Tag Archives: writer mom

Can I have fried brains with that? Time management/productivity hacks for writers #amwriting #writingtips #timemanagement

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

This week I will be mostly talking about making something out of nothing, or as that pertains to my world: time management.

As many of you will remember, my lack of minutes in the day to do … well … anything much was a continuing trope in many of my posts last year. The frustration of not producing any meaningful work while any ‘free’ time melted away faster than the polar ice caps was strong, and the whinging on my blog extensive, as a result. Sorry about that.

However, good news, I think. It looks as if I’ve fixed it, possibly, or at least, bodged the problem enough for my writerly mojo to return. And as I bitched and complained my way through last year, I did realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing their duties to others and their requirement to write. So I thought I’d share the stuff that has worked for me in the hope that, perhaps, it will help anyone reading this who has similar struggles. So off we go …

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

Last November, actually, Mum was in hospital again, and as I tried to sort everything out, and write, and be a mum to my own son, a good daughter, and be happy, burnout loomed.

Once we got her sorted out, and back home with Dad, I knew that if I was going to carry on writing I would have to make changes, even if it was just changes to my attitude. And I was going to have to make them fast. I’m an old hand at this now. The trick is not so much as to solve the problem but to alter my thinking so I see it differently. This time the ‘solution’ I arrived at was twofold:

  1. I couldn’t write the kinds of books I had been writing and deal with the things I needed to do in Real Life. I would therefore write shorter, less complicated books.
  2. It was clear that many folks who read my books enjoyed the K’Barthan stuff best. And I knew K’Barth well. There wasn’t so much time for experimentation right then – so that was easy. I’d write shorter, less complicated stories about K’Barth.

Enter the new series of 99p K’Barthan Shorts. In a bid to discover more details about the ‘market’s’ demands I asked what people would like to see more of. Gladys, Ada and Their Trev was the answer from everyone.

Roughseas asked me to write on about how Betsy, on Turnadot Street, started her Bordello. The answer popped up almost immediately. Meanwhile there was another one about The Pan of Hamgee’s early years on the Blacklist. That popped up reasonably fast too. So I had two ideas for short stories ready to go. All that was left was to write them.

Keenly aware that I can’t actually guarantee myself more than about 40 minutes to write in each day, it occurred to me that one of the problems with my rate of production was that its slowness sapped my morale, resulting in even less speed. So making some steady progress was essential to keep up my spirits and keep going. Obviously, as an authorholic, I am, literally addicted – stopping would have been much more sensible but it wasn’t an option. I decided to try and find a way to write more efficiently. I had a bit of a think and I came up with five ways that I could, possibly, give myself a hand:

  1. There might be some book production tools I could use to speed up and ease the process – such as writing software or text-to-speech software.
  2. Planning and plotting a bit before I start would help if I could tie it into the way I write.
  3. Writing shorter and less complicated stories would reduce the cerebral load (as previously mentioned).
  4. If I could improve my time management I might achieve more in the moments I had,
  5. My brain was fairly porridgey and I needed to find a way to re-enthuse it and sharpen it up while avoiding burnout.

1. Production tools

Yes, I am aware this sounds nuts but it occurred to me that one of the problems I face, writing, is that I usually keep the whole plot in my head. This is fine until I’m sad, or  stressed about other stuff, or my writing routine is constantly interrupted. Then, I can’t do it. I lose track of who is doing what, and with what, and to whom. When I make notes to help myself I still fail to remember, or at least, I fail to visualise what’s happening where, so written notes are unhelpful. So back in November 2016 I was spending three quarters of each writing session working out where I’d got to and catching up, and then about five minutes moving it forward before I had to stop.

As I pondered how to solve this knotty conundrum I saw a free seminar by a bloke called Joseph Michael about using a writing programme called Scriviner. Now, I confess, I’d never thought about using Scriviner, it seemed completely pointless, but I couldn’t help noticing, as I watched this free seminar, that the way you lay out a project in Scrivener appeared to cover a couple of my big writing problems.

  • Finding a way to list major scenes in a memorable way so I can work out a cohesive plot
  • Finding something that can remember what’s happened so far, and where I’ve got to, when my head can’t in a way that’s instinctive and at-a-glance.
  • Being able to put bits I like but can’t use yet somewhere close to hand so I can just nip over and cut and paste them in and out and remember they are there.
  • Being able to flip from my writing to my research easily  if I want to.
  • Being able to fit more writing into a short time.
  • In short, having all the information and prompts I need to write effectively in one place without burying one room of my house in post it notes.

The way Joseph Michael had his demo Scrivener set up, everything was laid out on screen where I could see it. My mental filing system is visual and it works horizontally. My ideal filing system would be a huge long table, with all the work in progress laid out on it. I’d walk up and down the table and see what needs to be done. If I try to file things vertically, in stacked trays or in drawers I forget they are there and cannot visualise what I am supposed to be doing or the shape of my task. I lose things in a pile.

My computer is a drawer – even using WordPerfect to write doesn’t fully ameliorate the impact of that, despite the fact it has its documents in tabs and I can switch from one to another with a single click. Things get lost and forgotten in my computer. Important things. Scrivener looked as if it might be the computer equivalent of a table rather than drawers, and when I found it on sale for  75% off, I decided to try it.

Bonus! Except While it was, indeed, the closest thing a computer can produce, in organising and filing terms, to a table, it was incredibly frustrating to use because it’s very much NOT intuitive in some respects. So I bought the training course for a truckload of money. BUT ONLY because it has a 365 day money back guarantee. No 30 day nonsense. A whole damn year. If I get stuck, I look up the problem on the course site, watch the video, which lasts about 3 minutes and I’m set. I am quite quick to pick up computer stuff but even so this worked very well for me. The way it’s set out is like an encyclopedia you can look things up in, rather than a course of long lessons which you annotate. Thus you sidestep the thing where your mind wanders as you take notes and you leave out a crucial click or step, one that renders your notes worthless and necessitates spending 30 minutes of your 40 minutes’ writing time watching a video, from beginning to end, to sort out where you went wrong. It’s way more useful than I expected, almost indispensable. Indeed, it’s probably paid for itself already to be honest. Bugger. Won’t be getting that refund then.

