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Down, down, down in a burning ring of fire … a ring of fire …

Yep. That’s where I’m going this week. Flame throwers at the ready. You see, for a while I’ve been wanting to say something about Black Lives Matter but I haven’t really known how. This week … well … it’s hot and I’m fed up. The Kessel Run to Sussex took a fuck of a lot more than twelve Parsecs yesterday and some plonker got all aggressive and shitty with me because as a 52 year old bag I have the temerity to drive a sports car and worse, I overtook him. O.M.G. The horror! You’d have thought I’d peppered him with machine gun fire. If I drove a real snurd, I confess it would have been tempting.

Yeh, and to be frank, I probably listened to Never Mind the Bollocks too many times and that’s ANGRY political stuff. And you know me, never one to avoid getting flamed if I can. But yeh, Black Lives Matter (AS WELL) … Here is my incredibly simplistic take on it.

[Rant Mode]

It seems that a lot of us have huge difficulty with being open minded these days. When I meet people for the first time, I confess I find it as tough as anyone to avoid making snap judgements based on their choice of clothes, hair colour, voice and any amount of other irrelevant crap. I suspect we all do. I am beginning to wonder if there is some kind of instinctive tribal thing that makes us all judge by appearances and that humans can’t stop themselves from doing so in the first instance. Perhaps it’s a thing from way back, a pack thing. Maybe. The point is, the part where we become thinking, rational beings is where we set ourselves above that, where we ignore our instincts and broach the difficult task of talking to people we aren’t sure about or are uncomfortable with.

Perhaps it helps if we are not in a bubble. Where I live, people go abroad a lot, people visit from abroad and we walk from a to b to go to the shops, church, the library, etc etc. We are lucky enough to be exposed to many other cultures. If you walk everywhere, you meet people on the street, in shops and around town who are different from you. And when you get the opportunity to talk to them you realise that other people are not black, white, old, young, foreign, scary etc they are actually just … people … well except teenagers, they really are scary (joke sorry teenagers). In this country we are beginning to drive more and walk less and we are beginning to fragment a little into like minded groups.

That’s not bad in one sense, but in others it reinforces stereotypes.

One of the difficulties of all this is that for political parties, there is a great benefit to reinforcing our little bubbles and stereotypes. They want to engender a sense of belonging among their followers; a feeling that all members of party X or Y are PLU (people like us) and that we’re all in this together, working towards a common aim. The unfortunate side effect is the implication that other people following other parties are not like us and don’t belong. It also doesn’t help that some of them gloss over disagreements within their own ranks by pointing the finger at other groups or people who hold a different point of view and blaming everything on them.

This is probably alright in a situation where people are not taking politics too seriously and are still seeing it for what it is, ie, the machinery by which a nation governs itself, as best as it can. But increasingly here in Britain, we seem to be losing that detachment and cynicism for which we are famous.

Even I’m losing it. And I’ve been trying to work out why. After a lot of thinking, here’s my Anne Elk theory.

These days, there are far fewer people of faith. That’s not a problem in itself. However, humans seem to have an inherent need to believe fervently in … something. Without a religion to put our efforts into, it seems a lot of us pour that spiritual fervour into the most ridiculous things, which hair colour brand we use, whether we like tattoos or not, reality TV and, of course, our political affiliations. When you add that need to believe into the mix, suddenly the results of the PLU marketing start to become a bit grim.

Going out on a serious limb here – yeh I can feel the cross hairs lining up as I write – I am beginning to think that the difficulty with some aspects of modern politics is not that people’s political choices are driven by their religion but that their political affiliations ARE their religion. My religion affects everything I do, political choices as well. But my politics are NOT my religion. I think that if you are a Christian and you start believing that a single political party is … you know … God’s party, you are in trouble.

OK so perhaps it also depends where you are. In Britain, where I live, it’s absolutely OK to question authority, rules, politicians, the status quo and everything else, indeed to not do so is considered a bit naive. As a Christian that’s also OK because Jesus did it the whole chuffing time. In some countries it’s rather frowned upon to make fun of politicians, here in Britain, frankly, we think that’s what they’re for.

For me personally what that means is I vote for the party whose policies most closely align with my religious beliefs. My religious beliefs are about doing what I believe is the Right Thing – other people’s interpretation of Right may vary – mine are as follows:

  • Love your neighbour as yourself.
  • That which you do to the least of my bretheren, you do to me.
  • What would Jesus do? (Turning over tables, trashing the place and making a whip from cords and setting about people cannot be ruled out here).
  • No hatred – ‘if I say I love God and hate my neighbour I am a liar, for if I cannot love my neighbour, who I have seen, how can I love God who I have not seen?’
  • My job is not judgement, ‘Do not judge others lest you be judged’ and ‘leave judgement to God.’

This means I have chosen who to vote for based on how closely the follow my version of Christian philosophy. As a result I am the original floating voter. I’ve voted Liberal (which means a different thing in the UK to America, think Conservative with a small c). I have also voted, Labour (socialist – relax, my American friends, this is not the socialism in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that’s communism. Socialism, proper is a different thing based, originally, on Christian love-thy-neighbour kinds of principles, help the poor, welfare state, that kind of stuff, funded by asking the rich to pay a little more tax to help it along). I think I may have voted Conservative once, and I’ve voted for the Green Party. It just depends which one is suggesting policies that most closely resemble ‘the right thing’ (as outlined in my points above) at the time.

This also means that I do not believe in ‘them’ and ‘us’ but ‘we’. This appears to get me in the shit with pretty much everyone, which is unfortunate, but there we go. What do I mean by that. I mean completely disregarding how people look and honing in on who they are.

I think the greatest example of that I’ve encountered recently is a lady called Irene.

Every weekday morning at roughly 9.15, on the radio show I listen to, they have this thing called, Pause for Thought. They have someone of faith on who gives a little pep talk. They are from all faiths, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Humanist etc and are usually brilliant. Last week, they had this lovely guy on from ooop north somewhere who is a vicar in the Church of England – that’s basically episcopalian for everyone everywhere else in the world. I can’t remember his name but he was talking about modern answers to the question, ‘who is my neighbour’. JC’s answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan, obviously. This guy told us about Irene.

Irene is a stalwart of his church. A lovely lady who is always on hand to help, listen, make cakes – and tea – and generally muck in. I think she may even have been a lay reader or church warden but I can’t remember. One Sunday, she said goodbye to everyone as they were all drinking coffee after the service and went off home. A few minutes later she was found lying on the pavement just outside in a state of disarray, her sticks beside her. Someone had hauled her out of her car onto the street and driven off in it.

The young gentleman concerned was apprehended by the police, convicted and went to gaol.

Irene would spell it neighbour but beggars can’t be choosers. 🙂

Irene knew his name from the trial so she did some research and when she discovered which prison he was in, she made enquiries as to whether she could contact him. When he said it was OK, she started writing to him. After a while, she started visiting him, too.

Long and the short, a few years later, the priest who was giving this talk turned up to a church event and there was Irene, behind the tea stall as ever, and there beside her, wielding a teapot, was a smiling young man who had originally thrown her onto the pavement and nicked her car. With her help and support he had completely turned his life around. He had a job, he was settled and he felt he also had a purpose. When she had every reason to be angry and vengeful, she, his victim, had the grace and compassion to see him simply as another human, to seek reconciliation with him and to help him become a good man.

So … We Christians can make judgements about whether or not George Floyd was a ‘good’ person and ‘deserved’ his fate. Yeh. We can do that if we like but that isn’t our job is it? CF Jesus Christ’s pretty fucking clear instructions ‘do not judge others lest you be judged’.

It’s also not the point.

Black Lives Matter (too) isn’t really about who George Floyd was, and whether he was a good person. It’s about a situation where someone has so lost sight of the humanity of another human being, because of their skin colour, that he can kneel on their neck for one and a half hours, while they repeatedly tell him they can’t breathe, and think that’s OK, possibly even deserved. And it’s the fact that this event can be played out daily, again and again along with other smaller pettier dehumanising things across the length and breadth of the world and nobody questions it. It’s the fact that even today, people are still a commodity. There are still slaves.

It’s about people, all over the world, who are victimised because of completely petty bollocks like their colour, what they wear, their gender or who they want to have a relationship with (who cares if it’s someone of the same gender they’re not asking you to shag someone you don’t want to are they so why do you have to force them to. Nothing spreads misery faster than unhappy people).

It’s about trying to persuade people to cast aside the petty stupid tribal trivia of the packaging; like colour, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, height, hair and eye colour and all that other totally irrelevant crap – and see only the person inside.

It’s not about whether George Soros funded demonstrations, or who has donated to Black Lives Matter (too) (because clearly, if he funds a political campaign and he’s left wing, that’s immoral but if someone right wing funds a political campaign – in the flack I’m getting – that’s fine. Newsflash, neither matters.). It’s probably greatly about the frustrations of lockdown, about people in poorer housing, smaller flats, poorer areas, with less garden, less space who have been climbing up the walls as they try to work out what a fronted adverbial is and explain it to their children while they work from home, or don’t work and watch their savings dwindling or their debts mount up.

How did it start all over the world at once? Could it be because everyone all over the world is going through the same thing right now; lock down, pandemic etc. Oh and world news services. The entire world saw it on the news.

Black lives matter is not saying black lives matter more than white lives. It’s saying black lives matter too. At the moment, it sounds as if black lives matter less than white lives. So yeh, all lives matter and at the moment those of our black friends are being counted cheaply so I’m happy to support them and help them redress the balance.

Are the riots bad? Of course they fucking are. Rioting is always bad but it tends to happen when people are angry and no-one is listening to them. They’ve been asking nicely for two hundred fucking years. When you tell someone, my life matters, you’re hurting. If someone dismisses that hurt with a trite, all lives matter, it’s unkind. As someone on reddit said, imagine you’re sitting at the dinner table. Your mum serves everyone except you. You say, ‘I want some too?’ and your Mum says, ‘we all want some,’ and doesn’t give you any. That’s what you’re doing when you say all lives matter. And that’s where Black Lives Matter really needs the Too on the end, I reckon.

Is defacing statues bad, yes but … look at it this way. If you were in Germany and there were a load of statues of Hitler and there were streets named after him and nobody minded, what would you think? I’m guessing you’d take a dim view. Yet all over the UK there are statues celebrating people who treated other human beings as possessions and assets, bought and sold them as if they were things. Thought of them as things, which, to quote the great Sir Terry, is where the trouble starts. Put them in a museum, explain what happened, explain that we are NOT like that anymore. We need to face up to our past and learn from it rather than destroy everything and try to pretend it never happened.

Is it so hard to imagine how another person from a different background or in a different situation might see our world? Is it so hard to to try and look through someone else’s eyes for a moment and ask how we could make it better, kinder for folks like them? Is it so wrong to wish the world was as pleasant for everyone as it is for us? Well as a woman, and a woman who often went to places with a person who had a severe mental disability, I know that yes, sadly yes, this small act of imagination is extremely hard for some people, but interestingly, far less so at a point of encounter. People who were lovely to my Dad would then make sweeping, generalist statements about the mentally ill and just totally fail to see the hypocrisy of that. Indeed, I see this again and again, people conflating all black people with criminals because they knew someone black who committed a crime or even because they read about it in the paper.

Even some of my friends conflate all economic migrants with freeloaders, but laud British people who emigrate elsewhere for the same fucking reason for having so much get up and go.

