Tag Archives: women in sci-fi

This week I am mostly … wittering

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

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

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

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

Bastard.

Onwards and upwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

Of course they fucking didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, then, a moderately successful week.

And now for something completely different.

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

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

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

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

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

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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Filed under General Wittering

I ai’tn’t dead … honest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Result.

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

Arse.

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

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

picture of untidy kitchenAh.

That wasn’t how I expected it to go.

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

On my own.

In the kitchen.

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

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

Onwards and upwards.

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

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

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

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

cakes in a plastic box that looks like abs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shows the cover of The Last Word

The Last Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under About My Writing, audio publishing, General Wittering

Licensed to chill …

Better late than never this week, yes the blog goes out on a Sunday because MTM was phaffing about too long on Saturday. On the upside, the phaffing involved writing 2,000 new words on Hamgeean Misfit 5. Hoorah. On the downside, I wrote 202 words of it today, and this!

Yep. News this week, I decided, at the last minute (but then, how else do I do anything?) that I’d have a bash at NanoWriMo. If you don’t know what that is, it stands for November Novel Writing Month … actually it doesn’t does it?Well look, that’s what it is, anyway.

The idea behind it is that you write about 1,600 words every day throughout November and at the end you have, 50,000 words, which is a novel. Obviously, the chances of me writing anything on a Wednesday are slim so that’s five days down before we start. That means that if I want to write 50,000 words in November I have to do at least 2,000 a day. Hey, you know me. I  like a challenge.

When you’re writing it all on one story it is quite a tall order. My brain takes ages to mull things over and so I usually write several things at once. I might yet do that with Nano and call the results ‘a book’, but at the same time, I want to finish this particular story and this seems as good a time as any. At the moment I suspect that it’s terribly slow and lacking in action but I’m thinking that once I get the bulk of it down I can fix that. Everything I’ve written is stuff I can use, although I did have to move chunks around a lot yesterday to make it work. I guess what I mean is, I’m not so worried about whether or not I’m writing these scenes in the right order (or even the write order, badoom tish! Oh ho ho).

Thus far, yeh, a week in, I’ve managed to write an average of 1,000 words a day because I managed 2,202 yesterday which means I’ve got Wednesday covered. OK that means I’m 600 words a day down. On the up side, this particular book has now reached 17,000 and something words. I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen but I’m enjoying finding out. There are any number of bizarre plot strings which may or may not come together into something meaningful. One involves an actor with a colourful past as an all-in wrestler. I like the idea that Marcella the Pirate, who is a key character and a total cow right now, might reform somehow after a run-in with the Grongles and retire from her life of crime as part of some travelling wrestle-tainment show.

Or not.

This was not a good idea.

Other strings involve someone in The Pan’s party getting kidnapped and the plot, or at least, the next bit, revolving around his efforts to free the kidnapped person. It’s kind of a mystery and I like the idea of them solving things by blundering blindly deeper and deeper into the thick of it like the bunch of clueless fools they are. It remains to be seen if my intellect is capable of constructing a suitably mysterious mystery to solve. Probably not. It’s all rather jolly though because I’m just agog to see what happens at the moment.

Today, I also wanted to share some thoughts that have been drifting about in my head for some time now about writing generally, and my career, such as it is. The hurriedly written newsletter I sent out this week seems to have hit a chord as a fair few people replied. There’s a small group who reply regularly, anyway, but there were a couple of extras this time and one sent me a truly wonderful letter asking why I wasn’t famous, which was actually quite humbling, as well as touching. And then a similar discussion popped up with a member of the K’Barthan Jolly Japery group on Facebook who said I didn’t give myself credit over the books and then proceeded to say lovely things about them which had me walking on air for the rest of the day. Woot!

Funnily enough, I remember asking Gareth exactly the same question on Whatsapp while he was doing the K’Barthan Series. It was a question neither of us could easily answer. Why is one artist famous and another not?

Sometimes, it does appear that an artist’s skill at marketing or reading the zeitgeist surpasses their actual ability. But also, I think there are disciplines where the art of succeeding is about so much more than just the artist doing their thing. It’s really hard to talk about this sort of thing when you aren’t successful because you can come over as bitter, or sad or whatever. I feel none of that, surprisingly.

When I look at my books, I’m pretty sure they’re commercial, yet different. Hell, I’m even confident that, if you like that kind of thing, they are good. They just … don’t sell.

Strangely, I have come to realise over the last year that I am completely alright with that.

Perhaps it’s because I write my books for me. Sure, I want to share them with others but I like them. It turns out, they differ from the type of thing most people want to read, but they are the kind of thing I want to read and the kind of thing I like. I enjoy writing them, indeed, I kind of have to. It isn’t 100% voluntary, this writing gig. It’s a cross between a bad crack habit and a calling. I need to do it, I need to tell and share stories. It’s a compulsion and I think most people practising an arts ‘thing’ feel the same way about their creative weapon of choice. I’d say there are very few of us do it because we can, we do it because we have to.

So if we’re all telling stories, why do some people succeed and some people not? Well apart from the obvious things, I mean, in that some books are just terrible, or too out there, or badly presented, or the authors have a higher opinion of their own talent than perhaps they should.

Here’s my guess, or at least, this is what I said to the lovely person who emailed me, anyway. I think that ‘success’—or at least financial and fame-type success—in any arts career is about 73% hard work, 25% talent and 2% luck.

While talent and work can get you to the point where you can turn in the kind of stuff you are proud of and which may even get you earning, I suspect that the thing that gets you into the stratosphere, and household-namery, is that 2% of luck. You can probably succeed with less work and more talent, or perhaps if you put in more work, you can succeed with less talent but I suspect it’s the luck that takes you over the edge.

Luck is the right person encountering your stuff and then telling the right people. It’s Stephen Fry discovering one of your books and mentioning it on twitter, it’s David Gilmour hearing you and championing your work to the record company. I genuinely believe that all you can do, as the artist, is make sure you cover your arse; put in the other 98% of the equation, do the work, do it to the best of your ability, rinse and repeat in the hope that it will be enough, and then learn the other skills; do your best to make the luck.

Sometimes, I do feel that my books are the equivalent of Kate Bush’s music. Strange but good, only without the Gilmour. Other times, I think that I am probably being slightly deluded about my skills as a story teller to put myself on the same plane as someone like Kate Bush. And furthermore, that she would have succeeded without the Gilmour factor and that the ‘Dave’ effect was just the icing on a the cake that was already well and truly cooking.

The thing is, you just put your head down, make your shit and put it out there. Because the more of your shit there is floating in the ether, the greater the probability of Mr Gilmour—or equivalent— finding it. Or that huge review blogger—you know, the one with the thousands of followers who blindly buy everything she recommends—she’s more likely to find your books if there are sixty than if there are six.

It’s just maths innit?

That means, I guess, that one of the biggest parts of success is having a LOT of content available. Look at Julia Donaldson. The Gruffalo hit the big time quite recently with the film and all but it actually came out in the 1980s. I remember my friends reading it to their younger siblings when I was at school. Ditto Michael Morpurgo, who spent a lifetime producing scores of the most fabulous books but became major league when, some years after it was published, one of his books was made into a West End show. Behind those big successes are years and years of bum on chair, head down, create, rinse, repeat.

This is how it should look.

In my case, it does feel, slightly, that the amount of material people cite as essential to gain traction is always the number of books I have out, plus about 30%. When I had one book out it was three, when I had three out it was five, when I had five out it was ten, now I have ten out, it’s twelve. It is what it is; funny in a painful sort of way.

It might be, possibly, that availability everywhere also helps. I’m talking less about KU versus wide as large print, paperback, hardback, french, german, audio, ebook etc etc. If I ensure my content is out there in as many formats as possible it has to help a bit, right? And I have ensured that my whole publishing ecosystem is primed and ready so that, should the luck unicorn fart at the right place and time, and a cloud of richly-scented glittery sparkles float my way, I can maximise the exposure to that magic spangly guffage.