Around this time, I also saw McOther dictating email replies into his iPad and a light dawned. I could speak my books. However, after discovering that there is no way to teach my iPad how to write ‘eyebombing’ when I say ‘eyebombing’ and having the same experience with many other words like that, I reckoned it would be more trouble than it was worth. Even doing some dictation for my non-fiction book where I used the word, ‘spectacles’ instead of eyebombing – with a view to using search and replace, later – it was, frankly, too much of a ball ache. It occurred to me that the whole process of teaching speech-to-text software to understand my vocabulary, the correct spelling for the word arse and all the rest might take a lot more time than it would save. Doubtless I will give it a go at some point, but for the moment, I think I’ll put it in the someday-my-prince-will-come section of my list.

2. Planning and Plotting

Obviously what I envisioned achieving for myself here is far removed from compiling a comprehensive plot and then sketching the story by numbers.  I am, at heart, a pantser. However, it did occur to me that I could save myself a lot of time if I could kick the habit of developing so much backstory that my first scene ends up being one of the last ones. This is how I write: I get to know my characters, get interested in their pasts and before I know it, a new story has emerged. It’s usually a better one but having it turn up a bit earlier in proceedings would save me … well 60k of wasted words last year so, in short, the entirety of last year’s output (some of those words will be rescued or recycled but not all 60k).

I heard about a free seminar promoting a course called Story Engines. Story Engines sounds brilliant, but I can’t afford it. It didn’t help that there was only a short window, during the zenith – or is that the nadir – of the Christmas and post Christmas bankruptcy period. Why does everyone who runs a $500 closed course think a good time to open it up is December when everyone is skint? Sorry, I digress. The seminar was pretty good and opened my eyes to the kinds of questions I should ask myself. Questions which I thought I was asking already but clearly haven’t been. However, I could only afford one course and I thought that, possibly, I would work out more of the plotting stuff on my own than I would the workings of Scrivener. And the Scrivener course cost less. A lot less.

And I still have about 335 days in which to decide whether or not I like it! So I bought it.

3. Writing shorter

An absolute epic fail. For example, I’ve binned 20k of the ‘short’ about how Betsy’s bordello opened and I’m now just bubbling under 29,000 words into the new one. I think I may squish it into about 40,000 but it could run to 60,000. On the upside, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yeh. Thank you, Story Engines free training and lovely easy-to-see-what’s-going-on Scrivener layout. The magic is still happening, the picture is slowly de-pixilating and sliding into focus and the process is fun again. I also have a very much clearer idea of how Space Dustmen, the new series I’m working on, is going to go, and I’m really enjoying making notes and thinking about ideas. The characters are more focussed and yeh, things are happening there, too. Oh and there’s a non-fiction book.

On the writing shorter books front, then, null points. But on the writing, generally, a massive booyacka!

4. Time Management

We talked about the minuscule size of my writing window. How to make those minutes count then?

Scrivener was surprisingly useful and the plotting was helping but it was only a partial success. My efforts to write were still resulting in redundant words. Cf that 20,000 odd I mentioned just now and the other 40,000 from last year. Even though I will probably use three quarters of them, tweaked, a bit later in their prerequisite stories it was fairly essential that I did something to increase my rate of production and increase the suitability for immediate use of the stuff I produced.

So far, I’d some ideas plotted that I was really chuffed with, I’d laid out the basic chapters I thought I was going to write in Scrivener, added some notes, done the cards etc. But I needed more.

Somewhere, I read that comparing notes with other writers and posting your progress daily can really motivate you so I started a thread on a forum I visit. I’d also read that doing sprints works well for many people. You set a timer for twenty minutes and write until it goes off, have a 5 minute break and then rinse and repeat. I thought I’d see what I could do with that. I reckoned if I spent the first twenty minutes planning the scene and maybe writing a bit, and then the next twenty, going for it, I might get somewhere. No distractions, nothing, just writing the rest. So that day, I started my thread and explained what I was going to do. Then I turned off the internet, opened scrivener, sat down with the pinger set to twenty minutes and off I went.

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

First sprint: 400 words, second 1000. Smecking Norah! Four weeks later, I have 28,800 words down. Even a hard, pulling-teeth-style sprint nets me 400 words. Just three of those sprints, ie an hour and a quarter given over to writing, and we are looking at 1,200 words, minimum. My record in one 20 minutes is 1,700. Typing. Every morning I can wake up knowing that, even if I only have half an hour to work that day, I can get a few hundred words done. Few things boost a writer’s spirits better than being productive.

I love the sprints and I love the camaraderie of chatting on the thread where we encourage each other and compare results. Definitely a really effective strategy, that one.

5. Avoiding staleness: saying, ‘bollocks’ to social media and making it quality time

With the sprints, Scriviner and even the plotting going well. I wondered if I could work on my freshness of approach. What I mean is, trying to persuade my times of  maximum brainpower to coincide with the times I had available to write.

After a lot of head-scratching it occurred to me that this writing game is a bit like a relationship in many respects. Sometimes, with dating, less is more. Three hours of quality time are worth many more hours of half cock time spent not really connecting that just make the whole thing go stale. I realised that, when quality writing time was thin on the ground, I was spending hours on social media while I did other things looking at emails, or generally staring at my iPad and phone to try and keep myself connected to the electronic ether and with that, somehow, to my writing. Even sitting at home in the evening watching tv, or while I was cooking, or some other situation in which I could never hope to produce any meaningful content for my books I would be gazing soulfully at the screen convincing myself it would help.

