Tag Archives: World of K’Barth

A vole lot of trouble going on …

Just coming into half term so things are hectic here. Let’s see how much of tomorrow’s blog post I can write in 40 minutes. And the clock starts … NOW.

Well, it’s been an interesting one this week, I’ve released a book – you might have noticed that in last week’s post – I also received the third book in the K’Barthan series on audio. But first, I feel I should share the story of The Vole. Clears throat. Um … yeh.

A while back, last November in fact, our cat appeared to happen on a family of voles. To my horror he got four. They are feisty little creatures so they puff themselves up and bark at him. In three cases this didn’t work and, worse, it just alerted me to their plight and I still couldn’t get to them in time. In the case of the fourth, it did work. But I still couldn’t get there in time to liberate the vole, or get bucket down on it to trap it and take it outside before it belted under the fridge and stayed there.

Frank the vole

Ground zero: the failed bucket capture and flight to under the fridge, was 13th November, we took everything out of the room and found nothing. Yet, if I went in there in a quiet moment, stood still and listened, I could hear the sound of rustling and our small vole-shaped friend munching on things. I even managed to take this rather cute picture of it sitting under our fridge. We moved the fridge out after that, and I never found the vole but I did clean the floor and hoover up all the crumbs under there … I probably, unwittingly, did for our little friend doing that but … back to the story.

Our cat sleeps in the utility room, so we took him out, and all the furniture – except the fridge – and I set a humane trap. The vole was too fat for the trap, so I ordered a rat trap and guiltily put the cat back in his bedroom. With the vole. Since it seemed to be doing just fine nipping out during the day to eat his food and drink his water while he was elsewhere. Yes, I tried to feed it separately, but it appeared to be supremely uninterested in the more rodent appropriate fare I had purchased specifically for this purpose and pushed under the fridge, or at least it was, while there were the odd lost or discarded kibbles of Royal Canin Obesity Control in the offing, anyway.

A few days later, when the rat trap arrived. I set it with a dab of peanut butter. Nothing doing there either.

Hmm …

Over the weeks, the room began to smell a little bit. Was it dead? We didn’t know. We searched extensively but found no body.

The smell seemed, to me, to be more like the smell of our rabbit’s hutch when it needed cleaning out when I was a kid. The smell of vole excreta. Lovely. The McOthers posited a theory that it had died and was decomposing but I thought no.

Growing up in the school where my father was a housemaster, vermin was a fact of life. At one point, our bathroom began to smell as if something had died. Something quite big. The lavatory was in a separate room, so it wasn’t that. All was not well. One of the more stalwart members of the works department came to sniff the smell and pass his verdict. All the workers there knew the smell of a rat that had died under the floorboards when they caught a whiff of it. He did have a hopeful look, taking off the panelling along the side of the bath and having a thorough root around with a torch but he found nothing and short of taking all the floorboards up, at which point we were just as likely to find it was in the boxing round the pipes, the insides of the wall or some such, and which would involve removing the bath, anyway, my parents felt it was probably best to leave it. We’d grit our teeth and ride out the stench.

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ the chap told us, ‘it’ll stop smelling in three weeks at the outside.’

So we waited. Sure enough, the smell became pretty pungent and when I say pungent, I mean it was so strong it had almost evolved into a life form, with a personality of its own. Even so, within a month … gone. And I did learn a valuable lesson from this, ergo, what a rodent smells like decomposing. And it’s amazing how many of the rather nastier things of that nature learned during my childhood have come in handy later on in life.

And the thing was, a rodent decomposing did NOT smell like our utility room. I told the McOthers as much. Since I was the only one of us who had actually lived with the smell of putrifying rodents, and let’s face it, not many of us have, they bowed to my judgement.

So it was, that we looked out for the vole, hoping to find it and free it. The smell didn’t really get any worse and come January it was still ponging away. Not like the rat under the bath, so we assumed that it was, indeed, alive and well and it’s ‘cage’ was in need of a clean out. I continued my efforts to catch it, because I didn’t really want a vole living in our utility room, however cute it was.

Spool forward to Monday just gone. It had been consistently fine in the morning and throwing it down with rain in the afternoon for some days so I decided to get the washing on first thing so I could get it out for a quick blow before the rain came. Yeh. When I say first thing, I mean a time that, for me, was close to the middle of the fucking night. Seven something. Well before eight o’clock anyway.

The washing finished as I was on the phone to my Mum. I had the headset on so I could wander round chatting to her as I did other stuff. So I went to empty the washing machine, opened the door and … what was that thing? Eugh, what had McMini put in the pocket of his PE kit? I reached out and picked it up, it was like a bag full of liquid, at which point I realised it had arms and legs and with a small squeak, which was quite restrained of me in the circumstances I thought, I dropped it.

Splat! it went as it landed on the rubber door seal.

Yeh, I nearly hurled like this guy…

‘Aaaaargh (sorry Mum)!’  I said.

‘What’s up?’ she asked me.

I told her about the vole as I compulsively washed my hands again and again.

‘I’ve just found it,’ I explained. ‘Poor little bugger! I killed it!’ I moaned sadly.

Except, when I examined it further, I began to wonder if it had already been dead. Maybe the cat had found the body and been playing with it. Yes cats are gross and ours is grosser than most.

‘Well, you’ll soon know,’ said Mum.

‘How?’

‘If it was dead then, when you put it outside in the bin, the smell will go with it won’t it?’ she said. Ever practical.

At this point I finished the call with Mum, donned gloves, put the corpse in the dustbin, took the washing out of the machine and put the machine on a service wash at 75 degrees centigrade to sterilise it. It took an hour and a half.

Needless to say, the washing was all the stuff that couldn’t be washed over 40 degrees. Never mind, I had some of those eco balls and they claim to sterilise the washing at 40 so I’d stick those in, with about five soap pods, set it on a programme that would have it washing for a really long time and hope for the best. Two hours later it was done. I put it out for twenty minutes and then it started to rain. I suppose that was par for the course.

