Tag Archives: trying to be a writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

christmaspromo

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

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Underground, Overground, Wombling Free…!

It’s a long time since I wrote anything on my blog. There is a reason. It’s because Real Life has been quite hectic. Worse, it’s been hectic in a way that has meant that I need to write to stay sane. That’s where I’ve been. Writing, and driving 130 miles to Sussex in the middle of the night to accompany one parent to hospital while a carer stays over and looks after the other, then doing the full care package for a day and dealing with all their heating and the cooker being turned off due to a gas leak on one and a half hours’ sleep… that kind of thing.

But now I’ve just finished half term week during which I was compelled to leave my characters to their own devices and interact with Real Life. So here I am, sorting some bits of real life out before I go back to my routine of not very much time, but a bit more than before, and a lot more of it spent writing. Also, my parents are on a more even keel now, so the desperation with which I escaped into my made up world is not quite so marked.

As you probably know, both my parents are in their 80s and they need a bit of help. To that end, I’ve been trying to get some disability aids out of Social Services for them. It’s not that social services won’t give them, just that it takes ages. There’s one particular thing called a ‘perching stool’ which Mum could really use in the kitchen, right now. But there’s a 20 working day waiting time before they can even call you back and start the process. I have been wondering if I should buy one – if Social came up trumps with a second I could always put the bought one in the greenhouse for her. But I was havering, because they cost a sod of a lot of money, these things.

So imagine how insanely chipper I was to discover this bizarrely obscure item in a skip this morning, just outside my gym! It was brand new and it wasn’t alone. It was in there with three other disability aids: a riser loo seat for people with dodgy hips which was still wrapped in its plastic and a really handy trolly-cum-walker with two shelves for trays. All had labels on with a number to call for collection after use, so at the least, I thought, if Mum and Dad have no use for them, I can ring the number and get them back to people who need them. Anyway, I had to take the trolley because it was the only way I was going to get the stuff, plus my bicycle, home. So, with the help of three of the ladies who also attend my gym, who praised me for my Womble* like tendences, I climbed into the skip and relieved it of its disability enhancing contents.

SkipScore

If anyone had ever told me I would get excited about finding items like these in a skip I’d have told them to piss off. Luckily, no-one did. Unlike the time I said I’d never marry a lawyer and then…

It will be even more of a challenge to get the things – which are square and firm and most non-folding – from Bury St Edmunds to Sussex in a Lotus. I might have to borrow McOther’s car.

Even so it’s a bit of a result. I am, naturally, hugely chuffed to have these difficult-to-get things fall into my lap, instantly, when I never expected them to, and for free.

Mwah hahahahrgh! Sometimes the stars just align.

 

*If you don’t know what a womble is, click here the song explains it. Obviously, they are a lot more interesting when you are 7.

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A question of perception

It’s another ‘I’m an idiot, learn from me’ post today. It’s also long. Apologies for that but there’s rather a lot to say.

Recently I’ve been trying to get the initial ideas and machinery in place to launch a new book. There are several places where I’m stuck, mostly the same, old same old: you know, stuff like actually managing to write a blurb that makes it sound appealing or coming up with a viable title. There is also the aspect of things I might unknowingly stuff up.

OK, so I try to act with professional integrity. This is the internet. Whatever I do I will offend someone but I try avoid any dishonourable, shabby, dishonest or generally reprehensible behaviour if at all possible. I try to love my internetty neighbour the way I’d like to be loved myself.

However, I’m a writer and a flawed human being. I frequently offend people without even realising. Indeed, if life was a game I suspect unwitting offence would be my Special Attribute. A couple of things have happened, recently, that have made me very aware of this and concentrated my attention on the matter of how hard it is to achieve a good reputation on the internet, how difficult it is not to cause offence, however well meaning your actions may actually be. And how difficult it can be to gauge how others will react to your actions when the only guide you have is to imagine how it would feel to be on the receiving end.

It’s not just about trying to act with decency and integrity at all times. It’s about whether people think think you are. A lot of that is about what folks believe your intentions are. I think that no matter how genuine you wish to be, how honest you think you are being, or how principled you aim to make your approach, if you are selling anything, however obliquely, there are certain quarters of the internet where any attempt to connect on your part will be considered a hypocritical attempt to befriend people in order to sell them something. So far with me, it’s kind of been the other way round. But a couple of things have really surprised me, recently. Stupid things I’ve done without realising they were stupid.

On the up side, since I’ve made these monumental fuck ups, it means that by describing them to you at length I can ensure that you don’t have to. Here’s what I’ve learned from this series of unfortunate events…

The dreadful truth about titles.

I’ll fess up. I got in a bit of a muddle publishing my last two books. The main problem was that when I finished the third book in the K’Barthan Trilogy (as it was then called) I discovered it was a snadge over 300,000 words long. What to do? If I produced a paperback then, by the time I’d factored in the kind of discount that would pay the middle men (60%) I would have a book that cost about £25. So there’s book 1 at £9.99, book 2 at £11.99 and book 3 at £24.99. With books 1 and 2 ending on cliff hangers it does rather look as if I’m holding readers to ransom to find out what happens. Luckily there was a point where I could split it. So I did. But that cost more. Another £800 or so to be precise and another £90 plus 20% sales tax to upload it to the print on demand distributor I use.

