Tag Archives: M T McGuire

How not to do things number 53: Parenting #badparent

It’s my mum’s birthday and today, so I’m not really here. To that end, here is a pre-prepared blog post; another gem from the school of things I’ve fucked up so you don’t have. Enjoy.

McMini has a two day gap in his school meals schedule where he dislikes the lunches offered and I have to send him in with a packed lunch. This is a bit of a pain but at the same time, he is a creature of few needs and so we have a boilerplate packed lunch which he his happy to eat repeatedly. This includes sandwiches made with a particular type of reconstituted chicken slice that he loves. A kind of chicken spam. Oh well. Each to their own.

So there we I am preparing his lunch for these two days in advance – oooh get me all organised. I lay out the bread and then I get the chicken slices from the fridge. At the sound of the fridge door opening, Harrison, the cat, miraculously appears and brrps a couple of times hoping I am going to be opening the cheese drawer. I tell him no. The chicken spam also elicits some interest from him and I tell him it is not for him. He is remarkably acquiescent – indeed, if I’d thought about it I’d have clocked that he was suspiciously acquiescent – disappearing off in the direction of the utility room.

As I lay out the chicken slices on the bread, McMini appears wanting batteries for the TV remote or some such and I foolishly turn away from the breadboard, with the sandwiches and chicken slices, to open the drawer where the batteries live. At which point McMini gasps and points.

I turn to see what he is pointing at and there is Harrison, on the counter top, fur fluffed with excitement, just starting to lick the nearest slice of chicken-luncheon-meat-spam-stuff. The shops are closed, this is all McMini will eat and there’s only one more slice in the fridge so it’s imperative I stop Harrison before he slubbers on the other slice.

‘Fuck off Harrison! You fucking bastard!’ I shout as I head aggressively towards the counter top to push him off.

He leaps off and piles out through the cat flap at speed. Good. Except. Shit. I’ve just sworn in front of my impressionable child. Jeez how will he be grow up to be anything less than a total potty mouth when he has me as a Mum.

McMini gasps, wide-eyed with shock and yet, wearing a huge smile – because there’s no better thing, for a kid, than seeing the adults fuck up. He says,

‘Mummy! You just sweared.’

Bloody bollocks! Didn’t I just? I think, as he stands there laughing at me. Hmm … what to say now? Oh I know.

‘Yes. I’m afraid I did. But, OK, listen, here’s the thing kiddo. Mummy is a fishwife but it doesn’t mean you should be. You never, EVER, heard that,’ I tell him as he begins to really guffaw. ‘Strike it all from your mental record. Those were terrible words and you should never use them.’ I add as I throw away the dodgy cat-spittle-laden chicken slice and replace it with a new one.

But McMini does not forget things like this. Especially as we both find it hilariously funny that I am such a ‘Bad Mother’ as James Brown put it, although I have an inkling he might not have been using that phrase in quite the same sense as McMini and I. These are the secrets we can’t tell McOther because he would be shocked, but McMini has has been taking the piss out of me about it all week. I suspect the main reason for this is that he gets to shout, ‘Fuck off Harrison! You fucking bastard!’ at the top of his lungs, and few things are more likely to get a laugh from McMini than doing stuff that is a bit cheeky, cheeky, especially if it’s likely to prick the bubble of the pompous and it’s stuff he’s not really meant to do. Pretty much the reason I swear.

A chip off the old block then.

Thanks son.

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When it feels right but is … wrong. #writing #indiebooks

This week: you have another opportunity to benefit from the vast store of wisdom I have earned by royally fucking things up so that you don’t have to.  

It started like this.

Wednesday; visit the parents day, and this week I arrived in extremely dire need of a wee. It is fairly usual that the pint of water and two cups of coffee I need to kick start my day turn into about five pints by the time I’ve driven fifty miles or thereabouts and I drive the next ninety in some agitation. This Wednesday was no exception.

At Mum and Dad’s the downstairs loo is just off the lobby before you go into the house proper and I usually use it before I announce my presence, otherwise the ten minutes of hellos can be a bit excruciating for my poor bladder. Into the loo I rushed, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as what felt like about a gallon of wee went into the pan. Except that each of the lavs at Mum and Dad’s has a riser for people with dodgy hips, and if you sit on the riser in the downstairs loo wrong, the wee runs down the inside of it and despite being positioned over the bowl, the gravitational wonders of surface tension bend the wee round and under the edge of the riser and it then falls over the side of the pan onto the floor. Well, it came from a skip, still in its wrapping, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But yes, you guessed it. A significant portion of my wee deluge had missed the pan entirely and puddled on the floor.

Joy.

The original dribbly-wee loo riser of doom (centre) among other skip scored offerings.

There I was. I’d done the right thing, sat on loo, weed into hole but somehow, despite following the instructions it had all gone somewhat awry. I spent the next five minutes wiping it up with loo roll and anti bacterial floor spray. It’s not just me, the foibles of this particular loo riser are a known problem and I soon had it all ship shape again with no harm done. The point was, sometimes, even when you do things the right way it all goes horribly wrong.

So how does this tale of substandard urinary aim have any connection with writing?

Well, it’s like this.

There’s a quote that appears on something I use – my Kobo Writing Life dashboard, I think – that goes like this:

‘If you want to read a book that has not been written yet, you must write it.’

