves are grey and amorphous. There is nothing to cling onto. I get zero intellectual traction.

Words are like bright sparks, glittering and zipping down my neural pathways at the speed of light. I can feel the tiny nuances in meaning between them. Words are sparkling, and razor sharp and glittery and accurate. Numbers are grey and insubstantial with nothing to hold onto, or they are cloying and impenetrable, like slime; thick grey slime. Words … if I hear a word for the first time in my own language, I know instinctively what it means. Numbers are drab and faceless, the dementors of my intelligence, their meanings unknown to me, their messages scrambled or parsed in a code to which I have no key. They’re like a foreign language but there is no dictionary and I lack the intellectual capacity to discern them without one.

It’s important that I take numbers very slowly, to the point where it might be close to retardation. My mind and thought processes are usually quite quick, so my incapacity it makes me feel very stupid. It would be good to be bright and not … stupid. No wonder so many of us dyslexics are chippy about our intelligence.

Put that next to the knowledge that, if I get this wrong, I’ll go to prison and obviously it’s a recipe for a neurotic hissy fit and stress fest!

Seriously though, I go through these pages and pages of questions just thinking, I have no idea what this means, I’ll leave it blank. Although I reckon if they are questions I can’t begin to comprehend, they’re probably not asking something that applies to me. Gulp.

One particular joy is that we have to declare all our foreign earnings. We have some foreign unit trusts or something and I have to declare the few quid a year I earn which are ploughed back into them. I suspect individuals such as myself are not the type of people for which this section was added. I have also told myself that I will definitely, definitely file the current year’s return as soon after 6th April as I can. Except that was what I vowed last year and here I am, filing it in during January when the do by date is 31st … then again, they’ve extended it to Feb so in theory I’m a month early. Ooo now there’s a result.

Obviously, once I have got used to it, I can fill it in much faster and I’m much more confident. However, they rephrase all the questions and change the entire form EVERY. FUCKING. YEAR. Ugh.

Next up on the admin list is to try and confirm when Mum last did a tax return. I have a vague clue but not a massive one although I think I’m homing in on that gradually. We have to dispose of Mum’s stocks and shares now because there aren’t enough of them for it to be a sound investment strategy. The balance will go into a high interest account and fund her care while we arrange to borrow a yearly sum for care fees against the house. In the UK healthcare is free unless you have dementia, in which case, you have to bankrupt yourself. When you get down to your last £23k, except it’s not really £23k it’s actually £14k, the local authority will step in to help rather than the NHS. If you’re lucky, you may end up in a decent care home. If you live in an area where there are more demented people than care home places then it’s either up to your relatives to look after you, or if they are busy doing things like jobs to pay their rent and feed their families, you get four twenty minute visits a day to serve you meals and help you dress and undress.

Mum’s local authority are very good. They were great with Dad, but even so … I hope the house is worth enough to last her out.

I was thinking about dementia, obviously, with the life I live (Thanks God, you utter, utter git.) I think about dementia quite a lot. Mum’s is different from Dad’s. Well obviously because Mum is different from Dad. That’s the thing of course, every individual is different so each person’s dementia attacks them in a different way. I guess there are general pointers which allow folks who know what they are doing to work out exactly what stage the person with dementia is at. It’s handy to have a handle on that when it comes to planning care and anticipating whether to ease off or step it up.

My grandmother ended up lying in bed for a year. She was totally unresponsive and Mum said that she used to go visit once a week. She’d just sit there holding her mother’s hand and cry. Apparently the sister in the home was lovely and used to tell Mum that it was alright and reassure her that my grandmother was different – in a good way – after her visits.

I could see Mum going that way, herself. If she did, I’m not so sure I’d mind so much. Surely it’d be better than the torment Dad endured on his darker days, wouldn’t it? I’d read to her I think. Whodunnits, or books that I knew she’d enjoyed like the Children of the New Forest, and Ballet Shoes. Or the Romany books.

On a happier note. My cousin came over this week and we took Mum out to lunch at the pub round the corner. She wasn’t in the best of form but the visit went well and my cousin had some prints of the school I grew up in which she offered to my brother and I, but I don’t think he was interested, which was handy as I’m very pleased with them.

Said cousin also kindly gave me a print of a portrait of my … I dunno how many times great grandfather who started a newspaper called Bell’s Weekly messenger. See picture. He looks worryingly like Fraser from Dad’s Army. I believe he’s responsible for initiating the use of the double s—before that they used an f. But that might have been his father. I get muddled because there were two John Bells in a row.

Even though he is wearing the most magnificent Dickensian coat—of which I am extremely jealous—I am fully expecting him to step out of the print and tell me I’m doomed.

Extra bonus content was a book of poetry by my great grandmother which I think might be termed as ‘sentimental’. It’s sort of good and also sort of hilarious, bless her. She clearly travelled to India and Kashmir and found it hauntingly beautiful. I can’t wait to show it to my Aunt, who grew up in India. I think she might appreciate the descriptions and find the sentimentality as amusing as I do, but at the same time, I think I could get away with us having a giggle about it without being disloyal.

I was going out to the theatre yesterday evening so McOther and I decided to have our big meal midday and we went out to lunch to a noodle bar in town.

What is it with people, though? We arrived early and there were only a couple of diners in there, one sitting at a table one side, by the window, the others sitting about ten feet away, at a table that was also by the window but on the other side. We sat further in, near the wall.

While we were there, four more groups came in to eat. One sat on the table right behind me, although that was still a good three feet away from ours. Another sat at the table right behind McOther which was also three or four feet away. Neither was too close but, at the same time, they could have sat a bit further away.

Finally, as we were just finishing our plates of noodles, and enormous Dodge Ram wanker-tanker pulled up outside. It backed up, parking across the drive of the house next door and a family got out. It looked like husband and wife with granny and young daughter. They were all quite big, which, presumably is why the four of them had to arrive a vehicle about the same size as some of the smaller-sized buses operating in the UK — although it probably does fewer miles to the gallon.

The presence of the daughter, who could have been anywhere between about four and seven, was notable, in that she should have been in school unless she’d had special dispensation, or was unwell. She proceeded to demonstrate that she was, indeed, unwell by producing a wracking cough, you know, the sort of thing you usually hear from people who have spent the last 40 years smoking sixty a day.

Clearly the little girl was off school, recovering from a chest infection, or possibly, judging by the sound of her cough, pneumonia.

There’s no way the kid had the Rona, nobody would be that thoughtless, but in these dodgy times, someone who is clearly off school sick, coughing as if they are suffering from TB is always going to be a bit disconcerting. Bearing that in mind, when it’s me, I will always be a bit embarrassed about it and sit a long way from anyone else, I was kind of expecting them to choose one of the empty tables away from other diners.

