Tag Archives: weirdness

Small wins …

Spring in Bury St Edmunds
Spring. In case, like me, you’d forgotten what it was fucking like.

So here we are at Easter. Recently, here in GB, we passed the anniversary of lockdown one. Things are still strange, although I’ve had the first shot and we are hoping to see some friends for a meal in the garden tomorrow. Note to self, put thermals on. Spring appeared for a day at the beginning of this week, which was nice. Now we are back to the usual yellowy smeary grey skies and absolutely fucking freezing north wind. Bastard global warming. We are not getting as much of the gulf stream as we should be and the absence of that warming/cooling effect of the current on our shores is making for colder winters, hotter summers and it would seem, this year at least, no spring. Winter is getting very, very old but still it persists. Thermals at the ready? Yea even unto eternity, it would seem.

Spring in Bury St Edmunds
Ditto.

Never mind. Onwards and upwards.

Small breakthroughs this week. First up, I have wanted to do a humorous first in series box set for ages. The idea is a bunch of us who write funny books get together to put all our first in series in a a funny box set and then I make it free. That done, we share the crap out of it with our mailing lists and hopefully keep a steady stream of new peps introduced to our work, for nothing. I have a book in one of these which is riding high in the best seller charts and I reckon it probably accounts for most of my sales. I got some really big hitters to sign up to the one I’m doing and there were ten of us all told. Unfortunately, the deadline came and went and the three biggest authors never submitted their books. They were happy to go in but unfortunately, I need a word doc of their files to make the book. I’m guessing they didn’t have one. I dunno. You can only write to them and ask so many times. I made that number of times three.

A lot of authors are mac based and use a thing called Vellum so maybe their most up to date versions of their books are in that. But I’d have thought they would need to export to a word doc to get their stuff edited so presumably it’s not impossible. I dunno, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they’re so big their editors use Vellum too. Shrugs. Anyway, they didn’t so …

The idea of organising a box set is quite daunting. Mainly because I can’t design for toffee and can’t afford to pay for a cover, but also because I am spectacularly shite at organising things. Seriously, I’d have trouble organising myself enough to breathe and do other things at the same time.

The only thing I might, possibly, be able to do for this box set was making the actual ebook. Even so, when the others signed up, I hadn’t a chuffing clue how it was done, only a vague idea of how it might look. The big sticking point was how to sort out a table of contents for seven novels. My box set is on Amazon at the moment but I daren’t update it because it’s a word file and it has something shonky about the table of contents which Amazon doesn’t like. They fixed it for me last time but sternly warned me that on no account would they be doing so a second time. I haven’t dared change it there for the last six years! The box setters and I agreed we’d do this thing about six months ago but LIFE has interrupted my efforts rudely. Well, life and launching my own book.

As I may have mentioned, McOther is sorting our wills which has not helped me to be efficient either, because it means administrivia. This week I was trying to get hold of a building society to see what I needed to do to so they would allow the investors McOther has chosen access to the account we hold in trust for our son. I knew I was in for a long time on hold and the music was a particularly grating piece of muzak on loop. After ten minutes someone answered but she simply said she’d put me through to another department and I was back on hold.

Sod it.

There was no doubt about it, if I listened to much more of this muzak I was going to do someone an injury so I opened up my lap top and decided it was time to do something. Yeh. Something mindless and yet … absorbing. Absorbing enough to blot out the muzak while, at the same time, not so absorbing that I’d fail to notice if a human appeared on the line at any point.

Opening my lap top, I began tinkering about with Jutoh which is the software I use to build my epub files. Completely by accident discovered how to do a table of contents for seven novels so the one at the start of the document has seven items, rather than 7×50 or however many chapters there are in each of the books … at least I think I did.

OK, so I’m going to have to import the word document for each book and then go through them separating out the chapters into individual files in each book’s directory. I am not quite sure, yet, if I can get a proper table of contents for each book into each folder, but if I’ve worked out how to do the first bit, I’m more confident I may manage to do that, too. The important thing is … it’s going to make a book with a table of contents and chapters and … Halellujah! Woot and t’ing. So having got the books and the copyright forms back from these authors about six months ago I have finally started sorting out the book. I can see, as I look, that there are bits missing but I am way, way more confident that I can fix those. I’m also toying with using another book, rather than the first in my full length series, since that one is in the box set that’s already out there.

Thinking about it, I could put in Too Good To Be True but that would put more pressure on me to write more full length books for that series. It’s highly likely I will anyway, but it’s a lot less likely if I put pressure on myself like that. The Hamgeean Misfit series is good for any number of stories but if none of those is a novel, using Too Good To Be True will merely give people false expectations about the others, and it may not make sense. On the other hand, I could put in the first two books in that series, especially as Nothing To See Here is hugely popular. It’s the one in that series which everyone downloads and the two together would be novel-sized. Small novel, but novel-sized nonetheless. It’s a thought.

On the other hand, the box set Few Are Chosen appears in is one for planet-based sci-fi and as such comedy isn’t a feature – so there are some advantages of having a total genre mash up. That being the case though, I could probably get away with using it twice because it’s two different markets. And if readers on my mailing list are folks who have come in from the two box sets, each has the six other books to read for free, even if they’ve already read mine.

The other slight worry is the cover. Having cracked the innards, possibly, I am now thinking that I might be able to do that, myself. If it’s just a black, star-covered background with lettering I should be alright for it. There seem to be two styles for comedy books, very simple, like that, or insanely excellent drawing. I can’t afford the drawing and might have to pay for a star-field-and-words style cover. We shall see. I am hoping that I can do enough and that, if I can’t, we can get away with something simple enough for me not to have to fork out masses of cash on it.