Way back in 2008 when I finally finished my first decent novel that is, exactly what I had done. But to be honest, while this is great advice, it only works if you are in touch with the popular Zeitgeist on some level. I sell my books on the internet which, to all intents and purposes, is American. It is devilishly hard to reach non Americans but back then it was even harder (except on Amazon at that point).

Therefore, I shot myself in the foot instantly by writing a very British book set, mostly, in a fantasy world but when it came here, it came to London. Yes Dr Who is like that but it was put on by the BBC and when they first did it, they had a captive audience comprising all of Britain. I wrote British because I was bored of books and films where the main protagonists are American and the setting America. I wanted to see some shizz go down in my own country. What I failed to grasp was that there is a reason the vast majority of books are about Americans in America. It’s to connect with Americans; the biggest and most easily reachable group of readers in the market place.

Yes, I’d done kind of the right thing but … wrong.

The problem wasn’t even that I was writing a book that could well hold more appeal to British or Australasian readers. It was that I hadn’t researched my market – I thought I had but, no. That’s why I didn’t understand how hard to find they would be. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would be unable to reach British readers without taking special measures. OK so that was 2008 but even now, in 2017, you have to work at finding international readers and even harder at finding readers who buy from sites other than Amazon.

Likewise, I’d read a lot of Victorian and Edwardian fantasy: the Narnia Books, The Five Children and It, The Incredible Mr Blenkinsop (I think that was its name) the Borrowers, the Wind in the Willows, The Lord of The Rings. I’d seen films like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, I’d read Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett. In most of those books, the writer has invented a completely new world, or a new creature, or a new something. The point is, while they may have broad themes that are similar, good versus evil baddie, etc, each one takes place in its own fantasy world or hidden world within this one, often there are specific and new creatures created for purpose of the story. The notable exception is Terry Pratchett, who took the tropes other people used and poked gentle fun at them.

In the same way that I thought, at my parents, that rushing into the bog, sitting down on the ice cold, thigh freezing riser and letting it all out was enough, and discovered that oh it so wasn’t, I genuinely thought putting my book on sale and supporting my efforts with advertising on the big promo sites was all it would take to find readers. It wasn’t. I wrote weird books, that are funny and I had covers made expressly to say, ‘this book is like nothing you have ever read’ because when people saw my books, I wanted them to think, ‘Pratchett’. When I got reviews that said that, I quoted them. I wrote my book the old way. The E Nesbitt way. And I sold that as an asset … the wrong way.

When people talk about wanting ‘different’ I suspect that what they really mean is that they want the same old ware wolves and sparkly vampires but with … say … slightly different lighting.

That is where Sir Terry cleaned up. He kept to the standard tropes, and spun them differently. If you want to succeed financially, I think, possibly, the trick is to write something bang on genre that has a different angle; a standard, boilerplate, trope made interesting enough to you for you to be able to stand writing in it.

When it comes to making choices, I guess it’s wise to think through the ramifications, but with writing it’s hard to anticipate what they might be sometimes. If you like writing wacky but want to produce a well edited book with a professional cover, it’s worth looking at how much cash you have to throw at it and how long for. When I started this game, the estimate was that once you’d produced six books you’d reach tipping point; momentum would be easier to maintain and sales would rise.

‘Great!’  I thought, ‘I have budget for six novels.’

Now that I’m writing my sixth book, that magic tipping point number is more like twelve! Things change and move. How long can you sustain your business without making a profit? OK now double it. Hell, quadruple it to be safe.

Likewise, when you plan what you’re going to do to reach readers, I’d thoroughly recommend keeping as much of it under your control as you can. This is why so many writers ask readers to sign up to their mailing lists. I had an amazing three months back in 2014 when I optimised my book listings for UK readers and started getting a ton of downloads on Amazon and, even better, a really good read through rate – seriously it was massive, about 20% of the folks downloading the first book bought the others But then Amazon changed the algo – which they do around April or May each year, it seems. Overnight the downloads of the free book ceased. And that was that.

These days, however many author lists readers are signing up to, I still believe that if you can make your emails personal, fun and interesting enough they will stay with you. Just don’t make them too fun or your readers will sign up for the emails rather than your books or if they do, be prepared to monetise your blog posts, newsletter etc – either as non fiction books or paid content. The great thing about mailing lists is that if someone doesn’t get on with your books they can unsubscribe so you should end up with a list of folks who might, eventually, read your books! If you’re really lucky, some will part with cash for them.

Once you have some readers, it’s also worth listening to them. I always sold my books as fantasy and when asked to cite comparable writers I’d suggest Holt, Prachett, Rankin … When people started reviewing them, the bulk of them cited Douglas Adams. I now publish them in sci-fi. They don’t sell as well there as they did in the days when I could put them in fantasy and they’d be actually visible. But now that fantasy is kind of, ware wolves and shifters with a small corner for epic, my books definitely do better in sci-fi! Sci-fi seems a bit less rigid in the genre factors required, too, hence the next series, Space Dustmen, is going to be sci-fi with the odd planetary visit.