Some people are dicks. It’s not because they are Muslim, Foreign, Black or Women, it’s because they are dicks. They might use their faith to justify their dickishness but at the base of it all they’re just twats. I’m a Christian but I know some of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ can be monumental tossers. Jesus doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t even need your obedience. Jesus needs your love and your compassion. Jesus needs the difficult stuff. Jesus needs you to love your enemy. If you tell people they should turn the other cheek, Jesus sure as hell wants you to check that you aren’t the person hitting them first.

Christians are supposed to be Christlike. End of. Jesus didn’t tell people not to mix with the tax collectors, nope, it was the Pharisees who did that, when Jesus met a tax collector, he blagged dinner off him.

Do I think black lives matter?

You fucking bet I do.

And you know why?

Because when I grow up I want to be Irene.

[/Rant mode]

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And on a different note …

… if you need something to take your mind of my horrific left wingishness and your grinding teeth after reading this week’s blog post, maybe a nice relaxing audiobook would help.

Few Are Chosen is not just available on audio! It’s reduced until 30th June! If you do Kobo, Chirp or iBooks it’s a mere $5.99 (or £5.99 on Kobo and whatever $5.99 is in other currencies on Chirp and iBooks).

So if you want to find out why I think Gareth is brilliant, you can pick it up for a song, or at least … a snip.

If you think that might be your bag, click on the picture on on this link …

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audiofac.html

 

Smashing K’Barthan Mug Competition

Perhaps you can ameliorate the impact of my utterly satanic left wing nature by making me give you a cup. You can do this by winning my competition. Then, when you win, you can do what you like … I dunno, voodoo, spit in it, smash it because I’m so awful. Or if you’re feeling outrageous, you could use it to hold your hot beverage of choice. Or cuppa soup if that’s your thing.

Because yes. That’s right! I’m giving away another mug like this one in the picture. Once again you have until the end of this month, 30th June 2020 to enter. Hint, you have an extremely good chance of winning. Put it like this, I’m giving one cup away and so far, all the entrants have won.

All you have to do is read Close Enough answer the easy question and fill in your email you can find out more here: https://forms.gle/6dDGpnQU23bdMpwT7.

Next week, I promise, I will try and go back to being funny.

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Well there’s a thing …

Grumpy bastards R us

This week has been a bit of an interesting mix. Is it just me or is everyone a bit grumpy coming out of lockdown? I live on one of the main drags into town so there’s a fair bit of traffic noise. The one thing I’ve noticed is how much more often people are hooting at other motorists at the moment.

It seems that what most people have decided, during lock down, is that they’re ‘not going to take any shit from anybody’ and what that appears to mean, in practise, is more firmly entrenched views, an even deeper aversion to keeping an open mind and an even more frequent recourse to knee jerk anger about insubstantial crap, like whether or not they should wear a mask (seriously? WTF people find a REAL issue to get upset about) rather than … you know actually not taking any shit. I suppose nothing makes people intolerant more quickly than when the economy goes down the shitter. And all the pundits are telling us it has – although how on God’s green earth they think they know is a mystery to me – but presumably folks are believing them.

Oh my Gaaaaaaaad! We’re going into a recession! The economy has gone tits up and it’s all (insert name of political party of choice or group of ‘them’ you don’t really like)’s fault. Britain’s economy has shrunk by 20%.

Okaayyy.

Yes it’s a chandelier, to illustrate my point.

Hang on though, we’re only coming out of lock down and for the major part of lock down the economy has been switched off. No-one expects their car to carry on running after they’ve turned off the ignition do they? … Well, OK some old cars chug on a bit before they stop but that’s about fuel mixture and not generally a THING so let’s rule it out at this point shall we?

Seriously though, things are still not back to normal and surely any figures obtained while the economy is switched off are pretty much moot.

Here’s an analogy. Say you have a chandelier. Like a healthy economy, it has many bulbs (different types of businesses) and they are all burning brightly. If you cut off the power to the chandelier, obviously, you’re going to end up in the dark. This is not a surprise is it? Likewise, the economic statistics for March and April can do nothing more than illustrate that the economy was switched off and the country was, as it were, in economic darkness. Because no-one was allowed out and three quarters of businesses were closed.

Here’s another chandelier …

My point is. We’re not going to have a fucking clue what’s happened to the economy until we turn the bastard thing back on are we? And we haven’t. So when the papers and news channels gloomily tell us that the economy shrunk 20% in March, and tell us this is bigger than any shrinkage in the entire history of fucking time, it means absolutely bugger all.

Sure it’s true but is it the truth about our economy? Yes it is, but only in so far as it indicates that the economy was switched off at that time, just the same way that things get pretty dark when you turn out the lights and the figures might show that there is NO power going through to the bulbs at this time.

I really should stop taking pictures of people’s chandeliers.

Taking the chandelier analogy further. Say you live in a house with an annoying safety feature on the ring main like ours has, which cuts the power when just about anything happens. You want to go into your darkened room, so you stop in the doorway to flick the light switch and, ‘POP!’ a bulb has gone and in doing so, it’s tripped the on off switch on your fuse box. You’re in the dark and you know that switching on the chandelier did it. You know that, most likely one of the bulbs on the chandelier has blown, possibly more. Obviously, you don’t know the exact number of bulbs that have blown until you go to the fuse box to reset the trip, go back to your darkened room and turn the chandelier back on. Then, and ONLY then, when it’s actually switched on, can you assess the damage and see how many bulbs you’ve lost, or if it was more than a bulb, that you’ve lost the entire chandelier. My point is, you’re not going to fucking know until you turn the bastard thing back on. Are you?

While the chandelier is off, we have a number of choices. We could start on all that doom and gloom about how we’re screwed and condemned to sit in darkness for evermore because it’s broken now. Or we could say, ‘hmm, let’s go reset the trip (thus restoring the electricity supply to the chandelier) switch it on, and see if any of the fucking bulbs light up before we panic, shall we?’

Money is all arbitrary and illusory. The economy is about ‘confidence’ and to be frank, the last time we had a recession, I felt that we were almost talked into it by people who were trying to give the Conservative government a hard ride … or was it a Labour government then I’ve no idea. How many small business owners are going to give up after hearing that 20% statistic? How many small businesses are going to go into administration because their customers have read that and are saving every penny and not buying that thrombdimulator or whatever it is our lovely small local business sells?

But if the economy is about confidence then we need confidence right now. And that need should come before the need for sensationalism to gain a news service more adherents. We believe and we achieve, or at least, do a sod of a lot better than we will with all this doom and gloom shit. No wonder everyone out there is fucking miserable and standing on their hooters so long that those unfortunate enough to live nearby are beginning to think the ruddy things are stuck on.

In the Jewish faith, every 50 years they have a Jubilee, yes that’s where we get the word. And at that time, all debts are written off. So you’re never going to get a situation where someone is so far in debt that even their grandchildren haven’t a hope in hell of sorting it out. Coz … jubilee.

Why don’t we do that? Seriously though, why can’t we just reset the entire god forsaken thing and start again. Just write off everything. Let’s face it, France and Britain are practically bankrupt, they’re billions and billions in debt and the only reason they aren’t bankrupt is because they’re France and Britain rather than say, Liberia or the Cameroon … or Greece.

If we can stop the fucking world, surely a post lock-down jubilee is a piece of cake. No of course it isn’t because the people least affected couldn’t possibly forego the chance of supplementing to their billions.

It’s just mental.

And of course, by pedalling this 20% bell endery – rather than just admitting that they don’t know what’s going to happen so we’ll have to sit tight – the credible news sources erode people’s belief in them, and that’s how your bog-standard person in the street starts believing the ludicrous shite pedalled by the far right and left who, big news here, are NO different from one another, each as fucking awful. Worse this reduction of everything to generalist sound bites, with lots of NLP trigger words like disastrous, terrible, wicked etc means that people actually believe this shit. It’s how normal, kindly every day souls start to actually believe the kind of cartoon, absolutist bollocks pedalled as ‘news’ in papers like The Sun and the Daily Mail.

I remember when, as a kid, the BBC news would be different to all others. They would report a disaster as dispassionately and un-emotively as possible. I remember watching the BBC newscasters describing ‘substantial damage’ and a ‘major incident’ while their counterparts on ITV were referring to ‘absolute carnage’ and an ‘unprecidented disaster’. ITV was all NLP trigger words, BBC was, on the whole, an effort to establish the facts. Now the BBC have joined the race to the bottom and sealed their own doom.

There is so much good stuff we will lose.

Speaking of which, has anyone seen the programme with Professor Brian Cox about the planets. It’s really interesting. Stuffed to the gunwales with fabulous effects, photography and facts. Loads and loads of facts. Not ten minutes about how you’re going to learn some facts, another fact strung out for five minutes, an ad break followed by another five minutes to recap the fact you’ve discovered in the first half and explain what you’ll learn in the second half, followed by a second fact and another five minutes to sum up what you’ve learned before the credits roll.

Anyway, if you get a chance, have a look because it’s wonderful and incredibly interesting. Plus the way that all the diverse planetary bodies in the solar system are actually linked is kind of magical, and the stuff of another science fiction novel I think.

Talking of which …

Knock me down with a feather but Audible finally got their fingers out of their arses and published Few Are Chosen. So now the whole K’Barthan Series, is live. That’s sixty three hours, eight minutes and fifty seven seconds of meaty K’Barthan goodness … narrated by Gareth – the voice of K’Barth – Davies. And with Unlucky dip on top that’s sixty three hours, forty one minutes and seven seconds of meaty K’Barthan goodness.

It took me three hours to upload the box set to Audible and the. Entire. Battery. Life. Of my lap top. Please God let there not be any errors.

If you’re interested, you can find information about my audiobooks here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/audio.html.

Spikes … Robert Smith and that bloke out of the Alarm eat your heart out! Mwwahahahahrgh

Another joy this week, in a bid to try and help McMini come to terms with his chances of sustaining anything approaching a proper Mohican with his curly hair I treated him to a demonstration of how I used to make my hair stick up. A lot. Yep, no gel, straighteners or anything else required, not even back combing, you just rub it with a towel in a gentle circular motion.

The ideal length for hair, if you are doing this, is anywhere from four to six inches. Mine currently stands at about a foot. I only did the front because I didn’t have all day but I reckon this isn’t too shabby. Note to self, do not play with spiking hair, try to take selfie in bathroom mirror, fail and take a second photo in the bathroom while wearing a sun top. It does look startlingly as if I’m in the all together there doesn’t it? Oops.

And there we are that’s it from sunny Bury St Edmunds this week. More crap next week including, why I can’t understand how people get all het up about gayness and how I intend to mend my broken kindle … A bientot.

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If you feel like something to escape into …

There’s always my new book. A big thank you to everyone who ordered Close Enough. Apologies the paperback isn’t out yet. That’s a whole other story.

If these books aren’t your thing but you want to help any other way, feel free to share the information page in my website with your friends: link below.

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infoce.html

Here’s the blurb again, just in case you need it …

As recently appointed delivery man for Big Merv, one of Ning Dang Po’s most powerful crime bosses, The Pan of Hamgee is ordered to deliver a gift to Big Merv’s current girlfriend. With a pair of bespoke-made, sapphire and diamond earrings on board, and a trip across the city in the offing, what could possibly go wrong? Everything.

While you’re at it, this and all my other books in paperback, audio and ebook format should be available from your public library. Just check your library app or ask your librarian.

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This week I have been mostly been …

Finding out about how the bunny got on …

Bunny!

It’s coming down to the wire I have about 50 minutes to break the back of this before we all knock off for the evening, with a quick ten minutes of lighting candles and stuffing our faces with cake yes it’s the McBirthdays: McMini’s and McMine.