Mood on the writing front then, cautiously up-beat. The good thing is, I can keep work on the box set going even if doing my will and all the associated admin cuts into the available bandwidth to do anything else. And so much of this is about psychology. Keeping things moving forward or at least ensuring that it feels that way. Not quite a productivity hack then, more of a hackette, to be honest, but something to remember, nonetheless.

McCat being a pain in the arse.
Before …

Another productivity hack I have discovered is in the arena of cat management. The current McCat is basically a labrador – not just in the sense that he enjoys having his tummy rubbed – but also in that he’s a stomach on legs. He is also incredibly bossy and a terrible attention-seeker.

I tend to find that I can do a bit of writing stuff at the beginning of the day but can’t really persuade myself to do anything much until I’ve done the stuff I’m supposed to do. But because of whatever weird thing it is in my make up that makes Real Life impossible to organise, to the point where it takes me two or three weeks to do something that McOther can smack on the head in ten minutes, I tend to spend almost the entire day doing the things I ought to do before I get round to doing the things I want, or am supposed, to do.

This means that by the time I think, phew, that’s those taken care of, now I can do some writing, it’s about ten to five and I have an hour before it’s time to switch off from my writing and go and Interact With The Other Humans. Other Human Time is important, obviously, because it’s fun and I love them.

McCat
Yes I know I like having my tummy rubbed but if you try it, I’ll have yer arm off!

The other slight downside of this is that McCat usually decides it’s supper time somewhere around four p.m. and pesters me. His methods of pesterance vary but a lot of them involve jumping onto my desk and sitting himself down on my keyboard. Interestingly, McCat MK1 used to do exactly the same thing. Usually I push him off, at which point he sits on the table next to my desk where I keep my printer and when he is certain he has eye contact, he begins to push things off my desk, a pen, an elastic band, a coaster, a box and anything else that is placed on the desk to that side of my computer. This goes on, ad infinitum, until he is fed.

Every now and again, he gets all wild-eyed and bitey, which is no fun.

This seemed to be my only meaningful writing time so I didn’t really want to be distracted every few minutes. After all, if you’ve been thinking about it all day, it’s amazing how much you can write in an hour. But if it’s an hour punctuated by cat shenanigans every ten minutes it’s amazing how much less you get done. When I had my knee done, my brother and his family sent me a baby Yoda.

Angry cat.
Touch me and I’ll fucking kill you.

McCat has been sitting in the box Baby Yoda arrived in since … well … since it arrived. He also sits on the sofa. But as yet, I haven’t been able to find him somewhere to sit on my desk. I bought him a special hammock which you could stick on the window with suckers and which he was then supposed to be able to lie in and enjoy. Except he spurned it and no amount of gentle coaxing would persuade him to sit in it.

After some deliberation, I put it on the radiator in front of the desk, with strings between sucker and hammock to hold it steady. He wasn’t having that either.

Until I found a box. On Tuesday, I took the spurned hammock away, put the box over the radiator and some of the desk, and turned the lovely, boiling hot desk lamp onto it. McCat appeared and did indeed sit in the box for a bit, allowing me twenty minutes at a stretch, which was an improvement.

The obvious, sensible answer, is just to feed him. But if he’s fed too early he’s ravening the next day and hungry for supper at about three p.m. I bought a lovely hammock that sticks on the windows with suckers so he could lie in it and look out. The result was a very definite no thank you.

After

Then, yesterday, McCat appeared at ten to five by alighting beside me on the desk with the lightness of a frozen checking that had been fired from a cannon hitting a wall. I rubbed his ears a bit and then patted the bottom of the box. He does understand the phrase, ‘get in your box,’ but tends to go to the one on the floor so rather than say anything, I just kept patting it and pointing. He got the message and climbed in.

He is keen on the desk lamp. One of the unwelcome places he likes to sit is beside me, right under the lamp, absorbing the heat. Therefore, in order to sweeten the deal, I turned the desk lamp round a bit so the nice warm bulb was pointing at the box. He, curled up and after making a few purry whiffly noises, he went to sleep.

He was still asleep in there at twenty past six, well past his supper time. The moral of this story? For all the motivating platitudes circulating around t’interweb, there’s only one that really matters and it’s this one; ‘if I fits I sits.’

Yeh.

It may not last, but for now, I will chalk that up as a win, I think.

In the meantime, Happy Easter!


Win a mug competition deadline extended*!

*Because I forgot to send a reminder to my mailing list so I have to send one on Tuesday.

And also because hardly anyone’s entered. Mainly because I keep forgetting to share it on Facebook and Instragram … or with my mailing list or to be perfectly honest, with anyone!

It’s competition time! In case you didn’t clock this last week.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until 19th April (yes, I did pick that date completely at random). Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

7 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Had I but world enough, and time …

Blimey, it’s already time for another blog post. The days and weeks seem to be flying past at the moment but at the same time, nothing much seems to be happening. Life, time, existence seems to be stretching like a piece of grey plasticine, infinite yet very finite, lightning fast the moment you attempt to achieve anything, and yet, when you’re at a loose end, soooo slooooow.

That being the case, this week, I’ve been trying to analyse my book sales. Yeh, I know there probably aren’t enough to make it viable. I’m struggling a bit. In theory, for every ten people who visit a books sales page, one will buy. That’s the ‘rule of thumb’ most marketers apply. In theory, this means that all I need to do is get 100 people to click on any one of my books sales pages (be they mine or with a retailer) and ten folks will buy a book.