If a gargantuan back catalogue is the way to succeed, it’s unlikely to happen for me. My rate of output is way too slow to play the numbers game. But people do succeed without it. Perhaps I could be like that author who wrote a crime book, put it on Amazon so her family could buy it and woke up five weeks later to discover she’d sold 80,000 copies without doing anything. Oh no hang on, that was a) a crime book and the key word there is crime (or thriller or romance). And b) she was a solicitor writing in her spare time, as so many break out indie authors are—maybe there’s something in the mindset. And anyway, I’ve written ten books now and it still hasn’t happened so I suspect that boat has sailed.

As for making my own luck. Hmm … well. There are about 2,965  people on my mailing list. With every new release that number goes up by about 20. It seems that I cannot break through that 3k barrier until the next two books are out, at which point, presumably, my having hit the holy grail of twelve, the magic traction number will be fifteen.

Certainly, if it’s really true that I need about 10,000 engaged mailing list readers for any of my new releases to be even half visible in the stores—and I’m pretty sure it is—I will have to write an absolute craptonne of books.

Yeh. As, you can see I have a very long way to go. If I’m totally honest with myself, it’s probably further than I’m going to get in this life time.

Do I care about that?

Strangely, not the way I used to. When I started writing books, I thought my stuff was so mainstream and bleedin’ obvious that it would sell by the truckload. I thought a good product was enough and, sure, if I went back to 2010 knowing the things about book marketing that I know now, perhaps it would be.

At the time, I wanted to sell enough books to rescue McOther from his job because it was high stress and he was clearly not enjoying it the way he had at the beginning. Even in my most high-powered job—national responsibility, household name company—I didn’t earn what he paid in tax so between you and me, it was probably a rather ambitious target.

However, this last year, somehow, I seem to have let a lot of that stuff go. Perhaps it’s because McOther is retiring so he doesn’t need rescuing and there isn’t that same urgency. Perhaps it’s because he’s at home now and McMini was at home school for a fair part of the last two years and that’s been really lovely. Maybe it’s that life is easier now Dad’s gone. It was bad watching him suffer his illness but it was also very distressing to watch Mum endure it too. Now he is OK, and though she has dementia, Mum is OK at the moment, since she’s happy enough and ensuring that she is as happy as possible is all I can do. Maybe with less angst about other stuff it’s easier to let the writing angst go. Or maybe I’ve accepted that while success, on the world’s terms, is possible, it’s probably not going to happen, and that’s OK.

Perhaps there is just too much joy to be had in the texture of life to obsess over succeeding in one specific area. And perhaps that single-minded approach is what sets successful writers apart from people who are reasonably talented, but unsuccessful, like me. But I don’t want to miss Real Life and anyway, without it I can’t write. The daft games with the McOthers, McMini discovering the first faint signs of armpit hair and obsessively checking for extra growth and reporting his finds. His endless search for thrash metal records, his ludicrous out there view of the world. The pleasant, gentle rhythm of life casa McGuire or the holidays we have. All that stuff has to be experienced and lived. Not only is it important to me but without it, my mojo is as useless as a car without petrol. Life, living, experience has to go in for any writing to come out.

Anyway what is success if it isn’t happiness?

So will I keep writing. Of course. And without the pressure on myself to succeed, I find I enjoy it better and write more. Strange huh?

Will lots of people start reading my books? Will I earn a craptonne of cash from them? Will they become bestsellers? Will they be made into a film? Will The Pan of Hamgee become a household name? Well … it would be nice but if I’m honest … probably not. But you know what? Amazingly. That’s alright.

As long as I can carry on writing books, and as long as the handful of folks who do read and enjoy them keep on reading and enjoying them, I’m OK with that.

Talking about books …

Which reminds me, if you want to decide for yourself if my books are any good, feel free to read one. You can find a list of them, with links to buy them from the major stores, and mine, at the end of this smashing link here:

MTM’s Books

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

Night Swimming

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Let’s talk about THINGS!

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

My smashing detecting booty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil McCrackin (joke name) says

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

The review was this …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K’Barthan Swearing Quiz Update

Early K’Barthan blingery samples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An incredibly witty title that will entice visitors to my site

So here we are at that time of the week when it’s blog time again. This week I have been out and about a bit but suddenly, on Thursday morning, to my delight and joy, I woke up with a brain. Hello Mary! Welcome back.

Net result I am now close to 3k up on three different projects. Yes I was able to do that real Grown Up Professional Author thing of working on a project for an hour or so until I’d had enough and then going onto another one … three times. Ooo. There are few things better for the all round well-being than when I manage to get some writing done.

Other exciting things, I put the addresses of everyone who’d done the question for Too Good To Be True into the randomiser and contacted the winner. She was delighted, which is always gratifying, and when I gave her a choice of the ritzy Hamgeean Misfit Cup or one of the new Humbertisms set. She said surprise me, so I surprised her with a wipe my conkers mug. To my delight she’s really chuffed. Woot.

This was also the week when I discovered that Zazzle do a teapot. Um … yeh. So naturally we now have this …

For more details about that, just click this link https://www.zazzle.co.uk/im_a_little-180930934370375055.

Naturally, because Zazzle puts the name of everything on the listing I’ve just called it I’m a little … and Zazzle has added, ‘teapot’ which, of course, I find completely hilarious because I’m incredibly mature.

Hear’s some audio news …

Oh ho ho. Did you see what I did there? Yes, other joyous news this week, Gareth is recording Too Good To Be True.

Excuse me while I laugh with manic glee.

Mwahahahahahahrgh! Mah hwahahahahahaahrgh! Mwahahaahrgh!

Thank you.

There is something amazing about listening to someone else bringing the words I have written to life. It’s always a joy, but the more stories I read in forums about audio where people have picked the wrong narrator and aren’t getting on, or the narrator is refusing to do any changes, or the author is being a prig to the narrator, the more I thank my lucky stars. Gareth is a consummate professional but at the same time, not in a scary overly formal manner. He just does stuff when he says he will and if he can’t he tells you why and gives you a revised estimate of when he’ll do it. And he’s decent cove and amusing, and of course, he’s polite enough to laugh at my jokes which always helps.

As we speak, we are up to Chapter 16, the denouement of which caused me to laugh rather suddenly and spray my keyboard with coffee. Oops.

One of the best bits of the process is how each book seems to improve on the last. I don’t think it’s my imagination. I suppose recording audio could be like writing in that you’re always, kind of, in the learning phase and improving but I guess we never notice our own journeys in these things so it’s quite an eye opener to see someone else’s close up. Obviously, I’d expect him to be tinkering with his production efficiency to get the maximum out of his time; you know, the way he works or sends the chapters over, when he does the alts (as they come, or at the end) whether he stands up or sits down to record and stuff like that. And he has. But he’s also found a way to fine-tune the acting, which is a bit of an eye-opener because, frankly, I didn’t think that could be any better than it already was.

OK, so it might just be that he’s more confident with the tech and the process, meaning that his performance is more relaxed, but it seems that Gareth is not content with a product that is merely top-drawer and that his ultimate aim is to get beyond, that, to the top of the whole unit, where his work will sit, resplendent, with the mirror and the hair brushes. What he has done of Too Good To Be True so far is golden, I’m so chuffed with it. From my own point of view, I do think it’s the best thing I’ve written but Gareth is certainly doing it justice. I cannot wait until it comes out and those of you that do audio can have a listen to what he’s done with it. Sometimes you can hear the smile in his voice when he’s reading the bits he finds funny which gives the whole thing an unexpected intimacy and warmth which is great.

Other things, still on audiobooks … when I proof them, I usually listen to the chapters a couple of times, first just to get a feel for the voices, the flow and the narration generally and to get into it I suppose. Then I listen with a fine tooth comb to try and winkle out any misreadings or mistakes. Although Gareth hardly ever makes any, and if there are, more often than not it’s differences in pronunciation. Yes, I obsess over my books as badly when someone else is reading the bloody things as when I write them. Never mind that’s all part of being an author, or at least, part of being this one. This Wednesday, I had some new chapters, so that was a woot as I got to listen to them in the car on the way down to Mum’s.