Maybe they’d had it up to their eyeballs with people looking askance at their coughing kid, I dunno. But they came over as very concerned that they should be allowed to exercise their own freedoms and rights but at the same time, not remotely bothered if exercising their rights and freedoms came at the expense of other people’s — parking across someone’s drive because it wasn’t illegal and nothing said they couldn’t, for example.

The restaurant contained about ten or fifteen empty tables. Including the other half of ours. Our table was the end of a table for six, comprising a four seater and a two seater, and it had been turned into a two seater by being pulled about six inches away from the other one.

Did the new arrivals go for the social distancing option and choose one of the empty tables that were a decent distance away?

No.

Of course they fucking didn’t.

They came and sat next to us. On the four person bit of our six person table. Right hugga-mugga pretty much on top of us. The daughter barking like a sea lion all the while as they took their places. I was fully expecting to see the poor kid’s lungs land in her noodles.

Not that we stayed that long. We made a very, very swift exit. But instead of enjoying the rest of our noodles and then sitting for a bit with our cups of jasmin tea, we shovelled them in as fast as we could, knocked the tea back and legged it for the door.

To be honest, these folks were clearly completely oblivious. The kid probably just had asthma. The hospital’s not far away, maybe she’d just been seeing the specialist, who know. I’m not blaming them. Folks pull this shit all the time.

However, it did get me wondering why we are such herd animals. It’s a bit like that thing when you park in an empty car park and return to your car to find that there are now two cars parked in the car park, and the other is next to yours, and parked so close that you can’t open the fucking door to get in. What is it about we humans that means we have to all huddle together in a crowd? To the point where it’s bloody irritating.

Why, in a restaurant with about seventy covers, did three quarters of the diners decide to huddle in a close knit group round our table? I have no clue. I am always one to find an empty space, if only so we can relax and converse unheard. The rest of them? It’s like they wanted us to listen.

Finally to round off the week, the theatre performance I went to was Jenny Eclair’s new show, Sixty FFS which was hilarious. I bought the last two tickets in the house for a friend and myself, in separate boxes one each side of the theatre. Then the booking office rang us and asked if they could change the tickets so we were in the same box, which was ace.

Jenny was absolutely as funny and as outrageous as I expected. She was particularly funny about post operation constipation – which is a factor of the painkillers (for more on that story, go here). She was also very funny about Nordic walking poles – we all end up using them because we’re arthritic – and she showed off her gilet ‘I bought it in yellow to go with my teeth.’

If it’s on near you and there are any tickets left. Go! It’s hilarious.

Oh and I’ve even done a bit of work on Misfit 5. Woot.

All in all, then, a moderately successful week.

And now for something completely different.

As per last week, another quick reminder about freebies and cheapies available from my fabulous portfolio of literature.

The Christmas story is still up for grabs, also, the audiobook versions of Few Are Chosen and Small Beginnings are down to 99c on Apple, Chirp, Kobo and my own Store. To find an information page, with links to buy, or to download The Christmas One, just click on one of these links:

Few Are Chosen (remember it’s Kobo, My Store, Chirp and Apple the other stores still have it at£7.99)

Small Beginnings (this one is free on my store but 99c/99p on Kobo, Chirp and Apple.

The Christmas One This one’s an ebook, obviously. Gareth is currently performing in Worms (snortle) but there is an audiobook scheduled for late February.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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Filed under General Wittering

I ai’tn’t dead … honest.

Although I can forgive you for thinking I might have been because, I concede, it’s been ages since I’ve had time to write the blog. I’ve had to keep dropping it in favour of writing for Nano – which I ‘won’ – or doing other things. I even had two posts ready to go but ran out of time to upload photos and then didn’t post them. They’re a bit out of date now although I might post the one about NanoWriMo  midweek just coz … you know … I can.

Truth be told, it was my own fault. I stymied myself completely by ensuring that I’ve not a single clear day in the three weeks running up to Christmas. That wasn’t a good idea. My recent writing deadline of 15k words in three weeks has fallen by the wayside at 5k. Then again that is 5k I wouldn’t have written otherwise and I achieved it in 5 of the 15 days so I’ll take that.

Thursday: I should have realised things might not go the way I planned when I discovered, while having a mid-morning wee, that I was wearing my knickers inside out. No time to change them so inside out they remained. All day. Nice. I’d arranged to go round to a friend’s house for lunch and I discovered, to my complete and utter horror, that I needed to bring some food. This, at a point when the only cooking slot available was just before I set off. So no writing that morning either!

On the up side, once I’d finally got my head round the idea that everyone had volunteered to bring things, I was left with the something sweet brief. Easy, I would make chocolate log, except I’d make the ‘log’ into buns and ice them with a lovely piped rosette of chocolate icing. Mmmmm.

Luckily, it was McMini’s last day of term so we were all up early and the mixer was droning away in the conservatory, with the door shut because it’s a bit noisy sometimes, before McMini even departed for school at 8.10 or at least 8.25 because McMini’s interpretation of time is somewhat elastic. He is a teenager after all.

Talking of McMini, he is still hilarious. I sent him off to get a tea light the other day to go in the lamp on the table which we light at supper. We have three bags of the damn things, but two have been put away by McOther who has no idea where they are and, since they’ve been put away by him in a ‘logical’ place, the likelihood of my ever finding them is, frankly, remote. Luckily I’d bought a big bag a few days previously and kept hold of them in my office so I told McMini where to find them; on the floor by my desk.

The next time we needed one, I said, ‘Remember that you’ve already torn one side of the bag to shreds and turned it over to make it look as if it wasn’t you, so please don’t rip the other side open as well.’

He looked at me with a certain amount of horror the more than a hint of admiration and shock, as if I’d just seen into his very soul.

‘Blimey Mum, I swear you are telepathic or something. How on earth do you know I did that?’

I glanced over at McOther who had a huge grin on his face because he knew the answer, and then back to McMini who was still wearing an expression of complete disbelief.

‘It’s because the genes are very strong, and it’s the sort of thing I would have done,’ I told him.

The discussion then went on to how he was doomed because there was so much of my side of the house in him. Although luckily he doesn’t suffer from discalculia and has a science brain so he won’t have to go through his entire life trying to do arts with a science brain that he can’t use because he can’t speak maths, and being told how thick he is.

Result.

Back to the cakes. I put them into cup cake cases and didn’t bother neatening them up much because the mixture normally kind of … settles in the oven so they look normal. Needless to say, this one time, when I came to get them out of the oven, I discovered that they hadn’t settled and were still as lumpy and strange as they had been when I put them in.

Arse.

Never mind, I can do piping quite well so I reckoned I could squeesh a rosette of icing onto the top of each one, throw on a few chocolate stars, dust it with icing sugar and the irregularity of the buns underneath would be well hidden.