Nice idea, so I wanted to try and crunch my sales and download figures to see if it works. Few Are Chosen was permanently free for a while and according to my stats I’ve given away 20,154 copies from retailers – I haven’t counted the ones I’ve given to mailing list people or it’s going to get too complicated.

Of those people, it looks as if 841 people have gone on to read The Wrong Stuff, 793 read One Man: No Plan and 742 Looking for Trouble, except 273 people also downloaded the box set as well. I’m going to assume all 273 of those people read the entire thing, so add those and my revised figures come out as 1,114 people have read Few, 1066 people have read One Man: No Plan and 1,015 have read Looking For Trouble. That’s publication to now figures for the three follow on books but most of the free books were given away before 2016. I think I’ve given away about a thousand since then.

What these figures tell me is that out of all the thousands of people who’ve downloaded Few Are Chosen for free, only 5.5% of them have read it. On the up side if I do the percentages for the rest of the series, 95.6% go on to read book three and 95.2 go on to read book four. That means I need to get 200 people looking at my sales page to get 10 people to buy my books. That was a bit of an eye opener. I’m also not certain how current that intel is. The uptake on the free books may actually be a lot lower, more like 2% because I’ve been giving away Few in a first in series box set for two years and I don’t know how many of those have been downloaded. I have experienced a big uptick in sales of the rest of the series since that went live. Two per cent is probably nearer the true figure. The percentage usually expected to act on any advertising then. Considering my books sell in numbers that keep them firmly at the invisible end of the spectrum and are written in a genre that is a really hard sell, that’s probably not bad.

Aside from the box set of free firsts and the odd promo, I have stopped giving Few Are Chosen away for free. Instead I now give away a mailing list exclusive short story which I advertise on Facebook – Facebook only so far because I’m looking to grow my sales at Apple, Kobo, Google Play, Barnes & Noble et al; Amazon is doing fine without help.

When people have had a little time to read that free book, I point them to a second short story that’s free on all the retailers, and when they’ve read that I point them to the free box set of first in series which contains Few Are Chosen. I didn’t produce the box set so I don’t know how many of those are being downloaded but I’d guess the take up rate is higher with that and, possibly, skewing my read through percentages. Or to put it another way, I suspect the percentage of people who read the other books after downloading the first one free before 2016 is probably more like 1% or 1.5%. Yikes.

That said, I am thinking of reducing the price of Few Are Chosen. At the moment it’s £1.99/$2.99 in most places but I’m thinking of making it cheaper: 0.99 of whatever unit people are working in as I suspect that might encourage a few more of the handful of folks who stumble upon it independently to give it a go. I may need to look at the metadata too. My perma free which, I suspect, is on about page five million of the freebook listings on most retailers probably has more downloads, especially on Google Play. The likelihood of it languishing way down the rankings is why I no longer have the first book permanently free outside the box set – because at the level where I operate, I couldn’t give away enough to achieve any organic visibility with my own publicity and since that’s the whole point, I don’t bother unless I get a promo.

The difficulty with a closed system like this is that it’s really difficult to work out what I’d need to do to get more people buying my books. I have a first in series box set planned with seven comedic sci fi and fantasy authors but that’s down the road a bit. Right now, say I wanted to earn $500 a month. In theory if I had one book at $4.99 I’d only need to sell five copies every day. If you go on the standard marketing thing that it would take 10 target readers to see the book for each one who made a purchase you’d be looking at 50 people needing to see the book’s page each day for one to buy. In advertising terms, that’s not a huge amount.

If some of those five readers go on to buy the other books, clearly you don’t need to sell five copies a day either. In theory, if you have six books available for $4.99 the way I do then, some of those initial readers will read all of them. Although, in my experience, probably not that month or year, but if you’re lucky maybe this decade. Even so, if each person who bought Few Are Chosen was good for the other four then, in theory, I’d only have to have a quarter of the eyes on the Few Are Chosen download page to get the same result … in theory.

There is a whole strategy based along these lines, the gist being if you have 20 books out and can sell a handful each day you can make $50k a year, which is a reasonable living. Believe it or not, this approach, coined by two giants of the indie writing world, is called 20booksto50k.

My books are comedic science fiction fantasy with a dash of romance (but no squelchy bits) and they’re British in a way that is completely un-tempered to the tastes of foreign markets. My publishing and story model are shows like Dr Who, Red Dwarf and writers like Irving Welsh, entities and people speaking in a voice which reflects their origin. I think it helps, in that respect, that most people coming into my ‘ecosystem’ get to read a novella/chapter book, a short and a first in series for nothing before they start on the other books. So on the whole, the people buying are already converts. I’d say most of the people who buy my books come from my mailing list, although there are other authors feeding into the first in series collection, so some must come from there too. I’ve no idea how many people are actually reading Few compared to those reading the others. Also it means that there’s a good 40% churn on my mailing list as people read the free stuff, decide it isn’t their bag and leave.

Please do not feed the animals

I suspect my books are probably marketed to within an inch of their lives, in fact, I suspect what we’re looking at with my sales figures, is one of the most finely polished turds in history. That said, there will always be new things to try and new ways to reach readers. I’ll give most things a go with an open mind.

