Tag Archives: women writers

Life in plastic is fantastic …

Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve managed to do some more writing (woot!) but a little less because I had other stuff I needed to do as well. On the up side, some of that other stuff was proofing Too Good To Be True in audio. Oh. Yeh. It did not disappoint.

Other news, McCat has become rather too enthusiastic at jumping onto the back of my ball – phnark. I sit on a Swiss Ball to work. I do have one of those kneeling seats but I can’t quite bend the replaced knee enough to be comfortable yet so it’s short bursts for that. As a result, I usually sit on a Swiss Ball that’s specially designed for weight lifting so it will take my enormous bulk on a regular basis – plus that of the cat – without exploding.

McCat regularly jumps onto the back of it but that hasn’t caused any trouble until recently when he started reaching up and hanging onto it, with predictable results. As I sat on it yesterday morning, I thought I could hear a hissing noise. Hmm … Vos ist das? I wondered.

I was listening back to the speaky file I had been doing for the pronunciations and twiddly bits that needed changed in the audio, ready to send to Gareth, so naturally, at first, I wondered if the hissing was an unfortunate side effect of the piss-poor quality of my recording. I hit pause and listened. No. The hissing continued. Maybe it was ambient noise from my computer or my headphones. I took the ear buds out of my ears. Still the hissing noise continued.

The penny dropped. Maybe it was my ball.

Tentatively, I put a hand round behind me and felt about. Sure enough, I soon found a drought where air was not so much leaking as gushing out … of the ball, obviously, not my arse. At about the same time, I clocked that the desk seemed to be a bit higher than before. Yes. My ball was ruptured and I was sinking. Fast. Oops.

That’s not how it should look. It’s a Swiss Ball, not a beanbag.

I went into the hall, where the boxes I am supposed to be going through to sort my collection of tat into stuff for my office and stuff to store or sell still sit after about seven months. Somewhere in there, I knew, there was a back up ball. I couldn’t find it but McOther knew where it was instantly, bless him. Brilliant! Panic over. I bore the spare ball back to my office in triumph, where I was confronted with the true extent of the damage to my ball of choice, so to speak. It was looking a bit wrinkly and very, very small. Oh dear.

Dumping the alternative ball on my desk, I went to find a pump. After a bit of a rummage I realised it was in the cupboard in my office – I’ve sorted a couple of things out then – and went back to get it. On opening the door my nose was assailed by a very rubbery scent. The room smelled more like a rubber fetishists room of pain than an office. Hmm … and I was going to sit on this thing. No doubt my trousers would smell of rubber too after I’d been sitting on it a while. Jeepers, people would think I was wearing underwear like Dafyd, off Little Britain.

Mmm. I mean fine if it floats people’s boats jolly dee, but it doesn’t float mine so I don’t really want everyone to think I’m packing latex. I might be into vinyl but that’s records, not um … rubber. And the smell gets really a bit much after a while.

Yeh. Perhaps back up ball was not such a good idea. So I turned to t’interweb. Luckily, I was able to find an exact replacement ball for just over twenty quid. It’s coming next week. Until then, I’m stuck with the stool that’s not 100% comfy. Oh well, I suppose it could be worse, I could be wandering around stinking of rubber.

On the writing front, I have had trouble trying to write the thing I should be writing, which is, of course, another K’Barthan Extra. It’s time the poor Pan of Hamgee had to do another delivery for Big Merv, probably in torrential rain and storms after the weather has broken and with the usual nearly disastrous consequences. Naturally, because this is the one I need to write, my mojo is not playing ball. Instead, the first instalment of Space Dustmen seems to be unfolding merrily and there’s even been a bit of a break through in Traffick which is the sweeping epic one which might be a bit dark unless I’m careful. Never mind. You can’t win ‘em all.

Other news … well … there’s been very little. The weather’s been shit and I’ve been staying in doors and going out as little as possible! Also hay fever. I have vertigo today but luckily it was church and singing high notes does seem to help clear the sinuses so things are a bit less evil in that department. With any luck it’ll be gone by tomorrow, or certainly the end of the week when our wisteria and the lilac over the road will have finished flowering.

While ranting about my stinky spare ball, I mentioned vinyl which reminded me of the other vinyl, which I’ve been meaning to talk about for some time.

Vinyl?

Bizarre Beatles US import ‘juke box only’ coloured vinyls. Preciousssss

Yes, I’m going to talk about records.

McOther and I have always been big fans but over the lock down, we’ve been trying to have a bit of a life laundry moment and sort our stuff out. This hasn’t gone quite as well for me as it has for the others but it did mean I got my record player out. After eleven years in storage. McMini already knows the joy of playing records, we used to have a listening session with him just before bed time when he was small.

However, recently McMini has really taken to his music. He’s in three bands. He also loves records, so there are now three record players in the house. This might, possibly, be an extravagance but I do love having them. All three of us have somewhat eclectic taste. 70s and 80s music is a big plus, but think Ska and Punk, or stuff like the Smiths in the case of the McOthers, but also Talking Heads, stuff like that. It’s mostly alternative or indie. Stock, Aitken and Waterman are not on the agenda. The leaning towards punk is stronger in the case of McMini and I, and McMini ventures, alone, into metal, beyond Slayer, Metallica and the like into the realms of death metal. His father and I can appreciate the skill of the musicians and the musicality of the arrangements but the singing is … to be honest it sounds like someone doing a giant burp. He also listens to the non-Nazi black metal (some black metal isn’t pleasant) where the vocals sound like someone being murdered. Oh well, each to their own. He loves it.