To sum up, what I am trying to say, I guess, is that now, more than ever, you need to think long and hard before you even start to write that book and you need to keep pretty nimble afterwards. So, if you’re thinking having a pop at writing or are working on your first book, maybe you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you are writing for?
  2. Where you you find them?
  3. Can you find them easily and inexpensively?
  4. How often do the authors they read release new books?
  5. Can you keep up with book production rates for your genre? or to put it another way …
  6. How much time do you have? Even if you give up your job.
  7. What kind of writing career will fit with your life?
  8. How and where will you sell your books – it’s no good being wide if everyone in your genre whose books you like and who might like yours too and do mailing swaps or promos with you is in KU.
  9. How long before you need your books to start funding themselves to keep going?
  10. Are there other ways you can monetise your writing to support book production until such stage as your book business is self financing.
  11. How big is your social media following? Are you up to a kickstarter to fund book production?

The way I see it there are two broad choices about what you decide to write.

The first choice is to conform. You, write to market, so if it’s fantasy, you write about ware wolves or witches and yes you light them differently or whatever it takes and you write about six books (minimum) a year. And you thank your lucky stars you’re not in Romance where you have to write one a month!

Alternatively if you really can’t face the prospect of writing about creatures someone else has already invented or making your hero American, or 101 other must haves for the best selling book, accept that you are unlikely to earn diddly squat for a long, long time and just go for it writing the kind of stuff you love, that fulfils you as a reader and writer, stuff you want to read that hasn’t been written yet. But if you choose this route, you have to be extremely pragmatic about your chances of earning anything for many years and extremely lateral and original about what you do to earn from your books in other ways.

It’s quite good if you can avoid combining motherhood to a small child and trying to look after sick, elderly parents, at the same time as trying to have any sort of career, too.

This is where I am right now. But hey, my sixth book will be out next year and who knows, 2027 I may even have written twelve and if I market the hell out of them, well who knows, they might pay for the thirteenth book.

Mwahahahargh! I can dream.

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Win a laughter library and Kobo’s 40% off sale. #kobo #giveaways

Greetings everyone, just a quick one today about some smashing offers for Kobo users first and then a giveaway that should suit everyone … well everyone who likes humorous books because if you don’t like the funny then, frankly, I’m not sure what you’re doing here. On we go.

Kobo 40% off sale

Yep the lovely peps at Kobo are doing that thing again, only this time, it’s 40% off!

So, if  you do Kobo and you’re holding out for a cheaper copy of Escape From B-Movie Hell, now’s your chance to bag one. This promo runs from 26th – 30th October, here’s what you do. Go to the Escape From B-Movie Hell book page, click to buy the book, enter the code 40SAVE at checkout and they’ll knock 40% off the price.

You can also download as many participating books in the promo as you like with the same code … which is nice.

For more info and a link to the promo page on your local Kobo, go here: http://www.hamgee.co.uk/ebmhkobo.html

If you have already bought a copy of Escape From B-Movie Hell the link to the sale home page is on there too.

Win a Laughter Library runs until 15th November

This is a cracking giveaway running over the next couple of weeks and the prize is a bunch of funny books.

The lovely Dean Wilson at SFF book bonanza has set this one up. If you like funny books, follow the link, enter the competition and a whole bunch of humorous paperbacks could be yours. You can get extra chances to win by sharing the details as well.

To enter just click on the link.

http://sffbookbonanza.com/win-a-laughter-library/

Next week, in a radical departure from my usual fare, I will be bringing you HORROR with my good author friend Will Macmillan Jones! It being Halloween and all, I thought you might like that. Mwah hahahaahahahahahargh! (For full effect, do that laugh in the style of the one at the end of Michael Jackson’s Thriller).

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Just the basic facts? I wish.

When is news … Well … not news but … say … propaganda.

Yes, it’s a little bit of politics this week. Yikes.

News is, and always has been, complicated. However, recently, it seems two things have happened.

  1. We’ve realised this.
  2. We are too busy to read and understand all the reasons underneath everything. We are looking for short cuts. An outlet for news which we know and trust which will tell us everything we need to know.

In short, we seem to be looking less for newspapers these days and more for a reliable friend who will research the facts so we don’t have to and give us a potted summary. I used to enjoy the news on the BBC text service because it would just report what happened. No comment or slant or suggestions as to why. Just the facts.

That’s gone now though.

Maybe there is a parallel with buying products. Take cars. Gone are the days when you could fix something that went wrong easily. These days, most cars, most things to be honest, are so complicated that a normal intelligent person cannot fix them without serious training or expertise – usually in electronics. So these days we have to trust the manufacturer to deliver something that will do what we want it to do without breaking down, blowing up or generally endangering us. As a result, brand has become a lot more important and with so much trust invested in our purchase, maybe that’s why we feel a lot more let down if the product doesn’t live up to our expectations.

News, we have something similar. I’m noticing a trend for people to pick a news service of choice and stick with that. Nothing new there. In earlier days, we all knew and accepted that these outlets had an editorial bias and you took that into account when you read or watched. There seems to have been a shift. News outlets have a much stronger bias and instead of reading them with that bias in mind, people seem to be reading them as truth and then feeling hurt and aggrieved and lied to if the ‘truths’ of their organ of choice are proved wrong.

Perhaps life, political life at any rate, has become too complicated. Perhaps our problem is that while products can be summed up in a nutshell and pitched to us in a catchy soundbite, serious and more complicated issues like news can’t.