As I mentioned, despite being about a completely different universe (well, apart from one) all my books remain unapologetically British. This does not give them universal appeal. It’s probably going to be more like 50 books to 20k for my stuff. But at the same time, it does act as a filter. The kinds of people who are going to get angry because my book isn’t set in their country and doesn’t reflect their national ethos aren’t really the kinds of readers I’m after. I need someone with a bit more imagination than that. People’s minds need to be open and they need to be prepared to let them wander if they’re going to get anything from the shite I churn out.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that those filling-in the reader questionnaire I send often cite reading and books as a form of travel; a holiday. Certainly, that’s definitely one of the ways I see books. I enjoy reading stories set in other countries if they are true to culture because it’s always interesting to have a glimpse of how those people might think and their societies might work. Hence my love of sci fi, fantasy and yes, historical novels because it doesn’t really matter when or where, they are all new and interesting alien civilisations to me.

Where I’m going with all this stuff is, I suppose, that these last few months I’ve had a kind of epiphany. Originally, my aim, what I wanted from my writing was that the action figures on the desks of geeks should be characters from my books. That was the target. To be successful enough for that. The reason I wanted to earn stacks was because I wanted to get to the point where I could liberate McOther from his job. If he wanted me to of course. I wanted to take the slack, be the bread winner doing something I loved so he didn’t have to do something which, while he quite likes it, does regularly piss him off.

McOther is retiring soon though. My cunning plan to rescue him from his workload has failed. Turns out he’s rescued himself. So it started me wondering if my priorities have changed. I know I can’t stop writing but I also have a life that makes writing difficult. What do I want from it?

  • Some cash. These days, it doesn’t have to be that much. Understanding that was a huge revelation, right there.
  • To get lost in my imaginary world because Real Life can be a bit grim.
  • The pleasure of doing something reasonably well.
  • The enjoyment of creating and marketing my books.
  • To be content with the amount of writing I am able to produce but at the same time, produce the maximum amount I’m able without pissing off friends and loved ones.
  • Accepting that I might not be writing much, sometimes, so I can concentrate on people.
  • I, personally, would rather not be famous but I would love it if my work and my characters were … preferably while I was still alive.

Nearly every single book you read will say something along the lines of, ‘if you’re prepared to put in the hours you can make a success of your author career.’ I’m in my fifties now and once you reach this age, you realise that hours to put into anything are hard to come by. Hit my age, and a lot of your life is going to be about looking after other people in the generation ahead of you. Whatever else you do, there are going to be people who need you. And if you want to like yourself as a person you’re going to have to help them. That takes time, so the lesson I’ve learned about time is this:

My time is finite. The trick is not how many hours I put in, but making the time I can devote to this effective.

Woah. That’s a bit of an eye-opener. I dunno why because it’s blindingly obvious but it was still a bit of a scales-from-the-eyes moment for me, that one.

I lack the time in my life to wrangle the kind of author career that will set the world on fire. Amazingly, now that McOther has rescued himself from his own job, I’m OK with that idea. But despite my time constraints, I might do alright if I keep writing books and make the time I do spend effective.

And life, that’s pretty much the same isn’t it? I could die tomorrow. I hope I don’t because it’d be fucking inconvenient but the point is, our time is finite. I am learning to walk the line between the things I want to do and the things I have or need to do. I am learning to ditch the other stuff. I only have bandwidth for a certain amount of stuff. The rest has been removed, my activities pared down to the things I love and the people I love because there isn’t the time or energy for anything else.

Holy fuck. No shit, Sherlock. Mwahahahrgh!

Seriously though, I care. I want my stuff to do well and to gain recognition. Yet, at the same time, I’d be happy just to earn enough to buy nice things, a decent car and enjoy life. $20k would do me. Oh. Only $18k to go then. Oh dear, that looks like 60 books to $20k. Lorks! I’d better get my finger out.

For example, if all the cash I earned was coming through my own web store it would be grand. I’d be earning, folks would be reading and enjoying my books, but I’d not be making a blip on the best seller charts so no-one would have a chuffing clue who I was in the wider world. That’s no bother, ranking is just vanity metrics, it’s gathering the tribe that would count. The only new readers I scored would be friends of current readers, it would all be word of mouth, and possibly the odd advert on Facebook or its replacement. I’d have the things that were important, books out, writing to do and people who loved the books to lark about with. Without the scary stalker risk of actual fame.

It makes me wonder, though. Does time spent marketing work like writing hours? If I have to put X hours in to be a success, can I put them in over a period of 20 years instead of the three or four months my writing compatriots seem to take to go from earning about five quid a month on their first book to publishing their five hundredth 120k novel and earning six figures. OK I’m joking here, maybe I should hang out with fewer romance authors.

Other people do seem to be alarmingly prolific though. Then again, as the lovely Erin Wright, the lady behind the wide for the win group says,

‘Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.’

Great advice that and, after this year, I seem to care a bit less about that though. Something has shifted. I’m not going places, I still earn diddly squat, I still dream of breaking the $300 a month earnings barrier. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. Have I just given up? Is that it? Or is it that I finally feel that things might be moving? Is the rock, if not rolling then, maybe … wobbling a little bit? I dunno.

On the lighter side … Merchandise! Mwah hahaharhgh!

I have been thinking about making some mugs, books etc with the Hamgee University Press logo on them. At the moment, I’m thinking black on white and white on black. The logo one side and some pearl of wisdom from Humbert on the other, possibly cup-icised to reference tea, coffee or just drink. HUPLogoWonBSo the image above on the cup and stuff like.