With money tight, the question raised it’s head of spending a further £90 plus tax per book to change the word ‘Trilogy’ on the cover and front pages of the first two, to ‘Series’ in print. Also, what little traction the series had was as the K’Barthan Trilogy. I asked folks, took advice and tried to imagine how I would feel if a trilogy I was following had four books. The folks I asked reckoned a 4 book trilogy was not unusual and that no-one would mind. Since I’ve read the Hitch Hiker’s ‘trilogy’ and was delighted when it kept growing, rather than upset, I saved the £180 and went for the 4 book trilogy.

How wrong I was.

A couple of months ago the third book got a blistering one star review, slamming me for writing a fourth instalment. I paraphrase but the gist was like this:

“I know your game,” it basically said. “You’re just going to write book after book and never end the story, because you’re just a bastard writer! And all you bastard writers ever want to do is rip readers off and make us pay and pay so you can buy another set of gold plated wheels for your Mercedes Benz. Well I’m not reading any more of your crap you… charlatan!”

Fair enough, this case, someone has clearly watched too many episodes of ‘Lost’, and that £50 a month I earn from my writing may well look like the gold-plated-alloy-purchasing big time to some folks, but I was completely thrown. First that they were upset, second by the enormous gap between their perception of my personality and the real one.

OK, we all know the golden rule is DO NOT ENGAGE. NEVER reply to things like that.

I broke it.

I commented on the review apologising for causing offence, explaining that it wasn’t intended, that the story ends at the conclusion of the fourth book (in case anyone else reading that review wondered) and then I offered to send it to them for free so they could find out what happened. They never replied. I went and changed the title from ‘trilogy’ to ‘series’ in all the ebook files and on all the listings on every retail site I sell through – it already said it in the product desription. Naturally the retailers all accepted my chages except for Amazon who asserted that if it said ‘trilogy’ on the book cover (even if it’s too small to read) it will be called ‘trilogy’ until I pay the designers to change the j-peg and upload the new one.

I chalked it up as something to watch and a change to do when I brief the designers about my next book.

During last year, I entered both books for the excellent Wishing Shelf Book Awards. When the feedback came through I was very surprised to discover that readers there, too, had commented negatively about my writing a ‘trilogy’ of four books.

Clearly, something that hadn’t registered with me was really pissing other people off. So what have I learned from this litany of amateurism?

  1. Give yourself options.
    My four book ‘trilogy’ has royally ticked off a whole bunch of people. Folks I will never get back. Folks who will consider me a wanker forever and spread their opinions near and far. But the problem would never have existed if I’d had the wit to call it the K’Barthan Series from the get go. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so learn from mine: if you’re writing a trilogy then, in the name of the almighty don’t call it that. Call it a series unless it’s actually finished, has three books the same length, and you are about to publish the first one.
  2. Give yourself some slack.
    Accept there are some things you can cover with research and some things that only experience will show you but.
  3. When experience does kick you in the teeth, learn from it.
  4. If you can repair the damage, do it as soon as you can but think it through, don’t hurry it or you may just make things worse.
    OK, so I can’t afford to get rid of the bloody ‘trilogy’ moniker until the entire series is edited at the end of November. The covers, I can, and will, change sooner. For now I just have to accept that I’ve fucked up, chalk it up to experience and learn from what I have done.

The grim truth about interacting on the internet.

The second smack in the face from reality came this week.

Recently, I’ve had a facebook ad running which offers the first two books in the K’Barthan Series to anyone who joins my mailing list. I’d heard that a good way to identify a market of people to show your ad to is to choose an audience who like books by an author similar to you. It then suggests you make reference to the author you, and they, know and love and suggest that if they like that stuff they might like yours. I’m always a bit leery about this, I mean, all those reviews saying I write like Adams are just setting folks up for disappointment because I don’t. But I thought it might work with a humorous bent if I aimed it at Pratchett readers.

After a bit of tweaking and watching and tweaking I ended up with an audience who liked Terry Pratchett books and an ad which referenced CMOT Dibbler.

OK, in my defence here, I wrote the copy while Sir Terry was still around but this is what it said:

“If you like funny British science fiction and fantasy why not check out this freebie: The K’Barthan Series stands complete at four books and I’d like to give you two of them. Yes, this all sounds a bit CMOT Dibbler school of marketing but I’m hoping you’ll find a lot more quality literary meat in these books than there is REAL meat in CMOT Dibbler’s sausages.

All you have to do is tell me where to send them – the books, obviously, real sausages will not be involved.”

Then there was this picture and the title and caption below.

FACTWSfacebookAd

“I’M LITERALLY cutting my own throat here.

If you love a bargain, help yourself to two award winning funny sci-fi fantasy books, Few Are Chosen and The Wrong stuff, parts 1 and 2 of the best selling K’Barthan Series are usually £4 but they’re free for a limited time. To grab yours click here.”

To start with, I got sign ups, shares and a couple of joky quotes about the quality of the meat – is it named? Yes it’s called Bob. In other words, exactly what I expected. Then a few days ago, from New Zealand, this:

Pep A: Ripping off a Terry Pratchett character to sell your book? Poor form?
Pep B: Poor form? Fucking shameful.

And I looked at it and I thought… what happened there? And then the ad got this comment:

Pep C: Well. He’s dead now.

And the penny dropped.

Yes M T you daft, fucking moron! He died. And so suddenly this ad is not joking about characters we know and love from a favourite author. It’s trampling over people’s memories of a great man and maligning the dead. Events can cause changes in perception. And I completely missed that. So I’ve removed the ad. Because although it was working really well I didn’t think of that, and while, personally, I think it’s a bit weird to be offended, I do absolutely get why someone might be.