The fact is, ‘it feels like the right thing to do’ is fine for deciding what brand or colour of washing machine you have but maybe it’s not going to cut the mustard when you are choosing a political candidate. Surely, when it comes to political or ethical issues our decisions need to be based on more facts. Except that when our news is packaged up in easily digestible soundbites and slickly marketed to us like products the facts are so difficult to ascertain.

We need the facts – without the spin and the NLP trigger words designed to titillate or shock us. The BBC used to be excellent for this and judging by the way the far right and left BOTH decry it for its ‘petty rules’ and bias it is clearly still doing reasonably well at maintaining the middle ground.

But now we have a whole new take on this. First, smaller interests in politics had to be represented – for balance. So it was that the BBC was slammed for only inviting the main contenders to political debates. So individuals like Gordon Fosdyke from the Wombling Alliance who had three followers, one of whom was a dog called Benjy suddenly got prime TV time. So did the far right. And for people with far right leanings, that was an endorsement. They began to feel it was OK to believe the things they secretly believed about people who were a different colour, sexual orientation, gender or heaven forefend, disabled. They began to forget that the reason people have frowned upon views like theirs for so long is because that kind of thinking caused one world leader to start a war a few years back in which sixty million people died. I do hope you are reading, Mr Trump, Leaders of The Caliphate etc.

People who were not aligned with the far left, the far right or those areas of religion more concerned with controlling and judging others than the love your neighbour aspect of their founders began to notice this, and at the same time, people also spotted that there were folks here in the UK preaching hatred on religious grounds. Remember the Muslim cleric preaching hate in North London? Abu Hamza. And so the new crime of inciting hatred was born.

Expressions of hatred toward someone on account of that person’s colour, race, disability, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation is forbidden.” To quote Wikipedia.

Now, I have a varied group of friends and a couple are very right wing, one tells me his news organ of choice is Breitbart, a platform for the smiling face of the alt right, as I believe National Socialism is called these days. These are all guys – and it’s normally guys because it’s a hard job hating women enough to be alt right if you’re a woman – who would be first to extend a helping hand to anyone in need. The Breitbart reading lad is about as morally and spiritually unaligned with the far right as I can imagine. I confess, I have tried to read Breitbart a couple of times, more to try and understand my friend than anything. There are a lot of sweeping judgements being made, a lot of mocking others who are more accepting of the things they decry and a little bit of sick-up into my mouth at the sentiments expressed a lot of the time. Interestingly, there’s a fair bit of anti feeling against people like Mr Abu Hamza in the far right on the grounds they are preaching hate in our country – which they are. But at the same time, many of those folks speaking out against Muslims (they think all Muslims are like him) have attitudes that carbon copy his. Yet they can’t see that. Like Abu Hamza and his ilk, they target groups who are different; disabled people, LGBT people and women of course,  oh yeh, I know the score, no matter what brand of extremism you’re peddling, you all hate me because I’m a lady and I do ladies’ things.

So, obviously, as a female with a love your neighbour, rather than judgemental, religious faith, reading Brietbart is going to be a very uncomfortable experience for me. The comments are the worst bit. So much hatred. So much bile. Jeez.

However, it got me wondering how and why intelligent thinking people abandon mainstream news which is, at least, delivered by journalists who are paid and trained to do research and attempt to be factual, in favour of a site run by people who are not always journalists, nor trained in journalism and who are unapologetically pushing their own political agenda. In this case hatred of everyone who isn’t a fully able white man, as far as I can see. Maybe I’m naive.

Interestingly, a big bug bear for the far right, the religious exrtremes and the far left –  and I’m sorry anyone from either reading this BUT YOU ARE ALL THE FUCKING SAME how are you unable to see that, with the exception of a few key words swapped YOU ARE ALL PEDDLING THE SAME MESSAGE – are protestations that the BBC and other organisations like it are biased and muzzling free speech.

Thinking about it, I’m guessing the BBC has to act within the law. Since preaching hate and hate speak are a crime in the UK where it is based, then technically, I suspect that giving someone a platform Encourage people to hate one another on grounds of sexuality, religion, skin colour, ability or gender group of people is … an ethically grey area. Or to put it another way, vile AND illegal to boot. Especially if those sentiments cross the line from a political argument into the realms of hate speak which they have to, if expressed, because there is no reasoned or scientific reason to think someone’s colour, sexuality or gender makes them inferior. Our forefathers spent seven years discovering where that kind of crap gets us in the 1930s and 40s so that we don’t have to.

Guess which group of people in these pictures killed someone.

Those who had previously been given a platform, albeit briefly, to spread their poison on the BBC are now no longer able to, because preaching hate does not comply with the law of the land – even though Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and The Sun newspaper seem to get away with it on a regular basis. Generally, though, it’s frowned upon. I doubt having someone banging on about people being inferior because they’re female, or coloured or gay ties in with the BBC’s diversity guidelines either.

So, our extremist friends, unwilling to retreat back to obscurity, now pitch themselves as radical new thinkers being silenced. They cry that their ‘right’ to free speech has been curtailed. But frankly, if you preach hate, you forfeit your right to free speech. Furthermore, I can’t help wondering if going after the BBC is these peoples’ way of trying to knock out a main source of reasonably accurate news and one of the few larger ones with a more left wing bias. Clearly it’s a big threat to the extreemists on all sides if they are so keen to take it down.