First of all the bunny!

Remember him? He turned out to be a young one, perfectly healthy and able to see so he was clearly just incredibly tame.

After a week at the vet’s, his owners couldn’t be traced so they decided they would re-home him. Apparently his new owners absolutely adore him so he is very happy and being well looked after. In other words he is …

… a happy bunny. Oh ho ho. So that’s a grand.

Eating cake …

But not baking one. Yes, this week it was mine and McMini’s birthdays which usually means it’s time to make one of my bizarre cakes that look so horrendous that they end up being almost cool. Amazingly, I didn’t make a cake this time. I was requested not to.

This is mostly because each the men in my life has an incredibly sweet tooth and prefers a bought one. McOther bought a white one for me to decorate but McMini even eschewed any attempts to add further decorations because he dislikes the lemon icing I make. Mwahahahrgh.

Never mind. Saved me a job. Instead the cake was artfully decorated with candles and ting until it looked like some kind of hedgehog with hair loss and, after we removed the candles it bore an uncanny resemblance to a stilton. Hmm.

Tasted good though.

Pulling my hair out

The next K’Barthan Shorts book, Close Enough, is out next Thursday. I spent a lot of the week checking that all the right files were uploaded everywhere. Making sure it was listed on the sites where I wanted it listed. Trying to make it go live on Apple. Jeepers, I don’t think like an Mac-er so that took a bit of doing. I did, finally discover that as well as uploading the book, setting the price and adding all the information, I needed to actually click an on sale button.

Doh.

Yeh. Won’t be getting many pre-orders off apple then but it is on sale there now. Phew.

Fighting gremlins

Yes it wasn’t just Apple – although to give them their due, that was finger trouble my side of the house rather than any actual ghost in their machine. This was different.

In what clearly was a gremlin-driven escapade at Ingram Spark there was an unusual wobble with the paperback, too. Having heard a lot of other authors complaining about bugs in the new Ingram dashboard I left it as late as I dared to set up the record there ready to upload my book. But starting the set up process appears to have locked my prices in as round numbers before I had even reached the page with options to edit them. When I tried to change them, nothing happened. It was only when I contacted the help desk that I managed to alter them, Arnold, The Prophet in all his munificence bless the chap who came to my aid.

When I explained the prices hadn’t changed he assured me that they would but it would take a while.

The next joyous discovery came the following day when I discovered exactly how long ‘taking a while’ was. Having automatically set up some random prices on the book, the system would not incorporate my corrected prices until the following Friday because they only batch price changes once a week. This, I know, but their doing it before you have even uploaded a manuscript for your book or made the record live was a new one on me. Strange though it was, it didn’t look like a particularly significant problem, until I uploaded my cover with the correct price of £5.99 on the back at which point, it was refused. They take three days to send a proof sometimes, so I was rather keen to persuade them to process it and let me proof the results. After all, it wasn’t as if the book was on sale yet or would be for another week.

A second query to the help desk and I discovered that yes, this was their new normal (I do dislike that phrase) and I would not be able to upload the cover before the prices went live on Friday (today as I type this bit). That seemed like a special kind of madness. I guess it saves mistakes being made in the field as it were but for a book that’s not even going to be published when the prices come into effect it seemed a novel way to proceed.

This morning, I waited on nervous tenterhooks to see if my book’s prices actually did change to the correct ones. They did but from now on I will have to factor in that week from the point of set up, to the subsequent Friday lunch time, that it will take to change the prices that are automatically added in when I start. What makes it more confusing was that you were able to change prices under the old system several times and it would change your most recent entry. It wouldn’t change on the public sales side of stuff until the following Friday but your dashboard would show the new prices, yellowed out, so you could see the were pending.

Hopefully, I’ll get the proofs back in time to sign this one off before Thursday. Should do, but they will probably come in on Wednesday when I’m in Sussex so I’ll have to remember to take the right electronic gizmo with me to be able to read it and sign it off while I’m there.

A few dicey moments there then, but I think we’re more or less set. The only other thing I’ll need to do is upload the files to my payhip store late on Wednesday, although Bookfunnel will send the files on to the folks who have pre-ordered it from there.

Still it all appears to be drifting vaguely in the right direction so definite spud points all round this month.

Frankly, apart from on this here blog, I haven’t really made much of a thing about my forthcoming launch. Perhaps I should but I think you need to have an engaged community of about 20,000 followers before it makes much difference.

Exploring options

Other exciting developments this week, Findaway voices rolled out Authors Direct, their direct selling platform, to authors in the UK. Sadly it involves a monthly sub of $20 which is too expensive for my nascent sales to stand. There’s also a set up fee, although because I was on the waiting list they reduced that from a rather hefty $90 to $25. The cancellation is only a month each way so I think if I was a bit further down the line I might have jumped in and given it a go but right now that $20 a month is more needed to spend on the mailing service I use and Bookfunnel.

Attempting to persuade ACX to publish Few Are Chosen to Audible

And failing.

Yep. First one still not published.

However, I have ‘claimed’ the kindle version on ACX. I suspect this is what I needed to do in the first place as I went for the kindle version with all the others and not only did they go live much quicker but they have linked with the paperback. In the case of Few, I ‘claimed’ the paperback – because it has the proper title instead of the stupid shit Amazon insists on because they won’t change the word ‘trilogy’ to series – but it hasn’t linked with the Kindle version the same way.

You have no idea how sorely, sorely tempted I am to upload the book again, using my second ‘claim’ and see if that speeds things up.

There will also be a new audiobook releasing in September some time, which will be the K’Barthan Series Box Set. I don’t know why I didn’t get that done last time. But I tend to batch my art work requirements around the time of any new releases. This time, I have have had audiobook covers done for all my other works, including a K’Barthan Box Set cover. I’ve also got them to add Gareth’s name on the covers, because I hadn’t, which is a bit embarrassing.

So I will upload the box set onto Findaway Voices and ACX next week. I suspect that will go live before Few Are Chosen ever does. If it does, I’ll give you the heads up when it lands. If you use one of the other sites, or your library, you can read Few Are Chosen anyway. Also, I might have some tokens for free copies of my audiobooks from Findaway which will allow me to give you a copy of Few Are Chosen from certain sites. I’ll have to look into that and find out more.

Treating myself … and you lot

Also, as a birthday present to myself, I paid for Gareth to do and audio version of Night Swimming. One of the lovely things about working with someone who is learning as they go is that you get to see the curve. I think we were starting from a pretty high level anyway with Gareth. Even so, his narration still gets better and better with each book. He just sounds more relaxed and at ease. Perhaps narration is a bit like writing in that it takes a little while to find your ‘voice’ or at least, your mode of expression? Dunno. Anyway, it’s just lovely.

Hopefully I should sign that off tomorrow or Sunday and he’ll be done next week. I just want to listen to the last two chapters one more time. Then I can change the audio sign up list so people get Night Swimming. Gareth is doing this and the K’Barthan Shorts series as and when he’s a bit bored or has some time, so I’ve sent him all three of the completed K’Barthan shorts so he can work on them any time the mood takes him.

Cocking up another series name

The fourth K’Barthan short is not short at all. It’s 54,000 words and counting which is a novel in anyone’s book. Never mind. I guess you can’t win ’em all.

______________________

If you’re a bit bored …

Why not pre-order my new book, Close Enough. It is out next Thursday, 18th June. I have to confess, I am quite pleased with this one.

Despite having been writing for a living in some form or another for over 20 years, I reckon I still have a lot to learn and I still feel as if each book I write is better than the last. I’m not sure the shorts are everyone’s cup of tea, they are more snapshots than anything but I enjoyed writing this one and it feels a tiny bit more complex. Not like the novels but more complex. If these books aren’t your thing but you want to help any other way, feel free to share the information page in my website with your friends: link below.

https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infoce.html

Here’s the blurb again, just in case you need it …

As recently appointed delivery man for Big Merv, one of Ning Dang Po’s most powerful crime bosses, The Pan of Hamgee is ordered to deliver a gift to Big Merv’s current girlfriend. With a pair of bespoke-made, sapphire and diamond earrings on board, and a trip across the city in the offing, what could possibly go wrong? Everything.

That’s all for this week. Until next, have a good one.

 

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Woah …

How is everyone? I hope you are well. It’s been a bit of an up and down week for me. No change there, then.

First up, writing. With the McOthers at home, in theory it should be difficult. In practise, while it sort of is, it’s not so bad, it’s more of a question of shaking down into a different routine and identifying when the best times to write are. Unfortunately, the best hour in the morning is the one I spend on the phone to Mum. Lock down is difficult when you have Important People to look after. And I do.

On the up side, thank goodness Dad didn’t have to live through this. He would not have enjoyed it. On the downside, by the time I see Mum again, she may be a very different person. In one respect, I feel I’m being robbed of her last months of sanity, in another, I phone her every day so it probably evens out. I just wish I could see her and give her a hug. I try not to think about that too much though, because that way sadness lies …

Bury St Edmunds … not as apocryphal as this picture makes it look …

Despite comments on the apocalyptic nature of my home town it strikes me as surprisingly busy for somewhere with only a few shops open. One of them is Poundland, much to my amusement, but also relief because there’s nowhere else open where we can buy batteries.

Also despite being supposedly quiet, there’s still enough traffic about for there to be a car coming if you want to cross a road. Yes people. Every. Single. Fucking. Time. Today there was a MX5 in town driving round, and round, and round. Possibly in incredulity at the wealth of parking spaces – bloody hell! That’s amazing, I’ve never seen that before, I’ll have to go round again – I don’t know.

Maybe he was just enjoying an empty road. I have seen more policemen in town than ever before, too.

Managed to remember to cheer the NHS this week too. Yes, McMini and I stood outside cheering at the empty street, with a lighted light sabre each. Yeh. I was the fat one in the pyjamas. On the up side our presence brought the others out. Many houses on our street are rented and I think most of the renters are youngsters who have gone home to their parents. There are a lot of drawn curtains. Even so, people were out clapping and waving. Which was good, if only because it made me feel a bit less of a dick.

Fuck me but I’ve had some strange dreams this week. Unfortunately, they are continuing in my monotonous habit of dreaming about the lavatory. Not surprising I suppose, since it feels like the apocalypse. But I was hoping that I might, at some point, get away with a dream about something, anything other than having a dump. But no. I dreamt I was back at school. It was the first senior school I attended, for two years, when I was eleven/twelve and twelve/thirteen. I had ventured up onto the top floor where the third fourth and fifth form classrooms were situated, where the big, older scary girls were when I actually went there. I saw again the polished linoleum tiles, the pastel shades of the walls, the glass windows into the corridor from the classrooms. Yet despite feeling that familiar attack of butterflies as I entered the scary senior domain, I was also an adult. I was there about my son and I had to see his teacher. While we were chatting I suddenly realised I needed a wee. It was all going rather well so I asked and was directed to the staff loos.

But the staff loos were one loo, with a bath and basin too, like someone’s bathroom. The bath, loo and basin were a very unpleasant shade of 1970s pink. Yikes. But at least it wasn’t that horrible brown, or avocado. Also, there was washing hanging up to dry on the towel rails, hanging from clothes airers above my head, on the radiator, the side of the basin … literally everywhere. I remember thinking that the teachers must live in.

