Tag Archives: women writers

New releases and MTM twattery …

In which MTM has a somewhat mixed week … just call me Trevor (see illustration).

It’s Friday as I write this, as I think touching a computer tomorrow morning may bring trouble upon my head when there are things I am supposed to be organising.

This week I am a combination of thoroughly pissed off and insanely happy. Let’s do the whinge first so we end on a high note eh?

First up, Mum hasn’t been great. She was in great form on Wednesday, but she’d forgotten she’d ever read any of my books, which was kind of alarming because she absolutely loved the K’Barthan Series. But then we like a lot of the same things, so, since I wrote it for me it probably would work for her. She’d also forgotten a number of other significant events that happened in our lives, my cousin being epileptic, for example (I discovered she’d forgotten over the course of a conversation about how my niece, is doing, as she is epileptic too). So that’s a bit sad. Although Mum is still on great form at the moment, still happy and still very much Mum, but this is a whole post, in itself, so more on that next week, I think. Back to this week’s news.

A few days ago, I woke up with a cold, unfortunately it’s one of those ones which takes ages to come out, so I’ve been feeling gradually shittier each day since Tuesday. Last night, I had to make a very flying visit to metal detecting club which pissed me off because I was really looking forward to it. But I was running a temperature by that time and didn’t want to give anyone my lovely germs. I had to go to pick up a book I’d bought, and drop off some batteries to one of the other members – which I forgot to do (head desk) – but once I’d bought the book and donated a raffle prize I made a swift exit.

Just to piss myself off even more, I also sprained my ankle yesterday. Not badly but just enough to be an irritant and make walking hurt. On top of that, I discovered that all those codes for free set up on Ingram from the Alliance of Indepenent Authors, Nanowrimo and the like are not accepted by Lightning Source, despite the fact it’s branded Ingram for everything else. So I’ve still had to pay £50 to set up my book. Worse, through my own twattery, I pissed off McOther and now I have totally cocked up on the school front and pissed off McMini as well.

Scores on the doors …

Chaos Fairies: nine million, eight hundred thousand and sixty three. MTM: one.

Shite.

McOther is usually an easygoing, cheerful chap but he is a perfectionist control freak, and stress gets to him, so he has trouble letting organisational malfunctions go. Because they do his head in. In life, he has to plan and double plan, and because he’s really smart, this works. He is not a being who busks it with much enthusiasm. Whereas I find that when I plan, I’m too thick to foresee everything that might happen, although in my defence, quite a lot of things happen to me that nobody would have any right to foresee. But things tend to turn out so monumentally at variance to the way I’ve foreseen them that it’s, frankly, a waste of time for me to plan. I’m better just equipping myself with everything I might possibly need and winging it. McOther finds that approach extremely stressful, so I have developed a method of making it look as if I’ve planned meticulously in order to keep him calm.

McOther’s job is a bit of a high-octain stress-fest. He’s high powered, people want to protect ideas or invent stuff, they come to McOther. Professor Sir Stephen Hawkins was a client. McOther’s invented stuff too, which is probably why he’s so good at helping other folks with their inventions. But it comes at a cost. He likes them, he takes it extremely seriously and … yeh, he finds it stressful. He has high blood pressure and he’s on beta blockers and while it’s a family trait, I could seen him finding, after he retires, that he no longer needs them. He is uncharacteristically dour at the moment – I suspect he’s reaching the point where they need to recruit someone else to his staff – so I know he needs things to run smoothly at home. He only works thirty minutes away, but he has clients all over, and he has to spend a day in London each week at the firm’s London office. He also has to go to Oxford a lot which is a pig of a drive from here. I just hope it’s not going to be the death of him, all this running about, and that he hits retirement age before things get even busier as post Brexit, when the massive recession hits, lots of scientists will be made redundant and they’ll decide to speak to a lawyer about doing something with that thing they invented in their shed …

Anyhow, with McOther at full stretch, and some, I try to do all the organising McMini stuff so he doesn’t have to. But there’s quite a lot of it, which has probably made him more nervous. And now, at the worst possible time, there have been some malfunctions.

The first one, I forgot to check McMini’s PE kit when he got home yesterday. In my defence, with my newly sprained ankle and shitty sinusitis with new, super-duper, improved added temperature I was actually feeling quite chuffed with myself for staying upright. I haven’t quite got the knack of the way McMini’s school functions on a couple of levels and PE kit is one of them. First he needs a lot of PE kit and after rugby on Wednesday I have to wash his kit the minute he gets home so I can dry it – well … principally, the socks – over night for him to use in PE the next day. It being Thursday yesterday, I’d been somewhat louche about conducting further checks, only to discover that there was PE on Friday, too.