Next stop, while the buns were cooling, make the icing. This was butter, cocoa powder, icing sugar and a little milk. That done, I spooned it all into the piping bag. Buns now cool, I approached the first one, held the bag over it and squeezed. Nothing came out of the nozzle but big brown poo-like gushes of icing oozed out of the seam in a kind of star shape, landing randomly everywhere.

picture of untidy kitchenAh.

That wasn’t how I expected it to go.

The oozing was somehow extremely comic to watch, so of course now I was laughing.

On my own.

In the kitchen.

With a piping bag that appeared to have many extra orifices, all of which were producing something brown and very poo-like in consistency, apart from the one in the nozzle, as if they were the arse end of one of those poodles that shivers a lot.

For a moment I wondered if I should be asking myself some serious questions about my sanity but then I realised that if I was going to get to lunch with my mates at 12.30, I really didn’t have the time.

Onwards and upwards.

Nothing for it then. I turned out the lump of icing, scraped off the bit so f the icing bag that had dissolved and stuck to the outside. Oh dear, that left a lot less icing. Never mind, I washed the bag and threw it in the bin. Why did I wash it first? No clue. There you go.

Taking the pallet knife I smeared icing onto the cakes, but they wouldn’t stay still so the first problem was that my fingers got covered in icing and because of that, the lovely white pristine cup cake cases got covered in icing too.

That done I stood back to have a look. Oh dear. Something about the marks the pallet knife had left didn’t work for brown icing. In fact it made the cakes look like licked turds. Oops. Not the vibe I was going for.

Time for plan … heaven knows, I was probably onto about Plan F by this time, A, B, C, D and E having failed comprehensively. I got a fork and distressed the tops of the cakes so they looked sort of spiky. That was a bit better. Next I got a sieve and some icing sugar and sieved it over the top of them. That was a lot better until I dropped the sieve on the cakes, followed by the palette knife, and then had to do it again.

cakes in a plastic box that looks like abs

Some of the Cakes, this box is called ‘the abs’ although it’s more … the sumo.

Next I put some stars on them and some chocolate popping candy which neither popped nor tasted of chocolate before putting them into various tupperware boxes. Needless to say, we lack the right sized box to put all the cakes in one so they were added to several different lunch boxes in groups of anything from two to seven. Standing back to admire my handiwork I dropped one of the boxes, resulting in my having to return to square one with the fork fluffing and icing sugar sprinkling.

Head desk, or to be accurate; head counter-top.

On the upside, I did manage to get to my friend’s house with some of the cakes and arrived just as she was sorting out an electrical problem with her toaster. Too many crumbs in the bottom coupled with the fact a stray blini that she was toasting had somehow got across the divide so it was completing the circuit between some of the wires in a way that was not conducive to the happiness of either the toaster or the electrical system of the house. They’re buggers like that, blinis.

We had a wonderful lunch. I ate too much and the three of us consumed two bottles of wine. It was a few minutes before I left for home that I ran one hand across my face and a large lump of chocolate icing appeared on one finger. Turned out it had been hanging from one eyebrow like some giant clagg. Nice.

Thinking about it, I suspect it did me good to walk home in the fresh air. I finished the day feeling very tired, although the fact I went to bed at ridiculous o’clock the previous night and, indeed, had done all week probably contributed to that as much as the wine.

As it was McMini’s last day at school there was that magic moment at the end of the day which I always treasure, when I switch the 7.00 am alarm off on my phone. Sure I get two hours less in the day but lordy me I need the sleep! I’m at the horrible time in the month when I sleep really badly but mainly because I sleep too lightly rather than because I don’t sleep at all. As a result, a couple of extra hours in bed is a tonic.

The next blog post will be Christmas Day and I will be releasing a Christmas story for you all to read. Although clearly, since it’s K’Barth, it won’t be a Christmas Day story exactly, it’ll be about The Prophet’s Birthday, but that’s kind of the same thing.

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

It’s called The Last Word … I think, although I’m also tempted by Trouble Afoot: Parrot Abroad, then again, I could use that as the subtitle quite happily. And I’ve sort of done a cover … just. In the end, after three years of not having a clue, I decided to learn to use my iPad and iPencil to draw something. Woah. So that was fun and although it’s still a bit half cock – a lot cock really – it will do until I can get my lovely friends at A Trouble Halved to design one properly … for now.

This is the short 10k version which I wrote for an anthology in the same manner as Nothing To See Here – same anthology too. In this case though, the anthology was never produced so I have it knocking about. As I did with the anthology version of Nothing To See Here, I have expansion plans for this one so it will become another novella – it’s 12k already. I might also, possibly use it as a mailing list exclusive for the series I’m writing now about how Betsy Coed’s guest house ended up becoming a brothel. Alternatively, if it takes ages to finish Misfit Five I’ll switch to this one, finish it and release it in February or March 2022 so that something comes out next year.

The Betsy story will take me ages because that’s a massive sweeping epic but I’m really enjoying writing it. Lots of new characters or at least bit people out of the other books. Doing the Pratchett take-a-sub-character-and-focus-in technique. Oh alright, attempting it, not doing it per se. Big Merv’s in it though and Trev is so lovely. I hadn’t realised until I started to write this one what an absolute sweetie he is. We find out a lot about him because he’s one of the main characters.

Talking about Misfit Five, or at least, I was a couple of paragraphs back, it’s coming on nicely. I have just shy of 65k of it at the moment although I’m thrashing with the wobbly middle before I can get the end done.

To my unfettered joy, I think it’s going involve a fight in a balloon warehouse full of helium canisters. I have warned Gareth because it seemed only fair.  Someone’s going to see the gas canisters and smack the end off one or shoot it thinking that it’s H rather than He and that it’ll blow everyone up, but instead it won’t and they’ll all end up speaking in very high voices like the Chipmunks or Pinky and Perky (depending on your age and country of origin). Obviously I’m looking forward to writing that bit immensely. There will be one cannister of hydrogen – or oxyacetylene, or something else flammable – because the warehouse must blow up. After all, you can’t go wrong with a good fireball and also I have this mental picture of The Pan and two other characters he’s working with walking out of the flames with a bag of Goojan spiced sausages. Thank you diddly guitar bit at the beginning of Coldplay’s ‘Slow It Down’ for that image!

The Hamgeean Misfit series is also turning into a bit more of an epic than I intended as The Pan gets inexorably drawn into Big Merv’s organisation and gets more and more trapped, while the net tightens around him from the other direction as it were, as Lord Vernon increases in power and influence.

There are only going to be six books in it too, because the way the relationship between Big Merv and The Pan is developing is not something I can string out much longer than that. Not if his fear of The Big Thing in Few Are Chosen is going to make any sense. What is fun about that though, is giving the low down on what Big Merv thinks. The Pan is so scared of Big Merv that somehow the idea that he really likes The Pan but is stern and bluff and that because of this, The Pan, mister zero confidence, doesn’t realise, actually works.