So there I was dreaming a dream and, Lo! Just for a change, I’ve ended up in the fucking bog. As I sat down on the pan part of me was fully engaged in the dream, but another part of me was aware that I was dreaming. Was I going to get away with an unembarrassing wee? Of course I bloody wasn’t. This was my warped dream. So naturally I did an absolutely enormous poo. When I stood up, I banged my head on one of the clothes airers hanging above me and knocked the contents into the pan. With my crap. So then I had to run some water in the bath, fizz it up with liquid soap, and scoop the once clean clothes out of the excrement infested bog and into the bath. I kept flushing the loo but there were more and more clothes falling in there from somewhere. God knows what I’d unleashed. Probably a hole in space time where other people’s washing was falling through a worm hole from alternative universes into a bog full of my crap. But it was chuffing weird.

What the fuck is going on?

I remember being conscious that I was dreaming, and wondering why the sod I can’t just dream about falling or flying or something a bit more fucking normal. I had, near enough, sorted it out, got the clothes into the bath to rewash and hang up again, although there were more and more in the loo, falling through the worm hole or wherever they were coming from. But I’d flushed it, so at least the poo was gone and for all it being bog water, it was clean bog water – yeh I know but this was dream thinking right, not real world how MTM thinks. I woke up before the dream ended. Which was, frankly, a bit of a chuffing relief.

So there we go. More dreams about shit. I suppose it’s not surprising, I mean, we are living it. Which reminds me. How’s your apocalypse going? Still no zombies here in Blighty. As I’ve said before, every cloud has a silver lining.

Seems a little crazy

In COVID:19 madness this week the prize goes to my dentist’s surgery. Normally a highly efficient outfit, I arrived at my appointment for a check up, the Monday before lockdown, to discover that they had cancelled everything. To give them their due, my phone had gone weird that morning so I didn’t receive a call. But after a brief chat, during which they explained that they couldn’t book a new appointment because … COVID. I returned home, teeth unchecked with all appointments cancelled until further notice. Goodness knows who sends out their mail for them, but they’re being ripped off. A few days later, I received letters warning me that I was now due for a check up and must ring them at once. Interestingly, as well as the check up there was one about the hygienist’s appointment, which they’d cancelled the preceding Friday. I hope the mailing service isn’t going to bill them for this!

On the writing front, I’ve things to work on and edit, which are going OK, except I’ve reached that bit where you know it isn’t ready yet. And seeing how much there is to do, you sort of lose the will to live and put it away for a couple of weeks. While I’m a bit meh over existing stuff, I thought I’d like to start a new K’Barthan short because I only have two in hand. It should be easy enough, it usually is but can I?

Can I bollocks?

Everything I try to write is about the bloody apocalypse. I’ve just watched an evening of BBC comedy delivered direct from people’s homes. Have I Got News For You by webcam for heaven’s sake. Impressive, and strangely intimate, coming from the panelists actual homes, but also at stratospherically lord-in-heaven-what-is-happening levels of weird. I really think living this apocalyptic shite is enough, without writing about it as well. Only one thing to do then, I’ve let my efforts to feed back on the fourth audio book bleed into the writing time. Although the huge door stop length novel which might be another series is also getting my attention, even though I’m sure it’s wrong and I don’t really know how to fix it.

On the subject of audiobooks … I had a bit of a crisis of confidence last week. I’ve two uploaded to a bunch of the main sites and they are gradually going live, plus the short  … but the other two are still in editing. I could hear a lot more breathing, but not normal breathing, kind of chopped off half breaths. I was a bit worried that, maybe I was just suffering the effects of syringing your ears half way through proofing four audiobooks. I asked but Gareth says no. Turns out they might be different and it’s something to do with the way you dampen the breathing and plosives when you’re recording. Something called sound gate – sounds like a press scandal, only it isn’t. Too much in one direction and you lose the ends of words and it sounds a bit weird. Too much the other and you get oddly chopped off half breaths. This has happened much more in three and four than in one and two. So I’m going through flagging them up. I’ve done three, but it’s taking ages and it felt a bit pissy. Like repeatedly kicking someone who has actually been very kind to me. Worse, I wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t just a side effect of having my ears syringed. But Gareth assures me that flagging them all isn’t pissy; that it will help him work out the right settings and that he’ll learn stuff. I heartily hope so.

There are lots to mark up so it’s taking some time. On the other hand, I am really enjoying listening. Some of the voices … there’s a character called Psycho Dave. Gareth’s voice for this guy is genius and it makes me guffaw like a supervillain each time I hear it. Indeed, every time Dave appears, I get the giggles and have to stop. So I’m hopeful that other folks will find it funny. To go with, I need to sort out some email sequences; one for people who sign up after seeing a facebook ad, who don’t know about my stuff at all, one for people who are already familiar with the entire gamut of K’Barthan nuttery who just want to know when the audio books are out and one for the folks, between those two, who know about the books and K’Barth but would be intrigued to know more about the whole audio process and about Gareth. It’s going to take me a while. I’m getting there.

In the meantime, I’m on chapter 32 of book four, so moving, but not quickly. Yeh, patience my young paduan. My aim is to do as many chapters as possible a day, mostly from 10.30 until midnight after McOther has gone to bed. My efforts in this are being hampered a little by McMini who came down to seem me a few nights ago because his bed warmers had got cold. I nuked them to warm them up, which takes four minutes, and while they cooked, so to speak, we had a chat. It was a good one, so good that he now comes down every night at about eleven pm, ostensively to have the wheaties heated up but really, just to have a chat. It isn’t helping with my productivity, but he’s such a sweetheart and such good company. How can I refuse? Ho hum, onwards and upwards.

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Living on the edge …

You know how I lead a fast and dangerous life? Mwahahahargh! Yeh. You will remember my banging on about brain fog every now and again. In truth, my post McMini baby brain seagued smoothly into menopausal brain fog without my even noticing. It is only since the HRT kicked in that I have discovered just how completely bollocksed coddled my brains have been since 2008. It’s like I have suddenly found myself. I still lack energy – chronic pain does that – but I definitely have more than before. Whether anyone will notice my refreshed and revitalised brain is moot though, as I still appear to be the vaguest and most disorganised person on earth. To whit …

This last Monday it was the SPF Show Live. SPF is an online community I joined in 2015 after buying a course on Facebook Advertising run by Mark Dawson. It was, as the title suggests a live workshop, down in London at the South Bank Centre. I booked many moons ago, before the virus named after a fizzy drink reared its ugly head. Registration started at 8.30 am.

Obviously 8.30 am is quite early to be in London from here. I hummed and haad about how I should get there. Train, clearly, but which station to go from? In the end I decided I’d get the 5.49 train from Bury St Edmunds as this did not involve a thirty minute drive home in the dark, in the inevitable pissing rain, with shit visibility and with one headlight going on and off (yes, the other one, not the one with the part I mortgaged my house to pay for). Departure time decided, I set my alarm for unspeakable o’clock and packed everything I thought I’d need the night before.

In the event, I headed off for the station in good time but I’d forgotten something. That thing is this … when I imagine walking somewhere, I imagine it taking about as long as it would take when I could … well … walk. Thing is, I can’t walk anymore. Not like that. I don’t have the same number of knee ligaments as other people and one knee hurts like a bastard at the front, and the other knee hurts like a bastard at the back. That kind of stuff slows a person down.

So, yeh, I left ten minutes and I suddenly realised, as I was still 100 yards from the station, that I only had three minutes to get to my train. It would take me three minutes to get up the ruddy stairs, although that’s still quicker than using the sodding lift.

Maybe it would be a few seconds late.

Yeh. As if.

Upping my walk to the kind of shuffling Igor-style lurch which is as close as I get to a run these days, I ‘ran’ for the train. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I realised the train was in, and its contents were coming down them. Dodging past two blokes carrying bikes sideways, and a whole bunch of semi-somnambulant others, I reached the platform just as the door alarm started to go. Not normally a problem, but as the train is only four carriages long, and the platform is for … more than four … it was parked about thirty feet away. Well … I gave it my best shot. More Igor-esque shuffling and I was nearly there, indeed I touched the train, but the beeping had started, the doors were closing and I was too far away to hurl myself on.

It might as well have been on fucking Mars for all I was going to catch it.

The doors closed. Mourning the demise of the old slam-door type where you could just open the bloody door again and get on as it started to move. I turned with an expression of hapless desperation to the mirror at the front of the station, hoping the driver would see me as s/he looked, before leaving the station.

Hands together in a please, please, take pity on me kind sir, stance, I begged the driver to open them again. No joy. The beeping stopped and after a couple of seconds, the motors engaged, and the train fucked off into the darkness, leaving me on the platform, alone.

‘Bollocks!’ I said.

Ho hum.

I turned and made my way down the stairs.

‘You missed it then,’ said the station master, not unsympathetically.

‘Yeh, touched the ruddy thing, but didn’t get close enough to get in, I keep forgetting I have a limp these days and that I don’t walk as fast as I used to.’

It was a beautiful clear dawn, marred, slightly, by the fact the train was filthy.

We discussed options and he agreed that my Plan B – if it’s me hoping to be somewhere by 5.49am there is sure as hell going to be a Plan B – of going to Whittlesford was probably the best idea. Let’s face it, it wasn’t so bad. It was a beautiful clear dawn, the moon was out and the sky lightening in the east. Yeh, it wasn’t as if I’d be driving home with zero visibility in the pissing rain today.

Back home, grabbed the car keys and headed off. Time was pressing and after driving down the M 11 at an injudiciously high speed … an invigoratingly brisk drive down the M11, I arrived at Whittlesford. Nobody was there yet, so I bagged the closest parking spot to the station, on the end, although some bastard still managed to scratch my car parking the other side of me. I entered my number plate into the ticket machine and paid, although it didn’t give me anything to put in the window, which somewhat unnerved me. As I walked onto the platform I discovered the train I’d hoped to catch was due in one minute.

Nice.

Around me was a surfeit of stern warnings that I must travel with a valid ticket. Hmm … was my ticket valid? I hadn’t a chuffing clue. Better buy another and get a refund on the one I didn’t use. I turned my attention to coercing one from the machine on the platform. I got to the end but it didn’t seem to want to let me pay.

The train arrived while I was still scratching my head.

Yes well, let’s not miss another one. The existing ticket would have to do.

The journey passed more or less without incident, except that I’d have dearly liked a wee and couldn’t find a loo. I made a pithy post about my fuckwittery on the forum for the event, and posted a picture of the rather lovely sunrise I over Cambridgeshire I could see from the window. I hopped off at Totteham hale, thought about walking from Green Park and then remembered what had happened walking to the station a couple of hours previously and changed to the Northern Line at Warren Street instead. A quick five minute walk from Waterloo and there I was.

The glass front of the Festival Hall. No snurd holes …

Needless to say, the first thing I did was take a picture of the glass windows The Pan of Hamgee drove the SE2 through at the beginning of K’Barthan 2. It would have been churlish not to, right?

Course was fab. I homed in on a lady wearing a fabulous crocheted dragon on her shoulder and it turned out she was one of the people who’d commented on my post about missing the train. She was with another lovely lady writing the same and they introduced me to a group of Paranormal Romance writers at lunch who were great company and several orders of magnitude more successful than I am! Also managed to meet lovely author friend J A Clement who was one of the helpers.

Back in for the afternoon’s talks, came out afterwards and … yes, it was pissing down. Never mind, I had a brolly. Quick trot over the railway bridge to Embankment and back on the 5.08 train.

Thirty five minute drive home in zero visibility and pissing rain with one headlight. Oh well, you can’t win em all.