That pissed McOther off, because it meant I’d done a whole half term without hoisting in that PE happened on a Friday (I knew football did but that’s an after school club). Worse, McOther had clearly had a really grim day at work (as demonstrated by our conversation as he arrived, did you have a good day? No. End of conversation) so he was not reassured by the fact I’d forgotten. He’s a control freak, so if he’s presented, too honestly, with the reality of how much stuff I forget it makes him nervous and stressed. I can usually manage to avoid any unfortunate encounters with the true depths of my muppetthood but yesterday the veil slipped for a moment* and it was all a bit grim.

* this is an understatement. Basically, it got torn off and is hanging on a tree about thirty miles away.

Unfortunately, I’m also still adjusting to the way the school communicates. Yesterday, they sent an email reminding me that it was harvest assembly today and I needed to send McMini in equipped with items for the food bank. Luckily, as we were putting McMini to bed, I read said email and, feeling inordinately smug, I managed to cobble together a nice selection of the suggested items and sent McMini in with them. Phew.

I woke from a strangely disturbing dream about McOther knocking down all the interior walls in our old house and covering everything in some very unpleasant pink and white paisley carpet to discover I felt worse than yesterday. Today was not a day to be late up, so I ditched dressing in favour of going downstairs and doing the morning school prep in my pyjamas so as to ensure I was there, doing the THING on time for McMini to leave – McOther takes him in on Mondays Tuesdays and Fridays.

Off they went with the bag of harvest stuff. Woot, in the face of total twattery MTM pulls it out of the hat at the last minute!

… Or not. There was an even bigger, more monstrous balls up waiting …

Yes. It was a home clothes day today.

McMini went to school only to discover that every other child was in mufti.

Fucking fuck.

The humiliation.

Poor little lad.

Turns out there’d been an email sometime last week, McOther told me, rather tersely, on the phone (although he may just have been tense).

There had? I hadn’t fucking seen it. Had McOther seen it, I wondered. He hadn’t mentioned it. In my defence, it was, apparently, lost among many others and one of the mums on the Facebook group had to pretty much force her son into home clothes at gunpoint, because he didn’t believe her. This school is much more laid back, which I like, but sometimes I miss the rather imperious text messages the other school used to send, reminding me that x, y, or z was happening the following day, because they were a godsend for those of us who are a bit dim.

McOther sent his version of the email to me when he got to work. In order not to bombard us with about a million emails, each dealing with a separate thing, the school sends them out as one long one. This is a good thing. The trouble is, I haven’t quite got my head round their propensity to do this. Yes, it turns out I did get the email, I just I read the first one, thought it was all there was and scrolled no further.

So it’s my fault. I’m not going to admit this. But I hope McOther’s forwarding it to me wasn’t his way of insinuating that he knows and I should have fucking read it. Gulp. If it is, we are in for a rather strained evening.

—————————

OK, it’s tomorrow now, but let me add the rest of the story. After writing this, I went to collect McMini from school. We went to get his sports bag to take home because he’s doing a rugby workshop today and so he needs his boots and kit. I waited with his other bags while he trotted off to get it and a few moments later back he came.

‘Mum, my bag isn’t there,’ he said.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’

Both of us looked at one another and McMini put our thoughts into words.

‘Dad isn’t going to be in the mood for this,’ he said.

‘No.’ I agreed. We were so in the shit it wasn’t true. There was a short silence, while we both did a lot more thinking on that topic but neither of us said anything.

‘Right, let’s search every single place it could be, explore every option and cover off every avenue so we’ve done absolutely all we can to find it.’

‘If we do find it,  you won’t tell him, will you?’

‘Not until he’s less stressed.’

‘What if we don’t find it?’

Luckily, McMini had had an after school club last thing and so he was wearing his PE kit.

‘OK, look. You have your tracky bottoms, on I have a spare rugby top and shorts at home because I washed them this morning, I can whizz up to town tomorrow morning and buy you a boil in the bag gumguard, you have some school tennis socks so then we just need boots. We might be able to borrow some football boots from one of your old school friends. I’ll see. I’ll also email your PE teacher and explain and see if you can still play, you’ll probably pick up a lot from watching anyway.’