Have I replied or apologised? Well… no, because of another particularly important thing that I’ve learned about the internet, so that you don’t have to is that it’s bat shit crazy, and also:

  1. The international nature of the internet is a two edged sword…
    Yes, you can talk to the entire globe. Unfortunately, not all of it thinks the way you do. That means you can and will offend thousands of people effortlessly and unwittingly at the touch of a button: not just people in Britain but folks all over the world.Seriously though, I’m not American, from the RSA, Kenya or Zimbabwe. I’m not Australian, or a Kiwi, or Tasmanian or from India, Pakistan or South East Asia. I’m not from Holland, Germany, France, Russia or any of the myriad other places where people speak English and read my books, in English. I lack the instinctive grasp of other cultures that will enable me to see the point when funny becomes offensive to them if it doesn’t to someone British. But because I’m speaking English and they speak English too, THEY EXPECT ME TO.
  2. The internet contains a huge gap in perception.
    The aforementioned gulf between the spirit in which I act and interact on line, who I think I am, and what others perceive me to be. Frankly, it’s enormous. 90% of communication is non verbal and boy does it show on t’interweb – mainly through the medium of folks becoming very suspicious of one another. And what that equates to, if you’re selling anything, anywhere on line, is an assumption that nothing you do is genuine. That everything is crafted, honed and perfected with your eye on the next sale.So while you’re trying to just be, write a blog, do stuff, keep people informed, have a presence that’s just yourself: a benign and friendly presence, there are folks out there who will dismiss it as the work of a rapacious scammer who sees everyone as a potential victim (including them, unless they’re ‘careful’ a.k.a. prickly, aggressive and ready to take offence at the drop of a hat).
  3. 3. People are going to drop their weird shit onto you.
    There’s a saying, ‘you can please some of the people some of the time but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’ I understand this but it seems that in today’s world, if you do anything that might put your name into the public domain, like paint, write, make music, act etc you are expected to please everyone, all of the time. Worse, if you don’t, no quarter will be given.Genuine mistakes, or simple errors of of judgement, far from being forgiven, are seen as an act of cynical aggression towards your innocent audience. A lot of people out there don’t really like themselves. They think they’re cynical, cold hearted conniving little shits, and guess what? Because they believe that about themselves they’re going to believe it about you too.
  4. Give them some slack. Try to stay positive and accept that sometimes you will offend others and it can’t always be helped.
    Long ago, I decided not to worry about the nature of the net. I am who I am and it’s hard to be anyone else. I know I will make mistakes and all I can do is try not to. It’s worth making peace with yourself and accepting that sometimes, no matter how benign you want to be and how hard you try to avoid hurting people, you will cause offence. Sometimes all you can do is apologise, chalk it up to experience, learn from it and move on. Sometimes our attempts to interact with people we don’t actually know personally, can be interpreted, by some as evidence that we’re out to get them in some way. It doesn’t matter how much cobblers that is, they’ve been burned by others and but there’s no way we will ever convince folks like that of our good intentions. There’s no point even trying. Indeed, the only thing you can do about them is hope to heaven that they never, ever find you.

So what can we do? How can writers or artists or anyone creative who interacts regularly on the internet behave ‘well’ without becoming too slick, too spun and anodyne?

Perhaps we can’t. Or perhaps all we can do is our level, genuine best to avoid saying anything that would offend us if you were on the receiving end. Do unto others and all that.

If you’re laid back and you write humour which, by its nature, is subversive you will undoubtedly prick the bubble of the pompous at some stage. But you may also stuff up and the way I have though sheer naivety, lack of foresight or plain ignorance and unwittingly offend many, many folks – good decent people who you don’t want to upset. When you do, I guess the only course is to chalk it up to experience – apologise if appropriate/possible and move on.

Few people do things deliberately to offend, whatever many internet users think. Most of us offend because we’re human, and flawed; and that’s natural. If we never cocked it up we’d be actual God. Because perfect is impossible unless you’re Allah, right?

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Welcome to my world…

Just a quick post before I go into low internet access mode for three weeks… not that you’ll be able to tell the difference between that and me in full internet access mode, seeing as I’ve failed spectacularly to do anything internetty for a long time. Life has just got a bit busy and when that happens, I use computer time to write and my socialising and promoting tends to be put aside for a while.

It all began with a hurriedly organised birthday party for McMini complete with cake. Mmm… Making the cake was interesting. McCat likes cake so the reason that bit in the middle of the neck is a different colour is because that’s the bit McCat excised while I was answering the door.When I came back he ran off with it. It was OK though. The rest hadn’t been touched so I cut out a good margin either side and put in new cake and new icing. Couldn’t get the icing out of the gaps though.

IMG_2408

Bakugan cake…. it’s supposed to be the little fellah at the top.

The next cake,  one for McParents’ – on my side – golden wedding. This time it was the raw mixture that got eaten while I was answering the door. I knew I shouldn’t have turned the mixer off. Came back and McCat had his head in the bowl snarfing.

All the cake making gave me a bit of an IBS attack. Trying cake mixture. I think eating some rather old smoked salmon with scrambled eggs for breakfast followed by courgettes fried with some decidedly elderly pancetta for lunch may have contributed too. Still cake made McMini and I iced it without a serious hitch, except that I couldn’t get the dates to fit and I’d planned it most carefully so I couldn’t work out why. Oh and McCat stole a sausage from my lunch plate but at least he left the beautifully (erk it’s all relative) iced cake unmolested this time.

All ready for the day, I woke up on the morning and I discovered that I had vertigo (this is how I do hayfever). Serious, 18 pints on board style spins, so I spent the first hour shouting, ‘Europe’ into the big white telephone without much coming out and waiting for the hayfever pills to kick in. Amazingly they did, the vertigo stopped and off we went. Even more amazingly, we made it in time for the lunch, with some to spare.