Spool forward to Thursday. McMini plays in ‘Rock Band’ at school. He plays drums and I confess I did know he had a concert coming up. McMini’s school is at once rigorous and laid back. They are extremely careful about keeping tabs on where each of their tiny charges has got to, but they do tend to tell you about something once and leave it at that. So … I’d had the news sheet the week before last telling me that there was a concert. We had all hoisted in that McMini would be playing. But, I kind of expected something nearer the time saying … I dunno … your kid is in the concert, they will be having tea in school, it starts at X time, collect them from Y … that kind of thing.

However, the school is like, yeh, we’ve told them once. They know.

Thursday came, and there I was wandering around McMini’s school at pick up time. I had gathered up his golf bats and sports bag and put them in the car but was there any sign of him? Nah.

As I mooched about hopefully peering into windows and peeping round doors, a couple of members of staff said hello and then another popped out and asked me if I was looking for McMini (impressed he knew I was McMini’s Mum, then again, I’m the only one who turns up at collection time in a silly car so it’s probably that). We had a look in the dining hall but McMini wasn’t there, he was still rehearsing. He had emailed me to explain that he had the concert, in case I forgot, but only at ten past five, after I’d already left. McMini’s school is in the deadest dead spot known to man – probably by design – so naturally, I didn’t receive it until I arrived home.

I met one of his friends, though and told him to let McMini know that I knew he had a concert and that I would be coming and see him later. Then it was into the car, hot foot it home to see if McOther could come, but he had a board call, so then it was hot foot it back, because it started in about ten minutes. It was a very impressive concert. It hadn’t started when I arrived but I was late and there was no parking, except for a space marked as ‘visitors only’ which everyone else had avoided.

McMini’s new school is in an old stately home so parts of it are ritzy

Stuff that! I’m visiting, I thought, wedged the Noisy Cricket into it, between two huge Chelsea tractors and ran in. There were still programmes to be had but no seats so I crept in and sat on the windowsill at the back with all the little boys who were playing on their game consoles while big brothers or sisters performed. I remember thinking, as I sat watching the first item, that this wasn’t quite where I expected to be that evening. Yeh, so while there’s less brain fog, it’s clear that my abject fuckwittery still knows no bounds.

But I made it, and that’s what counts. AND I even remembered to videoMcMini doing his thing so McOther could watch it, too.

It’s probably quite an achievement to be able to organise your life, yourself, and still have absolutely zero clue what you’re meant to be doing when, or what’s going to happen next. Talking of which, the fizzy drink virus … as an ‘at risk’ (rather susceptible to chest infections and still wheezy after a hideous flu bout last year) I’m rather hoping not to catch it as I suspect it will be quite grim, and last year’s bout of flu was bad enough. It’s all getting a bit serious.

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Random stuff …

Today, I’m slightly short of inspiration. I wanted to write something smart and pithy but frankly, while I’m habitually too pithy much of the time, I’ve been the antithesis of smart for some months now. Even so, the Dad dust is settling I think, or at least, beginning to die down – I still owe a lot of people letters, though, sorry if you’re one of them.

While we were on holiday I did dip a cautious toe into writing again. OK so it was only a few hundred words and constipation and brain fog week hit immediately afterwards scuppering it at once but it was there and that’s progress. It’s not beyond the realms that I’ll get a submission in for Christmas Lites this year, it depends how the holidays and the first week of term go. Meanwhile Mum seems a lot chirpier and is starting to do things again, pottering in the kitchen and the garden, she’s much chattier and happier and a great deal more alert which is wonderful.

When it comes to me though, I am less than alert. Just before my holiday, I managed to lose my penknife and then proceeded to lose the replacement in less than 24 hours. I had a back up but it wasn’t very sharp so I managed to make a pretty good effort at cutting the top of my finger off  with it while trying to help myself to a slice of cheese while we were away. I inadvertently brought the SD stick I own with a back up of my entire computer hard drive, and all my photos, and then, realising what I had done, instead of hiding it in the deepest, darkest, chasms of my bag so I’d not lose it, I tucked it carefully away on the bedside shelves at the hotel and left it there when we departed.

On the last day of our holiday we were in a hotel with a self service breakfast bar. Like many of them, it had one of those egg boilers, you know the kind of thing a tank of water with a lid and you put a raw egg in a kind of wire mesh spoon/cup with a long hooked handle. Then you put the egg in the water, hooking the end of the spoon/cup over the side, put the lid on and turn it up so it boils.

///roped.luckier.truce
///hubcap.collaboration.regiment

While I was waiting for them to replenish the supply of pancakes, I decided I’d do a hard boiled egg and then keep it for my lunch. When I came to the boiler there’d been some accidents. A half peeled egg and another unpeeled virgin boiled egg lay in the bottom where, presumably, they had irretrievably escaped from their spoon/cup things. Knowing how long eggs can take in these boilers, I toyed with the idea of retrieving the lost eggs of others rather than cooking my own. I have learned, the hard way, that you need to leave the eggs in a fair while even if you are savvy enough to know that you must turn it up because it may take five minutes to come to the boil. Get this wrong and, three hours later, you peel your egg in famished anticipation only to discover the yolk and most of the white are raw. Tempted though I was to remove the eggs from the bottom since the half peeled one, at any rate, was definitely cooked. It occurred to me that they might be a bit too cooked, nobody likes a raw egg, but no-one likes an egg that’s come through cooked and out the other side to bouncy, indestructible rubberiness either. I turned the boiler right up and left the egg in there while I had my pancakes.

Later as we were leaving the hotel, I was convinced that I’d forgotten something. Something important, but I couldn’t remember what – I left the SD stick at a different hotel – so it wasn’t that, anyway, at this point, I thought I still had it. There I was racking my brains as we left the car park when I remembered!

‘On no!’ I said.

McOther stopped the car.

‘What is it?’ he asked, his voice full of concern.

‘I forgot my egg.’

Guffaws from the back!

‘Oh my god Dad! She’s channelling Pops! D’you want to go back? You do don’t you? You’ve got to go back because it’s food!’ said McMini.

I looked at my watch.

‘Alas, it’s after ten, they’ll have cleared it away … Pity, I was really looking forward to that egg.’

This escapade made me feel very at one with my dad (as did losing so many Important Items over the holiday – not to mention inadvertently bringing one with me in order to lose it really thoroughly, the hotel are looking but are not optimistic about finding it). But on the egg front, especially, I was extremely disappointed and I know Dad would have felt similar disappointment and probably expressed it in a very similar way. Never mind, it may chalk us both up as nutters, but if I can be half the human being he was, I’ll be very happy.

Back to writing. I noticed a post on a metal detecting group I follow about an app that’s pure genius. What3Words was invented by a guy who realised that you could break the entire GPS grid up into 3 metre x 3 metre squares and each one has a three word code. There are trillions of squares but only 40,000 words are needed which is amazing. It’s accurate but it’s also genius because by using words it uses less memory and works on nanky old machines where new stuff won’t. It also means the phone doesn’t have to have a signal for it to work.

The thing is, if you’re a metal detectorist you want to know what your GPS coordinates are when you find something good because you need to log it on the national finds database. With this app you can find your three word location, even when your phone has no signal. And of course, when you get home, you can convert those three words to GPS coordinates from inside the app at the touch of a button.

As an example of what the coordinates look like in what three words, the door of number ten Downing Street is ///slurs.this.shark but the spot across the road where the press usually stand is ///stage.pushy.nuns.

Taking another example of coordinates: I grew up in a school and the spot where my old bedroom is located is the intersection between four squares. These squares are: ///blockage.year.rally ///impeached.front.mistress ///mocked.curly.eyelashes and ///digested.starch.gravy. Meanwhile our lavatory was situated at ///spoil.infects.severe which sounds about right to be honest.

Any writers reading will already see where I’m going with this. Somehow, despite these three words being random meaningless phrases, I found that as I looked up places that had been part of my life or just randomly stuck my finger on countries around the globe I began to see these three words as reading like some cryptic story. Mocked curly eyelashes and digested starch gravy are just asking to be turned into flash fiction aren’t they?  And what’s a front mistress and why was she impeached?

The best one I’ve found so far is in Russia somewhere on what looks like a building site from the satellite images ///Mondays.smugly.coping. Clearly someone who starts the week in a better frame of mind than I do.

 

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The sky is falling apparently … again.

Today, let’s talk about publishing! Yes, I’m going to talk author shop. That said, I’m supposed to talk author shop really, aren’t I? That’s why I mark all the McMini and dementia posts ‘off topic’ although to be honest I go off topic so often that the book-related stuff is the off topic theme here nowadays. But hey ho, onwards and upwards.

 

So this week I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast, at least, I think it was this week’s, it might have been last week [MT disappears to check]. Ah, yes. Last week, number 402. The point is, she was talking at one point about the apparent disappearance of the also-boughts on Amazon. Now, I’ve never actually got much out of the also-boughts, myself, because the folks who read my books seem to have very enquiring minds and read all kinds of weird shizz so they were always stuffed to perdition from the start. People who bought my books have also bought thrillers, horror books, text books and mostly, my other books leaving the Amazon recommendation engine going, ‘Uh?’

However, if your readers are a bit more genre-centric, I’m reliably informed that you can glean readers from the fans of authors similar to your via the also-boughts, readers who are likely to enjoy your stuff. Amazon notices their buying habits so if readers of Terry Pratchett books start buying mine, for example, the recommendation engine goes, ‘Oy-oy!’* and starts automatically recommending my books to people who have bought Sir Terry’s books (oh how I wish). If that happens Bob’s your uncle, your work is introduced to a new and interested audience.

* you didn’t know it was Jewish, did you?

Word is that for some time, Amazon has been trialing the removal of these also-boughts from its current, prime position, or removing them altogether, and introducing more strips of paid advertising instead. They’ve been doing this mostly on their US site so I haven’t seen it but obviously, if they make the switch permanent, it has some serious ramifications.

If the also-boughts disappear, then, in theory, the ads should provide a similar premise, since most authors who advertise chose similar authors’ names as advertising keywords, so that when readers look at books by them, they see adverts for your similar book. However, as usual, there are some unscrupulous spammers advertising everywhere, without a nod to relevance at all like those people who keep offering me products to enlarge my penis … when I’m a WOMAN (money down the drain boys). Or thinking about it, maybe they just have the SEO equivalent of also-boughts like mine.

Anyway, a lot of authors head the advert something like, ‘If you like Douglas Adams you’ll love M T McGuire’ except I don’t because it’s like telling everyone you’re actually God, down to visit the planet incognito, and will unleash a string of one star reviews from Douglas Adams fans who are incensed at your presumption. Indeed, advertising anything funny that’s not Douglas Adams to Adams’ fans is a bona fide recipe to send them into conniptions about your sheer brass neck and bring down a tidal wave of snark upon yourself – believe me, I’ve tried it. Luckily Terry Pratchett fans are more benign so I say things like, ‘The K’Barthan Series. A bit like the discworld series but not as funny.’ But I digress.

So will also-bot-ageddon make any difference if it sticks? Yes, in that it will mean authors and publishers will have to pay for their place on the also-boughts. For readers, there will be no also-boughts to trawl for similar authors to the ones you like. For authors, there’ll be no easy way of finding alternative yet similar authors to yourself to use as advertising keywords. But as David Gaughran, points out, the infrastructure will still be there and Amazon will still use the also boughts algorithm to make recommendations to customers by email. Also, since what an author thinks her audience is may not be correct, Amazon will always go on the buying habits of target readers rather than an author’s guestimate, because that will make them more cash, so presumably they are unlikely to bin the also bots long term.