So we searched. We went to the school office, really just to see if a teacher had moved it and mentioned it in passing, we looked where it was supposed to be, where McMini had left it and we even went into the boarding house. The only upside was that there were two other bags where McMini had left his.

‘Where, exactly, was your bag?’ I asked him.

‘On top of that one.’

‘This one here with the red ribbons tied to it?’

‘Yes.’

‘On top?’

‘Yes.’

Hang on, red ribbons?

‘D’you think the chap who owns this bag might have taken your bag home?’ I asked. ‘I mean, looking at these ribbons, it would suggest he has form.’

McMini brightened, ‘Thinking about it, yes, he could have done. He’s in my year, I know him.’

‘Right, all may not be lost. It’s true that I might end up having to drive to Holt or somewhere tonight but sod it, let’s go home. We’ll check the sports centre on the way so we’ve covered off every single option here, and then, I have a spreadsheet of contact details for parents in your year, I’ll ping his mum a text and ask.’

‘I’ll email him,’ McMini said.

A quick word of explanation to anyone who hasn’t seen a British public school. They’re massive. I grew up in one, lived in it for 18 years and there were still places on the site that I had never been to. What I’m saying is, all this searching had taken us about half an hour. Still we knew now that the bag could only have been confiscated, which seemed unlikely given that there were two others there, or the lad with the bag with the ribbons on had taken McMini’s instead of his.

McMini goes to Boys Brigade on Fridays, which is a brilliant organisation, I can’t praise it highly enough. It starts at seven so the poor lad had about five minutes to eat a plate of hastily cooked sausages and peas when I got home, before it was time to go to that. Meanwhile, he’d emailed his friend and I’d discovered, to my horror, that the lad’s mum’s number was not on the list of parents contact details.

Bollocks.

McOther arrived with inconvenient timeliness and looked disapproving as he realised I was making McMini’s tea late. I suspect his disapproval was compounded by the fact I was tapping away at the screen of my phone while Mr Ticky, our kitchen pinger, counted down the minutes until I should drain the pasta. Little did McOther know I was putting a desperate plea for help on the school’s parents’ Facebook group and sending an email explaining our situation to the sports teacher, too.

In the face of McOther’s stern disapproval, I explained that we hadn’t got home until after six but not why. White face and tight lipped, he went to take his bag upstairs and stopped in the hall.

‘Where’s the sports bag?’ he asked.

Fuckity fucking fuck!

‘Ah. Um … about that.’

I explained what happened, being careful to list the extensive search we’d conducted and to outline the phorensic thoroughness of our investigation into the whereabouts of McMini’s bag. A couple of people had already replied to the Facebook post wishing me luck and saying they didn’t have the bag and after a bit of deliberation, I had named and shamed the child we thought might have it, adding that I didn’t have his Mum’s details and couldn’t be 100% sure it was him.

McOther was seriously unhappy but, thank god, demurred from actually going into orbit. He was just paler and even more tight lipped than before. He went upstairs to change and dump his bag in his office. I took McMini’s dinner through and apologised to him for the speed with which McOther had rumbled us. The PE teacher replied saying it was fine if McMini came wearing what we had, so that was a relief. Unfortunately, McMini’s friend hadn’t as yet.

When we got to Boys Brigade we were late and had to bang on the window to be heard so they’d come and let McMini in. After the day we’d had it was probably par for the course. Never mind, on the upside, I hadn’t had time to notice how utterly ill I felt so that was a bonus.

At home, still no news. I sat in the kitchen with McOther and he asked me why I wasn’t wearing my pyjamas. I explained that I had to go up to town to collect McMini from Boys’ Brigade. McOther said that he would go.

This was an Olive Branch. The worst of his rage had passed.

Then it happened. The mother of errant child replied on Facebook. Yes, she had the bag and yes, she was coming over right now.

Hallelujah! (You have to imagine that as the sung Handel version to get the full effect).

I want upstairs, had my shower and when the other mum arrived, I greeted her in my pyjamas. She looked a bit surprised but I just carried on as if wearing pyjamas at seven thirty in the evening was perfectly normal and she relaxed. I could see her thinking, OK, if you’re not bothered I’m not. Luckily she hadn’t had too far to come. Apparently her son has managed to come home with his friends’ back packs on several occasions and the red ribbons on the PE bag were due to the fact he’d come home with someone else’s already that week!

I thanked her profusely and off she went. McOther visibly relaxed as I rooted about in the bag, removed the dirty stuff and bunged it in the washing machine. And of course, it was very good for him to understand that he really is in the top five percentile of organisedness and that, while McMini and I are probably in the bottom 40% we are, by no means, as bad as it gets.