It didn’t.

While, on one hand, all this screen time made me feel as if I was maintaining the connection, on the other it fogged it, made me feel as if it was sapping my creativity somehow. And the more in touch with it all I tried to be, the more time was sucked into this faux ‘keeping in touch’, and the less time I spent actually writing. Across my wider life, writing was all I was doing … Oh and panicking about having no time. I did a lot of that. So as well allowing my brain to be gloopified by the wrong kind of screen time, I was starving it of stimulation. No fuel. Poor brain. How could I expect inspiration?

More head-scratching, and then I decided to try and make all the time I had count, across the board, not just in writing but in everything. So I limited social media and marketing time and added other things to my day, experiences, like coffee with a friend, a walk, reading, listening to music, shopping, eyebombing, etc. I also tried switching off the computer at six pm and not turning it on again until the next morning. I still checked my emails and social media first thing as I sat in bed with a cup of coffee. However, I started writing a to do list for the day at the same time. Then when I sat down at the computer after the school run it was easy to reorientate myself. I started experimenting with using sprints to write emails and social media posts. I listed things I needed to look at, set up a sprint to do it in and then stopped when the bell rang. I found I could achieve exactly the same amount of interaction in a fraction of the time. In the evenings, in front of the telly, I stopped checking Facebook on my phone and started knitting socks. Um … Yeh.

The results of this have been amazing. I have way more creativity. When I started this, a month or so ago, there was only really room in my head for one project. After a week, I started having ideas about a project I’d shelved because it was too complicated. After two weeks the short had turned into a novel. After three, a non fiction project popped up. It looks as if I may finish a novel this year. One that I only started writing in earnest four weeks ago. It is as if this simple act of giving my brain time to rest has jump-started my creative mojo. Yes I still get tired, I still get sad about my parents, I still have the odd week of PMT when I can’t meaningfully achieve anything but I also feel fulfilled and fantastic because I am creating stuff – and when I feel like that I create more stuff – and even when it’s not books, it’s very comfortable socks!

Conclusion

So what gave I learned here that might help anyone who has waded through to the end of this? D’you know, I think probably this:

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
20160412_mandslemon

Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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Evaluation is the name of the game … or is it just spin? Some career decisions

Have you ever had one of those days when the cold hard truth hits you right between the eyes? Yeh, well, I’ve been having a bit of a wake up for some time now but last week the shit hit the fan. Then, a comment from one of you lovely peps made me think, a lot. More on that story … later.

There is a nagging worry, in the back of my mind, that I’ve come over as a bit maudlin recently. It’s not my intention and I am basically happy but I have realised something about what I thought was my current, temporary, state of affairs. It’s not temporary. In fact, while there may well be different people involved, I’m probably looking down the barrel of the rest of my life.

This raises an issue.

Some days I feel a bit like this.

Some days I feel a bit like this.

Like everyone, I want to be a good mother and wife and a kind and dutiful daughter. However, if I’m going to be those things to any effect, I must ensure that I also have an identity and a life beyond them – even if there’s only time for it in a low key way, it has to be there. My problem is that with the way things are now, I can’t do all those things at the same time. Not to the levels I have set myself. I have to lower my sights. And I have to accept some home truths.

  1. If I am unhappy and unfulfilled I am crap company.
  2. To be happy and fulfilled I have to like myself.
  3. In order to like myself, there are certain commitments and duties to others that I am required to perform.
  4. It is essential that I am a sane, level-headed and likeable human being.
  5. There is a certain amount of me time, and sense of having my own life that is required for me to be a sane and likeable human being. There has to be space for things that aren’t my duty: interests hobbies and yes, my job.
  6. My duty is taking too much space for the career plan I have followed up to now and that is making me frustrated and irritable.
  7. The duty can’t be shirked although it can be streamlined a bit if I can get myself to relax and reduce tension levels enough to increase my efficiency … or just achieve anything approaching efficiency, full stop.
  8. The career plan therefore has to give, or at least be altered to one that’s achievable.

In short, I have to re-establish the illusion that I am in control of anything beyond my reaction to events (even if it’s not true).

The fact is, sitting in hospital with my mum on Sunday was one of the most harrowing things I’ve done. She clearly felt terrible, she was unable to speak – or at least unable to say the words she was thinking after the first few minutes awake. And I didn’t want her to suffer, but I didn’t want her to leave me. I knew she would, most likely, be fine in a few days but even so, bringing in the DNR notice for them to see was difficult.

She’s a lot better, and though she’s still in hospital it is mainly because the Social Worker can’t see her to evaluate her until Monday and I haven’t the stamina to get her home and then try and organise that on my own right now. And I think she needs evaluated.

So all this stuff, all the administrivia that surrounds looking after Mum and Dad; dealing with the NHS, the social, their finance people, their carers, their bank, their utility companies, the folks who deliver their milk … all of it takes time. On top of that, watching my parents suffer takes emotional stamina and energy. My concentration span is drastically reduced, and my frustration at the way every tiny task seems to mushroom into a Herculean labour, normally through my own stupidity or forgetfulness, means my default state is one of intense frustration. My anger-o-meter is always at the red end of the dial, even though I am, essentially, happy.

Other days I feel more like this.

Other days I feel more like this.

On top of that, I’m a mum. For those of you who haven’t had kids, having a child is like having your brain stirred, constantly, with a huge wooden spoon – especially if your kid is as adept at mental par cour as McMini. It’s wonderful but it coddles your thoughts. And while I can express the frustration I feel about my life to him, through the medium of humour usually, I must be careful I don’t unwittingly take it out on him in other ways. And sometimes I know the anger is in my voice, anger that has nothing to do with him, and I have to reassure him that if I sound angry, it’s just frustration with other things, and not his fault.