  • ‘Windy trussocks!’
    Never mind, a nice hot drink will warm you up – or possibly, never mind, just open the window.
  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin!
    But DON’T touch my drink.
  • Polish my melons.
  • Polly want a cracker.
  • Arnold’s air biscuits.
    Not something you should think about dunking. Biscuits, something you should think about dunking – this will only work for Australasian and Brits.
  • Bombs away.

What do you think? If you’ve read the books what are your favourite Humbertisms? Are there any purlers I’ve missed?

________________________________

In case you missed it …

I had a book out this month, the paperback landed this week, not that anyone’s bought any yet but y’know, they’re there. But even better than that, the presence of a new book allows me to run another of my famous competitions. Yes! Woot.

It’s competition time! In case you didn’t clock this last week.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until the end of March. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

18 Comments

Filed under About My Writing, General Wittering

And finally …

Finally – in the ‘at last’ sense – all round this week.

First up, and briefly, I went to get my jab yesterday morning – or my jag if you’re Scottish – so I started quickly typing this before my arm went dead. In what was possibly a foolish move, McOther and I ordered a takeaway for yesterday evening from one of the town’s two Michelin starred restaurants. This is the French one that’s had a star for some years, but our other favourite restaurant, just round the corner from us, was awarded a Michelin star a couple of months ago, too, which is fab. Amazingly, there were no side effects post jab that detracted from my ability to enjoy an epic meal … not until afterwards anyway. As I sat watching telly with the boys I suddenly began to feel rather cold. I then proceeded to run a high temperature and methodically work my way through the side effects listed during the night. I even scored some of the rare ones – nausea, dizziness and stomach cramps.  Oh and a resting pulse of 110 bpm (instead of 67 ish). If that’s a few light side effects, I can’t imagine how grim Covid must feel if you get it properly. Needless to say, McOther had nothing more than a slight headache, because he is a spawny so-and-so.

The other, more significant ‘at last’ is the novel; Too Good To Be True. I had wondered if I’d be able to write a novel, ever again, and so it was fabulous when this one pretty much wrote itself in Lockdown One. I just have to write another one now. Er hem, yeh. Joanna Penn talks about starting energy and finishing energy in her podcasts. I’ve been in finishing mode for some months now, topping and tailing and generally sorting the book out. I’m looking forward to switching to ‘starting energy’ and beginning a new one, I think having the jab will help with that as ultimately it’s one source of stress removed. Priorities are to write Misfit 5 and get my finger out of my arse and do something meaningful with Space Dustmen. But the one I’m constantly drawn to is the one about how Betsy Coed’s guest house ended up becoming a brothel. It lets us in on what Trev, Gladys and Ada are really up to. The extent of their exploits is only hinted at in my published books because we always see them from the point of view of The Pan of Hamgee and he has no clue.

Finally, the penny dropped that the only way I can relate the clandestine activities that go on at the Parrot and Screwdriver is if I write a story about it in which The Pan doesn’t feature. Over the last couple of years, on and off, that’s what I’ve been doing. I am really enjoying it but I am aware that as marketable assets go, it isn’t really the project on which to concentrate. No. The one I really need to make a proper start on is Space Dustmen. That said, better make a start on Misfit 5. And there’s another K’Barthan Extra about Gladys and Ada which would do nicely as a lead in to the sprawling how-Betsy’s-Brothel-started epic that I’m writing now.

Most likely, it’ll be whichever bunch of characters manages to shout the loudest that wins. I’m looking forward to writing again. It’s always lovely, that feeling of looking out over the face of the waters of my imagination, where dark is separated from night but not much else, and turning it into some new and barking world. Yeh, rubs hands together. That’s going to be fun.

Launch update on Too Good To Be True … was it?

If K’Barth were a lava lamp. Weird and yet … cool? Er, yeh. Hopefully.

No, I think it went actually went quite well for someone with a very small fan base selling something with about as much instant appeal as a fart in a lift. Folks definitely have to live with the smell of K’Barth a little while before they begin to appreciate it … like … the scent of a rubbish dump, or perhaps, a path lab … um … like truffles. Or possibly Goojan spiced sausage.

First up, felt as if I’d got production down a bit more pat. I was slightly up against the deadline at the end there, what with Mum having a stroke, but it wasn’t too bad. Maybe I’m better at separating out my emotional and work life than I was, or at least, the work admin side – because a launch is admin, really. Creativity at times of emotional turmoil is still a bit of an ask. It’s possible I spent a bit more time sitting at my desk than was properly healthy. However, it all seemed to go reasonably smoothly. I haven’t tried using beta readers for a while and it had spectacular results. A novel that was close to four times the length of the previous book took a great deal less editing, which saved time and money so I’m chalking that one up as a win. Am I going to carry on using beta readers? You bet your arse I am! 🙂 If they’re all prepared to carry on reading my drivel. Thank you to any of those lovely beta readers reading. You are awesome.

Second, when it came to launching it … there’s a theory that you have to tell people about something three times for it to work. At the same time, I have no desire to spam people so I always have trouble with creating too much buzz around a book launch. You know how it is; sometimes a bit of buzz is good, other times it’s wasps. However, I have mentioned the book more often in the run up to the launch both here, on the blog and to my mailing list – I think I mentioned it twice in a row to them and three times to you lot. I may yet send out one more final reminder to the list though so they get two reminders about the the competition – because obviously, there’s a competition (more on that story … later). Mwahahahrgh. What was interesting about the three mentions thing was that there were sales each time, which suggests that there is something in the jog-the-memory a couple of times approach.