Moving swiftly to the up side …

Two completely chuffing marvellous things have happened this week.

Small Beginnings, K’Barthan Shorts, Hamgeean Misfit: No 1

This is now available for preorder. If you are interested there is a page which gives you link to the main book vendors. Just click on the picture or follow this link here …

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infosb.html

There will be print links, to follow, but the print version probably won’t be through the hanging about stage until sometime next week. So there’ll be some more good news next Saturday, which is nice.

Why am I stoked? Because this is my first new release since 2015! And though my mother is standing at the top of the same hill as my father was then, maybe, in the short breathing space I have before it starts to hurt too much, I might get the next K’Barthan series of long books finished, or possibly sort out Space Dustmen. Anyway, I’m optimistic. Plan for the worst but always, always hope for the best. That’s my motto.

Box Set Release … Gorge yourself on free sci-fi!

What Box Set? I hear you ask. This box set! Future adventures.

This features full length novels from eight science fiction authors. And seven of them are really accomplished ‘proper’ authors and all. The other is me! Woot yes, that’s my name on the cover there and yes, I am way above my pay grade here. I haven’t read the books in this volume but I have read other works by these authors and I can vouch for the quality. This is what I shall be reading on holiday. Yes!

No new releases for three years and then two come along at the same time like badly scheduled buses, although I suppose this isn’t a new book, per se, since my offering in this one is Few Are Chosen, the first book in the K’Barthan Series.

But, if any of you haven’t read that, and would like to, it’s in this book, which is free, but more importantly it comes with all these other brilliant stories by seriously accomplished wordsmiths who really know what they are doing. So, you can grab a copy of Few Are Chosen with seven other books by authors who are seriously gifted and of whom I am, frankly, a bit in awe. And all for zero pence. If you want to pick up a copy, just click on the picture to visit a page of links to find it on all the major stores … or click on the link below:

http://www.hamgee.co.uk/infofa.html

K’Barthan Audio Books

So the third thing is that, despite all the forgetting things I’ve done this week, and the irritating issue of feeling like warmed up pooh, it really looks like K’Barthan Audio Books are actually going to be a thing, too. I’m listening to the third version of Unlucky Dip at the moment and it’s bloody brilliant! I can’t quite believe this is happening, it feels slightly unreal. I think Gareth (the voice) Davies and I are both feeling like that, even though we know we’ll only make pence on this project. Although with any luck he’ll make stacks of cash reading better selling books for other authors on the back of his work on mine. I hope so. The thing is though, it’s another income stream, another avenue through which to reach people. Blind people can read my books now, or at least, they can hear them read really well as opposed to by their kindles in the voice of Professor Sir Stephen Hawkins. So yeh, that’s all good.

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That’s Alzheimer’s not Dad.

The post is a bit grim but at least this picture is pretty!

A couple of weeks ago, someone shared one of my posts of dementia-related whinging on Facebook – this post if anyone’s interested – and it got an interesting comment.

There is ample opportunity for me to have misconstrued here but, as I interpreted the comment, I think it basically said something along the lines of that we don’t really know why some folks get to die suddenly or well and others get something a bit more operatic; by which I mean they get the real world equivalent of twenty minutes of singing and an encore after a wound that should have killed them instantly. The gist was that ours is not to reason why.

The poster went on to say, if I’ve understood correctly, that if it was God’s will that they linger who are we to argue, and to just have faith that it’s all happening for a reason, that it is not our place to judge or begrudge them their time in the twilight zone, and we can give them that time. That this process of slowly withdrawing from one world and preparing to step into the other is clearly of spiritual importance in some way and we should accept our part in it with grace. Thinking about it, I should probably post what was said. This is the comment in question.

It’s a kindly, wise comment and clearly meant to give comfort but instead, reading it, I feel as if I am being chided for my lack of faith, and for my selfishness in feeling that fourteen years of this is a tad fucking long. I found myself wondering how much of the poster’s own care/worry marathon they had completed, two years? five years? seven? ten? I’ve reached the stage, now, where I worry that the pressure of worrying about my folks may do me in; that I may not out live my parents. I mean, I can’t die! It would kill them. Then there’s the whole cancer thing. Have you noticed how many people who have been through a tough patch like this one end up going down with cancer just as they get right again? I dearly hope I avoid joining them.