As I write now, the smell has gone.

‘It is winter,’ McOther told me kindly, ‘it probably decomposed very slowly.’

Anyway, after that bloody disgusting start to the week the only way was up really!

And it was.

Book three of the audio landed. Wahooo! I braced myself for another battle with my own personal artistic bell-endery. What’s up Mary? Well … I’ve this horrible suspicion that my material is not up to Gareth’s talent and I feel like a creative charlatan! Mwhahahaahrgh! (Drama queen? Creative hissy? Moi? Never.) I think part of it was simply that I’ve not done a creative collaboration with anyone else for absolutely ages, and certainly not at a professional level. And I probably don’t see myself as being at a professional level with this writing gig. After all, average earnings of £35 a month is definitely shite on anyone’s scale of achievement.

Conversely, while he plays down the amount of acting he does for a living, and makes jokes about living in his brother’s attic, Gareth has been pretty busy with actual proper work over the months we’ve been doing the audio stuff. Or to put it another way, despite the fact he is clearly a lunatic of similar ilk to myself, he is an actual, pukka professional. And his art thing is his career. He doesn’t appear to be a part time anything else to make ends meet. And my books … do. Not. Sell. Or at least, not widely, and only, pretty much, at gunpoint. So there’s … an achievement gap there. On top of which, I have a great deal of respect (possibly even mild awe) for anyone with the tenacity, strength of character and sheer, dogged bloody-mindedness required to get anywhere, in a profession which makes the average author’s 2% chance of getting a trad deal look like a walk in the park. Yep. Gareth is hard core.

Except that, as I listened to book three, I got completely lost in it, and this time I was surprised by the quality of the writing, to the point where it felt as if someone else had written it (this is the QA test, if I read it and think ‘fuck! Did I actually write this stuff, no way can I have written this can I?’ I know it’s OK). Which was a massive relief. Even if it meant I had to go back and start proofing that section again. Yes. At long fucking last, it felt as if there was a bit of talent in the offing my end of this project. And behold, those pesky feelings of imposterdom vanished! Thank bastard heavens for that!

So, hopefully that’s the third-of-the-way-wobble done with then and I’m through to the yes-those-doubts-probably-were-bollocks stage. Fingers crossed.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed a lot about this is that it’s always interesting learning about something, and it’s been quite a steep curve. But it’s even more intriguing watching someone else learning their bit of the whole thing with you. Each book Gareth’s sent me is a little more relaxed, yet, a little sharper and better than the last. It’s as if he’s just got through his one-third-in creative hissy and all – yeh well, maybe he has, trust me, we creative nutters all have them, although if he had one, I think it was on book one. Now that we’ve reached book three, I can occasionally hear the smile in his voice when he’s reading a bit he finds funny, even if he’s doing it straight, which is encouraging, because it makes the whole reading more intimate and friendly, which I’d guess any listening punters who buy it are going to like, a lot, even if they don’t know why. Proofing this one has been fun for me; relaxing and enjoyable, rather than the crisis of confidence melt down provoked by book two!

Take a chill pill MTM, this is not exactly news

But I suppose what I’m really saying, same as, or at least similarly, to last week, sorry to be boring, is that doing any creative stuff will always involve serious self doubt. But there’s this weird dichotomy between having serious doubts about something you’ve produced, yet still knowing that it’s up to your quality standards, that it’s good enough, and that you were right to put it out into the ether. And having doubts about something because it actually, genuinely is crap. And learning that difference is part of doing any kind of art stuff. It’s also part of the reason why you have to try and finish your shit, even when you are dying inside over how shite you think it might be … because it probably isn’t.

It may be that I’m not explaining this very well but I wanted to try because I reckon anyone who creates anything goes through a similar kind of head-fuckery. The more creative people I meet, the more certain I am of this. And I thought that if I talked about mine, it might make any others experiencing it as they read this feel better, or at least that they’re not alone … or … I dunno … something. I’ve made a tit of myself so you don’t have to, kind of thing. It’s just hard to put it into words in an intelligible manner and very hard to put it into words without sounding like a monumentally pretentious prick. But I hope it helps anyway! Because nearly all creative people are this nuts and even if you’re not creative, yourself, you should know this if you live with one! Mwahahahrgh.

As I write, Gareth is ploughing his way through book four, hoping to finish the first draft by Monday. It’s absolutely massive, but bless him, he’s going to give it his best shot. Go Gareth. Obviously, I hope he does, because it sounds as if he’s really into it now, and there’s definitely an extra energy to the recording of book three so I’m like … c’mon finish it while you’re in The Zone. Also I’m agog to hear the last book and then listen to all four, to see how the whole thing sounds as a … well … you know … work. But, at the same time the poor man does actually have a life, not to mention the fact that, as I keep saying … quality can’t be rushed!

13 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Nothing To See Here …

Except there is …

More on that story later. First, a quick update on the audiobooks.

It’s been a quiet week. My local writers collective met yesterday, which was lovely, and on Tuesday, I finally managed to send the blips I’d spotted in the audio version of The Wrong Stuff back to Gareth. It’s his birthday today. And looking at the quality of the recordings he’s done so far, I’m feeling a little giddy! As if it’s my birthday and all! I am a little in awe of his talent and I will owe him for this, pretty much in perpetuity.

Clearly I feel a bit nervous about the audio in some respects. This is partly because I can’t quite believe it’s happening but also because, as royalty share, I’d really like it to do well so Gareth actually earns something for his trouble. I suspect it’ll be work from other authors who hear it rather than royalties, but he is aware of that and seems totally undaunted, even if I’m actually beginning to feel a bit guilty.

The other, far more straightforward reason to harbour doubts is because it’s my stuff he’s narrating. And doubting your stuff is all part of being creative. And jeez there’s nothing like listening to someone read your magnum opus, and read it really well, to fully appreciate any deficiencies in the writing. Imposter syndrome anyone? Yeeees a bit. It’s definitely A Thing we creatives get; to shit bricks about what we’ve done I mean, even when we know it’s alright really. But there’s more than a slight feeling here of, ‘Oh god, this bloke is absolutely bloody brilliant and the material I’ve given him is … er hem … not actually quite as brilliant as he is.’ I was aware that my talent lies more in the telling of the story than any linguistic poncing toddling involved so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise, and yet … yeh … there we are.