When I arrived, Mum was in cracking form. I always play it by ear when I visit her. Sometimes, when I turn up she doesn’t really clock it so well but stays in the drawing room with the telly on. Those days, often, she will be too tired to do a whole visit and come lunchtime her words are slury and she’s nodding off. When that happens I pop in and say hello and then do an hour’s detecting and come back in just before 12.00. Other times, she comes out to greet me while I’m still faffing about getting my stuff from the car. If she does this it’s always a good day and so I don’t do any metal detecting. I know she’ll go the distance so I chat to her instead.

Another technique is to bring some gardening homework. She has an arthritic knee which gives way on her so she falls a lot. It’s no fun but it’s also dented her confidence a bit so she isn’t comfortable going out to the greenhouse on her own – we’re not comfortable letting her either. She loves pottering in there, though, she has a perching stool so she can sit and tend to her plants and it’s warm so there’s not the worry that she’ll get cold. Usually the gardening team help her but both the main ones have cancer at the moment and aren’t able to come. The third is keeping the lawns as short as he can and he and the carers are also watering the pots round the outside of the house, the greenhouse and the raised veg beds near the house. There’s another veg garden which we’ve let go this year because watering them takes a while and it’s not really fair to ask the care team to do that or the single garden team member – who is only doing it in his spare time anyway.

One of the pheasants at Mum’s there are two.

I’ve volunteered to grow extra plants so I can bring a few bits and bobs down to Mum’s, tomatoes, four or five broccoli plants, some cut-and-come-again salad maybe, courgettes, cucumbers and some climbing French beans. All those can be planted in the raised beds and watered easily by the carers. If it gets warm enough I can also get Mum out to the raised beds and she can help me sew carrots and lettuces … although we may need more netting as we’ll have the pheasants to contend with.

A few weeks ago, I took a tray of broccoli plants down there and told Mum that her homework was to plant them into pots. I got a big tray and some pots from the greenhouse which I filled with compost and she planted them all. Then I took four home and left five for her. Mum definitely has green fingers. Those four broccoli plants are happier and healthier than anything I’ve potted on so far. That was a huge success so last week I took down some tomato plants – although sadly I hadn’t any homework she could do other than looking after them – but she insisted they be put in the drawing room where she could keep a proper eye on them. This week I’m going to bring a seed tray and some climbing French bean seeds. Mine aren’t growing at all and the ones that have come up are unbelievably weak and feeble so I thought we could see if she has a bit more success.

We set up a big soaking tray on a table with a waterproof cloth at the end of the drawing room for the tomato plants so I can sit her up there and we can plant beans this week. It’s been great doing this because I know she enjoys it and I think it makes her a lot more chirpy. She loves a bit of gardening. It’s probably not quite the done thing but I reckon that if she can’t get to the garden, it will do no harm to bring the garden to her … it’s a pity it’s an antique table but unfortunately all the second-hand, junk room furniture Mum and Dad bought when they got married is now antique. Oops.

Anyway, last week, as I arranged the tomatoes in the tray on the table she was chatting away and she mentioned that she loved my books and asked if I’d written any more. She also admitted that she can’t follow them but thought it might be easier in audio. Could I set it up so she could listen? To be honest, I don’t think she could cope with MP3 files when I’m not there, although I might add them to the tablet I got her to do Zoom church on. But setting that aside, I can play her the odd extract when I go and see her. I told her that I had some with me if she wanted to listen now.

She seemed genuinely delighted at the idea so I played her the chapter from Too Good To Be True with Goldy McSpim – another one where Gareth has excelled himself – and she loved it and wanted to listen to some more. So then I played her the chapter which follows on, with a bunch of surly Grongles doing a house-to-house search while The Pan of Hamgee hides from them and she loved that too.

Her verdict was, ‘Well, darling! That’s as good as anything you’d hear on Radio Four.’ Which is what she usually says, but it was lovely because she was able to follow it and enjoy it. And because for the moment, she knows I’m an author again and that she loved the books I wrote and read them all. So all in all a happy week.

Right. Now I have to go and paint a wall. Two walls actually. A bientot.

One … two free …

Three things … first one free, if you haven’t read any of the K’Barthan Extras series about The Pan of Hamgee’s adventures working for Big Merv the first one, Small Beginnings, is free everywhere except Amazon. Feel free to click the report a lower price button there and ping them a link to Kobo or wherever if you want to. I have been meaning to get them to price match but as I explained last week … On the upside if you enter the code 3SB at check out you can download it free from my site. If you’re on for that you can find links to all retailers here.

Second thing; and second freebie. If you haven’t already done so and you want to hear the first ever audiobook that Gareth narrated for me. Actually, I think it was the first one he ever narrated for anyone that he was prepared to share publicly. He did a great job, as ever. Anyway, if you want to hear it, you can download it for free from my author’s direct account and also from Apple Books and Kobo for the rest of the month. Links to that can be found here.

Third thing. This is the last reminder that, if you haven’t done the K’Barthan invective quiz, now is the time. At the moment we have two out-and-out leaders but the rest is absolutely touch and go. Vote for your favourite! Or add one I’ve forgotten. You can find that here.

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Unicorn farts and other sundry ephemora

This is going to be a short one because it’s twenty past five, which means I have approximately forty minutes to write my usual fifteen hundred word blog post. Hmm. Isn’t going to happen.

Looking at my notes to write about this week they read as follows:

  • Auto correct and bloody Duke
  • Metal detecting and throwing a six

That is all. Okay… off we go then.

Metal Detecting and throwing a six

Saxon ... thing.
A Saxon … thing.

Quite pertinent as I write this, that one. Yesterday, to my absolute delight, I was invited along to a friend’s permission to do some detecting. It was an old club permission so I’ve been going there for a while. The land owner is thoroughly good egg and it’s a lovely spot.

The last time I was there I found a crushed silver thimble from the 1600s I think, and a hammered coin. I love finding stuff from that era because it was such a stormy time in our past. Anything less civil than our Civil War is hard to imagine. You know I’m fairly obsessed because I’ve told you the story about a house called Woodbines which my family lived in, in Kingston, although I’m not sure it’s on this blog. You can read it on the blog on my official author’s site, which I no longer post to, down the end of this link here. Excuse the lack of pictures. I believe that if you’re using a picture to illustrate something under discussion, on a personal blog, it’s supposed to be fair use. However, I still got hit by copyright trolls. I don’t want to risk a huge bill, but also I don’t want to inadvertently pirate photos. I thought it was clear cut but it seems not. Hence, I’ve removed the three pictures I, personally, haven’t taken from all my blogs and two of them were on that post.

Where was I? Oh yeh, so I love Civil War era artefacts mainly because that era was so uncivil and it makes me feel close to a very turbulent part of our history.

The thimble wasn’t my first bit of treasure, there was a bit of Anglo Saxon strap end previously to that from another permission. Both were interesting and have to go through the process by din’t of being silver, rather than particularly brilliant in any respect. That said, a museum somewhere might want the thimble because it’s a bit rarer, coming as it does from an era in history when they were being melted down to make coins to fund the war effort. The modern day ‘evangelists’ yelling ‘Jesus needs your money’ on telly are clearly nothing new since the Puritans really believed they were doing God’s work. Humourless and uptight, they were eventually kicked out of the UK and a lot of them became the founding fathers of America. I’m wandering off on one though.

So we started detecting. The setting is one of the many studs in this neck of the woods and our main purpose is to get any big or spiky bits of iron out of the ground after a piece injured one of the horses a few years ago. This week there was a gorgeous little foal who was too shy to be photographed. I nearly managed it though. After a while I felt I should try and actually find some iron, it wasn’t going very well, I was digging what I thought were big crap signals and discovering, after digging a very deep hole, that the thing that had caused the bing was not iron. Eventually, I got what, in theory, should be a decent bing and sure enough, down in the hole, I found a random silver bit of something. I checked the hole but a bit was all there was. I thought it was either arts and crafts or Saxon. To be honest there wasn’t going to be any middle ground.