The net result for me, is that I feel as if I am clinging onto my own identity by my fingertips. That I am little more than a kite buffeted back and forth in the air currents of other people’s neediness. This is not a good place for anyone long term. I have to look after my parents. I can’t not. I have to look after my son. I can’t not. But I also have to find some way, among that, of looking after me. Because if I go down, they all do. And that won’t help anyone.

So, apart from running away from my life and never coming back (not an option) how do I sort this out?

Well, the writer bit of my brain that is bored stupid with Real Life and wandering off is still well and truly with me, but as careers go, my authorly efforts are not going that well.

Basically, I thought that with each book I wrote I’d make roughly the same amount of cash. However, I seem to have plateaued at the K’Barthan Series. After I’d finished the four K’Barthan novels I really needed something straightforward so I wrote a stand alone, Escape From B-Movie Hell. It bombed. I naively thought that everyone who read and enjoyed my four other novels would automatically think, ‘Yeh, I’ll buy this one.’ They didn’t. To be honest, I think I’ve sold less copies of Escape this year than I sold of K’Barthan 3 or 4 in my worst month. Therefore, since 2015 I’ve been kind of stuck in a rut going nowhere, a four book wonder, because in real terms, for all it’s done, I might as well have sat on my arse from July 2014 through to December 2015 and not have written the fifth book. It’s a pity as I had a gas writing Escape and I love the results. I just re-read it, it’s far and away my best book yet but the market begs to differ.

Thus, I have learned that new stuff is not working, and that I can’t afford to take 18 months writing a book which doesn’t work. And THAT means … well, it means I have to make a plan. Also because my periods of writing time are shorter and less frequent, I take a greater proportion of the hours available getting back into the plot of a big complicated book, slowing it all up even more. So, here’s what I’m thinking …

Though my brain is desperate for the regular escapes from Real Life that only writing can deliver, it is in a state of permanent mental exhaustion.  That makes the risk of burnout omnipresent. Full length novels are tricky and another series like the K’Barthan Series will be extremely difficult.  Scratch 6 years for a four book series, in MTM’s new reality we’re looking at a minimum of 15. That’s a long time to wait before I have another two or three books that my readers – or possibly a new group of readers who like that series – want.

However, I need to achieve stuff outside the care zone. My brain needs to write, for sure, and it needs to see projects start and evolve and finish so I can earn enough to pay for my mailing list and the production of new books. For that to happen, with the hampered state of my mental capacities right now, I need to write is something simpler or shorter. So that’s what I will do; write shorter, less complicated books, which I will sell for a cheaper price. And they’ll be about K’Barth. The stories will tie in with the big books and when there are enough, I will have one of the 20k books permanently free, give one or two of the others to folks who’ve signed up to my mailing list and charge real money for the 100k plus behemoths.

Two cyber buddies in writing in my genre started producing short stories as well as novels last year and I have been watching their results with interest. One’s publisher had a minimum ebook price for a novel that was quite high, so he decided to write some shorter things that he could price lower, one just wanted uncomplicated as well as complicated. Both have found that folks are reading their low priced short stories and then moving on to the longer more expensive stuff. They are also getting less complaints about the more expensive stuff being … well … expensive.

So that’s Plan A sorted. MTM’s planned releases for next year: three short books about K’Barth – if I do well – or two if hospital time is at a maximum. They’ll retail at 99p/99c and Gladys, Ada and the punters at the Parrot and Screwdriver will definitely feature in one or two of them. If you have any favourite characters you’d like to know more about, let me know in the comments and I’ll do something about them. So far I have a lot of votes for Gladys and Ada, several for Big Merv and one for General Moteurs. I’ll try to keep the shorts coming reasonably regularly, although if either parent dies I probably won’t write anything for ages afterwards, but I digress.

As my brain can’t do complicated right now – even if it does want to do writing – this looks like a neat solution. Even starting the first short, last week, took the pressure off. Suddenly the full length novel I’m writing, which I’d got a bit stuck on, has started moving again. It’s not about K’Barth so even when it’s done, only a handful of people will read it, but I’ll like it and that’s what matters, so that’s plan B, write a big novel at the same time as the small ones.

Which brings me back to the comment. Someone pointed out that my blog is quite informative and is kind of a book on its own … and that got me thinking. The thing about the blog is, it’s all planned out, well, it isn’t but I know what I am going to say before I start. So it did occur to me that I could write a generalist series of pamphlets about publishing books yourself. It would be a series called, ‘I fucked this up so you don’t have to’. OK no that’s the only-in-my-dreams working title. It would have to be called something a bit more anodyne and sensible like ‘Mistakes I made so you don’t have to’.

The point is, I wouldn’t have to think much to do those, it would just be a case of crafting them. The knowledge, and the trains of thought, are already in my head. I wouldn’t have to imagine or research much. I’d just explain what I have learned. It might be fun. So that’s plan C.

And there, finally, you have it. MTM cares too much. MTM is an authorholic. MTM will switch the pressure from completing long books to completing some short ones that are fictional and non fictional and then the long books can go quietly on in the background at the same time.

The strangest thing is that’s not a huge change in plan. I’ve just shifted the emphasis to shorts in the foreground and behemoth novel in the background. However, somehow, put that way, it feels like it might be achievable.

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Just another day in paradise!

Come the winter we are hoping we might be able to go skiing so in order to prepare, it occurred to us that it would be smart if McMini and I actually had a go at skiing first. So today, it was McMini’s turn. There’s a dry slope not far from us so off we went. He took to it well and it looked ace. I am very much going to try it when term starts.