It’s weird. One of the things I really enjoy about writing is not really knowing where it’s going to go and the interesting journey involved in finding out. Somehow, I’ve managed to relax with that over the last eighteen months or so. I’m just taking my time and enjoying what I’m working on. Although I’ve resolved that I must finish the 5th Misfit before I work on anything else. The way my year tends to pan out, the release window is May at the latest, after that, it becomes summer holidays, there are trips abroad and then in September every single piece of admin I have to take care of comes up all at once. So basically, if I miss getting it to the editor before April, it doesn’t get released until the next year.

Also, while it’s nice having lots in progress it’s a shame if there’s nothing actually finished. And I want to release something each year which means Misfit 5 for 2022. But the fact I took a little longer over Too Good To Be True and let it rest before I published left me with a way, way better book.  Therefore, Misfit 5 has got to be done by the end of February if I stand a realistic chance.

If push comes to shove, next year, I’ll finish off The Last Word, publish that in March and do Misfit 5 later on in May or June. After that it’s summer holidays and I can’t write or work until October/November and then only if I completely ignore Christmas like I have this year! Mwahahahrgh! That suits me but probably isn’t quite so great every year.

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Filed under About My Writing, audio publishing, General Wittering

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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Filed under General Wittering

Yikes …

An eventful one this week. It’s the summer holidays so pretty much anything except admin and Mum stuff has gone out of the window because all three of us are off. Instead we are Doing Things. Well … a bit.

This week McMini gamely came to Mum’s with me and we had a lovely lunch. Duck confit salad (om-nom-nom) and she was in great form. The lovely gardener was there too, one of his first days back after a long illness and a really tough time. He joined us and ate his packed lunch while we ate ours.

However, on the journey down we saw something that shook us a bit. A few miles out from the Dartford Bridge there’s a junction to Southend, I think it’s number 30, I’m not sure. The penultimate one in the stack, anyway – the other side of the Bridge they start at one. There was quite a bit of traffic and I was in the outside/fast lane, in a long, long queue of cars going at a steady 70 past a bunch of other cars and lorries going slower.

As we passed the Southend junction, a purple Mazda 2 came flying across three lanes of traffic and tucked into the fast lane in front of a grey Jaguar. There are four lanes there. The Jag was about to overtake a car that was going quite slowly in lane three and it looked as if there were about fifteen feet between the Jag and the car it was overtaking when the Mazda barged through this very small gap at speed.

What the actual f***?

The Jag driver was irritated, and as soon as both of them were past the car in lane 3 he undertook the Mazda and pulled a similar stunt, cutting in a few feet in front of the other driver in a there!-see-how-you-like-it gesture. The young man in the Mazda (I’m afraid it’s always a young man) then completely lost his biscuits. He tried to return the compliment but didn’t have enough grunt to undertake in the room available. He pulled in behind the Jag and drove up close on to the Jaguar’s back bumper, hanging out a bit, as if that was going to help him get past.

Just to go off on a tangent slightly, you do this because a) if they get past they may suddenly swerve in front of you and stop dead, causing you to run into them b) they might do the same thing but with a view to boxing you in, giving themselves time to either reverse their car into yours and smash it, or to get out of their car and smash you before you have time to reverse and escape. Or c) when they get alongside you they might try to side-swipe you or run you off the road. Amazing as it may seem, I have seen all of these things attempted on the UK road network. There are some very angry young men out there and sometimes, just noticing that a woman is driving a car they consider unsuitable for females – or simply being overtaken by a female (even as part of a long stream of other traffic) – is enough to set them off.

After a quarter of a mile or so, the Mazda driver suddenly broke left, swerved through three lanes of traffic, gunned it up lane one, the slow lane, in a few empty yards between lorries and then piled across three more lanes, but he still failed to pull in ahead of the guy in the Jag. By this point I had started to leave a gap so that if they hit each other or stopped in the fast lane to have a pagga, I had time to stop. They continued with the argy bargy but a giant flabby Range Rover drifted into my lane so I couldn’t see much of their antics, only that the Mazda had swerved back across the other three lanes into lane one again, presumably having another go at getting past. Meanwhile the Jag was doing what any self respecting motorist does when presented with an insane nutter, you keep them behind you.

An Arnold's Produce van.
Some traffic yesterday. Not on the M25 clearly, coz I couldn’t stop.

Since the Jag driver was now fleeing for their life, both cars were doing well above the speed limit and the knob in the Mazda was repeatedly weaving through three lanes of traffic, using gaps that were not a great deal longer than his car, then gunning it up lane one and trying to get back across to the fast lane in front of the Jag. I wondered if I should dial 101 (or is it 111?) to call the officially-less-urgent-than-999 police contact line and report them. They kept this up until we got to the speed limited section before the bridge. Once again, I saw the Mazda pile over from lane three to lane one, narrowly missing the back bumpers and front noses of other cars as he went. I slowed down to 50mph along with everyone else, and watched as he used lane one to undertook a lorry in lane two. Lane three had a lorry in it as well and the jag, in the fast lane, passed that. They were about 600 yards ahead of me at this point because by now I was firmly convinced they were going to have (or cause) an accident and I wanted time to stop. Once they disappeared behind their respective lorries they were masked from view.

However, a moment after the Mazda 2 disappeared, the traffic stopped. Dead. I didn’t get time to look much. I was concentrating, first on slowing, then on letting some of the traffic merge in front of me but not so much that I stopped completely and pissed off everyone behind me. We had ended up with three lorries at a standstill in lanes one, two and three and the only lane still open was fast lane; the one I was in.

It took about 30 seconds to file through. There, in lane three, was a metallic silver-green people mover. I’m not sure what it was, cause I was driving so I couldn’t really look that hard. I think it might have been an old Renault Espace, or the model below because, though it was a people mover, it was one of the smaller ones. It was facing in completely the wrong direction and its left front wing had collided with something resulting in a big crumple and the presence of a lot of other bits of metallic silver-green people mover all over the road.

The A14 in lockdown, because that’s all I have! Mwahahahrgh.

Total kudos to the drivers of those three lorries. They had stopped, in a line, to temporarily block the three lanes so the poor woman driving the green thing could walk across to the safety of the hard shoulder. A lorry was parked on the hard shoulder a couple of hundred yards further on, although I wasn’t sure if that had been involved or was just there, and another woman in a bright blue Suzuki Jeep (or at least a 4×4) had stopped and was giving the poor woman a hug. She was probably late fifties or early sixties, and clearly shaken. I couldn’t help wondering if the Mazda 2 had clipped her, spinning her car round 180 degrees, or if his sudden appearance, overtaking her on the wrong side, or cutting across her path had given her a start, shocking her into an instinctive swerve before she had time to check the space around her. The good thing is that the whole area of road is on CCTV and the dart charge cameras photograph the numberplate of every car that goes over there, so if the idiots in the Jag and the Mazda are required for questioning, I suspect the police will have no trouble finding them.