All went well, the cake was much admired, McMini had fun with his cousins, the grown ups had fun too and hoorah! All went swimmingly. Even better I got a big rest on the Saturday as McOther and McBrother took McMini to the fair – the vertigo was better but I still questioned the wisdom of watching a lot of stuff going round, and round and round: or worse, sitting on it while it did.

That night while looking for a shoe, I only had one pair and I could only find one – because I’d washed the other one and forgotten that I’d put it behind the curtains where it would get a nice 2 hours of sun on it to dry it before I got up. This simple fact obscured temporarily, I was searching the house. Heard Sis In Law call for my brother. Great, she would almost certainly have clocked and seen the shoe. I looked over the bannisters and there was my sister in law, lying on the ground at the bottom of the stairs wrapped in a duvet.

“Er that’s quite an unusual place to stop… are you alright down there?”
Not really, I’ve broken my ankle.”
“Ah,” gulp. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’ve done it before.”
“Right. I’m guessing you heard it crack?”
“Yep.”
“Ah, that’s enough to convince me. Tricky, hang on…” I trundle down the stairs to join her.
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
“OK… let’s get you a bowl.” I run and get bowl. “Did you hit your head?”
“No, I held onto the curtains.”
I look at the curtains in front of the door, clearly she has grabbed them, the hooks have broken one by one and they’ve fallen down, lowering her gently to earth as they do so.
“Lucky! OK, I’ll go and get McBro.”

McBrother appears and suggests going straight to A&E but I persuade him to call 999 so we get a paramedic to evaluate her first before moving her. Sis in law agrees she’d like us to do that. McBrother calls ambulance.

“Ooooo!” calls my Mum from upstairs, “Can I press our red panic button?”
“No,” says McBrother.
“He’s ringing an ambulance,” I tell her.
“OK.” She sounds disappointed.

I am sent to stand in the road waiting for the ambulance. They have verbal directions from McBrother but they will not find our house if they use sat nav. This is because Google Maps is convinced that our house is not where we live, but somewhere a few miles away. Every now and again I contact Google and explain where it really is. And they usually write back to tell me that an adjudicator has looked at my request but that I am wrong. Growing up there, is clearly not enough.

There is a problem with this though, I only have one shoe, but luckily Sis In Law’s shoe has broken in Worthing at the fair and she’s had a bit of a spree while buying a new pair and bought some crocs, too. I slip my vile feet into them and then, weird of weird, put on my panama hat despite the fact it’s 10:30pm and dark  (what in the name of heaven is that about) and trot dutifully out into the road. The ambulance is lost and I run, or at least, I do ‘the gait’ because I can’t run, down the road to it. It arrives and it’s a car. There is no room for me in there with them so I tell them where to go. I run along after them. They drive past. I wave my feeble torch. They stop. I show them.

When I get to the house a few minutes after they do, they are evaluating Sis In Law.

So, the long and the short after this examination was that we discovered she had broken her ankle, on Brighton Gay Pride night, when a lot of other people in the locale, after injudicious amounts of dancing and alcohol, had broken their ankles – and other bits of themselves – too. There was a one and a half hour wait for an ambulance – but that was OK because the Paramedic car had come in about 10 minutes and we had the all clear to take her in ourselves. But the 2 hour wait in casualty (even in Worthing) was a bit more of a bummer. Fair play to her and McBrother that they made the lunch the next day, successfully consumed a heavy meal on a couple of hours sleep and were rather more awake than I was.

“How was your weekend?” a friend asked when I got back.
Was that out of the ordinary for a trip to my folks? No, not really.
“Same old same old,” I said.

On a side note, they’re going to give my Mum a new hip. She finally has a date: slap bang in the middle of our holiday. It’s a worry but less of a worry than when she was in limbo without one. Perhaps that’s why for  have been even more numerically challenged than usual this week: worry. It does make me a bit more ditzy. Let’s forget about that, though and look at some photos. First: the Golden Wedding Cake. Remember I couldn’t work out why the numbers didn’t fit?

Cake: Before...

Cake: Before light dawns, can you spot the deliberate mistake?

Yeh, well, as I was about to serve it up, my uncle noticed it had the wrong date. Yes, I’d put 2005 instead of 2015. A bit of an, ‘ah now I get it,’ moment. Of course the numbers didn’t sodding fit. They were the wrong ones. It’s not even as if I got the date of the marriage wrong, as in 1965, it the bleeding date NOW. Oh well. Luckily it was easy to scrape one side of the O off and turn it back into a 1.

Cake: After, with the RIGHT date.

Cake: After, with the RIGHT date.

Then, two nights ago we had some folks for dinner and when I asked how many McOther said, “eight with McMini.” I translated this as 9, which means I managed to lay an extra place… for a person who didn’t exist… and even worse to not actually notice until I was serving pudding.

So there you have it. My family is still a group of people that THINGS HAPPEN TO, my cat is a mentalist who probably has some kind of feline eating disorder and I’m completely fucking bats.

Never mind… At least there was lots of cake.

My brain and my life.

My brain and my life.

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All I need is Little Nellie! Learning to love #Christmas (and myself).#scrooge

Christmas. The traditional time of unfulfilled expectations and almost unfailingly the death of a friend or relative. I have to admit that the best bit about Christmas, for me, is the day we get back from whoever we’ve been staying with that year, and I can relax in the knowledge that it’s all over for another 12 months.