It’s also important to remember that most of the human race decided, after the holocaust, and the death of sixty million people during world war two, that it was a bad thing to base political rhetoric, let alone government policy around a view that is, basically, the grown up equivalent of a toddler saying, ‘I’m not going to play with you coz you smell.’

It may well be that we need to look at immigration and how people settle here. In my view, if you walk through the streets of Luton chanting ‘death to Britain’ you really do need to have a think about what the fuck you’re doing here. And if you can’t, the government should, perhaps, help you to focus by revoking your citizenship and expelling you to whatever country your grandparents, parents or you originated from … or just expelling you; escorting you to the border and saying, ‘bye-bye mate.’

But of course, treating people who behave in an inhuman manner as anything less than human merely reduces us to being like them. That is what they do to us after all. And if we behave like them our arguments that we are better or more advanced than them become moot. That is what extremes are about, uniting us in our distrust  and suspicion of others. Tribalism, basically, a once useful instinct, but one that counts for little when used in excess or without logic, even if it is very powerful.

It seems to me that extremism, in any form, never got anyone anywhere long term, it brought us the Pogroms and Stalin, the concentration camps, North Korea and Cambodia under Pol Pot, The Daesh and medieval Bedouin law in a twenty first century state. It never turns out well. It is proven flawed. There are bigots in every religion and every flavour of politics but fighting their bigotry with a different type of our own bigotry doesn’t help. It just makes two groups of bigots where there was one.

So reading the news? Well, I tend to try and do what people used to do. I watch mainstream news aware that agendas are being pushed. I try to look at the facts behind what is happening. If I read the Telegraph, I accept it has a tory agenda, likewise, I accept that the Guardian is more left wing. But I do at least know that the people working there are, mostly, journalists, and that they believe it’s their job to produce well researched, well balanced arguments. If they fail to include hate speak, or refute the rhetoric of hate speak, that’s a bonus to me. It’s definitely not a problem and not a denial of anyone’s ‘rights’. We should have grown beyond the use of hate speak as a political tool.

I leave you with this lovely flyer that a beer company in the States produced in response to a visit from a white supremacist speaker to their town.

NB: Gordon Fosdyke from the Wombling Alliance is not real.

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Excerpt from one of the W.I.P.s #amwriting #comedybooks

This week, another joyous example of the logic of children. The children in question being me and my brother. This is also another story that will be making it into my family stories book: Setting Tripwires for Granny (and other tall family tales). And yes, as per, neither my brother nor I is reflected in the best of lights. Anyway, enjoy.

No parking …

When he hit the age of eight, my parents made the difficult decision to send my brother to a nearby boarding school. According to Mum, he was beginning to strongly resent the amount of time Dad spent in the house and wasn’t enjoying living in a school. So off he went.  It sounds draconian but by the time the events in this story happened he’d been there some time and was thoroughly enjoying it.

Every Sunday, we picked him up and he came home for the day to have lunch with us. Four weekends each term he was allowed home for the night and these weekends were red letter occasions. At the end of each Sunday, my brother had to be back in school at around six pm. Meanwhile, the boys at Lancing who’d been out for the weekend, or the day, had to come back, too. Lancing operated with Saturday night out every other weekend and the boys (and the girls, there were girls in the sixth form at that point) had to return for evensong at six pm. This meant there was always a difficulty with us leaving when the tide of traffic up the drive was coming the other way.

The building we lived in fronted onto the car park for the next door house, Fields. We had a small fenced off terrace, but otherwise it was Fields House parking and then Fields House Lawn. Obviously, there were usually cars parked everywhere. There was one particularly tidy spot at the end of our terrace but if anyone parked there, the angle was such that you couldn’t get our car out of our garage. Usually Mum remembered to get the car out before the boys came back and then park it in a lay by a little further down the school drive so the family cars of the Fields House boys wouldn’t box it in.

However, on this occasion, our car was still in the garage. When Mum found out it was boxed in, we knew she would be all in a dither. She’d have to venture into the twilight zone that was Fields and find the owner. It was a job of sleuthing that always took ages and on one ghastly occasion the person was in chapel. Mum was not good company when she was all in a dither so as far as we kids were concerned, anyone who was inconsiderate enough to put her there was bad news.

One day, when my brother came home for the weekend it snowed. We were only a couple of miles from the sea so this was something of a rarity although it did tend to hang around slightly longer, on top of our hill, than it did in the valley. After a weekend of high jinx, snowman building and tobogganing it was nearly time for my brother to go back to school. With twenty minutes left, some parents turned up and buttonholed my Mum and Dad in the kitchen. My brother and I were upstairs, looking out of his bedroom window when we noticed that there was a car parked in The Spot; the one that blocked our garage. We knew two things about this car.

First, we knew that Mum had already asked the owners not to park there on other occasions, two, it was occupied. There was a woman sitting in it reading a book. We knew a third thing, too; Mum hadn’t moved our car yet, it was still in the garage.

My brother immediately had horrors about Mum failing to get the car out in good time and him being late back to school. I should point out here that, for him, being late to school involved missing a meal rather than missing evensong which was an altogether more disastrous outcome for a ten year old boy. And also there were plenty of other parking spaces, the car didn’t need to be parked there. As kids, it never occurred to us that Mum had probably seen it too, and seen the woman in there, so known she could just pop out and ask when the time came. No, all we saw was bad person parked in bad car.