Maybe one of the biggest, most important things anyone learns, while doing creative anything, is the difference between doubts that are, basically, just your mojo messing with your arse, and real doubts. Learning when to listen to those doubts and when to just grit your teeth, ignore the cringing inside and push on through is a big part of learning how to create. When I’m working on a novel, I usually start to get severe misgivings about a third of the way in. Then I get stuck. Either because I’ve gone off in the wrong direction, or because I just need a bit of time for my subconscious to work out what’s going to happen next. That’s why I had to stop writing the big stuff when Dad got bad, because there was never enough time to get back into the complicated projects, catch up and start working again, before the next crisis hit from the Real World.

Discussing the doubts side of it with Gareth, briefly, it turns out that he gets them too. Like I said, standard creative procedure I suspect, but it’s still comforting, and a little affirming, to have confirmation from someone else, too. Especially someone with less reason to doubt than many of us. Yeh, so while I do doubt the quality of my stuff, I guess I also know, sort of, that it’s probably a load of bollocks in this case.

Anyway, we are hoping to have the first draft done before he heads off on tour at the end of next week. It’s likely that I won’t have enough time to listen and get the alts back, but he will probably be able to do those during the spring holidays, in April, when he gets back.

Talking about doubts … I have a new book out today. Short is not my best metier and I have a few genuine misgivings about this one which, I suspect are well founded. Except the description of Mrs Dingleton’s, I like that. Never mind, here are the details anyway! In a new departure from my standard, somewhat laissez faire release strategy, I’m also running an exciting competition in which someone can win some smashing K’Barthan Blingery. Phnark. Feel free to enter if you like.

Nothing To See Here

Yes! It has landed. The next novella in the series of shorts about The Pan of Hamgee’s time as a delivery man for Big Merv is now out. Woot.

Here’s the blurb …

It’s midwinter and preparations for the biggest religious festival in the K’Barthan year are in full swing. Yes, even though, officially, religious activity has been banned, no-one’s going to ignore Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday, especially not Big Merv. He orders The Pan of Hamgee to deliver the traditional Prophet’s Birthday gift to his accountants and lawyers. As usual, The Pan has managed to elicit the unwanted attention of the security forces. Can he make the delivery and get back to the Parrot and Screwdriver pub in time for an unofficial Prophet’s Birthday celebration with his friends?

If you’re interested you can find out more by clicking on the picture or clicking here:

The competition

Yes, bling your morning cuppa or amaze your colleagues with this fabulous K’Barthan Mug.

If you do end up reading and enjoying Nothing To See Here, you can use your incredible knowledge of the plot in a game of skill and chance to— er hem. You can enter a prize draw to win this smashing K’Barthan mug worth many Brtitish pounds!

Well … OK at least a tenner, £15, in fact. Oh dear, this is beginning to read like one of those spoof ads in Viz.

Hint, you’ll probably be in with a good chance because I doubt many folks will enter.

All you need to do to is answer a question about the story and you will be entered into the draw … unless it’s illegal to enter raffles in your country, in which case, please don’t.

The draw will be open until the end of February. Panic not if you’ve blown your book budget already this month, Noting To See Here should be available in many libraries across the UK, US and Oceana. You might have to ask your librarian for it though. Once you’ve read the book and can answer the question, you can enter the draw here!

The competition closes on 29th Feb.

10 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

20:20 in 2020? Probably not.

Happy New Year everyone.

Well, as always, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. Christmas at Mum’s was a quiet but cheerful affair and New Year at the in laws’ was also quiet but also cheerful. McMum in-law wasn’t well and I was worried she wouldn’t want us up there. My parents tended to prefer a distraction, when ill, but McOther’s lot are like cats; they seem to prefer to withdraw. They don’t want us to see them below par. However, this time, despite clearly still feeling a little piano, McOther’s mum was in good spirits and they did and let us look after them and cook the meals. Hopefully we gave them a bit of a break and there’s nothing like a dose of McMini to lift the spirits.

And here we are … back to um … stuff.

Needless to say, on the way to McParents I received a crie de coeur from Mum’s care team. A letter had arrived, registered post, from the people who made her washing machine, along with an invoice from September 2018. The letter was dated 28th December and threatened my mother with legal action if she didn’t pay a £78.00 bill within seven days. This seemed particularly shit since, not only was the bill was from sixteen months previously but they’d only invoiced once at a point when we were instructed that any invoice would just be the system doing its thing before they could stop it and we shouldn’t pay. It was basically a case of Teflon desks at the insurer and the company they’d used to supply the machine. I hope I sorted it out but if the … you may receive another communication but that’ll just be because it’s gone through the system and can’t be stopped … line holds a well this time as it did sixteen months ago I will expect my mother to receive a court summons shortly.

Naturally since I was half way up the A1 on the way to Scotland, and all the paperwork was either in Sussex or in my desk in Bury, there was absolutely bugger all I could do until after New Year. I rang Miele – the swines issuing the threats – and told them this. I do wonder who thought it was OK to bill an octogenarian woman with dementia once, wait sixteen months and then send a letter demanding payment in seven days on 28th December and expect to get it – Christmas post, bank holidays and all, even if she paid up since it would be a cheque. I did ring and ask them if it was a mistake and the woman I spoke to, though very polite, reacted as if she couldn’t understand what on earth I thought was wrong with that kind of behaviour.

I asked McOther if this was normal. Only for American lawyers apparently as McOther put it, ‘the rest of us are more civilised.’