It pains me to confess it but I am the original Scrooge, although this year I think I am finally beginning to understand why. If it’s OK, I’d like to share my breakthrough with you (phnark). So let’s have a rummage through my season-specific navel lint.

Warning: this one’s outrageous and fairly lavatorial.

Right then.

Here goes…

When I was a kid, I thought that Christmas would always be a time of fun and light and laughter. Strangely, when I look back over the actual Christmas Days I can remember then 99.9% of the time it is exactly that – even the years people died or got sick.

Yet it hangs leadenly on my spirits and I dread it more with each passing year.

Looking at it, the big thing, for me, has always been that I’d like to ‘do’ Christmas, myself. My Mum always told me that once you have kids you can put your foot down with the grandparents and tell them that from now on, you’ll be having Christmas at home. My Mum did this successfully. However, she was younger when she had my brother and I. Furthermore, both sets of grandparents were hale and hearty and perfectly able to hop in the car and drive to us if they wanted to. They were only about 45 minutes away, anyway.

Our world is different.

Nonetheless, the dream persists of waking up in my own home on Christmas morning. In 20 years. we’ve managed two home Christmases, yes I’ve managed to cook two turkeys (and a goose but that’s another story). Both those Christmases were lordy-never-again style jobs. One because McOther and I were going through a rough patch, I didn’t even know if we’d be together in a few weeks’ time and we had to present a united front to the visiting grandparents for 8 days when I had no idea if, in 20 days, we’d still be an item. McOther was at work the whole time anyway, to the point of spending two hours in a conference call on Christmas day. The next year, the other set of grandparents stayed for less than 24 hours and gave us flu. I spent the turn of the millennium in bed with it. Later, my father’s condition, coupled with the cold temperature of our house, meant that if he visited us in winter he went completely loolah (too cold = not enough blood to the head) so that was out.

In other words; we know Christmas at home doesn’t work. Now that neither set of rellies can actually stay here, we also know that, were we to tell them, “We were having Christmas at home this year,” we would have the most awful time, sitting at home feeling guilty. We’re talking a level of guilt that eating our free range, local butcher’s, locally sourced turkey with actual red meat; that having our boy get his stocking in one hit, because we haven’t had to leave the 3/4 of it that doesn’t fit into the car on his bed at home and pretend Father Christmas delivered here too; that being around to help with the Church flowers etc and even finding a lonely local to invite, would not do anything to assuage.

Why then? Why this endless longing to make Christmas my own instead of bolting onto other people’s? It’s a completely insoluble problem. And yet once I actually get to whichever set of parents house it is, then, even with its strange or too-distant bathroom, the strength sapping levels of vigilance required to take a lively small boy and incredibly clumsy mother somewhere else for a week without their accidentally breaking something precious or spilling something dreadful or eating something they shouldn’t, it’s actually fun.

Yes.

I do enjoy myself. We all do. And it distresses me deeply that I feel this utter misery and curmudgeonliness about going to see people who I actually want to see and love dearly.

Why the dread?

Well I think I’ve finally sussed it out.

It’s the travel. I loathe and detest using the British motorway network. However, at Christmas when there are high winds so the QE Bridge is closed and we have to queue for hours to get through one side of the tunnel. Or when we are driving through six inches of freshly fallen snow for two hours, with an ice covered road beneath and a sheer drop into the River Tweed a few feet from us pretty much all the way and meeting something coming the other way on. Every. Single. Blummin’. Corner. It’s really grim.

In a nutshell, Christmas is an absolutely rubbish time to attempt to travel. It’s not just because every other git in the UK has climbed into his car to clutter up the roads. It’s because the weather can be unremittingly awful and we all get stuck in it.

Borne out of the travel comes the second downer: organising stuff. I am incapable of organising a piss up in a brewery. Lord knows I try but even when McOther organises everything – because he is a control freak who runs like a smoothly oiled machine – I still manage to balls up the few things I’m supposed to be doing. There is always the Eureka moment, as I unpack the stuff in the kitchen at whichever of our victims we’re descending on that year, and I remember about the very important thing I’ve left on the kitchen table at home. Something without which the other five bags of gubbins I’ve brought are completely pointles… you know… something like… the turkey or the pump for McMini’s blow up bed.

Naturally, the reason my organisational skills are so poor is because I actually dislike organising things.

After travel and my piss poor organisational skills we come to the third factor: my social lumpiness. The minefield of staying with other people and trying to adjust your routine to fit in with theirs when what is natural and instinctive to them is less so for you.You know deep eternal questions like these, which are all real:

  • Is there enough hot water/time to wash my hair this morning or do too many other people need the shower for us to a) all shower before we go out or b) for me to spend the prerequisite 10 minutes rinsing my hair?
  • If I don’t have a shower, will I smell (I usually have a cold so can’t tell).
  • Will I manage to get through the whole week without having an IBS attack?
  • Talking about IBS. When’s the time the other members of the household are statistically least likely to follow me into the loo for at least an hour – or to put it another way, can I have a poo now, or will I be asphyxiating a whole succession of subsequent lavatory and/or shower users?
  • How many times can I ask for seconds before it becomes rude?
  • What are those odd noises in the night?
  • Are those really bits of wasp coming out of the cold water tap and is that why the loo cistern won’t fill up? Because the outlet on the header tank is clogged with dead wasps?
  • Will next door invite us all round to drinks and poison us with dodgy pate?
  • Can I make my way to the loo without falling down the stairs?
  • If my knee clicks on the stairs in the dark can I manage to yell quietly?
  • Can I get past the stair lift to go down to the drawing room and retrieve my iPad/Phone/Book without falling and waking the rest of the house?
  • Will I successfully fill up the cistern using the bath tap and the bucket provided, or will I spill a whole load, sending a flood of water through the ceiling onto the lap top at the desk in the room below?
  • Have I remembered my torch?
  • Have I remembered my cough lozenges?
  • Do they have a dog? How much of it’s attention will it give my crotch? A: all of it’s attention. If dogs are the rule of thumb I have the smelliest girl parts in Christendom.
  • Where are McMini’s pyjamas? A: on the kitchen table at home.
  • Should I put this utensil away where I think it’s kept and risk unwittingly hiding it from my hostess forever, or should I ask her for the umpteenth time? Is the least irritating course of action to leave it on the table?
  • If both the taps in the guest bathroom basin bear the letter H, which one is actually the ‘real’ hot?
    It’s the left hand tap*, by the way, if you ever visit my parents.
  • Will I leave my horrible gacky ear plugs under the guest bed?
  • Will I snore loudly enough to keep people in other rooms awake? I am more than capable of this.