McMini’s favourite singers rejoice in names like, George (Corpse Grinder) Fisher and the lyrics of these songs are hilarious; like a melodramatic fourteen year old boy trying to write about festering gore in the manner of Lovecraft – except totally exaggerated until it’s barking mad. I am pretty certain that, for the most part, it’s meant to be tongue in cheek. Naturally, McMini, micro troll that he is, loves the contrarian nature and general hamminess of it all. The bands are very interesting when interviewed. Some take themselves far too seriously, but a lot tend to be intelligent, amusing misfits. Ideal for McMini I guess. I’d have probably loved it all if I was younger. I do have this old fashioned thing about a catchy tune though.

After years I have unpacked my records and started playing them. I have reverted to my habit of wandering through charity shops buying vinyl albums and 45s. It’s bliss. There is also a record shop in town, which seems extraordinary but is true. Having been somewhat intimidated by its effortless trendiness, I eventually ventured in with McMini to hold my hand (he is a regular, needless to say). I have now managed to pick up a fair few singles I was after, either from there, or from second hand shops in town. I have started searching for the remaining quest songs, stuff I heard blaring out of study-bedrooms growing up in a school but couldn’t name. Things I remember from the John Peel show; heard once, thought were fab but couldn’t buy, on account of that I’d forgotten the name of the band and never heard them again. These days you’d just put some of the lyrics into Google and up they pop. In many cases, it’s a case of working out who is singing, since a lot of them were by groups or people who became famous later on. Electricity by OMD springs to mind, although I picked up the album with that on a few years ago (yes even though my record player was in a box in the garage at the time).

This last week, McOther arrived home from a car boot proudly bearing a copy of Video Killed the Radio Star, by the Buggles. Trevor Horn’s first musical incarnation and the venture that convinced him he wanted to be in a studio behind a mixing desk rather than out front, on stage. I also caved in and bought Size Ten Girlfriend, by The Chairs, from discogs for a whole four British pounds. Do I regret this? Not one jot! I have it on tape somewhere, taped from the John Peel show when I heard the first few bars and thought it sounded interesting. I never heard it again … until now and while it’s not quite as slick as some music – no auto tune in those days, remember – it’s still every bit as good as I remember it. Other delights include Being Boiled, by the Human League, although I haven’t managed to find a copy of Dare yet. I did score the Duran Duran album Rio the other day though.

Meanwhile McMini has started buying coloured vinyls; ELO’s Mr Blue Sky in blue … well … blue (yes, I’m as jealous as fuck) and he also scored a copy of his favourite Slayer album on pink vinyl the other day. To be fair, I’m less jealous of that one. I do envy the colours he’s managed to get though. I have a selection of Beatles singles in various colours but few things the gorgeous bright blue of his ELO single.

What a Waste – my signature song because I graduated in an arts subject during the massive recession of 1990

Indeed, through fluke rather than design, most of my favourites seem to be on red … with the exception of What a Waste, by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, which I have on yellow vinyl and which is my signature song, pretty much. While being worth jack shit in financial terms, it’s pretty much the pride of my collection … along with the photo of Jonathan Lyndon which he sent me, himself, a signed Hugh Cornwall album (lead singer of the Stranglers) and a signed photo of Paul McCartney which I have somewhere … but I’m not sure where. And the multicoloured Beatles singles … probably. Oh yeh and a red vinyl (see what I mean?) lip by the Ting Tings – I can’t remember the name of the album, it’s the one with That’s Not My Name on it.

Next stop, of course, is to rip my records to MP3 so I can listen to them in the car. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds, I have a plug that goes into the earphone socket of my computer one end and the output of my stereo the other which, as far as I recall, allows it to ‘listen’. I also have an ancient programme called LP recorder which should work for recording them all … unless I can get it to work on Audacity and then … yes … we shall be making playlists, or mix tapes as they were called when I was a nipper. Yeh, the name changed but the idea hasn’t.

Too Good To Be True in Audio, coming soon!

Too Good To Be True! In audio! Woot!

Yes because I’m ridiculously excited about this I’m just giving you the heads up here that Too Good To Be True will be available in audio format soon. As I may have mentioned, I am super-stoked about this because not only is it one of the more decent books I’ve written, and not only is it, to be honest, a bit funnier than some of the others, but Gareth has done a ridiculously good job on it.

With Audio, it’s not as easy to know when your books will appear as with ebooks. However, when I have a better clue of a release date you will be the first to know. It will appear on Kobo and in my web store within a couple of weeks, on other retailers it will take a little longer to filter through. Keep your eyes on your in box if you’re subscribed to my Readers’ Group, otherwise, keep checking back here or the K’Barthan Jolly Japery facebook group.

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Filed under audio publishing, General Wittering

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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Filed under General Wittering

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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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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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.

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Filed under About My Writing, General Wittering

And finally …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which reminds me … the competition …

______________________

It’s competition time! Oh yes it is.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to enter.

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Thinness, lacklustreness and bling …

Thinness.

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

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

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

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

Lacklustreness

Here’s the butterfly I found at Mum’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sneaky covid vaccination attempt …

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

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

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

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

Bling …

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

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

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

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

_________________________

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

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

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

Anyhoo, here’s the gen …

Too Good To Be True

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

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

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

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

 

 

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So much cobblers …

Weeks and weeks of this … ugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Do they scare you?’

‘No.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________

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

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

Anyhoo, here’s the gen …

Too Good To Be True

When the finger of fate points … hide!

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

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

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

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

 

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