We opened the window to get a better view and we looked at the car. It was something big, executive and expensive; a Merc or a Jag.

‘Let’s give it a couple of minutes,’ my brother said. ‘If it doesn’t move, I’ll tell Mum.’

It didn’t move and Mum was still busy with Dad and the parents in the kitchen.

Perhaps we could help Mum by making the car move ourselves?

We would ask but the lady was unlikely to pay any attention to our request because we were children. And anyway where’s the fun in that?

I think it was my idea to go downstairs, out of the door at the other side of the house, onto the upper quad, make a couple of snowballs and bring them back. One of the wonders of living in a school is the weirdness of the accommodation; a handful of rooms, miles of corridor and an astounding variety of exits, should the incumbent housemaster wish to escape from rampaging parents, or the kinds of talkative ones he couldn’t afford to let himself run into when he was late for lessons—housemasters pack a lot into their days so they are usually late for something.

Off we went, sneaking out quietly because we weren’t one hundred percent sure that our parents would approve of our actions, and into the upper quad where we made a couple of snowballs each. Back indoors we trundled, trying not to spill any tell-tale drips of melt water or giggle too loudly as we made our way back up the stairs to my brother’s room where we had opened the window, a fair bit but not too much. Standing well back so that we were indistinguishable to anyone looking up at the windows we lobbed the snowballs out. Our attempts to avoid being seen hampered our aim a bit as it took a fair bit of skill to get the snowball through the window on the right trajectory from a safely anonymous distance back. They landed near the car with a satisfactory splatting noise but not near enough to make an impression on the woman inside. We waited, just to see, but she didn’t react or move the car.

Back down we went through the house, out of the door, down another flight of concrete stairs into the cloisters and through the archway into the quad. We made another couple of snowballs each using the snow on the grass and retraced our steps to my brother’s room. This time one of our efforts skimmed past the wing mirror, sputtering the window with water droplets and the other landed on the roof with a hugely satisfying bonging noise. The woman inside was royally startled from her book and looked about her. We watched from well back as she tried to work out what had happened. Clearly deciding that a lump of snow must have fallen off the roof of our house and hit her vehicle in some freak episode, she settled back into her seat and carried on reading.

She didn’t move the car.

Foiled!

The snowballs weren’t doing enough. Or maybe the rate of fire wasn’t fast enough? Yes, that was it, we decided. We needed more ammo for a sustained attack.

We got the old nappy bucket the lived under the sink in the bathroom and headed down to the quad, filled it with freshly made, if somewhat claggy, snowballs and returned to my brother’s room. Standing well back from the half open window we subjected the car to what I guess you might call a fusillade of snowball fire, culminating in a particularly slushy one, thrown by my brother, which landed with a massive splat right across the windscreen. The woman looked up at the anonymous windows of our house and scratched her head. She seemed thoughtful for a moment but then she did, finally, move the car.

She never parked there again.

PS, if you like the picture you can buy it as a greetings card from here: https://www.zazzle.co.uk/frosty_the_abominable_snowman_card-137112259617806813

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Real treasure isn’t always shiny #writing #metaldetecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cromwell really was a fucking vandal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me to this:

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

Woot.

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

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

Sod finding a hoard.

That, my friends, is a result.

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

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

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

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

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

Mmm.

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

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

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

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If I’d made this up, no-one would believe me. #dementia

Today, back to real life, sort of, in so far as my life is often like a badly scripted sitcom. Here’s an example.

As you know because heaven knows, I bang on about it incessantly, I am pre-menopausal. Basically, I feel pregnant and teary the entire time, and I have no memory. The only difference is that there’s no baby in there, just a lot of hormonal chaos shitting with my mojo and everything else. I also have parents who live a long way away and have dementia. They are lovely but it’s hard watching them go through this, especially as it started in Dad around fourteen years ago. Sometimes I wish they weren’t around any more. Not because I want them to die but because I can’t bear to see them suffering and after fourteen years, suffering with them getting pretty tough too. It’s a long time to know something isn’t right, to be ready to rush to their aid if required. The last four or five years have been extremely tough and I guess there are days when I just want release from the sadness I carry. Then I think how much tougher it must be for them.

This week, I felt particularly weepy and daunted at the prospect of a visit. Dad had cried for an hour and a half straight the week before and I knew that if he was like that again it would tough. So believe it or not, I prayed on the way down, for something, anything, to take away the pain or give me strength. I know it’s just hormones shitting with my arse, but some days it’s as if I can feel myself crumbling around the edges and this was one of them.

Perhaps, in some form, my prayer was answered …

You see, the thing that probably saves us all is that they haven’t lost their sense of humour and neither have my brother and I. And when I think all is lost and that I can’t hold it together any more, a visit like this one happens.

This morning, I arrived just after eleven and pootled around, as we usually do, had a sherry and some crisps and the lovely day relief carer served lunch. Meanwhile the also lovely live in carer, on her break, went for a long walk. The door bell went and it was from a friend of my parents who lives up the road. He asked if Mum and Dad wanted to go to the old people’s tea party up at the church. It starts at three o’clock which is perfect for me because I go at half two and the ladies who run it do the lifts for folks who can’t get there under their own steam then, as well. As the friend leaves he goes completely the wrong way and tries to leave the house through the sitting room, I point him back the way he has come and he finally locates the back door.