Now, having consulted smarter people I am pretty sure it’s Saxon, so that’ll be off to the treasure process then. On the up side, it’s so good it’s likely to come from a grave so there may be more of it. Even better, we should be back on the site this week so I will be able to have a look. But the thing I find most amazing is that when I pulled it out of the ground, mine were the first hands to touch it since someone living six to eight hundred years after the death of Christ pinned it, grieving, to the tunic of a recently dead loved one.

Where is the throwing a six bit to this? Well, I have this theory. I’ve never found gold or anything like that with my detector and I’ve always assumed that my main problem there is the walking over it bit. Because I think, to walk over something really valuable like a hoard or a piece of valuable gold, you have have a certain kind of luck. I remember as a kid playing Ludo with my family. You had to throw a six to start and then you threw the dice to go round the board and back into your ‘home’. The person who got all four of their counters home first was the winner. I remember sitting there, round after round, trying to throw a six to get out and failing dismally. Often I’d not succeed to get anyone out onto the board until my brother’s first counter was already ‘home’. Then Mum, who had similar dice throwing skills, and I would make our way round the board throwing a one each time.

I was always last.

The luck that follows me is not the kind of luck that wins me many premium bonds … or board games. When the Unicorn farts, I am usually up-wind or indoors or … I dunno … facing the wrong way. Except for people; there’s the McOthers, many of my friends and a lot of the colleagues I’ve stumbled upon through my working and writing life. Work stuff would clearly be things like Gareth popping up and wanting to narrate my books … well it could only have been a cloud of sparkly unicorn gas that wafted that piece of good fortune my way! Bloody hell! And nothing gives a person a bigger lift than when someone with a generous dollop of talent in their own field seems to think your stuff is good, I mean he is an actor but I think that’s genuine! Mwahahargh. Also Katherine Jackson, who taught me so much about editing, while editing my books and really had no business dying like that. I still miss her. Then there’s the lovely folks who do my covers, who I blundered upon because they were the people my employers used. And the lovely folks I’ve met and become cyber buddies with in my authoring efforts. But that’s not the luck I’m talking about. The luck I mean is the throwing a six and winning at board games kind of luck.

Am I content with that? Well yes, I think for the most part I am. If I can only choose one, I’ll take the one I have. But reverting to the silver thing – actually I’m pretty sure it’s a silver gilt thing – it’s clearly a tiny fragment of something special. What, exactly, I do not know but, as I mentioned before, most likely it’s grave goods. A brooch pinned to the clothes of a very loved, cherished and high-status dead person before burial so they would be looking at their best in the next life. The rest of it is probably still there somewhere … if I can find it.

If …

Part of me thinks – possibly a little churlishly – that were I the kind of person who could throw a six on a regular basis, I’d have found the whole thing. Another part of me realises that even this tiny fragment is like throwing a double five, a whole one would be the find of a life-time. It’s not that they’re rare, although they are, I believe, but one that good, whole, would be a hen’s teeth job. On the other hand, it definitely ties in with my ability to find interesting things. The ideal, of course, being something interesting enough to be fabulous (to me) but not so interesting it’s worth stacks and I have to sell it! And then another part of me is thinking that I’ll be back there next Thursday. I was chatting to the ex finds liaison officer for this area on line. He told me that in his time, someone had found a fragments of a similar things, returned to the site and found more … Mmm. I’ll keep you posted.

Autocorrect and bloody Duke

A brief one here. Anyone who knows me, personally, will know that when it comes to communication, using my phone, if I’m not speaking, is the bane of my life as it is one long battle with auto correct/auto complete. Auto whatever it is is like wearing a gag, although if I turn auto correct off it seems to be even worse. Part of the problem is that I use the swift keyboard – the Google one.

What is wrong with that thing? It seems to be possessed by some dyslexic demon with an exotic name fetish. Case in point, here in the UK, on the whole, Duke is a surname, a title or something you call your dog. I do not know anyone called Duke as a first name and I think, in the entire two years, so far, that I’ve owned this phone that I’ve typed the word ‘Duke’ on purpose, twice. Yet, whenever I type the word ‘done’ Duke is what it gives me. Not only does it give me Duke but if I change it to done and continue I will find, when I hit send, that it’s quietly changed ‘done’ back to Duke again. Every. single. fucking. time.

Someone or sometime. Bog-standard words. Often used you’d have thought. Summertime. Not so common. Uh-uh-uh, says Auto correct. Every time I type either of those words it defaults to summertime. This is with actual real auto correct switched off. This is just the stupid slidey keyboard getting it wrong. Then there’s or. What is so fucking difficult about understanding it when my finger is sliding from the o to the r key? I’ve no clue but what I get for ‘or’ is out or put. And once again that’s every. fucking. time.

I read somewhere that these things work by looking at what the normals type, averaging it out and offering suggestions. Lord above I haven’t a fucking hope then have I? I mean, look at the words I use. OK so it’s learned the word, K’Barthan. That said it seems to unlearn it and have to be taught afresh from time to time. I’ve no idea why that is. But if it can learn that when I type in K’ I’m going to be saying K’Barthan because that’s what I type every time I write K’ then why the fuck can’t it learn, by the same logic, that every time I type in Mc I’m going to type McGuire? Why is it able to understand that I spell ‘realise’ without an ess rather than a zed but at the same time, be pathologically unable to grasp that if, every time I type done and it offers me Duke I cancel it and type done again until it accepts it, I must actually mean done. Why, when I type in the letters d-o-n-e and not Duke, does it default to Duke, a word I never type, comprising completely different fucking letters?

Also, new factor here. Random capitalisation. If I am in the middle of a sentence, or sometimes in the middle of a word it will suddenly give me a capital letter so I get stuff like,

Hello, how are You doiNg today?

Mental. It’s not as if I’m typing the name of some obscure chemical that is only written by out in full every six million years. These are bog-standard words that everyone uses. Seriously though, who, in God’s name, are the people it’s taking averages from to work out how english … well … you know … works? What in the name of holy fuck are they saying to produce the shit-show that is my phone’s text suggestions? I can only assume it’s mostly folks in Asia where English is used a lot but isn’t anyone’s first language, or that my vocabulary is simply too wide for the parameters of the algorithm to operate. (Really, though? Sounds doubtful.)

At a complete loss, I tried speaking to it. But it can’t understand my fucking accent! My fucking ENGLISH accent for fuck’s sake! The other day I was speaking a sentence which involved the phrase, ‘power of attorney’. My phone decided I’d said, ‘parrot Ernie.’ Give me fucking strength!

As a result, I find myself typing each word tiny letter by tiny letter and the phone, which should be something I can use to quickly reply to stuff, turns into a time sink.

Bah! Swift key? There’s a fucking oxymoron if ever I heard it.

Bookish things …

Yeh, those. So, this month, was officially the worst in about three years for sales.

Last April, I made £408.74 in book sales. This April, I made, er hem, about £65 if I count the sale on my website. Then again it’s up on April 2019 when I made £56.68. Mmm.

Something appears to have happened to Amazon, maybe it’s because I dicked with my series pages – as in changed the name from ‘K’Barthan Trilogy Series’ to K’Barthan Series. Actually no, thinking about that it wasn’t this month. But needless to say, the K’Barthan Trilogy, while disappearing completely from my dashboard, is still alive and well on Amazon. I now have a two book series called the K’Barthan Trilogy (it contains books three and four) which appears nowhere on my dashboard and is therefore undeletable, but alas, all over Amazon. I will sort it out but at the moment I just don’t have the strength of will to deal with emailing KDP customer service repeatedly until they stop giving me boiler plate answers to some other vaguely related question, finally read my actual query and give me a bastard answer.

On the up side, I discovered something weird about myself. Because I’ve made about forty quid on Amazon this month, instead of a hundred and fifty, my wide sales are a much bigger percentage. For the first time they are over a third; 34%. For some bizarre reason, this makes me feel fantastic. Audiobooks, I still appear to be unable to give the bloody things away off Amazon/Audible – except for the odd library purchase or sale on Google Play. Ebooks though, there’s a weeny hint of movement from non-Amazon vendors. This may be because I’ve been actively advertising to people in countries where Amazon companies are not the number one supplier.