Back in Bury, I was able to sort it out. After, I hope, keeping Mum out of the small claims court, I went shopping and met with a couple of surreal experiences. While paying at the self service bit of Marks and Sparks, I noticed a munching noise next to me. It came from a little old dear who’d just loaded up her sholley at the check out, said goodbye to the cashier and was hoovering up a red pepper like a woman who hadn’t eaten for days. She noticed me looking so I gave her a smile, which she returned, shyly, before going on her way. What amazed me was that no-one else noticed. I’m not sure if strange things like this only happen around me, or if it’s just that the writer in me notices this stuff. Or, perhaps it was the day for eccentrics yesterday. On my way home from Marks, I noticed one of my favourite shops had an outlet sale and popped in. A woman there was singing along to the canned music at the top of her lungs. Pretty impressive as it was all that dance trance kind of stuff where the synths do all the melody and the singer just sings one or two notes, you know, like plain chant – only with a busier background and in a major key.

After stocking up with shopping, I did the first eyebombs of 2020 – start as you mean to go on – and returned home. I wrote some stuff and then it occurred to me that I should probably and work out some sort of plan for 2020.

MTM’s 2020 plan …

Yeh. Normally, my New Year’s Resolution is not to have one.

This year, though, I feel I ought to lay some vague plan. I am aware that since my full time job is looking after McMini (McOther when he’ll let me) and Mum my ‘career’ such as it is, will always be a side hustle. But I can’t help thinking that the equivalent of, at least, pointing to something on the horizon and saying, ‘let’s go that way!’ Might be helpful at this point. Especially as I have Gareth to think about now. Holy shit I still can’t believe that’s happening! And since he’s taking the time and effort to make the K’Barthan Series as audio books, the least I can do is try and earn us some money from them. The question, as ever, is how.

Looking back is often good, in that sometimes, when your forward momentum is about the same speed as continental drift, it is a real fillip to, kind of, speed up the camera and see how far you’ve come. Last year, after many false starts (thanks, benighted car) the following fabulous things happened:

  1. I finally published a book, exactly four years to the day after the previous one. I’d no idea the time had gone so fast. Gulp.
  2. The whole audiobooks thing, which feels as if I’ve jumped timelines and am living the life of a different far more successful MTM.
  3. Met a bunch of local authors here in Bury which is brilliant. Cluster marketing, support from like minded souls, and all that fabulous malarkey. Looking forward to doing stuff with them in 2020.
  4. I wrote some more stuff, although I haven’t counted the words.

Then there’s the longer game. During the four years between Escape From B-Movie Hell and Small Beginnings, I learned some great ways to keep writing when it feels as if you lack the emotional slack to do so. Last year, we walked the final stages of Dad’s dementia journey with him and while it was really hard, I am at peace with what we did. There’s nothing that I would change. I’m sure we did the best thing by him and while it hurts, it also feels right, possibly even righteous. The writing stalled, but only for three months, and at the moment it seems to be up and running again. I have reverted to my 10 minutes a day rule, there is lots to write and from the point of view of organising and publishing more books, lots to do.

Back to the book launch for a moment. Am I happy with the way the book launch went? Yes and no. Small Beginnings launched mid November with a very small plop, rather than a splash. It’s only a novella, I’m a very small and weedy member of the writing community, who is, basically, starting again from scratch so that probably isn’t bad. It helped that  Barry J Hutchison lent me his fans. Thanks Barry for letting me post on your facebook group. If you are wondering who Barry is – check his books out here. They’re a bit like mine only better and more plentiful! Plus he kept going when he had a far, far shittier year than me. Without Barry’s fans, the release of Small Beginnings would have been considerably down on Escape From B-Movie Hell in 2015.

This might be because Amazon is now pay-to-play and I can’t afford to, it might be because my mainstay group on Goodreads has become very quiet and I doubt the sales boost from there was anything close to 2015. So what can I fix that won’t take time I lack, or cash? I’m thinking, there are six things I could try, in no particular order.

  1. Writing more books, even if it means making them shorter and less complicated as well as long and epic. Increasing the back catalogue is paramount at this point.
  2. Increasing the variety of the back catalogue. Yes, I need to get my arse in gear and publish Space Dustmen.
  3. A blog tour might work, but it will be a time suck so I’ll have to see how well I do at writing the posts, in advance.
  4. I could set up some ads on Facebook, and if I can make them funny enough, might be able to blag some shares off my Facebook friends – especially for the audiobooks launch.
  5. I need to sort out my mailing list engagement, which is, frankly, risible. Back in the day, about 50% of folks I sent emails to would open. These days I’m lucky if it’s 20%.
  6. I am wondering about dipping a cautious toe in the world of podcasts or video blogs. These will not be particularly professional, mainly because I live on a main road which the emergency services use, doing full blues and twos, approximately every five minutes. And I have an extremely talkative cat who follows me everywhere.

The obvious ones to concentrate on are, one, two and five. After all making more product and building on the most straightforward and direct method contact with any enthusiastic buyers have to be the central effort.

There we are, that’s about it. Nothing to See Here will be released on 8th February, or there abouts. If you want to know when it’s available for pre-order, click here or click on the picture. I think I may have mentioned that before! Mwahahahrgh.

7 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

Birth of The Prophet Greetings to one and All … and a mini whinge.

Yes, of course K’Barth has it’s own equivalent of Christmas. They celebrate the Birth of The Prophet, or The Prophet’s Birthday as the feast is also known. The Prophet was born on the darkest, dimmest night of the year – aren’t they all? In memory of His birth, K’Barthans prepare an enormous meal, with numerous courses and specific – mostly alcoholic – beverages, none of which particularly goes with the other. Does this sound familiar?

However, they don’t exchange presents, oh no, instead they present each other with pastry effigies of Arnold The Prophet, stuffed full of confectioner’s custard. Anyone who stumped up for a copy of Christmas Lites last year will have read about this in the short story I had in there. It was a truncated short though, I had to hack mercilessly at it to make the 10k word count and you know me, I believe in never throwing anything away, so I decided I would polish up the longer original version and add it to my current series and publish it at Christmas time.