This is not a side of me I like. It feels disloyal and mean to dread going to see the grandparents – especially when I love both sets so dearly. They would be horrified to read this!

But at least I’ve spotted the difference between Christmas when I was a child and now; why it was different when we did pretty much the same things. Amazingly, I think I’ve hit on the answer and it is all down to journey time. My family was local. It was 45 minutes to each set of grandparents so even if we weren’t at home on Christmas Day, itself, it wasn’t a big deal because we woke up there and we went to bed that night in our own beds. If we had to be on our best behaviour and not eat too much, not spill anything and help out in a succession of relations’ strange kitchens day after day over the Christmas period it was OK because at supper and breakfast we were in our own.

WE NEVER STAYED THE NIGHT.

And that’s it in a nutshell. None of the worries I have about my social lumpiness are ever going to impact on a day trip, hence it was a breeze as a kid. But on a week long stay, when I’m also responsible for the behaviour of my own child it’s very different. They become monstrous spectres in the days and weeks beforehand. I even have dreams about stuffing it up and letting down smoothly oiled, robotically organised McOther. There’s nothing I can do about it but at least, now that I know what it is, I should be able to deal with it better next year.

Furthermore, if I could find a way to do the two journeys in say, 35 minutes… or maybe an hour… I could pop home to poo, or wash my hair on a morning when everyone else wants to use the shower, or relax about cutting myself shaving without noticing and bleed happily over my own scabby (rather than someone else’s nice guest) towel. Hmm… Flying’s no good, sure it’s 35 minutes in the air, if that, but it’s still two hours each end phaffing about in an airport and an hour in a taxi at the other end.

Snurds may be imaginary right now and a magic thimble is right out. But I think I have the answer.

Yeh. So. If you’re listening, Father Christmas, I’d like a gyrocopter, please.

See that? That’s me that is, nipping home for a poo.

What I want to know is, am I the only person who gets all worried like this? Tell me about your experiences peeps!

* That’s a faucet, if you’re French or American.

 

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A year end Christmas round up thank you thingy!

It’s the end of the year and before I enter the disconnected twilight zone that is trying to use any wi-fi connection with a first gen apple mini (I knew there was a reason why I’m not a first adopter) I thought I would do my version of round up for this year. It does feel a bit like navel gazing but then, blogging often can be. It certainly is the way I do it. Sorry about that. I hope that either you read my posts and think, ah yes, the navel lint of her life is the same as mine, I am not alone, or conversely that I find ways to describe the navel lint of my life that are so weird it seems interesting. Yeh… Moving on.

Before the close up examination of navel lint begins. There’s been a nice little whoop of reviews at the end of this year so I thought I’d share.

First up, Kate, over at roughseasinthemed has reviewed Few Are Chosen… extensively. You can have a look at what she wrote here. Kate wins a special award for being the first reader to use my scary artwork and for openly liking Lord Vernon. She is based in Gibraltar and writes a varied and interesting blog and there’s always lots of chat in the comments. Definitely worth a visit.

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Very much not rough seas in Shoreham-by-Sea

Next we have Jemima Pett – thank you Jemima for not only writing a lovely review of Few but also for turning up to a book signing I did in her home county of Norfolk. That was awesome! She, too writes a lovely blog! She has lots of giveaways, short stories and fun stuff. Please do pop over and say hello.

There is a definite need to get a page sorted for reviews but in its absence I would like to thank not only these two individuals but also the other lovely folk who have taken the time and effort to review my books. Honourable mention goes to Richard Bunning who has managed to post a review on pretty much every nationality of Amazon I’m privvy to AND Awesome Indies. Above and beyond the call of duty that so a big thank you to him, too.

What else…? Well, I guess two big things happened in the authorly arena this year.

  1. The K’Barthan Trilogy morphed into a Series and then stopped. Yep it’s done. Although there’s at least one more K’Barthan book in me maybe even two – the first of them will be the book after the book after next.
  2. After years of failing dismally at Nano they finally managed one that didn’t include a week of Mumzilladom in half term. This time I won. I have a finished 55,000 novella, or a novel I need to add 30,000 words to. Once it’s rested and I’ve read it again I’ll know if it’s worth bothering to flesh out – there’s definitely a whole strain of political intrigue I could put in and a couple of layers of subtlety. Or I could just leave it as a totally frivolous romp. Or I could, maybe, write it up as a screen play.
  3. With four books out, I took the plunge and made Few Are Chosen, K’Barthan Series: Part 1 perma free. An amazing thing happened. People started buying my books. Don’t get excited, we’re talking about 18 books a month but trust me, that’s about 17 more than my previous monthly totals.
  4. With a finished series, I’ve attempted to do more author events. OK, I did two author events, no wait, three. But they were great fun and more importantly, they earned me cash. I hope to build on that next year.