It’s not that I don’t like Amazon as a customer, it’s alright, except it’s getting harder and harder to find out how to pay for anything I buy without joining Prime – talk about black pathways. But while I don’t want to penalise Amazon users, I have no wish to be beholden for my income to a company with such rancid corporate ethics, so ideally, I’d like to see a lot of my income derived elsewhere.

Yes, here I am a hundred dollars plus down on my monthly earnings and I’m not nearly as pissed off as I should be – and year-on-year looking at 2018 and 2019 they were about the same – but the distribution of sales over the different platforms is making me happier than money? Well yes. But also it’s because the action on other platforms seems to be increasing a teeny bit. Even better, as my Amazon sales continue to flatline, I have sold my first book of the month, on the first day, from Kobo. Yes, for a while I have a 100% wide sales chart. This also makes me unaccountably happy. There is zero logic in this. I am doing badly and I should be worried but strangely I care more about increasing my sales elsewhere (which is really hard) than on Amazon. I appreciate it sounds a bit touched in the head. But Amazon is difficult to deal with and has the corporate ethics of a morally louche confidence trickster. All its rules are enforced by AI but it’s the cheapest crappest AI possible – NOT like the algorithm at all – which means they are totally inconsistent and their measures ridiculously draconian, often with no appeal or recourse.

Amazon’s customers love the experience but they mostly do prime. The books I’m interested in are usually like my own, outside Kindle Select so I know I wouldn’t maximise the benefits of Prime. Also I don’t understand people who pay £7 a month for netflix, £7 a month for prime, £7 a month for Spotify and so on ad infinitum. All those invisible direct debits chipping away at my income … the thought gives me hives. I need to know the cash is going out. Then again, I am eclectic and have a wide range of interests. Therefore, just as auto correct throws up its hands and has a melt down trying to predict what I will say, so a subscription algorithm probably isn’t going to deliver me with what I require once it is tweaked for commercial gain. Since Amazon’s algorithms are now driven by advertising payments rather than entirely by the desires of the customer, it’s unlikely I’d find what I wanted there. And since Spotify has announced that it, too, will be shifting to that model, I’d suspect theirs will become the same.

I appreciate that the Normals like Prime and Amazon’s customer service is excellent for those who fit their ideal customer criteria (I don’t). But to deal with as a distributor, Amazon is extremely high maintenance. Clearly, they are important and I will always have my books there, but ideally, I want the lion’s share of my income and interaction to be with entities where things are smoother, pleasanter and better run. And where my royalties will not inexplicably go tumbling from over £300 a month to £40. Not to mention that the other sites, and my own, all pay me higher royalties than Amazon for book sales. That’s just business logic innit?

And now, some free stuff and a lot of Things On The End …

Small Beginnings …

Small Beginnings: Ebook version

This month, I have mostly been doing some marketing. I have two things that might be useful. First, Small Beginnings is now free pretty much everywhere except Amazon. I’m hoping it will go free at Amazon eventually.

Normally if I reduce books in price to zero pence elsewhere Amazon makes it free on their own but they don’t seem to have noticed this time. Anyway, if you’d like to bag yourself a free copy of Small Beginnings, or you know someone who might, you can find a page with links to download it. NB, in this particular case, avoid my online shop as I haven’t sorted out a discount code yet and Amazon, because … ditto. Yeh, still steeling myself to contact KDP help (shudders) with the web address of my book on every single Amazon site, followed by the web address of it shown as free on every single country Amazon serves on Kobo, Google Play and iBooks.

Kobo are featuring it in their free section this week, too. For that information link click here.

Unlucky Dip: Audiobook version

OK so you do actually get this as part of my mailing list sign up protocol but if you aren’t, and you have a boring half hour job to do and would like something to listen to to lighten your spirits while you do it, you can’t really go wrong with this. It’s all that is joyous and wonderful about Gareth doing his thing – albeit on a bit of writing that is, if I’m honest, not my best work. Never mind. That is free in two places this month, from iBooks and from Kobo. For links to that, click here.

Merchandise …

Finally, do you remember that K’Barthan merchandise I was talking about? Two developments on that one.

Thing one … If you would like to vote and haven’t yet, the quiz is still open for you to choose your favourite K’Barthan invective. because I have to send it to my mailing list in two week’s time as well! You can still vote for your favourite invective here.

Well I finally have a sort of shop, although it’s Zazzle so no-one will be able to afford anything – I’m working on other suppliers who are less expansive (and pay more royalties) – and also I haven’t finished adding products. But if you’re interested to see how it’s going and you want a gander, you can see that here.

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Filed under General Wittering

Arnold’s snot!

Well, things are a little more up-beat this week. Thank the lord for that, I hear you mutter. Seriously though, I do know what’s going on and why I’m out of sorts. Worry ye not, I won’t be explaining it again because I did that last week. Suffice it to say that many people are in the same boat as me. It’s not a unique problem this duty of love stuff and I think a lot of us are victims of the Meh what with the winter that didn’t end until last week – it might not have ended yet, I don’t want to Murry us, but even if it comes back and we’re froz up our bums for May, at least we’ve had this week!

Things are better though, MTM mood wise. OK there is going to be a bit of whinging but hopefully, only in amusing manner. At last, I think I’m settling into the rise in traffic levels on the trip to Mum’s – back to pre covid on the M25. Instead of the blissful 2 hrs 15 mins it’s been over the past year we are now reverting to the situation where there is always one direction at three hours plus due to accidents and breakdowns.

This could be partly because, over the period of lock down, everyone’s been doing less driving and it seems that a lot of us have forgotten how it’s done. I wandered worryingly close to someone the other day, myself, just because we’re all squished up together like little bricks in a mosaic again, going at 70mph, and it hasn’t been like that for a while. I always look out of the side windows at the blind spots before I change lanes but I discovered, this week, that I’d unconsciously slipped into a bad habit of starting to move as I looked rather than waiting until I’d looked first and moving afterwards. Until two weeks ago there was never anything there so checking was more of a technicality than a necessity. Not any more. It wasn’t anything close to a near miss but I definitely gave the bloke in the van next to me an, ‘oh lordy is the daft bat going to pull in?’ moment. Sorry if I worried you, man in van.

Once we hit holiday season in full traffic mode then there are two recurring events on the M25, usually throughout the summer, until September. On the way down, I’m occasionally held up because Fred and Neris, towing their caravan from Skye to Land’s End via Kent have broken down in one of the lanes on the four lane part. There’s no hard shoulder there so it’s three into two and consequently, there are delays. Fred can’t understand it, it’s not like he’s even moved that caravan all year. It’s been sat on their drive with the cover on and all the bearings in one the caravan’s wheels have inexplicably seized. It’s not like he touched the wheels or checked them or anything so they should be alright. He tuts and shakes his head in consternation as he and Neris wait to be rescued.

Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Patel with Mrs Patel’s brother in-law, Steve, and family are are on their way to Ummi’s and while queuing to get past, discover that their ancient Honda Acclaim hasn’t the same capacity to sit about with its engine running that it used to. It’s overheated and they have to pull over. But there’s no hard shoulder so they can only make it to the slow lane where they pull as far off against the barrier as they can and stop, the Acclaim enveloped in cloud of steam. The Patels – and Steve – with their families now cause another blockage, and the delay time for traffic behind is up to half an hour as they too have to sit tight and wait for the AA. Breakdown help arrives for both stranded parties, at which point the police block off an extra lane, bringing it down from four lanes to two and upping the delay time even more as both the Patels (with Steve) and Neris and Fred are towed to safety.

On the way back, it’s less about Fred and Neris. This time it’s The Patels coming back from Ummi’s. Overheating has done something to the Accord and it’s running a bit lumpy. Mr Patel has had to pull over again but this time the delay isn’t so bad, only about ten minutes. Meanwhile further round Ethel and Norbert are driving from Cornwall to Lowestoft in their VW camper. Norbert started her up for the first time in five years this morning (with a bit of help from a battery charger) and it’s been running like a dream until the M25. Now Norbert realises that bit where he hit 80mph overtaking the lorry was too much for the VW and the engine has let go in the in one of the Dartford tunnels. There’s oil all over the road, too, so as well as waiting for a break down lorry, the road surface will need to be cleaned. The tow truck is doing its thing and the sweeper is on its way from the Dartford depot at a heady top speed of 35mph. Meanwhile the authorities have been forced to close that bore for everyone’s safety, precipitating a gargantuan fifteen mile tailback and hour long delay as four lanes of traffic try to get into one two lane tunnel.