What is it about men in their twenties or thirties who drive hot hatches that makes them such utter and complete wankmuppets? I have not seen a lady driving like this, indeed, I have never seen anyone but young males, either alone or in a very small, hot hatch full of enormously tall men, driving like this.

After a quick debate with McMini I rang 999 and was relieved to discover that I was the first person who had called and was not, therefore, wasting their time. It’s really difficult to know whether to phone the police in situations like this or to just assume someone else will. I explained about the Mazda and the Jag, and I explained that while I hadn’t witnessed them cause an accident I was not surprised that there had been one. I explained where the lady was and that her car would need recovered and possibly someone would have to come and pick the debris off the road.

As the old adage says, I guess if idiots could fly, this place would be an airport.

Triffid!

On the up side, a cause for smugness. McBicycle was not happy and needed fixed. Yesterday, I fixed it. I realised after lockdown and my knee op, that it had got salt water on it at some point and a lot of the gubbins to move the big cogs at the front gears had seized net result, 9 gears rather than 28. Indeed, it wouldn’t change gear at all. I put WD40 on it, which is not what you’re supposed to do, but I decided I should un-seize it before I washed it, and since I was going to wash the WD40 off, I hoped it would be OK. So having squirted the offending bit with WD40 on Thursday afternoon, I spent yesterday removing the chain and cleaning it with bicycle de-greaser, plus the deralier (I think that’s how it’s spelt) cogs which were all totally filthy, and cleaning the gear mechanisms too, before putting it all back together and putting bicycle lubricant all over it. Yes, there is such a thing. Mine is called ‘Wet Ride’. Snortle, yeh, don’t even go there.

The result is a bicycle which will change through all it’s gears, and a lot more smoothly than before, to boot. I love fixing things so it was a very enjoyable afternoon all round.

Last but not least, my triffid flowered again.

On a completely different note …

In case no-one knew – and we’re talking my organisational skills here, so that is a very real possibility – I have reduced the cost of Small Beginnings, the first K’Barthan Extra, to zero. That’s right, you can pick up a copy for NO PEE. Mwahahahrgh. You can also pick up a copy of the audiobook for free from my store as well, if you’re into that kind of thing. This is the one I’m talking about:

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

Small Beginnings …

Destiny called and everyone else was out.

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

This is free to download from all the major ebook retailers for August and also in audio from my store – but I can’t make it free from the book vendors in audio so if you’re after that one, it has to be just from my store.

If you’re interested in the ebook, click here.
If you’d like to give the audiobook a go, click here.

If you aren’t interested but you want to help, feel free to copy and paste either of these links into the social media thingy of your choice and share away:

Audiobook: https://payhip.com/b/ubYs
Ebook – free from all the main vendors: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

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Filed under Author Updates, Free Stuff, General Wittering

Let’s talk about THINGS!

Blimey, here we are nearly at the end of another week. I’m becoming very concerned about the quality of the comedy on this blog. For some reason, I am sitting down to write on Saturday mornings feeling increasingly unfunny. It’s a bit of a pisser so I do apologise that the joke quality seems to have plummeted. It’s very much I did this and I did that. I must try harder.

My smashing detecting booty!

In the meantime, if I can’t make it funny, I’ll make it succinct!

This morning there is a sensible reason in that I’m just plain knackered. I went metal detecting yesterday and the luck gods smiled on me, which meant we did an extra hour which was probably a bridge too far. It was fun though and there were two hammered coins in that hour so even if I can’t walk for a couple of days it was worth doing! One of the highlights was a coin from the reign of King John … I think. But I got a George III shilling, a really lovely Victorian half crown which is enormous and a long cross penny of some description. We went back to the area where I found the silver … thing … and I found a very knackered Saxon strap end and a medieval stud (or half a hollow button, I’m not sure which) that still had remnants of guilding round the edges, so that was a bit of a bonus.

It has to be said that I am comprehensively knackered though, which is why I am only writing this now. And since I have been metal detecting more regularly recently, usually on a Friday, it might explain why I arrive at the blog a little bit puggled of a Saturday morning these days. That said, I did, until today, have an incredibly alert ten days when I was almost myself. Hence last week’s blog being a bit more zippy. That was ace-tastic and I’m hoping it will come back when I’ve bounced back from my detecting extravagances.

Yesterday I was trying out a new spade. Yeh, I know. I usually go for lightness so I have a small, short-handled spade I use. However, when the soil is hard it’s hard going so I thought I’d look at something longer, or sharper or possibly slightly heavier. I was recommended three. The one I wanted most was out of stock so I went for the cheapest, a Fiskars spade for the princely sum of £13.95 plus P&P. It arrived, in timely fashion, on Thursday.

Fiskars is a Finnish company and what I learned, from ordering my spade, was that Finnish people might, possibly, be very tall. Either that or they have a Grongolian trading arm, from which I have somehow ordered a spade designed for a larger, stronger species than mine. No. I think probably this is about the average height in Finland.

In the picture the spade looked like a normal metal detecting spade size, so a blade? A business end that is about as long as a normal spade but about half the width and quite curved so it will do nice round holes and won’t flex. The a handle’s usually shorter than average, about seventy five centimetres long – about I dunno, just under a yard in old money. The rationale is, usually, that if you’re going to be dragging it about all day it should be as compact and lightweight as possible. In the picture, the Fiskars spade looked about that. When it arrived … wow. The pointy bit had the same dimensions as a metal detecting spade but it was the same width as a normal one and the handle was loooooong. It came up to just below my boobs. No room in the boot for it, it had to be put in the passenger seat!

So I turned up with this giant spade, but, I have to confess, though it was heavier it was really good to dig with. It did flex a couple of times – when I had the entire cutty/diggy bit buried up to the hilt, but what I noticed was that I got a lot more soil out with each dig. That meant that when, for example, I dug pretty much to Australia only to discover the thing I was looking for was about two inches down in the side of the hole, it didn’t take me as long. As a result, I dug about three times as many targets as I had the week before. Or to put it another way, I kissed more frogs; ergo, a higher handsome prince quotient, so to speak. This would also explain my knackeredness … I dug more holes.

Meanwhile yesterday evening, McMini tried and, luckily, failed to review one of my books. I mentioned a review one of them has on Google play which is complete gibberish – it’s clearly typed on a different keyboard or something because the letters are grouped like words, in some places they are words but mostly they aren’t and it makes absolutely no sense. I don’t mind whoever it was gave it 3 stars. However it is quite bizarre. I’m not sure how it cropped up last night, but McMini threatened to one star bomb me unless I gave him one of my chocolates so I asked him if he’d left me a review on Google, because he has a gibberish thing he does, and I genuinely wondered if it was him.