I’m still at the stage of clutching these to my breast and going, ‘Mine! All mine!’

That said, I didn’t really do much to launch the book as such. I’m bad a tying myself down to dates in advance. That creates pressure and pressure tends to do for creativity. No interviews, no blog tour, not even one of those things where you answer questions on Facebook. Other authors do all sorts of live stuff on line and they also set up a street team of super-fans to post about their book in all those groups where it would be spam if they posted it themselves. That’s something I want to do eventually, get people who like the books to post in the book groups they’re in, just to amplify the noise so to speak. Not sure about the tours, questions and stuff although I am wondering about rabbiting on, on video at some point. But that would just be things like this post, spoken. On the whole though, I think most of that is for writers with a bigger fan base than me.

The thing is, the standard practice for launches is that you build up a buzz, get loads of people enthused and then unleash hell in the hope that you will tip the algorithms in the stores to the point where they start recommending your book to new readers. But you need a list with about fifteen thousand people on it to do that because you need about three or four thousand people to buy the book in the first week. Because of the way my author eco-system, genre and budget work I have 2.5k people in my fan base (phnark) and that’s my mailing list so some may not be fans yet. On the up side, quite a few of them do appear to be genuinely interested. The size of my operation being what it is, the slayer tactic, for me, is always going to be about how many of the folks who sign up to my list actually open the emails, click on stuff and generally interact. Until I reach the point where something magic happens, more people join the newsletter group than leave of a month and it starts to grow in size it’s all about getting to know and engaging the folks who are on it as much as possible. I have got the open rates up from 13% to 30% so I’m getting there but these things take time. I just want to enjoy writing and bring anyone who wants to tag along on the journey with me!

Bearing all that in mind, I aim to try and make 50 sales over the course of the pre-order period and the first month.

Obviously, it’s a bit early to tell if I’ve done that yet. Total so far is – don’t laugh – 34. This is not as many as Escape From B-Movie Hell but I launched that one at 99c so I think quite a few folks took a punt on it because of the price. Also it was straight comedic sci-fi which made it a lot easier and you could make a new release more visible with the right keywords, alone, back in 2015. But with my size of operation, reducing the new book isn’t going to change anything – by catapulting it to the top of the best seller lists for example. And I’m leery of that sort of thing unless it’s going to achieve something meaningful. I’d rather discount it on my own store and give something to my regular readers that way.

Are there any differences? Yes. This time, I have sold way more books via my own web store, indeed, my web store was second biggest source of revenue after Amazon. That might be because I did discount it a bit there, but it’s lovely that folks are beginning to buy direct from as a way of supporting my efforts.

A side note, the third place for revenue was Kobo – God bless you Kobo! There was also a first in that I sold one on Barnes & Noble which was my first sale there after going direct.

Another striking difference, people haven’t just bought this book, there’s been a little blip sales for all the others in the Misfit series at the same time. People have bought K’Barthan Series books too, the box set or the first one. I guess that might have been happening over the other launches a bit but it looks as if there are more of those companion buys at this stage. Unless it’s just more noticeable now there are three other books in the series as opposed to just one or two.

The web store sales might make for a lower ranking on the retailers and less visibility with them, but unless the rank is high enough to make a serious difference – top ten at the least – it’s all just vanity metrics anyway. The lovely thing this says to me is that I am gradually managing to engage with all the folks who have signed up to receive my emails. And that’s bloody marvellous.

There are unique aspects of operating on my shoestring level which mean I kind of do the audience thing backwards.

OK, so, what normal authors do is this: they make a first in series book free on all the retailers or 99c. They advertise their free/cheap books, folks see the ads, download the books and the books start to rise in the store rankings and more people see them and download them. Some of the readers enjoy the books so much they sign up to the mailing list – usually via a link in the back.

Folks who join the mailing list like this are called organic sign ups. They’re folks who love your books because they’ve read one and decided they want to know about everything you do. They are golden.  The point is, it’s a combination of adverts and the stores that are bringing the people to the books and the books that are bringing the readers into the mailing group.  This is a brilliant strategy but works especially well if your books are hot property, or even lukewarm property, or appeal widely to Americans but I’m not quite there yet. In addition, people can just stumble on the free/cheap books on the stores and download them. Sometimes the store may promote the free book if it’s something people want, or sits well within an easily identifiable genre, mine are quite niche so that doesn’t happen. Also, the stores are gradually learning that they can skew the results. In Amazon’s case KU books are weighted in the ranking so they are more discoverable. Then authors do Amazon ads, so Amazon pays a 70% royalty and gets half of it back as advertising revenue. As far as I am aware, the only store where this isn’t particularly skewed in favour of exclusives, advertisers, trad or whatever is Google, which still works on SEO principles I’m told, so you can just put a free book on with the right keywords and people will find it.

This Google thing is something I’m testing. I have two free books on there now and hopefully, I’ve set that up so that any people reading the free books and going on to the others will be reasonably easy to spot.

Anyway. Most of these strategies involve throwing a stack of cash at promos and ads which put your book in a place where it’s visible. As a plankton level author, I haven’t enough cash to make that sort of difference so I get more bang for my buck by advertising the mailing list, which is quite odd but is how it seems to be working out. I would advertise the perma free books but they’re shorter stories so most promo sites won’t take them (note to self, write more novels). However, sign up to get a free book, read it and depending on the results, decide to stay or go, I have this weird thing where my mailing list is stuck at 2,500 and has been for five years. Most of those people are different from the ones who were on there five years ago, but not all. There are about 600 who are really enthusiastic. The way I see it, if I can get to the point where I have 2,500 people who are as enthusiastic as that 600 the compact and bijou size of the list will be less of an issue.