Welcome to summer on the M25.

Every week. I kid you not. One summer holidays someone broke down in the tunnel for 6 out of 7 trips. Handy tip people. Don’t just jump into the car or hook up the caravan and head off without getting it checked over. Grease the bearings on that boat trailer, check the brakes on your combi, check the oil and water and move the bastard things more than once a year, even if you’re just getting the caravan out, towing it round the block and putting it back. Ditto that ancient combi van or mobile home. Drive the bloody thing for over twenty minutes once a month can you? And if you can’t, accept that left on your drive for months without use, things will seize, including the brakes and if you’re not careful, once you’ve started moving, the engine. Check them and get them serviced before you travel. You will save yourself, not to mention the rest of us, an enormous headache.

Thank you.

Picture of a street in the City of London
Perfect example of that diffused print-room style light.

Other things. I am now officially discharged from Mr Davies’ tender care (the knee surgeon this is, not the one who narrates my audiobooks). I was very pleased about that. He asked how far I could walk and I said I’d been wandering about London for two hours and he told me that was pretty hard core. Which made me feel very chipper. He also said that I’d been starting further back than most people who have this done as on the whole, folks seldom reach the bone-on-bone stage, let alone continue like that for several years. So that was good. It was another glorious day in London so again I sauntered round the city in that lovely blue, print room-like light reflected from the mirror glass buildings and enjoyed the scenery. It was busier than before but still looking grand.

As well as wandering about taking pictures, I noticed a hole in the side of the Shard which, blown up, with a starry night behind, could make a grand cover for the right kind of science fiction novel. Sadly it’s just the hole the window cleaning equipment comes out of so no matter how long you wait you will not see a tie fighter fly out of that hole at any point.

Yeh, I know. It should be but it’s not even a helipad.

A bit of a disappointment.

Never mind, you can’t win ‘em all.

Once I got to the river, I walked almost from London Bridge to Tower Bridge along the embankment.

Even though I much prefer coming to London on the train, because I get to walk about, I did miss the vicarious thrill I get every time I drive the Lotus over Tower Bridge. Something about that always gives me a bit of a lift, especially if I select some suitable music, Ian Dury and the Blockheads or something a teeny bit subversive. But there’s a set of lights just before I turn onto the bridge with a mirror so I can see if there are any cyclists next to me. It’s convex so I have this really cool view of my car from above. Something about the bird’s eye angle makes it look like a speeder or hover vehicle – not a car at all. I should have taken a picture of that but I’m not sure of the rules on taking pictures from a stationery car. I suspect even at a standstill the penalties are firm.

Anyway, my original plan was to hit the river, walk down one bank, saunter over Tower Bridge and then walk back down the other side to the hospital. In the end I got rather too immersed in wandering around the city, eating my lunch on a bench outside the Royal Exchange – which is a real sun trap – and generally enjoying the scenery. It was much busier than last time I visited but still pretty much devoid of people. Having dithered about there for too long, I realised I wasn’t going to have time to do the whole circle loop thing over Tower Bridge and back so I turned and retraced my steps along the embankment.

On the way past a ritzy 5 star hotel just next to the Tower of London I saw a gentleman doing some extreme window cleaning, which amused me.

Extreme window cleaning

All in all a good week.

Oh alright, yes, there have been some downsides. Mum was on good form on Wednesday but it took ages to get to her. CF earlier comments about the four lane bit of the M25, although this time it was a pukka accident which had been cleared up by the time I got there but the resulting breakdowns from elderly overheating vehicles hadn’t. Note to road planners. Roads with no hard shoulder are cheap to build but you may as well not have bothered with the extra lane once the holiday season gets underway.

Other news …

It seems that the writing well has run completely dry. No point forcing it then, I’ve just abandoned all projects for a bit and I will concentrate on other things. If nothing is coming out then clearly the answer is to put more stuff in. This includes looking at my metal detecting finds … which basically involves making a god awful mess, but has been interesting. I discovered that some thimbles had steel tips which is why two of the four I’ve found at Mum’s look as if they have been mended with different metal. Not mended it seems. Merely made like that. I also discovered that a lovely – but extremely knackered – button I found is a clan Murray livery button and I found a Roman coin in Mum’s veg patch. OK so it was worn completely smooth but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that if there’s one Roman coin, there may well be more. I will have to search carefully.

The week has also been one for sorting out. I have even arranged something approaching a social life for next week and am hoping I may get out for a whole day’s detecting. Fingers crossed. I also have to have all the medical appointments I haven’t had during lock down, boob squish, smear test, eye test and dental check up. Boob squish on Tuesday. Just the smear, eye test and dental to organise then. Jolly dee.

The other thing that was worrying me a bit, the statement of wishes for my will, is finally finished. I have given hints and tips for my funeral and explained what to do with the family jewellery. That sounds posher than it is. On the up-against-admin front, I have been attempting to persuade Nationwide building society to share information about my son’s trust account with the people managing his financial stuff. Jeez that’s been a ball ache. The firm we are using gave me a form letter to modify, sign and send, which I did. Nothing happened so I had to ring. After 15 minutes on hold I got someone who told me I needed to talk to someone else. After another 40 minutes on hold enduring the kind of anodyne muzak which, I feared, might precipitate haemorrhaging from my ears if I was forced to listen for long, I got a lovely lady who explained what I needed to do. I obeyed her instructions and sent the notice to a specific email address worded the way she told me. A reply came back to say it had been received.

Three weeks later and Nationwide are still telling the people setting up the new trust account for my son that they haven’t heard a peep from me. There is no evidence of the calls or my email. Except there is because they emailed a receipt on 6th April. Fucking useless bastards. So now I have to piss another hour and a half up the wall on the phone in pointless pursuit of them doing fuck all again. Urgh. That said, I think their branch in town is open now so I will go up there, speak to a human and see what I can achieve that way.

cover of too good to be true audio edition

On a very much more optimistic and generally smashing note, Gareth has started recording Too Good To Be True … aaaah be still my beating heart! And excuse me while I do the happy dance.

There’s something about hearing my stuff in audio that’s utterly golden. It’s as if it’s suddenly appearing in 3d. I absolutely love it. I suspect I’m an aural person since, if I want to learn something by heart, listening to it read aloud and following along usually does the trick. It helps that Gareth is dripping with talent and does a fantastic job. I am slightly in awe of what he manages to do, and like the people who design my book covers, he is a joy to work with – always a bonus. He also has an amusing habit of forgetting to tell me when he’s finished some more chapters. It was a rather jolly surprise to discover he’d got to chapter 7 this morning. A whole five new chapters there that he’d recorded and, apparently, forgotten about. He tells me this is because he is rehearsing for something with some real actual humans at the moment so I will accept his excuse! Far be it from me to criticise anyone for being vague … as we all know, I have trouble remembering my own name.

Which reminds me. I’m starting a clinical trial of rosemary oil. Does it or does it not improve cognitive function in menopausal women? We really don’t know, but hopefully, I’m going to be helping them to find out. I will be using an infuser and inhaling rosemary oil for a set period of time every day and completing assessments online on a Tuesday so I’m agog to know if it will help. Please, let it help that would be so marvellous.

Other jolly stuff, the Bury St Edmunds writers group that I’m part of had our meeting by Zoom this Friday and we were discussing a lot of writing stuff which was both useful and interesting, as well as other side things which were also eye-opening and intriguing – one of our number has something called Fabry and is taking part in Fabry Awareness Month – here’s some info about what Fabry is from the MPS society. To this end, she’s guest blogger there. It was interesting to chat, somewhat incoherently on my part, about things that affect my ability to write, which is pretty much everything in my case. But as well as the lady with Fabry, there is someone else with a wee one, and a smaller microdot than McMini but she’s clearly facing the same challenges to her writing as I did.