Unfortunately, what with Dad dying and all that malarkey, I didn’t get it finished as quickly as I expected so it’s coming out in February, 8th February, 2020, put that date in your diary peps. If you’re interested, it will be up for preorder soon but, unfortunately, not yet as … Christmas … which is so much more complicated and a significantly greater pain in the arse than exchanging pastries, mwahahahargh! But fret not! If you do want me to tip you off when Nothing To See Here, is released/available for preorder you can sign up for a special email bulletin. If you haven’t joined my mailing list, you will receive no other emails. Yep. Unless I cock it up mightily, I will only tell you those two things. Nothing else. To sign up for that, just follow the link, below or click on the picture of the cover:

Tell me when Nothing to See Here is released.

And here’s the blurb, in case you wanted it!

It’s midwinter and preparations for the biggest religious festival in the K’Barthan year are in full swing. Yes, even though, officially, religious activity has been banned, no-one’s going to ignore Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday, especially not Big Merv. He orders The Pan of Hamgee to deliver the traditional Birth of The Prophet gift to his accountants and lawyers.

As usual, The Pan has managed to elicit the unwanted attention of the security forces. Can he make the delivery and get back to the The Parrot and Screwdriver pub in time for an unofficial Prophet’s Birthday celebration with his friends?

Other news …

There are lots of things I wanted to say this week. I wanted to talk about racism and how stupid it is, I wanted to fact check all the U-turns the Conservatives have been accused of making so far and see if it really is that dire, I wanted to do a lot of things. But … Christmas.

OK, so this is where the upbeat stuff stops, so if you want to feel upbeat, this is probably where you should stop too. The next bit is honest, and a bit of a downer.

The thing is, I’m missing Dad quite badly, it’s not quite as grim as it was, I haven’t felt weepy for over a week now, which is grand, and splendid progress. I just feel down. The grief counselling has come through for the New Year, so I know that will help and I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, life. It’s like we are sliding into anarchy and extremism and I’m the only person in the world who can see. I’m so weary of it all. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t go on politely pulling people up every time they say something shitty about immigrants, asylum seekers, LGBT etc folks, disabled people, brown people or anyone different from them. I know what goes around comes around. If kindness and tolerance was trendy for a while then, clearly, we’re going to go through another phase where it’s cool to be a bigoted fucktard. Cool for twaaaats (sing it to Squeeze).

At the moment it feels as if the world is being run by the stupid jocks out of seventies movies. You know, the popular bully in the class in seventies films. The one who make our geeky hero or heroine’s life a misery until said geek saves the world using knowledge and science while the jocks who think they rock stand by with their mouths open. That’s right, the people in charge right now, the people being heard and calling the shots are the equivalent of Biff from Back to the Future.

Joy.

Once someone you love has become, ‘other’ be it disabled, mentally ill, whatever, it changes you for life. I met a couple yesterday, a man and his disabled wife. He was pushing her in a wheelchair and she was incredibly apologetic about getting in the way in a very small and pokey shop. They were both sweet, but he, especially, had the kindest, wisest face I have seen on another human in a long time. Here was someone who had clearly been the recipient of unending twattery from morons and doggedly continued to treat other people with kindness and dignity. Someone truly, truly good in a way that was impossible to hide.

Apparently people frequently have a go at this couple for taking up too much space and getting in the way. I had a bit of an oh Lordy moment, myself, trapped in a very narrow aisle between them and a pram and trying to get out of the way! Only last week, at the supermarket, the lady told me, they saw that one aisle where they had to get some stuff was really full. He parked her next to some things she wanted to look at and went to get the bits they needed from the packed aisle alone. While he was gone someone came along and wanted to get to something from the shelves by the lady. She was in the way, so instead of speaking to her, or even asking her if she could pass it to them, they just moved her. Without a word. As if she was a piece of furniture. Moved her out into the middle of the aisle and left her there.

How fucking rude is that?

This is Brexit Britain. It’s not Brexit, itself that’s the problem, it’s the fact that it’s given the handful of people who voted leave because they’re racist and bigoted the courage to think their Neanderthal, shitty viewpoint is OK. The courage to commit hate crimes against disabled people, to air views that are, frankly, pretty evil, and it’s made them feel entitled to do so. I’m not even talking people who think we need to look at immigration, here. We do need to manage immigration properly, you know, with thought, compassion and empathy. Not only for those who are wishing to move here (what on earth are they doing coming to our crappy little island) but for those among whom they will be placed. No, I mean people who are out-and-out vile and seem to rejoice in it. The kind of people who would call me a snowflake, simply because I have an imagination and, occasionally, use it to try and appreciate what it might be like for other people who are different from me.

Incidentally, lots of people call me a snowflake in jest and that’s fine. Let’s be clear, I don’t mean my right wing friends taking the piss out of me here, I mean the really scary people.

The fact we are standing at the top of the same hill, with Mum, as we were with Dad four years ago is probably not helping me to feel jolly either. I did have a brief respite, but I know what’s coming and it’s coming much faster with Mum. A few months ago, when Gareth the Voice first contacted me I played Mum the demo he sent. She read and loved the K’Barthan Series years ago, and we discussed how exciting the whole audiobooks thing was. By the time Gareth and I were speccing the voices, a month later I had one voice I wasn’t sure about and I thought I’d play it to Mum. Gareth had definitely delivered what I specced but … had I specced it right?

Mum has a very good marketing brain – she was director of a PR firm in the 1960s and that is some going in an era when it was considered perfectly OK for a client to refuse to work with a copywriter on the grounds of them being female. As a result, Mum and I have chatted about my writing in depth from time to time. I did branding, which was pretty similar to PR and she’s one of the few people in Real Life I can talk to about both my writing, and my efforts to market it.

When I mentioned the voice conundrum to Mum she said,

‘Oh yes, darling, I meant to remind you about that. I haven’t read any of your books and I haven’t a clue what they’re about, it’s awful. I’m your mother. I really ought to read them. Could you lend them to me?’

I was a bit thrown.