A few minutes later, Friend’s wife rings to confirm. Lovely Live-in has gone for her walk but will be back at half two so we hatch a cunning plan; the lift will come for Mum, Dad and the carer and they will also take the wheelchair. That way, if Dad gets twitchy and starts shouting, loudly, that he’s ‘fucking bored’ Lovely Live-in can pop him in the wheelchair and take him home. All is well, we have a date and I can go home as soon as they are picked up. So we have lunch and relax. During the lunch we have a cyclical conversation revolving round my car numberplate and the numberplate of my grandfather’s car when Dad was still living at home and his first car. He also asks me his age a lot. He is amazed I know the answers, not knowing that I’ve learned them as he’s asked me each question seven or eight times already. His name’s John, so we call this the John-tastic trivia game. He loves asking me questions and is always chuffed if I know the answers. I tell him I can slay all-comers on John-tastic trivia and he tries to catch me out unaware that these difficult questions are ones I’ve just answered. Despite the repeated nature of it all, he is very much himself. I exchange knowing winks with Mum as the conversation progresses, we laugh a lot and have fun.

At two o’clock the old dears are resting after lunch and I’m just finishing the washing and drying up when the phone rings.

‘Hello, this is British Gas,’ says a computerised female voice. ‘Please press any button on your keypad now.’

Stuff that for a game of soldiers, I think, it might be scammers. They do this. They ring you and when you press the button you are put through to a £40 a minute premium rate line. So I wait to see if anything more happens. After a few seconds of silence the plastic lady pipes up a second time.

‘This is British Gas,’ she says again. ‘We are about to send your bill but we do not have a meter reading for you. Please send us your meter reading by the second of October or we will have to send an estimated bill. You can do this by phoning …’ she gives an 0800 number too quickly for me to write it down but I remember the web address, which I write down on a piece of paper. As an afterthought, I 1471 the call and it gives me the freephone number I didn’t catch.

Well, that’s pretty straightforward. I go outside to ‘the boiler house’, the cupboard by the back door where the boiler and the rest of all that gubbins is and read the meter. Then I remember that Mum and Dad pay through Scottish Power rather then British Gas so rather than muddy the waters I decide it would be wise to ring them, instead. Also, I realise that there is bound to be some snappy sixteen digit account number or other that I need to give as well. I check the filing cabinet, find their last bill and, sure enough, there is. So I write it down and in a moment of incredible sensibleness, the actual Scottish Power phone number as well.

The 0800 number is answered by a message which tells me it’s been changed but not what to.

Excellent.

Undaunted, I ring the Scottish Power number. That has been changed too but like the 0800 number it demurs from telling me what it’s actually been changed to. I return to the filing cabinet for another rummage and find another number for Scottish Power. Good, here we go. I ring that and find that has also been changed and once again, helpfully, there is no mention of the new number.

Blow me down. They don’t want to be disturbed do they? I think.

A bit perplexed now, I attach my phone to Mum and Dad’s wi-fi because their house is dead to O2 and pretty much every other mobile operator barring Vodafone which I was with before, which does have a signal on certain special occasions. I dunno, when the stars align, the wind comes from the east and there’s n R in the month or something. I google Scottish Power’s contact details. When I ring the number given, this, too, has been changed but it does give me an alternative number. Marvellous. So I ring the alternative number, enter my parents’ account number followed by the meter reading and Bob’s your uncle! Done. And that’s when the trouble starts. The plastic lady, because this is still an automated thing, tells me the leccy bill is due too, explains that there is no meter reading for their electricity either and asks if I’d like to give that while I’m phoning.

Would I?! Two in one hit! I think, Bonanza! so I say yes and amazingly it understands my voice. I am in the study as I do this, so I nip back through towards the front door, at which point the alarm goes off that says Dad has got out of his chair. I meet him in the hall.

‘Hello Dad, fancy seeing you here.’
‘Yes.’
‘I’ll get the bottle.’
‘No. I don’t need a wee.’
‘I see.’
He looks thoughtful and then gives me a twinkly-eyed smile. ‘Actually, do you know, I can’t quite remember why I’m here.’
‘That’s OK, but you should probably sit back down for a bit because I’m just on the phone and your lift isn’t due for another fifteen minutes.’
‘Alright darling,’ he says.

So off he goes.

Glad that it’s a freephone number I now head out to the boiler house and discover that I’m too sodding blind to read the electricity meter, but there’s a stepladder in there so I climb up a bit and by sticking my nose up close and taking my glasses off I am able to read it. But the electricity meter reading isn’t so simple. The plastic lady informs me that there will be two readings, a day reading and a night reading. I look at the meter. There’s one number. Definitely one number.

‘If you are having any difficulty say, “Help.”‘ the plastic lady informs me.
‘Help,’ I say.

Then she explains that the electric meters have a button and the day reading, which will start with a higher number, will be Rate 1 while the night reading, which is Rate 2, will start with a lower number. Excellent, she is correct. I start with Rate 1, the day reading, and the plastic lady says that it is unusually low am I sure? ‘Yes,’ I say. She’s so aghast she asks again. I confirm. Then we move onto Rate 2. The plastic lady thinks it’s unusually high …

Oh oh, I think. I stop climb up the steps and recheck the numbers and rates. Yes, I’ve definitely written them down right.