All in all then, things are looking up. I have made a quarter of my usual monthly income selling books this month. Nothing I’m doing seems to be pushing the needle so the time has definitely come to ignore the marketing for a bit until the slump goes away. In the meantime, I will just go back to investigating the world around me, doing stuff and trying to do a little bit of writing each day. I found a brilliant quote this week from someone I’ve never heard of called Emory Austin.

‘Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.’

That sounds like a plan.

And now the cheerful bit at the end.

picture of K'Barthan series themed badges
K’Barthan Bling

This week there wasn’t time for much and next week will be the same. However, I did finally get round to creating some K’Barthan themed products.

For some reason all four of the badges I ordered for product testing purposes feature K’Barthan invective. I thought I ordered more Humbertisms. Suffice it to say that going on the results of the poll I have made a set of six K’Barthan coffee/tea mugs in white on black and a set of six badges featuring the phrases discussed last week. I also added Futtocks away and I’ve sent one of those to Gareth.

  • Windy Trussocks!
  • Bite my winkey!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin but don’t spill my drink.
  • Jiggle my tumpkin!
  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Futtocks away!

I haven’t actually done the invective on anything other than badges because the results of the invective quiz aren’t in yet. Luckily one of the first people to reply pointed out that I’d forgotten ‘Arnold’s , eyeballs!’ Anyway, if you would like to vote the quiz is still open because I have to send it to my mailing list in two week’s time as well! You can vote for your favourite invective here.

Right then, I’m off to make some K’Barthan Koasters phnark did you see what I did there with the K, did you? Did you? Yeh … I know. It was a bit shit. Never mind. Onwards and upwards. A bientot.

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Another fine mess I’ve got me into …

Although also … possibly … out of.

Too Much Information Alert …

OK, this post is, officially, going to begin with Too Much Information. I’m going go talk about one of the last taboos, my monthly cycle.

As a lady of a certain age, who is fitted with an … er hem … coil … I have been spared the joy – a word I use with extreme irony – of periods for the last ten years. Gone are the days when, were I to get appendicitis at the wrong moment, I would simply fail to notice and die. I have had both (although I still have an appendix) and on the pain-o-meter the monthly cramps won hands down.

However, despite this, I still have a, you know, cycle. There are days when I am completely sapped of all creativity and depending if it’s a long or short cycle the creative down times last from between forty eight hours to two weeks. I call this the meh time.

When Meh strikes (let’s give it a capital M) the trick is just not to try too hard until it’s gone. I can do artistic creative so long as there’s zero pressure on myself to succeed. So I can draw or twiddle with things in photoshop so long as I don’t take it too seriously. With writing, I can sometimes do stuff long hand but basically, I have to accept, at that point, that my muse has gone on a bender. I’m never sure if it’s on holiday, relaxing on a beach somewhere or if it’s lying in a dark back alley somewhere, out cold, in a pool of its own sick, empty vodka bottle still clutched in one limp hand. If I give it the time to have a bath and several black coffees it might produce something intelligible but on the whole, at moments like this it’s best left to sleep it off. I let it be and get on with other things. To do so is quiching out in many respects. But I’m not really talking about failing to turn up to the chair and write, this is more about sidestepping burnout.

An interesting aspect of this is that I hadn’t thought to count non fiction in the writing I do. Because despite the muse having fucked off on a bender, I have written quite a lot of things this week and historically, have written a fair bit of stuff in these phases. The bit that’s in trouble is the bit that makes up an intelligible plot then, it would seem. It may be that it’s not all Meh, or at least, not all Monthly Meh. I’ve found it really hard to get back into the saddle with the Sussex run and the whole looking after Mum thing and, as discussed last week (or was it the week before?) we have reached the stage where there is no point in denying our arses off any more. We have to accept that her memory is not what it was or, to be honest, I could probably just leave that statement at simply, her memory is not. It is slightly as if the whole looking after Dad thing has left me too exhausted to carry on. Whenever that thought occurs to me, I just have to accept that it’s probably true, file it in the can’t-be-fixed section and then ignore it and hope it goes away. Think of me as the owner of a 1960s car with a snapped fan belt, looping an old pair of tights round the alternator so it will generate enough juice to get me home. All that increased care and concern does tend to drop an anvil on the fiction-creation centre of my brain.

Usually from a great height.

Possibly even from the stratosphere.

Ideally, what I’d be doing right now is starting some K’Barthan Extras. But what I want to write is the big sweeping epic that will take years to finish and won’t sell (not that any of my books sell) – the Betsy’s Bordello origins story – and of course Space Dustmen. Neither of these will be finished by September which is, ideally, the point at which I ought to be publishing my next book. That said I could give Space Dustmen a go as I think that’s going to be less complicated and easier to split into adventures but in my world of highly-polished, unmarketable literary turds it’s the K’Barthan stuff that sells.

That said there wasn’t anything doing this week so I decided to do some of the things I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t got round to. This includes the thing for my will which I still haven’t done but hope to have finished today. Fingers crossed. It also included having a go at some of the settings on my metal detector and finally sending Gareth his share of the royalties for this quarter. Note to self: do the royalties quarterly from now on, it makes it look as if there are more of them. Mwahahaaaahrgh! Self-deception is my friend.

Chatting to Gareth via whatsapp this week, he was talking about his singing lessons and how he is trying to alter some of the physical aspects about the way he sings so it’s more natural – and is therefore more effective – I think that’s the gist. He was worried about sounding ‘wanky’ snortle – one of my own favourite descriptors, that one – so he didn’t go into too much detail.

However, it did strike me that talking to Gareth about these things is very like conversations I’ve had with an ex triathlete friend, who now mostly rides a bike. Both are extremely talented, but a big part of it, I suspect, is that they are also very aware of absolutely everything that they can do to maximise that talent. They have learned every shortcut that will speed their progress from bleargh to perfection. Actually neither of them is starting from bleargh, they start from exceptional and kind of go on from there but you get the picture. I love that artists and sports people are as insanely geeky about their various theatres of operation as any scientist – although Triathlon Man is a scientist so perhaps the geekery is slightly less unexpected in his case. But I’m drifting from the point which is that this intensity, to me, is what separates the men from the boys and, probably, me from the professionals. I have those short cuts but … I dunno … I still seem to get nowhere. I spent the last three years doing a ground-up rebuild on how I produce and think about the books I write. Maybe it hasn’t worked so well, or maybe it’s just that the background stress levels are going up again so, once more, I’m having to fight harder. I’m at a bit of a loss. Again, I’ve reached a stage with my writing where I should accept that I’m not in a situation where I can have a career of my own. I should stop and give up but I just … can’t. On the other hand, I’ve just read an article by Robert Webb during which he stated that having said he wanted to be a novelist he has realised, after staring at a blank screen for the last twelve months, that he might need to give himself some other options. Ah Robert, Robert … I feel your pain. Welcome to the writing pleasure dome.

For whatever reason, writing, for me, seems to take a huge amount of emotional energy, and after years and years of grinding, spirit-sapping stress with Dad and now Mum, a whole decade plus of playing to everything I’m shit at in life and existence – thanks a fucking bunch there, God – I just don’t seem to have that energy any more, or at least, only in very small amounts. I am so, so much closer to burn-out over that than I was with Dad, because I’ve already done ten years of worry – including five of the kind of high intensity stuff I expected to have to maintain for three or four years at the outside. Right now, after a brief dip, I’m looking at another five or ten years of the same thing again. It is not … yeh. Let’s just leave it at … it is not. But having time off in lockdown, while handy at the time, might not have helped to be honest. Not at all. It just gave me a glimpse of what could be, but which I’m beginning to think never will be. There will always be someone with dementia I need to look after, until I reach the point where it’s me. I am really, really struggling to get back into it all. At the start, I remember thinking I probably had the stamina for three years or so, five at the outside. I guess the basic gist is, I was right. But there is no option for the battery to run flat. No way out. No end in sight. Just more and more and more admin, my mother’s, my son’s, my own – blimey but I’m a miserable bastard today aren’t I?! I just have to get better at pretending it’s not happening and carry on. Tights round the mental fan belt. I can do it. I might need a bit more CBT. I’ll look into some options.