As a reader, I only use the also boughts or buy on personal recommendation, I never use search because it never returns interesting books, only commercial ones and I’m British so I’m far too cynical to click many ads. That, alone, is enough to suggest Amazon probably won’t bin the also-boughts entirely. I can’t be their only customer who works like that. Maybe it will appear in some other form or maybe they will fix the shambolic awfulness that is AMS ads so they present a more accurate alternative. We can but hope.

What this whole panic does flag up to me, though, is that now, even more than ever, it’s important to avoid being beholden to one big business for anything, be it a retailer for all your income, a particular form of social media for all your communication, or even one product. We have to get our books out to as many retailers as possible, in as many formats as possible and while social media is best done in earnest on one site alone, there’s no harm in having your blog posts go to all the others if the software you use allows.  And yes, that means I really should make some audio books. I’m not sure it has to involve remortgaging the house or tying myself in an exclusive deal to one retailer for however million years* for a crappy 40% royalties, anymore.

* actually, I think it’s seven, or maybe fourteen years, but that’s a sod of a long time. I may be dead by the end of that.

For a number of reasons, mostly Real Life’s continual and annoying interference with my plans for literary world domination, I write slowly. That means that, ideally, I need to engage the kinds of readers who are prepared to pay for my books because there’s a longer gap between each one. But, as digital content becomes further and further devalued we probably will reach a point where it’s all free on subscription and we authors get paid for page reads of our electronic content, if at all. If the review site I used to write on was anything to go on, payment starts at a good rate, the site in question paid 50p a read at the start. By the end, it paid a fraction of a penny for each read and you needed to get hundreds of reads on any piece you submitted to net 10p. I see the subscription model going the same way; 1p per read of each of my 100k+ books. Ouch.

Yet, one of the things Joanna Penn raised this week, was that while recent trends point to electronic content decreasing in value to nothing, there is an increase in people buying other things, instead; their favourite albums on vinyl, hard backs of their favourite books or box sets and other deluxe or collector’s versions. There’s also the idea of the author as a brand, the value of a personal appearance, visiting conventions, schools etc. Not something Real Life gives me room for at the moment but there’s no harm building the MTM brand.

As for product diversity, as well as forms of output for my books, there is merchandise. Many readers do and will buy merchandise, possibly more for comedy books, but, for my own part, the stuff I made on Zazzle with the art work from my books netted me rather more than the books, themselves the first year they were out. Again, I stick that stuff everywhere; redbubble, zazzle, cafepress, and any I go on to find. More importantly, I should to put them on my own site – don’t forget to do that, kids, I’m working on mine. It’s an easier decision for me, since my books aren’t mainstream and committing to one retailer makes little business sense if you write the kinds of books I do. My fans are eclectic and far flung and I usually only sell a couple of copies of each book a month on each site (it’s particularly low at the moment because I’ve run out of cash for ads). The way I see it, on pretty much every site where my book is on sale, I’m likely to sell a handful. The more sites my book is on, the more people will be buying those couple of copies and suddenly, £5 a piece from twenty or thirty obscure book retail sites adds up fast.

Finally, it’s all about control. I think, possibly, the smartest thing you can do is retain control of as much of your work, rights and reader contact as you can. I’ve spent enough time in marketing to be wary of relying on any one big business. Remember when Facebook showed your posts to, like, everyone? Remember when they stopped and authors with followings of thousands found they were only reaching a handful of their fans? Yeh. That. So to me the most important thing, above everything else, is to get a mailing list going, achieve a rapport with the readers there, sell your stuff on your own site and keep all those small sites going. Because that way if one of the big boys does something funny and stuffs up your earnings, it won’t be the end of the world.

To sum it up then, nothing is constant, the only thing we can guarantee about the ebook business is that it will keep changing. And people who are reliant on Amazon will run round complaining that the sky is falling on their heads. So you have to keep as much of the process where you can control it as possible while, at the same time, giving yourself as many options as possible. That’s why, if you write slowly, the way I do, there are probably only three golden rules:

  1. Have as many sources of income as possible, by having your products available in as many different places as you can.
  2. Aim to generate as many different income streams as possible around your books.
  3. Aim to get a good rapport with your readers and sort out as much of that as is humanely possible, through channels where you have control, on your own cyber turf.

______________________________

Happy news. If anyone wants to try reading the weird shit I produce without having to join my mailing list to get some free, and then be subjected to even more weird shit in the form of newsletters, you can buy Book 1 in the K’Barthan Series at a reduced price on Kobo from today until 27th November. There are a lot of other books reduced like this on Kobo, too, not just mine!

Few Are Chosen

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Aaargh! Am I turning into an adult?

Yep it’s a valid question. I never, ever wanted to become a grown up but it’s one of those unfortunate facts that as we age, the changes are so imperceptible that, for the most part, we fail to notice. That might be why, if you asked me or anyone for that matter, if we feel any different inside now, to the way we did as kids, the answer is likely to be a resounding no. Yet apparently there have been changes – in my case, anyway.

On our way back from Spain we stopped in a rather lovely town called Niort in France where we stumbled on a small gallery, in a lovely old building, displaying a series of photographs documenting a short period of time in the life of a graffiti artist. There were some cracking photos and I actually love a bit of graffiti art, myself. France seems to be particularly good for it, or maybe it’s just that its motorways are; less traffic + less CCTV = more multicoloured letters.

Nice.

Graffiti art in Niort, France.

Anyway, as we went round I pointed out the photos I liked to McMini with my usual enthusiasm. McMini was interested too but seemed slightly bemused. Oh dear and I do so want him to enjoy art because he’s quite good at it.

However, when we got outside we got to the bottom of his bemused attitude. The conversation went like this,

‘Mummy, you don’t really like graffiti art do you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Really?’
He sounds incredulous.
‘Yeh.’
‘But you’re a grown up. Grown ups should disapprove and be saying, “Those terrible kids what are they up to now?”’
‘Your Mother is not a grown up,’ says McOther.
‘Yes she is!’ says McMini.
‘You think?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ says McMini.
McOther is looking very dubious but with a twinkle at the corner of the eyes because he knows how completely horrified I will be to hear this.
‘Flippin‘eck! I’ve convinced my child I’m an adult!’ I say. ‘How did that happen?’

How indeed?

The idea is, frankly, horrifying! When I was a kid, I never thought my parents disapproved of much, well, no they did but not in a pissy small-minded adult way. They disapproved of bad things like punching people, stealing, bullying, being unkind, hurting animals and stuff like that but they couldn’t give a toss if someone was untidy, had illegible handwriting, was late to things or was, say, gay. At one school I went to there were a couple of girls who made life hell for a lot of people – to the point of giving someone a nervous breakdown – but they had neat handwriting, they were on time for everything and always looked tidy so as far as many of the teachers seemed to be concerned they were paragons of virtue, whereas I was ‘slapdash’ and untidy in my work; well no, actually, I had a form of dyslexia. Looking back on it now, those girls were incredibly unhappy at home and dealt with their unhappiness by spreading it. I suspect the teachers who praised them, who I saw as traitorous and unjust, were merely trying to instil them with some sense of self worth.

Sorry, going off on a tangent there, I guess what I’m saying is that as a child and then a young woman, I loved that my parents totally seemed to get that timeliness, tidiness and conformity, though fine traits sometimes, were worthless if the person displaying them behaves like a piece of shit. Likewise, their complete lack of concern over the sexuality of the people I came into contact with. They probably spotted that my gay friends were gay way before I did and back then in the 1980s any difference in sexuality could be a major stigma even among the supposedly liberal youth, let alone folks of my parents’ generation.

As I grew older and started to do rebellion, it became very obvious that my parents were right behind me and, indeed, that they were a great deal more anarchic, liberal, forgiving, free-thinking and generally open than most of my supposedly avant garde acquaintances. They seemed to revel in eccentricity of character and loved anyone who was prepared to think deeply and challenge the establishment. I remember my father desperately trying to get me to say the word, ‘fuck’ in mixed company because he felt that some of the older people there were rather pompous and deserved a good shock. I suppose he simply approached language, and swear words, with the same lack of prejudice as he approached everything else.

Mum dragged up all sorts of gloriously textured words to replace invective, troglodyte, nit-wit and strewth were some of them. Dad, on the other hand, was an occasional but enthusiastic swearer – usually when he was frustrated or angry, I don’t recall him ever swearing at people. When he mowed the orchard, colliding with the low branches of Every. Single. Tree. He used to eff and blind like the most foul-mouthed squaddie. Mowing sessions were rated on a scale of buggeration, ‘how many buggers was that one, Dad?’ we would ask. He would try to be cross for about a nanosecond and then laugh and say something like,

‘Far too many, and there were a few fucks as well!’

No matter how odd I was considered to be at school, I fitted in at home and surely that’s what good parenting is, isn’t it? Giving your kids somewhere they fit, where it’s OK to be who they are while they try and find out what that is.

When I went to university I desperately tried to persuade my friends to visit me at home for the weekend because if only they would, I knew they would be able to make sense of who I am. Few were brave enough. It was very, very hard to make friends my first year, until someone happened upon the fact I was good at art. Then, suddenly, there was a new box to put me in. I was no longer a southerner (and therefore scum) I was ‘the artist’ and all was fine from there on in.

Always, I have hoped that if I had children of my own I would be like my parents, which is why the idea that McMini thinks I’m a grown up is so alarming. Have I officially Lost My Sense of Humour? Have I Become Set In My Ways? Have I started to believe I’m right about everything? I hope not. As a woman of faith, my politics seem to be moving further and further left as the mainstream moves further right so maybe it’s OK. Maybe there’s hope for me.

The fact my friends weren’t as anarchic my actual parents was a terrible disappointment to me as a youngster. If I’ve turned into one of those normal bastards, at least I’ll spare McMini that. It’s awful having to bite your tongue with people your own age because they tell you off for swearing or mentioning periods, admitting to a fart, or whatever, as if they’re anally retentive prudish pensioners (except both sets of my grandparents were similar to my parents). Seriously, though, teenagers trying to be grown up can be so fucking prissy. Actually, anyone who feels they have to try and act like a grown up can be is pretty fucking prissy. That’s why the thought that responsible adulthood might have crept up on me fills me with such despond.

As a kid, I rebelled against the Draco Malfoys of my school life who despised me because, among other things, I wasn’t attempting to get my end away with every male who crossed my path. But to me, boys weren’t the complex mystery they saw. Living with a brother and in close proximity to 500 of the buggers does that to a girl. Looking back, I suspect the real reason they hated me was because I was happy and they weren’t but they couldn’t articulate it, or perhaps the failure of their sporadic efforts to be nice to me so I would invite them home and give them a pop at those 500 boys was part of the problem too. The official reasons they gave for hating me were very faux, things like my being too posh or not posh enough, or ‘so immature’ (ie having a sense of humour). Deep down we all knew that the hatred was irrational and the excuses fake. Nothing like someone giving you shit because they want to and then trying to pretend there’s a logical reason to make you start questioning the status quo.

But McMini isn’t bullied, thank heavens. And I hope he never will be. There are no Dracos for him but that means that when the time comes to rebel he may well rebel against me. I am, kind of, braced for this but I’m still not sure how I’ll go about empathising. Will I be able to? Will I just become entrenched in my position, be Eddie to his Saffie?