‘Of course,’ he said, adding, ‘er … no.’ Which made sense, because if it had been McMini he would have used a joke name, as you can see from the ‘review’ he did try to post for Nothing To See Here on my website. I haven’t approved it, but this is what it said:

Phil McCrackin (joke name) says

‘THE HOW IF WHEN IS THE WHAT NO ME GUSTA AH NO PLEASE NO WHAT THE HOW IF WHEN IS HOW TIMES WHAT THE YELLOW PEP’ note the crazy person caps lock on.

The review was this …

You see why I asked, I mean, that is pretty mad. Probably it’s just someone’s keyboard is broken. Or it’s Enigma code.

What made us guffaw about this is the fact that despite being complete gibberish. We liked that Munich features and also the BBC, NBC, MGM and … Bob. Lots about GB too. And someone has liked it! Mwahaharhgh. Why?

Why indeed, we wondered. Were these instructions from the handlers of an assassin to their asset? Does this say ‘do not throw the perfume bottle into the canal. This is Britain and someone will find it?’ Is it some kind of message from MI6? Did the person to whom the message was sent click ‘like’ to acknowledge that these orders had been carried out? If I ask Google to remove it will some men in dark suits come and kill me? Will they come and kill me for writing this blog? With this paragraph have I just signed my own death warrant? You can see how easy it is for me to write a character like The Pan of Hamgee, can’t you?

Other good news, I have managed to kickstart the writing again. Clearly Wednesday was a bit quiet because once I’ve got to and from Mum’s (via McMini’s school run) there’s not much time. Ditto Friday, because I went metal detecting – but hey, you can’t win ’em all. To get back into writing, I’ve re-started my ten minutes a day thing. In grand scheme of things ten minutes isn’t much but if it’s flowing I carry on. To my delight, I’ve managed to write 5,904 words this week.

Yes that’s as many words as some folks achieve in a morning but for me that’s pretty good. I will probably do ten minutes after I’ve finished this. I am feeling extremely uninspired but there are some A to B bits that I can write which don’t call for a huge amount of inspiration. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and plug on with these things, bum in chair, words on screen day after day until it’s done. Thanks to Too Good To Be True, there is a whole new aspect of K’Barthan life to play with; Goojan Spiced sausage. It’s just asking for a wealth of stories about smuggling sausage, forging it and other sausage-related skull duggery. Even better, one of the sweeping this’ll-take-years-because-you’ll-hardly-ever-be-alert-enough-to-work-on-it epics I’m working on now has a much better driver. I was going to have it that one character was trafficking beings, but it was a pretty grim topic for a humorous novel. There is still an aspect of slavery involved but I can temper it with sausage related stuff so it doesn’t get too dark.

It doesn’t sound much, I appreciate, but I am pleased to get some momentum going. Initially, I was slightly concerned that I couldn’t find a lot of Space Dustmen. Luckily, this turned out to be because the beginning is so old that it comes from my pre Scriviner days. I hadn’t realised that I’d been working on that story for so long.

The writing has been causing me a little trouble in that I’ve been trying to push some of the projects on a little before I revert to some Hamgeean Misfit. Especially as Hamgeean Misfit is the one I need to write next to, naturally, with the pressure on, it’s proving difficult. That said, I got 1.6k of the next one down this week so it can’t be all bad and doubtless The Pan will end up delivering something at some point, with disastrous consequences, naturally.

Meanwhile Gareth is still working on the audio and yes, it is still an absolute joy. Wonderful stuff. He’s so clearly enjoying himself. I love it when that happens. You see it sometimes, in plays or films, when it’s just obvious that the cast are having an absolute scream. It adds an extra layer of atmosphere which I always like so I’m delighted. Next, I need to listen to it extremely closely and flag up any typos that need re-recorded or pronunciations I want edited a.s.a.p. so he can fix them up and go on to other things. He’s going to be doing some books with Scottish characters next so he’s been riffing with Scottish accents in mine.

K’Barthan Swearing Quiz Update

Early K’Barthan blingery samples.

When I compiled this, I thought folks would be on it like a rat up a pipe but there has been a surprisingly small take up.

Maybe people are getting quiz fatigue! Or it might just be that not enough people have read all of the books to feel entitled to vote. Or I might just have not publicised it widely enough.

That said, while things K’Barthan do have a dedicated fan base, it is a small one and I forgot to share this on social media, or say much about it, if I’m honest, so I doubt everyone has seen.

However, so far we have six clear leaders, the first two, though, are right out in front.

  • Arnold’s toe jam!
  • Arnold’s Y-fronts!
  • Smeck!
  • Arnold’s sweaty sandals!
  • Arnold’s armpits!
  • Arnold’s underpants!

So there you are. If you haven’t done the K’Barthan Swearing Quiz yet, and you’d like to, click here.

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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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Filed under General Wittering

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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So much cobblers …

Weeks and weeks of this … ugh.

This week has been quite odd. I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts emotionally. I think that’s partly down to the weather. We’ve had a peppering of cold sunny days, one warm one and the rest of the time it’s been a high of five degrees but the wind chill will make it feel like minus fourteen. OK not minus fourteen; according to the ‘real feel’ thing on my phone it’s usually minus one or zero but it’s all pissy and grim.

Alexa has been giving us a permanent flood warning since about mid December and it is either pissing it down, snowing or horrible yellow/grey smeary skies, pregnant with impending snow, like the one in this picture, taken just now.

Every single permutation of weather we are given involves an icy north or north east wind and being fucking freezing. Being cold is getting fucking old. I am wearing a thick Norwegian style jumper, a polo shirt, silk thermals, a vest and a green v-neck Wallace-style tank top. I’m still cold.

God bless the electric blanket and all who sail on her. That’s all I can say, although it is annoying, now that we don’t have an en-suite anymore, to have to go up to the the next floor for a wee in the night. In theory we do have an en-suite but the loo broke and a plumber came and looked at it about three weeks off, went away to get a part and … Schlepping up to McMini’s loo tends to wake me up in a way that staggering a few steps to the en-suite doesn’t. On the other hand, at least the knee is past the crutches stage now. Yeh, I know. Listen to me, whinging cow! First world problems.

The other aspect of emotional out of sorts-ness is is down to difficulties with what Mum and I refer to as ‘the tentacles’ which has left me with a rather unsettling feeling that I’ll be dead by next Tuesday. I know. A bit stark isn’t it?

On the other hand, it does give me an excuse for a ‘where do you get this shit?’ style post. This is going to sound weird but I’m going to explain to you the tiny grain of … thing … upon which I constructed the giant sandcastle of bollocks that is Natterjack’s box of frogs in the K’Barthan Series. Ready? Right then, off we go.

As well as the Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett wrote three other books which are more straight sci-fi. One of them, I think it was called Strata, is about this race of people who have what they call ‘future echoes’. They’re not exactly precognitive, they just get deja-vu a lot and … it’s a long time since I read the book but I think they sometimes know the future in small ways. Say X and you will have a row with Thingwot, say Y and you won’t kind of stuff.