Why do I need a newsletter? Because, like this blog, it’s good to be able to let people know when I have a book out, share stuff I’m working on, and generally not be operating in a vacuum. I like to feel I’m doing this with people rather than doing it alone.

Which reminds me … the competition …

______________________

It’s competition time! Oh yes it is.

Bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this K’Barthan Hamgeean Misfit Mug!

If you do end up reading and enjoying Too Good To Be True, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot to enter a prize draw for this smashing K’Barthan mug worth a small fortune.

Oh alright then, it’s worth £15 which would be very small as fortunes go, although it was probably a decent amount of cash back in the 1600s. Er hem, yeh. Moving on.

The rules are simple. All you have to do is read the book and answer a question about the story. If your answer is correct – don’t worry, if you’ve read the book it’ll be easy – you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t enter.

The draw will be open until the end of March. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Too Good To Be True should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though.

Click here to enter.

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Thinness, lacklustreness and bling …

Thinness.

Well, here I am. I told you I was a nutter. Something clicked on Tuesday. I hit the afternoon

Mum’s semi domesticated pheasant. He’s a big boy.

and didn’t feel so bad. By Wednesday morning, with five hours on the motorway network ahead of me, you’d have thought I’d be feeling extremely mortal but no, I felt a lot better by then. I felt even more chipper when pulling up the first part of the drive I discovered a pheasant in my path. I dug some more holes in Mum’s garden in the rain and got rather more soggy than I’d realised. I didn’t find much just a very pretty little butterfly and a thimble for someone with very tiny thing long fingers, like maybe Groot? Or a child, but it would go over the top joint it was that long and weird. Brass by the looks of things and probably Victorian but late on. It would have had a fruit tree standing on top of it for most of the twentieth century though so I’m guessing it was from the days when the house was still a cart shed.

Anyway, it was all normal and I’m delighted and grateful that I’m no longer feeling the thinness of the barrier between this world and the next. And relieved to still be here. McMini helped hugely. I explained it to him and we made endless jokes about my impending doom. It was all a lot easier after that. Onwards and upwards via a bit of a dip.

Lacklustreness

Here’s the butterfly I found at Mum’s

Not sure what was going on on Thursday but I had a terrible attack of the meh. I felt tired, sad, and because the stress has ramped up over Mum I’ve started putting the weight back again. Sigh. It all felt a bit lacklustre. I had a think and I suspect the basic gist of the problem is this … During the first half of lockdown, I was going up to town to run small errands or just have a walk most days and, it being Bury, I usually ran into someone I knew so I didn’t have the feeling of being cut off which I might have had. Then, I had to islolate before the knee op and I didn’t really get out and about much again before the more catching versions of Covid started popping up. No-one appeared not to give a shit in public spaces, Bury wasn’t as bad as some places but it still wasn’t great. Personal space was at a premium and I just felt a bit vulnerable. I really do NOT want to go getting covid. So I started going out less.

On top of that, I was trying to get the book done and Mum wasn’t handling this one well and needed me to phone more, which took time, and I had to make sure I remembered, which was a task in itself. We’ve upped her care time a little now and of course there’s been the stroke. The constant flutter of nerves in the pit of the stomach is back. I’m back to jumping every time the phone rings in case it’s ‘the call’. I’ve put on four pounds in three days – that’s just under two kilos in new money. Looks like it’s back to piling on the weight now. Never mind, at least I know it’s possible to lose it if the stress levels drop again.

Friday, it was time for my fortnightly zoom call with a bunch of lovely local writer friends. I decided that I needed to smack the meh on the head beforehand and thought I might have worked out how. Popping out to get some Mother’s Day presents on Tuesday so Mum and I could have NOT Mothering Sunday on Wednesday, I met a friend from McMini’s old school and had a lovely chat to her. I realised that single piece of interaction had significantly reduced the meh. Therefore, it seemed logical that popping into town for some bits and bobs, would, most likely, lead to some human interaction and whack the bleargh. It seemed to be a theory that was worth testing anyway.

One of the joys of living in Bury is that I seem to know a lot of people. I’m not sure how this has happened but it is rather lovely because it means that if I go out, I often end up meeting someone I know on the street and we’ll have a chat. In these strange times this is a lot more social interaction than many people get.

Thus it was that I put my cunning plan into action and headed out to buy some cat food, grab some shampoo and stuff and pop into church to have a gossip with the ladies ‘invigilating’. You know, sitting there and then cleaning everything after any visitors have gone. I gave them something to do by putting my potentially covid-infested bottom on a chair and it was just lovely to have a chat to someone again. Following on from that was two hours chatting to the Bury Writers on zoom and then a zoom call to wish my Aunt a happy birthday with all my cousins.

Source of meh identified? Check. Cure, go out and bump into more people.

Interestingly, I read an article someone shared on Facebook recently called, ‘Why the pandemic is doing our heads in.’ If you’re interested in having a look at it you can find it here …  The basic gist was that the human brain is not designed to cope well with constant prolonged stress. Short bursts of the hard stuff, fine and dandy, but endless grey, grinding, worry-filled days? Nah. Not really. What amazed me was some of the things they listed as side effects. These included short term memory loss and cognitive impairment.