‘Uh … I can’t remember now, but I think you read them,’ I lied. ‘But it was a very long time ago, so you’re well within your rights to have forgotten them. I pretty much have. I needed to re-read them thoroughly to get up to speed for doing the audio,’ I told her, continuing to lie comprehensively, through my teeth. ‘Does anything come back if I remind you? D’you remember Ruth, or The Pan of Hamgee? Big Merv? Lord Vernon?’

She remembered the ones in my latest story, which is short enough for her to be able to follow it. But otherwise, that’s it. She’s completely forgotten about all of it. She’s completely forgotten so much stuff.

Already.

All of it’s gone forever.

Which is grim.

I was hoping, so hoping, that it was just the strain of looking after Dad but it isn’t.

One of the toughest bits about Dad is that even though he is out of pain, and, even though, as a Christian, I believe he’s gone on to somewhere happier, I still find it hard to look his suffering in the eye. I need to if I’m going to move on, but it hurts, it hurts a lot and I suspect it always will. And now I have to walk the same journey with Mum. A costly, painful journey. One that’s going to make my heart ache for the rest of my life.

Pain on pain, hurt on hurt.

Another three years of this. Minimum. Where, in God’s name, will I find the strength to do it all over again?

Um … yeh. Merry Christmas.

Never mind, I’m going to church now. With any luck, when I come back, I’ll feel better.

12 Comments

Filed under About My Writing, General Wittering

My lord! I bring news!

This week has been quite a contrast to last week.

First of all a brief word about superstition and its place in society. Now there are some folks who say that butterflies are a sign that angels/dead loved ones are watching you, and ditto about white feathers. I have no idea if any of this is true, but if I can see a white feather bobbing down from the sky and use it to make myself feel less sad, I will.

Obviously, it would be lovely if it was a message of support from Dad. There have definitely been a few white feathers over the past few years, something I’ve noticed because John Lennon always told his son that he’d send a white feather drifting across the room as a message after he died. Julian Lennon said once, ‘I’ve always been looking for that white feather.’  So when I saw my first one, during a pretty grim time in Dad’s illness, it left an impression.

No, I didn’t think it was John Lennon, but I’d never noticed a white feather drifting down from the sky before and I thought that pushing fifty was quite late to notice my first one, so it did make me wonder, slightly, if some dead relly somewhere was sending me a message of support – look I’m a writer, OK? I imagine all sorts of weird shit, it’s my job after all.

The instances have increased dramatically recently, and they have definitely coincided with good days, not just because I can use them to pep myself up but because genuinely good things have happened on the days when I’ve seen them. Coincidence? Probably. They are white, so they’re coming from the gulls rather than our local pigeons, who are all grey. Perhaps there is a particularly scrofulous gull flying over our house every day, one with a dash of the gift,

‘Ah yes, I must drop a feather on MTM today, good things will happen to her.’

Mwahahahrgh! Or perhaps he’s just the gull equivalent of Humbert. Hmm… could be. I don’t really mind, I’ll even put up with them shitting on the conservatory roof if I can use this phase of vigorous moulting on their part to help me be positive.

It’s like the bit in Terry Pratchett where he talks about telling people stories, or at least, Granny Weatherwax does. Tiffany Aching is trying to use facts and truth and Granny Weatherwax contests that people don’t respond to facts and truth and that you must tell them stories.  Tiffany is at her wits end because a family in the village have dug their outdoor lavvy too close to the well and they keep getting ill. Despite her most earnest entreaties to move it, and despite her repeatedly explaining to them that the crap is seeping into the drinking water and making them ill Tiffany can’t galvanise them into moving their out door kharzi. They can’t be arsed. She seeks Granny Weatherwax’s advice. A few days later, Granny Weatherwax tells Tiffany she persuaded them and the two witches visit. Sure enough, the bog has been moved.

‘How did you do that?’ asks Tiffany.

‘I told them there’s goblins down it,’ says Granny Weatherwax matter of factly.

So another brief lesson about grief then, don’t be afraid to use headology on yourself! If seeing a white feather floating in the air makes me feel something good will happen, my attitude is going to be such that it probably will, even if it’s just something that mightn’t have registered on another day or in different circumstances.

But, that said, quite a lot of smashing things are happening! Here are some.

Big news this week.

Small Beginnings is now available for pre-order in some but not all places, I’ll post a proper link next week when it’s live everywhere. In the meantime, click on the picture for more information, or if you want to to, you can sign up to receive three email reminders around launch time. To do that, click the link below.

Receive a reminder when Small Beginnings comes out.

Ultimate launch date is 19th November. Feel free to tell your friends.

Eyebombing news

I have to fess up to being piss poor at posting my eyebombing recently, but I’m also hoping to organise the eyebombThereforeIAm calendar a bit more formally this year. It depends if I can get a stall at the Christmas Fayre though, and I won’t hear about THAT until Monday or Tuesday. More on that story next week.

And some even bigger news this week. Um … yeh.

So a while back a chap contacted me explaining that he was an actor and that while it was a grand and jolly life, he would quite like to do a project of his own.

[MTM waves] hello Gareth!

This being the case, he’d decided he would learn to read and produce audio books. He wanted to use something as a guinea pig while he got to grips with production skills, sound booth construction, etc, and for this purpose, he chose the K’Barthan Series.

However, he hadn’t just said he’d like to do it, he’d already recorded a rough outline of Unlucky Dip. Since then he’s recorded another one. So yesterday we had a chat on the phone about well … basically about the recordings he’d sent me, and the characters. It’s a pretty great project to be involved in when two people can spend over an hour on the phone doing silly voices at one another, and giggling, and then tell people, solemnly, that it was work. Mwahahahaahrgh! Yes he’s as nuts as I am but then, what would you expect? He likes my books!