After we were done, we decided to make a day of it and we went on to Aldeburgh for lunch which was lovely. After we’d eaten we took a stroll, bought an ice cream and sat on a bench to eat it, overlooking the sea. Even though I checked it for turds before sitting down I still failed to notice that one of the ‘special Aldeburgh seagulls’ had laid a length of cable that a Doberman would have been proud of, and of course, I sat on it.

Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh: taken while sitting in seagull pooh

As the resulting cack smearage made me look as if I’d extensively soiled myself I tried to clean it off. Half a bottle of water poured over the affected area merely made it look as if I’d lost control of both orifices. And now I also had pooh smeared on my hands! Lovely! Once I’d rinsed my hands with the rest of the water and rubbed liberal amounts of hand sanitiser over them we took stock. There was only one thing for it. I deemed it imperative that I changed into some pooh-free trousers or shorts at the first opportunity. But I had no spares so I was going to have to go into a shop looking as if I’d shat my pants, explain what had happened, and hope they’d let me buy some.

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The seagulls in Worthing are much more genteel

Aldeburgh has many clothes shops and right now they all have sales on but, even with 70% off, a pair of shorts was coming up at £35. Hats off to the folks running them, though, who were perfectly prepared to let me try and buy despite my effluvia-covered togs and accompanying smell.

However, I began to despair of replacing my rancid shorts until I noticed the Sue Ryder charity shop. I popped in there and got a very nice pair of chino beige pedal pushers for £4.50. Phew.

I had planned how I could zip my anorak up round my waist and remove my trousers in the high street but although I’d worked out how it could be done without flashing my arse to the entire neighbourhood, I can’t say I was looking forward to it very much. Many, many things could have gone wrong.

But all’s well that ends well.

So that’s a relief.

A quiet day here, then. Same old, same old. How was your Saturday?

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Oh dear, it’s not them. It IS me. #remain #leave

Well, this has been an interesting week. For better, or worse, Britain has voted to leave the EU. As a mum with an 8 year old in a local state school with a very wide range of nationalities attending, the majority of voters asked in my extensive Playground Polls came up Remain.

There is a reason. This:

Evilposter

A lizard with opposable thumbs in front of a racist poster.

In the absence of any real facts, and after right wring extremists murdered an MP for her pro-IN, pro-refugee, humanitarian beliefs, it was all about sticking it to the racists for us. So what I saw winning, when Leave won, was fascism and a sheep like mass of people voting the way they were told to by the Sun.

And we’re at the beginning of the century, the world economy went down the toilet a few years ago and is still only recovering. And despite that recovery it’s left a lot of people in deep, deep financial plop. Which is a worry. Because that’s the kind of climate in which fascism takes root as folks look for someone to blame and some of the rhetoric flying around about immigration and letting in refugees is … disturbingly familiar.

However, I have a handful of highly intelligent, sensible friends voting Leave. They’re good people, decent people, one is about where I am politically, one way to the right but the other two are further left. They are never going to vote for racism, no way, no how – even the right winger. So I asked a couple of them what the hell they were doing.

They put forward lot arguments which made sense – but all the arguments for both sides make sense when you uncover the facts that’s part of the trouble – but the salient point was one about how they believe the people of this country feel about politics.

Which is, that our politicians are condescending, aloof, self important and that they no longer listen to, nor have any respect for the people they are supposed to serve. My Leave friends felt that through the gradual change, over the years, from debate over the issues to personal attacks, most politicians have not so much lost our respect as earned our contempt. We believe what they say about one another. That’s why so many young people don’t or won’t vote, which is bats of them but that’s another story.

Furthermore, many leavers are every day people, but poor people, the folks who feel disenfranchised and without hope, because successive governments have stood by and let their places of work – in some cases, whole industries – die. Leavers are people who worked in our pottery industry, our coal industry, our manufacturing industry, dairy farming, fruit growing, the Cadbury factory, the steel industry. Most of our heavy industry was up north. And that’s why the folks up there are angry. The big agricultural areas in East Anglia voted Leave too. And a lot of the seasiders.

They feel that when their livelihoods and their whole communities were at risk, successive Governments, labour and Conservative stood by, didn’t step in, didn’t help. Failed them. And yes, there are probably more positve things to do than concentrate on your anger and bitterness about a past that is gone and a future that cannot be. But maybe they were just trying all that time to get someone, somewhere, to listen. And heaven knows, I graduated into a recession, I felt washed up, useless, dismissed as junk before my working life even began so I can actually really sympathise with that.

And so when the government asks for their help now their reply was a resounding fuck off, in this case, in the form of a Leave vote, to sock it to the Man. Whereas we in Remain, even if we’d thought of it, would probably have demurred from socking it to the Man when it’s just swapping one Man for another.

I suspect many people, both those voting IN and those voting Leave, may well share some very similar sentiments about our politics and politicians. We just reacted in different ways.

And in that one thing, lies our hope.

MPs have to learn from this, they have to start believing again, they have to relearn humility, that they are public servants, that it’s not about power for them but about working for us. And those who take such things seriously need to make sure that we, the electorate, realise that they, at least, are listening. They need to be Jo Cox, not Boris Johnson.

And as for tomorrow. What’s done is done. This is complicated, and it will be difficult. A lot depends on the negotiations surrounding exit. I hope Scotland and Northern Ireland give it some time to see what we come out with before they vote to leave and the UK is broken. Because it looks as if we, Britain, might actually have a chance at a new beginning, a new start. It’s up to us. It doesn’t have to be about racism, immigration and bigotry. It can be about unity, it can be like the 2012 Olympics.

Because for all my initial horror at the result, and for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I’ve done on Facebook with my like minded friends, when we get to the bottom of things, it turns out that despite being on opposite sides of the debate, many of the folks who voted Leave are closer are closer to us than we think. And if they are we can work with that.