Additional Meh factors might be the fact that it’s April, a month during which I traditionally sell fuck all books but I’ve had the worst month for book sales for five years. I’ve up to earn 40 dollars this month. All on Amazon. Usually I earn over a hundred. The fact that I can no longer construct a Facebook ad of any description that gets out of the learning phase isn’t helping either. The frustrating thing with those is that I had an ad that was working well, inadvertently edited something and had to reload it and now it can’t get out of the learning phase. That said. People are signing up it seems so maybe I should just leave it. My Facebook ads always go tits up around Christmas, Halloween and American Elections. But there’s nothing worse than spaffing a load of money up the wall for zero return in a field of operations at which you used to excel. I don’t understand it. If I narrow it down it says my audience is too small to have any hits, but it’s saying my audience is to small to achieve any hits if I choose people in NZ and AU who like Terry Pratchett and Books. According to the numbers, when it bothers to say something other than that my audience is to small, that’s well over a million people. At the same time, I’m getting three sign ups a day for my two bucks so I dunno, go figure.

Out of the Meh came forth Merch …

Back to the point. Meh. I decided that if writing was difficult I’d do something book related that didn’t feel like pulling teeth but needed to be done. So it was that out of the Meh came forth Merch. I spent Tuesday and a lot of Thursday making products which featured Humbert the Parrot quotes. I also did a couple of K’Barthan swearing things. So far I’ve done a couple of badges – oh and one sticker! Mwahahahrgh. Despite feeling a bit Meh, I observed that I was still able to do stupid product descriptions. Well, they made me laugh anyway. Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are funny. Still after anticipating a rather flat couple of days, I had a remarkably amusing time with myself. Mum was on good form too, on the Wednesday, which always helps and we went to the beach yesterday for a walk and it was beautiful light with bright sun.

I think these Meh periods are probably part of life for every creative. OK some folks seem to be able to produce hundreds of books and I salute them. I could do that if literary creativity was like painting. I can paint like ringing a bell just … not as well as I can write. The fact is though, I seem to be so adversely affected by every little thing that sometimes, I’m surprised I produce anything at all. What I do manage is the result of hours of analysis and effort into the how and why of my ability to create so I can squeeze the maximum juice out of each tiny drop. I suppose if you want to be good at something that’s what you do. Maximise it. But … I dunno … it’s as if I have a few drips of potent creativity and I have to make it cover each book. While everywhere I look other writers seem to be just vomiting out books. Really good books too. Burp! Oooh there’s another one. I am probably looking at the wrong people and in the wrong places.

Talking of books, Gareth is hoping to start work on Too Good To Be True soon, singing-related shenanigans permitting. Which made me think of something else and that is, how intensely physical the performing arts are. I remember reading somewhere how people who are in a production full time often have to do an extensive range of weird and arcane physio exercises to keep all sorts of obscure body parts in trim. It’s amazing how much of something that seems large cerebral is, in fact, physical when it comes to doing stuff with your voice or an instrument. I do remember talking about this kind of stuff with my violin teacher when I was small and good at it. Body posture and stance are a huge part of it because you’re not just playing the instrument, you’re part of it because the sound is resonating through you. And that’s why the way you stand or breathe can make a huge difference.

That got me thinking more about writing. There seem to be three important factors that can fuck mine up. The first is pressure. Can I make up stories under pressure? No. This is probably why I am struggling writing more K’Barthan extras. There is pressure to finish them whereas there is not any pressure to finish the other projects which are ticking along nicely. Well … not really. So I have this strange dichotomy where I can write an 85k novel in about six weeks but only if a) that’s not what I’m actually trying to do, b) other stress is reduced and c) the six weeks are spread out over the course of about a year. It’s like learning to fly Adams style. Except instead of throwing myself at the ground, getting distracted before I land and missing, I have to throw myself into writing the next book, forget why I’m writing it and just … enjoy my K’Barthan holiday.

Getting the first set up started is the difficult bit. Once that’s there, if it’s a simple story with a main character and not much else, it will get from beginning to end reasonably fast.

Second thing … admin. If I have something looming, like a tax return or, in this case, some bits and bobs for my will, I feel pathologically compelled to do it before I write. But when I come to do it, because I want to write, I get bored and my mind wanders and I stare at my computer and get distracted and before I know it a day has gone by of me staring at the screen doing … I dunno what. The way round that one is to do a short burst of writing before I start the admin. Then at east I’ve done a bit of what I’m supposed to.

Third thing, hormones. There is the one week in every four where I’m never going to write anything. This is the time I use for editing or to drop writing and have a pop at other stuff; newsletters, writing ads, booking promos. Downloading the graphics and sorting all the links I have to share … that kind of stuff.

Fourth thing, I need to take the right measures. If that means giving up on it for a day or two and doing other things so be it. Yesterday we went to the beach for a day. We spent an amusing hour having lunch in a pub garden and the conversation included inventing euphemisms for going to the loo. Starting with the well known ‘I must go siphon the python’ we built on the theme and finally ended up with McMini calling it, ‘I just have to go and deal with some yard trimmings,’ while I preferred, ‘I just have to go and fly-tip a sofa’. Yeh, I know but we thought it was funny. McOther just sat there with a contented, these-are-my-children kind of smile on his face.

picture of the sea
I must go down to the sea again, the lonely sea and the sky. I left my socks there yesterday. I wonder … continued on page 94/…

Thing is though – going back to my ongoing fight with my muse – for most of 2020, pandemic aside, I was in post op recovery or a great deal less stressed. I couldn’t do the Sussex run for a lot of it and in many ways, Mum’s well-being was out of my hands – or at least, I didn’t feel as painfully responsible for it and I was able to let so much stuff go. It was awesome. I didn’t need to take measures, or follow any of the protocols I usually have to follow to write. I ate exactly what I’m eating now, but I lost weight instead of putting it on. There was no need to keep a daily word count and do the ten minutes a day thing. Now there is. Now, I’m back to the place I was in 2018. I need to pull every trick in the book to keep the tiniest trickle running from the creative well. I need to keep it alive because if I don’t the other stuff is going to get a bit overwhelming and if I get overwhelmed, I’ll be no good to anyone. I need another holiday – already – and since I can’t have a real one, I have to pretend. And if there is any talent in me, it seems that I have to support it with a lot of painfully convoluted mental gymnastics. It’s a a gargantuan ball ache but it is what it is. I just have to accept it and get on with it. I guess part of it is simply that I’ve reached a perfect storm where everything writing related is going dismally badly at once. I just need to grit my teeth and push on through. And do those bloody lists for my will. Ugh.


On a lighter note … K’Barthan invective poll results! Phark.

As discussed here, last week … K’Barthan products. Mmm. Last week I asked if you’d like to vote on your favourite Humbert phrases. Many did.

Congratulations.

As you may have gathered from my previous wittering, I took the recommendations and ran with them, well, OK, it was more of a case of, I shambled crazily for a few metres, went purple in the face and had to sit down for a minute or two … but it’s a start!

The runaway winners, if that’s the right word, were ‘Wipe my conkers!’ and ‘Bite my winkey!’ but there were many more, here are the top six:

  • Wipe my conkers!
  • Bite my winkey!
  • Windy trussocks!
  • Jiggle my tumpkin but don’t touch my drink!

Extremely close behind ‘windy’ and ‘jiggle’ were:

  • Arse!
  • Shroud my futtocks!
  • Bombs away!
  • Gits in a bag!

After talking to Gareth, I realised that I’d completely forgotten to offer ‘Futtocks away!’ as an option which is, apparently, his particular favourite, and one of mine, too. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all. If you’d like to see the resulting merchandise you can find it here:

This week, K’Barthan swearing is under the spotlight. So if you wish to vote for your favourite piece of K’Barthan invective, you can go right ahead and do that too. The ‘voting’ form is at the end of this link. Enjoy.

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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