If anyone wants a listen, you can do that by clicking the link below. It is a draft, so it isn’t nearly finished, and he’s reading it off his kindle, rather than a marked up script so he sometimes puts the emPHAsis on the wrong syllAble, but as an outline sketch I reckon it’s chuffing marvellous! He’s got Big Merv and The Pan of Hamgee, absolutely how I imagine them and he also knows how to put in the right kind of energy to bring it all to life … through the magic of acting he tells me with tongue firmly in cheek. Feel free to have a listen and let me know what you think.

Unlucky Dip Sketch Number Two

So yeh. All in all, a good week.

15 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

This week I am mostly …

On holiday! Indeed, that being the case, I was going to have a week off. However, as a writer of comic science fiction fantasy, which is mostly just fantasy with science in, it’s difficult to come here and not be inspired.

Where the Goojan Quarter backs onto the canal.

As you know, those of you who’ve read any of my books, most of the K’Barthan action is set in Ning Dang Po, the nation’s capital city. I imagine it being a bit of a mix up. A few years before the action in my stuff begins the Grongles invaded K’Barth. In doing so they bombed large chunks of K’Barth to bits, including parts of the capital. Many of these areas are still bomb sites, while others have been developed, new shiny stainless steel and glass buildings are going up in the commercial centre.

Ancient streets of the Goojan Quarter

A lot of the old warehouses, which I imagine as either medieval or Victorian stand empty, although some have new Grongle owned or Grongle sponsored businesses moving in – the Grongles have destroyed most K’Barthan trade by systematically taxing it out of existence, or they have simply appropriated K’Barthan businesses into Grongle ownership.

It doesn’t always work like that of course, there’s a point at which anyone is too rich to touch. Then there’s ‘old’ Ning Dang Po, which tends to come in a variety of architectural styles but if you’re trying to imagine it, think eighteenth century Britain back to medieval and Tudor. Imagine the shambles in York, with shades of Bath but mostly run down and then throw some of the new bits of the City of London into it all hugga-mugga.

One of the wider streets maybe?

The new shiny buildings are built by Grongle companies with Grongolian finance and are not available for the use of ‘native’ K’Barthans. Sometimes K’Barthans are full-on barred but mostly it’s just a case of K’Barthans lacking the hard cash, case in point The Planes, where Big Merv lives. Other K’Barthan buildings have been reallocated for Grongolian use only, their original K’Barthan residents evicted to make way for the many Grongle officers and their families moving in.

So now you have this kind of two tier system where the Grongles have nearly all the money the privilege and the power and the K’Barthans are their second-class servants. At the same time, the oldest parts of the city, those still standing, have aroused a strange kind of sentimental streak in the Grongles who have slapped preservation orders on the areas they consider to be ‘pure and true’ architecture, as well as completely assimilating others. One of the things about the Grongles is that they think K’Barth

Nearly The Parrot’s courtyard.

and K’Barthans were once great but have now become decadent or dissolute. They are determined to reform their K’Barthan subjects, although some hard liners think K’Barthans are beyond redemption and wish to destroy them.

A place that crops up a couple of times, especially in the new series I’m writing is the Goojan quarter, where the houses are very close together, the streets narrow and where the land was, originally, far too valuable to waste on things like courtyards and gardens – these are now all on the roofs.

At the moment, I don’t really have any pictures of the kind of new, shiny, steel and glass Ning Dang Po and a lot of the other bits, think Ely in Cambridgeshire or possibly some of the back streets of Cambridge, or for the posher areas bits of Bath and Buxton. But I do have some pictures of the Goojan Quarter, or at least I have some pictures that are about as close as reality gets, now that I’ve spent a week in them! Here’s a little snippet of stuff about the area in question from Too Good to be True which will be out early next year, if I can get the cash together for editing any time before I die of old age (rolls eyes).

Enjoy.

________________________

Excerpt from Too Good To Be True:

The Pan made his way through the twisty streets of the Goojan Quarter, they were narrow, cobbled, and at street level, dark. The ancient houses were close enough together at the bottom, but in times gone by the Goojan Quarter had been prime real estate. Most of the merchants opening businesses there could only afford a small area of such premium land and since it came at couch a premium nobody was going to waste any on wide boulevards. The streets and alleyways were wide enough to let a cart through and that was all. There was also a complicated one way system which all beings followed, even now.

Few of those early merchants could afford a home after stumping up for a plot of land in the Goojan Quarter so many lived above their shops and businesses with their families. In order to maximise the amount of living space they would build the floor above jutting out a few feet over the shop window below. As time went by they built more and more floors, each one jutting further out than the ones underneath, until the streets below became darker and darker and, at the upper levels, it was often possible to reach out of the window and shake hands with the people living in the property opposite. Because of this, the Goojan quarter was one of the few places where The Pan couldn’t really stick to the roofs, or at least not if he wanted to find anything, it was impossible to read the house numbers from above.

Luckily it didn’t matter as much as it should. The Grongles didn’t venture into the quarter often. So, much to The Pan’s relief, he only had to look out for any K’Barthans who might be following him as he moved through the streets at ground level. He wasn’t sure why the Grongles left the Goojan K’Barthans alone. It might possibly be something to do with the height of the first floors jutting out at every street corner. The properties in this part of town had been built hundreds of years previously when all the beings using them were universally smaller and shorter. Even The Pan had to duck sometimes and he was a lot less tall than the average Grongle. He could imagine an unwary might smack his head on every single building.

Yeh, perhaps that was the reason.

On the other hand, The Pan reflected, it might just as easily have been the smell that kept the Grongles away. Goojans used spice, they used spices in ways that even Hamgeeans hadn’t thought of. A visit to the Goojan Quarter was always an aromatic assault. It made The Pan feel hungry, but since many Grongles preferred plain boring food, they probably had a different reaction. Grongles were much like the inhabitants of Ning Dang-Po in that respect.

The mixture of strange and exotic perfumes in the air was particularly strong in the heat; spices, cooking food, aromatic teas and herbs, plus the odd whiff of drains. It was even strong enough to cover the aroma of the spiced sausage in The Pan’s bag. Or at least, if anyone noticed the smell as he passed, they made no sign.

At last he found the place, he checked the address on the card in his hand one more time and knocked on the door.