Here’s hoping.

Some good pro leave posts:

Roughseas – there are some good comments on this one and I had a long chat with her too: https://roughseasinthemed.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/brexit-its-real
Jim Webster, again more comment chat as well: https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/the-road-from-the-bigoted-woman-stops-here/

A couple of good pro remain posts from writers, like myself, who hadn’t even thought of sticking it to the Man:

Chuck Wendig the thinking American’s view: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/24/you-want-trump-this-is-how-you-get-trump/
Charlie Stross sums up the initial feeling in Remain at the result: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2016/06/tomorrow-belongs-to-me.html
Lee Harris – just a nice cynical post about the Remain point of view. http://leeaharris.com/brexit/
I need to comment on these.

 

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Underground, Overground, Wombling Free…!

It’s a long time since I wrote anything on my blog. There is a reason. It’s because Real Life has been quite hectic. Worse, it’s been hectic in a way that has meant that I need to write to stay sane. That’s where I’ve been. Writing, and driving 130 miles to Sussex in the middle of the night to accompany one parent to hospital while a carer stays over and looks after the other, then doing the full care package for a day and dealing with all their heating and the cooker being turned off due to a gas leak on one and a half hours’ sleep… that kind of thing.

But now I’ve just finished half term week during which I was compelled to leave my characters to their own devices and interact with Real Life. So here I am, sorting some bits of real life out before I go back to my routine of not very much time, but a bit more than before, and a lot more of it spent writing. Also, my parents are on a more even keel now, so the desperation with which I escaped into my made up world is not quite so marked.

As you probably know, both my parents are in their 80s and they need a bit of help. To that end, I’ve been trying to get some disability aids out of Social Services for them. It’s not that social services won’t give them, just that it takes ages. There’s one particular thing called a ‘perching stool’ which Mum could really use in the kitchen, right now. But there’s a 20 working day waiting time before they can even call you back and start the process. I have been wondering if I should buy one – if Social came up trumps with a second I could always put the bought one in the greenhouse for her. But I was havering, because they cost a sod of a lot of money, these things.

So imagine how insanely chipper I was to discover this bizarrely obscure item in a skip this morning, just outside my gym! It was brand new and it wasn’t alone. It was in there with three other disability aids: a riser loo seat for people with dodgy hips which was still wrapped in its plastic and a really handy trolly-cum-walker with two shelves for trays. All had labels on with a number to call for collection after use, so at the least, I thought, if Mum and Dad have no use for them, I can ring the number and get them back to people who need them. Anyway, I had to take the trolley because it was the only way I was going to get the stuff, plus my bicycle, home. So, with the help of three of the ladies who also attend my gym, who praised me for my Womble* like tendences, I climbed into the skip and relieved it of its disability enhancing contents.

SkipScore

If anyone had ever told me I would get excited about finding items like these in a skip I’d have told them to piss off. Luckily, no-one did. Unlike the time I said I’d never marry a lawyer and then…

It will be even more of a challenge to get the things – which are square and firm and most non-folding – from Bury St Edmunds to Sussex in a Lotus. I might have to borrow McOther’s car.

Even so it’s a bit of a result. I am, naturally, hugely chuffed to have these difficult-to-get things fall into my lap, instantly, when I never expected them to, and for free.

Mwah hahahahrgh! Sometimes the stars just align.

 

*If you don’t know what a womble is, click here the song explains it. Obviously, they are a lot more interesting when you are 7.

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Surviving trolls, extremism and other curses of modern life

<<<<POLITICS WARNING read on at your own risk, I can guarantee I’ll offend the entire world with this one.>>>>

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing on a rain soaked road in France in a Barbour which is not at all waterproof looking at this field. In all truth, I didn’t really connect. It looks pretty unremarkable but the odds are that if I’d been there 600 years earlier I’d have seen the bodies of several thousand French soldiers, 3 days dead, most stripped completely naked by looters from the desperately poor local population after the important stuff had been removed by the English (I bet those clothes lasted some local families a couple of generations). That’s because 600 years (and 3 days) previously we are about as sure as we can be sure of anything in history that the battle of Agincourt was fought on this particular field.20151029_114039

As I understand it, one of the defining aspects of the battle was that the ground became a quagmire. People sank in the mud and suffocated, just as they did 500 years later, a few miles down the road, on the Western Front. Once I heard that it made connecting a little bit easier.

There’s no hint of the carnage that took place there now. There’s a museum, a memorial and not much else. It was a bloodbath and it horrified the people of its time just as the first world war did, just as the deaths of those 60,000,000 victims of the second world war (if you count civilians) did, just as 9.11, 7.7 and last week do.

Those Agincourt deaths are not at the forefront of our consciousness any more. As I said, the area is not far from the fields which comprise what was once, part of the front line in WW1. Likewise, apart from the odd memorial and the war graves you wouldn’t necessarily understand the horror of war from what’s there now. Although the bucolic peace belies the truth, farmers are still killed and injured every year by unexploded ordnance buried under the tranquil landscape. They will be for some time. Things are not always as they seem.

Maybe, as wars pass out of living memory, they cease to be so real to us. How do we keep remembering, understanding?

When I grew up there were plenty of people around who had fought in the second world war and still some who had fought in the first. It was in their consciousness at all times, and so it was in ours.

As they die out there is one experience in my life that I begin to value more and more. An RS lesson I was given when I was about 17. It comprised my A level set, three of us, the teacher and a visiting Bishop. He was about 70, Mark Greene his name was, and he was sitting on a rickety arm chair which tipped up, dumping him onto the floor. I remember that. I particularly remember our poor teacher’s flustered efforts to help him up and his calm, unfazed reassurances that he was fine.