Throughout my school and working life, barring a couple of notable exemptions, I have always been lumbered with a someone who decides, upon meeting me for the first time, that their raison d’etre from now on will be to make my life a misery. I seem to have something in me that enrages total and complete bastards to the point of mania and while on occasion, I feel smug at being able to piss off the small and petty minded so comprehensively, it can be hard going. What a relief it was to give up work and step out of all that and, for the first time in my life be bastard free!

But now I wonder, have these recent, glorious years without my own personal nemesis corrupted me? Am I like Lister in Red Dwarf? When he complains that Holly has brought back Rimmer, his arch enemy, and not one of his friends, he is told it’s because Rimmer is the crew member most likely to keep him sane. Do I need a total wanker in my life to keep me on the straight and narrow? Have I gone normal in these glorious tosser-free years? Or is it simply that I lack the strength of character to have that open-minded, easy going confidence of my parents?

I hope I will be the kind of parent to McMini that I had. I hope that when I’m in my 80s, I’ll be as anarchic as my Mum and that McMini, in turn, will be the same in his 80s. I hope I’ll always be able to grow and think and adapt my view. I hope I never lose that curiosity of viewpoint that my parents still have, even now. To give you an example:

My mother was a debutant, she’s had dinner on the Royal Yachet while The Queen was still living there. Twice. But she’s fully convinced socialist. She thinks that ideally we would just pass a law to re-nationalise the railways, power infrastructure, the lot of it, and then have it run by people who knew what they were doing (which is many of the folks there now) and who could tell the government what dividend it was going to have each year so they could invest properly in the infrastructure as needed, rather than having to stand and watch their companies being bled dry.

She thinks that MPs are never going to go after people like Google to collect the proper amount of tax, partly because … lawyers … and partly because unlike the Victorian times the Conservatives so espouse, rich people these days ‘have no proper religion so they don’t know how to behave. They have no compassion, they’re not going to set up the Joseph Rowantree Foundation, or build Port Sunlight. Those days are gone.’ But mostly she believes the Googles of this world will always escape tax because this country is still run by the 200 most intelligent people in each year at Oxford and Cambridge, no matter what the social background from whence they come, and so the UK branches of these companies are run by folks with whom many of our politicians are friends.

‘It’s awfully hard to have dinner with someone one night and send his company a writ the next morning,’ she says.

She’s right, of course, it is, and just as much if you’ve come up from the gutter and want to maintain your status as if you’re a weak-willed trustafarian. And principles only get you into trouble. After all, look what happened to St Thomas A Becket. The politicians will be looking to their post political careers, speaking, being on boards … none of that’s going to happen if they go round clobbering their future employers. Mum agrees this is bad but thinks it’s human nature and that the state needs to accept the humanity of its elected servants and find ways to earn money through something other than the taxes people like Boris and Rhees Mogg will have neither the balls nor the inclination to collect.

‘We should feel sorry for them really, they can’t help it, they haven’t a clue how to behave,’ she says with sweeping disdain.

So if some utilities etc were state run, PROPERLY, I might add, Mum thinks we’d have more money to give to the NHS.

It’s a bit of a cop out, she admits, because like me, she thinks that the government should go after people like Google for the tax they owe. After all, by paying their employees so little that they can’t survive, people like Jeff Bezos are, basically, taxing the rest of us. Buy your goods for less on Amazon but pay an extra £5.00 a week on stuff for the food bank their zero hours, underpaid employees have to use. Oh and some extra tax, because you’d better believe the government will collect yours, the poorer you are, the more heavy handed they will be because they know they’ll get it – you can’t afford to fight back. But they collect the tax so that they have the money to run the state services Jeff’s stressed employees will need to use when their worry and over work have made them ill. And now we’re coming out of Europe, of course, it will be even easier for Jeff and his friends to screw their employees over because our compassionate conservative government will get rid of all that annoying red-tape-shaped employment law.

Will I be as anarchic as that when I’m 85? Will McMini have parents like I did? I really, really hope so.

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What I know now, that I wish I knew then …

The advice kettle is sage and wise and also keeps the water hot, like an urn, only not.

Back on topic this week, I was asked for some advice by a writer who is just starting work on her first book. Even though she appears to be of sound mind, she was dead chuffed with what I wrote and asked if I’d share it on my blog so she could send people to the post. As a result, by special request, here is my rambling view on er … some of the aspects of writing that popped up.

BEFORE YOU START ….

1. What do you want to do?
a) have fun writing a book.
b) have fun writing a book and maybe make a bit of side cash – or at least get the cover artwork and editing costs back.
c) Rule the world: Yeh, move over JK, I am on your tail.

2. Decide on a target genre, who your reader is and what genre/store category your book fits into. Are there other books for the kind of reader you are aiming at. What are they like? What do their covers look like? Hint, you do NOT want your cover to stand out, you want it to be slick, well designed and exactly the same as all the others so readers know what they are getting (I so didn’t do this). Are you going to mash genres? Say you’re writing Sci-fi, is it something else too? Is it funny? Is it also fantasy. Are there other books like yours? Who writes them?

Your answer to question 1 will affect this as if you’re looking to make a living you need to totally conform to the standard tropes. Unless you are going to be an outlier. I thought I was going to be an outlier. It didn’t work too well for me. I write because … actually, I write because I can’t walk away from it and to be honest, walking away would be the sensible option right now.

Pantser or Plotter?

I was firmly in the pantser camp to start with – as in I’d just write and see where it went. It went to lots of good places but my first book took 13 years. Pantsing may well slow your rate of production so if a fast output is your aim plotting is good. Likewise, if your daily existence is the equivalent of having someone opening the top of your head and stir your brains about, constantly, with a wooden spoon, some kind of plot outline is going to be a huge help. Especially if you have menopausal brain fog on top (yes apparently that really is a thing and yes, of course I have it).

I find that even though I now write an outline, there is plenty of wiggle room. The key thing is to experiment and find what works best for you. I find that if I get too confined by an outline I stop enjoying it as much, I quite like the whole wondering around and seeing where it will go aspect, but when I relied solely on that I got frustrated with having to keep stopping while my brain sorted itself out. I really enjoyed the learning process – even though it was trying at times.

However, these days I am very light on time so if I want to produce a book every five years, I do need to plot a little bit so I don’t waste time. On the last two books of the K’Barthan Series I wrote 60k words I didn’t need. Right now my year’s output stands at about 40k so I can’t afford to waste a year and a half’s writing time on plot bunnies. Hence I now plot, but with enough wriggle room for the characters to act on their own initiative. This works for me – and that’s the important take away from this one: that what works for me may not work for you.

Write in whatever way suits you best.

Try to avoid being too rigid in your approach

My brain and my life.

To put this in perspective, basically, I pantsed my first novel and I wrote three versions that I sincerely wish I hadn’t written and one half cock novel (which I managed to tidy up and turn into something decent: my fifth published novel) before I managed to produce a book that measured up to my Quality Standards.

In that time, the male lead had appeared out of nowhere, one character had changed from a mechanic to a ganglord, the first book had ended up being the third and fourth ones and the other two were the backstory that popped up out of nowhere at the same time as my getaway-driving male lead. By the time I’d got to the last book, the plot was so complicated my brain was just about melting out through my nose – oh no wait that was hayfever.

What I mean is, you don’t have to stick too rigidly to the plan but you may have to shake things up originally and see what falls out to know if your book is going to work, or if it’s two books, or a series of short stories, or if the character who has just turned up in prison really is the male lead. Sometimes you get too many characters. Eric, from Escape From B-Movie Hell was actually in the K’Barthan Series to start with. Obviously he was human in that, but he was also telepathic. I just made him into an alien for his new world, his character didn’t changed much.

Likewise, at the second short in a series of five, I discovered that what I was writing was a novel. We’re 60k in and yes, I’ve already binned 40k. I’m not learning from my mistakes am I? But at the same time, the short was not a short so there was no point in forcing the issue. Now it’s a long. So what? It will be what it will be. Just try different approaches and you will find a number of different things that work.

Grammar and Punctuation

Bollocks to it. It’s the editor’s job. As you write you learn more, as you work with a decent editor you will learn loads. The point is, you will need an editor unless you are a very and I mean very rare breed. Most of us are too close in to self edit. Additionally, the only thing I really know about grammar and punctuation for sure, is that there are no right answers.

It doesn’t matter what you do, someone, somewhere will always complain so a lot of it is about having faith in your editor. I do edit my work but that’s more word choices, and tweaking stuff so it makes sense; structural things. It also helps me to do this if I need a bit of re-orientation with my giant sprawling novel. Also I have regular read throughs of what I’ve done so far so I can zoom out to the overall big picture. Otherwise I can get kind of lost. Am I a grammar nazi? No, that’s the job of my editor.

Also there will be points where you really dislike your book or think, ‘blimey this is a bit meh.’ That’s all natural. Everyone does it. Sometimes, a good way of getting round that is to work on several projects at the same time. I do that because my life is hectic and I can’t afford to not write something when the stars align and the grey matter is fired up because it happens so rarely. But working on multiple projects also helps you to ensure you’re always working on something you’re up for and enjoy.

Learning Your Craft

I never bought any how to write books – actually, I tell a lie, I have a Chuck Wendig Book on writing which is epic.

However, mostly I’ve learned to write by reading a lot of work by authors who write the way I want to; Pratchett, Adams, Woodehouse and Bryson, notably, along with Tom Holt, Robert Rankin, Nick Hornby, Spike Milligan and Tom Sharp but also non comic writers like H E Bates, Graham Greene, Neville Shute and Asimov. There’s the odd dash of historical fiction, Moonfleet when I was a kid, the Children of the New Forest and The Three Musketeers, Jane Austen. In addition my work has gained a lot of influences from TV; Dr Who – check my non violent hero who never thumps anyone – the original StarTrek, StarWars are the three big ones but also a lot of the 1960s TV shows like Get Smart, the Man from UNCLE, the Avengers, Thunderbirds etc.

This is where I confess that I am the only living person in existence who is not going to bang on about To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby Dick in this section. I have never read a word of either.

The point is, I’m guessing there is a similar list of relevant books to mine for each genre.  A list of must reads which any author would look to for inspiration if they wanted to write in it. If you don’t have one, make one.

The most important thing is patience. Nailing the whole write a book thing usually takes a long time. You are probably a faster learner than me, most people are, but it took me ages to write a book that measured up to my QS. On the upside, when I did, I knew at once that I’d cracked it.

Setting Deadlines

I don’t do this. It would kill me because if they were realistic I’d be in tears about how long each project was going to take and if they are unrealistic I’ll be beating myself up over failing to meet deadlines. I just set a long term goal and short term, realistic, targets and then creep slowly along. One of my friends got stuck a while back when we were at the same stages in our first book. I was stuck, too, but by telling myself it was temporary, or writing other scenes from other parts of the book, or, indeed other books entirely, I managed to keep on creeping slowly forward, I now have 5 books out, she’s just completing her third novel. Other writer friends have twice as many books out as me after two years in the game. So much of writing is a case of having a firm word with yourself and just getting on with it in whatever way you can. You may find deadlines work for you. I find they don’t but a handful of defined and doable goals, with no done by time, they do help. Like all this, you probably need to experiment to get your own happy medium.

In a nutshell, then, bollocks to deadlines; set targets.

Building an Audience

It’s well worth doing this as you go along rather than waiting until you’re ready to launch your first book. If you can manage a free short story you can give to folks in return for mailing list sign up that will help you to start growing a following. Open an account at instafreebie and bookfunnel to deliver the free book to folks. Join promos with other authors. Find websites and Facebook groups where you can chat to other writers in your genre and exchange marketing tips and ideas. For mailing, it’s up to you but I use Mailerlite – they’re cheap and do all the things I need them to do as an author.