I may already have mentioned this (sic) but these articles about the impacts of lockdown are incredibly comforting because they explain exactly what has been happening to me for the last twelve years. I went seamlessly from baby brain to stress brain. I’ve had a hard time remembering my own name without cue cards since about 2008. Now, I understand why. I have years of it to go, but at least there is a logical explanation for it and Mum’s dementia has been so much kinder to her so far, so maybe the levels will be lower than they were for Dad. Who knows?

There we are, anyway, meh-buster now sorted.

Sneaky covid vaccination attempt …

Closest I get to a science picture; weird wax formations in my lava lamp

McOther, being sixty, was called in for his Covid vaccination recently. He booked one of the centres and was then contacted by our local GP surgery who could do it earlier. I mentioned this to a couple of people who said that it’s possible to get an early covid vaccination sometimes if you go along with someone who is eligible. The sources were good, and I know it does happen with the flu jab, so I went along with McOther when he went to get his shot this morning. Seeing the queue, I was pretty sure they’d have matched people to slots and orders of vaccine very carefully, but I queued with him anyway.

After an hour, we got inside and I discovered that, while spousal sneak-in may be possible at the centres, it wasn’t at the surgery. I didn’t go into the consulting room with him but there were permission forms to be filled in and all sorts of stuff first so I doubted they’d just go, ‘oh do you want one while you’re here?’ the way they do with flu jabs sometimes. That said, I double-checked and was glad to see that despite giving me a ‘no’ in answer, they clearly didn’t think I’d been mad to turn up and ask, but sadly they had ordered the amount of vaccine for the amount of people and there wasn’t any spare.

If you hear that rumour, then, take it with a pinch of salt. It’s definitely not the case in Suffolk. But it might work somewhere else or possibly with the vaccination centres. It was an NHS worker I heard it from so who knows, maybe I was just unlucky. I guess it might work on slow days at the centres, I’d heard rumours of the equivalent of stand-by where you can turn up at the centres and wait and if they have a spare slot or someone doesn’t turn up you’ll get a shot. Something to try in the week, possibly. Although presumably I’ll get the call in a couple of months anyway.

Bling …

As far as I can work it out, I have now done everything required to launch my book, which is a first. OK so there’s not been much advertising but I have got the paperback done and all the ebook versions locked and loaded and Gareth will start the audio after the book he’s doing now so it should be done mid April … fingers and toes crossed.

Too Good To Be True? It does feel like it …

It arrived in the middle of a zoom call with the Bury writers so it was great to be able to show it to them. It does feel a bit too good to be true. I’m bound to have fucked something up but so far, nothing obvious. I’ve even remembered to do one for the British Library although I haven’t ordered it yet … which reminds me I’d better do that in a minute.

You know how these things are, you’re never sure how they’ll turn out. I was stoked because the docket said not to expect them until Monday. I only ordered a few, and one copy of all the newly re-vamped books with the logo and everything attached. I’m really glad I put the original K’Barthan Series into matt covers, they look much smarter. Anyway for your delectation, somewhere near this bit what you are reading now you will see a picture of the Too Good To Be True paperbacks. Though I say it myself, they are lush and this time, I just went for it and did the font a decent size. As a result it even looks decent inside too. And it’s the first full length novel I’ve written from scratch since 2014 (Escape From B-Movie Hell was a rewrite of one I’d written in 2007). So it’s kind of a landmark.

_________________________

Dispel the meh with a funny book! This funny book.

Too Good To Be True  is out on 18th March in ebook format and 22nd March in paperback. This one is sort of a stand-alone. Officially it is, although I realised a moment ago that I do not, at any point, mention that Grongles are green. Not once in the entire book. Ah.

On the other hand, amazingly, I have, finally got my shit together and it is live for pre-order everywhere – if buying from retailers is your thing. Or you can still pre-order it from my website or my web shop for a whole £1 less than it is everywhere else! Mmm. By Grabthar’s Hammer! What a savings!

Anyhoo, here’s the gen …

Too Good To Be True

When the trouble comes knocking, meet the only man dumb enough to answer the door!

When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.

Suggested UK cinema rating for this one PG (parental guidance) there’s a slightly saucy bit and a bit of light violence. Even so, this is a humorous science fiction fantasy story set in a parallel reality.

To find out more, and for links to pre-order it if that’s your thing, go here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infotgtbt.html

 

 

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So much cobblers …

Weeks and weeks of this … ugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Do they scare you?’

‘No.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________

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

Too Good To Be True is out on 18th March, fingers crossed. Amazingly, I have, finally got my shit together and it is live for pre-order everywhere – if buying from retailers is your thing. Or you can pre-order it from my website or my web shop for a whole £1 less than it is everywhere else! Mmm. By Grabthar’s Hammer! What a savings!

Anyhoo, here’s the gen …

Too Good To Be True

When the finger of fate points … hide!

When The Pan of Hamgee encounters some mudlarkers trying to land a box on the banks of the River Dang he is happy to help. Having accepted a share of the contents as a reward he cannot believe his luck. It contains one of the most expensive delicacies available in K’Barth, Goojan spiced sausage. If he can sell it, the sausage might spell the end of his troubles. On the other hand, knowing his luck, it could bring a whole load more.

Suggested UK cinema rating for this one PG (parental guidance) there’s a slightly saucy bit and a bit of light violence.

Even so, this is a humorous science fiction fantasy story set in a parallel reality.

To find out more, and for links to pre-order it if that’s your thing, go here: https://www.hamgee.co.uk/infotgtbt.html

 

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