Clearly the commenter has a great deal more grace and faith than I, but I confess, the thing about the comment that really threw me was that I had no idea that anyone could so completely and utterly miss the point of why I post all this stuff.

Bearing that in mind, I thought I’d better explain to clear things up! Because I accept my father’s fate is clearly not a swift and merciful death, trust me, there is no mercy in dementia. Indeed, if this is the greatest mercy they can wish for I shudder to think on the horror of any alternatives my parents have missed. Likewise, if they have to suffer this now I hope they have manifold blessings in store. My father has been losing his memory the whole of my son’s life. Even when my lad was born in 2008, Dad couldn’t really be left alone. It began before that, in 2004. Fourteen years is a fuck of a long time in anybody’s book. It’s probably my fault and I’m the one being punished. I expect I snogged too many boys or wanked too much as a teenager or something, but I digress.

It’s no good my railing against fate, it merely wastes energy. I just have to bite the bullet and get on with it. I will endeavour to give my parents as much quality of life and freedom of choice as possible, and I am trying to make this twilight time for them a time of gentleness, peace and compassion. That my brother and I aim to do that, however painful it may be for all of us, is moot.

But you know what? Just because my brother and I are doing what we hope is the right thing, it doesn’t make it any more fun. And I doubt the feelings I have experienced as I’ve watched my father lose his mind over fourteen long years are any different to those of other people in my position. And that’s why I write about this.

When I write about Dad’s sickness on my blog, it isn’t about my brother and I doing the right thing by our parents, it’s not even about our efforts at trying to. That’s a given.

No.

This is about what tenderness and mercy to one member of a family costs the others.

Similarly, I doubt the dismay I felt as I realised, three years ago, that my mother also had dementia, is unique. If there is anything merciful in this perhaps it’s Mum’s dementia. Because I do not know how she finds the strength to endure some of the stuff Dad says to her and at least if she forgets, she won’t know what she’s lost.

The posts I write about my father’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s dementia are not here to give you answers, they’re here to show you my reactions. Because I think I’m very average and I suspect most of us feel the way I do but may not admit it, not even to ourselves. Well if that’s you, I’m writing this so you can see that your reactions are normal. The things you think about the situation that are so dodgy and shameful that they almost hurt? You aren’t alone.

That’s the only gift I can give to people suffering through this. Thousands of people have come before us, doubtless many thousands will come after. You’re not alone, I’m not alone, we are united in this trouble.

When the dementia patent in your life does something that completely shocks and repulses you, it’s OK to recoil, to feel sad, hurt, horrified and angry. It’s OK to feel those things because it’s natural, and yes, it’s OK to feel trapped by their neediness. The key is not how you feel but how you act when you are with the person affected, the key is not whether you are disgusted but whether you show it. They no longer understand or even realise that their actions are unacceptable. Much of what they are doing is caused by them feeling frightened and alone, you can reduce the number of melt downs, if you can get alongside them and have them working with you not at you, but if you fail, well that’s OK, because there’s always next time, when you can try something else.

Showers, but also sunny intervals.

Also, attitudes to dementia are changing and I write about things that happen to us which reflect that change because I want people to see it and know about it. I want people to realise that if they want to take a dementia sufferer out somewhere they should go right ahead. It’s just a disability. You don’t have to hide them like a shameful thing but at the same time, you need to have an idea of what you are all facing. I describe our journey to help you understand what is coming as you embark on yours.

When I was a kid, if someone got Dementia it usually went something like this. Person gets dementia. No-one is allowed to know it’s all kept secret because it’s a Bad Thing. Person does something a bit strange in public which a handful of folks hear about but which is not ever passed on but is just mentioned as, ‘that time at …’ or something similar. Person disappears from all social life. Five years later, you attend their funeral. I used to wonder what happened in between. Now I know. And I want other people to know and understand. That, yes, it is horrible, but it can also be uplifting. I want people to know that they needn’t feel afraid, that it is unbelievably harsh but they will cope.

While Dad can still enjoy the company of others – and he can most days – I want my dad to be active and social. To be able to go out and Mum with him. I want him to be able to go have lunch at the pub or whatever. Amazingly, they attend a huge number of social events but it is getting more and more difficult now. Bless them, a decent number of his friends now come to him, or if they’re no longer mobile, ring him.