Hmm. I see I must work on my definition of “two”.

“Right Baldrick. Let’s try again shall we? This is called ‘adding’…”

So if there’s anything I can tell you about 2015 it’s that I’ll be quite busy. I hope to finish the NanoNovel next term and have it edited over Easter and ready to publish for summer. We shall see if I achieve this. There’s a shorter novel for youngsters, I’m thinking 6 to 10 year olds, which is provisionally titled Boldrort the Gargoyle Wrangler, although it might be called Tommy and the Giant, I’m not quite sure yet.

And there’s… a thing… which would be awesome… but I can’t talk about. Unless it happens.

So all that’s really left is to say two things.

First: Thanks.

It’s a very solitary job, being an author. You put your heart and soul into books that you hope people will love and you send them out into the ether. You do what you can to make them perfect and try to make them visible to readers without breaking the bank or behaving like a photocopier salesman. But the best way, by far, to sell books is if other people do it for you.

Therefore, there are no real words to explain how grateful I am to everyone who reads my stuff, enjoys it and then goes on to big it up and enthuse about it and encourage me and… um… ting. I am genuinely humbled by the way people have gone out of their way to help me and to introduce my drivel to new victims er hem, I mean readers. I love you and want to have your babies in a very much about big love and not about wanting to get it on with you kind of way.

Thank you.

Also to those of my fellow authors who support me thank you, too. I owe countless reviews on books I’ve read and countless reads of books I’ve downloaded by authors who have been unstintingly supportive of me in the face of bugger all coming back from this direction. I am very, very aware of this. I will read those books and I will review them but it will take a long, long time. Or I will try to find other ways to help and encourage you, the way you do me.

So the main points again: Reviews, yippee! Thank you, happy Christmas and New Year, and sorry – where applicable.

If I don’t get to blog again before it comes, I wish you a fantastic Christmas and New Year. I wish you the best of health and happiness for 2015. I hope you find your rainbow’s end and your pot of ‘gold’ next year – whatever that may be. I hope I do.

SussexDowns (7)

I leave you with a picture because every blog post should have a picture. But instead of something Christmasy I thought that, in these dark mid winter days, I’d put in some pictures of sunlight and summer and blue sky.

This is Sussex. Where I’m from. A small part of me is always there.

IMG_2137

Oh alright. I guess I’m not THAT much of a Scrooge. ONE Christmasy one then. Happy Christmas!* OK?

* Because yes, in my religion, that’s how you wish someone peace and happiness round about this time of year. I’m assuming that most people are grown up enough to be able to take the spirit of my greeting in the way it is meant. Because what I’m saying is, ‘have a happy and fulfilling religious, or commercial, festival of your choice over the next few days.’ I’m not going to wish you some half baked happy holidays bollocks that is so non specific that it’s hard to tell what holiday I’m actually referring to (for example, until last week, I thought ‘happy holidays’ was a special greeting for Americans pertaining to the mystical and incomprehensible to outsiders – like Guy Fawks Night – holiday of Thanksgiving). I have to say that when someone in Hounslow wished me, a white middle class bird, happy Diwali I was really touched. Maybe I’m just odd though.

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Press and publicity. Could I? Should I? M T’s upcoming stall at #BurySt Edmunds Christmas Fayre.

McMini’s latest, as he looked out at the pouring rain and the dark, sub-aqueous sky this morning.

“Mummy, I think the sun has decided not to get up this morning and it is hiding under the covers with its underpants over its head, refusing to come out.”

Very succinctly put. Naturally a long conversation ensued about the specifications of inter galactic underpants as we discussed size, standard of flame retardancy would be required when constructing (make doesn’t reflect the size of the undertaking) underpants for a star.

To be honest, today, I’m feeling a little bit like the sun, myself. I’m doing an event at the end of the week, so I have been having a go at press stuff. I started yesterday – nice and early natch (not). I’ve got something going that reads a bit like this:

“Hello I’m M T McGuire, an author based in Bury St Edmunds and delighted to be taking part in the Fayre this year at Cornhill Walk Shopping Centre (just behind Moyse’s Hall Museum). Come and visit to see the wonderful crafts and gifts made by local artists and while you’re there, why not say hello to me too? You can pet Bob the voiceless Tribble, pick up a free bookmark, and if you want to sign up for my mailing list, your name will be entered a free draw to win a book related mug (no, I’m not talking about the one behind the table).”

It’s very difficult to market a funny book. It’s difficult to market any book actually and as you know I’d kind of decided to give up on the idea. Indeed, my strategy for all marketing has been this:

Marketing? Pfft, easy. Ignore it until it goes away.

Marketing? Pfft, easy. Ignore it and write books.

However, there are people locally who have actually enjoyed my books and with the Fair, sorry Fayre, looming I thought I should at least make a token effort to tell the local folks I would be there.

In this post, I’m going to give you some advice. I’m also going to share a powerful secret: i.e. the many and varied ways I’ve bollocksed it all up so that you don’t have to.

In theory I’m supposed to be good at this. I was a brand manager for a household name company. But when 98% of the population knows who you are you don’t exactly have to try. Everyone is agog to know what your brand’s view on x, y or z is or what it’s doing next. You are, basically, insanely newsworthy AND not only that, but you have half a million quid to throw at making the 2% of the population living under a rock which is unaware of your brand well… aware.