This might sound a bit premature but if you can start getting people invested in you even if it’s only to share your journey, you are more likely to start off with some decent book sales.

Big caveat on your give away short though, it has to be your best stuff because it’s your shop window.

Working Out Who Your Audience Is

This is going to affect what you do considerably. For example it is really, and I mean really hard to reach young people or children online. I’d call my book Young Adult. When I wrote it, as well as me, I was thinking of my nephew, who was 12 years old at the time. When I do events, my books sell exclusively to 10-14 year olds, with the odd adult Pratchett fan thrown in. The buyers are usually parents who want to encourage their children to read books. Online, no matter how well your ads or your site piques their interest, kids will not be able to buy your books without their parents’ say so and you run into a whole heap of legal headaches if minors start signing up to your email list. The folks who buy my books online are 45 and over, more women between 45 and 50, more men over 50.

So, if you are going to sell your books, think long and hard about who you are selling to. You may need to concentrate on libraries or making a print version – Ingram Spark are good for this if you are looking for world wide sales and will get your book distributed far more widely then Createspace or Amazon Print and for far less per copy than LuLu.

Here are resources which might help focus your thoughts on production and marketing, anyway …

The first is a series of books about how to format paperbacks using word and publishing indie books. They are by this guy here:

Aaron Shepard

Mr Shepard’s books, From Word to Kindle and POD for Profit might be useful. The amount of information he is dealing with has increased so where I bought one book: Aiming at Amazon, which dealt with the process of making print books. I would have never got my paperback stuff sorted without them. If you are looking at children’s books it might be worth looking at Adventures in Writing for Children and The Business of Writing for Children and the ones he has written about making a useable kindle file using word!

The three other essential ones that will give you an idea of how you can go about building an audience, indie musician style, and sell your books are a three book set by Patty Jansen. I heartily recommend these as they also propose a way of working that is not reliant on any one bookseller and with a work rate that is realistically attainable. They are:

  • Self Publishing Unboxed
  • Mailing Lists Unboxed
  • Going Wide Unboxed

Links to buy them from all retailers can be found here – scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Or you can buy them, direct, from Patty’s Website here

I realise I’ve probably given you way more information than you might want and about stuff way further down the line than the point at which you are now. It might look daunting but the thing is, if you enjoy writing and work at it, you will get there, and when you do it won’t feel nearly as daunting, putting your work out there. It is like putting your soul on the table and inviting snide comments but somehow it works out OK and the more you do it the more your confidence builds and the more you begin to believe in your work. Not everyone will like your stuff but that’s OK. I have one star reviews and that’s fine, and if it isn’t fine, avoid reading the reviews! 😉

Finally, the most important things

IMPORTANT THING ONE: enjoy it. Enjoy writing and the love for it will shine through in what you say. If you write with conviction and enthusiasm, pretty much any plot will work, I mean, look at my stuff! The rest is gravy.

IMPORTANT THING TWO: never, EVER look at other people’s progress and compare it to yours. They are not you. Their life, their personality, and probably their books are different. Keep your eye on your own writing goals, make them realistic goals and work steadily towards them. Enjoy the process of learning and enjoy writing.

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Real Life is underrated. Using mundane events to fuel your writing mojo.

I’m not here this week, I am going to post to my blog and give a talk at the same time.  Sadly this is through the wonders of modern technology and not because I have a clone but there we go, you can’t win ’em all. So without more ado, here’s a piece outlining my theories about pimping your world to add realism to your writing. At the risk of sounding a bit waffly …

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Pimp your world!

Real life can feel like an unwelcome and endlessly demanding interruption to your writing happiness.

However, it doesn’t have to be like this. The mundanity of your reality depends on how you see it. Even if you write science fiction or something that is very much not real life, observing what is going on around you can bring you huge dividends if you can put the right spin on it for yourself.

This is an owl; in flight, even though it looks like some kind of ball. Yes. Real life can often be quite weird enough – without the help of a writer.

How does this work?

Embrace the mundanity, be interested in everything, because it’s the sense of natural curiosity that will give you answers to the odd but boring questions of life. And knowing those boring answers will give your writing texture and make it real. Sure, nobody wants to know what that broken bent thing at the back of the drawer is but as a writer, you do because you never know when you’re going to discover a use for it in your books.

Exercise your writing muscles when you’re not writing.

No I don’t mean your hands! I mean this; if you have to do some mundane chore when you’d rather be writing why no approach it a different way? For example, if you have to go shopping, maybe try to see the dreary trek to Tesco’s as if you are making it for the first time, narrate your progress in your head, as if you’re writing a book.

You can make your approach to this exercise range from lateral to literal, for example, your first thought might be, ‘Why am I pretending it’s the first time I’ve ever been to Tesco if I’ve lived here all my life?’

From there you could go on to ask why the character in your head is only visiting now if they’ve lived here forever. Why, how and where have they been shopping in the years leading up to today? What does the sudden need to visit Tesco’s signify? What changed that put them there?

Alternatively, you can take a different approach and narrate your progress without really thinking of the whys and wherefores but simply as if it’s a scene in a novel. Think about whether the ‘you’ in your narrative is sad, happy, bored or something else. If they are, why might be the cause? How could you show it?

For example, if they see a thistle growing between the cracks in the pavement would their mood effect it. EG flowers, spring, lovely. Flowers, funerals death horror. Thistle, prickly and difficult.

Would they notice different aspects of their surroundings in different moods and interpret them differently?If you have access to MP3s on the hoof you could pop on a pair of headphones and see if different types of music inspire different scenarios. Would up beat songs make your character skip happily over the tarmac? Do sad songs make them drag their feet etc.

The point is, if you are thinking this way, it can only help you to develop your writing voice and style at times in the day when you aren’t able to do any writing.

Engaging with your surroundings brings rewards.

Yep, as much as you can, even when it seems as if there isn’t any point. First; you never know what you might see second, if you want to get interesting stuff out of your head, you have to put things in; experiences, ideas, knowledge and you have to be open to them when they occur – which is often when you least expect it.

Terry Pratchett talking about books said:

You don’t know what’s going to be interesting until you’ve read it. Somewhere in a book on the history of false teeth there’ll be the making of a novel.

He’s spot on.

Seek out the small details going on around you.

The other day, as my son and I were driving along, a middle aged woman passed us on her mountain bike coming the other way doing a huge wheelie. She, and we, were going under the A14, in different directions, her on the cycle path, us on the road. As she landed, having wheelied all the way under the bridge she pumped one fist in the air. My son and I didn’t have time to hoot, wave or give her the thumbs up before she was gone but that experience had both of us thinking. We spent the rest of the journey making up a story about her. We are probably the only people that noticed what she did.

Another time, waiting in queue to go to work at Milton way back in the late 1990s I looked up into the blue spring sky. As I sat stationary in the traffic I watched someone in an aeroplane with one of those smoke canisters in it flying round above. They drew a smiley face. Did anyone else see? I don’t know. Weirdly, a couple of years ago, someone did the same thing over the skies of Bury St Edmunds. On both occasions, it left me feeling up beat. I haven’t put either event in a book yet, but I probably will.

Be interested in your surroundings.

Why? Because the insignificant details of what is going on around you are where you will discover the things that will give your work texture and realism. Look at the world around you, be curious, ask questions. Pepper your stuff with answers you discover and it will feel so much more real to your readers, no matter how outlandish it is.

The wall of the Baptist church, in my town, has what looks like bullet holes in it. I’ve always wondered what happened to that wall. I’ve seen bullet holes in things on the continent, where battles took place in the second world war, usually. My son was intrigued, too, and decided to try and find out. It turns out that those are, indeed, bullet holes. The church was used for communications of some kind during the war and a German fighter plane came over and shot it up. Another one flew over one of the main streets, shooting up a pub called the New Inn and the house next door, which just happens to be ours. So it turns out my house has bullet holes in it. Something like this would be a great story to fictionalise or, if you write non-fiction, a collection of stories like this about your local community can make for really intriguing reading.

Similarly, my son has made a point of learning the names of all the local cats, so now as we walk down the street, we greet them by name. This is probably quite weird but if you have a character in a book doing this it can tell you so much about them; that they’re soft hearted that they like cats? Or maybe, that they don’t like cats but they’re too soft hearted not to greet them anyway. Or, possibly, they’re scared of cats and greet them out of superstition, the way some folk salute magpies. One tiny detail, lots of potential.

Be interested in people.

Find out who they are, what they have done.

There was an old man who lived down the same road as my parents who my parents were on nodding terms with. As he became older, he began to suffer badly with arthritis and couldn’t get out much, so Dad started popping in to visit. It turned out that this fellow that my parents had known for years was in the 1936 British Olympic running team. He was injured just as he arrived in Berlin and the Germans gave him one of the best seats in the house to watch the rest of the games. He saw Jesse Owens win and since he was sitting few yards away from the ‘royal’ box he also saw Adolf Hitler having a massive melt down and completely throwing his bricks out of the pram when it happened. But he always swore that Hitler did shake Owen’s hand … when he had calmed down.

Often, each person is the sum of some amazing stories. People love to talk and if you listen, you will hear incredible things, things that also shed light on human nature.

For example, my mum grew up in the country and recalls how she and her brother saw a plane fly across the garden during the war. Some people had been shot at on the Downs while blackberrying the week before but Mum and my uncle were on their own and were delighted to be able to wave at the plane without being told off by an adult. They were even more delighted when the pilot who was blonde and curly-haired waved back! It was only after the plane had gone that they realised it had a cross on the side of it, not the circles of the RAF. Meanwhile Mum’s friend Norah used to talk of the time a ME109 was brought down on the Downs near Steyning in Sussex. Everyone was arming themselves with pitchforks, kitchen knives, pickaxe handles etc and went off to capture the pilot. The gentleman in question unwittingly evaded capture and was discovered wandering local lanes by someone taking an afternoon constitutional, someone who was unaware that a dangerous armed enemy was on the loose. The pilot asked, politely, for directions to the local police station so he could hand himself in.

All your characters need a back story that is as real to you as life, even if it is never mentioned in the actual book you write about them. Collecting stories like these from people you meet can give you some fantastic, readymade back stories, or at least a place to start.

Use the mundane.

Also using mundane events in writing can tether your writing to the real world, giving the most outlandish scenes realism or throwing scary stuff into stark relief.

So for example, say you have a character who is held captive by a scary bad guy. Her guards take her to the bathroom. It has one of those fans that comes on automatically when you turn the light on and then chugs away for several minutes after you’ve turned it off again. When she is finished the guards turn the light off and take her back to her cell, but she can hear the fan droning on for several minutes. A lot of us can identify with listening to that kind of fan. So when our heroine hears it in book we can immediately get alongside her. It grounds the narrative in reality making a situation that may be difficult to imagine more realistic, while, at the same time, highlighting the unusual or menacing nature of parts that are different.

To sum up then, there is gold all around if you if you look.

I think it was also Terry Pratchett who said something along the lines that if you want to write convincing fantasy you will need a better handle on how reality works than anyone else. It’s a strange dichotomy that fictional or hard-to-imagine events seem to spring to life if you can fix them to reality every day real things.

It’s worth taking notice, observing the everyday and riffing with your surroundings in your head as you go about normal life. Because if you practise your writing by adding a little fiction to your normal life it will help you to develop your writing style and voice, and train your brain to view the world differently. Likewise if you look for little snippets of reality to use in your writing you can add immense power and depth to your words.

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