Balls. Looks like it might be wired in the wrong way round.

I ring off, head back into the house where ring the number again, this time choosing the option to speak to a human. Fool that I am, I admit that I’m not Mum but her next of kin. Oh, he says, we will have to authorise you then.

Fucking fuck. I think.

At that point, Dad’s I’ve-got-up alarm goes off again and he comes zimmering into the hall.

‘Hi Dad, won’t be a minute, just have to give the phone to Mum.’
‘I need to pee,’ he explains, quite loudly enough for the poor bloke from Scottish Power to hear down the telephone I am holding.
‘Oh lord, sorry, be with you in a minute then. I have to help my Dad to the loo,’ I explain to the guy, ‘Let me hand you over so you can do the bit with Mum.’

Dad and I go to the loo which is next to my parents’ front door. All is fine but he is having trouble weeing. I know that when he can’t go, the carer whistles. So I suggest I do. He thinks that’s a capital plan and because it makes the situation just that little bit more Python than it already is, and because I know it’ll make him laugh, I start whistling the Dambusters March. At which point, the doorbell goes and Mum, who has followed us, manages to intercept the lady giving them a lift to the tea party just in time before she walks into the hall and sees the loo door open and me holding Dad’s cock in a bottle while whistling the Dambusters March for all I’m worth. But of course, Mum also has the phone, with the man from Scottish Power still on the end, and tries to give it back to me.

‘Hang on, just let me pull Dad’s pants up,’ I say cheerfully because there’s no coming back from this now and the man has probably called for the padded van already. Then I get Dad going on his way back to his chair, empty the bottle, wash my hands and take the phone back. Dad is a bit unsure where he is going or what he’s doing so I usher him gently in the direction of the drawing room to sit down out of the way for a moment. But the guy hasn’t finished. He needs Mum to confirm her date of birth and then two lines in their address and then he has to read her some legalese.

‘J….. Ch…! You must be kidding!’ I say and then apologise for swearing. ‘Mum,’ I say.
‘Oh Lord does he want me again?’ asks Mum.

Mum gives her address and date of birth as instructed and then hands it back to me.

‘No wait,’ the man says, as soon as I get the phone back, ‘I have to read her something.’
‘Oops, sorry hang on,’ I say and give the phone back to Mum.

Legalese listened to, she hands it back to me,  at which point Dad leans in.

‘You’re not still on the phone are you? Who is it? I want to go out! Tell them to bugger off.’ Well, I console myself, at least he didn’t say ‘fuck’.
‘No Dad, I can’t, he’s trying to help us,’ I explain.

Apologising profusely to the man form Scottish Power who is doing manful work stifling his laugher, I move away into the relative safety of the study. The man suggests that we all go out for two hours, leave something running and have a look to see which of the numbers has gone up when we get back. I explain that I won’t be there and they are not capable but that I’ll do it next week. He is a sweetheart, especially after what he’s been through, and says that’s grand. He also explains that he’s given a permanent third party access on the account so I can ring up and sort stuff as myself rather than by pretending to be Mum. I think him profusely and we say goodbye.

Then it’s time to leave and I’m finally able to actually ask Lovely live-in, who has just arrived back, if she minds going with them and wheeling Dad back if he gets bored before Mum does. Bless her heart, despite going for an hour and a half power walk with ankle weights on over her break, she agrees.

By this time it’s quarter to three and I should have left fifteen minutes ago but the car that is giving Mum and Dad a lift is blocking the drive and I can’t leave until it moves without driving over the lawn. But then the three of them, and the wheelchair, won’t fit in the car. So I realise I will have to run the wheelchair up there in my car, but it only fits with the roof that side rolled up. Luckily it’s only a mile or so on village roads. I say good bye and get in my car, at which point Dad, who has already forgotten that I’ve said goodbye, shouts that I haven’t said goodbye, so I get back out of the car and say goodbye because he’s forgotten. I then realise I have to go now, right this minute, because the others aren’t going to and if I don’t he’ll forget again and I’ll be getting in and out of my car to say goodbye to him, probably all day. So I wave cheerily at them all and with a round of see you next week’s I do indeed drive over the lawn. In my lotus. And up to the church where I deliver the wheelchair. I am finally on the road just before three, and also, to my delight, just in front of a tractor.

If anyone put that in a sitcom, or as a sketch in Little Britain, people would say it was over the top and unauthentic. Hmm … welcome to my unrealistically hammy comedy life.

Mum and Dad’s wedding photo. Check out the hands. They’re hanging onto one another like they never want to let go. They still love each other as much, even now.

_____________________________________________

On a lighter note, the lovely people at Kobo are doing a box set sale and mine is in. Basically all you do is enter this code, 30SEPT at checkout and you’ll get the whole K’Barthan Series for 30% less than usual.

At the moment it’s definitely running on Kobo UK, Canada and US and AU as well, I believe. So if you’re a Kobo user and you’re interested in picking up a bargain, click these lovely links here and enter the code at checkout:

Kobo US

Kobo Canada

Kobo Australia

Kobo GB

 

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