As I said, attitudes are changing, although it takes a certain brazenness to be a carer. For example, back in 2011 when we were on the ferry to the Isle of Wight. Dad went to the loo and got a bit disorientated while he was in there. He came out with his zip open and his cock out. A lady sitting nearby rushed over to him, just as I noticed and ran over to him, too.
‘Oh thank you, I’m so sorry,’ I told her when I got there.
‘Is he yours?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ I said as I turned to Dad. ‘Dad, we need to pop back in there for a moment.’
‘Oh dear, do we?’
‘Yes,’ I leaned over and whispered, ‘You’ve forgotten to do your flies up.’
He guffawed and we thanked the lady and went back into the loo.
‘What am I coming to? I left my cock out,’ he said when we got inside. We giggled some more and he made some joke about Winston Churchill’s reaction when someone pointed out his flies were undone, ‘The dead bird does not leave the nest!’ my Dad said in his best Churchill voice. Giggling, we sorted it all out and we started back to our seats. We passed the helpful Lady so I thanked her again. She gave me a big smile and said,
‘Not to worry, we have one of our own at home!’
It was all done with a wink and a smile at Dad, too, to include him. Naturally he joined in. People are kind these days, when you rock up somewhere with a dementia sufferer.

Likewise, when your father clears his throat, leans over the side of the chair and gobs a massive steaming greenie onto the kitchen floor in front of company, as if that is the most normal thing in the world, a certain brazenness is required. I reckon it’s fine to use graveyard humour to make light of it, or any other form of tasteless joke that will get you through the surreal horror you’ve just witnessed. We avoid jokes at Dad’s expense in his presence and we avoid them where we can if we are not in his presence. However, if treating your father with the decency and compassion his humanity affords him to his face means laughing at his child like antics, and calling him Spoilt Bastard after the well known Viz character behind his back, I say knock yourself out. Because if you can’t do both then do what it takes behind the scenes to achieve compassion and kindness where it matters, when you’re with the person.

Recently, a couple of visits have gone badly and my father has been unremittingly vile to me, not to mention Mum. Some days, he doesn’t know who we are any more. He doesn’t remember that he loves us. Except that he is always pleased to see me initially. However, my gentle, good-humoured, loving father – with the wicked sense of humour – is now, quite often, just wicked. He refers to me as a trollop, or a fucking stupid woman, or sometimes, for variety, a stupid fucking woman. I take no offence since he refers to nearly all the females around him like this.

But I miss my dad. I miss my mum. There is much more of Mum there but we have still lost enough to miss. Dad, is still there too, but we have to dig hard for those precious shiny glimpses of treasure. And I’m raw about it at the moment because at my Uncle’s funeral last week we prayed for the sick and when we did that we prayed for Dad and Mum. And it was the sweetest, kindest thought, a truly lovely act on their part, and so touching, and I nearly lost it, and I realised how much grief there is; an enormous, bottomless black pit of the stuff at the centre of me. Too much to look at head on. Too much to acknowledge. I can see it all the time out of the corner of my eye. Look it in the face and I am undone. And as the male lead says in one of my books, ‘I can’t be undone.’ For the sake of my parents and also the rest of my family, I have to hold it together.

And the weird thing is that even with this huge bottomless grief, this mourning that will end in death, but which, without a death, cannot end, even though it’s fourteen years old and huge and dwarfs me somehow, I do hold it together. If I have any kind of faith, I suspect that’s where it counts. Because I’m no saint. I have no grace. I’ve never been one to cope well with a long drawn out process. I do not know how I keep my grief about my parents in its box, but it happens, and I doubt the strength required is all coming from me.

In the face of this, I’ve come to believe that there are really only two things that matter when dealing with dementia:

Number one. Trying to hang onto who the patient was and what it was in him we loved. We look out old photos, read letters, memories from the boys and girls he taught. We do whatever it takes to keep in touch with the real person who is living under that disability. We do it because it’s the only thing we can do to hold onto him.

Two. On the days when Dad is vile to me; like the time when he grabbed the wee bottle from my hand on Sunday and tried to throw his warm piss in my face, shouting, ‘Get that thing off me you bloody trollop! I’ve finished, you stupid fucking woman!’ Or yesterday when he did the same thing to the carer in the loo, all the while continuing to wee copiously down his trousers and onto her foot, proving conclusively that he was NOT finished, not by a long chalk, it’s important to keep a sense of humour; to laugh about it – and we did laugh because what else can you do? I mean, it could be worse, it’s not as if I had to hide behind the sofa while he searched for me with a knife (genuine dementia story, luckily, not mine). It’s also important I keep a firm enough grasp of who he is. I will always try to treat him as the man he was. Dad is in there, somewhere. I refuse to believe he is wholly the man he’s become. Because that is not my father. That is Alzheimer’s.