But what I really remember about that lesson was the story he told us. At the end of the war he was with a detachment of forces in Germany and on the day it was liberated, he was the 20th allied soldier to walk into Belsen.

We didn’t know that’s what he was, of course, I’m not sure the teacher even did. I don’t even remember how it cropped up. There’s a bit of a memory gap between the chair incident and it suddenly hitting me, very forcefully that this man was telling us what it was like to walk into a death camp for the first time, when you hadn’t realised they existed, when you didn’t understand, first hand, what human beings were capable of doing to one another, or at least, in an era when the general consensus of opinion was that we’d evolved past all that.

He proceeded to tell us about the experience. What he felt, smelled and saw. I have seen videos of what was there since which cast a whole new light on his words and made his understated, calm description of the facts all the more powerful. He wasn’t ’emotional’ as he described it. He cried no tears. But the strength of feeling in his voice was striking. He avoided emotional trigger words, he told us about the smell of excrement and rotting bodies but spared the grisly details. He talked about seeing piles of grey sticks and only realising, at second or third glance, that they were people and that some were still alive, just, and moving. I remember thinking that I was hearing about one of the defining moments of the 20th Century from a man who was actually there. I still get goose pimples when I think about it. Mainly because I suspect I am unlikely ever to come so close to history again.

And then Paris last week. And all the absolute tosh that’s been talked on the internet since about religion, and the Muslim faith. We don’t seem to be learning do we?

Aldus Huxley, I think it was Aldus Huxley, said, “Propaganda is the art of convincing one group of people that another group of people is not human.”

One of the defining things about the concentration and death camps was that the victims were stripped of all humanity. They were not to be dignified with a name. They were given a number. Their names were verboten. They all wore the same uniforms. They were as robots. Nothing.

And that’s how you hate. That’s how the Daesh are able to kill the way they do. Because to them a non Daesh child is not a human child. Then again, I’m not sure how the Daesh manage to have kids because as I understand the tenets of their extreme doctrine, their menfolk believe women aren’t human either.

So how do we beat them? Well, turning their victims away, or ‘Closing the UK’s borders until Isis is defeated’ is patently bollocks. Making all Muslims wear an armband, well, yes, Mr Trump, I refer you back to Belsen. We’ve done that before, quite recently and I don’t recall it working out well. You need to have a word with yourself mate.

Someone at church the other day who said there is an easy way to make all these memorials to past battles mean, or continue to mean, something. Give the dead names. Pick one solider, research him, find out who he was. Suddenly they stop being numbers and turn back into people. And after last week, in Paris, I thought that all the more.

It’s very easy to generalise about people, to isolate ourselves, to become ‘them and us’ about practically everything. Now more than ever we seem to be particularly vulnerable to a black and white generalist view of the world which is simply a lie, a fairy story totally removed from the truth which we tell ourselves because we cannot handle the uncertainty of grey.

I can see it in myself. When it popped up in the news recently that Jihadi John had almost certainly been killed in a bombing raid my first instant thought was, ‘serves him bloody well right. You live by the sword you die by the sword.’ But then I thought about it some more. It’s hard to consider someone like Jihadi John as a human being. Really hard. But somewhere he has parents and family who loved him, some might even be anguished by what he has done. Somewhere there might have been a mother, a father, a wife begging him to turn to compassion and humanity again like the family of an addict begging them to forsake the bottle. We are all equal, we are all human. He was a sad pathetic thing, broken inside, but to deny his humanity, however much he seems to have forfeited his right to be seen as human, maybe that is the cause of the trouble.

People like Jihadi John, people like the lads who killed all those people in Paris, probably get off on the feeling of power or that they are physically doing something to make a difference than politics. It’s in our nature to want to change the world. That’s why we’re high achievers in so many ways. Their acts are inhuman so perhaps the only way we can defeat their inhumanity is by holding onto our humanity.

The minute we cease to see your enemy as a human being, you have given in to hate. In my view, if we give into hate, we’re no better than they are. An ability to love and respect others is what sets normal people apart from the extremists. The way to understand the gravity and the evil of war is not to look at the casualty numbers, it’s to remember that they are people. To give them names.

Every now and again, someone special comes along like Jesus, Budda, Mohamed and the like and they try to persuade people to treat each other as they’d like to be treated themselves. It’s ironic, isn’t it, how fast we manage to turn that into intolerance and hatred. If the devil exists, he must be laughing.

If we have a battle cry, perhaps it should be that of Antoine Leiris, whose wife, Helene was killed at the Bataclan.

“I will not give you the gift of hating you.”

It seems to me that, if ever we need to foster a culture of love and tolerance, it’s now.

 

 

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Welcome to my world…

Just a quick post before I go into low internet access mode for three weeks… not that you’ll be able to tell the difference between that and me in full internet access mode, seeing as I’ve failed spectacularly to do anything internetty for a long time. Life has just got a bit busy and when that happens, I use computer time to write and my socialising and promoting tends to be put aside for a while.

It all began with a hurriedly organised birthday party for McMini complete with cake. Mmm… Making the cake was interesting. McCat likes cake so the reason that bit in the middle of the neck is a different colour is because that’s the bit McCat excised while I was answering the door.When I came back he ran off with it. It was OK though. The rest hadn’t been touched so I cut out a good margin either side and put in new cake and new icing. Couldn’t get the icing out of the gaps though.

IMG_2408

Bakugan cake…. it’s supposed to be the little fellah at the top.

The next cake,  one for McParents’ – on my side – golden wedding. This time it was the raw mixture that got eaten while I was answering the door. I knew I shouldn’t have turned the mixer off. Came back and McCat had his head in the bowl snarfing.