The thing is, from time to time, I do have a vague fuzzy outline of the future in exactly the same way. Yep. I get future echoes myself – as does my mother and other family members. There. I’ve said it. Except we call the whole ‘sensitivity’ thing, our ‘tentacles’. The biggest problem I have with future echoes is that I tend to try and read too much into them. Which leads to a certain amount of unnecessary worry. There are a LOT of future echoes in my life right now. Which is a little disconcerting and part of the reason I thought I’d talk about them now.

As a nipper, right through to the age of about 16 I used to have precognitive dreams. Lots of them. It was all very simple. I’d have a dream that felt different to proper dreams and was about normal life. While I was dreaming, I’d also be able to observe what was happening and think about it with non-dream, spectator cogency. I called them deja-vu dreams because they used to come true.

There were three types:  the first was about a choice, talking to someone I could say x or y and two different outcomes would occur. Usually it was about falling out with someone or … not falling out with them. Second, there was a, if-you-do-this-it-means-you-have-irrevocably-changed-the-course-of-time-and-x-y-or-z-thing-will/will-not-happen. The third type would be just a snippet of me wandering about during a normal day. Usually the bit that was predictive was simply because I was wondering about during a normal day in six months’ time and the background knowledge in my head contained events that hadn’t happened yet. Looking at that background knowledge during the dream I’d be having conscious thoughts along the line of, ‘Oh! Oojah is going to buy a red bicycle!’ or whatever and I would remember these thoughts, as well as the dream.

On the whole, despite having remembered thoughts about them as I dreamt them, it was only as the events I’d dreamt in advance began to unfold that I’d remember anything. Hence my calling it ‘deja-vu’. That meant that the I-know-X-will-happen-because-it’s-part-of-my-background-knowledge-during-the-dream, dreams were pretty rubbish and the, if-this-happens-x-y-or-z-thing-is-irrevocably-set-in-stone dreams were absolutely fucking pointless and about as much use as a chocolate teapot. That said, the knowing-what-to-say-(or-not-to-say)-to-Thingwot-to-avoid-a-row type of dreams were actually quite handy to a hot-headed child with a tendency to state things rather baldly.

There’s a long conversation between Sir Robin Get and The Pan of Hamgee in Few Are Chosen (it’s Chapter 35 if you’re interested) when Sir Robin explains how small and seemingly inconsequential decisions can change the course of events. And also how Arnold, The Prophet, had to predict the future. All that stuff about walking either side of a lamp post and changing the course of time? That’s a slightly inflated version of the premise behind the knowing-what-to-say-(or-not-to-say)-to-Thingwot-to-avoid-a-row type of precognitive dreams. Obviously in real life these decisions don’t necessarily alter anything as drastically as Sir Robin says! Or at least, not as far as I’m aware.

As a small child I was intrigued but also quite sceptical and I tried to pursue an exhaustive scientific testing programme, in so far as you can be scientific about something as intangible and bizarre as this. I tried to remember scenes from my dreams and generally spent a lot of time attempting to note and remember markers over the course of each dream to see how ‘true’ they came, how long a period of time the whole deja vu thing lasted for and if there was anything constructive or helpful I could do with my slightly rubbish gift.

If I could remember the dreams far enough in advance then would I be able to help people? The way it was, my gift of … whatever – precog lite? – wasn’t really much good for anything, except, perhaps, avoiding the occasional argument. But imagine if I remembered, beforehand, that I was going to get bollocked for not doing my homework! I might remember to do it as a result of a dream and avoid a bollocking. That would be epic. And useful. If I could only remember the bloody dreams for long enough after I woke up to write them down. But how?

In the 1980s I had no idea where someone with this sort of affliction would go for advice, training or whatever, outside the crushed velvet and melodrama brigade. Remember, Hogwarts was not a thing at this point, indeed, I’m not sure JK Rowling was even born and even if she was, I doubt she was any older than I was. I hadn’t read Strata at that point either, so it wouldn’t have occurred to me to write to Terry Pratchett, who had described the exact same thing, presumably from his own experience or that of a loved one, and called it future echoes. Anyway, email for the normals was another fifteen years away so the gatekeepers would have chalked me up as a nutter and it’d never have reached him.

One day, watching a film on BBC2 in the 6 o’clock spot while the normals were watching the news on BBC1 or ITV I discovered that I could remember about twenty minutes of the scene I was watching word-for-word. This one was vivid enough for me to be able to say the lines before each of the characters. It wasn’t a film I had consciously seen although I didn’t rule out having seen it and forgotten (it would have been the first and last time but still not ruling it out). But that was a hell of a lot to remember from a very ordinary scene. It wasn’t like I’d remembered the script from any of the exciting bits. Something was definitely going on. I decided I would tell Mum. So I had a chat to her.

‘Mum. Every now and again I have these dreams that aren’t like other dreams and I think they’re coming true.’

‘Do they scare you?’

‘No.’

‘Good. Well, I wouldn’t worry darling, I had those, too. They wear off when you get older.’

Was I weird? Possibly, but at the same time, if Mum had those dreams then, only a little. Was I unique? Not particularly. Was I relieved? Hell yeh! Gotta love Mum.

Things came to a head when I was sixteen. I dreamt my brother was injured and I was holding a bowl of blood. He was in bed, and I didn’t know if he was going to live or die. This one was different. I knew that whatever had smashed my brother’s face in, and caused him to bleed into the bowl I was holding in that dream, had happened in a game of football. I also knew that said game of football was about three weeks away. I’d never had any useful information like ‘when’ in a deja-vu dream before. I also knew, instinctively, that I would remember this one after I woke up. At this point a voice in the dream explained that I could choose to refuse this gift. If I wanted to accept then, when I woke up, I could write the dream down. If I did that, I would remember it and retain the gift. If I decided not to write it down, it would be taken as refusal.

I woke up, turned on the light and had a quick cry, as any rational human being would when confronted with this sort of nuttery. I also got out my diary and a pen just in case. Now to think practically about this. What did I know? That the injury was football related and would happen in three weeks. Presumably a Tuesday or a Saturday then.

OK that was the knowledge. What could I do about it? Well, I could warn my brother. But what would that do? Scare him? Yes. And would I be able to stop my brother from playing in the school team? No. Should I? No. And if I did, could I prove that my intervention had saved him from anything bad? Unlikely. And then we came to what I didn’t know. What would I be saving him from? If it was just a black eye and a broken nose he wouldn’t care, it isn’t pleasant but it happens if you’re the goalie. All I really knew was that he was going to get a kicking. How serious was it? I didn’t know.