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

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

It started like this.

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

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

Joy.

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

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

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

Well, it’s like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mwahahahargh! I can dream.

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K’Barthan 3 is out soon… oh yes it is!

Squeeee! K’Barthan Three…

photo

Picture taken in the few moments available when the cat was not in the box with them. He was busy killing some of the packaging on the floor at this point.

And just a reminder… it is available for pre-order in multiple formats at Smashwords and as an epub at Kobo.

Kobo

Smashwords
The ebook should go live at Amazon on 12th June, at or around 9.00 a.m. GMT.

In print:

Pre-order from the Book Depository.

From Amazon.co.uk.

From Amazon US.

From your local Amazon, if you live outside those two.

 

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Guest post: How do I write? by Tahlia Newland

Hello everyone, this week, I’m delighted to welcome a guest poster on my blog. Many of you will have heard of Tahlia Newland. Today, she’s going to tell us a bit about how she writes and her new release. So, without more ado… take it away, Tahlia.

I used to be a visual artist (actually I still am, it’s just not my main income anymore), then I worked in Visual Theatre for over twenty years as a writer and performer, so visual imagery is not just important to me, it’s part of who I am as an artist. Visual Theatre communicates with visual symbolism and my Diamond Peak Series is full of symbolism, so though I’m writing instead of creating visual imagery with paint or with dance, costumes, sets, props, masks and music, my writing is full of visual imagery and symbolism.

I’m a visual author. I guess that’s why I like to write fantasy and magical realism.

Reviewers have said such things as “truly spectacular imagery;”  “unique settings;” “a rich, detailed world building”, and “It’s a visual writing style – you can see the action”. About the symbolism they have said such things as; “author Newland exhibits great skill in allegorical storytelling;” and “an epic adventure with real world symbolism and depth.”

Stories come into my mind in a visual way as well. I see the scenes playing out as a movie and I write the scenes as they come into my head, so I don’t feel as if I’m making the story up, I’m more writing what I see. It makes me wonder if the stories aren’t happening somewhere in some other reality. Certainly in symbolic terms, the Diamond Peak series is played out in the psyches of every person on the planet whether we know it or not.

But the visual and written aspects of my creativity are even more linked than just how they come out in the final product. Part of my creative process in writing is to consider the book cover, and I use Photoshop to mock up different ideas at various stages of writing. Sometimes, I take a break from writing and play with Photoshop and what I come up with helps to clarify the images in my mind.

I’ve just released Demon’s Grip, the latest book in the Diamond Peak Series. I built up this cover with the help of my daughter at Centrepiece Productions Design Studio (a good place for cheap but professional covers).

Here's the cover of Demon's Grip, Tahlia's new release.

Here’s the cover of Demon’s Grip, Tahlia’s new release.

It’s always best to start at the beginning of a series though, so to inspire you to do just that, book one in the series is only 99c until the 6th July on Kindle and Kobo, so pick it up and read your way to the top of Diamond Peak.

You can also pick up a FREE short story prequel to the Series here.

If you’ve read books one and two, you can find Demon’s Grip at your Kindle Store , Smashwords & Kobo.

Tahlia Newland, the award-winning fantasy and magical realism author with a metaphysical twist. If you enjoyed this blog post, you can join her on Facebook , Twitter or Google+ You can even fan her on Goodreads. When not reading, writing, reviewing or mentoring authors you may find her being an extremely casual high school teacher or making decorative masks. Tahlia began writing full time in 2008 after twenty years in the performing arts and a five-year stint as a creative and performing arts teacher in a High School. In 2012, she set up the Awesome Indies List to showcase quality independent fiction. She has had extensive training in meditation and Buddhist philosophy and lives in an Australian rainforest south of Sydney. Creativity is her middle name!

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Women writing sci-fi? Disgraceful!

OK, a controversial one today. I’m going to talk about Mad Americans.

Sorry my American friends but when your compatriots turn barking they really go for it, you guys do mad better than any nation on earth. Not even we British can touch you. And that’s saying something.

Have you heard the latest? Science Fiction Writers of America, an organisation which, by all accounts, makes… well… even Republicans look open-minded has been in the news this week. Some of its members have expressed a view that women shouldn’t write sci-fi. This is, apparently, because they think that too many of the Sci-fi novels written by women have – gasp – romance in them! Mwah ha hahargh. I do ‘get’ that, I loathe and detest sparkly vampires but they’re just a trend, a fad and they’ll go away. They’re not caused by women! However, members of the SFWA are putting forward women sce-fi writers as the reason for this. Are you hearing a teeny bit of Sheldon Cooper on this one? Are you?