Interestingly, as the brand manager, representative of the corporate heavyweight, I developed various techniques for putting others at their ease, most of which involved humour. In the bus and coach company, they worked. Unfortunately, public passenger transport is not your usual public relations arena. I found that people wanted you to be able to do your job, but if you could be humorous about it at the same time, they considered this a bonus rather than any lack of professionalism. I remember lengthy conversations with a freelance representative from one magazine about a mythical agency we would found together called “we write shite” you get the picture.

Since then, I have learned – possibly to my detriment – that this is not how the rest of the business world works, indeed, it may be that the transport industry doesn’t work like that any more. It’s been 12 years and one child since; a lot of my brain has gone missing and I couldn’t possibly comment. Coupled with my genuine lack of professionalism (cf 12 years: one child: no brain comment) this has not done me any favours.

Yes people, even if you are marketing a humour book, for God’s sake, don’t try to be funny: not until the interview, anyway, then you can be as funny as you like because you’re talking to your audience. I think, if you are able, it’s worth waiting until there’s some point in the press talking to you, too. Until there’s something in it for them. As a very small time affair, I feel quite arrogant and jumped up approaching them now.

Press coverage will not necessarily win you fans but it will put your name in front of a lot of people. However, if you can win yourself enough fans, it might bring you some press coverage anyway. A lot of fans is reason enough for the press to write about you. And if you have a following, your hopeless ditzyness melds magically from unprofessional conduct to cute eccentricity.

If, like I am this week, you find yourself called upon to abandon your concentrate-on-the-writing-and-wait-until-you’re-established-enough-for-them-to-seek-you press policy, here are a few handy hints.

  1. Make the information as interesting and up beat as possible.
  2. Target it. Use a press guide like Willings (or Pimms Media Guide if it’s still going). You should be able to find one at your library. Obvious suggestions are to try your local press, if you think they will be interested as well as magazines or new sheets aimed at fans of your genre(s). It might also be worth looking into press dealing with any other area in which you have a hook. In my case, magazines for mothers or families might be the way forward because I’m a stay at home mum. If you’ve written a thriller set in the world of competitive hang gliding, then magazines aimed at people who enjoy hang gliding or are fans of hang gliding might be a place to start.
  3. Check it. Make sure all the dates, times etc are correct. If you have discalculia, take extra special care to avoid doing what I did and telling everyone that your event on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th November is on Friday the 29th and Saturday 30th. That doesn’t look cool. However, if you have done that. Accept you’ve stuffed up and move on.
  4. Send it to them. Yes, very obvious this one but you have to be in it to win it. Even if you are pretty sure, in your heart of hearts, that nobody is likely to tell their audience about your event, send in the info because you never know. Let’s face it all they can say is ‘no’… or nothing. But if the information isn’t with them, they can’t magically know about it. Try to imagine ways you can make it useful to them as well as yourself. If they can see an obvious benefit from using it they may be more interested. Avoid doing what I did, though which was suggesting topics I could talk about for a radio interview. I was unsure at the time, because it’s kind of teaching Grandmother to suck eggs, but a day on I am cringing so I reckon it was a bad move. Er hem, there are reasons my publicity for this event hasn’t gone too well and the biggest one, so far is me. Perhaps that could be Thing Five.
  5. Avoid being the thing that holds it back. Ask nicely: be as courteous, cheerful, pleasant and polite about approaching as you can and try not to do anything dumb.
  6. Give them time – I have failed miserably on that score too – remember they plan their stuff in advance and so a couple of weeks’ notice rather then ‘oh tomorrow I am…’ is always going to be more effective.
  7. Be patient. Sure you can follow up (once, possibly twice if they sound interested) but don’t hound them. They’re busy and you are not the centre of their world; they have a lot of other stuff to do, deadlines to meet etc.
  8. Accept their verdict. They know what their audience wants. If they think that news of your stall/book/appearance/existence is unlikely to be of interest, you’re just going to have to suck it up and accept it. They probably have a much better idea of what their audience wants to hear about than you do.
  9. If they do give you some coverage, thank them.

So to sum up:  firstly, if you have an event on, then, obviously, you must tell the local press and anyone else who you think will be interested. After all, all you can do is ask. However, if you’re an obscure nobody, such as myself, accept that your information may not be used.

Secondly, I believe, more and more, is that for obscure and little known writers, our efforts are best put into writing books, good books that people will love. I’m sure there is a tipping point, I’m sure there is a critical mass at which sales suddenly skyrocket and members of the press start calling us. I’m sure that some people hit that tipping point with their first or second book; through luck, hard work, judgement or all three.

However, I’m equally sure that for most of us, that stuff is years in the making. So you and I, how do we go about it? We just keep going. We do stuff, we courteously advise the press it’s happening, we follow up and we carry on. The best products sell themselves, grashopper, but it takes time. And for all the events, appearances, signings and publicity that you do, the place you’ll sell the most copies of your next book is between the pages of your previous one.

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M T McGuire will be at Cornhill Walk Shopping Centre, in Bury St Edmunds, on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th November. That’s the one behind Moyse’s Hall Museum and opposite McDonalds. She will be giving out free book marks and selling copies of books from the K’Barthan Series to anyone who wants to buy them. Should you wish, she can even devalue them by signing them for you. You can also purchase Christmas cards and there’s an alphabet poster on sale. You can pet Bob the voiceless tribble and watch him make a noise like an annoyed lawn mower. If you sign up for the mailing list your name will be entered into a free draw to win a K’Barthan Series mug (not the one who wrote it, obviously, I mean a thing to drink hot bevvies out of).

 

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