All the cake making gave me a bit of an IBS attack. Trying cake mixture. I think eating some rather old smoked salmon with scrambled eggs for breakfast followed by courgettes fried with some decidedly elderly pancetta for lunch may have contributed too. Still cake made McMini and I iced it without a serious hitch, except that I couldn’t get the dates to fit and I’d planned it most carefully so I couldn’t work out why. Oh and McCat stole a sausage from my lunch plate but at least he left the beautifully (erk it’s all relative) iced cake unmolested this time.

All ready for the day, I woke up on the morning and I discovered that I had vertigo (this is how I do hayfever). Serious, 18 pints on board style spins, so I spent the first hour shouting, ‘Europe’ into the big white telephone without much coming out and waiting for the hayfever pills to kick in. Amazingly they did, the vertigo stopped and off we went. Even more amazingly, we made it in time for the lunch, with some to spare.

All went well, the cake was much admired, McMini had fun with his cousins, the grown ups had fun too and hoorah! All went swimmingly. Even better I got a big rest on the Saturday as McOther and McBrother took McMini to the fair – the vertigo was better but I still questioned the wisdom of watching a lot of stuff going round, and round and round: or worse, sitting on it while it did.

That night while looking for a shoe, I only had one pair and I could only find one – because I’d washed the other one and forgotten that I’d put it behind the curtains where it would get a nice 2 hours of sun on it to dry it before I got up. This simple fact obscured temporarily, I was searching the house. Heard Sis In Law call for my brother. Great, she would almost certainly have clocked and seen the shoe. I looked over the bannisters and there was my sister in law, lying on the ground at the bottom of the stairs wrapped in a duvet.

“Er that’s quite an unusual place to stop… are you alright down there?”
Not really, I’ve broken my ankle.”
“Ah,” gulp. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’ve done it before.”
“Right. I’m guessing you heard it crack?”
“Yep.”
“Ah, that’s enough to convince me. Tricky, hang on…” I trundle down the stairs to join her.
“I think I’m going to throw up.”
“OK… let’s get you a bowl.” I run and get bowl. “Did you hit your head?”
“No, I held onto the curtains.”
I look at the curtains in front of the door, clearly she has grabbed them, the hooks have broken one by one and they’ve fallen down, lowering her gently to earth as they do so.
“Lucky! OK, I’ll go and get McBro.”

McBrother appears and suggests going straight to A&E but I persuade him to call 999 so we get a paramedic to evaluate her first before moving her. Sis in law agrees she’d like us to do that. McBrother calls ambulance.

“Ooooo!” calls my Mum from upstairs, “Can I press our red panic button?”
“No,” says McBrother.
“He’s ringing an ambulance,” I tell her.
“OK.” She sounds disappointed.

I am sent to stand in the road waiting for the ambulance. They have verbal directions from McBrother but they will not find our house if they use sat nav. This is because Google Maps is convinced that our house is not where we live, but somewhere a few miles away. Every now and again I contact Google and explain where it really is. And they usually write back to tell me that an adjudicator has looked at my request but that I am wrong. Growing up there, is clearly not enough.

There is a problem with this though, I only have one shoe, but luckily Sis In Law’s shoe has broken in Worthing at the fair and she’s had a bit of a spree while buying a new pair and bought some crocs, too. I slip my vile feet into them and then, weird of weird, put on my panama hat despite the fact it’s 10:30pm and dark  (what in the name of heaven is that about) and trot dutifully out into the road. The ambulance is lost and I run, or at least, I do ‘the gait’ because I can’t run, down the road to it. It arrives and it’s a car. There is no room for me in there with them so I tell them where to go. I run along after them. They drive past. I wave my feeble torch. They stop. I show them.

When I get to the house a few minutes after they do, they are evaluating Sis In Law.

So, the long and the short after this examination was that we discovered she had broken her ankle, on Brighton Gay Pride night, when a lot of other people in the locale, after injudicious amounts of dancing and alcohol, had broken their ankles – and other bits of themselves – too. There was a one and a half hour wait for an ambulance – but that was OK because the Paramedic car had come in about 10 minutes and we had the all clear to take her in ourselves. But the 2 hour wait in casualty (even in Worthing) was a bit more of a bummer. Fair play to her and McBrother that they made the lunch the next day, successfully consumed a heavy meal on a couple of hours sleep and were rather more awake than I was.

“How was your weekend?” a friend asked when I got back.
Was that out of the ordinary for a trip to my folks? No, not really.
“Same old same old,” I said.

On a side note, they’re going to give my Mum a new hip. She finally has a date: slap bang in the middle of our holiday. It’s a worry but less of a worry than when she was in limbo without one. Perhaps that’s why for  have been even more numerically challenged than usual this week: worry. It does make me a bit more ditzy. Let’s forget about that, though and look at some photos. First: the Golden Wedding Cake. Remember I couldn’t work out why the numbers didn’t fit?

Cake: Before...

Cake: Before light dawns, can you spot the deliberate mistake?

Yeh, well, as I was about to serve it up, my uncle noticed it had the wrong date. Yes, I’d put 2005 instead of 2015. A bit of an, ‘ah now I get it,’ moment. Of course the numbers didn’t sodding fit. They were the wrong ones. It’s not even as if I got the date of the marriage wrong, as in 1965, it the bleeding date NOW. Oh well. Luckily it was easy to scrape one side of the O off and turn it back into a 1.

Cake: After, with the RIGHT date.

Cake: After, with the RIGHT date.

Then, two nights ago we had some folks for dinner and when I asked how many McOther said, “eight with McMini.” I translated this as 9, which means I managed to lay an extra place… for a person who didn’t exist… and even worse to not actually notice until I was serving pudding.

So there you have it. My family is still a group of people that THINGS HAPPEN TO, my cat is a mentalist who probably has some kind of feline eating disorder and I’m completely fucking bats.

Never mind… At least there was lots of cake.

My brain and my life.

My brain and my life.

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