So, that’s the basic gist. Because of a passing trend for intergalactic bonk busters and the odd instance of characters falling in love in recent sci-fi, the SFWA has decided this:

Women authors = too much coitus. Phnark.

Well, they didn’t decide the ‘phnark’ bit I said that.

Well of course! That’s it, it’s our fault because we all know that Sci-fi, like D.I.Y. is serious hard-core man work that should not be attempted by women. Snortle!

Well, I got most of my info from Cora Buhlert’s excellent blog here. One of the articles she links to is a cracker here. I can recommend checking this site, it features sci-fi stories from around the world, properly around the world. It’s interesting, definitely worth a look.

To be honest, would anyone outside the United States see SFWA as the flagship organisation of the sci-fi genre? In Britain, perhaps, although I wouldn’t but then, I think that the ‘special relationship’ was made up by Winston Churchill to salvage some semblance of dignity after Yalta. History is always skewed by the perspective of those who write it; he wrote it, after everyone else was dead. But other English speakers/readers? I don’t know. The SFWA speaks for Americans, which is great but that’s not the English-speaking planet. From outside the US we foreigners can get the impression that, to an awful lot of Americans, their country IS the world which is fine so long as they don’t treat us as if, by being beyond their receptive parameters, we have no right to exist.

However, the thing that strikes me most forcefully about all of this is that if the SFWA wasn’t an American organisation, there probably wouldn’t even be a debate raging at all. How can a country be so forward and yet so backward at the same time? How do the nutter Americans get so het up and more to the point make so much noise? Zero tolerance or what? Some parts of the States must be stifling to live in. Check this! Mwah ha ha hargh, it’s absolutely hilarious but the sad thing is, it’s real. Do they not see the comedy in what they’re saying? Who stole their sense of humour, their sense of fair play? Then again, I’m British when we go to ‘protest’ on racial or religious grounds this happens http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/may/27/york-mosque-protest-tea-biscuits

See? Muslims aren’t bad people even if some bad people happen to be Musilms.

Sorry, tangent there. What I’m saying is that more and more people are learning to speak English every day. Right now the US represents just under half the English speakers on this planet – but that’s in countries where English is the national language, totted up by me looking at the population figures. It doesn’t count the people in other nations, where English is not the national language, but lots of people speak and read it. So the US is the noisiest market and it’s the biggest single market but it probably represents a lot less than half the population reading in English.

This also raises a broader question: What choice for a non American sci-fi author? You can address the US market, but it’s pretty conservative so you need to tailor your books specifically and then they may not fit so well elsewhere. You may well need to spell your book in American, write about American people and use American settings. If you’re writing sci-fi your protagonists, if they originate from Earth, will have to be very American in their outlook and culture, no-one will ever be allowed to wear a jumper or a jersey, the word will always have to be ‘sweater’. No-one will be allowed to use the interesting swear words because the Americans only know two; all in all, a bit dull.

Alternatively, you can write in your own voice, accept that the scary Americans won’t listen – but do you want them to anyway – welcome those who do, and speak to the other English-speakers of the world; Africa, Australasia and Eurasia. Places where there are millions of people who are willing and far more readily able to enjoy a story written from a differing cultural viewpoint. People who see English as a global language so understand that a faucet and a tap are the same thing. Also, BONUS, these are emerging economies where people have money to spend on books, unlike the US whose economy looks, from the outside, as if it’s almost as far down the lavatory (or the John) as ours.

I loved the quote from the South African writer along the lines of why would I join the Science Fiction Writers of America, it has nothing to do with me? Do you think the worm might finally be turning? It really is time organisations like the SFWA and more broadly, certain sectors of the US began to try and understand other cultures  – and more importantly were educated to do so – the way we understand theirs.

Could it be that, if the SFWA becomes more of an anachronism, and remains US-centric, it will come to realise that it is only the representative organisation of bigoted, male American sci-fi writers? It could be a world player but not without a change of attitude. Otherwise, it will be marginalised as the rest of us get bored of doing everything a certain way ‘so the Americans can understand it’ and another more outward-looking, inclusive organisation will step up and become the world ‘voice’ of the genre.

Homework: Read that ‘vox popoli’ post again and try and list the differences in attitude between that and the comedy skit shown below.

Answer: There are no differences.

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