Silence. Maybe Goldy McSpim was out. No, The Pan had rung the number on the card and asked him for a valuation of goods, hopefully that was vague enough not to bother the Grongles listening in. He checked behind him again, just in case, but he knew, categorically, that he wasn’t being followed. Not at the moment. Then again, The Pan supposed, if he was checking for anyone tracking his movements. Maybe Goldy McSpim was doing the same, for himself. Finally a window opened far above him.

‘Just on my way down!’ called a voice.

‘Right,’ said The Pan. Presumably that was the man, or at least the Spiffle, himself. The Pan slipped the card into his pocket and waited.

At last the sound of bolts being drawn back came from behind the door. Clearly Goldy McSpim was careful about security as there appeared to be about ten bolts. After that The Pan listened to a lot more unlocking sounds and the door finally swung open. It was opened by two ferocious looking Blurpons, creatures related to Spiffles in that they are short and furry but in all other ways about as different as it is possible to be. Blurpons have red fur, as opposed to the orange fur of Spiffles, and are known for their unsurpassed skill at laundering and a tendency to psychotic violence and ease of offence. They have one leg but The Pan knew, from experience, that this wouldn’t present them with a problem if they decided to get antsy. These were Goldy’s bodyguards. They had to be; employed on account of their violent streak rather than their laundering abilities.

‘Ah gentlemen, thank you,’ said a voice from inside. ‘Do let the young man in.’

The Pan was ushered into the coolness of the interior where he listened to the sounds of the many bolts and locks being re-secured behind him. It suddenly occurred to him that if Goldy wanted to steal the sausage and send him on his way with a flea in his ear, it wasn’t going to be difficult. Oh dear had he walked into a trap? Idiot, he should have left half the sausage in the SE2.

Goldy was wearing a beret, which was surprisingly understated for a spiffle, it was only when he smiled that The Pan realised why his hat was so restrained. He supposed the traditional Spiffle love of decoration had to come out somewhere but his teeth? The Pan speculated to himself that Goldy’s nickname was probably something to do with the entirely gold contents of his mouth. Not only were his teeth gold but they were studded with precious gems cut cabochon style; emeralds, rubies and the odd diamond. The Pan realised his own mouth had dropped open and closed it quickly.

‘If I should ever need to leave here in a hurry, the sausage will not travel,’ Goldy explained, ‘this way,’ he flashed The Pan a blinding smile, ‘I will always have some assets with me.’

‘Won’t people notice?’

‘Not if I do not smile,’ said Goldy. ‘Now. Come, come,’ he said and headed off down four stairs at the back of the shop and through a large metal safe door into a back room.

The Pan followed, slightly nervously because if there was any trouble, the only way out was past the Blurpons and he didn’t fancy his chances. Goldy took his place on a tall stool behind a table spread with a crisp white damask cloth. In front of the table was a battered antique dining chair with arms and an open back, the seat upholstered in worn leather.

‘How is Mrs McSpim?’ asked The Pan politely.

‘She is very well, yes, yes.’

‘Please thank her and send her my best wishes.’

‘Ah I think you should wait until I have valued the goods before you thank either of us yes?’

The Pan’s eyes were drawn to the blinding whiteness of the tablecloth. Maybe the two Blurpons did the laundry as well as the bodyguard duties. Yes, of course they did, and come to think of it, there’d be more than two, they would be part of a team and someone would always be on duty, round the clock.

The Pan turned in a circle, examining the rest of his surroundings. Ranged along all four walls of the room were glass fronted shelves. Airtight and climate controlled they were divided into square units like some huge safety deposit area. Well, yes, The Pan supposed, it probably was, he cast another quick glance at the foot thick metal door. He was clearly inside a giant safe.

One of the Blurpons had flicked a light switch and a dim glow illuminated all the boxes. There were a few empty ones, but most contained sausage, some contained two.

‘This is …’ what to call it? ‘Impressive,’ said The Pan. ‘Are these sausages all yours?’

‘Oh no! But as you know a good sausage is expensive! It needs to be kept securely. A bank vault is not good for that purpose, the air is stale. No-no-no, a sausage is a living thing, starve it of the correct temperature or humidity and it will pine away and die, the balance of spices will soon fall off, mould will grow,’ he shuddered, clearly that would be bad. ‘These storage units are state of the art. For a small fee you can keep your family heirlooms here and my assistants will deliver slices of your precious treat to your door, as and when you require.’

‘Heirlooms?’

‘Yes, yes! Some of these sausages have been in the same families for centuries. Our climate controlled storage keeps them at the optimum temperature for years of enjoyment. And we are fully insured, of course, so it is more cost effective, as well as safer, to keep them here than at home.’

‘Yes, I can imagine,’ said The Pan.

‘The service is very competitively priced, if you are interested.’

‘I— well, I suspect I will be selling.’

‘You have debts huh?’

‘Something like that.’

Goldy stared at The Pan, a long hard stare, he had the same look of shewed intelligence as his wife and was clearly missing nothing. He nodded slowly.

‘Please sit.’

The Pan did as he was told, seating himself in the chair and placing the bag with the sausage inside on his lap.

‘Do these all belong to actual beings?’ he asked looking at the shelves around him.

‘You are wondering how there can be so many rich people in the world I would guess. Some are,’ Goldy paused for thought, ‘how would you say it? Unclaimed, they belong to the blacklisted, or the mislaid. They will have family, descendants. One day, I will find them, or they will find me.’

He smiled almost blinding The Pan with another flash of his bejewelled teeth despite the ambient dimness of the lighting.

‘And the others?’

Goldy gave The Pan a long, hard look.

‘The richest few percent of the population have ways of surviving anything. Very little changes for them, no matter who is in charge or what is happeing to the rest of us. It is all a game to them. Now. You have a sausage to show me.’ He held out his paw and wiggled it in the type of beckoning gesture that is the universal sign language for gimme-gimme the world over

6 Comments

Filed under About My Writing, General Wittering