Plus there were all sorts of social sides to it, ‘I can’t play because my sister has had a premonition,’ maketh not for a safe spot as the first eleven goalie. On the other hand, what it does do is to turn Bruv into a laughing stock. The only thing accepting the gift would do was equip me to embarrass my brother and make myself look like an absolute lunatic.

Also, I’d had enough deja-vu dreams by this time to know that they were usually a bit crap. This was about the best it got. Usually, there was enough information to get me rattled but nothing that would be any help avoiding whatever disaster appeared to be looming. If you dream you’re reading in the newspaper about a friend’s death, in an air crash, months in advance but have no flight number, airline, country, date or time it’s fuck all use really. Yeh. Thank you but no, I decided, dried my eyes, put the diary and pen away and went back to sleep.

Three weeks later my brother got kicked in the face playing football exactly as I had dreamt. He had a broken nose and a black eye and had swallowed a lot of blood which he threw up into a bowl, which my mother handed to me. At which point I thought, Hmm, this seems familiar … hang on a second! That was the bowl of bright red liquid I’d thought was blood in my dream and, as I stood there holding it, I remembered everything.

Naturally, I spent a night worried that the dream meant more. That things would go wrong and my brother would die. I also fessed up to Mum about the dream and refusing the ‘gift’ because precognition seemed a pointless source of misery unless it contained the kind of useful intel I could do stuff with. She proceeded to share some of her experiences with both precog and creepy dreams and I suspect that made us both feel better. Most importantly, she reassured me that the dream was just that. A dream. It foreshadowed my brother getting injured but nothing more. It didn’t mean anything. As Dad later said, ‘you have to be very careful with these things because it’s so hard to see what is something else and what is your imagination.’ It’s true. It is what it is. The way to react to is is, ‘oh, I think I might have had a dream about that, moving on …’ It’s always unwise to speculate or seek meaning.

Refusing the gift hasn’t really made much difference. I do still get deja-vu but less often. I had one about my then completely bald baby boy having tumbling blonde curls which, when his hair finally appeared, he did. But usually when it happens it isn’t quite the same. I don’t immediately remember that I’ve dreamt it or recall what’s going to happen next with the same vividness as before. I do know what people are going to say but the whole choices aspect has gone. Which was the only useful bit, to be honest. The only one that still works, really, is the pointless if-this-happens-x-y-or-z-thing-is-irrevocably-set-in-stone dreams, except it’s no longer x, y or z thing it’s just SOMETHING which is even more fucking useless than the original.

Other times if something major is about to happen, I wake up, aware that I’ve been having deja-vu dreams. I get that sort of heavy, prescient feeling you get before a thunderstorm when your head feels all buzzy. Or it’s as if you have tentacles and someone’s standing on the end of one. Hence Mum and I call the whole thing ‘tentacles’. The events can be good or bad, but unfortunately, deaths tend to make for wobbly tentacles, as a result of which any kind of tentacle-based disturbance in the force makes me very nervous, no matter how much the sensible rational part of my brain is pointing the finger and laughing at the superstitious stupidity of the other bits.

In these instances I always assume someone is going to die, and while, occasionally, they do (and it’s never the person who looks most likely) I find that more often it’s just a precursor to big changes. As if they are like thunder in the distance and I can hear them coming. Precog dreams and recognition of them is rare for me these days but I am having them now and after a particularly strong if-you’re-doing-this-you’re-fucked one while I was putting the washing out yesterday they are making me very jittery.

Looking at what’s going on in the world and the pandemic, and also where I am, personally, it’s clear that a lot of changes will be happening over the next few months and years. That’s not exactly a hard thing to spot. Plus, I’m about to release my first full length novel since 2015, and  that seems to be, like its title, too good to be true.

Indeed, I’m now at the point with Too Good To Be True where the epub is formatted and uploaded everywhere and I am starting on the paperback. It was touch-and-go whether I’d get them all done in time for the pre-release deadlines but it’s happened! The first one is on Monday.

For all the hard bits in life, I am, basically, happy. And I think there are times when believing my future is … short … is a way of manifesting a feeling of not deserving to be happy, or loved or all the things which I actually am. This is also too good to be true. It can’t last. Something’s going to fuck it up. I know! I’m going to die, that’s what it is! Yeh. I’m going to peg-it because that would be fucking inconvenient right now. Even though I am much less of an idiot than this post makes me look, and I can see and appreciate the factors I’ve just outlined, I am still completely convinced, as I write this, that I, or someone or other of my loved ones, will be dead by the end of next Tuesday.

A bit grim but, on the other hand, it will make for a joyous evening on Wednesday if we are all still here and nothing’s happened.

Incidentally, I would like to think I approach the whole precognitive thing this with what I’d call open-minded scepticism. I suspect it’s probably rubbish, but if there is something in it, something that can be explained by science like … I dunno, folds in time or similar, I wouldn’t be surprised. When you hop in the car and McMini says, ‘we are going to see the street sweeper today’ and he tells you exactly which road and describes the vehicle. When it then appears, on cue, exactly where he said for the first and only time in two years of commuting along the same route, three times weekly. When he tells you he knew it was going to happen because he dreamt it, it’s difficult not to be intrigued. We’ve had the tentacles conversation too and I played it exactly the same way my Mum did. I also know her father, my grandfather, had them too. Four generations then.

Many years ago, when I was still writing Few Are Chosen, I went to my writers’ group and read out the thinly veiled description of my tentacles, pitched as a conversation The Pan and Sir Robin Get have about poor old Arnold trying to get his prophecies right. One of the ladies cheerfully piped up, ‘Oh my son is a theoretical physicist and he’s been working on this, do you know anything about …’ I think she called it, ‘black physics?’ or possibly dark physics? I replied that I didn’t and that I’d just made this up. But apparently no. It is a thing – or at least a grain of it is, naturally I have taken that grain of vague theoretical truth and used it basis upon which to concoct a gargantuan sandcastle of bollocks. Because I’m a writer and that’s what I do.

Although having said that, maybe I’m not so nuts after all. This is a health advice site. I was intrigued precognitive dreams were even mentioned there. https://www.healthline.com/health/precognitive-dreams

One day, if I can stump up the courage, I’ll tell you my theories about telepathy and esp. As it is I think that’s enough weirdness for one day.

Briefly … Mum was even more chirpy this week. We went out into the garden and she sat on her rollator and chatted to me while I dug holes in her lawn. I managed to unearth a fabulous button; Royal Dragoons from between 1797 and 1820. Was it dropped by a soldier? Or did it fall off an ancient trench coat at the turn of the 20th century? One which had belonged to the farmer’s Grandpa in the Napoleonic wars, perhaps? Then again, I think they were a cavalry regiment, therefore posh so possibly not, unless he was there to look after the horses. Anyway, I was chuffed. Here it is.

_________________________

If you’re interested, and you feel like it …

Too Good To Be True is out on 18th March, fingers crossed. 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 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 finger of fate points … hide!

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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